Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Dawn-Michelle Baude, The Flying House (Parlor)
Michael Burkard, Envelope of Night (Nightboat)
Chad Davidson, The Last Predicta (So. Illinois)
Forrest Gander, As a Friend (New Directions)
Paul Foster Johnson, Refrains/Unworkings (Apostrophe)
Eric Pankey, The Pear as One Example (Ausable)
Jerome Rothenberg, Poetics & Polemics (Alabama)
Susan Stewart, Red Rover (Chicago)
Jay Wright, Polynomials & Pollen (Dalkey)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Mark Cunningham, Body Language (Tarpaulin Sky)
Jen Currin, Hagiography (Coach House)
Carla Harryman, Adorno's Noise (Essay Press)
Katy Lederer, The Heaven-Sent Leaf (BOA)
Jane Mead, The Usable Field (Alice James)
Gustaf Sobin, Aura: Last Essays (Counterpath)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NEW! Review of Roberto Bolano

The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Laura Healy. New Directions, $14.95.

Reviewed by Ed Pavlic

I shall tell thee a twofold tale. At one time it grew to be one only out of many; at another, it divided up to be many instead of one. There is a double becoming of perishable things and a double passing away. The coming together of all things brings one generation into being and destroys it; the other grows up and is scattered as things become divided. And these things never cease continually changing places, at one time all uniting in one through Love, at another each borne in different directions by the repulsion of Strife.

—Empedocles of Acragas


And so it goes according to the pre-Socratic thought of Empedocles. The double plot: the elemental smelting and dissolution of water, air, earth and fire into what we do and don’t feel, can and can’t know; and the forces of conserving coherence (Love) and those of propulsive chaos (Strife) that animate the mix. In Empedocles’s thought, there’s a region beyond all of this, an infinite boundlessness where all elements and elemental patterns exist only as potential, everything mixed with everything else so evenly and chaotically that it’s beyond the forms of existence themselves. Reading Roberto Bolaño, one is ever in the mix between propulsion and conservation, back and forth and round and round, until we can almost see him at work in Mexico, in Spain, in France, amidst the galaxy (each star a pantheon) of literary personae that fired his work. We can sit with the formidable evidence of his effort to conserve the propulsive energies of Latin American literary talent that came of age around 1968 in Mexico City after the Latin American “Boom” of Neruda, Borges, Paz and others. The result is nobody’s wax museum. Instead, Roberto Bolaño’s labors have left us a living, elemental cosmos of Love and Strife that simultaneously built and destroyed his generation of artists.

At the beginning of the encyclopedic mid-section of Bolaño’s first magnum compendium (or at least the first one published in English) of interrelated personae, The Savage Detectives, one Perla Aviles recounts a quarrel about quarrels. Upon learning that her friend, a Chilean adolescent poet living in Mexico City, had had a fight with a local theater director about the respective merits of Nicanor Parra and Pablo Neruda, Aviles reports, “of course I could hardly believe that two people would fight about something so unimportant. Where I come from, he said, people fight about things like that all the time. Well, I said, in Mexico people kill each other for no good reason at all, but certainly not educated people. Oh, the ideas I had then about culture.” Aviles, a voracious reader, then doubles back to investigate the argument between the director and the young poet. She doesn’t go back alone, she takes a weapon: “I went to visit the director, armed with a little book by Empedocles.” After a few thousand pages of his prose being released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (The Savage Detectives, 2666) and New Directions (By Night in Chile, Distant Star, Amulet, Last Evenings on Earth, Nazi Literature in the Americas), we can appreciate (if not quite fully fathom) the scale of Empedoclean play of propulsion and conservation in Bolaño’s imagination.

