ISSUE NO. 7 TABLE OF CONTENTS
August 31, 2007[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION
By Eileen TabiosNEW REVIEWS
Jessica Bozek reviews AFTER YOU, DEAREST LANGUAGE
by Marisol Limon Martinez
Nicholas Manning reviews POEM FOR THE END OF TIME AND OTHER POEMS
by Noelle Kocot
Eileen Tabios engages THE STEAM SEQUENCE
by Carly Sachs
Brian Strang reviews BROKEN WORLD
by Joseph Lease
Brenda Iijima reviews A HALF-RED SEA
by Evie Shockley
Patrick James Dunagan reviews A FIDDLE PULLED FROM THE THROAT OF A SPARROW
by Noah Eli Gordon
Nicholas Grider reviews INSECT COUNTRY (A), INSECT COUNTRY (B), and the INSECT TUTELAGE BLOG
by Sawako Nakayasu
Patrick James Dunagan reviews TRAFFIC: A PUBLICATION OF SMALL PRESS TRAFFIC, ISSUES 1 AND 2, (2005-2007)
edited by Elizabeth Treadwell
Teresa Carmody reviews [one love affair]*
by Jenny Boully
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews THE BODY ACHES and NOT EVEN DOGS
by Ernesto Priego
Nicholas Grider reviews NETS
by Jen Bervin
Patrick James Dunagan reviews HOUSE ORGAN #58 Win/Spr ’07
edited by Kenneth Warren
Nicholas Manning reviews GUESTS OF SPACE
by Anselm Hollo
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz reviews THE GODS WE WORSHIP LIVE NEXT DOOR
by Bino A. Realuyo
Jennifer Bartlett reviews THE SECOND CHILD
by Deborah Garrison
Eileen Tabios engages BROKEN/OPEN
by Jill Jones
Laurel Johnson reviews THE ELEPHANT HOUSE
by Claudia Carlson
Alysha Wood reviews a(A)ugust
by Akilah Oliver, with collages by Brenda Iijima
Eileen Tabios engages BELLUM LETTERS
by Michelle Detorie
Steve Halle reviews POSIT
by Adam Fieled
Paul Klinger reviews THE BOOK OF OCEAN
BY Maryrose Larkin
Michelle Detorie reviews BIRDS AND FANCIES
by Elizabeth Treadwell
Eileen Tabios engages ERRATUM to and including A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF YEARS (LEVIATHAN PRESS, 2001)
by Giles Goodland
Craig Santos Perez reviews NAMES ABOVE HOUSES
by Oliver de la Paz
Christopher Mulrooney reviews OSIP MANDELSTAM: NEW TRANSLATIONS
edited by Ilya Bernstein
Craig Santos Perez reviews ANYWHERE AVENUE
by Oscar Bermeo
Christopher Mulrooney reviews STIGMATA ERRATA ETCETERA
by Bill Knott, with collages by Star Black
Nicholas Grider reviews THE STATES, Vols. 1 and 2
by Craig Foltz, designed and edited by designed and edited by Ellie Ga, and with photographs by William Gillespie, Justin Ulmer, Martin Bland, Sabra Cox, Kristina Del Pino, Simona Schneider, Florence Neal, Jon Ciliberto, Stephen Mead, Christa HOlka, Don Goede, Lyn Lifshin, Shelton Walsmith, Marie Kazalia, Rebekah Travis, Lara Khalil, Tracy Lee Carroll, Jennifer Stahl, Barbara Henning, Jade Doskow, David McConeghy, Jared Zimmerman, Alice Arnold, Robert Matson, Mary Wrenn, Julia Marta Clapp, Tina Burton, Jim Simandl, Philip Metres, Chris Hampton, Hayley Barker, Thomas Ciufo, Meredyth Sparks, Shannon Shaper, Renae Morehead, Ryn Gargulinski, Robert S. Dunn, Jen Hofer, David Gatten, Jerilyn Myran, Shara Shisheboran, Courtney Fischer, ARiana Smart Truman, Tod Seelie, David W. Lee, Katherine McDowell, Mike Mahaffie, Willile Baronet, Karen Lillis, Paul Yoo, Justin Simonsen and Elizabeth Willis.
Beatriz Tabios engages BRIDGEABLE SHORES: SELECTED POEMS (1969-2001)
by Luis Cabalquinto
Carlos Hiraldo reviews THE SALESMAN'S SHOES
by James Roderick Burns
Nicholas Manning reviews FOLLY
by Nada Gordon
Alysha Wood reviews trespasses
by Padcha Tuntha-obas
Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews THE MCSWEENEY BOOK OF POETS PICKING POETS
edited by Dominic Lumford
Joe LeClerc reviews THE ENEMY SELF: POETRY & CRITICISM OF LAURA RIDING
edited by Barbara Adams
Hugh Fox reviews LIBIDO DREAMS: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
by Glenna Luschei
Laurel Johnson reviews THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA
by Victor Hernandez Cruz
Craig Santos Perez reviews THE WIND SHIFTS: NEW LATINO POETRY
edited by Francisco Aragon
Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews PUNK POEMS
by John Burgess
Julie R. Enszer Reviews SUGARING
by Ann Cefola
Julie R. Enszer Reviews TEAHOUSE OF THE ALMIGHTY
by Patricia Smith
Julie R. Enszer Reviews CINEPHRASTICS
by Kathleen Ossip
Julie R. Enszer Reviews THE PARAGON
by Kathrine Varnes
Julie R. Enszer Reviews KALI’S BLADE
by Michelle Bautista
Julie R. Enszer Reviews three books by Rochelle Ratner: QUARRY, COMBING THE WAVES, and PRACTICING TO BE A WOMAN FEATURE ARTICLES"Objections to the Beauty-Object: A Reading of Two Poems by Barbara Guest"
by Catherine Wagner"The Ocean At Night: An Inside Look at the Poetry Process"
by Aimee Celino NezhukumatathilFROM OFFLINE TO ONLINE: REPRINTED REVIEWS
Catherine Wagner reviews 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE: POEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Naomi Shihab Nye and EMAILS FROM SCHEHEREZAD
by Mohja Kahf
Catherine Wagner reviews CATALOGUE OF COMEDIC NOVELTIES: SELECTED POEMS
by Lev Rubinstein, Translated by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky
Catherine Wagner engages four books by Alice Notley: DISOBEDIENCE, MARGARET AND DUSTY, MYSTERIES OF SMALL HOUSES and SELECTED POEMS"ADVERTISEMENT"Poetry Feeds The World!BACK COVER Winepoetics!
It's purr-inducing to announce Galatea Resurrects'
(GR) seventh issue. Among our special features is GR's first review of a poetry blog -- an honor that goes to Sawako Nakayasu's Insect Tutelage Blog
. This is also a reminder that GR is open to engaging with all sorts of poetry projects, not just poetry books and chaps.
