Reviewed by Heidi Lynn Staples
The dream people need me
and I need them. They come
and move outside the tent of sleep
I see their shapes moving
on the pale fabric wall, shades
cast by the dawn of light
and I know they come for me again.
So dream people bid Robert Kelly go in the opening poem of the most recent issue of First Intensity. Similarly, poetic reverie invites this issue's readers; works beckon by writers such as (listed in order of appearance) the aforementioned Robert Kelly, Diane Ackerman, Laura Moriarty, Robert Vivian, W.B. Keckler, Robert Haynes, Sean Mclain Brown, Toni Mirosevich, Christopher McDermott, Michael Rothenberg, Tom Whalen, James Grinwis, Bradley Greenburg, Joseph Harrington, Richard Rathwell, Jacob M. Appel, Ryan G. Van Cleave, John Rinnegan, Arielle Greenberg, Jeanne Heuving, Michael Heller, Michael Hassan, Ray Di Palma, Miriam Seidel, Bruce Holsapple, John Olson, Robert Wexelblatt, Geoffrey Detrani, Jaime Robles, Debra Di Blasi, Priscilla Long, Max Winter, Tim Keane, Peter Gurnit, and several folks reviewed and reviewing.
Following Kelly's “Twelfth Night,” Diane Ackerman's three non-fiction pieces--“The Beautiful Captive,” “A Magic Lantern in the Pacific,” and “The Fibs of Being”--firmly set up #19's investigation into human consciousness--what Ackerman calls “the great poem of matter.” These pieces explore the limits and possibilities experienced by “the animal that studies itself. The animal that worries. The animal that lies most easily and most often.” Much of the work in #19 draws attention to the peculiar fact that where there is language, there is liar and there is lyre; that with our narcissism, trepidation, and bullshit, “somewhere in the human beast, dreams are made, art is created, romance unfurls.”
A delightful formal variety distinguishes the issue. A great many pieces inhabit the space between lyric play and instrumental prose. Prose poems, short-shorts, lyrical stories, and hybrid texts create a formal continuum. Joseph Harrington's “Flag,” a stream-of-consciousness piece concerning American idealism, includes first-person narrative, parenthetical interludes, and lyrical passages like the following:
Everywhere else is only a sign: We are the flag. Flog. Stripes. Signs of stars. Bright, flashes, probably in the mirror. This planet ends where the rest of the world begins: broken parts, dust, limbs, fences through water, corrugated metal (rusted), peonage, detonated hills, falling birds. Stick your thumb in your ear and say the jesus prayer--that's a spell that you can only tell over and over and over: america strikes back america payday loans america standing tall america standing firm--
#19 reveres the quotidian as artistically and spiritually relevant. James Grinwis' “Three Loki Pieces,” for example, celebrates a simple dog named Loki. Here's the entire first section:
Loki my dog was braying in the living room. It was 6 a.m. I was lying in bed next to my wife because we usually don't get up until 7:30. 'What do you think he's barking about?' Loki had been experimenting with the oral form in unusual ways these past ten months. 'A fly,' she said, 'a fly is buzzing around outside.'
John Olson's manifesto “Debuffet Buffet” urges readers to find the divine in the daily: “No way is more clear than that of impulse. Treasure accidents caused by chance. Don't cut art off from the world. Every stroke, daub, and smear is a birthday.”
Articulating a strong editorial vision, the selection and presentation of the work in #19 places a high value also on the mysterious between. Jeanne Heuving's poems “Limbing” and “Limning,” for example, unite theological and sexual discourse, collapsing the binary between the sacred and profane so that the body's holes are the holiest of holes:
Insert into me and my body
will talk, one-thousand petalled lily.
Mary took a pound of pure nard,
and anointed his feet,
and wipes his feet with her hair;
and the house was filled with fragrance.
Filling the gap.
Often the pages of First Intensity #19 summon one to read and write a return from habitualized states of recognition toward states of heightened perception, to develop (as Ray DiPalma puts it in his poem “What Were Their Names”) “A reach unlike the written frame a reach / unlike a common place of pain.”
Enter a word world in which creative production holds primacy in the human quest for a spiritual experience that embraces life's inscrutable unfolding; read First Intensity #19. Depart. In Max Winter's words from “By Way of Explanation,” take “a drive so pronounced it almost whirs.”