Monday, December 31, 2012

NEW! Poem by Ethan Paquin

Ethan Paquin


aimless animal-coloured tumbler your library’s aphotically indeterminate
you morning the ground to groggier-than-usual’s millions of earmarks;
there are no students eternal only stop signs to bark commands rufescent,
only stalléd cirri shelves and shelves of them bustling ether of nowhere
only my eyes no millions of other watchers imprecise tumbler heft spills
from the seat of god onto our laps a necklace to be untangled with bones
and a half-erased script and stumps for motivations, ut pictura cirrus this’s
all that comes to mind Latin for curl of hair thus the portrait of a girl who’s
blanched perhaps she’s suffered, perhaps she’s been spooked, likely in love.

in love and staring out a window ut drizzle poesis, so goeth poetry as drizzle,
lovers’ crazy ideas of where their object went the evening before, before snow
tumbled before her eyes saw the result of the katabatic front. Ut drizzle poesis,
long gray nuance between stanzas the meander from cup of tea to the next one,
snow’s meanwhile abstraction an easy metaphor for the week. Young woman
in love as you are please, do not comb your hair—I see you motion for a brush
through the window I watch and clasp myself, do not to the narrative of dawn
surrender, stay wild and pained and look that way. This is not mere entertainment.
Snow tumbles aimless, accretes aphotic my gaze though is fixed upon you.

such sentimental passages about love, weather and fixéd male gazes hunter
as he is, supposedly, of erotic experience wherever to be found. I’m stupid
like dander, or clover. I transcend no fence reach no apple bough. Limitless
are other poetries of the engines, of the random, of the idiomatic, of the popunders
and overt flâneurist grit-amenities. I wear a poem like this like, say,
a dead braid or a last match, bit of its tip scratched off, the thing useless for
cigarette to say nothing of survival or bonfire at the beach where the talk’s
of sex and nothing but sex. A deadened band of cirrus is known to haunt us
at our windows the girl and I like snapped taper candles, outside the snows.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

RIP Dennis O'Driscoll

Dennis O’Driscoll


for Patrick Taylor


Rites of spring.
Bring out your dead grass
wedged to the blades
of a dormant lawnmower.
Time for cans of paint,
white spirits, rags.


The cottage garden
in the mauve light
of delphiniums.with honeyed tongues.

Bird notes tossed
like blossoms.
A fern stretching
its wing.


Night snails, pumped up
to full size, plump
as a colony of seals,
make the viscous journey
to a meal of hosta leaves.


Those daffodils,
you’d know it was
their first time:

so open, so eager to please,
so bright, so upright,
so unaware.


The raw nerve of yearning
triggered off by hawthorn,
by the green of far-off hills
seen from your top-floor office
when sun pays out its light.


That it might 
always be spring,
a held note.

That we might
look forward
to long days

of growth:
haze lifting
like a screen,

waves peeling
off the Gulf Stream
one by one.

(from Verse Volume 21 #s 1-3)

Monday, December 24, 2012

NEW! Poem by Aaron Apps

Aaron Apps


Suppose the arbitrary violence that is bound into action shapes us. Sexes us. Suppose each of us is oriented like an anchored vessel on a caustic sea. Suppose each vessel is anchored by a thousand strings of yarn that have no weight as they disintegrate in the acid body of the ocean. Fibrous expanse. Suppose each line of fiber within each strand of yarn is the type of vessel that pumps blood. Suppose further each small fiber is the type of vessel that holds the dark things themselves that move forward to what the dark hollow the mouth calls “now.” Now spoken out of the empty echoing tube that runs down into a series of fleshlike activities. Flesh bound by arbitrary violence. The violence of a thick thread. If the supposition is made that the acts of moving utterance are followed by a fire of wires is the binding principle that holds each contingent instance together believable? Livable? For each principle that is a thing amid a multiplicity of things there is a sense behind it. A sense of the plenum around which activity gathers. Split end, thread bare, eye wire. See: we might have a sense of what it means to echo the word “nature” after the word “now.” We might cut our own eye off. We might cease to be we. We might bend like the dark line of the sexed I. I suppose that these threads are sexed bodies perceiving down a tangle within a current within a tangle within a flood. I suppose that the violence of the flood is unavoidable as vomit after swallowing a gallon of opaque eye milk.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NEW! Poem by Anis Shivani

