Monday, November 30, 2009

NEW! Poem by Daniel Luévano

Daniel Luévano

The Arts, Part 3

Hope a day you break even.
Hope a day you break open.
For what cathedral do you weld
these spikes. For what praise
do you mangle these beams. What
ecstasy of origin. What crater
raised to a valley. The quick answer
is zero. Wrists at goodbye.
But to refuse as you do
the null set the straw fire
of real estate realism
don’t tremble
get under the blanket. Textile
subtexts I can’t afford
should make me a better person.
Hanging from a ceiling fan
what about you.


Guaranteed you won’t
go gracefully. As grace is impersonal
in dimension & valence
as far as the authorities are concerned
as art demands lightness & telescopic
density. Our interconnectedness
for granted, go light the task
is heavy. Don’t accept
the conditions again. Answer
before the question muddles.
These are his handwritten notes.


Articulated as Lucifer’s tail.
The empty thought the televised brain.
Sorry didn’t see you standing there.
But here I am may we have a word.
We need more day at both ends of night.
We need a pretty girl. A musical. A bitter
martini. Chunky salsa. A strapless dress.
So what’s your (dirty) answer.
More night both ends of day.
Can you sing. Then sing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NEW! Poem by Daneen Bergland

Daneen Bergland

Fugue for Insects, Animals, and Vegetables

Animals live among us; they shit in our kitchens.
I find spiders asleep or dead in the mailbox.
They look like crossed out words.
In water, whales sink and arc beneath us,
their teeth could comb your hair and it’s rumored
a handful of their flesh feels just like a breast.
In the mirror when I touch one breast it is not the one
I try to touch. What is real is what I can imagine. I’m not sure
I deserve what I want. Better to expect the deficit
As if every disappointment buoys a delight.
Their heads in dirt sacks, the potatoes periscope.
The tomatoes slip glistening beads from wet purses.
And these gifts, what must I do to pay for these?
Have I suffered enough, roughed up by the cucurbits’ leaves?
Nothing I buy stops the cats from sleeping their lives away.
I spend so much time digging at the bottom of bags
and resent the squirrels plugging the dirt every year.
I keep a garden against chaos, each bush pruned back to its bones.
Still summer comes in one lump sum. Shiny things
work themselves out through the dirt like slivers.
Maybe it’s the crows. And each day I ask myself
will you be the pen or the scissors? And resolve:
to my cats on my hands to bring home the smell of other cats.
If I can have only one color of butterfly: yellow.
This isn’t a competition; who made me think so?
So, surrender, trust the windfall and marry the house.
But the animals are not enough. I want the freedom
to reach out and touch you with my blunt instrument.
While the slugs bullet hole the ranunculus buds,
the nightcricket plays his tiny violin and feels sorry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three poems by Milan Dobričić

Milan Dobričić


Icarus too up
Orpheus too down
Summer too hot
winter too cold
Day too bright
Night too dark
Hill too huge
Sea too wet
Yours I can when you can't
mine I can't when I can


From sunrise to sunset
rain clear wind clouds rain wind hurricane
little then a lot of ice snow roar squeak whistle
sizzle tramp ripple
let’s not even mention the night


Linden scent
water tremble
sparrow jump
pigeon limp
boat train truck whistle
Contagious market chrism
Tram midnight

Translated from the Serbian by the author, originally published in Blessed Losers (Blagosloveni gubitnici)

Monday, November 16, 2009

NEW! Review of Novica Tadić

Dark Things by Novica Tadić, translated from the Serbian by Charles Simic. BOA Editions, $16.