GR is an all-volunteer operation--and I'm grateful to the reviewers who are allowing GR to continue with the following stats:Issue 1:
27 new reviews Issue 2:
39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)Issue 3:
49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)Issue 4:
61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)Issue 5:
56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)Issue 6:
56 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)Issue 7:
51 new reviews
While no poetry project received more than one review in this issue, this issue does present reviews of some titles already reviewed in prior issues -- something GR encourages as we believe the same poem(s) can elicit different (and, as the saying goes, equally valid) responses from different readers. Thus, with this issue, we note that Ernesto Priego's hay(na)ku poetry collection Not Even Dogs
now has the honor of being most reviewed to date by different GR reviewers.
Of this issue's reviews/engagements, the following were generated from review copies sent to Galatea Resurrects
: Issue 1:
9 out of 27 new reviewsIssue 2:
25 out of 39 new reviewsIssue 3:
27 out of 49 new reviewsIssue 4:
41 out of 61 new reviewsIssue 5:
34 out of 56 new reviewsIssue 6:
35 out of 56 new reviewsIssue 7:
41 out of 51 new reviews
So I continue to encourage publishers and authors to send in review copies. Reflecting the logistical support of the internet, reviewers from around the world are paying attention. For information on submission and review copies, go check out Galatea's Purse
Your editor is "blind
" and, at the time of putting this issue to bed, jet-lagging. So there can be typos or other errors in the presentation of the articles. Please feel free to let me know. Given Blogger's format, I can make corrections easily to the engagements.
Let me briefly discuss Mom who contributes a review in this issue. Following my father's death just over a year ago, my mother came to live with me here in St. Helena. One of the challenges I've dealt with since her arrival is trying to ensure she feels at home here in a new house in a new city, and that she thrives in a new place far from long-time friends and acquaintances.
Frankly, my suggestion that she do a review of some poetry books was just one of many attempts on my part to interest her in a new activity as she becomes accustomed to her new residence. I never expected the outcome that you can read in her review of Luis Cabalquinto's poetry collection, Bridgeable Shores.
Obviously, it goes to the power
of poetry. And so, to Mr. Luis Cabalquinto
-- a heartfelt thanks to you for writing poems that had such a positive impact on my mother and her world-view for the rest of her life.
And for the special component of GR's audience who appreciates that I undertook this project in part to create an e-photo album for my dogs, I give you Achilles and Gabriela giving a Howl Out with:
With much Love, Fur and Poetry,
St. Helena, CA
August 31, 2007
AFTER YOU, DEAREST LANGUAGE by MARISOL LIMON MARTINEZ
JESSICA BOZEK ReviewsAfter you, dearest language by Marisol Limon Martinez(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2005)
Marisol Limon Martinez’s new book, After you, dearest language
, is a revolving theater of artists, animals, musical instruments, events, body parts, objects, cities, streets, family, and friends, arranged alphabetically in entries as minimally named as “LUNG,” “SONATA,” and “CHANDELIER.” In a sort of print actualization of online hypertext, each entry links to another, as “BOOK” suggests: “Each page leads us to another landscape, another place.”
The primary effect of such a form foregrounds the issue of how to read. In fact, I wonder how Limon Martinez herself reads these pieces aloud. After you, dearest language
is physically spare, with a letterpressed, matte-grey cover. The author’s name appears only twice, on the spine and in the copyright at the back of the book. There are no blurbs, no images, no summaries or reductions of what’s inside; thus, the book presents itself as an unmediated document, one whose chosen structure seems just one of many possible structures. The alphabet is as arbitrary a system as any for ordering the real/surreal/dream experiences contained within, which suggests that order is not what we’re meant to pay attention to. After all, reading After you, dearest language
from front to back doesn’t feel right. To ignore its cross-referencing is to reduce the entries to rule, to privilege product over process.
One of the collection’s central ideas seems to be that we are seldom the authors of our own dreams. Here, readers have some authority in that they can choose whether or not to follow a particular reference, though they are subject to Limon Martinez’s authority in that individual entries are immutable. Only our path through these entries is variable. When I first read After you, dearest language
, I was content with that variability, with the idea of the collection as a limited reference book to its speaker’s dreams and friends and anxieties. But as soon as I decided to review the book, I grew restless. If I only read around, following discrete reference-complexes, I felt as if I were shortchanging the collection. I might miss something. But reading straight through, the imperatives of cross-referencing had to be ignored. And I started to think of the book as a curio, as something I could never really know if I read it the way it asks to be read. I am still troubling over what moves this book beyond the personal and find it odd that, of the real-life characters mentioned in the book, only family members and famous artists (e.g., Louise Brooks, Jackson Pollock, Judy Garland) are “defined” or “qualified,” when giving friends their own reference-complexes wouldn’t have made the book any less universal or more personal than it already is. But After you, dearest language
shuts down such criticisms by virtue of its diaristic prose:
A WOMAN in a RIVER is rowing a BOAT. Her CHILDREN are in a CAGE. She rows the boat to keep her children on the boat. If she STOPS rowing the boat, the children will drown. (“FILM”)
In other words, if the book’s speaker mentions Bande à Part
but not another, more temperamentally relevant Godard film (say, Pierrot Le Fou
), because Bande à Part
is what she saw, isn’t that more appropriate in this world, more to the point of the dream experience’s primacy than a grafting of associations onto the text after the fact?
While I don’t believe that it’s uncouth to share dreams, I do know that if my dream-factory can never be your dream-factory, then when I tell you my dreams, it’s because I think you might have a stake in them, in me. Similarly, After you, dearest language
is a reference book with a single center, its speaker. I don’t mean to suggest that the subconscious is ever irrelevant, but that dreams, in Limon Martinez, are never not personal (whether they are the poet’s or her speaker’s). This is very different from Alice Notley’s use of dreams in Disobedience
, where dream-narratives and the very act of dreaming are posited as political, as a way of shaping and maintaining an identity apart from “the American poetry masons in their burntdown hall”: “Did dreams begin when women were first / excluded from public life?” If the dreams in After you, dearest language
aren’t going to invade my dreams, then I want to have o think about them more than the book impels me too.
I’m most content reading After you, dearest language
on those occasions when Limon Martinez drops me into the messiness of the subconscious by way of tantalizing compression, as when there is no entry for a term save another term: “DILDO REHEARSAL,” “PECTORAL TOTEM,” “WIFE BRETON.” Do all wives lead back to Breton? Or is Breton defined solely by his “wife”? Who is Breton’s wife? According to the entry for “BRETON” “NADJA” is “Breton’s WIFE.” But “NADJA” is defined solely as “BRETON.” The circularity, the evasion, is both playful and frustrating. Of course, “NADJA” is a function of “BRETON,” but how is “BRETON” a function of “WIFE”? In the same entry Limon Martinez writes, “Someone is making THEATRE out of my life. I watch the REHEARSALS take place in a BOX PUPPET theatre.” The entry for “GOOSE,” which tells us that “Catherine… feeds a goose its own FEATHERS. She forces them into its MOUTH” suggests that After you, dearest language
is an elaborate, tongue-in-cheek foie gras. This could explain Breton’s prominence and the questions of identity his presence conjures. Nadja
(1928), after all, blurs the lines between autobiography and fiction, and begins with the question “Who am I?” and ends, inconclusively, “Who goes here? Is it you, Nadja?… Is it only me? Is it myself?”
