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JD Rage
Devotions and Desecrations on the Downtown Bus
JD Rage, author
Downtown poet, New Wave band leader, singer-songwriter, curator and publisher, JD Rage set about writing at least one poem each workday as the M-15 bus shuttled her between her counterculture life on the Lower East Side, and her straight day job in Lower Manhattan, in the last couple years of the 1990's. She preferred walking but when declining health forced her to ride the bus, she decided to put the time to good use by writing. Struggles with work and bosses, struggles with love and sex, struggles with health, and a creative artist's indomitable drive to make sense and/or art of it energize this collection of glimpses of an uncommon life. In the 1980's, JD Rage had played bass guitar and sang lead in several New York City bands - The Bandits, The Line-Up, Valkyries, and Disciples of Rage, among others - and Baby Boom, with whom she recorded the 1984 EP Basket Case. But JD had been to college, and got a good office job with the State of New York, where she rose to a management position before declining health forced her to retire early.     In the 90s, JD was co-editor of CURARE, a multimedia magazine put out by Venom Press, which she co-founded with Jan Schmidt, and was a host of the Sunday Open Series at ABC No Rio. JD had created multiple versions of herself on America Online, to promote her poems among other things. And after years of unfulfilling relationships she decided to try different kinds of loving, and used her alter-egos to explore sex fantasy and consensual BDSM role-playing relationships that inspired some of this writing. Not long after writing these poems JD Rage had to take early retirement for health reasons, and was unable to fulfill her intention to publish this book. She died in 2018. But fellow New York poet and long-time friend Ptr Kozlowski, who played guitar in one of her bands, brought her work to completion to bring this poetic memoir to publication as she intended.
Punk musician, songwriter, and poet JD Rage offers a revelatory posthumous collection of 248 “Bus Poems,” edited and published by her friend and former bandmate, Kozlowski. Between 1996 and 1998, Rage put pen to paper on the M-15 bus while commuting to work at a state insurance fund, producing Bukowski-esque poems that both condemn and glorify New York City while making astute, subversive insights about feminism, mental illness, BDSM culture, and addiction. Rage, who, Kozlowski writes, “believed that words are more important for their sound than their conventional meaning,” splinters the routine with subtle but explosive verse, vowing “I will be even more intense // not less”.

These are gritty poems that draw attention to urban life’s tendency to fold beauty and death together so thoroughly that they become indistinguishable, and Rage’s own self-image is predominantly upheld by art and pain. Her observations are raw and resolute, yet when she describes the humid metropolis as a “dishrag of particulate // matter imitating a fogged up // bathroom” in #72 or writes “I am alive // an alcoholic // in an arrested state of decomposition”, her commitment to realism is an act of devotion for her city, her body, and her agonizing, precious life.

That brutal honesty skewers even the most introspective moments, as when Rage laments her body turning against her in #26: “I know it spends a lot of time // plotting further ingenious // ways to bring about // my untimely miserable // totally unglamorous // demise”. In their weightiness, Rage’s poems extend beyond the boroughs of New York City and inhabit American urban life across the continent, holding a mirror up to the world itself. It is a ghastly world from Rage’s perspective, but a brilliant one too, with beauty and cruelty operating in tandem and compelling humanity to “ride and ride // and never get off”.

Takeaway: Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs.

Comparable Titles: Seething, subversive collection exposing the sludge of urban life.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-