Monday, December 17, 2007

NEW! 3 poems by Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison

AN INTERSECTION OF LEAVES NOT LIKENESS


What sway in the noncommittal elm.

Gathered into my empty basket a wicker sky.

A crow, scissoring its call, clips the downward fall from my fiction of completion.

Do our senses imbricate to offer us a wing of ascent?

Succor of leaf-sound in the branches, each movement remaking shelter.

I see a progressive acceleration in the colors of sunset tonight, until it is stillness that disappears.

How to feel when roots break through the underside of my idea of them?

I pitch my listening to the tone of ivy growing.

Each leaf merely repeats, will not remain with me in the present.



AN INTERSECTION OF LEAVES NOT LIKENESS


Dour in the millpond, the material hours, built up on force alone.

The moth pushes and the sky falls down around it.

In the soft of redwood’s bark are deep furrows narrow enough for a serpent in sunlight to suggest itself.

Thicket of weeds and dwarf oak did not admit me into its filament though from a distance I saw how it incandesced.

Needing only one hand for balance on the dry marsh’s steep bed, my other hand couldn’t help but tear idly at the last growth of delicately tufted sedge.

Make a paste of ash, then paint out to the edges. Of what prophesy? When bindweed will spray silver-backed into blossom.

Lay down the idea of cathedral upon the redwood grove, as if this were accomplishment.

Sexed it with the crackle of leaves fallen.

So do I think to widen my imaginary surplus.



AN INTERSECTION OF LEAVES NOT LIKENESS


To value withering, I call it condensed light.

In the keep of mists is condensed distance.

Figuration is only the flower-head of a less visible frequency.

Where have I left its leaves this time?

When I’m steeped in flower stalk, uterine wall, tree-lined glade, humming is a way to avoid looking up or down.

Concocted my meadow foxtail.

Too quickly I pinnate each floating with the hyperbole of flight.

I could create slur, but neither birth nor cessation, in the stalks of late summer’s grasses.

Sunlight so easily abolishes philosophy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Recent and Recommended

Judith Bishop, Event (Salt)
Joshua Harmon, Quinnehtukqut (Starcherone)
Matthea Harvey, Modern Life (Graywolf)
Jennifer L. Knox, Drunk by Noon (Bloof)
Dorothea Lasky, Awe (Wave)
Joyelle McSweeney, Nylund, the Sarcographer (Tarpaulin Sky)
Michael Peters, Vaast bin (Calamari)
Rod Smith, Deed (Iowa)
Laura Solomon, Blue and Red Things (Ugly Duckling)
Tony Tost, Complex Sleep (Iowa)

Friday, December 07, 2007

NEW! Poem by Brian Lucas

Brian Lucas

FROND VAULT

Thorny sky the possession enjoyment brings suspended in a circle of blue messages. The flotation a person settles is an ear in sound where appearances give us their all. Bringing focus to the flagstones, early morning walk and I’m doing nothing. The hole where lights are seen. Star in a vise so we experience headache. This gives us the brightness we reflect onto others—faces yet to be grown, the walk still needing to be taken, another imprint on awareness. Things don’t begin the way they used to—if we gaze into linear reverse we see that death has preceded us.

···

Arena pieces in electric city maw. Behold my hand, itself a sinister word, an invention marred by its own relation to departures: giving the boat a push, counting down, a wave farewell… See you when the arena is rebuilt, I’ll say my first word then.

···

He had never once used those words, nor even learned to handle the instrument that would’ve made their written form possible. The words in question were discovered in a volume formed in concentrically rippling circles, flat like a sundial. Between each letter there rose (or was it emanated?) a fragrance that could be seen by those standing at a slight angle to the page. The curls and indentations this fragrance left in the air was enough to cause the onlookers to be paralyzed. If all hallucinations could be true, and not only a matter of physiological perspective, the world and its words would be held captive by a possibility of olfactory interpretations and reinterpretations lying over the seasons like a palimpsest of the brain’s canals during monsoon.

···

A cloak of linen, the back of a hand, a falling through space shows what musculature has given us over the years, years spent listening to the walls of a room that speak with an exhaling known to grant favors. An adherence symmetry avoids, feeling pitched to a previously unknown elevation. The dandruff of stars because they are a desert breed, something we didn’t mind shouldering at the time. Not like the weight that accompanies expeditions like these—quietly in a house of sonorous doors and thresholds opening onto amber hills where caretakers divine water with crossed eyes.

···


Inside my body is an anti-body.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

NEW! Poetry by Nathalie Stephens

Nathalie Stephens

from T H E S O R R O W A N D T H E F A S T O F I T


The dead warn copiously against love.

I spent the last of winter emptying sand from my shoes. From end to end of a single long shore interrupting the sea. Walking. As though cobble could account for grief. And my feet could subdue the sovereignty of retreat. It was a moment of many moments with my two arms swinging and my hands tied. The water ran over and sifted me. Weathered me. Until I became dark rock and the hard waters below. It was a whole edge of earth splintering. Where skin split runoff endangered me.

All the waters of the world run to the sea. To where the earth is comfortable and worn.

We wash the dirt from our hands. We are that cowardly.

_____

Just as I was leaving.

The citydust fretting the street. It was a book of many fragilities. The sanctioned, the vilified, the meek. J. said an inhumanity. For the poised the poisoned the constancy. I wanted to touch what was underneath. To dislodge the body from performance gesture from posture. To make the heart the first place. Before even the mother. Before even the sea.

It was the brother’s voice came after me. The son of the mother. The brother of la fille. It was the book’s spine breaking the weight of my fingers. It was the body’s weight subtracted from the body’s breach. A hollow hollowing. Sutured. Stuttering. A book marked folded. Smouldering.

It was unloved smothering. The small hands gathering spit sleet. The momentum of the thing coming at me. The many faced years pressed up hard against concrete. Night ground into me. The broken the breaking.

Whoever said Nathalie founded that trajectory. Threaded me l’aporie. Then said pointing an ugliness a discrepancy. A girlness unremedied.

It was sleep unsleeping. Edging body from earth. Mouth from an architecture of misery. The soft words from the soft place unheeded.

_____

Say: Distance is only distance insofar as it displaces you. Desire as it broadens you. The wide pall of earth is an emptiness, a yearning. Listen for the call of the beasts. For the light pad over wood of animal feet.

Say: What sacrificed want for need weakened humanity.

_____

Every distance is a walkable distance.

The city designed a body of conjecture. A body of seemingly. Took the bone-crack of grief and laid it alongside the iron railings, the steel spikes, the concrete reefs. Grafted that relief onto a sublimated geography. Made distance decisive, unmysteried. Pushed what was splayed in deep. Wanted for a certainty. A fantasy of free.

So walk with me. To the cut edge of winter. To the carved out memory of sleep. Set fire to the cities welling out of me.

We fashioned ourselves of genealogies. Of bloodshed. Falsified the familiar gesturings.

I will tell you: The thing kissed into me. The thing made the city unsightly.

Ran. Runs from me.

_____

[ … ]

_____

Must I defend the maddened against the maddening?

Truss the unruly legs of speech for the sanctity of the bindery. Touch what became unsheathed. The language of what is unspeakable. Unseen.

The body anticipates its own retreat. Furrows into the blood drained carcass. Opens itself along a thin edge of steel. Beckoning defeat. Something more wild. Less complete.

There is a savagery to telling. How the body becomes disorderly. What is held, then misled. The mother foresaw the first disgrace. From inside years of the same wounded tirade. Etched like this finely on the body’s page. It is nothing worth reading. It is all the torn paper from all the worn books rutting the many bookshelves. It is all the cities burning. It is all the water running from all the mouths into the charcoaled streets. It is the very plague that surrenders grief to some implacable enemy.

So how will you guard against the frayed edge of sleep? The brother’s breach? How will you love what is unloved in the first place? Trace the blooded furrows to where the body has no need for names?

It is too much anticipating. The climb and then fall. The cut and then bleed. The hammer then cleave. The language then call.

What was madness was simply the sound of bones breaking. And the noise that buried them.

_____

Say to me: Nathanaël the thing I held in the palm of my hand. It was the play of light on water. It was the same stone buried twice. It was the drought and the waterfall. It was the dry desert of the mouth. And the knot of desire hardened in the groin. It was the body unfolded from its pain. It was the overgrown streets and the whole earth in rain.

Say to me again and again: Nathanaël you were not born into this. The wind came and I touched your name. Nathanaël. Again and again. Nothing remains.

_____

I hadn’t intended for.

The thing coiled at the base of the spine.

I stand at the foot of Gordon Street and beckon the rivers to me. It is as close as I will get to remembering. But for the hollow on my tongue and the cleft in my chest. The heart grows a wilderness and the dogs roam freely. I offer them the impartiality of suffering. The throb of some memory beneath a plate of steel. A finely etched carving suffocating the body’s ability to feel.

What then? Touch the place beside me. It is full of having been. That whole length of living. From the lake to O’Connor and no place in between.

_____

Who do the wounded wound?

Who wanders a finite distance along a dark road up a steep hill to a rock jutting out to sea? Says: Steal into me. Wake me from sleep. Spill out of me.

The drowned are drowning here in this hemisphere. We’ve discontinued the waters for something less deep.

There is a symmetry of rutted and bleed. In this particular fantasy the train derails and we walk on. It is not so much a courage as it is an insistence. To touch what doesn’t want touching. To maim ourselves any way we please.

Says: History girded me. Placed reinforced walls right in the middle of me. It was up and then over. And again and again. With a small knife in my teeth that I swallowed each time I fell. Where were you when the earth came at me? When the sweep of that particular dream left? I held your voice from the phone and the eight words you wrote. It was the many pages tearing. It was the many lines stopping. It was the many gardens stifled by the earth hardening. It was the swell of your organs against a particular memory. It was all the ways for leaving. And again and again. You might have caught me. It was up and then over. Every time I fell.

Doesn’t say: Make me.

Our bones break when we drop to our knees.

_____

The book began as a misgiving.

As an obstruction, albeit pliable. It was possible, then, to lean into it. To crease the unworn face and speak it from a particular sensorial fold. It was open even as it closed. It was a whole earth that wanted rescuing. And the waters that submerged.

What a place.

What goes in is one thing. But what came out hung on the way the jaws of little dogs do. So I hung on too.

What have I to show for it? Book shelves lined with Celan, Kofman, Pizaranik. And a long white scar from breastplate to groin. It was the heart wanted bisecting. All that bile spilling out. It was the fingers wanted evidence of some soft bloody thing. The blade was rusted. The wooden hilt came off in my hands. Not so much what washes off as washes under.

