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Veteran punk rocker Richard Hell reads from his new poetry-filled novel

Wednesday, Sep 28 2005
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It may come as a shock to realize that Richard Hell, famed punk of bands such as the Voidoids, was originally a published poet. It's not surprising that he was interested in poetry, since late-1960s New York was awash in Beat fervor, but he made it into print, and prolifically. He can clearly write this stuff, which he ably proves in his latest novel, Godlike, a many-layered work full of Beat prosody, poems, and bursts of narrative that don't direct the book as much as escape from it.

Subtitled The Hospital Notebooks of Paul Vaughn, Incorporating His Memoir-Novelette of R.T. Wode, the book is primarily a love story between the 16-year-old R.T. and the 27-year-old Paul, both poets, both mad for life, both doing plenty of drugs and engaging in sex, homosexual and otherwise, in 1970s New York. R.T. quits poetry in his 20s, vanishes into South America, and becomes a legend in the States. The parallel to Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine is there for the taking, but never announced.

These poets, like the Beats and every mad visionary before them, do not shy away from tackling intellectual ideas, which they toss around like beach balls before letting them drift away, unresolved, the luxury of drug-addled freethinkers. Often the prose appears to be an exercise in spontaneous writing, or is impenetrable -- "Thick heavy ribbons from the sky of slow golden syrup form a sideways stack of slanting 8's that slump at once." I have no idea what this means, even in the context of nearby sentences. But Hell does haul out some memorable lines, such as, "He felt like his insides were aligned in wide vertical stripes."

It's a book true to the eccentricities, and annoyances, of Beat writing. Sometimes Hell puts quotes around clichéd phrases, almost like he's apologizing for their use. Parenthetical asides factor heavily, mimicking a poet's frantic mind. But the poetry (Hell's own, written by different characters) is clearly defined, properly indented, and quite good. It may be billed as fiction, but Godlike is Hell's book of verse.

About The Author

Michael Leaverton

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