Having read most of the prose record in a kind of Bolaño fever over the summer, I wondered at first what The Romantic Dogs could add. I found that Bolaño’s poems hold the magnifying glass between the sun and his view of reality on the ground. In the prose (this may have to do with the flood of new work available in English), Bolaño ranges wide across countries and continents, conjuring dizzying arrays of voices and personae over hundreds of pages. In the poems, he holds the focal points in view on single pages. We watch the glass focus the light; the poems smoke. The effect of this stillness intensifies and clarifies our sense of the motion. In The Romantic Dogs, readers catch Bolaño’s process as if on a slow succession single slides for the microscope. In “The Frozen Detectives,” Bolaño’s poets (and poems) enact similar evidentiary deceleration, posing as a kind of metaphysical CSI team. The persona informs: “I dreamt of hideous crimes / and of careful guys / who were wary not to step in pools of blood / while taking in the crime scene / with a single glance. / I dreamt of lost detectives . . . / our generation, our perspectives, our models of Terror.” Bolaño’s detectives and perros romanticos refuse to leave the dream, the active zone of love and strife where things and people shift from becoming to unbecoming and back. They refuse the nightmare, the place (that’s no place) where things are (and so, aren’t) what they are. In “The Romantic Dogs,” he writes, “And the dream lived in the void of my spirit. // And sometimes I’d retreat inside myself / and visit the dream: a statue eternalized / in liquid thoughts // A drowning love. / A dream within another dream. / And the nightmare telling me: you’ll grow up. / You’ll leave behind the images . . . // I’m here, I said, with los perros romanticos / and here I’m going to stay.”

Bolaño’s prose visions are multitudinous, ebullient, and fantastic. We read through them as if Velocity is the cousin that sends, like she does in the poem “Rain,” messages to us from “Nature,” who “hides some of her methods / in Mystery, her stepbrother.” His poems are slower. If you’ve ever watched someone die waiting for a last breath, the breath slows, the pace crawls, the time between breaths (as if in small, rehearsal deaths) grows. There’s terror and peace in those spaces. The question is whose is whose and which is which? The poems in The Romantic Dogs expose a similar state of suspended ambiguity. I don’t know how old Bolaño was when these poems were written. It’d be great if they were dated. They’re great anyway. In “Self Portrait at Twenty Years,” he writes, “You either listen or you don’t, and I listened // despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek / against death’s cheek. / And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing / that strange spectacle, slow and strange, / though fixed in such a swift reality: thousands of guys like me, baby faced // brushing cheeks with death.” There’s bound to be some Duende in a dream deferred. A dream inferred. Infrared. The images are slow and strange, and they take shape in a contemporary world: “Right now you can cry and let your image dissolve / on the windshield of cars parked along the boardwalk. But you can’t disappear.” Grown-up stasis and the fantasies of transcendence that accompany it, alike, foreclosed. Nature’s stepbrother breathes his slow breaths. We watch. In “Atole,” Mario Santiago and Orlando Guillen, “Mexico’s lost poets,” appear “as if in a mural where they lived / velocity and haste did not exist.”

Visions intensified reveal the motion, the play of the infinite, inside things that sit still as time rolls up and down on its way. Permanence not only exists, it recedes. In “X-rays,” Bolaño dissects this angle of (inner) vision: “The X-rays tell us time / is expanding and thinning like the tail of a comet / inside the house . . . // If we look, however, with X-rays inside of the man / we’ll see bones and shadows: ghosts of fiestas / and landscapes in motion as if viewed from an airplane / in a tailspin . . . // and we’ll know that there’s no cure.” As in the Cante Jondo and the blues, there’s a kind of vital sadness in it all. I suppose Empedocles’s “infinite boundless” (non-)exists in its way beneath emotion, language and culture. A permanent receding, as in Empedocles’s thought or in Bolaño’s work, might make exhaust that the human brain converts into sadness. We crave it nonetheless. In Bolaño, an epic sadness is the place where all the basic intensities of experience go when they’re not busy fucking up our lives. The visceral realist poet/archivists flee part one of The Savage Detectives in their patron architect’s (his name is Font) old Chevy, the narrator watches the scene recede as Lupe puts the pedal to the metal and reports, “I saw a shadow in the middle of the street. All the sadness in the world was concentrated in that shadow, framed by the strict rectangle of the Impala’s window.”

Through mind and dust and blood (even through death), the poems in The Romantic Dogs slow the vision down, and usher us up cheek to cheek with a permanent receding, according to the nature (and her stepbrother) of which even Empedocles can help rescue a prostitute and shoot off toward Sonora on a lark. These poems magnify the intricacies in a literary craft of considerable dimension. They fix upon a prose magician’s trickery slowed down and brought up close so we can focus on its hands as they move. Up close, we see they don’t. They don’t begin to move until they’re perfectly still. Stilled in images of motion and fluid. The poems in The Romantic Dogs carry a life toward us as we watch the permanently receding elements of its Will to Strife operate. As in “La Francesa,” they invoke “A love that wasn’t going to last long / But that by dessert would have become unforgettable.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Pam Brown, True Thoughts (Salt)
Endi Bogue Hartigan, One Sun Storm (Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado Prize)
Aleksandr Skidan, Red Shifting (Ugly Duckling)
John Taggart, There Are Birds (Flood)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

also from The Minotaur Loves His Labyrinth

"Any ideology or belief that doesn't have hatred as spice has no chance of becoming popular. To be a true believer you have to be a champion hater."

