Thursday, July 08, 2004

NEW! Review of The Canary No. 3

The Canary, No. 3. Edited by Joshua Edwards, Anthony Robinson, & Nick Twemlow. $10.

The new issue of The Canary contains an extraordinary amount of strong work between its subdued & elegant canary yellow covers. (We were wondering when The Canary would go yellow.) There is no interior or cover art, there are no panels or forums or doodles or cartoons--just poems, lots of really good poems. We do wish the bar code was on the back cover, to keep the front cover clean & textual, but the magazine is still a beautiful thing to (be)hold with its restrained design, matte finish & squareness. (Sometimes, when we wonder why magazines like Fence, American Letters & Commentary, LIT, & Crowd are squarelike, we pick them up & remember why: they're pleasant to hold--more pleasant to hold than Verse, we think, but oh well, we'll stick with the 6x9.)

Every issue of The Canary has demonstrated a determined eclectism & keen editorial intelligence. Issue No. 2 seemed to set the bar impossibly high, but this issue, we'd venture, exceeds our already high expectations, not by changing the formula or adding new features, but by maintaining & building on what's made this one of the most exciting new print journals for poetry.

The mix of un- or recently published poets, innovative lyric poets (NY Schoolish, Post Language, etc.), emerging poets (i.e., those with 1-3 books), & unsettled established poets (i.e., they're not content with being established) also seems healthy, & welcome, & good. Almost no one in this issue seems to be riding on name recognition or laurels, though a few were probably invited to contribute. The Canary seems to combine open submissions with solicitation, thus generating the mix we see here.

Overall, the issue features a range of aesthetics, approaches, concerns, emotions, moods, & forms. There are prose poems of various stripes & lengths, poems in couplets (the issue's dominant form) & tercets & quatrains & sestets, single-stanza free verse poems, double- and triple-spaced poems, a hemistich, and some visually oriented poems. Traditional forms are more gestured toward than followed, so those yearning for tradition should stick with The Hudson Review.

Of the poets whose work we consistently read with interest, most show up in fine form. Here's a quick rundown/summary.

Hoa Nguyen's untitled poem about pregnancy makes room for emotion--positive emotion! (remember that?)--without getting sappy; & as usual, her approach to language is full-on & engaging, a collision of disparate yet wholly appropriate dictions.

The first half of Mark Levine's "Refuge Event" is oddly reminiscent of W.S. Merwin, in terms of style & content. Nice, but we were happy to see the poem take an unexpected turn midway through, in "the workshop."

Peter Gizzi's "Scratch Ticket" is, as usual, precise & moving & unpredictable at every point.

Joyelle McSweeney's three poems are energetically performance-oriented in both concept & language.

Joe Wenderoth's excerpt from "Agony: A Proposal" is an annotated list of "Terms Used in Academic Discourse Touching on Agony."

Anselm Berrigan's, Matt Hart's, and Cathy Park Hong's poems are captivating & fun, not least because of their languorously agitated voices/personae. (Does Hart have a book? If not, he should.)

Brenda Hillman's "Clouds Near San Leandro" opens with some clean iambics that seem intended to smooth out the violence depicted in those early lines, & part 1 of the poem is marked by an uncommonly keen eye & mind for detail. The violence-smoothing iambic comes back in the second line of part 2 ("you cast aside the brittle flame"), & the poem mulls on how, in middle age, "we're done with the old ironies." So no more Liz Phair.

Donald Revell's "Landscape With Free Will and Predestination" brings Christian thinking/living (angel, Christ, God) into domestic life, which creates a productive contrast with Maggie Nelson's two punch-lined angel poems. (Revell's and Nelson's poems are also strong on their own, but The Canary people put them in close proximity.)

Kevin Young's "The Alias" & "The Suspects" are from a forthcoming noir/verse novel, & provide glimpses of a compelling narrative/narrator.

Kevin Larimer's "Whether the Abbatoir" is terrifying & weirdly beautiful, kind of like its title.

Kent Johnson's "The New York School" claims to invent a new form--the Mandrake--& does.

Brandon Downing is represented by four solid poems (five if one counts "Two Poems" as two poems instead of one). Our favorite is "New Sonnet." Everyone's been looking for the new sonnet. We'll be looking for his new book.

In Rae Armantrout's "A Distance," the lines "A girl's doll is herself, / caught as if / unawares" seem so true & memorable as to be instantly Immortal, or at least worth passing along to girls with dolls--a kind of immortality, we think, & something worth aiming for.

