Wanted: Verse

His first published works appeared in the April 20 edition of New Times, and like many a literary debut, they went virtually unnoticed. Nonetheless, tucked away on page 105, under the "Jewelry" heading, were two texts that read as follows:

Thus was the world introduced to William Broder -- rogue prophet, post-structuralist muse, classified poet.

A chubby, fiftyish resident of Miami Beach who spent his younger years shilling for a pharmaceutical company, Broder has sought to expand the conventional boundaries of poetry by printing his work exclusively in one venue: the classified advertising section of this newspaper. In so doing, he has followed the lead of another epistolary trailblazer, Jack Thompson, the Coral Gables attorney whose unique "fax novel" was excerpted by New Times back in 1991.

But unlike Thompson -- whose single-spaced screeds portrayed a morally bankrupt universe on the brink of collapse -- Broder's word fragments frame the world in perplexing terms. Note the exquisite ambiguity with which he imbues his third published work, which appeared in the issues of May 18 and May 25.

Of special note here, obviously, is the re-emphases on the word "watch," which is conveyed as both noun and verb, as well as the inclusion of the phrase "On face." Tempted as readers might be to consider this poem a mere advertisement for a timepiece, Broder's dramatic shift to the metaphysical ("permanent Jew," "Green Jacket") forbids such facile interpretation. Add to this the inclusion of "Lombardy Inn," a seemingly fictional locale that is, in truth, a Collins Avenue hotel.

It would take nearly a month for Broder to release his next dispatch, and fittingly, the six-line ode marked a radical departure from previous work. No longer content to pepper his prose with inside allusions, Broder writes with the abandon of a man who has discovered too late a chunk of haba*ero pepper in his chocolate pudding.

For sheer audacity, Broder's style here is unrivaled. The startling appearance of "Spritzer Ants" -- from Jerusalem, no less -- the conspiratorial whisper of "U.S./Israel gods," the anatomical quirkiness of "lose hands" played against past and future, the cryptic evocation of a "logo barbeque." It might all read like one fat cosmic joke were it not for the poem's deviously line-broken climax, "world end."

Published a mere week later, Broder's next offering was a world apart in tone and content.

The mysterious reappearance of numerical coding was discouraging enough. But the transparently symbolic "xx" reference, along with the labored "Gore/Yeltsin Doubles" reeked of pretension. Given room to roam, Broder, like so many other emerging poets, seemed to be unraveling.

There was certainly nothing that could have prepared readers for what they would encounter on July 20. Boldly abandoning the epigraphic "Watch," Broder reasserted his world-view with a politically charged epitaph that lent new meaning to the phrase "mental overflow."

There was, to be sure, a great hue and cry from the more superficial, who branded the work as fanciful -- even showboating -- conspiracy babble. But even the most strident critics would have trouble denying the apocalyptic resonance of his final lines, filled as they are with "genocide," and "torture" and the haunted cries of drowning nations. Broder, it seemed, was back on top.

So far as his public is concerned, "Reno Fiction" is Broder's latest work. But in fact he has at least two more poems written and ready to run. Like many writers, though, he is apt to tinker.

A bearded man who favors safari shirts and carries an ancient camera with him at all times, Broder's response to public consumption has been mixed. In a recent informal interview, he said he appreciates that strangers connect with and admire his work, especially because it costs him a dollar a line to publish. On the other hand, he insisted, he is reluctant to trade privacy for fame. "I don't need a lot of hassles," the bard observed. "The cosmos is in enough trouble as it is. Besides, those spritzer ants are dangerous. They'll spritz you right up the tuchis.

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Steven Almond