Attention All Typewriters
Livres DC Books
The three pages of notes at the end testify to the learning, which is not surprising considering that Camlot is an expert on Victorian literature. Perhaps the best works in the book are the most spontaneous, the “Office Machine” poems, written on lunch hours when the poet was working for a law firm (here disguised as “Hatman, Chalk & Fedora”) and had access to legal pads and an IBM Selectric typewriter. The poems travesty all sorts of corporate discourse (“False Memos in Triplicate”) and corporate personality types. Less successful are the long poems, a form that he is especially interested in pursuing, according to recent interviews. In “Bewildered,” he creates a narrator at Kenyon College in the 1970s. High on drugs, the speaker talks a great deal about his neighbour, the once famous critic and poet John Crowe Ransom, who has been reduced in old age to watching television all day. Ransom, who coined the term “New Criticism,” is now a neglected figure, and Camlot’s discussion of his theories (like the Concrete Universal) leaves them sounding as arcane as the obsolete Selectric. The short lines in “Bewildered” never gather any momentum and Ransom never emerges as anything but a caricature.
Camlot’s rambling Allen Ginsberg imitation, “Daddy Lazarus,” is written in long lines. Its camp tone and accumulation of goofy details would make poor old Ransom, a minor but exquisite stylist, apoplectic. A better effort is “Dark Drink,” a mocking postmodern burlesque of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in which Camlot interpolates the absurdly plentiful references to drink in the novel in italics. The poem is droll rather than hilarious. Camlot’s shorter poems show an innate feeling for form: he loves the couplet and the stanza and can rhyme skillfully. Truman Capote complained once that Jack Kerouac’s work wasn’t writing but typewriting. On the evidence of Calling All Typewriters, Camlot is a writer, not a typist, but this book could have been twenty pages shorter.