Anis Shivani


I capsize newspapers in water. I shake myself free of watchwords. I hang balloons on wounded sticks, the balcony gold-latticed on the truant morning, the moon a waxy after-effect smudged like conversation. Music, lavish and omnipresent, squeezes between drachmas and bangles. My deck of cards falls like a waterfall. My mother calls me inside in a voice splintered like a thousand bees on the same mission. Sunlight washes over my soft thighs and knees like a baby’s croons. The fly’s intermittent buzz reminds me of forgotten lessons. Time is a century of turquoise pools facilitating suicide. My first watch is a gift of anxiety. Now seconds count. How long can I hold my breath? Palm trees whip in the wind like runaway children. My mother calls again, from the other side of the moat, unable to tickle my ears. A line of ants, curving like serious S’s, forecasts future earthquake cracks. The dark stairways of my hundred-year-old building steal me like a pasha’s only son, hunting in the garden alone at night, kissed by talented witches. The weight of the building is like ten earthquakes occurring simultaneously in a moment. Yellow and red almirahs unfurl their metal skin for a stolen touch or two, laughing at their open secrets. Each morning is like every other until I split it open, the street is a parade ground for costumed vendors with voices like melons, the smell of boiled potatoes makes me believe no one can ever be sick or poor. I steal time and the world lets me. My mother calls a last time, fanning herself with the lazy newspaper. I ought to be a child detective like in my favorite books, but the tar streets and black palms and drunk pools are too friendly, they all want to pat me, they won’t fight back. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

NEW! Poem by rob mclennan

rob mclennan



If the day quickened, ear
on the chest,

arrhythmic. Stop,
and go slow,



Make of threads, to drawn,
an island

dead, unaided. We,
a person.


Graph, should
something happen,

to forget

would be

Saturday, December 15, 2012

NEW! Review of Elizabeth Robinson

Counterpart by Elizabeth Robinson. Ahsahta Press, $17.95.

Reviewed by Aromi Lee

Elizabeth Robinson’s twelfth collection of poetry, Counterpart, consists of thirty-five poems, grouped and anchored by epigraphs taken mostly from her contemporaries. Her author’s statement explains that the poems focus on “the uncanny presence that one recognizes and yet does not.” Robinson’s uncluttered, hypnotic lines are both subtle and bold in her examination of the fear that the self and language are mutable, unpredictable, even sinister and hostile. Her poems center on the possibility of a dialogue with the self about the self, and one can become lost in the web of self-reflexivity that ensues. The confrontations of self and self may yield nothing, and the fear of finding nothing haunts these poems. Nevertheless, the willingness to peel back the layers of ‘self’ and face the shadows of these self-encounters drives the momentum of Counterpart. 

The book’s first poem, “Turn,” introduces a cyclical nature that recurs throughout: the “one sharp kernel” becomes a “bitter seedling,” and out of that seed “comes / the green aperture.” The “green aperture” is described in similar terms as the seedling: it is “bitter, tender, self- / pursuing.” The seed and the green aperture are outwardly different, yet both are “bitter,” pointing to a cycle at work: the seed becomes the green aperture, and the cycle starts over. It is revealing that this first poem is prefaced by a quote from Charles Baudelaire (“You find it pleasing to plunge into the bosom of your image”), for it is an invitation to the reader to join the speaker on this inward journey, to listen in on the speaker’s “interior conversations.” In another quote, this inward journey is imbued with a sense of urgency; Barbara Guest calls “the act of discovering where the self starts, hears itself, and repeats the instructions” “a necessity.” This urgency, coupled with the central question of “Who am I?” posed by André Breton in the next epigraph, propels readers into the next set of poems, the first of which is aptly titled “Studies for Hell: I.”

The first word of “Studies for Hell: I” is the pronoun “I,” with its self-possession, yet immediately this ease is refuted as the “I” is revealed as “a hand,” or rather, one part of the human body is put forth as representative of the whole. The problem of the “I” in conveying the self is alluded to in a later poem as the speaker says, “One site of the alphabet / needs mending.” What further destabilizes readers attempting to track the identity twists that bombard them from the outset is the shift from the “I” to a “She.” But the slippery, metamorphic representations of the self do not end there, for an identity bifurcation occurs as a result: 

I, a hand, reached into the sea for a piece of the sea.
What I brought out,

piece of liquid, split my hand in two.

And from the gash came an interpolation
fascinated with its own blood. 

