Online Edition: Winter 2004

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Riffs from New Id

William Zink

Sugar Loaf Press ($9)

by Justin Maxwell

Released in the summer of 2004, this multi-genre collection by William Zink focuses on the then-impending presidential election, using a variety of different literary methodologies to promote a liberal/progressive agenda. This proselytization is so fundamental to the book's vision that even the copyright notice gives complete permission for the reproduction of any part of the book "in any form by anyone anywhere" until after election day, when a boilerplate copyright comes into effect.

Riffs contains some pieces that are sincerely moving. The opening fiction work, "The First Piña Colada War {Abridged}," divulges the secret motivations of over a dozen anonymous senators, then radically jumps to a narrative of Iraqi soldiers under the physical and psychological pressures of the American bombardment, then shifts again to character sketches of Iraqis, told in a chilling past tense that reveals them to be a series of intimate, extended epitaphs. The final piece in the collection, "A Letter to the People of Ohio," makes a thoroughly reasonable and cogent plea for Zink's home state to vote out a universally detrimental administration.

Unfortunately, much of the work between the aforementioned bookends has the consistently clumsy feel of hurried writing. A long section called "Death Penalty Syllogisms and Other Lunacies" points out the foolishness of logic based on assumptions or unanalyzed beliefs; a few of the syllogisms could accomplish this successfully but the section goes on for page after page. Sections of poetry called "Crushers of the Universe" and "By George" have some zip but are ultimately didactic and sophomoric. A collection of aphorisms called "Desperate Graffiti" has some wonderful, put-it-on-your-rally-sign moments, such as "A society that shrugs its shoulders at art isn't a civilization; it's a work crew." But slogans like "Intellectual midgets and wanna-be dictators rely on slogans" are obviously problematic in a collection of political work that relies on emotion over explication; a more carefully made collection would surely have removed such ideological paradoxes.

The book is a collection of different approaches—the riffs of the title—which could potentially sway an undecided voter. Made quickly, it contains all the energy and fear of its time. Its haste leads to problems ranging from distracting typos and a lack of nuanced rhetoric to writing too raw for much impact. In the end it is not a book of great political insight, but it does a fine (if unintentional) job of capturing the political panic that so thoroughly charged the time of its creation. And if it is of dubious merit after the election, when its primary purpose has passed, as a snapshot of contemporary cultural life Riffs from New Id has a unique anthropological value.

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Winter 2004 Table of Contents