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Alissa Quart's 'Monetized': perfect pitch for the present

Updated: Sunday, May 24, 2015, 3:01 AM

Alissa Quart

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Monetized

By Alissa Quart

Miami University Press. 112 pp. $16

Reviewed by Frank Wilson

'Views," a poem in Alissa Quart's Monetized, begins:

Anorectic transplant flashes

Skin at fashion sisters.

Liquid Paper arms.

Vanishing: an aesthetic.

An anorexic flashing skin with arms like a whiteout product is not only weird imagery. It's also weirdly effective - and affecting. And that vanishing aesthetic. . . . vanishing as an aesthetic meets an aesthetic that is vanishing. Such polarity of illusion would seem to be the overriding theme here.

The first stanza ends with these lines:

A liberal arts stripper

Silver collared herself,

Souvenir to man's bad taste.

A cleverly inclusive old-fashioned use of "man" includes both males and females, a modulation that sets up the intimation that "this retro plane passes/ into unfinished pastness." As for that disappearing aesthetic: " . . . ceremony turns mourning / to nostalgia and villains / and cities go on."

Quart is a much-published poet, essayist, and commentator on culture, with books such as Republic of Outsiders, which studies marginalized cultural groups and their interplay with normative culture. The title of Monetized signals the theme of illusion. These days, you usually hear the verb monetize in connection with the noun debt. Read of "monetizing the debt" and you will find yourself counting the ways in which the currency rubs elbows with fantasy.

Quart's title also suggests a world where everything is being turned into a commodity. She looks upon this world and does not see that it is good. If poetry is prophecy, Quart is a sister to Jeremiah. In "Instrumental," we see details of the past: "when you were starting out,/ as they say," "raised by the book, zine,/ velveteen couch." Only it is now, when

the ads talk to us all

in cars. Bus stops move with

product. Streaming, advertorial, posted, scraped,

mined.

This may not sound like the poetry you learned in school, but rest easy. Quart is doing what poets have always done: finding music in inflections and turns of phrase of people you hear talking now. When it comes to the sound of today, she has perfect pitch.

Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog "Books, Inq. - The Epilogue." E-mail him at presterfrank@gmail.com

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