She had turned around or inside out

and found herself spelt as two. 

What begins with a stable “I” somehow ends with “two.” The metaphoric representation of the self parallels the metamorphic unreliability of language. That it is “spelt” and not “split” or “spilt” is telling. The transformation that occurs in the poem is what happens when one tries to reflect something with a broken mirror: its shards are unable to reflect an exact representation of the subject, instead only able to reflect a splintered image that is similar and dissimilar to the subject. In an initial reading, readers may glide over Robinson’s subtle word play in that their eyes and minds might impose the comforting structure of parallels: they may read not “found herself spelt as two,” but “found herself split as two.” This raises the question of what the speaker truly meant: perhaps “split” or “spilt” instead of “spelt.” Does this signify the speaker’s loss of control over language, or the trickiness of language? This dizzying line of inquiry is exactly the danger the speaker risks in Robinson’s poems, where there may be no answers, only reflections.

Despite the desire for “pronouns to take on the corporeal,” to accurately name and give shape to the uncanny, they resist such easy definitions for “they are like the static of a sick-dream, / almost amenable and at the same time, / frizzy, off their marks.” Readers are confronted with an uncanny other, one who is like and unlike us, a macabre Narcissus “fascinated with its own blood.” In exploring this other, the speaker envisions flesh as a possible point of entry: “Here’s a fleshy zipper / that opens in my belly, and I unzip and open and then / there I go. Inside and down the path.” Yet this approach seems too superficial and there are distinct limits: 

I fit the flesh legs over my 
own, I wear the blue eyes atop my own vision. I double
back my own tongue to let it taste itself.

But I taste another body’s voice.

Perhaps the failure of this descent reflects instead the ouroboric nature of the self which resists neat definitions or explanations. The reflexive journey of the speaker is made hellish in that as soon as the speaker comes close to locating the self, it reproduces, transforms, doubles, and slips from the speaker’s grasp. Not only is it impossible to see the end of this journey, but the unpredictability of an end that multiplies and reflects back upon the wanderer is fraught with danger for “Whoever would try to find hell / will only get lost again.” Like the Narcissus of myth, the speaker will be doomed if he/she fails to resist his/her image’s seductive hypnosis and does not recognize it as mere reflection. This is no easy task, for the

Identical merges with identity: 

one holds in one’s body (Twin, Irony, Narcissus),
like its own

trinket, a name repeated. 

And similar to the journey fraught with danger, the poems are fraught with mirrors that the speaker and reader must carefully navigate: “The lost photograph found again, / become[s] a mirror.” Later in the collection, 

When one looks at the devils
nesting on the devil, one has

the impression of being caught
in a hall of mirrors. 

The desire to say “At last,” in a neat summation of the self, seems a feeble, laughable dream. The power and longevity of the mirror are absolute: “the mirror is / Eternally and eventually reflective.” In what is perhaps the speaker’s weakest moment, he/she laments: 

Why is it so difficult, always, to recognize
a thing for what it is.

The naked is flat, is a syllogism that leads

criss-cross to

a fragile repetition of its own image, called movement.

This is one of the rare moments in the poems where the speaker is direct. The query ends with a period, connoting a somber acceptance on the speaker’s part. Whereas the speaker has previously approached the search for the self through fragmented, ambiguous lines, furtive glances, veiled, gently probing sentences, the speaker abandons those approaches in this moment of exhaustion. Readers may feel similarly drained. Robinson seems to hint that the very act of looking inward, of searching for that elusive ‘self,’ necessitates a suspension of disbelief or a shift in perspective. One must accept a surreal, upside-down outlook, an overturning of the natural order: “The purpose of the blanket / is not to cover but to fall”; “the trap door leads / ultimately / up”; dreams, not people, are placated; and voices are doubled (“the voice recognizes its hoarseness as echo”). The search for the self necessitates an acceptance of these contradictions while evading the dangers of this exploration. Readers can get lost in this self-reflexive hell, become trapped in an ouroboric existence, and, in the words of Laura Moriarty, create ourselves “to death.” 