"The servants of the rich (our politicians and journalists) should wear doorman's uniforms. Let flunkies by instantly recognized from the distance, as in the old days."

"Nationalism is the love of the smell of our collective shit."

"Money buys even victimhood."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

from The Monster Loves His Labyrinth

by Charles Simic:

"Our rich are torn between self-pity (they're paying too much in taxes) and self-adulation."

"Centuries ago, when the king's advisers and seers gave wrong predictions as to the outcome of military campaigns, they were tortured and publicly executed. In our days, they continue being called 'experts' and appear on TV." [Bill Kristol, anyone?]

"Deterrence by example. Let's bomb X so that Y and Z will realize we mean business and behave. By that logic, why not hang a few crooked politicians and bankers so that others may be warned?"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hayden Carruth, from "Freedom and Discipline"

Freedom and discipline concur
only in ecstasy, all else

is shoveling out the muck.
Give me my old hot horn.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RIP Hayden Carruth (1921-2008)

Hayden Carruth

THUNDER AT NOON

for Denise
A dark day in June. Looking across the valley
at our mosaic, the meadows, woodlots, and plowed fields
on the opposing hills, I see as through a glass

darkly, or rather as through a window
somewhere inside, semi-translucent, into
a familiarity become almost unknown with the years,

Like the sun, so often unseen in this part of the world,
a presence learned long but nearly always hidden.
It moves across the zenith. A strange noontime.

Somewhere over there are the tiny figures
of those I knew. They move, scarcely visible,
in their rounds of chores and pleasures, like people

in an ancient painting. The air shifts and darkens,
and a plume of rain falls like the lazy drift
of a window-curtain, muslin, in a whiff of wind,

and in a few seconds is gone—vanished. Hardly
enough to dampen the air. It is as if an intimation
had been given and then almost instantly withdrawn.


[originally published in Verse]

Although Hayden Carruth only contributed one poem to Verse, his work and example have been hugely important to me since I started writing, thanks in part to happening upon his Collected Shorter Poems as a fledgling poet. The incredible range--formal, stylistic, thematic--of his poems astonishes me every time I read his work. Carruth was a great poet of love, "neighborliness," music (especially jazz and the blues), old age, poverty, labor, protest, the natural world, and more. He had a very difficult life, and he endured. His anthology, The Voice That Is Great Within Us, deservedly remains in print. His criticism is a wonderful example of honest engagement with the work. He will be missed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reginald Shepherd, another poem

from Verse

Reginald Shepherd

One of Their Gods

Was he lightning poured from a smashed flute,
music carved from someone's bones
I know? Qualities absently enter his mouth
where spring and snow are the same, song
-bred, sound-led: frozen in parenthesis.

Warped windows ripple like light
snow (grayed pane a single plane
waves past, wet leaves meander
winter winds), the curtness of his lyric
body, male odalisque with unlit

cigarette: in danger all the time, in winter
falling ice, in summer falling safety
glass, blue-smoke-flowering stars
uncounted as of yet, some illion or another
night obscured by streetlights, head

-lights, an oceanic black with islands
in it, incursions of opaque color
at patterned intervals, contingencies
of trees and buildings blinking out. Club
-headed weeds, wet pebbles, my beloved

is white and muddy: these tattered
bodies sheeted in news as if it were
sleep rub off on the hands,
flowerboats spilled of all cargo.
He will scatter on black waters.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

i.m. Reginald Shepherd, 1963-2008

Reginald Shepherd

Probably Eros

The whole is not his fault, elegy
full of small bird and the light
starting to starve. Gods are sucking off
gods in alleys and I call it spring,

a gap between catasrophies
until the day I am a tree. Afterward
they smoke clove cigarettes. The reigning
bees, the rain he’s been, the present

tense ripples into form: front yard
sunflowers fascinate tomorrow’s August, days
dry grass and filled with old news, new
spores. Dead ladybugs smear windowsills

with laws of wall, good fruit become s fuel
will turn to ash: turn the latch. (Seasons
pass through me like flaws, rattling
rust-worn gates, dried gourds.) Birds

are chirring branches green and the bees
want to have sex with them, all things
are full of monetary gods, world-sick
with ritual outline and poisoned

by too much song. The beautiful
boys ruin my sky, raw meat wrapped
in silk and spoiled milk: boredom’s
ache in the shoulder blades, arms

raised in the epiphany posture.


