Sunday, May 16, 2021

Book Reviews

Lydia Tomkiw: Poems

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Author: Lydia Tomkiw
Title: Poems
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Universal Exports Of North America

Lydia Tomkiw (1959-2007) once fronted the Chicago based minimal Post Punk duo Algebra Suicide which was pretty unique in pairing Poetry & Music but turned out to be more popular with intellectuals and critics than healthy for their career and income. Still they managed a long and impressive run performing and recording material at their own terms.
During the last few years some of their work was reissued by Dark Entries on two Compilation LP's; "Feminine Squared" (with bonus DVD of an early live performance) and 2019's "Still Life". All remastered with rare and not so rare tracks, photos and collected press quotes (meanwhile both are also available digital). Dark Entries also supported this release hosting a free dl of the remastered tracks which made up 'Big Skin', so the proper format for this would be Book & Download actually.Lydia started out as an hopeful writer, studying arts with passion at the University of Illinois, Chicago and the Columbia College. In the early 80's she got involved with the alternative punk influenced scene and the DIY ethos. On her own she published various handmade collections in small editions which where impossible to find even years I ago (I know because I tried). Nearly all of her work was out of print hopelessly but with some luck I found a few collections where she appeared with one or two (mostly exclusive contributions) besides the poems she had set to music.
'Poems' now sets out to be a complete collection of all her known works, among others with the full support of her Brother John and Don Hedeker who had became her partner and half of Algebra Suicide back in 1981. This book includes facsimile like reprints of her original publications as first part, starting with 'Ballpoint Erections' (1978), 'Obsessions' (1979), 'Popgun Sonatas'(1980), 'Big Skin' (originally issued with the Cassette Only Album by Cause And Effect in 1986)' and 'The Dreadful Swimmers' from 1989.
But actually these where the smallest part of her texts as she constantly wrote for Algebra Suicide (1982 to 1994) and considered those published with the credit booklet or sheets included in equal important form. Not to mention the performances live and recorded where she recited them in her typical distanced dead pan voice, set fittingly to music by Don to be heard even by people generally not reading anything connected to poetry.
After the Duo's demise she found it hard to reconnect with the literal circles she originated from and published another collaborative Audio / Lyrics CD in 1995 under her own Name with various collaborators she knew through networking or her local scene, moved to New York and faded away from the public eye.

In the (Un)Collected part all of her texts can be found - published in anthologies, used for Algebra Suicide and completely unpublished ones. Nearly 200 pages of them. Herein lies the weakest part of this book in a way - instead of sorting them in an obvious order they appear just thrown in one after another. No chronology is given, no chapter (Albums f.e.), no first publication dates or sources, not even an attempt to sort them alphabetically. The added register and the basic discography don't offer any more clues of the origins sadly, as I'd really hoped for a chance to follow her development besides the well documented musical side of her activities.
Maybe most of the information is lost today but as it is this part appears diced up which is an unnecessary low point, considering all the research and love for details and design which went into this book and the excellent introductions by her early mentor Paul Hoover, the memories shared by her fellow student Sharon Mesmer, early Supporter Ira Robbins (Trouser Press) and editor's Dan Shepelavy write-up of her life which fully support an understanding about the situation and times these texts come from and an insight into Lydia's life and development as an artist.
While her use of words is often strange, abstract, witty and charming and/or hard-hitting poignant, filled with far-fetched conclusions and astonishing appropriate observations in a rare quality this is exactly the artistic 1st hand expression which makes them authentical and needed. One can dive into 'Poems' at any page and finds something worthwhile and enriching - sometimes a perfect expression, sometimes an appropriate mood picture, sometimes a question which grows in your thoughts. Of course her poems are also uncomfortable honest, challenging and wreck-less.

"...There's The Sound That I've Sent
It's There To Haunt You
Like A Cello
Like A Buzzsaw
I Hope You're Enjoying Yourself."

Thank you to Dan Shepelavy's tiny independent press who took all the efforts and managed to give Lydia Tomkiw's voice this chance to be re-read and heard.