Friday, July 31, 2009

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Rachel Blau DuPlessis


All serifs are seraphim: such is faith in the letter.
Such is the force of the word.
The faith is touching.
In every alphabet
in every technology of memory—
knots, rocks, dots, rhymes,
codes, rites,
monuments and books—
in that shockingly endless tower built
of the balances and loops of wire
ceramic shards set in cement, and mirrors, too,
extendable yet poised in mutual
There is no verb in this sentence.

The verb is diffuse
it is the feeling of Being
and Reflecting
inside the substance of language
and of time,
making the poem “embodied, embedded,
and extended mind.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lidija Dimkovska, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Lidija Dimkovska


My memory is a soldier’s tin of bully beef
with no best-before date. I return to places
I have trodden with only one tongue in my mouth
and beat egg yolks for the natives to give them a good voice.
In a snow of the whites Jesus lies crucified as if in jest.
It takes two tongues for a French kiss,
now that I have several I’m no longer a woman but a dragon.
Like St George, I never learned
to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, my nose being blocked for years
I myself only breathe through others’ nostrils, the EU’s paying.
Aha! There’s something fishy about you, something’s fishy here,
the little fallen angels
collecting old paper and plastic cry after me,
I love them best when they take their cots
out into the corridor to air the DNA
then A. and I sprawl out on them, a side each,
and in a carefully worked-out act of love
all our porcelain teeth chip off,
our gums turn into wide-open eyes, before which
our tongues in the darkness trip each other up,
growling, whimpering and moaning, and we
feel neither fear nor sorrow.
My memory is the black box from a crashed war-plane
with no best-before date. I return to places I trod
with only one blood under my skin,
I cross off fertile days for the natives on the calendars
with their name days and family feasts,
tame animals crave for the wild, the wild for the tame.
Like a Jewish couple during fasts and monthly periods,
so God and I have been sleeping in separate beds for years.

Translated from Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid

Monday, July 27, 2009

Garrett Caples, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Garrett Caples


I was A’s third husband within the department. I’d come to study the poems of B with C, but C wasn’t there anymore and I had no intention of fucking D, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Sometimes the other husbands and I would go for walks, but it was cold, and I had little in common with any of them, except E, who was a tennis player, not a poet. (At least E drank!) I started hanging out with F, and we quickly became lovers even though I was already married. But her poetics were going nowhere, so I soon hitched my wagon to G, whose fellowship was the envy of everyone else. But he immediately left me for H, whose father had made it in raisins, and by now I’m like, I gotta get with one of the teachers if I’m ever going to make the big reading! But it was harder than I thought; I introduced me to J but we didn’t get along despite some regard for each other’s work. I began a flirtation with K, but K made considerably less than J—“just like the real world”—so she couldn’t really support me. Finally I settled on L, for, despite the fact no one liked his poems, L had position—meaning he could fuck—and he’d gotten tenure back when you could get it by mail. But M, my advisor, advised me against it, and instead hooked me up with N, who refused to return my calls after the first fuck, so I turned to O for solace, because, let’s face it, he’d fuck almost anyone, but he was already in bed with P by the time I got to his apartment. In despair, I called Q in Thailand and he convinced me to join him—“there’s plenty to fuck,” he said, “and you only write poems when you want to”—but I was waylaid en route to the airport by R, who offered me a teaching assistantship in exchange for sex, so we fucked until the add/drop period ended. That evening I fled in my nightshirt, only to get caught in S’s headlights. We’d read together once a long time ago, so she drove me to her house and gave me some clothes, but wouldn’t let me stay the night. I called T to come pick me up and, though he said he usually didn’t get down like this, since I was in a skirt he’d fuck me for one night and pretend to not know. The next morning, I was late for coffee with U, who I found at the café busily preparing a list of everyone he’d fucked in the program. I scanned its columns for ideas. Finally I settled on V because he was seated at the next table, but all V wanted was a handjob in the car while he drove to class, after which I was on my own again. W’s seminar was about to begin, but W wasn’t a poet, so fucking him was out of the question. X’s workshop was about to let out, but chances of hooking up were slim. Finally I saw Y heading across campus, but when I caught up to her, all she would offer was a golden shower under the footbridge. I couldn’t turn it down. By now my appearance was beginning to attract attention, and I’d already run through the most plausible faculty, so imagine my surprise when I bumped into Z of all people, who was desperate for a piss. Since there were no bathrooms on campus and I was already wet, I invited him under the footbridge, where he hosed me down like a burning building. “Nice work,” Z said, zipping up. “I expect I’ll see you at the big reading.” “What does this have to do with poetry?” I asked, but Z was either hard of hearing or had learned not to notice such questions in advance. “You’re going to be late,” he said.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Landis Everson, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Landis Everson


(A Poem For Laura Bush)

Privatization is me talking to you
about nobody listening in, about riding
at one end of a long car and you at the other,
about tinted windows and messages off a security phone.
I wear a pink-dyed sable, made up as a 60s lady
and a bug-proof hat that you look a long time at.