[originally published in Verse]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Maxine Chernoff, The Turning (Apogee)
Julie Doxsee, Undersleep (Octopus)
Srečko Kosovel, The Golden Boat, tr. David Brooks and Bert Pribac (Salt)
Eleni Sikelianos, Body Clock (Coffee House)

Monday, August 04, 2008

4 poets @ Chop Suey Books in Richmond VA

Sunday, August 10
2pm
Chop Suey Books
1317 W. Cary Street
Richmond VA

Mathias Svalina!
Julie Doxsee!
Sommer Browning!
Julia Cohen!

Friday, August 01, 2008

new John Forbes page at Poetry International

Australian poet Michael Brennan brings Australian poet John Forbes to Poetry International.

And check out the Forbes poems (links on the right) as well as these poems also available online:

http://www.afactor.net/forbes/poems/lullaby.html

http://www.afactor.net/forbes/poems/europeAguide.html

http://www.afactor.net/forbes/poems/stalinsHolidays.html

http://www.afactor.net/forbes/poems/spleen.html

http://www.afactor.net/forbes/poems/numbers.html

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Verse's new format

Beginning in autumn 2008, Verse will shift to a new format--to a portfolio, or dossier, arrangement. The magazine will appear annually, and each edition will include approximately 25 pages by approximately 12 writers. This new format will allow us to feature a chapbook's worth of material by each writer.

We have been planning this change since 2006, but needed to complete our two issues in progress--French Poetry & Poetics and the second Sequence Issue--before making the switch.

In keeping with Verse's commitment to publishing innovative prose and cross-genre work, we plan for each edition to be multi-genre.

The first issue in this format will focus on writers who have not appeared in Verse before, but whose work we have admired and wanted to publish in the magazine for a long time.

This new format also will bring a change in submission policy to Verse as well as a lower subscription cost. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Valzhyna Mort, Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon)
Valenta Saracini, Dreaming Escape (Ugly Duckling)
C.D. Wright, Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon)
Jay Wright, The Presentable Art of Reading Absence (Dalkey Archive)

Monday, April 28, 2008

next issue of Verse

The sequel to our sequence issue is almost out. The 296-page issue includes sequences and series by

Rosmarie Waldrop
Laynie Browne
John Kinsella
David Wojahn
Gillian Conoley
Jenny Boully
Corinne Lee
Richard Kenney
Rusty Morrison
Guy Bennett
Kate Fagan
Anthony Hawley
Daniel Coudriet
John Matthias
Barbara Hamby
Thorpe Moeckel
Marianne Boruch
Sean McDonnell

plus interviews with Theodore Enslin and Rusty Morrison,

and reviews of Theodore Enslin, Inger Christensen, Barbara Jane Reyes, Julie Carr, Ed Roberson, John Kinsella, Allyssa Wolf, Catherine Imbriglio, Sarah Riggs, Craig Watson, and Jennifer Moxley

by Graham Foust, Judith Bishop, Andy Frazee, Evelyn Reilly, Christina Pugh, Ezekiel Black, James Wagner, Joshua Hussey, Eric Smith, Ted Pearson, and Marci Nelligan.


If you order the issue by May 31, you'll receive a 25% discount and free postage. Send a check for $9 to Verse, English Department, University of Richmond, Richmond VA 23173.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Philip Lamantia, Tau / John Hoffman, Journey to the End (City Lights)
Raymond McDaniel, Saltwater Empire (Coffee House)
Kevin McFadden, Hardscrabble (Georgia)
Henry Parland, Ideals Clearance, translated by Johannes Gorannson (Ugly Duckling)
Morgan Lucas Schuldt, Verge (Parlor)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NEW! Review of Garrett Caples

Complications by Garrett Caples. Meritage Press.

Reviewed by Brian Strang

“The firefighter” is an overdetermined sign that receives disproportionate adulation, an adulation that has turned to worship since 9/11, a celebration of the paramilitary protector. The firefighter is a self-congratulatory symbol of male preparedness, strength and protection--though women do the job as well. It has become controversial to suggest anything resembling a criticism or parody of this sign because of the increasing association of firefighters with militarism, which is often confused with patriotism. One can now find firefighter coffee table books--emblazoned with icons of multi-headed axes, nestled among similar books on the four branches of the military with similar symbols on the covers--in heaps at the local branch of a mega-bookstore chain. But curiously absent are books like these on police.