In her note on the book’s title Limon Martinez writes:
“AFTER YOU, DEAREST LANGUAGE” is taken from the line in André Breton’s Introduction au discours sur le peu de realité as quoted in Walter Benjamin’s essay on Surrealism as referenced in David Levi Strauss’ “After You, Dearest Photography: Reflections on the Work of Francesca Woodman.”
She implies that language is always received at a distance, via a network of references which a reader/listener and—to a certain extent—a writer/speaker cannot know. After you, dearest language
might then be regarded as an attempt to map some of these networks. For example, not every “hill” references the same “HILL”: In the entry for “ACROBAT,” “The stage is a HILL in the distance” but “The hill in the distance gets closer… The hill is closer still.” The entry for “HILL” is similar regarding “white”:
I drive through the hills in search of a HOUSE. I find a WHITE HEXAGON shaped BUILDING surrounded by TREES. I walk in. There is barely any FURNITURE. I look under and around BEDS, DESKS, TABLES. Everything is white.
Only the first “WHITE” then belongs to the reference-complex that includes
ALTAR, APARTMENT, AQUARIUM, BLOOD, BUS, CANDLE, CHANDELIER, CLASSROOM, CONCERT, CREATURE, DRAGON, DRUGS, GLASS, HEXAGON, HILL, HOSPITAL, HOUSE, LAREDO, LEG, METRO, MIRROR, MOTORCYCLE, PORNOGRAPHY, REHEARSAL, STATUE, STREET, TOTEM, TRAIN, UNDERWEAR, VIDEO, WALL
We are left to wonder how the second “white” is different from the first “WHITE.”
If After you, dearest language
is an attempt to create paths through such reference-complexes, I can’t help thinking that the project would be more appropriate, and perhaps more effective in simulating dream spaces and (il)logic, online with hypertext. In such a space, readers wouldn’t have a gauge for their location or be able to fall back on the conventional ways we have for measuring progress through a text. While there are no page numbers in this print edition, the alphabet serves as a rough-enough guide, and, of course, we always know whether we’re hardly, halfway, or mostly finished by the thickness of pages on either side of pencil or bookmark. It may be more promising to consider this project a blueprint for another, one that (at the risk of seeming gimmicky) not only suggests paths but actually generates maps of those varied paths, their expanses and their returns.
Jessica Bozek wears sweaters in August & teaches at Boston University. Her new chapbook is cor•re•spond•ence
(Dusie), a collaboration with Eli Queen.
POEM FOR THE END OF TIME AND OTHER POEMS by NOELLE KOCOT
NICHOLAS MANNING ReviewsPoem for the End of Time and Other Poems by Noelle Kocot(Wave Books, 2006)
This has been a difficult review to write, as I have been a fan for some time of Noelle Kocot: her poetry was, is, different. Strange and fiercely imaginative, it marries diverse and unusual influences, from the cadences of scripture to French Surrealism, from South-American Magic Realism to riffs on New York School cool. And for a good half of Poem For the End of Time and Other Poems
, Kocot delivers handsomely. But then, at least to this reviewer, things go somewhat off the rails.
Firstly, it was obvious to me that the first sequence of ungrouped poems in this collection--precisely the Other Poems of its title--are by far the finest and most mature work that Kocot has produced. These poems, which make up the first 25 pages of the book, simply bridle with poetic energy and invention, and one can almost pick passages at random to show why:
Your loops swallow themselves
Until they are younger loops
While your dark night bridges you fluently.
The analogic movement here is both compact and complex. We may first read “bridges” as a noun, then, realizing it is in fact a verb, discover the coherence of this imagery: the loops and bridges doubling, repeating themselves, thus becoming “younger”. Now, Kocot has always been a little over-the-top, at once boisterous and expressive, but always in a Frank O’Hara way, so intense as to be funny, so aware of her excess as to relish it:
The bright waterlights blinking
And grieving over a mash of ice.
Like them, I wanted only to die, moon-dark, blessed,
Poised beneath the driest arrows of my suffering,
Far from the flocks of burning, singing gulls,
Face to face with the God of my childhood
There is, in such writing, an extravagance and profligacy balancing itself delicately on a tightrope between Rimbaldian prophetic ecstasy and amusing surrealist kitsch.
Another striking effect is the way in which Kocot’s out-there, disjointed spiritual fervor garners its effects from simple comparison with the quotidian:
Penumbra of ancestries properly wired,
While someone sings on a lawn chair
We detect everywhere too the lovely tension between an unashamed lyricism and the simultaneous parody, or rather “playing-up”, of this lyricism as effect and affect:
You wanted to concoct a monody
On a dead-end highway
In an impossible springtime.
A dead-end highway in spring is, to say the least, a bit too much: but how evocatively it functions! Like the flock of burning, singing gulls, this is an image which many lesser poets may have been too afraid to use, recognizing that it must be carefully framed in order not to be considered simply “bad”. For in fact, Kocot does indeed play with our expectations of what exactly “bad” poetry may be, showing us the true width of this delicately fine line. Much of this verse echoes, for example, the late great Ern Malley: “A fuschia archaeopteryx would eat my bones” in The Nowhere Parade
being but one vivid instance.
These first poems in the volume are thus plain old effective: assured, inventive, unsettling in their imagery, and always preferring the road less traveled.
And your thirsty mirrors
Lynched the shadow of a bridesmaid.
I’ve told this to no one else,
How the traces of your blond
Preside over a thimble full of light,
How a crack in the fetid sky veers
Into the molting radiance of a gun
This is Lautréament, or maybe Georg Trakl, somehow weirdly ciphered through Confessionalism or Elizabeth Bishop. And yet, at the same time, such very capable passages as these are uniquely and undeniably Noelle Kocot. This is Kocot at her best: traveling at breakneck speed, led by her own inventiveness, while maintaining an often extraordinary degree of metaphorical control:
We have reached a place where everything
Can be signed away while the hours
Sprint by on the glinting legs of cranes.
Of course, this sometimes gives the impression that when Kocot finally slows down from this rapid-fire shutter-speed, she’s no longer quite sure where to point her lens; but these moments are rare.
As for the slight superiority of these pieces over those of Kocot’s earlier collections, it seems to me that she is now ever more capable of anchoring her wildly generative imagery to a grounding preoccupation, a central nexus, a dropped stone around which her ideas may spread in concentric ripples. The return of “beauty” as a primary node in Oasis, for example, provides the inventiveness of the piece with a tangible limit; it concentrates it within an enclosed space :
When a beautiful woman cuts herself
In a movie, tinsel falls from the universe.
And when you ask someone if I am beautiful,
You don’t ask to affirm me, but to affirm
Your own conjecture that I might be
As beautiful as you once thought.
