Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
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by Marvin Taylor


Mike Topp is a poet in the manner of Adam (he of Paradise). As John Rockwell put it, in The New York Times, 'As the unchallenged father figure of American experimental poetry, Mr. Topp wields an influence that extends far beyond his words alone . . . Indeed, the entire art, fashion, and club scene in downtown Manhattan would be unthinkable without Mr. Topp's poetry, writing, and genially avuncular personality.'

Two anecdotes may suggest a tentative definition of Topp. Alice Quinn invited me to lunch with Topp at Katz's delicatessen on Houston Street (February 14th, 1999). While enjoying some excellent borscht, we were joined by Hal Sirowitz. During the entire meal, Topp said nothing, except at one point to make a rather silly (I thought) reference to his new 'borscht belt.' He ate only some party mix, with cheese doodles, and wadded the wrapper into a ball. Later that same day, however, I noticed that something had changed: a joyful sun lit up the depths of my soul.

On another occasion, I had the good fortune to spend a weekend with Topp. This was a Sunday, and his wife, at the time, was going into Paris on the train. Some time in the morning, Topp got a call from her and she had gotten off the train. She was sobbing. She had lost her ring and Topp said, 'Well, I know where it is.' He walked upstairs, went into the bedroom, put his hand between the mattress and box springs. Went in up to his shoulders, got the ring, came back down and said, 'I've got it right here.' And that's a true story. To turn from the man to the work: This sampling of Topp is long overdue, partly at least because Topp himself wanted no part of it; our thanks should go to the editors of the Corpse for assiduous literary detective work in tracking down some of the more fugitive manuscripts here. For instance, there had been rumors about the early haiku for years; but it was not until November 1998 that one of the editors came across a haiku copied out on the back of an envelope addressed in Sparrow's hand:

I have discovered that by using a very long straw,
I can drink soda
from my neighbor's apartment.

The postmodern line, as Jeff Johnson pointed out in a review of 'Take a Seat: I Have to Tell You Something,' creates a tense transition between the delicate efforts of the early lyrics, like 'Come In,' with its

Calf, calf,
polka-dot calf,
Mother Cow
is a polka-dot cow.

Look like Mommy.

to the rich irrationalism of Topp's later work, which has had such a profound influence on David Berman:

To be serious is expensive
There's a nickel in my apartment
Often someone blows me
Off but you know what they say
About honey bears when you pluck

Topp without question must rank among the foremost contemporary poets. His humor is reminiscent of Hilton Kramer's. He is also indebted to Erik Satie, as the French spirit has sometimes tapped him on the shoulder, and he has joyfully felt its ironically glacial bite. If there is one key figure who is a key to the whole, it is Topp, standing as he does at the crossroads of the New York School, traditionalism, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the New Romantics, appropriation, creationism, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, lettrism, formalism, Mike & Dale, Straight Edge, spoken word, Hunter Kennedy, Edwin Torres, Bob and Ray, Joe Brainard, William Wegman, the Oulipo, Dr. Ducky Doolittle, Eileen Myles, Ron Padgett, Elaine Equi, Grand Slam, MST3K, OGM, voyeurism, masculinism, feminism, webzinism, Kenneth Rexroth, the Beats, neo-Between C&D, the Nuyorican, the Gathering of the Tribes, the New Gothic, rap, the soi-distant Tulsa School, Maggie Estep, Bob Holman, Mason Williams, Steven Wright, Robert Schimmel, Lucio Pozzi, Hal Sirowitz, Sparrow, Miguel Algarin, Darius James, Chloe Vevrier, Tracie Morris, Jewel, Jeff Stryker, Ron Kolm, Sander Hicks, Steve Cannon, Steve Buscemi, Michael Portnoy, postmodern art for young executives, the Unbearables, The Minus Times, Maoism, Zionism, Marxism, and Leonism.

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