The day you arrived you placed your two hands against a pane of glass. For the light. For the viscosity. It might have gone something like that. Had it not been for the little dog’s jaws and all that water.

_____

Where the beasts run the skin folds over and over. It is what is wild to begin with, the fall of hooves, the shiver of the whole earth, the whole earth shivers, that certainty. And the question that follows. The sky unanswering and our dark eyes closing. What touches is less certain than the word set against it. Is a rush of water over land that migrates into the sea. Is the mind’s inability to recall even the simplest of things. The mouth emptied of its names. A body unfolding. A voice demanding Surrender me. Body to mouth. Earth to atmosphere. It is all the ways in which we come apart. It is all the ways in which we agree to leave.

_____

There is not enough night until morning.

The blood gorged vessels open what is closed. The tightly fisted muscle loosens its hold. A surge of sound from the viscera.

We run our hands through the ravages. We touch the relic of a thing once whole. As though the hands in that thick liquid foraged a wildness that might yet be human, a substance that needn’t yield to form, a heart, the shape of which is unknown.

Who wanted for that fantasy? For the command of what is fearsome forlorn. For the rending the rendering.

The place where we walk is already miseried and our feet heed the lament of the fragile ground.

What might enter what is open that might be offering? That might bleed for the bloodied and kiss the earth’s swollen mouth in mourning.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

NEW! Poem by Marcus E. Darnell

Marcus E. Darnell

MEAT

The cat's head is mashed by the wheel;
it steams,
the fluorescence devours.

The luncheon meat flowers up the fridge,
ham,
the roach sniffs beneath the fridge,

assumes: fresh kill.
A cloud from the pig factory
is bait to the bats,

while sister chicken prays
in the guillotine shed.
Mrs. Schurman is doing a

wrist job into the bathtub.
What would dead Mr.
have said, seeing these

home-cooked, fresh bleeding
lips on her wrists?
The roach smells her juice:

it must be the juice
of Jesus, he longs
to eat Jesus.

Bats pick gnat meat
from the pig air.
They faint, drop

when too much pig cloud
has come along.
It's raining mice.

The chicken hears
the rabid downpour,
thinks the bathtub lady

has come for her eggs
or meaningful guts.
The luncheon meat world

and the bathtub
blood heaven
yank the roach's soul apart,

who to eat and find peace in.
The Mrs. dizzies out:
why did he leave me

alone to eye the death
of this dry neighborhood
while he is munched

in the ground
on that fucking
Holy Hill?

I can't hold his sweaty
hand on the porch
anymore while behind

yellowed shades
stains are being made,
oh my thin Lord!

She feels nothing for
the cat brains swarming
with bats rejuvenated

by the pig cloud.
They swarm like the gnats
they bagged.

The fluorescence is hungry
again and angel-wings out
to that salty,

sexed pig air.
The factory lurches
inches closer, but

only at this preyish
time of night.
Inside the factory

unholy things happen
to meat--
the chicken knows,

and the Mrs. would
have known had she lived
to whack off

the chicken's humanly
begging head, but
the factory is another

sphere with its own
foul disciples
harpooning sacrifices

through the eyeballs.
The factory is
a honey-cured hell

blessed be.
The chicken shits
an egg in an effort

to be saved.
The bats flee to
chimneys--they've had

too much pig air.
The kitty bones
still steam.

The bats activate
their upside-down acids.
They dream of snouts.

The fridge's hum
begins to stutter
and choke: the ham thinks.

The Mrs., drained,
doesn't leave herself
as long as she is flesh.

The fat in her brain
quivers, the roach
chooses religion

between her legs;
he'll live like a scarab
in her coffin till

Ra tells him otherwise.
The chicken is the last
awake in the night.

Her eggs cracks open
before she can squat.
She has the privilege

to see her abortion
as the golden Eye.
It is not meat

but it smells of pig.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nathaniel Tarn on "difficulty and obscurity"

"While it is true that the great discoveries of modernism preceded the academicization of 'creative writing,' my sense is that the progression of 'writing' toward unreadability has been helped by that academicization. Many have commented on the disappearance of a true avant-garde and its replacement by avant-gardism... [see Paz quote below] I see this as a prolongation of experimentation usually leading further on from collage and montage into ever-increasing fragmentation and eventually into a degenerative disease which, adapting an already common usage, I call 'disjunctivitis.' The argument, used by some producers who, correctly locating the seats of available power in the academy, have ensconced themselves therein every bit as much as the establishment 'mainstream,' to the effect that the disruption of the common linguistic coin is part of a war against 'late-capitalist' discourse is singularly inept. I do not see oppressed workers of any kind devouring the products of avant-gardism. The death-of-the-author thematics, as commonly adapted, are another inanity: when society does its very best to homogenize us, what is wrong with a strong, knowledgeable, and responsible ego crying in the darkening wildnerness?"


At the beginning of the piece, Tarn quotes Octavio Paz's "Corriente Alterna" (1973): "If imitation becomes mere repetition, the dialogue ceases and tradition petrifies; if modernity is not self-critical, if it is not a sharp break and simply considers itself a prolongation of 'what is modern,' tradition becomes paralyzed. This is what is taking place in a large sector of the so-called avant-garde. The reason for this is obvious: the idea of modernity is beginning to lose its vitality. It is losing it because modernity is no longer a critical attitude but an accepted, codified convention ... it has become an article of faith that everyone subscribes to ... all this raking of the coals can be reduced to a simple formula: repetition at an ever-increasing rate. Never before has there been such frenzied, barefaced imitation masquerading as originality, invention, and innovation."


from "Octavio Paz, Anthropology, and the Future of Poetry" (1999) in The Embattled Lyric (2007)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nathaniel Tarn on "competitiveness"

"Bored to death on the one hand by the interminable repetitions of the MFA clones of their MFA teachers and, on the other, by the unreadable so-called writing of the reigning avant-gardists, the last general reader left, faced in addition with this lemming-like overpopulation, has a desperate need of selection. This leads straight into the terminus of competitiveness: the winner-take-all syndrome, another familiar 'late-capitalist' life-enhancing marvel. The award system is the crowning glory of this syndrome. It is deleterious not because it is unjust (nothing human is perfect) but because it inflicts an apparently consensual body of opinion on a public not usually aware of its options. The moneybags, playing it even more safely than the universities, select a group of allegedly trustworthy canonizers and mainstream writers conveniently gathered in a number of 'Academies'--a group in whom the public can be induced to trust since they are already, are they not, 'so trustworthy'--and regularly disburse large sums ... almost always into the pockets of the already fortunate."

from "Octavio Paz, Anthropology, and the Future of Poetry" (1999) in The Embattled Lyric (2007)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Nathaniel Tarn on interdisciplinarity

"...while everyone today in the academy pays lip service to interdisciplinary work, such work only has to appear on the scene for it to face almost insuperable difficulties in being consumed, respected, taught, published, and generally treated as a part of culture. Our specializationism, to coin an awful word meant to double-underline the depth of our classificatory disease, is that strong."

from "Translation/Antitranslation // Culture/Multiculture," in The Embattled Lyric

Sunday, October 28, 2007

NEW! Review of Paige Ackerson-Kiely

In No One’s Land by Paige Ackerson-Kiely. Ahsahta Press, $16.

Reviewed by Lytton Smith

In “Foreplay,” the opening poem of In No One’s Land, Paige Ackerson-Kiely wryly notes, “There are times when an absence of pride means the lion is eating his cub.” Unflinching and steel-eyed, this hallmark Ackerson-Kiely moment abruptly enters the reader into a hard-surfaced land of diners and liquor stores where, in landscapes of the arctic north and the edge of wilderness, the urban has neither taken over nor entirely stopped trying.

Here and elsewhere Ackerson-Kiely’s muted jokiness acts as a barbed challenge. To look away would be perilous: “any minute now someone will push his way through the door and announce something.” Potential events are as tangible as their actual counterparts, and more threatening. Though we never hear the announcement, whether “dinner is served” or “you will have to come with us,” we sense that what is being announced has nevertheless happened, “The fields to the left and right / full of glassy blackbirds / resting.”

In No One’s Land deftly gives a physical presence to the peripheral and the transitional--the terror of loss in headlights flashing by, the reassurance and gratitude a waitress finds in folding napkins. Ackerson-Kiely’s particular gift with the simile, for instance, is to allow the compared object equal status as the original, such that the comparison has an unusual credibility. Objects likened fuse into one another. In the poem “Instructional Lecture for a Liquor Store Clerk,” the trainee has to decide whether customers without money will come back later to pay for their liquor or “never return, like the buck in November cruising the knotweed.” All at once we are among the deer, told how an orange cap “to the buck . . . has a grayscale wash that is easy to ignore,” and the store has momentarily fallen away.

The collection’s shifting--between the visual and the felt, from lineated to unlineated poems and back, within the grammar of a single sentence--is haunting and sustaining. Addressed often to “you,” they instill in the reader a sense of responsibility both for the land and the speaker. At times it becomes clear that the rules of this place and these poems are still in formation, the reader left to navigate the topology of poems such as “Deer Population at Night”: “Broken, bro. ken, when // divided brother, to know.” What is fascinating is that the speaker, admitting “a bird could / land on my voice’s wire line,” is equally guideless, at the mercy of what happens to her in her struggle to express experience in language. In “Brother” she compares a halted procession of cattle to
like when you discover your blouse
has become unbuttoned
& must turn away
& in doing so forget
the placement of words
or the forgiveness of strangers.

What started out as a comparison becomes an event. The scene observed gives way to what was all the time just below the surface, and the poem becomes about “someone in distress,” a memory relived. The ground has shifted beneath us, and yet our new footing is more satisfying precisely because it is less certain.

Certainty is an undesirable, even dangerous, position in these poems. Ackerson-Kiely’s cautious way with language is evident in the idea of “the forgiveness of strangers”: the forgiveness belongs to the strangers as much as it is asked of them. Certainty involves a loss of power, as when “I know clearly that I will / remove my pants / when it is requested / I remove my pants.” The last line seems, visually and grammatically, a description rather than a conditional. If it has a certain pathos because it happens “though no one calls / to me specifically,” it still does not invite pity; it is, instead, resigned.

