Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza, by Eugene Ostashevsky

High school is usually the first time we get our hands on post-Dr. Seuss, post-Shel Silverstein, "grownup" poetry: your Walt Whitmans, your E.E. Cummings-es, your Robert Frosts. They're all great, of course. Of course!

But you don't usually get the *really* good stuff until college or later--and that's if you're lucky. By the really good stuff, I mean hilarious and surreal and culturally contemporary poetry like The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza. You know, poetry about things that really matter, like rap battles and epistemology and peeing dinosaurs.

My girlfriend loves poetry, which I don't particularly--or haven't since college, with a few exceptions, like periodic Rilke and Mark Strand obsessions--but I know that there's a lot of great poetry on our bookshelves at home. Sometimes I accidentally read some of it, and that's what happened with The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza.

I picked up this slim book just because it looked cool, and I started reading in the middle, at a poem called "Infinite Recursor or the Bride of DJ Spinoza," which begins

The bride of DJ Spinoza
has an absolute cleavage
like that between natural numbers and Aleph-null


and quickly ends up in a refrain that goes "cause I got more rhymes than Joseph Brodsky/I got more rhymes than Leon Trotsky/Brodsky/Trotsky/Brodsky/Trotsky/La--là" then is immediately followed by the stage direction "She comes down and drop-kicks him in the head."

I was hooked. I can't get over how this stuff manages to be simultaneously so funny and so brainy. The poet, Eugene Ostashevsky, flips back and forth constantly from academic to slapstick, making jokes involving philosophy, pirates, mathematics, hip-hop conventions, historical references, and just stupidly goofy humor. How can you not love poems like "The Origin of the Specious" and "Myopia Is Youropia"? There's even a "Peepeesaurus" character, the star of a series of poems that he wrote as a gift for his three- or four-year-old nephew, who "as all children, or all boys do, he went through this very penis-centered stage, which coincided with a dinosaur-centered stage." (Pause, audience bursts into laughter.)

Through all of this--while mixing in French and Latin and Russian--Ostashevsky somehow pulls together some pretty heady (not to mention intellectually acrobatic) meditations on the nature of... well, everything. Love and life and logic and even conversations with God. But maybe that's not too surprising, since DJ Spinoza is obviously based on Baruch Spinoza. Clearly, even if for some inexplicable reason you don't want to read this book, you need to be *seen* reading it if you're hoping to pick up someone as cute and brainy and weird as yourself.

And, you know, I feel like I have to stress this because it's *poetry*, but... it's really funny. But don't take my word for it: I liked reading better than listening, just because I wanted to keep re-reading parts of it, but you can hear Ostashevsky read much of the book at a performance at Bowdoin College.


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1 comment:

Kelly Fineman said...

I've got to get my hands on this, since I love poetry - and am proud of it!