by Billy Corgan
My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Having risen to fame during the grunge era in the early nineties, Billy Corgan is among the most respected figures of the alternative rock world―a visionary artist who, more than a decade later, still commands a devoted following. Long admired for his evocative songwriting, Corgan embarks on a deeper exploration of literary terrain as a poet. Full of “the regretful melancholy of his music [and] the rhythmic, angular wordplay of his best Pumpkins lyrics” (Jeff Vrabel, Chicago Sun-Times), the poems in this collection form an imagistic journey through the intensely personal as Corgan throws into sharp relief issues of love, loss, identity, and loyalty. Crafted with a thoughtful and cadenced approach that shares the same allegiance to thunder and quiet found in his music, these writings further solidify Corgan’s place as the voice of a generation.
Billy Corgan was my hero in high school. I had every Smashing Pumpkins album, b-side, bootleg, poster, and magazine article imaginable. I attended every Pumpkins concert when they played in my area religiously. I loved them even more than I loved Jnco Jeans and Doc Martins.
Having said that, I didn’t hesitate to buy a copy of his poetry book as soon as it was released in 2004. I’m passionate about poetry, and I assumed that Corgan+Poetry would be an epic win. I remember the day I received it in the mail and opening the package with the excitement of a little kid at Disney World.
I immediately sat down and opened the book, thinking it was going to be one of the most magical collections of poetry ever conceived in the mind of man. I read each line of the first poem slowly as I tried to process the imagery. “Okay. It’s… abstract. But that’s awesome, right? These are the innermost thoughts of the man himself! I just need to be smart enough to understand his genius.”
I tried to read and process his poems more slowly, going back and reading lines over and over to myself, playing around with invisible punctuations and trying to shuffle through different tones and rhythm patterns in my mind so that the poems might read easier. As I got further along into the book, however, I found myself putting it down and taking long breaks from it. It sat on my table for many days, and every time I’d pick it up to resume reading, I’d sigh as if I were about to do an aggravating chore— right up there with washing the dishes or changing the cat litter box.
This was my first attempt at reading Blinking With Fists. Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to finish it the first go round. I was bored with it, I had to force myself to get as far into the book as I did, which was about halfway through. It ended up sitting on my bookshelf for 14 years before I decided I would pick it up and give it another go.
Present day. I’m older and view the world from a slightly different perspective. Why not give the book another shot? I started at the beginning and told myself I would finish the book this time, no matter what.
It was painful. Very painful. I found myself stopping and counting how many pages I had left to get through, but somehow, after a week of walking away and forcing myself to come back, I finished reading every line of every poem. It is not something I will ever do again. Yes, it’s that bad. I’m so sorry, Billy! I tried!
Feel and Flow of the Poetry:
The poems are long, cryptic, and confusing. There’s no nice way to say it. I felt like I would have fared better with these poems if I had some kind if magic Corgan decoder ring to decipher them. Symbolism and abstract imagery are wonderful features to incorporate into poetry, but Billy seemed to take it way too far. It is clear that his poems were not written with the intent of its readers to understand. They are written for him and him alone. His mind is surrounded by a wall of hieroglyphics that no one but him can translate. I am assuming he knew this to at least some degree but decided to publish them anyway because he knew they would sell regardless because of who he is. I could be wrong. What I can say for sure is that his lyric from the song Stumbline, “and nobody nowhere understands anything about me…” is right on the money with this book. Does that frustrate him? Or amuse him? It’s hard to tell.
I was only able to get through the poems by breaking the longer poems down into separate poems. I found plenty of one-liners within the poems that I loved and highlighted, but his poems as a whole did not transition well. It was like a bunch of random thoughts spilling out on paper, but never fitting together. Too much imagery that Jenga’d itself out of a poetic tower, only to fall onto the pages as piles of scattered debris.
To live in half-life is exactly as it sounds
half-taste, half-pain, half-dead
But wide awake
I know you can’t be erased
But I can try
I see myself in you and that is a dangerous thing.
One more tidbit I thought I pointed out that made me laugh: Billy once stated in an interview not too long ago that he had encountered a real shape-shifter. I read this line in one poem and it made me think of that and laugh:
To Strip skin off slow
Devoid of sex