The Jammin’ Wild Life Rocket Fire of Paul Siegell’s Poetry by Martha Engber

Paul Siegell, jambandbootleg, A-Head, 2009

Paul Siegell, wild life rifle fire, Otoliths, 2010

Paul Siegell’s poetry is the sticky, glass-shattered asphalt outside tacky rock concert venues. It’s the crowded Jersey boardwalks on humid summer nights. It’s hip-swaying in a rocking place, music-pulsing bodies packing the house, the place a jammin’ riff. In specific, Mr. Siegell’s jambandbootleg and wild life rifle fire offer three-dimensional poetry that’s one-third shape, one-third symbols (sometimes words, sometimes not) and one-third the memories of all lowbrow cheap thrills ever had. Playful. Unapologetically gimmicky. Humorously self-deprecating. A carnival ride of joy. In other words, poetry as playground.

Don’t get me wrong. Not every poem in the 117-page jambandbootleg — as in bootleg concert tapes made by people like Mr. Siegell on the college-era road trip he purportedly started on the Long Island Expressway at Exit 35, according to the book’s notes — is a masterpiece. But every one of the 50+ pieces jumps with energy and spinning thought, not only due to word choice, but shape, as in the double helix of *THE AFTERNOON SET OF 12.31.00* or the guitar of *11.19.05 – Bright Eyes – Academy of Music, PA* or the American flag of *FORT SKATEBOARD*, the words packed tightly where the stars should be, the sentences lengthening where the stripes stretch out.

Mr. Siegell’s use of whatever is necessary to get the job done — flipping text sideways, using triple parentheses, lining up the double L’s in each word of *Parallelograms* — is reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s experimental novel House of Leaves.
Most of the poems in Mr. Siegell’s books are made more so — more funny, more ironic, more surprising — by the use of abbreviation, such as b/w the killer, as in be with and by the inclusion of amusing symbols:


—amusing references to pop culture:

alas, “I could use a little more cowbell.”

—and simply amusing musings:

*RE: Cover Letter*

To Whom.

It may concern you that I came
This (=) close to tattooing

my resume

upon the thigh of a stolen old mannequin’s leg,
with something of a, “Now that I’ve got my

paw in the door,”

but please accept this email ink of, hope-
fully, a diff’rent ilk instead. (It’s much less

horrifying.) Resume attached. Thank you.

Very Respectfully Yours,

Mr. Just Kidding

wild life rifle fire manages an even more intense vibrancy that’s almost visual. Each page of the small book is filled with one or two words printed in thick, inch-high black letters on a white background, the effect that of strobing exclamation marks.
Rather than contemplate each page singly, however, the reader is urged to move quickly from one page to another in order to absorb the overall effect, which is that of a flip book, each page an illustration of the same object, though slightly changed, so that flipping through the pages appears to make the object move. Words are pictures and pictures are words, like on the first page where there’s an eye-patch-wearing, gun-toting bad boy made of nothing more than various punctuation marks. Or on the first page featuring letters:


—and across two pages:
xpl           in
ode           iti

The book can be read in two minutes, the result jarring as rapid gunfire. Both books leave one with the impression of an art form redefined. An art form meant to be free and freeing, but much of which seems to have grown shackled by rules and expectations. Fortunately, the rocking body of work created by Mr. Siegell appears to have jumped the fence for an irreverent romp on the wild side.