Reviewed by Timothy Henry

In his introduction to Novica Tadić's Dark Things, Charles Simic suggests that the reader of this haunted collection is led by “a nameless recluse, mistrustful and fearful . . . surrounded on all sides by monsters and apparitions generated by his vivid, guilt-ridden imagination.” With the guidance of this recluse, we are taken on a full-frontal tour of the narrator’s neighborhood, where this brilliant, delicate elder has lived long enough to lose any hope for his land's salvation. A lifetime spent on these dreary streets takes its toll on the speaker’s own hope for salvation, which remains at stake throughout the book's 48 poems, and, like all of the troubles presented by Tadić, is left unresolved. Yet with a terrifying beauty, our guide still manages to fulfill his vocation: to endure this dark and dreadful world as both witness and poet, or, in Tadić's own words, as “God's messenger.”

The scene is Belgrade, Serbia's capital, where Tadić has lived for virtually all of his life. Born in 1949, he draws from nearly 60 years of violence and decay that ransacked Communist and post-Communist Yugoslavia as well as from the emergence of the nation now known as Serbia, complete with the subsequent terror that has plagued the young country. But Tadić's poems don't seem to describe a typical city or nation, establishments usually designed to unite and define a group of people dwelling in a geographical region. Rather, these poems seem to portray an isolated universe, often void of logic, always void of hope, where man, beast, and the supernatural live, suffer, and, most noticeably, die side-by-side. No one wants to claim ownership of this forsaken land, yet everyone seems to be responsible for its constant decay: “Poor us, we are all kings / when we gaze upon the starry sky,” Tadić states in the opening lines of “Night Passes.” Only when an inhabitant gazes into the unreachable outside, Tadić suggests, does he realize his own role in the darkness that consumes the stale, cold city.

The scent of death is apparent throughout all of these poems, sometimes from corpses left to rot or rabid animals dying in the vicinity, but most often this scent emerges from the terror lurking around every dark corner, in every abandoned hall, and in the unfamiliar faces of those who call this unfortunate neighborhood home, as in “About The Dead, Briefly”:
We sniffled and sniffled,
but nobody shed a tear.

May the earth be easy on him;
since it was only today that we noticed
he had been alive.

An immense amount of power lies in both the poems and their settings, but a stranger, stronger power seems to exist in the zombie-like surroundings of the town: “Amidst the noise, the moving crowd, the live maelstrom, / I know your powers, street.” This uncontrollable, unseen power has an enormous effect on our recluse-guide, whose poems show him crippled with paranoia (“My blood wouldn’t let me rest”) and utter fear (“Let's turn and lie on our backs forever”). Tadić’s strength lies not in his ability to depict the external evil that haunts this neighborhood, but rather in his ability to show how this external evil can infect itself inside the already hopeless human soul: “Evil spirits will rise out of the palm of your hand,” perhaps, even, through osmosis--“An ocean of hatred splashes over me everyday.”

The speaker is constantly concerned over his role in the deterioration of the land, and his inability to bring an end to the horrors creates a poignant guilt that radiates from these poems. A spiritual presence, too, is peppered throughout, though often in a futile tone: “Now, what will I cover myself with? Only with prayers,” and “I wandered everywhere / like a God's fool.” God is far from absent in these poems, as Tadić addresses God more than anyone or anything. However, the only thing worse for Tadić than an absent God, it seems, is an inactive God; the sheepish, poetic prayers of the recluse remain unanswered, the darkness and decay never cease.

Tadić's poems recall A.R. Ammons' statement that, “The end of the poem is to reconstruct silence . . .” Tadić has the ability to shatter silence each time he begins one of his beautifully haunted poems, yet his endings do what Ammons suggests: they bring the reader back to silence. These uncomfortable silences gradually become more familiar to the reader, as each poem concludes with a feeling more terrifying than what came before. Perhaps Tadić's most dreadful ending comes from the four-stanza “A Bird Started To Sing,” which concludes:
Wind lifted the ashes
and spread them
over other ashes.