This is an act of being secret at the expense
of others, also closed from each other as
we won’t admit everything. Oh darling,
perhaps our contract is too secluded
and we should be released into cornfields. I try

to imagine Buck Rogers in a bunny suit.
But you sit tall and handsome ready to blast off.
As you streak toward the future, I drift into the past.
Oh Buck Rodgers you are reading poetry
by someone from the future I can’t compete with,
me studying Herodotus trying to avoid slip ups.

What goes on under our clothes
keeps the world away, that’s for sure, but
your private thoughts, my private wishes
are running askew lost on a crooked city avenue.
may make us rich, like history, but secrecy
folds us up into maps hiding the direction children play in.

Bankruptcy could flatten the tires on our limousine.
Is it time to be apart like radiator ornaments
whose engines have vanished beneath their hearts?
Lift me off this hanger, I’m yesterday’s coat.
They say hangups talk. But I’m telling you they don’t.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jennifer Moxley, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Jennifer Moxley


We should get over it. If, that is, we are to unlock the mysteries of love. This must be done in the right order, by slow, steep, hierarchical steps. Or so Socrates claims the wise (and probably apocryphal) priestess Diotima told him.

To get over the love of beautiful things (and by extension, people) would be to free oneself of death and decay, of beauty’s transience and our covetous nature. We would fear no footprint. But in order to reach this state of tranquility we must discover the beauty that is “unmixed, not adulterated with human flesh and colors and much other mortal rubbish.” Such a beauty, as must be evident by now, could only be seen with the mind. It cannot be sensuous, it cannot engage touch, taste, smell, sound, or sight. It cannot, therefore, exist in the “things we live among.”

Yet, it is undeniable, much mortal rubbish and adulterated flesh strike us as very beautiful. If they are not actually beautiful, then why do they strike us so? Because they participate in what is so. It is as if there is a zone of rarefied air—Beauty itself—which they pass through, and while in its eternal particles are made to seem, temporarily, to be Beauty itself.

Strange how this air works differently on different matter. On flesh and bone it seems to rest but for a few brief years, before recoiling in horror. On “organized” things, as Emerson calls them—the beautiful results of man infusing form with imagination—this rarefied air seems to linger much longer, sometimes for many millennia. But it is still an illusion, for Beauty exists outside of these things and does not, and never will, belong to them.

He who sees this clearly, and learns to be indifferent to the mineral fact, “touches reality” (not its pale semblance). And it will be granted him “to be the friend of God, and immortal if any man ever is.” Here we have the origin of Western mysticism’s “wormhole” to God. No tedious rituals, trinkets, or icons, just a straight mental shot right to the source.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bernadette Mayer, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Bernadette Mayer


the sun is on the born-again paper
my name is still Bernadette Mayer
just as Spanish people have Irish names
as in “enter: Grace Murphy of Cordoba”

you’d shoot the beginning of the movie
in a bowling alley, setting the scene
middle supermarket, the development of love
the end a bakery window, pastries & reflections

critics would say “this movie’s a sonnet”
but unbeknownst to them a sestina’s structure
would lie beneath & airplanes fly by
whenever one of the end-words is said

     a secret cult classic
     the envy of every cinema buff

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ron Padgett, from VERSE

from the new issue of Verse (Volume 26, Numbers 1-3)

Ron Padgett


When people ask me
if I write with a computer
or by hand I pause,
for it’s a question
I do not find interesting
anymore. Forty years ago
I saw how Ted’s old typewriter
fit his bricklike writing one
word-brick at a time, and how
my lightweight portable with French
keyboard let me whiz along
as if halfway in another language.
Now I write with words
that never were mine nor will
they ever be. A demon inside
says I do not write at all.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

NEW! Poem by Michaël Vandebril

Michaël Vandebril


one-stringed city that perpetually
severs my wrists

nothing to grieve about

I gorge on gluey blood

an army of young gents marches to a dogged beat
dancing across the water--fresh water dreams

like pigs drawn from the river

I look at your young breasts
while you give your mouth to another man

--like a drunken bird
its wings slithering along the bars--

you sing an ancient anthem of the city
and beograd sings softly with you

o white thighs of the balkans
on which I lay my greedy hands

Translated by Brian Doyle

Monday, July 06, 2009

NEW! Review of Baude, Ramos, Ross

The Flying House by Dawn-Michelle Baude. Parlor Press (Free Verse Editions), $14.

