Chapbook Review: Shiftless (Harvester)

ZINES_Shiftless (Joel)

Shiftless (Harvester)
Chapbook, Buck Downs, 24 pgs, above/ground press,, $4

Buck Downs’s poetic method has been outlined in Broken Pencil’s review for “Touch the Donkey #11”, as his work is briefly featured there, but it is worth noting here again for this interview, where the advantages and disadvantages to this approach are emphasized more heavily. “Shiftless(Harvester)” is, after all, a chapbook entirely of Downs’s composition, so when his method of “brute-force typing,” as he calls it, is tasked with producing the 23 short poems printed herein, their method of production is much more obvious.
In an interview with publisher rob mclennan, Down’s describes his “brute-force” method as follows: “I have a little box that when I fill it with filled notebooks, I take the box and type up its whole contents . . . which I get printed as a bound galley . . . and proceed to erase/cut & paste/collage that typing into drafts.” The advantages to this approach are the same to be found in more-recognized poets who, to some degree, follow a similar process (Downs himself cites Ronald Johnson and Jackson MacLow. ”Shiftless(Harvester)” does garner a kind of ‘ghost in the machine’ kind of discombobulated affect, examples in such passages as “pee shy | & asking | for money | it’s hard to feel | sad when your mouth is on fire” [6].The chapbook confronts the issues associated with the method which produced it. However, some issues remain – namely, a resistance to settling into anything recognizable as meaning, and more noticeably a tendency towards shoehorning in association between dissociated memes to unfortunate melodrama (see: “days when you whisper | nights when you cry | [. . . ] | all the burnt parts | still rule inside. [11]). “Shiftless(Harvester)” makes for a solid read, but one leaves with little more than what one began with. (Joel W. Vaughan)