Since most of these poems barely reach a page in length, Tadić works with diligence and speed, as if the scenery he is describing is so vile that he can only muster a few stanzas before the horror again breaks him. One may wonder why our recluse guide doesn't flee his current state for the hope of finding a brighter land, but, as Tadić shows, fleeing is an impossible task when one doesn't have his bearings: “I don't know where I've come from / nor where I'm going.” Again, credit must be given to the work of Simic, a master of diligence and stealth himself. A weaker translation would not have been capable of depicting the sudden silences of Tadić's nightmarish world to an English-speaking audience so effectively. Simic's own Serbia-influenced poems are drawn from childhood memory, often contorted, filtered, or presented with an admirable naïvete, sometimes even making light of atrocity. There is no lightness to be found in Novica Tadić's collection, only darkness. A crippling, ubiquitous darkness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NEW! Review of Stephen Rodefer

Call It Thought: Selected Poems by Stephen Rodefer. Carcanet, £18.95.

Reviewed by Lindsay Kathleen Turner

Despite its handsome black-and-white cover, Stephen Rodefer’s new selected poems, Call It Thought reminds me of a beat-up old suitcase my boyfriend used to carry, which I hated: it was sloppy, fraying at the edges, overstuffed, unreliable, exotically stickered and tagged, ostentatiously unlike anything else, yet still suspiciously bland. Call It Thought is, luckily, not a suitcase and is thus relieved of such functional obligations: it is supposed to stand out and be provocative. Whether such provocation is appealing is a matter of taste; but whether or not one finds the poems sturdy enough to carry their content of inventions and jibes, Rodefer works thoroughly, intelligently, and—sometimes—intelligibly at a snarl of artistic and aesthetic queries.

Call It Thought begins with excerpts from Rodefer’s Four Lectures (1982), which according to Rod Mengham’s introduction “so exceeds conventional lineation and bibliographical form that only a few extracts could be included in this book.” This textual difficulty raises a first problem posed generally by Call It Thought: one wonders what, and where, the rest of the lectures might be. Given the sprawl of Rodefer’s work, its shifts in style and register, in the case of Four Lectures, and similarly for the book as a whole, the act of selecting does nothing to delineate the boundaries of Rodefer’s corpus or to sketch for us a general outline of his work—what’s included simply raises questions about what’s left out.

In any case, starting with Four Lectures—for the book does not follow the chronological order of Rodefer’s work—prepares us for the lexical inundation occasioned by the collection. Rodefer is well-schooled in the history of literature and poetry, as inclusive of the esoteric fact as he is of the poetic cliché, and everything in between: “As should a book be as deep as a museum and as wide as the world,” he concludes his preface to the lectures.

Indeed, the collections assembled in Call It Thought seem to represent not the continuity or arc of a poetic career but a gamut of voices, a virtuosic act of ventriloquism. Rodefer is, of course, often associated with Language poetry, but the intimacy and imagery of the Black Mountain poets is strongly present in some of the earlier work, such as One or Two Poems from the White World (1976). The voiced observation and introspection of the New York School marks later poems, especially those from Emergency Measures (1987), whose title points us immediately toward O’Hara, a frequent Rodefer evocation, and those from Left Under a Cloud (2000), which includes a literal translation of “The Day Lady Died” in French. In and among all this, Rodefer also calls to mind Lucretius, Sappho, Dante, Villon, the English Romantics, the Italian Futurists, and the entire tradition of the French poète maudit (Rodefer’s collaborations with Benjamin Friedlander and Chip Sullivan recall Apollinaire’s Calliagrams; Fleurs de Val translates, after a fashion, Baudelaire). Given this list—by no means exhaustive—it is hardly surprising, that, along with Charles Olson, who appears in a non-blurb on the back jacket of Call It Thought betting “anybody a lobster” that the poet could answer his question about Milton, we are left asking where, among the voices and evocations, is Rodefer, anyway?


