HCSHR 4:9 — Michael Dylan Welch, Eyeball Kick, Retina Splash, & Vitreous Humor


HCSHR 4:9Michael Dylan Welch, Eyeball Kick, Retina Splash, & Vitreous Humor. BonesJournal.com, 2020. A trilogy of PDF-chapbooks, 40 pp each.

reviewed by Maxianne Berger

All of the 43 poems in each of these three books begins with the identical phrase, “hydrogen jukebox.” Although a repeating line or phrase has long been a rhetorical device in poetry, its use in haiku is not widespread. I first encountered it with Nick Virgilio’s “Litany for the Dead,” a sequence that continues to stun me with its power (Selected Haiku, 1988, pp 50-53). This being said, Michael Dylan Welch’s goal in his three books is quite antipodal to Virgilio’s realism. As Welch explains in his first introduction,

Each short poem in this collection presents a disjunction in the manner of what Allen Ginsberg conceptualized in the phrase “hydrogen jukebox”—originally from Howl, and later an opera by Ginsberg and Philip Glass. It’s a deliberate compression of two disparate and unexpected elements—low and high, common and uncommon—in this case to the point of surrealism, designed to produce what Ginsberg called an “eyeball kick,” or a double-take. (EK, p. 6).

 As a reader, I was set up for two different experiences: the joys of unexpected juxtapositions, and what my reasoning mind would attempt to make of them. And joys did, and meaning was. On occasion, the metal machine of the first line happens to introduce another machine.

hydrogen jukebox
the blip on the radar screen
disappears                                        (EK 12)

 At times, for this reader anyway, the metal machine itself is remembered as well as one’s teenage years can be.

hydrogen jukebox
the cottage cheese
of memory                                       (EK 18)

Obviously, a poem more senryū than haiku, and perhaps more Dada than merely surreal, nevertheless the curdy mush of memory couldn’t be better expressed.

Retina Splash adds to the original introduction: “What we have here, in no intentional order, are more poems that pair a repeated phrase with the quiddities of living, plus a twist or three” (RS, p. 6). Here are two more whose playfulness appeals to me, this first one by its intertextuality. 

hydrogen jukebox
the planes in Spain
fall mainly in the rain                                (RS p. 9)

In this next one, I admire the chutzpah of such abstraction in a poem based on concrete imagery. 

hydrogen jukebox
finding the essence
of nothing                                        (RS 25)

In Vitreous Humor, the final book of the three, Welch presents more, . . . 

More quiddities, more whatnots, more highs and lows, more heres and theres, outs and abouts, shouts and echoes, whispers and dreams, more touches of daily living combined with the peculiarities of whatever a hydrogen jukebox is. (VH p. 6)

The third book of the collection ends as strangely, or perhaps, better put, as uniquely as the series itself begins.

hydrogen jukebox
for all the words
in China                                            (VH p. 39)

Each book includes 40 plus poems, and a generous selection of beautiful Japanese papers serve as fly leaves and section divisions. If this is the sort of writing one enjoys, or to discover if it is, this trilogy by Michael Dylan Welch can be read at the on-line library at the BonesJournal web site.

On a personal note, I would add this. At the 2019 Oulipo writing workshop in Bourges, France, Ian Monk had us write a poem where each strophe begins with the same short phrase of our choosing (like his own Aujourd’hui le soleil [today the sun], 2019). Had I been familiar with the likes of Welch’s Eyeball Kicks et al, I’d have been inspired to produce something much more imaginative, adventurous and fun! 

Maxianne Berger
Haiku Canada Review 15:1
(Feb. 2021) pp 82-4


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