The imagistic intensity of the first couplet is not allowed to waver or dissipate in related reflections or half-baked surrealism. Beauty is an affirmation for its subject, but not for its object: Kocot picks up on this interesting idea, and unpacks its initial image. Not “cutting”, not “tinsel” then, but what these devices allow us to see
Well . . . So much for the triumphantly successful first part of the collection. Now we must come to consider it’s center-piece, the rambling, elegiacal tirade of personal pain and political gall which is the Poem For the End of Time
. It must be said simply: for this reviewer at least, there is not much forgivable in the poem. After the twentieth page or so, I was praying, albeit in an incantatory voice, for its end. From page one:
My neighborhood my neighborhood my neighborhood
Up in flames my neighborhood
There were jars turning black in my neighborhood
I saw smoke rising from them in my neighborhood
Now let’s skip ahead to page twenty-one to see what’s changed:
In my neighborhood I knocked at the gate
In my neighborhood the answer was yes
In my neighborhood I am no longer an Innocent
In my neighborhood I became one of them one of them
You leave me no choice my neighborhood
You leave me no choice my neighborhood
And so it goes on . . . For thirty-four pages . . . Ever more tedious, ever less variable. The striving for Ginsbergian effect is evident, but as reader we have no choice but to buckle under this discursive torrent. It is not only the repetition– see Celan do it right –but the choice of repeated phrases, many of them inexcusable clichés: “skull-shattered martyrs”, “dark salvation”, “I am no longer an Innocent”. Is this Kocot, as she does so effectively elsewhere, playing with cliché, truism, affectation? . . . Perhaps. But there is no trace of self-reflection here, no higher irony: the tone is overtly earnest, dogmatic and declarative rather than indefinite or reflective. And, importantly, these clichés do not appear once, but perhaps thirty times . . .
Then we have the reappearance, entirely absent from the other successful poems in this volume, of several of Kocot’s more formative ticks, which we might have thought discarded: her mystic number symbolism, for example, which, equally arbitrary in Yeats– why are there 59 wild swans? –does not instantly a great poet make:
But not the Holy Spirit Number 4
Not the Word made flesh Number 4
4 4 4 4 You are so good to me number 4
You are beautiful and radiant with great splendor number 4
We have understood by now, after her first volume (entitled 4
), that the number 4 is very important to Kocot, and this is no doubt due to a specific lay or ecclesiastical tradition. But does it make for good poems?
To answer this question, we must first recognize that Kocot aims everywhere in Poem for The End of Time
, and to a much greater degree than ever before, for the spiritual incantatory effect of a poet like Paul Claudel. But Claudel knew the value of variation, and dressed his biblical cadences– which in Kocot, moreover, seem often to surge less from Scripture than from the pulpit –in the balanced perfection of his lines. In comparison to this Claudelian tradition, Kocot’s incantation is largely uncontrolled, and, perhaps its greatest fault of all (for Frank O’Hara fans), is continually uninteresting
. The textual surface is monotone, and the surprises usually so frequent in Kocot’s lively imaginative arsenal are absent.
For, though Kocot’s anger develops from a personal to a political one in the course of the poem, until these two finally merge or at least overlap, it often seems that she has simply put the Dissent-Machine on autopilot, stripping her verse of its usual associative brilliance. “America your manifest destiny is Starbucks” is a line severely lacking in imagination, missing moreover any true sense of injustice; or worse: “They take jobs cleaning the apartments of drug dealers / They take jobs that come with cellular phones.”
In fact, this reviewer cannot but conclude that in Poem For the End of Time
, Kocot loses her way. Now, what does this mean? We might propose the old-fashioned idea that this sometimes painful self-indulgence is only to be excused– whether it finally is or not is conjecturable –by this elegy’s very specific context. For, The Poem For the End of Time
is for Kocot an extremely personal piece: rooted in biography, it is an extended elegy for the death of her husband, the composer Damon Tomblin. This fact is nowhere hidden: the poem is dedicated to Tomblin, and he appears everywhere in it (“Damon Daemon Damiano / O God rebuild my Church”). Tomblin is the poem’s context.
But biography, it is hardly necessary to say, is itself a construct: it does not justify a poem, but it does help us to understand its condition. Of course, the ensuing discussion is similar to that surrounding moments of “excusably” excessive pathos in Hughes’ Birthday Letters
: for Poem For the End of Time
may indeed be deeply touching– it sometimes, though rarely, is –if it did not encounter some serious aesthetic hurdles. For this reason, the elegy should perhaps be considered less a “usual” work of poetry than a loud, heartfelt cry, which, charged as it is with explicit personal resonance, does not always lend itself to an achieved aesthetic effect.
This is not entirely, of course, an excuse: it is simply a context. However, I imagine that, if Noelle Kocot herself reads this review, she may care little for the critical opinion brought to bear upon her poem, and she would be, I think, to a very large extent justified. For perhaps this goal– namely, to be an “achieved” work of art –is not this particular elegy’s final justification. In the end, though we may think it not her best work, if this poem has specific and very personal meaning for Kocot, we may not at all mind, being the fine poet that she is, that she has published it, less still that she took the time to write it. We may just not want, necessarily, to re-read it.
Nicholas Manning teaches comparative literature at the University of Strasbourg, France. In 2004 he took his MA in twentieth-century poetics from the Sorbonne (Paris IV), and from 2003-2006 held a scholarship at the Ecole normale supérieure of the rue d'Ulm. His poems, articles, translations and reviews have appeared in Verse, The Argotist, Fascicle, Free Verse, Cross Connect, BlazeVox, MiPoesias, Fiera Lingue, Cordite, Dusie, Eratio, Otoliths, Aught, Shampoo
, among others. In 2006 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his first chapbook of poems– Novaless I-XXVI
–is out in August from Achiote Press
. He is the editor of The Continental Review
, and maintains the weblog The Newer Metaphysicals
THE STEAM SEQUENCE by CARLY SACHS
EILEEN TABIOS Engagesthe steam sequence by Carly Sachs(Washington Writers Publishing House, Washington D.C., 2006)
For Galatea Resurrects
, I don’t have particular books in mind to review. I just read poetry as widely as I can and then review whatever moves me to engage with them in that manner. With Carly Sachs’ the steam sequence
, I felt compelled to write about it, even as I suspected that I probably will fail at fully articulating why I am so glad to see this collection in print.the steam sequence
is not just about, to quote from Henry Israeli's blurb, "an unnamed Jewish woman, a Nazi soldier, a dead child". It's not just about their experience. It's about remembering that experience. And reminding people that people underwent their experience. But also about the inevitable failure of remembering accurately -- that what will become memory is full of holes, and perhaps deliberately so.
It's about reminding people of something so brutal that many people would just as soon have their memories evaporate: the kettle screams forth its steam but, afterwards, the steam disappears.
So I can talk about the deftness of the poetic craft and book design. And I will because I want to respect the poet's and designer’s skill.