As prolific and as innovative as he is provocative, Rodefer is more or less unknown in most American poetry circles. Indeed, most commentary seems directly focused on the problem of Rodefer’s ambiguous location; in the introduction to the 2008 issue of the Chicago Review dedicated to the poet, editors Joshua Kotin and Michael Kindellan note that “Rodefer’s affiliations are as much a sign of his poetic identity as of his perpetual homelessness.” Critical approaches to his work are, more often than not, the projects of British scholars, and it is in this context, paradoxically, that we find Rodefer referred to most decisively as an American poet; Mengham states that “of all the most intensely American of poets, Stephen Rodefer turns out to be the most European,” while Rodefer’s website bears a quotation from Simon Jarvis calling him “quite simply the most important living American poet.”

Stephen Rodefer lives in Paris. Even if he grew up as a person and poet in a solidly American milieu, and even if he alludes to New York and California as often as he does to the poets who populate these places, his work seems to describe a slow unmooring, a drift from the partisanships of American poetry schools into a world far more cosmopolitan, and also more amorphous: the last poems in the volume, from the unpublished collection How to Fall Off the Pony in New York, are as sprawling and varied in language as they are in form, peppered with names and phrases from, truly, all over the globe. (Take, for example, “Drinking Amongst the Wafering Drinkers”—yes, “wafering”—which bears the subtitles “after Mozart and before Nietzsche” and “On y va à le repaire du Bacchus / cher Ramses Tutankhamen,” and then begins, “Detroit too long des trop.”)

And yet Rodefer’s poems are often occasional, bearing the stamps of places and dates, dedicated to real people: it is ultimately clear that Rodefer does have a “here,” a genuine locus from around which his voices, concerns, and general overflow of words assemble. The poet Fanny Howe describes him as having the “aura of a pariah,” and his exclusion from American scholarship seems more or less standard—yet this general homelessness, finally, is the result of neither biographical nor textual confusion. Rather, it seems deliberately produced by the poems themselves; Rodefer rejects the confines of academia and of “home,” preferring instead, it seems, the freedom and energy he claims within this space of rejection.


Asking, “where is Rodefer,” then, may not be the most productive way of approaching Call It Thought. His is a poetics of rejection, a sort of authorly uncertainty principle by which, somewhat baffled and provoked, the inquiring reader finds only the continual assertion of where the poet is not. A favorite trope of Rodefer’s is the bastardization of a well-known line: “tenured is the night,” for example, or “[a]bout suffering we are always wrong.” These allusions are not particularly funny; they do not build on the poems from which they come nor even recall Keats or Yeats in a particularly interesting fashion. But even if the language discomfits, these garbled lines exemplify what, for Rodefer, is at the heart of his art: the act of creation is here constituted by the deliberate garbling of the standard signals of traditional form, voice, and allusion. It is fundamentally an act of resistance, of defiance of the norms of academia and the expectations created for readers of poetry by poetry itself; in Four Lectures, Rodefer writes:
But bent out of shape is also bent into shape. New replacements are expected, and they always come. We start to be fed things forcibly. We can throw up, not eat, or fold the spoon in half.

The metaphors are slippery, but the tone of obstinacy, at least, is unmistakable: Rodefer’s project is to bend tradition and form to his will, and his will is none other than the rejection, or at least the bending, of tradition and form.

Given this deliberate perversity, it seems obvious that reading Rodefer’s work is not a reliably pleasant experience. One has the impression, in the lines cited above and elsewhere, that the rejection of tradition entails a sort of deadening of the words, a weakening, a reversion; once evoked, Keats’ nightingale cannot but be missed. Perhaps this sense of loss motivates the concurrence of Rodefer criticism around the adjective “dreamy”; Friedlander characterizes Rodefer’s tone as one of “consistent dreamy innuendo,” while in her Rodefer: A Study, also from Chicago Review, Fanny Howe writes that Rodefer’s words “seek a new language that floats far above the borders of nation or sex or speech. His poetry is, in a word, dreamy.”

