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


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

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


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


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.


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.