One might expect that our society would bestow similar praise on law enforcement; after all, police put themselves at a similar risk of physical harm in service of the public and are just as much symbols of authority and paramilitary. In my own city, Oakland, currently the fourth most dangerous city in America, the police department has been trying for years to fill vacant jobs, but when the fire department announced that it had a few open positions, it got thousands of applicants. While firefighting is understood to be unambiguously good, police work is messier, more entangled with social issues. Most people have mixed feelings about police because they (or someone they know) have unpleasant run-ins with them at some point in their lives or because police are perceived as sadistic enforcers of an unjust social order. But, whatever one thinks about police and how they fit into our society, law enforcement is a job that requires all sorts of interpersonal skills, traits that are far too human. Few people spit on firefighters (as they do on police); our society wants icons, not people.

The firefighter is a hero in the Greek sense, a demi-god, a superhuman who risks life and limb for the greater good. The reality, however, is that firefighting doesn’t even make the list of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the country; fishing and logging are consistently at the top two spots. And other important jobs that involve risk and sacrifice--garbage collecting, high-school teaching, bus driving--do not have the same heroic associations, even if some of them are every bit as important to the successful functioning of a society. Watch how quickly things go haywire when garbage collectors go on strike, for example. Still, the firefighter icon remains unambiguous, simple, a strutting flag, an externalization, a desperate search for reductive clarity in a complicated world.

But in order to apprehend and understand the world accurately, one must see complexities in their fullness. I would argue that we need far fewer and radically different models for the traits we find beneficial, and we need no hero-worship in a culture that has become narrowed by the reductive fascination with icons. To worship icons is to become inhumane, because one no longer looks toward the difficult and messily human, but toward a clean and reductive symbol. Reductionism is a pervasive influence in our society, and though it may serve certain purposes of clarity and understanding, when it becomes a philosophy or all-encompassing way of being it leads to simple-mindedness. The iconoclast is necessary to crack the iconic shell and restore a complicated dimensionality, but it is a counter-dependent stance, one not always adequate to the task of deeper understanding. Smashing icons is no less reductive than building them. To engage with and live in a more accurately complex world, complications must be embraced or dealt with in their fullness, not merely denied. To resist, it is not enough, for example, to hate firefighters or police, but to understand them and their symbolic representation fully.

All of this is a way of saying that I really like Garrett Caples’ new book, Complications, less a direct confrontation of icons than an attempt to wrestle with, and rewrite, the complexities inherent in twenty-first-century being. In The Garrett Caples Reader (Black Square), Caples was an iconoclast without a trace of Victorian limitations who, with his libertine erotic surrealism, was willing to take on anyone or any thing. This book contained poems with lines like, “We were looking for a place on a street not named Euclid: where lightning unzips the sky or two lips open like an eye.” And it had essays that, like a carnival sideshow, covered a range of the freaky and bizarre, with titles like “Humped by Barrett Watten” or “Celebrity Wettings,” a piece that examines the sexual fetish of watching well-known people caught in moments of incontinence. In this way, one could see Caples as a kind of contemporary Tristan Tzara, an antidote to the messianic death dreams of our times. Tzara’s words helped me understand Garrett and his work: “The individual . . . lives poetry every moment that he affirms his existence. The poetic image itself, as much as experience, is not only the product of reason and imagination, it is valid only if it has been lived. Every creation is therefore, for the poet, an aggressive affirmation of his consciousness.”

Seven years later, in Complications, Caples is no less bold but perhaps more measured in his approach. Rather than scything down icons of repression, he uses a more complex approach to his “permanent revolution.” The self-congratulatory externalization inherent in many of our reductive cultural assumptions is necessarily and methodically dismantled with wit, clarity and heart. But I don’t want to give the wrong idea; Garrett has not been defanged or housebroken, a fact that becomes immediately apparent in the first section of the book, “All Chemical: Symbolist Poems.” In it the reader finds the characteristic voice that permeates his short-lined works:
my body should not be
a tapestry

but somehow it always is

I’m a red girl
I don’t remember

being wool

to the balls
of my feet

(“All Chemical”)

Caples bends, twists and jumps through images and voices, but manages to maintain a sense of narrative and narration, however indeterminate. Far from being a mere collection of ironic syntactical collisions, this mode of his poetry, while often ironic and funny, coheres as it advances. It does not move in straight lines but, rather than being atomized and scattered, clearly demarcates a weird and wonderful movement that at times even attains lyrical grace:
o cross-kneed
and painted
alabaster
apologies

I twist
like a handkerchief
caught on a line

on soft and unlikely wings

(“All Chemical”)

Often in his work, Caples takes shots at cultural icons, and in this collection, he takes a friendly swipe at Michael Palmer in “Chanson de Googoo,” a piece that is as much an indirect critique as a poem in its own right. This piece is both sincere homage and send-up, an “amorous elbow” and, therefore, dimensional: “lucid cloud / i owe you / one.”