Book design and composition are attributed to Patrick Pepper; cover design to Moira Egan, Patrick Pepper, and Graham Wimbrow; and cover art to Graham Wimbrow. We see the effectiveness of their thought process: the grey of the front and back covers as grey as steam that arose from one of humanity’s worst histories, as trains arrived, or as chimneys belched out a certain smoke…. We see the cover image to be an undefinable image except that it’s grey; it could be a night sky, a sky blackened by smoke, a crater, or a moon suddenly blackened by ash. The all of it -- and what it is not -- befits what lies within the book.
Within the book, we have the effective use of caesuras and spare language to capture what cannot be captured, for instance, horror:
in the room
the radiator the beating
Design. Yes, we see how the placement of a few lines on a page, leaving the page mostly blank, enhances the silences -- and erasures. For example, the above three lines are atop the page and the rest of the page is blank. The blank evokes a scream. The blank encourages the reader/viewer to fill in the rest of the page with response. The blank page reminds: the blank page is not horrible because it’s silent but because a voice was -- voices were -- silenced.
and told her
no one would be [left a]
And why not rely on fragments? Even the full-frontal narrative of the following seems somehow to understate the experience of … Auschwitz:
They let certain women keep their hair,
those were the soldiers’ women,
always the ones most recently off the train
who were given soap and water
then taken naked to a concrete room
where the soldiers would shove the heads
of their rifles inside them.
Sent back to the women’s barracks
beauty gone, the other women
picked on the bones,
scavenged these broken bodies
for jewelry, a hidden tube of lipstick,
the mirror, though no one
wanted to see what they had become.
And yet the specificity of the above is critical. It provides a backbone, though broken, to excerpts like this:
some days she
sits in the kitchen
water all day
the tea kettle screaming
or this excerpt
in a jam jar
how many hands and bodies
Each page offers one broken piece after another. That the texts manage to be organized into a poetry book does not preclude the experience from being one of “music", albeit of a "music / thinning / to air.”
Reading this book also reminded me of an art exhibition I witnessed in 2001: installation and mixed-media art by Ruth Liberman at Messineo Wyman Projects in New York City. I reviewed it for the now-defunct ReviewNY
. Here’s an excerpt:
Poetry is what cannot be articulated. Ruth Liberman’s works address what should not be articulated: horror and evil. Consequently, Liberman uses text as visual material. In doing so, she creates visual poetry and subverts meaning.
Liberman is concerned about what she describes in an Artist’s Statement to be “people in extreme situations.” In this exhibition, she ask what meaning can be found in such horrors as Nazi-perpetrated genocide….
“Petrikau 26.7.43 (1990-94)” is a set of four vinyl panels covered with the carbon traces of used typewriter ribbon. Through the ribbons, Liberman marks the vinyl with words from an unpublished 1943 diary of a German army officer on duty in the SS-occupied Jewish ghetto in Piotrkov (Poland). The officer writes descriptively—hence, brutally—of what he witnessed as the ghetto was shut down and people deported or killed. Stretches of black tape cover portions of the text that Liberman perhaps deems too brutal to expose. The hidden sections only make more horrendous the feelings generated from such fragmented texts as:
--“a little white coat and white tiny cap”
--“It all takes its course. The air feels leaden”
-- “I see how the fat bleached blond, having already returned, presses the face of the twelve-year-old against her body”
As with Liberman’s installation art, the steam sequence
fragments the shield of forgetfulness. These works record. Sach’s poems are about something
. That their subjects are ghosts does not make them any less real. Indeed, whether from memory or horror or some combination thereof, both the steam sequence and Liberman’s exhibit embody -- or rather, as Lyn Hejinian puts it in her blurb, “re-embody” -- something that, as Hejinian also puts it, “by its very nature can’t be remembered, is about the very limits of experience.”
Yes, poetry can be written afterwards
Eileen Tabios recently released THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES: OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
(Marsh Hawk Press, 2007).
BROKEN WORLD by JOSEPH LEASE
BRIAN STRANG ReviewsBroken World by Joseph Lease(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2007)
In June 2007, Harper’s
ran a series of articles on how to repair what has been done to “the constitution,” “the courts,” “civil service,” “the environment,” “science,” “the economy,” “the marketplace of ideas,” “intelligence,” “the military,” “diplomacy” and “the national character.” In virtually every sphere, it seems, Americans live with the idea that great damage has been done, that things are broken, but certainly more that the political elements of the nation is broken. The social is made up of spheres within spheres—the personal, the local, the civic and so forth—each an imperfect fit, broken worlds that intersect, collapse, unite and divide—composing the multiplicity of community and individuals within it.
Joseph Lease's new book, Broken World
, takes its title from Robert Creeley quoting Hart Crane: “And so it was I entered the broken world.” The term is also part of the visionary Jewish tradition. Lease is working within (while “making new”) and applying these traditions to the contemporary world of the individual, of the human community and, yes, of America, a world of contradictions too diverse and complex to be contained. And the poems of this broken world do not contain but oscillate between the tensions of the many worlds we inhabit. This is no easy task and Lease has, more successfully than any of his peers, written directly, authentically and affirmatively through these contradictions.
The first poem, “Ghost,” announces a language of lament, an implicit but present voice both close at hand and intangible, creating paradox through repetition.
the word for dawn
the word for light
the word for hand
The poem moves through, but never quite inhabits, the lyrical “I,” veering into the pronoun “her” instead with the closest possible referent being “sister
,” though “sister,” is “the word for dawn” and, this too, is “the word for others
.” The resulting sphere is one of connection, an ephemeral lyric that, rather than exulting in the individual, steps through the connections of commonality into a liminal zone where the dichotomy of self and other is reduced. Here, in this zone, where an incantation of lament unites, where the self is in union with others, the broken world can begin to be healed.
In the title poem “Broken World,” an elegy for James Assalty, a friend who died at 31 of AIDS in 1993, what “won’t be” is recorded and lamented. And Lease uses repetition again to echo through what is broken:
Won’t be stronger. Won’t be water.
Won’t be dancing on floating berries.
Won’t be a year. Won’t be a song.
Won’t be taller. Won’t be accounted
a flame. Won’t be a boy. Won’t be
any relation to the famous rebel.
“Broken” is a term of function. And the rhythms established form a kind of healing incantation, lamenting what no longer works. The loss of a friend, of an individual person, breaks the world.
At times the poem takes on the tone of anger in sadness:
You are with me
and I shatter
Arrows on water;
you are with me—
rain on snow—
and I shatter
Engaging with both the internal peril and outwardly turned vengeance of loss gives the poem an accurate claim to the multiplicity of experience. Rather than encapsulate, the poem is open to contradiction, and for this it rings true with the reader.
“History of Our Death” deals with another broken world, seen through a historical lens. Although the poem is less intimate in its relationship to the subject, it is no less personal in its relationship to the reader. This poem explores what can and cannot be known about horror, and, for me, it is the most compelling of the book (though many readers will probably feel that “Free Again” is the most important) because it asks the most difficult questions, about complicity, about empathy, about what it means to be part of humanity.