Furthermore, language as a means to navigate these shifting waters becomes suspect. In Robinson’s poems, language becomes just as slippery, unstable, deceptive, and warped as the self it attempts to name, sometimes even assisting in the permutations. With minute displacement of letters, “split” becomes “spilt” and “spelt.” In “Sanctuary,” thief and victim are conflated: “do you mind, she asked, / if I steal a bit from you.” This phrase is then “murmured to myself,” and the repetition transforms the words, “bit as in bite,” further complicating meaning. “Word after word” folds “in on itself” in self-reflexivity. The inadequacy of language to name and identify ‘self’ is represented as “pointing fingers…broken off at the stem.” Language’s destruction accelerates towards the ending of Counterpart. “Studies for Hell: II” begins with full statements:

Whoever would try to find hell
will only get lost again.

Some antonym, hell-like, elides with hell,
melting on your tongue.

As if the strain of maintaining order were too great, the poem collapses into word scraps:

Infantile devil, funhouse, ocean-for-drowners,
mismap, obligation, blowhole, itching bites, gloss

and paternity, blue sea of alcohol, toxic resemblance and
synonym, synonym. 

And language is most seriously crippled in “Studies for Hell: III”: 

We like singed feathers. Quills. Ink.

We drew our parts with them, two-faced,
apart. Singing or singed,

Nacreous heat. Quills

the growth.

circle hardening. Ashes,
ahs, eyes fall down.

re-membered in the 
air hand in hand with the air.
Ere. Err. Janus-faced wing. 

Language, that traditional mode of elucidation, is revealed as unstable and fallible. It can be misleading as even letter permutations can create new meanings. However, the destruction of language is configured as a necessity for “how better to translate / than to destroy.” But just as the poems are rife with dualities, so too does this destruction have a double. Language’s flexibility lies in its instability. As words are deconstructed, they are also constructed. With sleights of hand, “singing” becomes “singed” and “quills” become “quell.” The sense that the speaker loses control over language is coupled by a sense of playful abandonment. The cat-and-mouse game to tack down meaning with words is frustrating yet enjoyable. In the breakdown of language there is sound: “ashes” glides to the aural “ahs,” which is then echoed back in the homophone-like “eyes.” And if these are not enough to convince readers of Robinson’s language play, there are many instances in which the speaker takes on a puckish tone: he/she declares that “Beauty is vanity’s quackery”; proposes “a toast” to “the image who / was graven, recognized, / recognized, or fallen. / May you resurge”; and wryly states that “The paternal devils pats / his own back.” There may be no clarity by the end of this jaunt through hell but, at the very least, it will be a lively one. 

Though there is little doubt that Counterpart’s landscape is bleak, this desolation is not without its reassurances. The last poem’s title, “Secret Eden,” hints at this. The speaker instructs, “Speak, tongue, with your obedient quiet. Divide, / but do not be divisive.” The inherent contradiction of speaking with “obedient quiet” is partially reconciled by the calm command to “divide” but “do not be divisive” because it offers a way in which both can be held as truths: it recognizes that division does not have to be alienating. The command continues,

Now say blessing on the stem, the seed,
the orders of reproduction,

flanked on all sides by

Pronounce pulp and juice. How they divide from each other 
as a fork in the road. 

The language here is neat: we have “orders” and “destination” as opposed to the disorder and lack of destination that has haunted the poems. The difference between “pulp” and “juice” is likened to something as natural “as a fork in the road,” and thus places the disturbingly open-ended question of the nature of the ‘self’ in the territory of ‘unknowable yet essential.’ Thus the declaration that “death’s doppelganger is truth” should not unsettle, but instead should comfort in its offering of an absolute in a world fraught with infinite plasticity. Robinson’s unstable ground is still a space for that kind of declaration, and, almost defiantly, the statement is re-printed in larger font two pages before the title page. The entropic landscape of Counterpart should not overwhelm readers with its disquieting probing, but should offer them new terrain for exploration. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

NEW! Poem by Maureen Thorson

Maureen Thorson


in the stacks,
where time

old news,
I won’t volunteer
to tend
the ghosts

of headlines,
as they do,
a shade

too quietly,
even here.
my researches

will brew
fresh happenings.
with severe,

short strokes,
these serifed 
will braid

the notes
for novels
that I’ll stew
from almanacs,

the want ads’

I’ll sieve
the sparkle
from human

the mad
of the war

The fastest
way (but 
the simplest)

to write
is to distort
the veil

and theft.
Nothing’s new

the sun,
but deft
can gleam

as near
as makes
no difference.
Hand me now

my shears—
I flex them
to the music
of the spheres.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NEW! Two poems by Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker

Two poems


I watch the Phoenix news as if it were my own. 
The swirls tell me what I already expected:
This will be a hard winter. Phoenix doesn’t know 
winter but it absorbs our weather all summer long.