Sex, whether alone or with others, runs through In No One’s Land like a live wire, its effects never earthed. The knowledge that “I will / remove my pants / when it is requested” comes amid the pastoral opportunities of “Shepherding.” In “Onenightstand”, perhaps the most tender poem in the collection and fittingly found at is epicenter, the speaker connects sex to “the way an explorer pours himself into the map of his conquest until he becomes north.” Faced with the familiar idea of sex as conquest, she questions who--or what--is claimed, and in what ways. At the moment where sex might reach orgasm, the speaker instead asks her partner how he once fed deer, “how they approached your hand, which you pretended held food, but was merely a closed fist.” The speaker admits to being “frightened of the intimate thing” even while fascinated by it, by “the stranger’s hand with blue veins spread out like meth in a small town.”

These poems are rooted in the earth and in the animal world, impressively aware of the soil and convenience stores and atmospheric pressure of existence. To read In No One’s Land is to look into a beautiful and disconcerting reflective surface and to find that the image there is too alien to be ourselves, and too familiar not to be. The effect is as mesmerizing as it is disconcerting. We hear and see these poems, they touch us and inhabit us, before they begin to work on the intellect. In No One’s Land is a highly sensual collection and also the keenly observed reflections of a quasi-hermetic figure who knows “I will build the home I will die in / the home I will build.” It is one of the best debut collections of this decade, and it has the temerity and quietness to end, in the afterhours of a diner, with a gratitude that resists our notions of what gratitude is: “The desserts offered are too beautiful. No, nothing else // thank-you.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NEW! Poem by Adam Strauss

Adam Strauss

DEAR


Dear is all I know.
A party I'm not at.
Bliss of solitude--
A room rude to company:
I cannot have guests
Unless they insist;
I'm convinced
My friends didn't, don't, judge;
I wish my nature was
Tidy, not seemingly
Rigged to deflect
Society--what are those islands like?

Monday, September 17, 2007

NEW! Poem by Marcus E. Darnell

Marcus E. Darnell

GLASS

Glass petals from a glass rose
tremble down my tongue.
It told me to partake
its brittle, wristy, sugar face.
Its pollen rumbles in my lungs.
I cough shards delicately.
I scar my windows just by touching--
my armpits shatter just by reaching,
sprinkly eyelids wingedly there,
sheltering crystal eyeballs,
eyebrows snow-ghost hair.

I flake into a snowstorm, the sky agrees.
The sun, a magnifying bird,
magmafies my looking-glass heart.
I meteor stormless to the seas,
deprived of poisonous legacy
or recyclable soul.
The impact cuts my fire apart.

I am a cup of stomach sand,
a diamond-studded S.O.S.
Without my bulbs’ sexing
the darkness will cry.
My filament needs tender fixing--
I don’t want to die,
but alone and castle-dark one may try.
That none see me in fractures
I cannot forgive.
That my eyes are rubies in pictures
is no blood urge to live.

It is the purgatory of glass--
I am the transparent colossus
worshipped too long.
They pray right through my cracks,
recount irrelevant pain with stonehenge song.
They only know me as a dome,
I’m not half the cat’s eye I used to be.
I’m not the chip that bloomed to storm
or the coal that souled the sea.

I’m a funereal liquid too slow to fall,
an unhooded angel animal standing tall.
They mistake my rainbows for keys or cues
to commence my chiseled dissection,
but these hues are not heaven clues,
they are my screaming refractions.

I’m a country far away as flesh,
engraved into provinces senseless.
I would have been content to be
one step removed from shatter,
maybe hairline,
not holy fallen stone condemned to plain.

I wish I had found a middle--
not as a wrenching gust of northing glass dust
nor a plexi-doll worshipped spectrally,
just a glittered hump in the rain
without windshield, bubble, scratch or stain,
no blinding span of ache, name,
or enlightening, imprisoning riddle.

Monday, September 03, 2007

new issue: French poetry & poetics

new triple issue of Verse on French poetry & poetics

edited by Andrew Zawacki and Abigail Lang

with contributions by

Emmanuel Hocquard
Caroline Dubois
Jean Frémon
Jacqueline Risset
Dominique Fourcade
Oscarine Bosquet
Jacques Roubaud
Bénédicte Vilgrain
Pierre Alferi
Craig Dworkin
Olivier Cadiot
Jean-Jacques Poucel
Anne Portual
Christophe Tarkos
Suzanne Doppelt
Claude Royet-Journoud
Anne Parian
Sébastien Smirou
Philippe Jaccottet
Kevin Hart
Frédéric Forte and Ian Monk
Michelle Grangaud
Marie Borel


translated by

Steve Evans
Jennifer Moxley
Rod Smith
Cole Swensen
Peter Consenstein
Sarah Riggs
Omar Berrada
Guy Bennett
Eleni Sikelianos
Keith Waldrop
Anna Moschovakis
Rosmarie Waldrop
Beverley Bie Brahic
Chet Wiener
Micaela Kramer
Jennifer K. Dick
Andrew Zawacki
Judith Bishop


& reviews of

Stéphane Mallarmé by Timothy Donnelly
Charles Baudelaire by Tom Thompson
Edmond Jabès, Rosmarie Waldrop, and Steven Jaron by Michael Heller
Jean Grosjean by Ted Pearson
Two Worlds: French and American Poetry in Translation by Nathalie Stephens
Claude Royet-Journoud by Rusty Morrison
Jacques Roubaud by Beverley Bie Brahic
Suzanne Doppelt by Eduardo Cadava
Valère Novarina by Antoine Cazé
Olivier Cadiot by Eleni Sikelianos
Esther Tellermann by Dawn-Michelle Baude
Anne-Marie Albiach by Peter Ramos
Gérard Macé by Judith Bishop
Serge Fauchereau by Laird Hunt
Jean Frémon by Chris McDermott
Claire Malroux by Kevin Craft
Emmanuel Moses by Andrea Stevens
Yves Bonnefoy by Paul Kane
Jacques Réda by Chad Davidson
Michel Deguy by Michael Fagenblat
Jean-Michel Maulpoix by Jacques Khalip
Valérie-Catherine Richez, Marie Borel, Isabelle Garron by Kristin Prevallet
Marie Borel by Nicholas Manning
Pascalle Monnier, Jean-Michel Espitallier by Marcella Durand


365 pages

special blog price: $12 postage-paid through November 15

send check to:

Verse
English Department
University of Richmond
Richmond VA 23173

Monday, August 27, 2007

NEW! Review of Mónica de la Torre

Talk Shows by Mónica de la Torre. Switchback Books, $14.

Reviewed by Anne Heide

Mónica de la Torre’s new book, Talk Shows, uses the navigatory apparatuses of synonym, antonym, palindrome, anagram, and translation, among others, to steer her poems directly in upon themselves. Shaped from multiples of sound and meaning, Talk Shows is a text that uses concentrated variation to complicate the sense of the “original.” Whether working from a source text or (re)generating her own work, de la Torre reckons directly with the idea and possibility of “source.” The poems in this collection are narrative impressions of each other that create a textured vertical field, one that all depends upon us looking downwards, into a stratified storying. An exuberant text that takes on the complications of communication, Talk Shows deliberately confuses a sense of source by fully undoing the ease of transmitting idea.

De la Torre uses coverings to layer lines against each other. In “Skin is Warm: 31 Nudes,” juxtaposed phrases act as coverings for each other:
Asleep I am all. (She stretches.)
I wake. (A question.)
To see the world from a bed.
If I could cover my face with one finger.
Or be. (Flower in hair.)

I am many. (Seen from behind.)
Black is white. (Placid turning.)
I will lie.
We are not different. (Face with a stain.)

The parenthetical lines overlay the text they follow in what seems to be an attempt to discover the counterparts of meaning. In this poem, as in the majority of the text, single tactics do not suffice; synonym is placed on antonym, which is in turn woven into translation. All of these can attempt approximation at meaning, but the effort seems targeted towards a layering of counterpart.

In “On Translation,” denotation is covered, replaced by gesture: “Not to search for meaning, but to reenact a gesture, and intent. / As a translator, one grows attached to originals. Seldom are choices so / purposeful.” While the original here is valued above the translation, de la Torre recognizes the inability to recreate or possibly ever reach the original. In Talk Shows, de la Torre performs the translator’s task, even when she isn’t reproducing a text from one language to another. In “Bankrupt Books: A Collage,” de la Torre lists antonyms of bestsellers, where A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is transformed into “ridiculous accounts of staggering idiocy” and Tuesdays with Morrie is turned to “Sundays on a couch.” Some words allow for this translation; others, like “Beowulf” remain in their original form, seemingly untranslatable, and so, untranslated.

De la Torre tells story by returning to story, in a sense navigating further into the narrative with every (re)telling:
María was usually bumping into
furniture. Each time she got closer to what
she wanted. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothing,” he replied, so she took off
and felt like migrating birds. But many.

“Bumping/into furniture” would seem to halt movement instead of bringing the character “closer to what/she wanted,” but here, it is in the act of moving, of telling, that precision is gained. Additionally, María is many birds--a flock that cannot be divested of its counterparts. It is to this collectivity that de la Torre seems to be speaking. In “The Script,” she traces the constellation possible in gathering in on a story, in reckoning with the inherent multiples of meaning:
To permutate dots so that lines are never identical to each other.

To return to known places and act always the same, thus the slightest
change might become apparent.

To force things to happen.

To pretend there’s meaning when all that comes out is “My dog loves
me and he’s no showboat.”

Here, the desire to return waxes against the possibility of returning ever to the same place; we can pretend at meaning, but it will always be pretend. In returning to apparently similar events or places, we can play at getting closer, we can “trace the line that / connects the dots,” but “dots speak louder.” Any attempt at distinguishing the whole becomes a seemingly fruitless task; in fact, this task of confronting the meaningless, or lack of meaning, often takes on the tone of the absurd.


Absurdity isn’t something de la Torre shies from. “The Other Practitioner Writes Back” begins with a series of palindromes, none of which come close to the dialogic ideal:
Hey babe, Kiev love star! Rats evolve, I kebab. Yeh!

Try again.

Ne morose ode: More grow on Kiev, love star. Rats evolve, I know, or Gerome does, or omen?

Try again, open your eyes so you can look closer.

                OJO

              OHIO
            -        -
              -     -
                -    -
Rongi rattad ragisevad - Ruedan las ruedas del ferrocarril
                -    -
              -     -
            -        -
              OIHO

The attempt in this poem seems to be the thrust towards meaning with the understanding that meaning will never arrive, that despite doubles and rearranging, only absurdity can arise from the attempt to make sense. And de la Torre revels in this play with the ridiculous and incongruous, accepting it with ready vigor.

