Spontaneous Chili  by stevenallenmay
Plan B Press

      Let me confess up front that I have a soft spot for the Beats and for Neo-Beat experiments in writing.  Spontaneous Chili fits in that category.  Within its brief 24 pages one finds a collage of seemingly random ideas stitched together in a version of Beat-style cut-up method the author refers to as "sponting": accidental collaborations involving lines sliced from online dialogues and the meditations that inevitably followed.  In many ways, that randomness makes these poems difficult to wander through and, as such, anyone who has a negative predisposition toward the Beats should keep Spontaneous Chili at a safe distance.  At the same time, however, every line in each poem has its energy, its devotion to the chaotic reasoning found in chatroom dialogues as in these lines from "Still Life with Death Motion":

       the poets must die
       herded like cattle in slaughterhouse fences
       the poets must die
       when morning comes
       the poets must die
       and all their words set aflame

   The poems in Spontaneous Chili never quite achieve the precision of Ginsberg, but at times they feel like early Ferlinghetti or the shorter "pomes" of Kerouac.  Indeed, they are best read aloud in a Kerouac/Ferlinghetti voice.  Reading these poems aloud is what makes them most appealing.  Whereas one tends to be skeptical of this sort of Beat experiment when seen in print, they come across vibrantly when read aloud. 
   One final thing to note, considering the current circumstances in the world, is the surprising connections one can make between fragments of these poems and external events.  William Burroughs wrote in The Adding Machine that, in his opinion, sometimes cut-up methods tap a psychic underpinning of the universe in a way intentional poetry cannot.  That is, they reach beyond the stream of consciousness to the utterly extra-conscious or collective-conscious.  A few of stevenallenmay's lines made me seek connections in the same way Adrienne Rich's well-carved poems did.  There were these lines from "Cartwheeling Through Popcorn":

       you are too afraid to let yourself see, to understand
         entombed fear
       shape uncertainty into a mold
           for all humanity

And also these from "Revision of a Fast Dream":

         days before the world
       turned black, collision
         and frustration
                 a slipstream
               before we climbed;

   All in all, Spontaneous Chili is an interesting chapbook worth giving a look when in the mood for something a bit out of the ordinary.  Recommendation, read it aloud.  Or better yet, catch the author reciting and follow along.
previous review
next review
Back to all reviews
Book Reviews by Ace Boggess
Reviewed Oct. 19, 2001