M. EARL SMITH Reviews
Three Column Table by Harold Abramowitz
(Insert Press, Los Angeles, 2006)
Poetry, more than any other medium, allows the author plenty of space for experimentation. It’s from this experimentation that we’ve come across some of our greatest poetic works, from Shakespeare’s sonnets to the Japanese tradition of haiku. There seems to be a strain amongst current poets that insist on forcing this experimentation to the extreme, and one such product of said extreme experimentation is Harold Abramowitz’s chapbook, Three Column Table.
If the notes of deceased behavioral psychologist Edwin J Thomas can be considered poetry on their own, then, in a traditional sense, Abramowitz’s poetic forms are, by definition, a cento. Little is written on his own. Rather, the poet has devised some system where he chooses passages from Thomas’s work and lists them in an order that is supposed to give the reader some vague sense of the work Thomas was doing. While a fascinating concept in its own right, without any knowledge of the field, Abramowitz’s work becomes a shallow, muddled mess, a piece of experimental poetry for the sake of experimental poetry.
That’s not to say that this chap is without merit. The accidental alliteration that occurs with the listing of random phrases has its own quirky charm about it. For example, on page 5, the author’s grouping spits out “Blames- low-budget systems- belong to no- desirable- but following.” This provides, in my view, an anchor, if ever-so-small, for the reader to refer back to.
Repeating motifs also seem to be forced from this grouping strategy. For example, in the poem “example 7”, the phrase “unrealistic fears” is repeated, in some form, seven times. In the poem “the main focus of modification procedure is usually on altering environmental consequences of the target behavior” (p. 18-19), the phrase “the rate averaged almost one complaint per minute” is repeated four times. This is another anchor for the reader, although its success at holding their attention is questionable.
One thing this chap accomplishes is expressing a layperson’s frustration with the jargon used in any of the many fields of medical science. Perhaps that is what Abramowitz set out to do. Perhaps his volume is less of a volume on the randomness of some psychologist and more of a social commentary on the canned, generic responses we are all subject to in the for-profit medical field that makes up healthcare in the United States. If so, this is a rather valiant effort, and a huge risk, even from an artistic point of view. Unfortunately, any social or personal message that may have been gleaned is lost in the translation, so to speak. In the end, as unique as Abramowitz’s volume is, without any sort of context whatsoever, it seems to be a volume that is unique solely for the sake of being unique. Given the wide availability of experimental poetry on the market, this is one volume that does less to give a message and more to simply show the tools available to the experimental poet.
M. Earl Smith is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, with a dual focus in historical research and creative historical writing. His current research projects include the transcription of Francis Daniel Pastorius’s Beehive, with a focus on the representation of historical figures in commonplace books, as well as a piece of historical fiction surrounding the French Revolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org