Within the interaction of these counterparts, however, the text seems held together only by adaptation, or difference. At times, the text feels dissociated from itself, pulled apart, as though dependent only on alterity. This results in an unsettled discontinuity, where the poems individually speak forcefully, but drawn into a collection, seem unhinged from each other. Although Talk Shows is a jubilant text, its moments of quiet are few; this is not a manuscript in which one can find rest, and the unvarying reveling tends to wear the text out. The poems end up feeling as varied as the ways in which de la Torre approaches meaning, in which a mirror is held up to language, but in it, we see only the reverse image. The title poem, “Talk Shows,” intersects multiple unattributed voices, presumably the chatter of talk shows:
-Get away from me! Who do you think you are, hitting my arm like
that! What kind of person are you? A terrorist?

-Don’t look at me as if I was a woman with a rotten tooth, look at me
as if I was me.

-¡Viva Mèxico cabrones!

-I can’t think of anything I’d like less to do than to go to Disney with my dad.

Although each of these phrases, like each of the poems, hold individual intrigue, when collaged, they don’t so much reflect on each other, but instead point to the disparate genre that holds them together, and often, disparateness alone cannot sustain a text. The inertia created by the narrative and visual pull of the text slows when the poems become so disparate that there is little to hold them together but their continuity of difference. De la Torre has set a difficult task for herself in attempting to create an exuberant text that directly tackles problems of linguistic apprehension, and while Talk Shows is an intrepid attempt at achieving this complicated undertaking, its persistent difference eventually destabilizes itself.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NEW! Poem by Zach Savich

Zach Savich

CITY

Fruit the color of the sky, apples blue. A hat, an aspect, flight. Eyes represented by small birds at a fountain (if I am a day). As when you dream you're awake and I say what did you say and you wake and say what did I say. The watch changes itself as though nothing has changed. Handprint on the mirror three nights old and between me and the mirror you touching the mirror. "Section reserved for silent prayer." As it happens (the only spot from which one can see the contemporary metropolis). Sebastian swoons through arrows.

Friday, August 17, 2007

NEW! Two poems by Aby Kaupang

Aby Kaupang

TWO POEMS


one birdhouse per truncation
groves the lawn and alpenglow
a soldier vanishes the aviary
what a beautiful bird-circus
the family encrusts on marble



WITHIN THE SLAUGHTERING SHED

Now unpurposed, lofty, dim and elm, it’s pocked by decades of December’s hail. Fever pigeons blush beneath its crumpled hour. Enough or all their coo cannot submerge the splintering rafters’ dusty places, reliquary traces forming spaces. I can’t exact a suitable payment from my palm.

I’d anticipated winter here but winter here recalled itself and longed for five long years. To advance then now from loss and quiet and reverence of cost? I do not wonder at the elegance of lack. There is no expenditure of anger, the motion of ferocity and fear, when it is free in the slaughter shed. When it is shredded in the beaming where the cooing wings nest.

Notes of dusted light make pilgrimages from choired rafters through the dimness, the ploughing shears, the cardboard barrels of feed and mice that are and are not inside themselves. And I am knotted in the beams and a bloom is on the floor. Christliness

perpetual empties to the earthy floor--not formed of dirt or clay or hardened irrigants of ditch and field but something finer, deep and silky--perpetual. Light hazes pallid on errancy, descends beneath the swaying creak of wrought pulleys, wheelbarrows, rat burrows. And light

cracks in from where branches slog in March, where winter melts to gift in slanted afternoon, to here where air is choir and choirs disparate--a dirge, a hymn, a requiem, natival, excommunicatio--pigeons knotted in the blush.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

NEW! Poem by Carl Tillona

Carl Tillona

HEDGING ON YOUR SLEEVE

I slap the knee of the girl I love, open
The door and greet the next donor.
Yes, my little antigen, progress
Rises from the bath. You crush your fiddler
Crab, I’ll crush mine. Opal beads
About your neck line evenly, cough off
Yesterday’s dress. Nostalgia, a sudden nude
Turns the cells lachrymose. If you want to cry
About it you can use this tissue
For protection. Just call the girl from
Concord and tell her that tonight
Thoreau is completely out of the question!
Don’t smile, moss courses through
Your teeth. God never finishes lurking.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

NEW! Two poems by Daniel Pinkerton

Daniel Pinkerton

SECRETS OF THE ELK'S LODGE

Codgers regale one another
with tales of the lodge's origins:
in the fifteenth century, it is said,
a herd of elk, weary of steppe-hopping,
dismayed by the moth-eaten stature
of their coats, the plaque on their antlers,

their vicious halitosis, claimed a beer hall
cleared out formerly, presently abandoned,
by wandering marauders or Vikings
(who were plentiful in those days).
There’s something quaint and really
quite charming about this beer hall--

let's keep it a secret, the elk agreed.
And should we initiate mankind
into our rites of poker and drinking,
the mounting of animal heads on the wall?
Sounds all right to me.
Can’t see what it could hurt.


THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW HISTORY. . .

In the fifteenth century
kings held chariot races
to decide the fate of the youngest daughter
and many suitors were flayed alive,
which made for great sport.

Chicken dinners were quite fashionable.
Monks and jesters and everyone, really,
had excellent abs, very good maces,
decent lice and head colds.

Ancient history?
I can't believe you said that--
I've a mind to take away
your internet privileges for a week.

In the olden days it was the shin vice,
the rack, the heretic's fork,
a frontal lobotomy,
then some time alone in your cell
to think about what you'd done.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wm Logan watch

In the June issue of The New Criterion, William Logan treats readers to a group review of John Ashbery, Frieda Hughes, Cathy Park Hong, Henri Cole, Frederick Seidel, and, of course, Robert Lowell.

Or, to put it another way, three books published by FSG, two by HarperCollins, one by W.W. Norton.

"When a critic stops making discoveries, it's time for him to hang up his pen." Willam Logan, New York Times, April 8, 2007

If he didn't dismiss Hong's book, one could argue that he's making a discovery in this review (which is available online at http://www.poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_logan.php).

Has Logan made any discoveries as a critic in the past few years? If not, should he follow his own advice? Or is his bad-boy reviewing style sufficient reason for him to keep plugging and pot-shotting away?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

NEW! Review of Nancy Kuhl

The Wife of the Left Hand by Nancy Kuhl. Shearsman Books, $15.

Reviewed by Erin McFarland

Nancy Kuhl’s first poetry collection, The Wife of the Left Hand, details the emergence of the contemporary housewife, as brides-to-be and domestic veterans exist in the midst of literary and historical feminine archetypes. Multiple versions of the feminine suffer in suburbia, vacillating under a taut doctrine of womanhood and the plight of sexual freedom. Pages of chopped verse, clean prose, and found phrases generate a web of naïve concealment, voyeuristic desire, and defiant feminine opposition, stemming from the legacies of Salome, Amelia Earhart, and Saint Catherine. Manifest in themes of love, marriage roles, and betrayal, Kuhl’s poetry warns the modern bride of domestic despair, a living remnant of the feminine martyrs’ curse.

The Wife of the Left Hand asserts its intent from the start, positing the woman as a wavering creature attempting to master the art of housewifery. The first poem, “Almanac,” illustrates the feminine figure: “Everywhere women press the heels of hands to eyes. Swaying and unsteady.” The book’s second poem, “On Summer Street,” positions this unsteady female in the confines of domestication, “the narrative of a house / with its unswerving spine exposed,” revealing a common locale for the poetry yet to come. But even as the first section of Kuhl’s collection progresses, steeped in the context of weddings and dinner parties, The Wife of the Left Hand never fails to breach the stale maxims of desperate housewife mentality. Kuhl introduces Salome midway through the collection’s first section, disrupting the notion of the bride as “utility,” a “synonym for sex” and a being who “aspires to want nothing.”

Salome, a power player in Left Hand’s triumvirate of femininity, conjures the agency necessary to bring Kuhl’s passive narrative of domesticity to an exhibition of feminine prowess. Perhaps a mere historical allusion, but more likely drawing from the motifs and thematic content of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Kuhl’s three-part introductory biography arrives at an immutable yet evolving character. Bathing after a bee sting, “water will not make her / different but her / skin won’t ever / feel like this again.” As a woman, Kuhl’s Salome masks strength in her sexuality, employing an active indifference to the bee’s penetration, as her “arms are strong / as a man’s, powerful as / a swan’s striking neck.” Assuming command in her feminine role, Salome claims to recite her intended lover’s name, presumably John the Baptist, and reveals “midnight,” a recurring time throughout Left Hand, as the moment of wanton desire. Yet images of the window and the moon serve dual roles, asserting Salome’s ability to “lean from the window” in an active fashion, while forcing her to observe, from the limitations of a window, “which moon will rise,” indicating the narrow frame of feminine expression and an ultimate lack of choice. Nevertheless, Kuhl’s biographic, prose-style stanzas roll off the page in confident ease, evoking an element of obtainable, even if tainted, feminine control.

Salome’s thread resumes in the second section, where “Should Salome Apologize” notes her power over the life of John the Baptist. According to Wilde’s play, Salome wills the death of her mystic lover, who, devout in faith, refuses her advances. By her own volition, Salome kisses the severed head. As the poem’s title suggests, Salome wavers between authority and remorse, which “grows round and fat as a plum.” Still, embedded in the poem’s final prose paragraph, Salome retracts her hesitant apology: “I am sorry not sorry. I wanted the man’s mouth on my skin--lips parted, a kiss, an answer.” Yet in section four Kuhl offers a final encounter with Salome that revives the hesitation of her apology, portraying the demise of the strong-willed woman and paralleling Salome’s death in Wilde’s play. “Salome Means Peace Be With You” provides praise for the martyr of feminine rebellion, recalling Salome’s influential existence as “The One Who Burns the Black Ironwood,” while ultimately reminding the reader that her efforts, though admirable, are fleeting:
The tree will burn
and burn, will go slowly, will vanish
to cinder glow. Smoke tree, cloud tree, tree
of forgetfulness, I am not afraid of tongue
hours licking by, of being kissed
in this house where blossoms sick
with fragrance bend almost in half.
When I lay down the crackling
ironwood calls me, calls Swift River Sweet
Voice Hush-Hush, a feverish solution, my old name.

Salome acknowledges that the price of feminine derring-do, premature in a world of male supremacy, results in her own fatality. Images of smoke clouds muddle her presence, erasing her power; this final time, she burns with the ironwoods she once burned herself. Kuhl allows her image to “crackle” with the fire, summoning traces of Salome’s former self with “Voice Hush-Hush,” a solution stripped of agency that translates with ease into the minds of modern brides and housewives alike.

