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Monday, January 21, 2013


I am so pleased to begin "reviewing" the mini-books sent to me in response to my Invitation to the Public to participate in "Books on Chairs"!  My first such engagement will be with THE CHAIRMAN SPEAKS by Tom Beckett:

Much as I appreciate Tom Beckett’s contribution to “Books on Chairs,” I can’t be as frank in featuring it because I hesitate to show the male organ, so to speak, on this blog. It’s not because I’m a prude so much as I don’t really know who’s reading this blog--I mean, someone (relatively young) might come here from playing in a dollhouse looking for miniature chairs!  How’s that for raising your interest (pun intended)?

Anyway, Mr. Beckett sent a mini book entitled The Chairman Speaks.  It’s comprised of a cartoon and a thought balloon.  Before I discuss the cartoon and thought balloon, let me note how the book is comprised of blue paper and the text is presented as glued-on pieces of white paper.  I mention this because a bit of glue must have stuck between a couple of the pages. When I opened the pages, a piece of white paper from the right page remained stuck on the left page, like so:

After my first read of the book, I came to think of that white spot on the left page as like a drop of semen.  This effect may not have been planned by Mr. Beckett, but it does seem appropriate to his project.

The cartoon, which I won’t show in totality,  is actually well-done, revealing a man standing before a table.  The man is tall enough so that the table is below his waist.  The man’s “head” is an empty circle whereas the man’s private parts are laid out on the table—except the organs reveal eyes and mouth, the eyes and mouth that are missing from the head’s empty circle. (Actually, the drawing is sufficiently abstract so that it's possible the man is seated on a chair with a piece of blank paper on his lap where his privates rest -- either interpretation of the drawing is still consistent with moi review.)

It’s intriguing to consider the image in relation to a “Chairman.”  Is the cartoon suggesting that when a man is seated on a chair, this particular man is thinking with his penis rather than his brain.  And now the man is standing up (assuming he was standing in front of a table rather than seated with a piece of paper on lap) because he wants to speak? 

But what would cause a man to have the luxury to speak with his penis rather than his brain?  Is it because, as “Chairman”—which certainly implies some position of power—he is in a sufficiently privileged position so that he can afford to make decisions based on what pleases him versus what is right or logical?

By the way, while the reference is to a “-man,” this book extends Mr. Beckett’s investigations of identity, including genre.  That is, this “man” is depicted as having breasts, like so (I will show the upper half of the cartoon):

What’s nifty about the insertion of this reference is how it was done subtly—it’s not presented as an overt concern of the narrative; it’s just presented matter-of-factly (though that matter-of-factness may not be discernible in this cut-off image that focuses on the torso).  The matter-of-factness of the detail’s inclusion indicates something about Mr. Beckett’s view of identity’s multiplicities—perhaps that it’s a natural enough thing so there’s no need to make a big deal of it. And/or, even if one does identify with a specific gender, it does not mean that other genders do not exist within that person.  This image, by the way, reminds me of the cover to one of Mr. Beckett’s books, UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006:

(The cover image for the above book was a sculpture by master artist Robert Gober. If you go to link and scroll down, you’ll see image of the sculpture featured on Mr. Beckett’s book.)

Well, so what does the Chairman say?  He says what’s in the thought balloon which offers the following poem:

This I Believe

If my dick worked
I’d tell it
To go on unemployment
And to rail
Against the Man

What is intriguing to me is this unusual take on “sexual politics,” so to speak.  Correct Moi if I’m wrong but a man’s private parts are particularly fragile—isn’t that why if a guy gets hit down there it’ll typically make him buckle, perhaps collapse, writhing in pain?  But the cartoon man, here, exposes his most fragile part while delivering a violent message.  When one conducts a revolution, it’s not prudent to do so naked, is it?  The body—let alone its most fragile physical components—could be hit by rocks, batons or billy clubs, pepper spray, bullets, etc.  So it’d be wise to don a thick jacket or bullet-proof shields—metaphors for protecting the body rather than exposing it—if you’re going to rebel against some societal or power infrastructure norm.

Ah, but the title refers to a “Chairman”, as in Chairman of a company, conglomerate or  other organization for which “the Man” usually works or symbolizes.  So is this man not concerned about protection (no pun intended) because he is in power?  If so, what does it mean that this powerful dude expresses the sentiments in the poem?  Is it because he knows by being very much on the inside exactly how the indicated (notwithstanding lack of specifics) power structure works?  Notice, per the poem, that the Chairman isn’t a working schlub.  It opens, “If my dick worked…”  That’s an “If.”  So, by being in the inside, by knowing so well because he is a/the Boss how power manifests itself—let us recall the saying “Power corrupts…”—is the Chairman knowingly advising us all to rebel?

Or maybe the Chairman isn’t trying to do anybody a favor.  Note that the poem was featured in the following way:

I don’t know about you, but I read/view the above shape of the white cut-out as partly that the poem-sentiment was revealed during a man’s orgasm.  During orgasm, one is not fully in control—and so this could be an uncontrolled revelation.  As an uncontrolled revelation, this could mean that the Chairman was inadvertently being honest in expressing his statement.

There is, though, another possibility as regards the line "If my dick worked."  The line implies that his organ isn't working, bespeaking impotency.  Does this mean that he, even if a "Chairman," does not possess the power to change things?  This would certainly fit in with the idea that all of us exist within a context (e.g. capitalism) that is larger than any individual, including perhaps the individual's ability to change such larger context.  Depressing?  But it fits the color of the pages -- blue pages as in "blue balls."  If  "blue balls" represents unrealized desire as in a desire to change how things work, then no wonder the Chairman might give in to the rant to "rail against the Man."

THE CHAIRMAN SPEAKS—like many other great poems—generates as much questions as it offers possible answers.  I thank Tom Beckett for sharing his intelligence in such a minimalist but hugely-resonant way. 

Last but not least, this is a witty poet.  Please note what he identifies here to be the “publisher” of his book: 

“Minitage Press.”  How enchantingly dead-on! 

Now, where shall we place this book?  Ah, given its lovely blue color, I think on one of the art chairs by Sally Davies!

Thank you, Tom Beckett, for sharing your mini-book!

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