Please Do Not Feed the Ghost by Peter Ramos. BlazeVOX Books, $16.

Strata by Joe Ross. Dusie Books, $15.

Reviewed by Andy Frazee

In her endnotes, Dawn-Michelle Baude calls the poems of The Flying House “site-specific writing,” the core of which is “the idea that presence—of the writer, of the word, and of the subject—is intrinsic to the work of art.” She goes on to note how “the act of writing became for me an historical ‘site’ . . . Actual details, conditions and circumstances litter the poems with a story of their making.” With the exception of the staggering, fragmented prose poetry of “Postcards from Ir)Rational Lands,” the poems here are themselves “littered” (probably the better word is “positioned”) down the page; like archeological digs, these excavations work to reveal the intertwined strata of self, place, and language:

                            I was late, delayed

               by a ground fog
           a mistral, a heron
                   I found a piece
                         it was missing
             clung to the rock
the displaced plain
                     I found a number of mirrors

In the nine poems—mostly sequences—of the book, one, the “Fieldwork” series, reappears periodically throughout and serves as both structural principle and investigative model, developing the archeological-historical trope of “site-specific” in full. One is reminded of Emerson’s notion of language as “fossil poetry”—and here Baude’s use of the page, full of a syntactic tension derived from the Projectivist techniques of Olson and Duncan (Baude, in fact, studied with the latter), gives the “ruins . . . we’ve inherited” new life, as in “Fieldwork III”:

             excavated lines
         some spare misfortune at the extremity
                 of provenance          accumulations,

     signs of the imminent
             ruins      what we’ve inherited—

         meandering depictions          odd metaphors,
on the flickering screens
            of the unconscious self
                     thin and liminal

Implied in Baude’s notion of the site-specific, and in her loyalty to the historical and contextual, is a notion of witness. “The Beirut Poems” sequence in particular works to image the violence Baude saw during her time in Lebanon, deftly—through consideration of the teaching she did there—weaving in a discourse of poetry in tension with the destruction going on around her. In section V—a section beginning, “Because the wheelbarrow is red”—the poet juxtaposes the work of William Carlos Williams to the proximate turbulence, and meditates on what use poetry may have in such a world:

                 the rain glazes
       the object that’s attractive
but a friend is in excruciating pain
                   where the good doctor
         applies image to a wound
                     no medicine can ever

While this witness isn’t completely divergent from “the poetry of witness” outlined in Carolyn Forché’s Against Forgetting anthology and elsewhere, Baude’s witness implies an attention to the local that is always necessarily political, and is not limited to the singular, catastrophic event. In these poems, the process of the present becoming the past is itself an unending catastrophe of loss. One of the motifs of the book is that of the explosion, one both literal and metaphorical, and the history we are given is the post-detonation “history of gaps, disparity, lacunae” one must both attempt to understand and live within. While the notion of “post-detonation” may lead one to thoughts of “post-9/11,” it is important to recognize that here 9/11 is a recurrence, one catastrophe within many, if not infinitely many. Baude’s witness, thereby, is a kind of attention to the real, the present, the ongoingness of history—it is a mode of being in the world, of being responsible for what one sees and where one is, rather than a response to any particular event.

In this sense, Baude’s archeological-poetic investigation is necessarily also an investigation into the self, as we find it in the world and in language. On the page the “I” is itself figured as a kind of relic—or, more precisely, as a relic among relics; it is “a memory / (family) / (origin) / the artifact” lodged within “the context / of ages / the reliquary.” Ultimately, the book suggests, it is presence, this particular site-specificity in the world and on the page, that allows for the “I” to “orient the resonant fields of association,” thereby “constituting an artifact, its own, a document // in perpetual process and acts of formation.” Recognizing its own constitution as an artifact (though, importantly, as an artifact-in-process), the poem implies, allows the “I” a kind of awe, if not wisdom:

         to let the circle predominate

                 the fluent          the continuous

               no matter how deep

how very          high          overhead

With her concern with history, place, and formal experimentation, Baude positions herself firmly in the Pound-Williams-Olson tradition, and The Flying House extends that lineage nobly, giving us a vision not only of the world and of language, but also of our places in them—a vision not only historical but, as Baude suggests, urgent. “I detected letters in the profusion / a world of shadows // omissions,” the poet writes in “Fieldwork I.” “[H]ow else to know where we’re going // I pluck, gather, salvage what I can.”


