Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Poet in flames

Posted By on Wed, Sep 4, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Stream-of-consciousness writing can easily flow toward the raising of consciousness. Poet and writer Michael Brownstein’s World on Fire is blazing proof of this. His freestyle, jagged jeremiad on ecology, globalization, marketing and media-saturated culture is a poetic pile-up, in which his blurred vision turns, not toward the light at the end of the tunnel, but to a scorched crater in the gut of the world.

“Panorama of oil rigs, bleached sky, enormous white sun. Gasoline smell everywhere, you can’t avoid it, you can’t run inside, there is no inside.”

From Brownstein’s apocalyptic point of view, the world is going to hell. Or the world has become its own hell, if one has sense enough left to smell the smoking sludge born of greed and excess as it creeps under every door where the isolated hide in fear of the end:

“And this bastard structure’s days are numbered. This age of manufactured mind. This push to transform life into products. This culture drowning the present in the name of the future. This heart of darkness beating its fluid into every cell.”

As an essayist, Brownstein is loud and thundering. As a poet, he’s sad and full of self-doubt. As a human being, he is desperate, often spinning off into schizophrenic rants where even the internal scripts behind his writing process fall into the text: “But maybe I’m too enraged to see clearly. Time to take my own advice and breathe. In and out. In and out. Slowly. Because deep inside I know beliefs create experience.”

Alienated, lost and fragmented, he takes his intellectual and poetic powers to purposeful, irrational extremes. His mad verses shift into rambling essays, which intersect with quotations from the works of Noam Chomsky, Jean Baudrillard et al.

Amid this collage of confusion, confessions, statistics, warnings and naked pleas to the “dear reader,” he pastes up pieces of prose that read like mock-advertising copy. They include historical horror slogans, such as Arbeit macht frei, all brought to us by the makers of Zoloft, Chicken McNuggets and the chopsticks of the Borneo rainforest.

Even in its final few chapters, the heat and heaviness of Brownstein’s frightful examination of current times aim to blast the agony of capitalism’s sickness at even the most anesthetized reader. Time to wake up and feel your pain.

E-mail Norene Cashen at


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