Beginning with a found text written by a victim of the Holocaust, the language of the first section both engages and distances. It is the language of a victim who is torn by complicated feelings of guilt after eating more than his allotment of bread. Few of us can imagine what it feels like to be bored, guilty and waiting for certain annihilation, to be so utterly dehumanized and, at the same time, be wracked with such human emotions. The inclusion of this text announces Lease’s sincerity; a detached ironic stance will be useless in the rest of the poem. Instead, the rest of the poem becomes, according to Lease, an attempt to “create life that we need—life that we don’t recognize until we are in the poem.”
The second section, returning to a present-day first-person address, begin with description of “The top half//of a crab shell” and ends with “they call me/human garbage— // I was
garbage / so I still am—“ in an echo of T.S. Eliot’s dehumanized and utterly reduced “pair of ragged claws.” Oppression is the subject of Lease’s poem, and the reader must ask, as the poet does, whether it is possible to truly empathize with the victims of such vast and senseless destruction and we must go on to ask whether this gesture, doomed to failure from the beginning, serves any purpose. Can one do no more (as Lease says in the third section) than “burn for no / reason”? Don’t attempts to “feel” for the victims trivialize the horror, making one complicit in some way?
Lease deals with these questions of how to think about horror in history and concludes that “the living know nothing / I can’t know.” Yet despite the bleakness of these conclusions, remarkably, the poem ends on a note of hope:
in daughters and sons—
Perhaps answers to some of the questions this poem raises can be found in a previous poem, “Soul-Making.” If it is impossible and perhaps even undesirable to attempt to inhabit the experience of the victims of oppression, the attempt to bring ourselves closer in some ways is, nevertheless, necessary for the creation and re-creation of our own internal life, for the sustenance of our own humanity and, perhaps most importantly, to keep indifference, that dangerous anesthetic, at bay. After all, it is a history of our
death and this is our
soul being made.
In the final and longest poem of the collection, “Free Again,” Lease turns his attention to contemporary America. Here, Lease establishes a Shelleyean place for poetry in the political sphere, as a legitimate means of engagement in a culture that values passive pleasures above all else. Freedom—artistic, social, personal and otherwise—must be actively recreated, and so the series consists of 26 poems of the same name. The number 26, too, might be seen as a marker of the English language, indicating the necessity to recreate freedom linguistically as well.
In the realm of this poem, the contradictions are thick and it is easy for poets to veer into a stance of sarcastic irony, of inertia. Lease’s attempt to find a valid place for poetry in the political realm, prohibits the use of irony as a distanced passivity. Instead, this poem alternates between the lyric and ironic, as in these two consecutive poems of the series (in their entirety):
Stillness in red, stillness in green—I
have no words, light hangs like rope—
We breathe our eyes, promise the
wind, boxes of shit, pieces of glass—
Color the wind, we breathe our yes,
open the doors, one vote one corpse—
One seed of light—
The I feels grateful for its bagel, grateful for its espresso—
now try it this way: the I lives in an empire—community
of headlines, community of video loops—all its friends
feel terrible—“guilt is the new terrorism—“
the Dostoevsky Network: all writhing,
all the time—
Here irony is a useful tool, as a means for critical engagement, but Lease never relinquishes his firm grounding in a more complete and authentic stance. Moving between a yearning, breathed “yes” and a commentary on the lack of community, both poems feel accurate as reflections on the contemporary American empire. Lease’s “I” is both victim and perpetrator, ensnared in the contradictions. But if he is to accurately address this society in the larger way that he does, he must avoid being reductive. And his poem does successfully capture and comment upon an America of the early 21st Century.
Ultimately, Broken World
is an affirmative and visionary work, one that attempts to nurture the “seed of light.” “Broken” has an implicit and awesome moral imperative, mandating that we mend what is no longer functional. And through Lease’s own attempts at accurately understanding the world, the responsibility extends to the reader as well:
I was a ghost, you were the only one
who could hear me—
Brian Strang, co-editor of 26: A Journal of Poetry and Poetics
, lives in Oakland and teaches English composition at San Francisco State University and Merritt College. He is the author of Incretion
(Sputyen Duyvil) and machinations
(a free Duration ebook) among others. i n v i s i b i l i t y
, a special edition with drawings by Basil King, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil. Recent poem/paintings can be seen at his site, Sorry Nature
. His poem/paintings opened at Canessa Park Gallery in San Francisco on June 3rd.
A HALF-RED SEA by EVIE SHOCKLEY
BRENDA IIJIMA Reviewsa half-red sea by Evie Shockley(Carolina Wren Press, Durham, NC, 2006)
A book pops open and creates access to numerous registers. I found myself reading Evie Shockley’s dynamic book, a half-red sea,
in a cluster of relational titles (as is always the case). Encircling and informing my reading experience were Octavia Butler’s Kindred
and also Wild Seed
(once I found out that Evie lists it as one of her favorite titles), Derrick Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well
, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis' The Pink Guitar,
to name a few. In this review I hope to give space for the ricocheting of intertextual meanings that sprang forth.
In Butler’s Wild Seed
, Anyanwu, a spirited 300 year old gorgeous African female shape shifter who is impervious of time gets coerced into going to the colonies in “The New World” with Doro, a menacing spirit who takes captives from Africa and elsewhere to set up his seed villages—communities of people bred for their superior human qualities. It is a tumultuous science fiction tale that allegorically echoes layers of actual histories. Anyanwu’s strength of spirit is challenged throughout the book. Her independence, intelligence and dignity are continually frustrated by what is asked of her but more readily forced upon her. She is able to look into each relation and reshape her being to best overcome what she confronts. a half-red sea
accomplishes something similar lingually and philosophically. The stretch and bend of form and content within a half-red sea
is open, changeable and free—procedurally constantly regenerating from spaces within being and through charged energies of interrelation all rendered in slippery, succulently descriptive language. And, like Anyanwu’s struggle, the work is immersive—these verses course through hundreds of years of ancestral history lived, remembered and felt. Strength comes from this continuum. Strength to acknowledge and confront contemporary injustice that destabilizes, clashes, threatens—composes the daily. waiting on the mayflower
opens with an epigram by Frederick Douglas: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” As the poem moves through an in-tense chronology pressure builds up to present tense.
blood. africa’s descendents,
planting here year after year
the seeds of labor, sweating
bullets in this nation’s wars,
have harvested the rope,
the rape, the ghetto, the cell,
the fire, the flood, and the
blame for you-name-it. so
today black folks barbeque
ribs and smother the echoes
of billie’s strange song in
sauces. drink gin. gladly
holiday to heckle speeches
on tv. pretend to parade.
turn out in droves for distant
detonations, chaos, controlled
I’ve clipped and cropped this poem at a difficult spot—because “controlled” sits on the page, glaring. It is unfair to these poems to fragment them—there is so much momentum and velocity within each poem that excerpting from Shockley’s poems messes with the fury played out in a tempo of suggestion, indictment and impassioned song.
