Book Review: The Bad Boys of Poetry Get Away with Everything

~getting away with everything
Vincent A. Cellucci and Christopher Shipman
Unlikely Books, New Orleans, 2021
Paperback, 250 pages

Beth Ann Fennelly’s back-cover blurb stating “The bad boys of poetry are back!” is a hilarious way to frame an extremely unique psychic spelunking, mostly because the innovative poetics involved in this new collection promote no violence or ill will. The only thing “bad” these reformed arsonists ever did was do what all bona fide poets eventually do: grow older and challenge the status quo further. Still, I like thinking of them as mischievous punks on a mission to fuck shit up.

Publisher Jonathan Penton prefaces with the information that “Badass poets Vincent A. Cellucci and Christopher Shipman” have engaged in “vandalism and regular bouts of debauchery,” but what this book is really about is making sense of departure. Having flown the carnival womb of New Orleans, Vince and Shippy have graduated to thirty-something family-man status, one in NC, the other in the Netherlands, and both expats for the same reason: continued disillusionment with an ever-orphaning social experiment that’s been made “great again.”

But here’s the clincher: The poems herein are anonymous, sent back and forth through cyberzap with no clear delineation betwixt who wrote what. So basically, it’s all one POV with occasional clues to original authorship, which doesn’t matter at all. I mean, does it really matter who wrote specific scandalous lines in the collaborative shock-sonnets of bad French boys Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine? Hell no! This is that very tradition re-envisioned for a twenty-first-century pandemic corndog in which “getting away with everything” means… well, that’s the question underneath the microscope.  

En route to address this mystery, we hit all sorts of glittering veins radiating lines like: “it’s a turtle eat / turtle fuck / terrarium / out there;”  “sometimes stars / are sharks     lost / in any river crossed;” and 

          why do we always lie
          about the sky
          heavenly heavens to betsy
          stealth bombers
          drones, storks
          9/11 santa claus
          chemtrails, aliens
          earhart, jesus
          icarus, wright


          once at 14    I went to the projects
          to buy forty dollars of weed
          with my friend billy
          who could drive
          that was my first 9mm to the head

Point being: These ain’t your regular MFA white-bread white guys ground out by the Meat Grinder; these are two highly metaphoric/colorful commentators on what we’re doing to the whole “foul cake cooked in hell” in which “the predator president / flaunts how he evades a cage.” The word “chthonic” even comes up because these two muckrakers have been to the underworld and back. And like Gilgamesh, they have emerged stronger and more versatile, even optimistic.

The poem “another city lights pilgrimage” is evidence of this transmogrification, hilariously detailing Beat-lineage in DNA steering voice to stalk centurion Ferlinghetti while musing from Vesuvio’s & reminiscing scenarios played out in the historic store—a true, wide-eyed testimony to connect with Lit Heroes soon gone. Likewise, the momentum in “mae’s-en-scène” is something to aspire to, weaving late-night booze-fueled flashes of “musicians / locals, cooks, dealers / hobos, college students / even the cops” with “a dealer and dear friend / selling me a car for $1 and a drink” unto “drifting uptown, downtown, st. charles, to the fly . . . . getting handled by an off duty pig / smashing my face in the concrete stairs” (see what I mean about chthonic?), all to recall “feeling / alive and fucked up / immune to / mistakes washed away in the mississippi.”

Thus, a “limited rebellion / crouching toward the desire to see / an even fuller spectrum” is chronicled as singular experience “risking insanity for sanity,” which isn’t too hard to decode. And in doing so, our chuckling protags

                push past forces of the state
          that have never represented
          interest besides their golden own . . . to
          become more than mere anarchy

Their chrysalises being: “a pusherman of language / and the experience to wield it.”  

But what of the “getting away” motif in which “it’s much simpler / to get away with everything / when getting away / with mere nothing / is no cinch”? Forms of this thematic refrain keep popping up throughout, announcing stuff like “—to get away / one must get away with (nothing and) everything” and “A few friends are drunk, more than one / sporting a ragged pair of assless chaps—none / getting away with anything we wouldn’t.”  To the point that readers wonder what the deal is to “getaway in gulps / our contents all catalyst.”

Answer = hell if anybody knows! But this is the most likely rationale:

                                      . . . my eyes my ears

          are strapped    to you     my friend
          so rejoicing      I am        to be
          to get away      with        everything

          to share this sacred space is to hold
          ourselves in the dark         to press against
          the noise                                the terrible

          novelty of light             to tell every story
          to get away
                          with                                nothing

          if not a line                                        break

So ultimately, that’s what we get: two quixotic tongues joining as one, breaking lines like breaking bread—a new, millennial, bad-boy-buddy poetix infused with the spirit of Frank O’Hara’s “Personism” driving striving to connect. In a universe, I should add, where “The sky is never finished / so nothing is.”

Mark Spitzer

Mark Spitzer, novelist, poet, essayist and literary translator, grew up in Minneapolis where he earned his Bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota in 1990. He then moved to the Rockies, where he earned his Master's in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado. After living on the road for some time, he found himself in Paris, as Writer in Residence for three years at the bohemian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, where he translated French criminals and misanthropes. In 1997 he moved to Louisiana, and earned an MFA from Louisiana State University. He taught creative writing and lit for five years at Truman State University and is now an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas where he founded and edited the legendary Toad Suck Review. Spitzer is also a gar-nut and was the official Nebraska state record holder for the yellow bullhead. He currently splits his time between Mayflower, Arkansas and Rosendale, NY, and travels the world researching monster fish.

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