Caples grapples with and snips at the cool, international figure that is Michael Palmer--whose work is always beautifully measured and potent--with jabs at his immersion in theory, “my buyer says / sell theory now” and, perhaps, his public reading persona: “i needa nodoz / from your prose / but you pose / in those robes / like rousseau.” In lines like this it is Caples’ humor that creates surprise and allows him the position he takes on. André Breton said “that the black sphinx of objective humor could not avoid meeting, on the dust-clouded road of the future, the white sphinx of objective chance, and that all subsequent human creation would be the fruit of their embrace.” Caples seems happy to stand between the gaze of these two lionesses and welcome surprise. Barbara Guest claimed that, “the element of surprise is a poem,” and throughout his work Caples surprises with each twist of the line. In the end of “Chanson de Googoo,” he comes to a conclusion about poetry that, strangely, does justice to Palmer in a way that only could have come from Caples:
poetrys
not a
job

its a set
of dentures

wobbling
in the lobby
of a library

awaiting
gums

dumb
enough
to swallow

delicious
abundance

This critique should, I believe, be read more as one of Michael Palmer’s readers, those who speak in hushed reverent tones, than Palmer himself. Anyone coming to this poem for affirmation has come to the wrong poet. In his humorous way, Caples has taken on the complications that reading someone like Palmer creates. For decades now, Palmer has been at the top of the experimental poetry heap, deservedly so, for his poetry is spare, lyrical, apocalyptic and mysterious. He has also translated extensively and written important and influential criticism. His influence has already been great and will most likely continue for decades. So who is Caples to be poking him with a stick? That’s exactly the point: Palmer’s position in the current poetry world makes him iconic and heroic (and therefore dimensionless) to some readers. And he deserves to be read more clearly than this. Caples’ work at times even echoes Palmer’s in its sound and shape:
There is much that is precise
between us, in the space

between us, two of this
and three of that

(Michael Palmer’s “Baudelaire Series”)


Perhaps precision between Caples and Palmer is revealed in Palmer’s designation for this poem, “after Vallejo.” Caples has a Surrealist lineage in common with Palmer, however the two might seem to differ at first glance. As such, Caples approaches poetry as a set of dentures, not as a series of urns: his poems bite, lovingly, in order to elicit a human “ouch.” Our reading of Palmer is altered slightly after Caples’ poem. The inhumane icon that some readers might otherwise make Palmer out to be is now replaced by something messier. We begin to feel Palmer from Caples’ strange, subjective and deeply human angle; this is Tzara’s “aggressive affirmation of consciousness.” And the reader becomes more immediately aware of the intimacy in Caples’ critique, because as surprise and humor lead one along, one must question one’s own complicity in it. Did you laugh? If so, where does that leave you in relation to Palmer? If you didn’t laugh, why not?

What makes Caples’ poetry unique among his peers is the ability he has had to transcend the current cultural segregation in poetry between the hip-hop and ‘experimental’ communities. Few writers from the latter have more than a passing interest in the broad proletariat movement that has been working its way deeper into the mainstream for the last 25 years. Hip hop is no longer exclusively a culture of the outsider--any political ideology now seems to have been replaced by the Republican mantra, “life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,” currently personified in the dying star of 5o Cent. But those with their ear and heart closer to the ground, like Caples, know that the underground is alive and well, especially in the Bay Area. Caples is a well-known hip-hop journalist who dives deeply into the local scene, a music he sometimes refers to as folk music. He continues to do the Bay Area’s most insightful articles on these musicians and the cultural context in which they live, rap and sometimes die (his article for The Bay Guardian on Mac Dre’s memorial is both homage to the man and an editorial about the tragedy of handgun availability in communities like Vallejo, Richmond and Oakland).

