‘A Hopeless Swarm of Bad Ideas’

That Ryan Adams has a poetry book says a lot about us . . . and too much about him


By Grayson Currin





Akashic Books, 286 pp.


 Early on the afternoon of March 24, North

Carolina native Ryan Adams Joined the amassing

legion of 5 million or so people who

broadcast their lives through the social

media site Twitter. “ Currently listening to

Bach and my wife's voice—so thankful,"

Adams wrote later that night for his

fourth tweet (the Twitter noun and verb

of choice) in less than six hours.

   Exactly two weeks prior, Adams married

entertainer Mandy Moore in a small ceremony

in Sawaanah, Ga. His tweets—brief accounts of

songs he's hearing, foods he's eating, sights he's

seeing—sport the general glow of a successful artist

who’s in love and relaxing during a bright spot in his life.    i

second book, Hello Sunshine, due late this

 summer. He's live-tweeted the Country Music

 Awards from his cell phone. He's raved about

 The Velvet Underground, pizza.com, and the

 culture-rich herbal tea kombucha. Not unlike

 the personal Twitter accounts of many regular

 folk (and Shaquille O'Neal), ifs quixotic, refer-

 ential and often very amusing.

The tone of Adams' Twitter page, then,

 veers markedly from that of his first book,

 the voluble poetry collection Infinity Blues,

 released April 1' in hardcover and trade paper

 by Akashic Books, a Brooklyn publishing house

 and record label run by Johnny Temple, for-

 mer bassist in the D.C.'post-punkband Girls

 Against Boys.           

As its title suggests, an engrossing ,

melancholy marks Adams' literary debut, which

behooves someone who, in 1997, memorably

sang with Whiskeytown, "I was born into an

abundance of inherited sadness."  In 144 poems

 (a handful are actually paragraphs or small

essays), Adams roars through his daddy issues,

girl woes and artistic misgivings with nonfiltered honesty.

Crude, mean and unflinching,

Adams spews his life onto every page, looking

to shock with abrupt proclamations—‘my

money goes to old fucking men in chairs uptown”—and

grisly images—“ a bottle of seltzer / some cotton swabs /

a cutting razor /band-aids/ a piece of flesh-colored tape/

cut/cut/cut till it feels like it when you would

 make yourself sick/ and vomit."  

    In its emotional fits and starts. Infinity Blues

 is occasionally provocative and sometimes

 witty. In general, though, it only confirms the

 fact that Adams—despite his celebrity as a

 prolific, popular singer/ songwriter—is only

 another 34-year-old with personal problems. As

 a celebrity, however, he has the spoiling luxury-

 of-the-rich in time to write those problems

 down, and the platform and lack of filter neces-

sary to air them. But why should we care?

    In four or so words, the titles of Infinity Blues’

works proclaim mostly everything you

need to know about the occasionally rhyming,

sporadically punctuated poems that take their

names: "I Fucking Miss You," for instance, ends

°i am so sorry/ so sorry/ i fucking miss you."

After jumping over little gems of lines like "I

Sicking hate you" and °”i lost my glasses like

two summers ago/ and I can't fucking see/

for shit," "Goodnight Little One" arrives at a

one-line fifth stanza: "So goodnight little one."

And, pardon the spoiler, but "i think i thought

i loved you" concludes, well, “i hate you/1 hate you/

my god/once/in a while/I think I thought I loved you.”





        All said. Infinity Blues is mostly one big

mess of misses. The poems are petulant, myo-

    pic and peitty, as their star is either whining

   " about the unbearable torture of life and love or

    regretting something he once felt. Any hint of

    resolution or grace quickly washes away to the

    idea that his problems are bigger than his hope,

    that his issues are more important than reconciling

himself wim the world. "I am not your

    feelings," he proclaims during the short "baby-

    doll," taking his solipsistic stand and reinforcing

    his unwillingness to bend for anyone.

       What's more. Infinity Blues choker on

    its lazy, lavish use of postmodern devices:

    Adams tosses around unorthodox forms, line

    and character spacing, indulgent repetition,

    and inconsistent capitalization so often that

    they accomplish nothing except to render an   

exhausting read. Adams writes like an undergraduate

who picked up volumes of Charles Bukowski, E. E.