Salome’s apology lives in Left Hand’s discourse of the modern woman, with traces evident in the third section’s “Apology for New Wives.” Ironically, the poem’s brief images provide a disclaimer for any rash behavior, or schemes “luminous as a pearl,” playing with the concept of concealment: “Hidden: flimsy telegrams / and torn-envelope letters, / clear-eyed jewels; all of it / bundled, pushed deep / into a hole in the wall.” As with Salome, this false apology, rooted in the desire for control vis-à-vis a veiled betrayal, remains inconsistent with many of Kuhl’s domestic pieces. Amidst poems dedicated to archetypal feminine heroines, Kuhl summons the rigid code of housewifery, looming over women like a “mandorla.” In a four-part treatise, “Panels: The Dinner Party,” Kuhl provides three clean, brief synopses of the hostess, idle-minded in a world of “open-mouthed irises, blinking / sugar bowl, finger-thin flutes.” Part four, “Study for Searchlight,” conjures imagery from the first three dinner party scenes, toying with the housewife’s suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. Breaking in form, the disjointed pairs of lines, conforming to no pattern of alignment, cast the hostess as a composed, aloof creature of the domestic. Yet she remains “cool as a dime” as Kuhl illustrates her plight: a keen awareness of the “helicopter,” the “starfish pinwheeling,” and the “crossed lines” on her husband’s back from his “raspberry-skinned lover,” all with due silence.

Even “Open House,” a selection from Left Hand’s fourth section, details the “charm” which “leaves the housewives / translucent,” while they “twist in their tea cups / screw slender black heels into plush / carpet. A camera lens turns open / wide and wide to eat more light.” The window, much like the constraints of the camera lens, plays a central role in the life of the housewife. As with Salome, windows offer the woman a restricted perspective, a distorted lens through which she views life outside the domestic microcosm. In the prose poem “Windows,” Kuhl describes windows that “wear whatever light they can grab hold of,” framing “the street from here, the room from there; the panes throw pale streaks toward every corner,” with the power to obscure the woman’s view and harness her independence.

Perhaps, then, Kuhl introduces Amelia Earhart as a primary feminine presence in Left Hand to defy the limitations of the window, transcending the constraints of perception in full flight above the world of man and woman. In “Cursing the Equator,” Amelia discovers the fabrication in the map of housewifery. Outside the window, she travels “numbered crosslines on the map lines / announcing here and not but / she does not consent there are so many / false maps so many liars.” Yet even in her active support for women in male-dominated fields, even in her liberal marriage to George Putnam where she refused to take his last name, Earhart’s attempt at circumnavigation classifies her as a martyr in a world where males triumph: “she saw clouds gathered like skirts baring blood- / less knees, she saw the vast unraveling / night, she saw reflected in the windscreen / her own face, gray and metallic as a gun.” Kuhl illustrates Earhart’s disappearance, obscured with clouds in a Salome-like fashion, evoking the image of a window where she sees her own tragic reflection, a look of death.

Strains of martyrdom continue to haunt Left Hand with Saint Catherine, completing Kuhl’s dynamic force of feminism. The fourth section’s “The Catherine Wheel,” a found poem, splices and integrates pieces of text from the Oxford Dictionary of Saints. In a non-linear fashion, Kuhl crafts the feminine that “triumphed over the philosophers,” dying as she refuses to marry a man she does not love. Uninhibited, Catherine remains steadfast in thought and action, telling the emperor “No, said love despised marriage to the Emperor, is not found in your crooked limbs.”

Kuhl’s passages both encourage domestic sovereignty and acknowledge the burdens placed on the housewife as a result of feminine martyrs. Recurring images of red and the moon occur in instances of betrayed passion, concealed in midnight, annotating moments of sexual desire and a longing for freedom from the husband. Instances of male infidelity spark moments of feminine jealousy, yet this jealousy is not directed at the husband’s lover; rather, the female covets her partner’s sexual freedom and his ability to live outside the world of secrecy. Left Hand’s second section offers “The Ordinary Husband,” detailing the obscured account of a husband’s matter-of-fact affair: “Saffron clouds sag into the yard; it wasn’t accidental and it’s hardly a secret. I know what I heard and the damn voice clings to her hair.” For the housewife, sworn to concealment amidst male exhibition, life provides “Comfort of ritual and no surprises.” Even Kuhl’s “Keys,” a unique selection from the third section, involves a hybrid of recipe, color descriptors, animal imagery, and cityscape that bind the woman into subjected wifehood. A Wives’ Tale returns to the image of red, recounting that “Vinegar will dry / up all your blood (not true).” In a prose section, a woman runs, attempting to dodge divorce papers, “her red blazer flapped behind her like a cape. By block two I was gaining. She wasn’t one of those pumps-in-handbag-gym-shoes-to-work types.” Kuhl reminds the reader that even the resistant feminine, running from the reigns of man, remains ill-suited for survival in the world outside the window.

In the poem that shares its name with the collection’s title, Kuhl demonstrates the curse of the housewife one final time. “The Wife of the Left Hand” reiterates feminine strife in remaining concealed, a voyeur rather than an actor, as fear of death, in the vein of Salome, Earhart, and Saint Catherine, harness all agency. Indeed, the housewife knows desire, even in feigned ignorance: “The body, no / good house, wants what it / wants; does not listen. / Careless breath, all wave / and sky, sneaks / under her eyelid. She / pretends not to hear / the persistent knock / on the screen door.” Indecision plagues the housewife, yet in a final attempt at resistance, the feminine ignores the knock on the door, adhering to her own perceptions. Even in high praise of feminine prowess, the acquisition of that “flawless plum” and “sweet red bite,” Kuhl’s The Wife of the Left Hand serves as a severe warning to women, one-sittings-worth of advice for the modern bride: the feminine must “Keep / even the smallest betrayal / distant as a wild past” in a reality where domesticity thrives.

Friday, May 11, 2007

NEW! Review of David Kirby

Ultra-Talk: Johnny Cash, the Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa of Avila, and 17 Other Colossal Topics of Conversation, by David Kirby. University of Georgia Press, $19.95.

Reviewed by Meg Hurtado

If David Kirby’s book of essays on various cultural topics proved nothing else, it would prove that a book can be judged by its index. In the case of Ultra-Talk: Johnny Cash, the Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa of Avila, and 17 Other Colossal Topics of Conversation, the index borders on fabulous, ranging from Verlaine to John Travolta, from Kafka to West Side Story to Wittgenstein to Yosemite Sam. An index of half its length would make any culture-lover swoon, but Kirby possesses an extraordinary talent for collecting ideas, personalities, and physical details. And the essays themselves live up to the eclecticism promised by the index, but never ostentatiously. Kirby achieves this by overloading the reader with cultural name-dropping in the First Words section of the book, which for some reason he refuses to call an introduction. His explanation for a book on various “colossal topics” includes Florence, African refugees, an Auschwitz survivor, television, Goethe, Gutenberg, Whitman, football, Emerson, several Italian Renaissance masters, and so much more. After an opening like that, most of his uncanny or ecstatic cultural references seem perfectly organic.

But even in this multitudinous diorama of our artistic and historical world, Kirby has arranged a particular cast of characters to act as guides and gauges for his philosophical ventures. Shakespeare, Whitman, Odysseus, and Ishmael/Melville are the favorites, but Ginsberg, Rothko, and Dante also surface and resurface in several of the essays. At times, one has to wonder if he’s trying a little too hard to make everything blend together. For instance, in the book’s very first essay, he compares an inmate of Folsom prison to a “shape-shifter” from the Odyssey. It’s an imaginative analogy, but probably a bit of a stretch for most readers. Perhaps Kirby has just introduced his dramatic technique of comparing everything to everything a little too soon in the collection.

Eventually we begin to see that even such dramatic comparisons play a small role in his overall aims for the book. In spite of the crazed eclecticism of subjects and metaphors, Kirby has several specific agendas which he defines clearly in the book’s “introduction.” He makes clear that he wishes to address “the only question worth asking--what’s good?” Second, he wishes to pursue this question from an original, American perspective, which in turn asserts a respect for multiculturalism and for the institution of language: Kirby says that “part of seeing the world from an American standpoint is recognizing that our culture is as many-sourced as the English language itself.” Kirby certainly fulfills that requirement in his essay “The Meaning of Everything,” in which he pays homage to the Oxford English Dictionary and the tireless etymology-philes who created it in all its twenty-volume glory.

Though these are the official aims for the book, Kirby’s greatest accomplishment is his insistence on a non-linear, overabundant progression of culture. In this task, his cast of characters proves its mettle, allying nationalities, time periods, and various spiritual, historical, and cultural realities with each other. For instance, Kirby compares Walt Whitman rather convincingly to the ancient Hebrew writers of the Psalms, and to the psychedelic rockers of the ’60s. Kirby proves the cultural point closest to his heart--the universality and democracy of genius. He freely announces that “My subjects are things which are valuable because everybody values them.” Appropriately, he attributes this sentiment to two cultural giants, Goethe and Leopardi, and adds his own “post-theoretical” twist: “for a cultural phenomenon to be truly colossal, it has to be valued by everyone not just briefly but repeatedly and over time.”

All of Kirby’s essays retain this egalitarian sentiment, but never hypocritically so. He talks frankly about life as an intellectual, about living and writing in Paris and Florence, and about signing a contract with CBS. His awareness of the fact that he’s better educated than most of the people he writes about is neither arrogant nor guilt-ridden. He proves his claims in this book’s First Words that it takes “large mind” to truly appreciate and articulate the world around us, but he also talks with convincing sincerity about his experiences tutoring Travis, an underprivileged nine-year-old struggling to pass the first grade. Kirby admits that he wasn’t motivated by charity alone, that “[he’d] like to know how people learn to read. Memory is of no use, since I can’t remember ever not reading. And since I spend my days in a rarefied atmosphere of reading and writing at the highest levels, I feel as though I should know how I and the professionals around me got started.”