In Please Do Not Feed the Ghost, Peter Ramos also performs a kind of historical investigation, though while Baude’s work feeds off that of Olson and Duncan, Ramos’s project is more in line with the Robert Lowell of Life Studies. Whatever lukewarm autobiographical verse Lowell’s work may have inadvertently unleashed on American poetry, Ramos takes up what continues to make Life Studies important: a recognition that selfhood is never self-contained, but is a performance that operates within, is even constructed by, the demands of family, desire, and national life—demands which in the work of both poets may take place years before their births.

Ramos’s subject in the most general sense is nostalgia, and the threat of the desire to indulge in it. Specifically, the book deals with the risk of not seeing the past as it needs to be seen, or in replacing the past with a myth that only serves to reinforce one’s illusions—personal or national—in the present. And in this sense the work is as much an exploration of the implications of the autobiographical or confessional mode as it is an example of it. Thus the book opens with the (aptly) quasi-autobiographical, quasi-dramatic delivery of “John Berryman in my Dreams,” where the speaker functions both as Berryman and as the poet dreaming of being Berryman:
Blacking out in some basement café, crowded
And alone in the sad mid century, I come back & go on
Hunting powder-puff angels, the pan-caked faces

Under bangs cut straight, the puckered mouths wet
With lipstick. Then do I move through night, glass
After each empty glass—am I all right?

In this mode of the late-night urban underbelly, the cover of the book, a video still, shows an update of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks—this time of two solitary figures inside a fluorescent-lit Laundromat. The window, as in the painting, puts us at a distance, in the role of voyeurs, with the figures inside like zoo animals. Ramos’s poems are filled with such ghosts of “the sad mid-century,” specters that waver between the worlds of objective presentation and the subjective “return of the repressed.” The former consideration takes into account the poet’s responsibility to the people he renders; “How will you speak for them?” the speaker of “The Put-Together Wedding Cake” asks, speaking, presumably, of his own newlywed parents:
The groom is learning the language, dull-eyed
for remembering what they said: “America the gold
and golden fleece!” The bride thinks of daffodils
which turn to kitchen gloves.

The latter consideration takes into account how those independent agents become figures in one’s own psychology, and of how one uses others in the construction of personality, if not neuroses. Not feeding the ghosts involves not transgressing the boundaries that define ghosts’ uncanny nature, lest they bring you back with them: “October, color gone from the wheat / and you straggle back,” begins the title poem,
your mouth
full of loam, jacket lined with rot, crazy
as the leaves.

Each time I try to sleep you off, hoping winter
will stamp its feet, sober you up.
But the hallways soften. You
stuff me full of mothballs.

But, as the poems indicate again and again, it is just this feeding of ghosts, this return to the sites of origination and loss, where historical and psychological understanding resides, despite the risks.

The poems here, while operating from an autobiographical center, consistently seek to enlarge the context of that core, often taking a genealogical tack in dramatizing the characters of Ramos’s family, as in “The Put-Together Wedding Cake” above. The poet further broadens the landscape in approaching various notions of “America,” as in the tarnished vision of consumerism in “Mid-Century Modern”:
They rust now in the innards,
in the plumbing’s guts. Under linoleum,
secret in dry-wall, torn paper, they
bloom beneath layers of paint.
They are jewels in pitch glue,
asleep in the bracebeams.

These concerns—the autobiographical-genealogical and the historical—come together in the long sequence “Watching Late-Night Hitchcock,” which takes cues from both Lowell and Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred, giving us a familial mini-epic of pre- and post-war Americana. In this poem, as throughout the book, the threat of a utopian nostalgia is undercut by the self-destructive grotesquery of the American underbelly—we find late-night cocktail lounges, alcoholics, and “dye-job” blondes, which in other hands may have devolved into nth-generation rehashes of Bukowski. Ramos endows these images, however, with precise description and an undeniable authority of voice—and with turns toward the disquieting and peculiar too concretely imagined to be merely surreal: “We like things clean: the boat flag / snapping in the breeze, // the platinum bee hive / sipping gin from a bird bath.”