So in his poetry, it is fitting that one can practically hear the slap, pop and beat of hip hop (“sonic nipple / can you feel sound,” he asks in “Synth”), and his poems include many hip-hop conventions, such as in “Dub Song of Prufrock Shakur”:
i’m on a
date off
grapes

in a pink
mercedes

from the early
eighties

with a pair
of ladies

from the
republic
of haiti

and they
oughta hate me

but they
masturbate me

and serve
cunt to me

while my
country

is fucking
theirs

a mack ho
economic
plan

very
slavery
amerikkka

lord save us from
international
terror

tell allah
to chill

or go
to hell

In a passage such as this, most readers likely to come across Caples’ book will squirm, having their sensibilities jarred by the mixture of misogynistic language and political commentary, even if the Haitian “pair of ladies” lands here in Caples’ work strictly for their rhyming potential and cartoonish content. Few readers would probably identify the word “grapes” as slang for marijuana, though they would easily accept the political content. Poems like these are linguistic intrusions (rhyme itself is an intrusion) from an unsanitary world, one not so different from that of the blues (which is now safely archived and revered by academics). Yet the language of the Bay Area’s underground hip hop, specifically, arises from its social conditions, where sexism, poverty, fear and profound suffering are commonplace. One need not accept or celebrate this language, but its political context cannot be separated from the social conditions which give rise to its unsavory and offensive characteristics; to do so would be to engage in overgeneralization and cultural hegemony. Placing this poem in the first person, Caples is inviting trouble for the reader, the problematic layers of experience that add dimensionality to the work, and creating a demand to reconcile the first eight stanzas in the selection above with the last seven. The latter fall flat (into an all-too-familiar trope) without the strange and uncomfortable incursion of the former. What’s remarkable about the passage is not just the servile dynamic between the narrator (presumably male?) and the two women, or the corresponding characterization of an economic plan as “mack ho,” but also the surprising turns the passage takes in 66 words, touching on the coded, silly, erotic, bizarre, familiar, offensive, political and religious.

Caples addresses political and social issues in a clear-eyed manner in the essays this collection includes, especially in the prescient “Written on September 11, 2001.” In these works, one finds Caples’ beliefs stated plainly. They help to contextualize and counterbalance the poetry, especially the prose poems, where his humor is often most evident (“Robocop Imagines Accepting Other Roles” is the funniest). Caples discusses the Surrealist conception of black humor directly in “The Delicacy of Ambrose Bierce.” In the prose poems, the multifaceted approach of his lined poetry is still there, with similar themes, as in “For Thom Gunn” which begins, “i’m sorry you had to die at a time when evil’s got this country by the balls, cracks them and sucks them like eggs,” and later continues, “i’m so happy i’m suicidal, like a psylosybin trip that’s moved in for good and his name is george bush.” As a whole, the book gains quite a bit of range by the inclusion of the essays and prose poems. Such range is an essential talent for a writer taking on such diverse tasks. It’s a wild, wonderful trip.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Slate's antho-response

Slate's poetry editor Robert Pinsky responds to reader questions (the kinds of questions he must be insanely tired of answering as three-term Poet Laureate) with poems. Except for one response, which is also our favorite:

9. Well, I like poetry that is amusing, that maybe makes me chuckle a little. I'd rather read something reassuring and light than something complicated or gloomy. Is that bad? Does that mean I am a jerk?

Yes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Scantily Clad e-chaps

e-chapbooks by Tomaz Salamun, Andrew Lundwall, Mathias Svalina/Paula Cisewski, Ryan Daley, Brooklyn Copeland

Monday, March 17, 2008

Graham Foust reading in Richmond, VA

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
7pm
University of Richmond
Weinstein Hall, Brown-Alley Room

free & open to the public

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recent & Recommended

Cyrus Console, Brief Under Water (Burning Deck)
Johannes Goransson, A New Quarantine Will Take My Place (Apostrophe)
Daniil Kharms, Today I Wrote Nothing, translated by Matvei Yankelevich (Overlook)
Reb Livingston, Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut)
Pierre Martory, The Landscapist, translated by John Ashbery (Sheep Meadow)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NEW! Review of Donna Stonecipher & Serge Gavronsky

Souvenir de Constantinople, A Poem by Donna Stonecipher. Instance Press, $14.

ANDORTHE by Serge Gavronsky. Talisman House, $16.95.