In the end, Kirby’s status as a poet powers him through this ambitious collection of tirades, elegies, and investigations. Not all of his subjects are automatically fascinating in a scandalous, pop-culture way, but in every case his genuine research and enthusiasm thoroughly wins us over. The dithyrambic ecstasy of Whitman doesn’t qualify as dinner-party conversation to the average American, and Kirby admits this in his discussion of poetry’s historical place in American culture to an unsuspecting businessman, who would eventually “drift away to the bar or the newsstand, sorry they ever brought the topic up”. But even in his most colloquial subjects, and even in his best successes at rendering the non-colloquial ones palatable to any reader, we wait for his moments of extraordinary poetic outburst, which strip away, in a burst of self-consciousness worthy of Whitman, the analytical mask. As he says in his essay on the sexual lives of St. Teresa of Avila and Emily Dickinson, “For in the midst of that bright fury, the universe is still.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NEW! Poem by Jasmine Dreame Wagner

Jasmine Dreame Wagner

METRONOME

The moon was a peach
and the sky, persimmons.
Clouds washed up
on the beach--
or were they styrofoam
peanuts? I warbled
like Gershwin,
into a can. My professor
of geography asked me,
how can you have
a river and an ocean
in a city? Where
were you standing?

Someone said, ecumenical.
Someone said, plaster.
A girl with acetaminophen
stashed in her pockets
purchased a black and
white cookie. After class,
I climbed Mt. Rainier
and Mt. Rainier disappeared.
I skateboarded
home. Outside my window,
the laundromat whispered,
Sparkle Temptations.
I tied my curtains in knots
but kept them hanging
to occlude the moon.
The sky was persimmons,
but not really.
All I could say was
more red than blue.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NEW! Review of Ada Limón

This Big Fake World by Ada Limón. Pearl Editions, $14.95.

Reviewed by M. Roberts

In a world increasingly cynical about love and where form seems to dominate function, Ada Limón argues for sincerity. She conceives a man in a gray suit and makes him her hero, navigating his battle against artificiality in life and love (and even hardware). In her storybook in poetry This Big Fake World, Limón weaves a hopeful narrative about finding purpose in a dysfunctional world, begging the question: why not write a story?

Broken into three sections and sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue, This Big Fake World bears a clear narrative arc, requiring an investment (even on re-reading) similar to that of a short story. Limón’s prologue prepares readers to meet her characters, and reveals her hand from the beginning:
and let these small people rise up
and recover, let the man in the gray suit
be our hero for once, the woman
at the hardware store, the drunk,
and make each one of them remind us
that we have all come out of basic need,
some gnawing thing, some hunger.

Keep in mind, though, that the woman at the hardware store is not a drunk. Rather the drunk is a separate character (Lewis, who in an injection of absurdity into Limón’s work, mainly appears through letters to Ronald Reagan). Limón prepares us for a story of love and angst, where the domestic-heroic man in the gray suit’s failing marriage keeps him at arm’s length from his attraction to the equally damaged hardware store lady.

The three parts of the story follow typical narrative pattern: our characters are introduced, their crisis revealed, their solutions found. To do this, Limón invokes a familiar tone, inviting readers into her community of observers. The man in the gray suit is “our hero,” and thus the story becomes universal. The drama is familiar, Limón’s insights not singular. This works both for and against Limón. Her story is ultimately accessible, her call for meaning answerable, but at the same time the poetry itself in This Big Fake World risks being overshadowed by its own sense of allegory.

Limón does an excellent job weaving the theme of appearance and reality, questioning notions of form and function. For the man in the gray suit, it seems a matter of control. Nails become a recurring image in Limón’s book, as our hero uses his purchase of nails as an opportunity to get close to the hardware store lady. In “Between Her and Her Friends He Was Known as Mr. Hammer,” the man in the gray suit pretends to do work on his roof while watching her:
He wondered why he needed
to pretend to hammer,
and not just hammer.
One made him feel dirtier than the other,
the hammer noiselessly
avoiding the nail.

At the beginning of the third part, where the hero’s marriage unravels to his benefit, Limón reveals his growing inner-tension:
Our leading man is worried about the number of nails he keeps
buying from the lady at the hardware store. His garage is full of
every kind of nail you can imagine, and he with nothing to fix, but
maybe himself. He starts a note to his wife that he later crumples.
It starts, “Being I have so many nails, I wish to be useful to
someone.”

Here Limón tries to show us what it means to find function in a world composed of facades.

The strength of Limón’s voice is its familiarity. She is casual in her diction, which at its best enables her reader access to powerfully simple images. Her most beautiful moments come from brief observations that keep the mind’s eye moving and allow the story to progress without becoming predictable. For instance, as the hero and Lewis sit at the bar discussing his wife’s leaving, Limón takes us to the streetscape with deceptively simple but captivating beauty:
Our hero watches a small yellow dog
outside, its leash wrapped too tightly
around the No Something sign.

It begins to snow as a banjo plays
from the radio and the dog looks up
awfully surprised at his luck.

Simple moments like these capture the best of Limón’s conversational style, creating an artful image with rhythmic texture distinctive from her more expository moments.

This Big Fake World wraps up nicely, giving it a storybook feel that jaded adults might find soothing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, Limón tells us in an epilogue that seems a little heavy-handed:
The object is to not simply exist in this world
of radio clocks and moon pies, where holidays
and lunch breaks bring the only relief from
the machine that is our mind humming inside . . .

She begins, then calling for all of us to “make a fire out of / everyday things . . .” Limón wants us to revel in this world, in its seeming junk and clutter. In the end, she says, “Somewhere along the banks of this liquid world / let all of us hold close to the lost and the unclear, / and, in our own odd little way, find some refuge here.” This is good enough, but what of the reader? With the hero finally approaching the hardware store lady and his friend finally safe at rehab, things seem nicely wrapped up, leaving us to wonder where the lost and the unclear might actually be found in This Big Fake World. For its moments of beauty and universal insights, Limón’s book still seems driven by its overarching narrative message rather than the poetry itself.

Monday, May 07, 2007

NEW! Review of Sina Queryas

Lemon Hound by Sina Queyras. Coach House Books, $16.95.

Reviewed by Erin McFarland

From Sina Queyras’ third collection, Lemon Hound, spring forth six sections of contemporary prose poetry that activate the interplay between earth and cityscape, where tailored intellect meets the matter-of-fact. Laced with Virginia Woolf-inspired content, Queyras cultivates a rhythm that rocks the reader through a frontier map of the twenty-first century woman. Anything but still, the passages navigate the realities of urbanity, expectations of nature, and limits of feminine perspective in a world that has long since undermined the merits of modernism.

Playing with form, Queyras presents the dueling perspectives of old school and new school femininism, generating a conversation of rhythmic, repetitive phrases between various voices, each postulating the role of woman. Most evident in the first two sections, “A river by the moment” and “On the scent,” Queyras summons stock symbols of nature and industrialization, carving female identity from trees and concrete. Spanning the pages of the second section, she negotiates the unmitigated space between women who “toast veggie dogs” and “wear Birkenstocks” and “buy soy” with their counterparts, who “buy magazines and try new diets” and say “oh for Manolo Blahniks” and “consider law school” and “buy eye cream even if they love wrinkles.” The laundry list of juxtapositions continues throughout the work, engaging the reader in a steady, dichotomic conversation between high and low.

Charting the territories between generations of women, Queyras concludes the section “On the scent” with an exposé of the contemporary female, conceived as the lovechild of nature, the city, and her mother: “They are so done with political messages. They are so past any need to protest. They are so What’s your problem? They are so We’re fine with the way things are. They are so Get over it. They are so Accept it. They are so Anger is uncool. They are so Move out of our way rigid one, and let the beautiful ones sing.” For Queyras, the trouble of defining womanhood in a changing world manifests itself throughout Lemon Hound. She continuously reimagines the idea of the feminine yet reaches the same roadblock with each attempt: “If only what was feminine were firm.”

Inserting slices of Virginia Woolf into a matrix of feminism for 2006, Lemon Hound remains chock-full of allusions and even borrowed language, infusing the old school v. new school dispute with a modernist ethos. Perhaps this poses a problem for readers unfamiliar with Woolf, especially as Queyras admits in her acknowledgements that the text is a “direct response to and engagement with the work of Virginia Woolf.” However, when consulting the passages, readers need not apply a “What Would Woolf Do” logic to extract bits of significance. Rather, the references to Woolf, even while enriching, do not hinder Lemon Hound’s accessibility. In fact, when diving into the text, unaware of the collection’s trajectory, the reader will not even encounter Woolf’s name until the third section, titled “Virginia, Vanessa, the Strands.” Until Woolf, proper nouns like Microsoft, Bjork, Hilary, Prozac, Cosmo, Bloomingdale’s, Johnny Depp, Chekhov, Penn Station, Cate Blanchett, Good Housekeeping, Middle East, Chrysler, Twizzlers, and Clint Eastwood sprinkle the text, keeping the contemporary reader, as well as the Woolf scholar, within Queyras’ reins.

Lemon Hound’s dedication to Woolf unfolds as “Virginia, Vanessa, and the Strands” portray scenes of Woolf and her biological sister, Vanessa, after whom many of Woolf’s characters are assumed to be modeled. While an understanding of Woolf’s real-life relationship with Vanessa enhances the text, Queyras’ language provides sufficient insight into the sisterhood. As displayed in “The buzz, the croon, the smell, all seemed to press voluptuously against some membrane,” the sisters forge their own dichotomy: “Vanessa is impatient. Vanessa wants the poppies to unfold, she thumbs the slit and Virginia is appalled. Virginia understands something about holding back. Her presence does nothing to encourage.” In the piece, Vanessa desires to paint over the poppies, creating an immortal version of nature. Virginia, shocked by the immediacy for artifice, craves patient observation and reflection, perhaps revealed only later in her own writing. Regardless of familiarity with Woolf, the discrepancies between visual art and written art engage the reader. The unfeasible reconciliation between two minds, Virginia and Vanessa, similarly echoes the competing threads of femininity stranded throughout the text.

The final piece in the section “Meanwhile, Elsewhere, Otherwise,” titled “Or: another way of telling,” reinvents Woolf’s stock characters, from the Ramsays to Lily Briscoe. Reminiscent of “Time Passes,” the second section of To the Lighthouse, “Or: another way of telling” introduces the struggles of Lily as a painter while meditating on the association of nature and death. Evoking strong imagery and employing avant-garde sentence structures, Queyras writes: “Alone, Perished words wrote themselves all over the grey-green (as the waves) the immense pressure of his concentrated woe: she couldn’t paint couldn’t create words--no longer aware who originally spoke them.” Queyras describes the difficulty of the creative process, resistant until the artist internally and externally locates the perfect medium for form and content.

