Once upon a time in the 1990s, I remember my 4th grade class being spoon-fed articles from Time For Kids magazine about how dangerous drugs like ecstasy and MDMA were (“Like taking an ice-cream scoop’s worth out from your young brain!”) and there was this evil thing called a rave. Like your average party, maybe with music and multi-colored lights and everybody dancing, but worse. Like the mythic days of 60s experimentation with hallucinogenics à la professor Timothy Leary, only much more fatalistic. An altogether different hedonism, or what could be called decadence: not even grunge, but a kind of positive nihilism and saying goodbye to the 20th century. These concepts were so far beyond my imagination and/or realm of consciousness at that time, that I wrote it all off as a cautionary tale that didn’t in any way apply to me. Now, flash-forward to the second decade of our new millennium, and I have tried MDMA, but I’ve never been to a rave before, at least none that I can remember…
Dana Ward is an archeologist of these and other esoterica with a poem about Krystle Cole at the proverbial core of his latest full-length book from Futurepoem. VICE Magazine online is currently another go-to source for information about her (short documentary here) but you don’t have to be in-the-know about anything like that to enjoy this poem, or the book. I first read the following verses in a little handsewn magazine made in Brooklyn over a year ago, when the rest of this book was just a glimmer in the author and its publisher’s eye. The poem began the magazine. Here’s a part of the middle:
besieged or like a mask
for separation, they
felt like connection
between us in life but I
didn’t take my allegory
further Krystal Cole, into your
lysergic delirium later redeemed
by a beautiful discipline
of spirit & cosmography
developed for praxis. I liked
your video on candy
flipping hard & developing
telekinesis with friends.
It suggested oneness
was a leavened mix
of random indiscretion,
bruising wariness, & bliss
obtained by synchronizing
chemical encounter [. . .] “
Cole made headlines in the early 2000s after getting caught up in what has since been substantiated as the largest hallucinogenic drug bust in recorded history. She’s a cult figure, a martyr without having to die, the benevolent Mother Theresa of drugs, adolescent rebellion and all things forbidden. She was working as an exotic dancer in Kansas when she befriended two chemists who claimed they lived nearby together in a refurbished underground missile silo. Leonard Pickard and Todd Skinner had turned it into a massive drug factory/pleasure palace, and invited Cole to come and live with them.
To this day, in interviews, her YouTube video series, and with her memoir Lysergic, Cole muses on the benefits of taking hallucinogenics for entheogenic purposes “to awaken the divine within”. She also tells stories of special intravenous drip bags full of MDMA or DMT set up for people at the underground parties; the better times with mad scientists Skinner and Pickard going around regulating the flow for the rotating cast of whoever happened to be passing through the silo. Cole and Skinner became lovers and, at some point feeling paranoid and overwhelmed, decided to turn Pickard in to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2000. After Pickard was caught, Cole and Skinner were granted immunity. This allowed them to continue their drug operations as a couple, travelling cross-country, single-handedly supplying a flourishing rave scene throughout the Midwest, the West Coast and beyond.
Unlike Cole, both Pickard and Skinner are now serving life sentences in jail. After three solid years doing the Bonnie & Clyde thing, in 2003, Cole and a new boyfriend decided to turn Skinner in to the DEA after he had begun to abuse her physically. The sexist DEA did nothing with the information Cole had given them, but instead called Skinner immediately to warn him he had been ratted out. He proceeded to kidnap Cole and her boyfriend, and in a hotel room, subjected them both (but the boyfriend especially) to a variety of “psychedelic torture(s)” before running away in a fury to the Burning Man festival in Nevada. He was arrested there on a separate charge for selling drugs, later to be tried and incarcerated on the added charges of kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.
The prose poetry along with the other verse in this book is so brilliant, so uncompromising in its search for subject matter and mildly self-aware purple fustian style, with language at times like a rainbowesque bulwark… careful accretions of only the most vibrant material Ward has gathered for us from off the shelves at the mall or the darkest corners of Internet or just plain old-fashioned books of other people’s poetry he loves. You get lost in it. He’s a self-proclaimed flâneur of the American Mid-west from Cincinnati while being no stranger to the city of New York and its environs; where so many of his peers/collaborators/fans have enjoyed a sneak preview and advanced copies of this book along with his live readings. He works with the mixed blessing of the label “poet’s poet.” Why? At one point, he mentions his publishers Song Cave and Futurepoem in the poem directly, telling the story of how this book came into being, and we see the author tipping his hand/hat to an assumed audience of mostly other poets, editors, publishers and artists…sort of preaching to the choir, you might say.
But Ward transcends the elitist moors of so-called avant-gardist groupings somehow while being completely as avant-garde as can be. There are so many distillations of styles and forms and readings in this book. He dedicates and addresses his poems to his fellow poets, while also serving as a kind of ambassador between them and the respective world(s) of mass culture, Internet memes, pop music and Ohio. These pages also hearken back to Bernadette Mayer, Clark Coolidge, throw Hannah Weiners in there (like the book The Fast) L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets like Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman… Alice Notley. Jack Kerouac. Charles Baudelaire. It’s a sprawling, torrential and omnivorous poetics.
The book comprises several long poems, prose and verse; one emerging out of the other, and vice versa. It’s writing that lends itself to fast reading, constant re-reading, and being read aloud to friends. And as anyone who has ever seen him read his poems live will say, he’s phenomenal (Video of the title poem being read aloud) with his deceptively casual arabesque. Vocally, he’s on par with the late Leslie Scalapino for intensity, and Charles Olson for a kind classical oratory gravitas while being able to make it look easy. Okay. Beyond that, it would be foolish to entertain any other similarities between those latter two, or between Ward and anybody else writing at this moment, poetry or otherwise. For so long, it seems like he has been (and hopefully no more will remain as) a best-kept secret. His imitators may be legion, but there is no mistaking the real thing.
Ben Tripp is at work on a new illuminated chapbook (artwork by Jake Braff) based off his poem “I Pawn My iPod”. It will be available everywhere soon. Directions here: http://benjamintripp.