A review of bart plantenga’s latest book
I felt it would be disingenuous of me to review this objectively because as I was reading Paris Scratch by bart plantenga, it was personal. I read it on European metros while going through my own artistic crises; I perused it while curled up listening to the Pogues on Xmas in Amsterdam remembering my Paris; I gleefully dog-eared passages, which are arranged as snapshots of plantenga’s life in the city of light, so that I could read them to people whom I recognized in those pages. It was the same type of diary I kept while I explored that same city as a down and out flaneuse. Even though bart plantenga is Dutch, his style/syntax/eye feels American bred because in a sense it was. His parents immigrated to the USA from the Netherlands in 1960 after surviving nazi work camps and the Dutch Famine of 1944. bart was 6 and his subsequent upbringing and literary influences are typical of those expats who cross the Atlantic in search of inspiration among Paris’ cafés, winding streets, and elegant architecture.
. bart plantenga, L’Enfant terrible
The myth of the hard-drinking, sexually free, renaissance man who gives the middle finger to society and takes off for Europe with a few dollars in his pocket has been going strong since Hemingway and his Lost Generation. They published novels about being drunk, in love, and above all, free after the end of WWI. Later, Henry Miller would wander around with the Hungarian photographer, Brassai screwing prostitutes and trying to scrape up enough for a hot and a cot. The theme is the same: suffering is worth it because at least they can WRITE. This feeling oozes off the page in plantenga’s book as he explores themes of lust and dejection with a rock and roll eye and a cowboy mouth. Any expat artist can recognize his/herself in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur guzzling wine while expounding on Baudelaire and Situationism. Anyone else can live vicariously through plantenga’s recounts of those adventures. In 100 years, it hasn’t changed: the romantic vision of the Writer in Paris.
plantenga looks at Paris through a photographic lens and is just as unapologetic. Whether it is the views from the window of his apartment, while sitting at a café, or riding his bike in the rain, he records the tableaux as he sees them with no judgment. Some poems show a melancholy fragility like when he describes accidently leaving his journal behind in a bar and returning to find some British tourists reading it aloud and laughing. He expertly juxtaposes scenes of watching a transvestite adjusting their secret package in a moment when they feel they are unobserved to a child being chided by his maman as he hides from her. He describes the innocence and underbelly of society bittersweetly like he is at that moment remembering something lost.
In Paris Scratch, the young man among the whores, booze, and anti-establishment avant-garde sowing his oats and trying to shed the constraints of traditional society could feel forced or trite by a more sentimental author. However, these scenes are displayed with humor and an innate understanding of the absurdity that he is witnessing. The certain impishness with which plantenga approaches the trysts he writes about makes one imagine, much like one does with Miller, that these encounters were met with indulgent smiles from these women who knew they were fodder for the author’s physical and literary needs. But this may tie into my own interpretations as good poetry should resonate somewhere deep inside yourself. Those times when a poet captures a moment, an instant in time that you too experienced in a different or maybe parallel time. A part of the collective conscious perhaps, the conscious of people who will never see enough and always live to tell the tale.
Paris Scratch & its companion, NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor are available from Sensitive Skin.
Photo: self-portrait in photo booth, Paris
bart plantenga is the eclectic author of 2 internationally acclaimed books on yodeling: Yodel In HiFi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, produced the Rough Guide to Yodel CD compilation & the YODEL IN HIFI Top 50+ Youtube channel. He also writes fiction: BEER MYSTIC, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man & Wiggling Wishbone (Autonomedia). He’s currently working on the Amsterdam-Brooklyn novel Radio Activity Kills with his daughter.
He has been a DJ since 1986, producing Wreck This Mess in NY (WFMU), Paris (Radio Libertaire), Amsterdam (100 & Patapoe) & currently online. In 2014, he won the David Tudor Memorial4’33” Competition. He writes, bikes, produces his radio show, & lives in Amsterdam with partner Nina & daughter Paloma Jet.