I watch the swirl on the ultrasound. It makes a bee-
line for my body parts.  The future unwraps like an umbilicus 
and I am tugged along like a turtle trapped in an ebb.
 I should have built a softer shell. This one is hard to adjust.

It’s hard to take fifteen feet of snow. They predict 
even more. Doppler radar is faithful to its Pacific, 
its jet stream, its warm, Baja trends. The deception
lies in the big gray spirals that seem so warm and fecund. 

I lie on the table and wonder what the ceiling can tell
me that the sonogram can’t. How much does one (more) life 
weigh? One thousand stone or a skeleton as light
as birds? And which to prefer? Birds are so damn fragile. 

I don’t want to be the one to break the news. The flat roofs 
can’t handle that much snow. The ground has absorbed
all it can absorb. There should be some equation: force
equals expectation plus belief, divided by barometer.

It always disappoints, the image on the screen. 
You want to see more. You want to reach in there
and touch nose, make belief out of vessel and skin. 
But shadows are as reliable as wings sans feather.

In the spring I sit on the porch. The clouds gather around
the peaks like they want to nest there. A vulture
crashes against the wind in waves. I wonder what loud
omen a vulture makes—snow, rain, go home, reverse.

I need sound. If wide-eyed anticipation is butterflies
then this humming in stomach is a bevy of red worm 
expectation, a hive of oh my god, a cold comb of precipitate 
turning forewarning into predictable, warm rain.


I put my ear to her chest
to hear the murmur of the bees.

They’re stuck in there
whirring like blenders

scaling the honeycomb
of her lungs 

knitting the sacs
tighter together

until the whole nest
is a plate of unmovable honey.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NEW! Poem by Molly Bendall

Molly Bendall


They dream as if their plights were real, they flinch and scrape.

If speed ever once
shivered for them, if a heat thermal came pushing up,

they’d devour their own future,  and they’d sell off
their fortune:  one yard, one boulder.
A green gel comes between us
then springs back so the lens fades to blue, but it’s not like floating,
it’s closer,
and there’s a flap of skin. The keeper

says they’re nursing that wound.

Not a scent of threat, more like preening, more like a wedding,
coral trees assemble behind.

Flexing into thought, I’m woozy
with lateness.

Their pompadours  are a tangle of magic straw.  
I give way
to wide words cast on the hillside, as their pink tongues

stab the black air, rank and sinew steadfast.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

NEW! Poem by Maureen Thorson

Maureen Thorson


take heed:
A vinelet’s

on ponds
in purling

forms points 
of random 

befitting study.
A famous
was formed

by fumes
whose molecules

just so 
our every
synapse swans,

by irregular

up to a point—
by remembered

the grand

chancy, quantum
of things.
I think—

at least,
I think I do—
that our
enraptured brains,

with memes
like Christmas

in glowing rings,
are tangled 

Outlook hazy.
Try again.

From dust to dust,
we succumb
to bleak causation,
but effects

are hard to forecast:
For every bet
that loses,
one will win.

Monday, December 03, 2012

NEW! Poem by Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker


I bring to you, dear doctor, this mess of nests.
An intricate ball of string or white floss.
A rug woven by a woman sitting in a stall 
in the mall speaking Navajo to me and
Spanish to her brother. I pull out of my pocket
a wire from the cable, the one that brought
me delicatessen and sausage McMuffin
and foiegras in Illinois even though 
it’s illicit. I tell you this list
to give you some parameters
to suggest diagnosis and symptom,
cure, and preposition all in one. 
I know where my trunk lies. I know where 
my arms are but it’s against wind feed
and wind chill, wander zone and last pull
that I wonder. My nerves bite here and here, 
they’re couched
in pork fat and goose fat, pickled 
in cucumbers and red wine. They’re wrapped 
up in sweater and rug and the birds that sing
softly in my ear, dear doctor, are the ones
telling me that if you could just say
the word I would leave you alone but
I hear you tripping as sadly and as quickly
as I do over nest, branch, wire, string. 
If we could tease this out, dear doctor,
you wouldn’t have to listen through that cold
piece of an ear and I, dear doctor, could walk
away from here, named and meant and promised,
etched like a headstone, dear doctor. Sewn.