Cummings and William S. Burroughs at the used

bookstore last semester,

    and now—-back at home and missing his girl

friend--is trying those oversized clothes on for

    size over spring break: “I am writing it out/

I am writing it out/I am/ I will/ I was/ I know/


he spins during one particularly egregious passage.

(By the way, that’s his ellipsis, not ours, though  

the poem doesn’t stop there.)


"I refuse to edit/I am but a single life,"

begins the nine-line "I Refuse." Its footnote,

from publisher Johnny Temple, explains, "This

poem was originally 32 pages long." Aside

from reaffirming Adams' island mentality, "I

refuse" verifies that he, indeed, has an editor.

Otherwise, you might guess no one read these

prolix pages before ink met paper on the print-

ng press: There's so much chaff here that, try

as I might, I still can't make it from cover to

over in one straight line. Rejoice the occasional

bit of wheat, though: The lyrical phrase inver-

ions that open and close "to flame", the meta-

phor of bones and dice, both unlucky, in “SOS

Searchlights"; the calm, clueless admission

of “c'mon, let's go." To put Infinity Blues into

perspective, William Carlos Williams' defini-

ive collection. Selected Poems, contains only

5 more pages of work. The 2002 Ecco edition

of Charles Bukowski's Love is a Dog from Hell

bears just 26 more pages. It's thrice the length

Colossus and Other Poems, the first stateside

volume from Sylvia Plath, the namesake of a

one|Adams song. Either Ryan Adams is the

most important poet to cross any desk in a cen-

tury or,well, you know.

  If the material were alluring, that would be one

thing, but I can barely read a poem without laughing

or wishing I was anywhere else. A quagmire of

over-indulgence, Infinity Blues loses its point in

endless slipstreams  of details. Associations run wild,

though Adams ultimately leaves nothing for the reader

to take away. It’s a lot of work for next to no payoff.


But there must be thousands of bad poets

in the world, right? What's more frustrating here

than Adams' copious missives is that he

 (a songwriter taking a chance and

turning that "inherited sadness" into something

more than songs) or his editor (if Akashic didn't

lease this, someone else would have, given

the author's fame) let them into the world as is.

Rather the worst part of all is that I care enough

to review a terrible book and you care enough

to read about it simply because the spine says “Ryan

Adams.” Penned by anyone else

Infinity Blues would likely have been another.

vanity collection, perhaps published at the Lulu.com

office on the same Hillsborough Street Adams used to

pace. It would  have been ignored by

most of the world because, honestly, its

contents aren't much more interesting than the

diaries, journals or blogs of every other young adult.

It’s twitter.com/ryanada_ms with the colors reversed.

As a society, though, our celebrity obsession has grown

progressively reckless. Now, when our favorite singer

tweets about his lunch destination, wce can have the

news instantly forwarded as a  text message to our cell

phones. Some stars inform us of their constant whereabouts

with real-time GPS updates. Shaq buys fellow twitter buddies

lunch. In the acclaimed Age of Information, the capability

to learn anything you didn't know even existed.—the life

cycle of the fascinating microscopic animal known as a

tardigrade, the intricacies of the Facial Action Coding System;

the global implications of the

  continuing Second Congo War—is but a few keystrokes

away. Still, we're more concerned with

 what our favorite starlet is wearing or who our

- favorite heartthrob is seducing.

     After all, the Twitter account of Kutcher—a

goofy guy famous for wearing truckers

hats and saying, "Dude, you got 'punk'd"—

 became the first to claim 1 million followers

 last week after a highly publicized wager with

 CNN’s Breaking News Feed. That is, in an exponentially

growing field of Internet users, more

 people demand updates on what's happening

 in Kutcher's life than what's happening in their

own world. Of course, maybe Adams will use

 that electronic avenue to tell us when something bad

happens in his life. At 140 characters each, those tweets

will be much easier to read than, say, 286 pages of poems

that are, by and large, “a hopeless swarm of bad ideas.”

If only Adams had found twitter before March 2009.





WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22, 2009 | 27 •