scarecrow editorial

Sunday, June 18, 2006


12: Death of Language

Dare I say it? Many people won’t get Travis Jeppesen’s latest offering. I can hear them now: why bother writing poems while watching TV? Some will ask: why bother writing poetry at all? Others will read his, at times, difficult and awkward verse and be immediately shocked by its brusqueness, its anger, its cryptic playfulness. But then there will be those who tune in to his unique airwaves, those who bother to listen - the enigma-crackers - those willing to spend some time with this extraordinary book. And it is these readers who will gain the most – and ultimately matter.

The very idea of letting foreign TV creep into the mind is as intriguing as it is baffling, yet Travis Jeppesen’s marvellous collection is - as topsy-turvy as all this seems - accessible (accompanied as it is by Jeremiah Palacek’s striking paintings) and it matters. Jeppesen’s language, although new in approach, unhinged and at odds, still manages to invigorate the reader. It is fresh, and as compelling to us as first switching on the TV in a foreign hotel room for the first time: it taps into our natural curiosity, our shared sense of the other. Travis Jeppesen’s hypnotic collection should be applauded for this.

Maybe this new language we are witnessing, this sudden emergence of a group of writers (interlinked via the internet and spanning the globe) who have eschewed the glut of the conglomerates' writing-by-numbers formulaic nonsense, designed for the consumer and not the reader: this same “lifestyle fiction” novelist, artist and essayist Tom McCarthy so bitterly laments and writes against - maybe Travis Jeppesen is part of this?He is certainly hard to ignore. He is well aware, of course, that he is not alone. This new system of language and literature he speaks of isn’t solely his – and it is this awareness that makes his work all the more relevant.

The system of language in Poems I wrote While Watching TV is striking:

“Through the thin haze of her shadow dented across the shudders, the/weatherwoman can make out her husband fucking some other cunt/with too much lipstick on” ['Psykologikal Make-up of the Avokado' Pg 11].

While addressing the reader with its sheer temerity the writing above still jolts us into another undercurrent altogether, a feeling, an image – we read it again and again and we see the cheap make-up, the tight dress, the lacquered hair, the bright TV studio, the shallow existence, the ill-communication, the desperation – and above all Jeppesen knows he needs not mention this: the fact that she wears “too much lipstick” tells us all we need to know. Ultimately Travis Jeppesen keeps his distance, using the clichéd medium of TV to steer us into the direction he wants.

And Poems I Wrote While Watching TV is about this same distance: looking into another culture, another country through the distorted prism of the cathode ray. It is the wrong way of course, yet this is how we encounter new culture, through the manufactured images beamed into our homes/hotels. TV is our first point of contact, like it or not, and it sticks to us like a virus. It is this very retelling, this forced series of images we choose to believe - and as a result it is killing language, all language, and the use of it. We are now force-fed culture [MTV is a very clear example], it is no longer our choice:

“I see through every televised illusion/Word spacing corresponds to handwriting/Between the lines/Of some producer’s coke binge . . . All of America looks/The same I realize from the/Distance of two years and/A foreign screen” ['I See' Pg 3].

Enough said. I think we’ll leave it at that. Besides Travis says more than I ever could right here.

Lee Rourke © 2006.


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