Local poets Daniel Comiskey and C. E. Putnam have published a poem titled Crawlspace, and as an object it's compelling. It's a tall, lean book, packaged with a CD and a pair of cheap, cardboard 3-D glasses, and you just kind of want to touch it. The cover looks like an old punk 45: A man wearing a cloak of tentacles stands, bare-chested, in the middle of a pool of hypnotic ripples, and the whole thing is printed in the blurry violet of old-school 3-D.
When you put on the glasses, though, the only part of the collage that stands out is the man's disgustingly realistic chest hair. On further inspection, it appears that the chest hair is actually an upside-down photograph of someone's happy trail, leaking from a black hole of a belly button up into a thatch of pubic hair tucked just under the man's chin. It's a ghastly revelation, thematically resonating with the title's 1950s horror-movie font.
A few dozen people have gathered at the Rendezvous's Jewel Box Theater for the Crawlspace release party. Doug Nufer, Seattle's most gloriously Oulipian force for good, introduces the authors by first comparing them to bullfighters, and then suggesting that they wrote the poem more in the style of a wrestling tag team. "When we apply the rules of professional wrestling to the mayhem of poetry," Nufer says, "who or what are we fighting?"
Comiskey and Putnam take the stage, dressed as foppish dandies in britches and waistcoats, with large buckles on their shoes and frilly lace everywhere. Putnam reads the flashier bits, the chapters named things like "Kicks from the House of Shock." The idea seems to be a love song to popular culture. Lines like "Maybe/a melancholic power/chord or two/would clear/the air" suggest a desire to live a life like in the movies, but many others, like "I'll put aside my antediluvian/ways and just hit the showers," exist solely to be precious.
Putnam and Comiskey certainly know how to put on a show, and Crawlspace's accompanying CD, with its dramatic readings interspersed with snippets of songs and sound effects, is great fun. But Nufer's introductory question—who are we fighting?—remains unanswered.
There are about 90 different forces pulling on this poem and, in performance at least, the end result seems to be an easy laugh. Crawlspace is an attempt to stitch together poetry and cliché in order to create something different, but ultimately, it's just a fucked-up experiment with some electricity pumped through it, all sound and fury signifying a cheap thrill.