To me, “dreamy” seems at odds with Rodefer’s stream of puns and claims and exclamations, which range in tone from sly to trenchant to careless to absolutely overshrill. (“All talkative writers will prattle,” Rodefer writes in an interview with the editors of Chicago Review. Rodefer is a very talkative writer.) Regardless of whether one finds his logorrhea dreamy and evocative or grating and (to cite Friedlander again) manneristic, Call It Thought—in spite of Rodefer’s muddled reception, and his further attempts to muddle things in general—is a work with a definite, pointed, and meta-poetic bent. Reading Rodefer is an experience of provocation and of destabilization; again and again, the poems cue us toward history, toward elsewhere, only to jerk us rudely back:
[…] Paper
Is the surface, but there is nothing else. Improvisation is a tool
of refinement. The sentence is up for parole. I’m from there
but now I’m here. It happens to everyone. We are born two and we part one.
Your plane is here. Happy crowd. Some things are too loud to hear.

Monday, November 09, 2009

from Kazim Ali's Theory Whore (an essay a novel a spore)

Kazim Ali

The Perfect Painting

He thinks the sky is a living creature turning on its back.

Rain is the caress.

He is warned not to personify so much.

So bored by music.

Why always the same progressions, the same formulas, why only twelve tones?

Why not the shamelessness of Satie: but only those periods of silences in which there are no notes, only the piano strings reverberating.


Why not thick layers of static, with the slightest modulations at the level of microsound, shifting the way a person shifts in his chair, or in bed.

Why not tone changes so subtle a listener might not even know that a change has occurred.

Why music that depends so deeply on being consumed.

He looks up at the gray, cloudy sky and thinks:

“That’s the perfect painting”

Why, he wonders, does he love art like this?

Is it because he is emotionally dead.

Or scared.

Or unable to communicate.

OK, what do I love about it, he thinks, looking carefully at the sky two specks—birds flying across his field of vision a mile up.

It’s the gradations in color, so subtle.

The vast space, supposed formlessness.

But actually not.

Actually burgeoning.

Actual possibility.

The open space

Because suddenly there is not time at all.

“You really like this?” a disbelieving friend asks at the Agnes Martin exhibit.

He’s not paying attention.

He’s thinking of your hands leaving his back.

Thinking it felt like being brushed by birds’ wings.

The talks in the night after sex—when you realized you loved each other but weren’t fulfilling each other’s desire.

How does he work his way back from that?

Remember the scene in Four-Chambered Heart where Djuna burns all the books—because she realizes they can’t save her.

That’s what he thinks as he writes his novel into the notebook: “how will this save me?”

And what should we say to him?

No one will save you.

Don’t go back?

Be unsaved?

All those novels about eros or extremity end in either

or death.


So how have you been helped.

As he’s driving, a huge—and it seems to him golden—bird flies low across the road.

Likely it’s a hawk but today he needs to believe in phoenixes.

Even this could be about anything.

The disbelieving friend.

The emotional distance.



Duras. Nin. Maso. He wants to lie down with them, flesh against flesh.

Where he’s gone.

Where he’s going.

“History Happened Here,” reads the cast iron sign at the thruway exit.

He always reads the signs.

Though, he thinks, history happens everywhere.

How do you go back and fix something?

It’s too late.

Nothing gets fixed.

Even this.

Could be about anything, about disbelief, could be the river surface, could be about what hasn’t been said yet,

could be just about the wind.

“Partially cloudy with a chance of showers.”

He thinks of leaving this morning.

“Fish fly through the ocean, men crawl along the bottom of the sky.”

If the sky is a living thing, filled with gas and vapor and water all undergoing perennial transformation, then raining is actually the sky falling down.

What open ended

“We picked mates out for you one from the other”

He always thought he would stay with the phoenix forever.

Separation from the phoenix—five empty years after that—then the raven.

What’s the use—he’s explained all this before

Tried to make you understand.