Reviewed by rob mclennan


It began with a foghorn,
filling my bell

of a dress. I heard
in it a sound, nothing

I’d ever heard
before, an elsewhere

so complete--
It was beauty

tolling the fog
of the foghorn, beauty and

her profound gray
attendants calling my

name . . .


On the surface, Souvenir de Constantinople, A Poem by Donna Stonecipher is about travel and about a place, but also about more than that--as any good travel work should be)--as it works itself, stalking and sneaking through, in lyric and even postcard-type fragments. An American poet currently living between Berlin and Athens, Georgia, Souvenir de Constantinople is her second collection, after The Reservoir. When Alberto Manuel wrote about The Odyssey, or Salman Rushdie on The Wizard of Oz, both understood that all stories about travel were essentially about home, and the hope of an eventual return. Writing her poem through references that include the journals of Marco Polo (a badly written but infamous travelogue), after her trip and her travels, and all that her narrator has learned, is this all Stonecipher is left with? Through her travels and trauma, is all she has left this “souvenir,” writing out Constantine’s famous city that lasted a thousand years before it was sacked by the Mongol hordes? Writing postcards and asking for same, is the narrator the one leaving or the one being left?

The seducer
is not about

plot. Nor is the seduced
picking up the novel

to find out what
happens to the tiger

lily awakening to a bee
feeding and feeing tenderly upon its

paralysis
(“What the Pilgrim Wishes to Make Clear from the Start”)


She writes, “Trafficking in glossaries / Someone spoke too many languages” and, referencing in part the Ottoman Empire, what became Turkey around the year 800, “O my grand vizier // I am lying on your / ottoman, braceleted by // your charms, your / charms, your // thousand nights of charms / upended.” Is this poetry written of abandonment or of being abandoned?

I love the flow of her lines, her short, fragmented phrases and line breaks that flow slowly but ceaselessly down the river of page; a lyric of finding and going and leaving, writing close to the end:

And when
the traveller decides to stop

travelling, to stop
wanting

to escape,
wasn’t it too

late? didn’t
the mind read

the eye
reading

the arabesque’d note

to stay as the note
to escape

from the escape?


Souvenir de Constantinople asks out loud if it is possible to leave for so long that any return becomes impossible. You can’t go home again, it’s true, but people do; does the traveler run the risk of becoming foreign in her own land?

Working from influences including Zukofsky, Gavronsky’s ANDORTHE writes the poem between the poem, literally back and forth between fragments from the connectors “and,” “or” and “the.” Not unlike Robert Kroetsch’s Sad Phoenician, crafting his back and forth “and/or,” or the more recent Darren Wershler-Henry book tapeworm foundry, or Dennis Lee’s yesno (bold enough to attempt to update Celan’s diction of what can or can’t be written through world and personal trauma), Gavronsky’s ANDORTHE seems surprisingly light, given what has come before.

A Ponge mimosa

A bouquet asked
She hesitates

Here now

1920’s
without a following

a critical
alternate
hate that
word

imminent danger

transcendental
“un dentier”

lower mashing
of teeth

upper
sounds

grating
windows

in politics
eschewed
chewed on
something like


Gavronsky’s poem happens between the words “and,” “or” and “the,” writing the spaces between what the poem actually is, bouncing off and between surfaces to come out through its own invented weight. What is left after such things are removed? Working references to other writers, such as Ponge and Williams, what is it he is aiming for, and what does he want from this long extended and pared-down speech?

shaky hand
sensuous illusion

rhythm sitting ova-
tion

What solace

Forget it


This is certainly a book that deserves many deeper readings and reachings, and could potentially go far further in the end than many other collections. But why do I get the feeling that I’ve heard it all before?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Recent & Recommended

John Burnside, Gift Songs (Jonathan Cape)
Kristi Maxwell, Realm Sixty-Four (Ahsahta)
Alice Notley, In the Pines (Penguin)
Bin Ramke, Tendril (Omnidawn)
Larissa Szporluk, Embryos & Idiots (Tupelo)
Craig Morgan Teicher, Brenda Is in the Room (Colorado Prize)
Robert Walser, The Assistant (New Directions)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Publishing the Unpublishable

The ever-astonishing Ubu is going to publish 100 "unpublishable" projects. Follow the above link for the first 32.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Forbes

died ten years ago today. Please check out the JF feature at Jacket by following the above link.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Submissions for 2008

Verse remains closed to unsolicited submissions, and probably will remain closed through the rest of 2008. Unsolicited submissions will be recycled or returned unread.

We will continue to post previously assigned book reviews to the site.