“Language in its thickness, layered, can also peel back and become a map of levels, with space behind space.” Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar
, p. 86. The richness of this statement is realized in Shockley’s poetry: “the city is american, so she/can map it. train tracks, highways slice through, bleed/ only to one side, like a half-red sea/permanently parted, the middle she’d…” Mapping, the segregation of bodies and spaces, the commoditization of bodies and spaces—this fraught reality rears, meaning it comes forth with depth and amplitude—there is rarely any whimsy implied in maps and map making. Racism has been codified and the ideology that buttresses it is mapped into consciousness. De-mapping and reuniting—perhaps this is what is needed, desperately—as it stands, only capitol (speaking here of humanly created entities, substance) has ready access across political, sociological and emotional grids (human bodies don’t) yet human endeavor is much more slippery than what can be accommodated by maps. Maps are instantly obsolete as we live in a changeable, animate universe. Here I am thinking of the burgeoning refugee population—Doctors Without Borders
estimates that 33 million people live in a condition of being a refuge. These root concepts are glowingly reconsidered for what they continue to yield in Shockley’s poems. In another poem a Shockley line reads, “a map of where”—such a stance opens ground for the myriad exchanges that take place at any given site through time. The penultimate stanza in elocation (or, exit us)
reads, “the city’s infra (red) structure sweats her,/a land(e)scape she can’t make, though she knows/the way. she’s got great heart, but that gets her/where? egypt’s always on her right (it goes/where she goes), canaan’s always just a-head,/and to her left, land of the bloodless dead.” And, to interject a quotation from Samuel R. Delany’s fabulous essay, …Three, Two, One, Contact: Times Square Red
, 1998, “…as much the same way as contact and networking, infrastructure and superstructure are ultimately relative terms. They are vectors rather than fixed positions, so that there are some locations where, depending on the vectors around them, for brief periods it may be indeterminate whether something will operate with superstructural or infrastructural force.” (Giving Ground: The Politics of Propinquity
edited by Joan Copjec and Michael Sorkin, p. 57). Delany is referring to the vectors that shape a neighborhood—what forces help deteriorate and or invigorate a social space. Vectors, superstructures, infrastructures—a half-red sea traces the echoes, reverberations, thunder, cries and protests not without cacophonous joy, glittering revelation, sensual sighs (the syntax sashays, saunters) and smart rebuttal:
“i am southern hear me roar i am burning flags bearing crosses i am scarlet and prissy like a piece of carmine velvet at christmas don’t know nothing bout birthin no rabies so don’t come foamin at my mouth I am miss dixie and a miss is as good as a guile i am a daughter of the con-federacy…” (from cause i’m from dixie too)
and from time is of the essence
“…like the idea of waking. watching
the sun crash into a skyline cut flat
where interstate 40 sweeps along
on stilts, she thinks about her honda’s
drink: what the paleozoic period
boiled down to. miles away, on
the same planet, creatures of a new
era thunder around, care-less and
cannibal in our desperate search
for fuel. she recaps her tank, fingers
reeking. across the corner, the lot
at 1st street bar and grill is full. she
knows the holocene will boil down, too,
someday: wonders how this crude age
will have deposited anything of use.
Shockley’s articulate awareness and sensitivity of the porous dimensions of time is a rich political statement I think. The diachronic and synchronic play off of each other and form a third space—something like possibility. A further aspect of this quality of Shockley’s poetry is that she doesn’t subordinate forms of time or what occurs in time. In this way content (which is experiential and takes place in time—her lyrical accounts and other’s account) account for a the space of the poem—without exclusion; it is a diverse open autobiography infused with the vitality of the lives of those she acknowledges: Ntozake Shange, Henry Bibb, Billie Holiday, Crispus Attucks, Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemmings, Anita Hill and others. Here’s one example of Shockley’s poetic regard for the modality that is time (from her poem clutter
“the wedding party occupied a bed & breakfast
near the lake,
in a neighborhood that had turned black
around its edges,
as if the property were a cookie baked too fast,
at too high a temperature…”
We are at this juncture here in the United States—Brown vs. The Board of Education
was overturned while I was writing this review representing a reverse of a major accomplishment in the civil rights struggle. Remembering James Baldwin’s words, “I’m only black ‘cos you think you’re white.” Should issues of race be fore grounded—where? (I think yes—in the sense of not separated out (or avoided) from everything that coexists—sensitively addressed so that there can be an opening up of common ground).Within poetry or is this a domain exempt from tangible social concern? How do we speak to/of these realities? How is identity shaped through our differences and interdependences? One disturbing feature of racism is the distinct dismissal of any sort of critique coming from people of color—absorbed or reflected into the generalized impertinence that feels like social fabric. If critiques are ignored by white people of privilege I don’t know how desired change can happen without out serious blind spots, misunderstandings and misperceptions. Derrick Bell’s second rule of racial standing that reads as follows:
“Not only are black’s complaints discounted, but black victims of racism are less effective witnesses than are whites, who are members of the oppressor class. This phenomenon reflects a widespread assumption that blacks, unlike whites, cannot be objective on racial issues and will favor their own no matter what. This deep-seated belief fuels a continuing effort—despite all manner of Supreme Court decisions intended to curb the practice—to keep black people off juries in cases involving race. Black judges hearing racial cases are eyed suspiciously and sometimes asked to recuse themselves in favor of a white judge—without those making the request even being aware of the paradox in their motions. (Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, p. 113)
How does this play out in poetry…? Evie Shockley has the courage and dignity to address ourselves, our interrelations—our words and selves.
Joan Retallack talks about the contemporary challenge as follows, “At some point I realized that the lurking question in everything I’ve written about literature is this: how can imaginative, responsible, meaningful agency thrive in such a complex and perilous world, fallen many times over, hardly off its knees when it comes to matters of hope? In an earlier paragraph she highlights complex realism, reciprocal alterity, polyculturalism, polylingualism and contemporaneity. (Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wage
, p. 13) These regenerative meditations by Evie Shockley offer up a positive socio-lingual paradigm.
Brenda Iijima is the author of Animate, Inanimate Aims
(Litmus Press) and Around Sea
(O Books). If Not Metamorphic
was runner up for the Sawtooth Prize and will be published by Ahsahta Press. Also forthcoming is Remembering Animals
which will be published by Displace Press. She is the editor of Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs (yoyolabs.com/). Together with Evelyn Reilly she is editing a collection of essays by poets concerning poetry and ecological ethics titled, )((eco (lang)(uage(reader).
She is the art editor for Boog City
as well as a visual artist. She lives in Brooklyn, New York where she designs and constructs homeopathic gardens.
A FIDDLE PULLED FROM THE THROAT OF A SPARROW by NOAH ELI GORDON
PATRICK JAMES DUNAGAN Reviews A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow by Noah Eli Gordon (New Issues in Prose & Poetry Western Michigan University, 2007)THE STRUGGLE TO LET THE POEM ‘BE’
Noah Eli Gordon states, “I’ve tried everything I can think of to bring a poem into the world.”* The list of examples he then provides is indeed fairly exhaustive in scope of possible exercises: “automatic writing; timed writing; making word lists; sketching out detailed charts of specific syntax and filling in the words later on; writing only in public; writing at specific times of the day.” He also confesses, “I write a lot.” The poems collected in A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow
demonstrate the merit along with the frailty of Gordon’s self-reflections upon his writing process. There is beauty beside absurdity. Technical skill demonstrated but not always sustained. A mixture of styles and an assortment of possible influences embedded throughout. Notes in the back notify the reader that the poems were “composed between 1999 & 2005” and were published “often in radically different versions and under different titles” in numerous journals and chapbooks. It is as if instead of a ‘selected early poems,’ (which would admittedly be an odd exhibit for a poet who is still relatively young and at the beginning of his career) Gordon took his earlier, uncollected work and re-drafted much of it with the intention to form a fresh, cohesive collection. Unfortunately, although there are shining moments, any intended cohesion doesn’t hold.
