Tuesday, May 22, 2007



Kool Logic: La logica kool by Urayoan Noel, with The Kool Logic Sessions (DVD)
(Bilingual Press, 2005)

The Bard from Boricua

(the cultural logic of late capitalism
means you can't distinguish
the new from the antediluvian
--from "Forced Busing"

Driven to reveal the layered complexities and absurdities of modern living, Urayoan Noel turns a withering eye and well-turned satiric wit to create a collection of poetry both lyric and ironic in nature. His topics range from abuse of nursing home patients, to immigration and assimilation, to self-racism, drug addition, and self-absorption. His poetry is never sentimental and never provides easy solutions. Like a well-trained storyteller, he places a mirror in front of the reader, reflects back the social conditions which have bombarded the reader into complacency, then sharply asks "What are you going to do to change this?"

the irony is that we are human
--from "Sour Grapes"

Wielding a wide range poetic forms including the decima and the terza rima, Noel moves the reader from location to location and uses the unique cultural markers of each place to show the difficulty diasporic communities experience through repeated displacement. Noel creates poetry which sings while revealing how the markers of late capitalism such as burdening debt, superprofits in world markets, and the technological revolution create the illusion of perfection at the price of a diminished and sometimes voided soul.

The central poem "Kool Logic/La logica kool" is presented in English and Spanish, reflecting his own bilingual background as well as reinforcing that the ills he writes about are not just in the US but also throughout the world. Stanza after stanza he lists the various tangibles of late capitalism:

In the Prozac marketplaces
People hoard new modes of leisure;
Love has been deregulated:
Plastic breasts! Prosthetics! Seizures!
--from "Kool Logic/La logica kool"

The rhythm of each line and stanza pile concept after concept on the reader, like a radio tuned into more than one station at once, noisy, yet somewhat discernible. Each stanza is punctuated by the refrain "This is the kool logic/Of late capitalism" giving the poem an overall feel that it is a lyric to a popular song.

I'm a great believer that poems are not only meant to be read, but also to be heard, and the best person to read a poem in performance is the poet who created the poem. With a trained ear for sound and line breaks, the poet knows intimately how a poem works because they are the creator of the work. I was very excited then to see that Noel had produced a DVD of his poetry and eagerly inserted the disk into my computer.

Seeing Noel perform "Kool Logic" as an English piece, however, was not the experience I was hoping for, and in fact, I wondered if my whole belief about poets as performers was being quickly altered with every keyboard stroke and bob of Noel's palm leaf hat festooned head. I had expected to see Noel behind a podium carefully enunciating ever word of his poems and gesturing with his hands for emphasis. Perhaps he would even look up from the page and make eye contact with the audience. I admit to blinking in abject horror, however, to find Noel singing his poetry pop-rock style, his pitch less than perfect accompanied by tinny and overly electric music compositions that didn't necessarily match his singing.

Thankfully, included with the performance pieces was an interview with Noel which revealed to me that Noel was not an American Idol wannabe, but the next in a generation of beat poets and performance artists willing to take themselves and their work as seriously and as unseriously as possible.

The interview revealed his roots in academia as well as standup comedy which created in him a sense of the absurd. While living in New York in the '90s, he met several Nuyorican and Old Beat poets who helped him bridge the gap between the arcane, incursive poetry of his early days with a larger funkier, irreverent, pop voice. Influenced by Pedro Pietre, Allen Ginsburg, and Bob Dillon, Noel instinctively sensed that rock language, with its sense of disposableness and immediacy, could deflate the grand gestures of formal poetry and provide a moral voice to his poetry.

Gaelic bards and French troubadours were known for their abilities to compose and perform elaborate poems and songs which entertained as well as enlightened audience members. Satiric in nature, their work would often highlight the social issues of their times and it was believed that an angered bard could write songs so scathing as to cause boils on the skins of his listeners. In his poetry and performance of collected in Kool Logic/La logica kool, Noel establishes himself as a modern day bard and brings his culture-straddling sensibilities to bear on a world numbed by the logic of late capitalism.


Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor received her MA degree in English with honors from Western Washington University in 2003 for her thesis “Notes from the Margins,” a mixed work of memoir and fiction. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in the Katipunan Literary Magazine and the online magazine Haruah. In addition, she has served as a freelance writer and editor for several trade journals. Currently she is working on her first novel, tentatively titled Maganda’s Comb, and she performs regularly as a storyteller in her local area. Her blog is Binding Wor(l)ds Together.


At 7:34 PM, Blogger Francisco Aragón said...

Delighted to see that this book has been reviewed. Urayoán is the real deal and this is a terrific book. Thank you for reviewing it.


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