D.A. Powell's poem is untitled & unpunctuated, & contains long lines in couplets--like almost all of his poems.

Also recommended: Christina Mengert's "Storytellers," Lisa Lubasch's "On Hysteria," Jennifer K. Dick's "Kiln," Michael Tyrell's "October in Idleville," Cal Bedient's "Hippo, the Logic of This Music, To Walk on the Bottom of Such Copia," Elizabeth Robinson's "Wind," Martha Silano's "No Refunds, No Exchanges," Max Winter's "The Dive Into the Drought" & "Stopped Along," Gabriel Gudding's "Dear Eagles," Christine Hume's "Field of Suspicion," Tracy Philpot's "Watching Coyote Porn," Rae Armantrout's "Seed," Kevin Larimer's "Untitled," Mark Levine's "Document," John Koethe's "Adelaide," Aaron McCollough's "Superliminare #25," & Andrew Feld's "C" & "Intermission."

Of the poets whose work is un- or less familiar to us, Ted Mathys ("A Whole in the Factory of Null" & "The Factory of Liquid is a Lair") really knocks off socks with his poignant, manic, friction-full, layered energy.

Bridgette Bates ("Broadside at Night / 12 November"), Lisa Cooper ("Emphasis"), Jeff Bernard ("We Are Merely House Guests, Awkward Like House Guests" & "The Increasing Generosity in Absence"), Sasha West ("Naming"), Ed Skoog ("Horror Show"), Albert Flynn DeSilver ("Cranial Vineyards Incorporated"), Kevin Litchfield ("Moonlight Arrangements for Whispers and Chitin" & "Clams"), & Alex Green ("Summer Job, Year Seven") also make us eager to see more of their work.

We don't see much point in reading magazines if they don't offer some news, & The Canary brings a lot of news to the table. That a good deal of this news comes from new poets is to be expected only because the editors have worked to make it happen.

At $10, this issue is priced barely above cost, especially considering the distributor's cut, so we suggest ordering directly through the magazine's web site. That way, the 40-50% that usually goes to the distributor can go to the magazine.


Disclaimer-like note & policy announcement: two current Verse associate editors--Lara Glenum & Sabrina Orah Mark--have poems in this issue, which includes work by 50 poets.

Sometimes, magazine reviews on this site will cover magazines that include work by someone affiliated with Verse--there currently are a dozen such poets (maybe more), floating around the desk & elsewhere, & most of them are publishing, often in new(er) magazines. It just so happens that new(er) magazines are the ones that benefit most from being reviewed & thus are the magazines we're most interested in having reviewed here. (Please note, however, that we won't limit magazine reviews only to new(er) magazines, especially if people are finding interesting work in more established venues & want to mention it.)

We ask that reviews of magazines that include work by Verse-affiliated poets not specifically recommend these poets' work. (This request does not apply to poets who no longer work with Verse--if in doubt, just ask--or to poets affiliated with Verse Press, which is a different entity & edited from a different state & by different people than Verse). We realize it is possible that a positive review of such a magazine could be construed as a positive review of, or plug for, the Verse-affiliated poet(s). But this makes sense only if a negative review of a magazine that publishes a Verse-affiliated poet is then a negative review of, or dig at, the Verse-affiliated poet(s). The two don't necessarily compute, & neither really makes sense because we do not dictate the content or tone or angle of any of our reviews, or even commission all of our reviews.

Our primary intentions in publishing magazine reviews on the site are to spread the word, foster community, acknowledge hard work, provide hints to poets publishing in other magazines to submit to Verse, start some conversations, & bring some attention to poets who (because they haven't yet published books) otherwise wouldn't get reviewed. That said, we will accept negative or mixed reviews of magazines, regardless of who's included.

As always (& especially when we try something new), we welcome feedback.


NEG said...

I think it's great that yr doin' magazine reviews!

Verse said...

We're excited about it, not least because we haven't been able to do this with the print magazine given the time it takes to produce an issue. Most magazines would be off the shelves or sold out by the time a review appeared in the print Verse.

We also welcome reviews of chapbooks, so feel free to send review copies or reviews.

Anthony Robinson said...


Thanks so much for this very gracious review. We work hard on the magazine, and it thrills me (and Josh and Nick) to see such a carefully considered review. This is why we keep doing what we're doing.