Beyond her affiliation with Woolf, Queyras’ alliance to Gertrude Stein proves more evident, as Stein’s presence pervades the pages of Lemon Hound. After all, she “tries Advil and Stein,” applying Stein’s repetitive form to her own style. Queyras crafts phrases with similar opening clauses while playing with voice, conjuring a rhythmic painting of her own. In true modernist fashion, Queyras adheres to a fragmented structure, jumping seamlessly from the Canadian frontier to the macadam of New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn. Queyras’ primary vehicle is the river, a gray area between nature and city, portrayed with strong imagery from the start: “The river is not confined to the town. The river is townless, yet the river is town, for without the river there is no town . . . Without the river there are no bridges . . . Without the river foundations crack.” For her, the river provides a constant exchange of form and content and old school and new school feminism. Similar to a river, Queyras’ prose poetry seeks constant mobility in short phrases that both lull and shake, while adopting a unique voice for each individual poem, ranging from “she” to “it” to “he” to “they.”

Playing further with the tensions of nature and cityscape, the poem “Our Lady of Bark” describes the manner in which nature and city would one day speak to one another: “Given time she would weave trees into skin. Given time trees would sprout feet and enter Manhattan. All the granite from Vermont would call out for a reunion. There are stranger things. We pass by daily. There is a place for bark, she says, and it is tender.” Queyras’ prose poetry evokes the return to the city, a contemporary hub of art and culture, yet in the scheme of natural language plagued with modernity. Recurring images include women as salmon, swimming upstream, while plugged into a contrived lifestyle, their hearts running out of batteries, feeding off artifice. The frequent image of the female on a bridge indicates a desire for reconciliation, and plays out in Vanessa and Virginia, yet remains problematic when Queyras points out the irony of women who “carry their laptops into gardens.”

Even as Lemon Hound may struggle to define the feminine amidst generation gaps and the ambiguities of locale and artistry, Queyras dares to inform readers what they will not find in her collection, including a woman who “might feel naturally quite content with herself, see the city as a pleasant backdrop” as noted in her poem “Some other poet in the city.” And, true to her claims, the text neither praises the city nor is self-aggrandizing. She does not “couplet,” and her poems are neither “tidy” nor “sestina.” In fact, veering from convention is what makes her collection. Queyras’ content, the ambiguities that accompany the philosophical-banal intersection, could not assemble so well in another form. Lemon Hound’s unique rhythms provide immediate gratification while its layered substance affords greater fulfillment with each reading.

Friday, May 04, 2007

NEW! Poem by Allison Campbell

Allison Campbell

BATHTUB FISHING AND CHANCES FOR REMAKE

When mistakes repeat we’ll cheese grate the sheet music. We’ll choke déjà vu to death--hold old faults underwater till their legs stop flailing, fingers quit trying to scratch up the length of our arms, pinch at our wrists.

If problems grow gills and learn to swim the tub, feed off shower scum, then we’ll go fish--hooks in the upper lips and out left eyes. On our bathroom floor they’ll die, beaten.

Once gone the troubles might haunt, but so what for half-lives. If translucent fish come to your side, if they whisper you’re bored of me, agree, and in the morning know it was only the ghosts of scaly forgottens.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NEW! Two poems by Jared White

Jared White

Two poems

HERMITAGE

The trick everyday is not to be boring. Sometimes
This means no I at all. Sometimes it means clear out

For a whole new town. Sometimes schoolchildren.
Some days I think, try semiotics for a change, or

Scan the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. See dunes
That I only know are there because of movies and

Hearsay. Eventually I too can claim what means
Up and what is a landscape and where are the stars.

I’m an expert by dint of never stopping. On top of
The mountain and all along the old river unless

It’s a foxtail or a railway or just a flourish. Who
Knows better. Wanting only matters if I’m snowed

Thoroughly and then moving on briskly. I’m such
A pilgrim that I don’t care what will come next.

Looking up and wondering can give me a sunburn.


THE POST-ENLIGHTENMENT

Should we say forgetfulness
About everything from before
We struggle against? I must

Be even farther from not okay
Than I thought. I wish repression
Were easier. More subjunctive

And spoken about less daily.
See my hand not shaking?
I swear it was during previous

Periods of clarification. Splay
The strings of sympathy’s
Guitar. Still the transparency

But know it’s there. You look
Through objects all the time.
Therefore a we we think on.

Beard smells of last night and
Deodorant. A velvet frippery
Dress me up. Cheese. Forget

About me while looking at me,
Prettified representative of an
English. I don’t have to worry,

Do I? Safety in numbers. And
Where did I put those thingums.
Tucked safe behind the ears.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

NEW! Review of Eileen Myles

Sorry, Tree by Eileen Myles. Wave Books, $14.

Reviewed by Meg Hurtado

Eileen Myles’s Sorry, Tree achieves a wispy, brilliant blend of the political and personal. She does not shy away from historical subject matter, but she defines it by way of the ordinary day. But make no mistake, the days of a poet of Myles’s incisive talent contain nothing ordinary at all. Love, lawn-chairs, death, bad dreams, and September 11th all wind their way through verse at once confessional and driven purely by form.

In the book’s second poem, “No Rewriting,” Myles attempts a palimpsestic view of personal and socio-political history, and succeeds masterfully. She begins with what could be the dialogue of vagabonds. As with all the dialogue in the book, Myles does not clearly identify a speaker, but the poem starts with the line, “nobody’s going to come in and take my cup of money,” and continues with “sometimes the only no I have is to reverse things.” The second remark might appear slightly esoteric, but in the context of street-dwellers it could easily refer to turning clothing inside out, or sanity. The third piece of dialogue--“I agree. It’s a good place to shit”--seems a clear indication of her fearlessness in approaching the homeless lifestyle. Myles advertises herself as a feminist condottierre of the East Village--a romantic self-image, but appropriately paired with her childlike ability to “pretend” rather than simply conceive or craft.

Thus, she begins the longest and most comprehensive poem of her book with the voices of the marginalized. All her voices partake of this quality, whether she speaks as a lover, or for her lovers, as a child or a philosopher. She achieves, through the various facets of her authorship, both celebratory and subversive effects--elebratory because she embraces bohemia, and defends it to “the people who always think the public problem is theirs are gay,” etc., and subversive because in her lines she has recreated bohemia as comprehensive, autonomous. By insulating the avant-garde with such single-mindedness with her outward-moving expression, she draws attention to the fact that bohemia too blooms by immanence.

Myles does not shy away from the outer frame of her own lifestyle. She never caves to the urge, so prevalent in Western artistic tradition, to erase her own hand from her work. At no point in her poetry does she pretend, or allow the reader to pretend, that she produces poetry by some kind of predestined, disembodied, mystical process of illumination from above. She mentions not only her status as a poet, but the mechanisms which she must manipulate in order to sustain that status. References to artistic grants, something the amateur reader of poetry seldom considers, pepper the book, as do references to writing classes and poet-in-residence gigs. By incorporating these external “systems” into her artistic worldview, she buttresses it against criticism which might take insularity and attempt to call it blindness or ineptitude in the face of reality.

Her work takes its roots from the visible, the tangible, and the corruptible. This root, furthermore, takes all kinds of forms--everything from commentary on materialism (“I’d like to buy one of those / really expensive / doors like I saw / in the Times”), to descriptions of love which are anything but Sapphic in style or mood (“I love you too / don’t fuck up my hair”). She manages to mix this debt to temporality with an awareness of the abstract greatness of such a debt.

Myles draws on an incisive journalistic knack for assorting images, but these images never truly stand alone. This knack asserts itself most strongly in her poems regarding love and politics--namely, the four titled “Dear Andrea” and “No Rewriting.” The first of the “Dear Andrea” poems exhibits her blend of external and emotional naturalism. The poem consists of several seemingly disjointed thoughts that rise to a feat of pathetic fallacy and characteristic internal clamor: “And the sea / hits the rocks & / the seagulls hop. / Man am I / in love.”

Great events, whether historical or personal, are defined by Myles in terms at once precious and plebian. Most notably, Myles structures the timeline of the morning of September 11th around two events: moving her car, and going downstairs to get a cup of coffee. According to her narrative, she missed the literal witnessing of the event; but for her, witnessing is more than an act: “it was never out my window but I see it out there now.”

With the realization that Myles indulges her role as witness, we reach the heart of her work. She takes her responsibility to bear witness for the marginalized seriously, but never exclusively. One poem, “To Hell,” reads very much like an homage to Ginsberg’s “America,” a work that has worked its way out of the avant-garde and into the mainstream. Myles survives this transition by way of the reverberations of her fearless voice.

Monday, April 30, 2007

NEW! Review of Dan Chelotti

The Eights by Dan Chelotti. The Poetry Society of America, (1 of a set of 4) $30.

Reviewed by Emily Hunt

The puzzle of death his architecture, Dan Chelotti has created a kingdom creased down the center, energized by sparrows, rain, and circling wolves. The Eights, composed of four multipart poems, begs extensive devotion: one, two, even five readings are not enough. Lines such as “there is something orange about every woman” and “you are the kingdom that sweats from my eyes” echo long after the reader stumbles upon them for the first time. These “words spun to ignore the dying” put readers in a trance comparable to the writer’s own hypnotic state: “I must follow the eights for the eights want me to follow.”

Once the reader soaks in the array of resonant images in The Eights, he or she begins to notice Chelotti’s methodical approach to structure. In a significant number of his lines, he uses a word or phrase twice. In these cases, the second half of a sequence mirrors the first: “Be done with it. Be done with it. / Look for clouds and see clouds.” For Chelotti, “folding [is] a given.” He speaks of a “dead father made of father,” a “rat-filled hut / That says from every song emerges another song,” and a desire to “carve a man from another man.” This recycling directly relates to the writers’ interest in the circle: “I’ve spent many years attempting the perfect free-hand circle.” Reader, writer, and poetic figure are subject to such loops. A recurring image of wolves orbiting a fire determines the pace of this collection. One naturally thinks of vultures circling the dead, of seasons blooming and melting, and of a man traveling the curve of a question only to find himself back at the launch of its dissection.

Chelotti “refuse[s] the world its right to be flat.” He finds doors within doors, questions inside answers. Unfolding this mystery he’s named “the eights,” he recognizes that to believe in something is to let it go: “I have an idea / And it dies whenever I say it. / I have you. You live even when I’m quiet.” Chelotti looks for the dead in small mumblings of the living, in “deer sniffing around [an] outdoor toy train setup,” in sheep chewing on grass until the green leaks out of it, and in the shadows that dirty the world. He detects that the losses he cannot see weave their way into the objects that surround him. Someone out there is dying now, and now, and within the completion of each of the speaker’s circles around a “dust-ridden bowl of oranges.” The energy left behind by the dead subtly replenishes pieces of his environment that had gone limp, still, or silent. In the fifth section of “An Anthem for Three Thousand Voices,” the “runners say they grow stronger / when the river claims another tooth,” and at the moment that “another powerline drops . . . a small boy with a stick suddenly rules their world.” Such brighter minutes stretch readers taut, remedying the sagging that ensues with the news of death.

