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Michael Boughn
22 Skidoo/Sub Transactions
reviewed by
Patrick James Dunagan
(BookThug, 2009) paperback ISBN 1 897388 34 9 / 978 1 897388 34 1 $18.00

Good time knocks


 — but, you see, “language” itself is a word, and whether it is to exist in the realm of language depends entirely upon how you see it; whether there has been a coincidence of mind, a bodily hearing, or any of the ways that may so stir a particular register of that vast web that other words come to life and you know you entered. Language takes place in its instance —

 — John Clarke, From Feathers to Iron, p.121

Section 2

How far to immerse the language within “the realm of language”—as imbedded instrument—to further the workings of the poem is a constant preoccupation of every working poet. It defines, in many respects, the purely practiced art of making poetry. If she goes too contemporary—seeking pop culture references, say—the poet risks losing her readers for lack of serious maneuvers, however straying too far afield in literary references may result in loss of readers who either aren’t capable or prefer not to keep up—such decisions extend well beyond a vocabulary of images and ideas alone. Ultimately, the poet seeks to allow the soundings of the poem to take proper prominence.

Book cover


A flip-over book, 22 Skidoo/Sub Transactions by Michael Boughn is composed of two separate texts whose ends meet in the middle—once through with one, flip the book over and there’s another. 22 Skidoo appears to be the earlier, having been first published by Boughn’s own press Shuffaloff Books in 2004 (although no credit is given to the earlier publication, so perhaps changes were made), and is made up of 22 poems of 11 couplets, each started off with a quote drawn from a wide range of sources which serves as guiding muse of the vibe written to. Individual words within the poems reoccur as titles of following poems, weaving the series together in sonic groove.



      “Our doom / is to be sifted by the wind.”
                - Basil Bunting

The sewn and hobbled ways
of obscure origins shrouded

in a strange problem surpasses
theorem’s gunked up

and resolute berry pickers for lack
of inevitable, all those unanswered

answers thrusting into cahoots
galore, fertilizing beyond

even as the once and future
beef rides thrust toward

canoodle’s extinction then pulls
up short as thrust gains an in

and canoodle’s smooch reinserts
necessary smackeroo

into stitched sheets testimony
to scintillant flicker’s

unyielding claim to and
in turns and starts, in stitched

eyes and truned earth, gape
beckons us to obscure ends

lurking in each conjunctions
ragged toe extrusion


Sub Transactions forthrightly announces removal of the “I” out of the situation, in so far that as the epigraph by Deleuze and Guattari in part states, “always n-1 (the only way the one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted).” So it seems. Here too, the poems share a common form in both stanza structure and line length.


           - for Bob

Not that you want to dwell
beyond the sea, or even across
the dial, especially when bags on little
shoulders guide through thud
of door into wet yellow
leaves blown into unacknowledged
corners of waiting concrete

in the saddle of sunset smooches, back
in the double crossed exit lurks
in dark alleys and around burdens
of unintentional flourish’s promise
takes you home by the surest
route through bits and pieces
of what’s left us

                                     Deep reptilian
medulla’s final capitulation, last
laboured air unwilling millennia
relinquish to waiting silence we
fill our ears against, pumping
endless tonic chords into
sun’s staggering adventure or even
noise to signal ratio has to pass
for apocalyptic pleasure’s no go
is no more sentence than judged
fit to stand trial by fire

                                 It always
leaks, right at the crack where
earth and sky part on the last
morning, nothing more final
than beginning each moment
of light’s sudden shaft through
all that space as the stranger
of whatever options you can marshal
against it comes up

                   It comes up
but that’s not the end
of evasive application’s line of flight
smears edges’ unbearable
proposition into less definite
beginnings which name no other
opening than offering
another occasion
to wander on


Boughn writes in sets similar to a jazz performance. His poems seek a similar sense of spontaneity in timing. The jumps occur quicker than the eye catches and slow the reading while nonetheless maintaining an astonishing musical speed, leaving the low throb of a sustained measure thudding in the air. Removing himself as identifiable witness or subject of the poem—the action is one consumed of/by language itself—allows Boughn to toss language up and out, digging the sound thus stirred into being.


No rushing, but without waiting; direct responses to the environmental features both from within and without the writing, these poems respond in collision amongst their own aural surroundings. The humor is palpable.



         — Katherine Hepburn

Golly it’s swell
to canoodle surpasses

skedaddle’s oomph
in lost appeal to delight’s

distant dream of approval’s
persuasive dialectics

a smackeroo to beat
the band but not up

there as golly gives us in Kate’s
breathless surprise, another

unknown origin pulling us
neither there nor there but

and as it piles on
showdowns and oodles headed

nowhere fast and not
afraid of any thyroid’s ineffable

fluctuations in the image
of wagon’s mode

of transport imprints
on coots death of berry

picking’s augmented
pain in the tush


The ding dongs ring out as the radio dial zings back and forth catching snatches of various stations while smacking off riffs come of reading through books from off the shelf or piled atop the desk and coffee table. To get with the music that’s going on, you must first allow yourself to be lost in it as much as Boughn himself does. A slight refocusing of the all too often casual expectations of poetry is in order.


Dancing while sitting still the poet
once said, remarking some possible
boundary long closed to business
of winning your prize is already

      No little statues or old friends
left by betrayal struggling to return
shattered heart to phantasm’s
excavated niche, no exit
the least worried bone, but one left
dangling in the wind turning
breathwise into winged fishes


Elements of expected biographical detail are refused explanatory entrance. Controlled persuasive precision is apparent but has been intentionally dedicated to resistance of the easy explication so often accompanying reader’s expectation. The quite necessary joy to be found in these poems comes from the sheer thrill of digging how they sound.


Like a symphonic orchestra of pop in a noir Disney cascade of referential, somebody is sure to doubt there’s any meaning to it all and that may very likely be the point. References throughout are strikingly diverse, weaving historical and literary with street corner wit and brevity, here and gone, lines leap about and the poems build upon each other in often climatic booming squeals.



     “I come from haunt of coot and hern — ”
                       — Alfred Lord Tennyson

It does sneak up on you
just where similes fail

and the sudden pain
of impinged yaps

and slaty-black
birds sluggish arc

across lost horizons
yielding to sudden

irruption of Sherpa destinies
and magical lines

in same dazed progress
into the thick of it

that picking berries for
all its dandy job

prospects renders not
unlike a forgotten

golly, godless and left
to other’s devices when

each step into requisite
densities unfolding lavish

precisely its sun through
dark branching evening mists


With Boughn’s poems, the sheer joy arrives via the reminder that words are things the poet stuffs into the line to reverberate new centers of galactic innerness if given proper listen.  Syllables rip into and across each other, leaping between lines with lightning seizure, distributing various versions of semantic sense. There is no doubt this infuriates in order to delight: play in the purest of utmost sense is the pursuit at hand.  


When soundings are the primary concern the language is hapless attendant to the will of the poet, bending and twisting the springing whirl of the forces of tongue and lip back in upon itself. Alien among its own kind, words and the stuff holding them together, the language nearly runs itself out under the guiding hand at work. Depending on the ear of the reader the music may swing or refuse, but for the poet, the page zings with good time knocks.

Patrick James Dunagan

Patrick James Dunagan

Patrick James Dunagan lives and works in San Francisco. An essay on Creeley and Stevens is expected in Fulcrum 7, recent books include: From Chansonniers (Blue Press, 2008) and Easy Eden w/ Micah Ballard (PUSH, 2009).

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