Poems I Wrote While Watching TV
by Travis Jeppesen, illustrated by Jeremiah Palecek.
With a title like Poems I Wrote While Watching TV, writer Travis Jeppesen could have had an outrageously good time. We were told back in the 60’s that television is the vast wasteland, and since then the garbage pile has just grown and grown. So much debris to dump on – reality shows, talk tv, Jerry Springer, E! channel, Fox News. Jeppesen had so much trash to work with, and I was expecting razor-sharp Swiftian satire.
Instead, he bluntly states “I hate actors,” and imagines “explosive devices packed into Gene Hackman’s skull.” He tells us he can see through televised illusions derived from “some producer’s coke binge,” and knows all about the weather woman’s insecurities and her cheating husband. He points out the fact that there are ads for laundry detergent, dancing appliances, and ads that “tell us to buy things we can’t afford.” The desolation of it all is reinforced with the bleakness of his diction and images of “headache pie” and “a scrim of sorrow.” Hardly a cutting wit, his petulance keeps us wishing for less.
Blatt Books promotes Poems I Wrote While Watching TV as “a ruthlessly implosive meditation on the death of language in a media-saturated world.” I don’t know why they chose the word “implosive” (partial vacuum? intake of breath?), but “the death of language” part, I can definitely see. So many of the lines are so vague and incomprehensible, they could have been channeled by the Sprockets’ host Deiter, Mike Myers’ best character from Saturday Night Live. Even Kathy Lee Gifford at her weirdest never said, “Runty surety palm fare, knots in cots also black,” or “The silted benevolence could never sustain the rawness of whomever’s stale turpentine; we forgot to laze you.” Lines like these evoke no image of the vast wasteland we all know and love. It would be an oversight not to mention Jeremiah Palecek’s artwork that illustrates the poetry. Not an art expert myself, I asked my friend Mike Everett for his critique, and here are Mike’s comments:
“The illustrations are painted in a primitive style using simplified form, minimal detail and value, limited color scheme, and flat application of paint that capture primarily the human figure and domestic scenes. This approach allows the images to encourage and support the simple approach of the poetry’s meaning and emotional feel without overwhelming. In some of the images, there is almost a childlike quality to the handling of the medium and usage of the space, but the form of the figures and the perspective of the space created remain relatively correct. Areas of color are blocked to create an effective separation of area without gradation or variation of color within each area. Images have an almost snapshot photo-like quality.”
The art makes a nice contrast to the author’s over-the-top use of language but, overall, Poems I Wrote While Watching TV is sophomoric and pretentious.