Even thought to himself, “he doesn’t make me burn like phoenix did—phoenix is fire; the raven is water.”

Like rain.

How do we travel our way out of this.

How about not having the answers.

Scattered thunder showers, possible storm warning.

He remembers going to see Ono’s film “Apotheosis.”

You know he loved the first part: the balloon getting higher and higher over the snowy fields.

Sounds from the English countryside below.

Gun shots, dogs barking, sounds getting fainter and fainter…

Landscape fading and fading into snowy gray and white.

Finally vanishes into the clouds.

Seven minutes of blank screen and the sound of the gentle gas flame holding the balloon aloft, sound of the wind against silk.

How many people viewing simply got up and walked out because there was “nothing” to “see.”

Look for the last one, in the back row, a young man in his thirties, bad haircut, a little horsey looking, but beautiful because his eyes are on the screen of snow, transfixed.

Then the balloon bursts through the top of the cloud cover into brilliant sunshine and blue blue sky.

Coming from winter.

What if this is what it’s like he prays.

Remembering the clarity of the outlines of objects the day after the storm.

But what if it isn’t like that.

What if we go through clouds and there isn’t anything after.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

NEW! Poem by Michael Farrell

Michael Farrell

large glass

sky in the sky; bluebirds in my

eyes. the pantyhose sales-

man in a cage.


whats behind the charge? (all the buckled wet books.) convents

have no modern equivalent.

let it affront, let it drink
on the street, let it have


teeth. i dont rem-
ember the emotion. [heaven knows.] [is the


we already are

what we do: we dont need a

theory of recovery.

a sailboat sinks: your ‘italian’ dream

Monday, November 02, 2009

"New Moon" by John Olson

John Olson


On the morning of July 20th, 1969, I emerged from a house near Burien, Washington shortly after sunrise, and tilted my head back to look at the sky. My neck creaked. I had attended a party that had gone late into the night. It was a warm, bright morning and I could see the moon, phantasmal and splotchy against a China blue sky. It’s rare to see the moon during the day, and whenever I do, it seems oddly displaced, a prop from the theatre of the night someone forgot to bring in. On this occasion it smacked of significance. There were men walking on it. Or about to walk on it. I gazed at it as if I might actually see them hobbling about in the dust, the way you can sometimes see from a distance people scaling the side of a mountain.

My adolescence in the 60s had been witness to a long pageantry of lunar landing modules. My father worked at Boeing as an illustrator and engineer. I grew up in a house full of lunar landing modules, many of them constructed out of toothpicks and ping-pong balls. NASA’s coveted contract went to Grumman, rather than Boeing, so my father’s many illustrations and modules remained stillborn, although a few went on exhibit at the Smithsonian in the 1980s.

My parents were out of town that summer in ‘69. Home from California for a visit, I had the house to myself and watched the moon landing on TV. I saw Eagle land and Armstrong clamber down the ladder in his bulky space suit and put his foot on the surface of the moon and utter his famous words, “That is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Years later, circa the early 90s, Buzz Aldrin and my father had been invited to a dinner at someone’s house on Bainbridge Island and gotten lost. My father drove and Buzz navigated. Bainbridge Island is heavily wooded, which outer space is not, which provides at least one mitigating factor to this otherwise curious misadventure. If I remember my father’s story correctly, it had been a clear night, and Buzz had been able to use the stars to pinpoint their position using a declination formula based on spherical trigonometry. That, and a map spread out on the hood of my father’s Taurus, which they studied by flashlight.

Today the moon is a thin crescent that looks like a fingernail clipping hovering over the western horizon. There are no people flying around with jetpacks on their backs and living in homes that look like the Space Needle. The world is in crisis. Billions live in dire poverty. The poles and glaciers are melting. Millions in the U.S. believe that humans lived with dinosaurs and that evolution is a hoax. But Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins continue on tour, noticeably aged, but still smiling, still optimistic. I like to think that they know something that I don’t know.