As a worthy heir to Lowell’s undiluted project, Ramos’s quirky and often unsettling poems, far from repeating the formula of languid confessionalism, focus our attention on the particulars of the past, and how those particulars form their own kind of personal and shared mythology—one tantalizing, worthy of critique, and, in its capacity to overwhelm the self, frightening. But, the book suggests, we have no choice but to confront it, and to be responsible in understanding our role within it: “The green glass / dust between and all around us / is also too brilliant”—and, Ramos writes, “too excruciating to overlook.”


In his Autobiography, William Carlos Williams claims that the “difficulty” of poetry “is to catch the evasive life of the thing, to phrase the words in such a way that stereotype will yield a moment of insight.” In Joe Ross’s Strata the difficulty the poet sets for himself is less in catching the evasive thing, than in catching evasiveness itself—and the insight is in discovering that the insightful moment is always already lost. The fifty-two short poems here are, in the best sense of the phrase, hard to grasp; they pointedly enact the slipperiness, the fleetingness—not only of the moment, of the real, but of the speech that attempts to convey that moment’s actuality, “[w]hen the / knot finally slips and the world comes back,
When tomorrow correctly takes its place as today.
We began to talk but quickly chased the words away.
We put in a symbol, let it be A. It
immediately left for Not A. How to address this.

Though their true forebear (if we are to choose only one) is more probably Robert Creeley, Strata’s poems, following Stevens, “resist the intelligence almost successfully” in their attempts to capture that gap in time between the thing, its perception, and one’s speaking of it. The moment (“let it be A”) is always infinitely displaced by the discourses of the just after (“Not A”), and the just after displaced into further Not A’s. In those lost moments, the uncanny gaps between the prior to, pregnant with what is the “now,” and the now itself, already displaced, Ross situates the poem as what transcribes A’s leaving for Not A—not the thing itself, not A, but the trace of its passage.

As what populates this gap, what signifies the absent, lost moment, the poem is also what transcends or trans-verses the in-between of otherness. It is, from the point of view of the reader, that there (the recording of someone else’s saying) that is always here (present and immediate in its physical manifestation on the page). “This place, place one puts,” the poet writes in “Here,” “is now, is ever.” In this sense, in Ross’s poems, as in Baude’s, “the act of writing [becomes] an historical ‘site.’” While both poets in this way transcribe the loss of the present-tense of writing into the past-tense of the written, it is Ross who dramatizes it most fully. On each level of the book, from the sequence of the discrete, titled lyrics, to the syntax of each poem’s phrases, Ross emphasizes this displacement of moments and the loss that displacement creates:
This perfect, an act.
Resplendent palm slight of –
Gone from view, those few
we seldom thought of for fear
or its lack. A sudden not speaking
where only yesterday teased into or away
from permanence.

Ross further dramatizes this movement in the ambiguity of how we see the book as a whole. Is it as a collection of discrete lyrics, as the individual titles suggest? Or are we to see it as a poetic sequence or series? The book’s epigraph—“52 is some kind of magic number, isn’t it?”—suggests the latter, positing that these poems are to be seen in the movement of the weeks of the year, each week, and each poem, displacing the one previous, with the previous still present (printed on the page) in a palimpsest of memory and history. The ambiguity seems intentional in that we are persistently made aware of the gaps between the poems, and of our attempts to draw a continuity among them. Coupled with the content of the poems, we are drawn to what is not said, to what happens in between the poems, even as the poems are pointing outside of themselves, to the prior to, to the margin. Each section is both its own center (emphasized by the titles) and, at the same time, peripheral to all the others, and this schema extrapolates into the political: “The shallows / collapse. What was built upon mere sticks or the backs / of the lesser. The coal of civilization about to be / forgotten.” And: “To take up / arms or to reach out.”

While undeniably engaged with philosophical and theoretical discourses, these poems are—equally undeniably—poems of a lyrical moment, suggesting, intriguingly, that the instance of critical inquiry is as worthy of the heightened language of lyrical artifice as any other. In tension with the relative tonal flatness and syntactic gaps reminiscent of Language poetics we also find in the book, the poems often enact their investigations through a palpable music and an elegiac mood:
The words won’t
come, or do and not connected to
memories severed link of an attachment
to all that was, all that was once
the person on the end of bed.

These, and other pleasures generally considered “traditional”—an attention to the natural world, a hint at the loss of love, to name two—make Strata’s complex epistemological considerations an engaging, if not exhilarating, read. “Looking out / into the next break, we pause. / Frozen into stare, the eye cannot help / see itself,” Ross writes in the last poem of the book—one titled, aptly, “Beauty.”