At times, Chelotti speaks bluntly, and through raw confessions the reader grasps his exhaustion with recurring loss:
I’ll tell you: it’s easier this way
Because people die and I hate that.
Because people pretend to love death
And even the sparrows laugh at them.
I hate them more than I hate the dead.

He asks for two graves--one in which he can bury his fear, and the second in which he can lie next to it. These poems do not tire the reader, despite their bleak subject matter. If anything, the reader extracts fuel from Chelotti’s striking language; he or she cannot help but spread the little book wider and return to its opening image of a sliced, “steam[ing]” trunk to take on “the eights” once more.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

NEW! Poem by Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck

LOVE THEORY

The argument, I think, was over medieval bishops
using a mace instead of a sword to circumvent
canonical law admonishing against the spilling
of blood. Or about the term fin-de-siècle
and the origins of “sweetypants.”
And then about what chemical can be used to burn off
a single layer of your skin or the way the words
sex and mockingbird are not interchangeable
but could be if only we’d agree
to start saying, “Look at that beautiful
sex singing from the shagbark tree,”
or, “I mockingbirded her good last night.”
Which is not the same thing as whether
a mace can bludgeon and maim and kill
without shedding a single drop of uncanonical blood,
which is not the same thing as whether
great planetary system makes a promising
metaphor for love, which is not the same thing
as whether there is more beauty or horror
in the enormous chandelier of human bones
hanging from the chapel in Sedlec
in the Czech Republic. All there was was argument.
And then, later, we heard a mockingbird
singing from a shagbark tree.

Friday, April 27, 2007

NEW! Review of Amanda Nadelberg

Isa the Truck Named Isadore by Amanda Nadelberg. Slope Editions, $15.

Reviewed by Benjamin A. Mack

In Isa the Truck Named Isadore, Amanda Nadelberg introduces 63 fictional characters doing things like bombing donkeys, cooking peacocks, and drinking motor oil. Each poem in this alphabetical collection is titled after a character whose eccentricities are described satirically by the narrator. Because the narrator often tells the reader to reread previous poems for greater effect (e.g., “Gwenda,” which reads, “Go back to school / and read ‘Ceridwen’ there.”), a back-and-forth movement transforms Isa the Truck Named Isadore into a sardonic interactive experience. Coupled with Nadelberg’s continuous use of subtle language twists and delicate wit, this strategy parodies American culture, society, and religion to an end both refreshing and warranted.

Despite recently relocating to rural Minnesota, Nadelberg is a Bostonian at heart. Bean Town sports and Massachusetts politics become recurring themes throughout her work and sometimes serve as foundations for national comparisons, as in “Sanna”:
Soon
Massachusetts will be
the president of this
place and we will all
be honest with such
beautiful teeth and
a sense of water. It
makes you honest I
swear.

This poem addresses the 2004 presidential election, and through Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign, Massachusetts is personified as being “honest.” On the surface, the personification in the poem glorifies Massachusetts. Yet the narrator also possesses a quirky satirical tone that lacks political consequence and focuses on Kerry’s “beautiful teeth” and “a sense of water,” thus critiquing the superficiality and jingoistic nature of American politics.

A unique poetic structure contributes to Nadelberg’s quirky tone. Free verse, skinny lines, and indefinite line breaks mark each poem. The free verse allows for quick changes in subject while the lines and line breaks subvert the reader’s expectations, as in “Bean”:
Inside this small
place I can
love you. Let me
wash your hair in
the bathroom sink and
make you a glass
of water with many
cubes I promise they
will fit.

Each line possesses no more than four words, and the subject changes quickly from washing one’s hair to fixing a glass of water. The indefinite line breaks introduce additional uncertainty into the poem and make the narrator sound aloof and light-hearted.

Nadelberg’s tone and style are the source of her wit, which becomes most evident in portrayals of American pop cultural icons. For instance, in the book’s first poem, “Adelaide,” she writes:
Was walking on
her own street when
a bird flew in
to her forehead
like to Fabio
on that roller coaster
when he came out
all bloody

Unlike Fabio, who is “mad” as a result of the unfortunate occurrence, Adelaide is “sad.” She lacks a mother who can “clean up [her] head.” The narrator expresses adoration for Adelaide’s outlook on life as opposed to Fabio’s in the poem’s final couplet, “this is why I love you. / This and this and this.” This juxtaposition portrays Fabio as unappealing and mocks his popular icon status.

In “Wilberforce,” Nadelberg goes further in mocking American society’s embrace of pop culture--in this case, Miss America:
Miss Ohio
became Miss America
last year, back when
the pageant still had a
talent component. . . .
Miss Ohio sang a song
About Drew [Carey] living in
Iowa as an Amish person
and the audience loved
it and the judges loved it
even more.

From Nadelberg’s description of Miss Ohio’s talent, one immediately recognizes that talent is not needed to win the Miss America pageant. Without the validating aspect of talent, those who embrace the Miss America pageant are mocked and portrayed as being easily amused.

Nadelberg also satirizes Christianity and Judaism by pointing out the misuses and illogical aspects of each faith. In “Emmy” she writes:
Let us pray
for a safe journey of a few
bumps. I can see straight
into the ear next to me a good
inch and a half into this man’s
head. Fabulous. Truly. Just
send it all to Jesus.

In this poem, Nadelberg exaggerates the concept that Christianity will solve even the most insignificant of our problems. She directs a similar tone towards Judaism in “Kaapo”:
Jews bury quick.
Good to the body.
Theo died in the
morning and was
buried the next one.
My uncle sat with
him all night. Jews
keep the dead company.

Together the poems undermine religious tenant and practices, taking them out of context. As a result, certain practices sound harebrained or deranged.

The frailties and foibles of the human condition are revealed throughout Nadelbergs’s Isa the Truck Named Isadore. Using interesting perspectives and an unconventional style, she demeans those aspects of society and culture that many hold dear. Society’s idols and society itself are made to look absurd. According to Lisa Jarnot in her introduction to the book, these societal shortcomings are the “things that make human beings special” and are a result of our “constant effort to make sense of the materials of the world.” In other words, these shortcomings are unavoidable. Nadelberg’s light-hearted satirical tone does not distance the reader from this, and in the process serves the reader a fresh interpretation of Americana.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NEW! Poem by Eric Pankey

Eric Pankey

TOMB FURNISHINGS


Ark of river stone.

Ashen residue of straw.

Attic dust, cellar damp.

Calabash adorned with cowries

A conundrum, a compendium.

Corrosives that free an image.

Dried seed heads, boluses, antlers among the tangled roots.

Dusk pinned down on a stony draw.

Folio volumes of maps and anagoges.

Gaps in the narrative where coincidence enters.

The half of speech that is the listener’s.

Joists, beams, floorboards.

Loams and siennas.

The lure of light.

Models of earthly and heavenly palaces.

The moment’s spur.

Nest the wind picks apart.

A pause, a rest, an impasse.

Sound of waters coming together.

Stupa of rain.

Sufficient repetition to suggest endlessness.

Thrown voices, thrown shadows.

Tool-marks on the overgrown knots, char on the crossgrain.

Tress of hair.

Vectors and quadrants.

Verdict written in sand.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NEW! 5 poems by Anya Cobler

Anya Cobler

Five poems

HOSPITALITY

The breadth of this pile of pollen-drip day-
lilies, spread open to the sharp world, to
any passing genocide that may shut,
the wind pulling its parts out to rot at
the base of Earth. The man who they grow out
of, his arms not containing their full break;
he’s wash in talk about how for years now,
all he’s done is try to keep the outside
in, the outside in. He’s lost in a for-
gotten heat, ‘cause the two lost arts is dent-.
istry and house-building, as I am blown
over in his purple skin, repainted
by a sprint-flower that walks away now,
walking away from the bust, see ya babe.


ACCELERATION

You change, babe (pour chercher) velocity
will rip holes in grids. My behind stairs/fares
sliding down the hips of scree, hill by road
by works in the city. . . and then a green
paper plane in a red back. I hid my
breath in the dark V of its bend. I avenue
a future/tree-lined. Your bowels are deep &
open & sleek. and hunger by night. Who
knows the rove from Chauncey, the street-throbbing
wink-down plan-me: a tv screen tongueing
me knees in the floor. What that she bore is
just the deep parts of something very large.
Don’t whurry. One in droves and droves. Heard thru
the door, the wheel, wind, mills the night, heards, birds.


O LONGFELLOW

It was me and you in the terrible.
Old man black cycles past in his pyja-
mas thru the sleet or we cut him knees down.
But Jove is a river rat who finds the
floating pimps, sprays out not a letter, not
a pardon for the miserable life, a
howling dog in heat during your flood blank
night. You haf so joy, that when you laugh the
chord is quite sad; in Aug when it shines most
leperously, a thousand no-emit stars
show up out of boom town. Darken the gal-
lows, pray together away for their free-
dum. O my you. We did divorce my head.
His rat hole opening squats for a lid.


JULIUS

This red dress decorates me, it bleeds in
encloses, like the Tanzanian flag.
This corresponds to her and the hour of
flight, orchid black of tomorrow, a break
liberation, her flight picture: what you
have counseled me to do I have not done.
The green shrouding most poured I’d ever toughed.
Says mother, an anvil is always pierce-
ing my bladder, I shall not return o
seasons o silence like peace castles flees,
o hands in the man in the streets feeding,
which treats me so badly as I walk by
as if with a sword, as with skull raised I
should see the crust teeth white of tomorrow.


MIND (AFRAID) AWAY--

I made hen in the hoor lay, in my hoor
lay. Why am I output? A trail of my
mark mews about, then shrieks midday while do-
ing nothing. Mye ash do naught while I with
hoor lay, of thor, the horsehair pinks-a-pinks.
A-fore, lady, a-toon. Mind’s led you a-
loon. Was it from the nut. The wisdon of
nuts? From the boar--I lay in the hoor. I
lay as if a hoor. A heart-don tips tips,
cuts the muscles to their sin. Harbor the
sin-made hert in her moor. Moor. Moo. Not I,
not I count heads. Not nopevein. Watch her neck-
vein moo as the story, as the testi-
mony. Leaves her more talented than live.