The title poem starts it off well enough. The lines are clean and delicate by way of sound and texture, a sweetly inviting embrace of lyrical imagery.
A fiddle pulled from the throat of a sparrow
little piece of silence
astray in the circumstantial music of a crowd
part myth, part massacre
have you put away your toy internment
turned to the first movement
where the house was empty
& the dead hair of the harpist spread on the lawn
its arrayed core drawing a grace note
from the muttering of those exhausted by wild dance
showing an oar for a lyre
a turtle shell a tear
cleaving a bird call on the kettle drum
to unsettle a dust of harmonics
expelling an itinerant elsewhere
an epistolary scratching-post
a winged thing for the gypsy’s chime
the timbrel’s return to nowhere
Lines such as “showing an oar for a lyre / a turtle shell a tear” serve up Gordon’s nimble delight in play with sound, mixing in classical references to music and poetry of ancient days with a quickness of line shared by many in the current moment. There’s deliberate care given to every word which the double spacing of the lines adds an elegance of attention to without overdoing it. After all, the title of this opening section is “A Dictionary of Music,” Gordon lays down a solid entrance into his work.
Following “A Dictionary of Music” is a section titled “The Right of Return.” Each of the eight poems contained within are a “book of.” For instance, there’s “The Book of Forgetting” along with “The Book of Rebuilding” and
The Book of Definitions
The vestigial mark was the wound
shadow in the preface
though they circled around the flame,
thought of this night
took the form first as bone,
first a cliff overlooking the sea
called “longing for arrival”
When the youngest asked
why this hand was different from others,
another drew in his fingers & said
“This hand is called a fist.”
Not to take note but to transcribe
Bells were rung & special knots devised
At a glance this poem is similar in looks and style to “A Fiddle” but the sensibility behind the lines is of a different nature. Where “A Fiddle” leans on its ambiguous meaning, and thereby gains a sympathetic ear from the reader, “The Book of Definitions” seeks clarity in elusive hinting towards a possible description of rites of violent passage. The poem is neither lesson nor celebration. It does not seek to critique the nature of the young teaching each other how and what it means to say, “This hand is called a fist.” Many of the lines have an overheard quality to them, what might be happening in the reader’s thoughts sitting outside a schoolyard and reflecting without judgment on what is heard. It’s something worth the thought.
The next section’s title, “How Human Nouns,” rivals the metaphoric imagery of the collection’s title (as far as clever titles go) with its witty play-off of traditional rules of grammar. Each of these opening sections is comprised of individually titled poems forming mini-chapbooks of a sort, and work rather nicely when taken individually. It would seem that terms are being set for the collection as a whole. Sometimes this bodes well for the reader and Gordon is headed in a good direction, at other times there’s only disappointment.
To map the wearing away of things
What endows an anecdote with so much tinder
a particular tree in how light fell
how human nouns what the nucleus of commerce won’t replicate
the world in a real enough window
money made of money a bare ankle
pacing from the vault to the podium
to fasten the world a believable cape
Gordon’s ease in falling back on slick trade-ups of common phrase to gain the poetic is not to the poem’s benefit. Not “to fashion” but rather “fasten.” It’s more than a bit trite. Triteness isn’t much better than the clichéd sense Gordon no doubt wishes to duck. The at-first-seeming inspired wit of the section’s title loses almost all of its unique sparkle when the line it is raised out from, “how human nouns what the nucleus of commerce won’t replicate,” is revealed.
Following these three opening sections is “Untragic Hero of Epic Theater,” “Four Allusive Fields,” and “A Book of Names.” These too are mini-chaps of a kind, differing from the opening three in that they’re composed of untitled poems and have a more serial-poem sensibility to them. “Four Allusive Fields” with its first line refrain beginning each poem, “Cy listens absently to absent Homer,” being the most successful. “Cy” is American painter Cy Twombly and Gordon’s poems evoke abstract wanderings serving as both response and commentary upon Twombly’s series of adventurous canvases engaging with the Iliad
; in Gordon’s words, “a system of charged, yet ambiguous signifiers, but also wholly narrative.”
Cy listens absently to absent Homer
taking notes that amount to nothing, & nothing
erases as well as a name. Can one draw a careless world
out of its engorged abdomen? Ask that moth
eating through a painted magpie what grinding
against a shard of twilight gave it. Flowers
chalked over aluminum & the elegance
of taped-on wings. Ladders reaching the roof
behind rain clouds brushed on to cover a mistake
Who wouldn’t mistake the surface for vapid paint
a cloud for a sarcophagus a bed for a life your white shirt
for mine, blue for blue. Depending on the vantage point
proves you hang from it in pieces, & though we hadn’t
arrived on the same boat, we’re surely on the same boat now
There’s a pleasant bit of music to these lines, in contrast to “Untragic Hero of Epic Theater” which from its clunky opening line, “Did blanched afternoon unfastening its oiled feathers” on through, never gets around to amounting to anything much or maintaining the reader’s attention. At its best moments a mildly bored sensibility reminiscent of Ashbery is achieved:
What’s the difference hedges toward a structure
I don’t want the locution of some scuffed surface
just your lips moving like birds
where birds are not the story
second to its telling but the inky shape
of astonishment arresting our attention
Often it feels as if Gordon is offering up poetic exercises, attempts to “sound like” or utilize the technique of so and so, the result isn’t much of a thrill. At the end of “Book of Names” references to previous poems appear
Why George? Why Cy?
Why do nudes fall from newspapers?
Why a fire that consumes all before it?
Why yes? & why no?
Why the world’s most believable cape?
Gordon may be holding his own book to question.
Closing out the collection comes “A New Hymn to the Old Night” (if you’re thinking Novalis, so is Gordon, this longish poem intends at being a nod towards his Hymnen an die Nacht),
along with “A Little Book of Prayers” which is a mini-mini-chap of three poems and provides an attempt at closure. It is with “A New Hymn to the Old Night” that the design of the book irrevocably intrudes and interrupts the readability of the text. On every page with text a solid line runs from the outside edge of the page about a space and a half above the first line of the poem for about fifteen spaces. The line on the opposing page is slightly lower, so that when the looking at text on opposing pages the text on the left begins ever so slightly higher up on the page than that opposing it on the right. It makes for a rather uneven symmetry and serves no visible purpose other than annoyance. With “A New Hymn to the Old Night” it is especially irksome as it interrupts the visual flow of sections that happen to run further than one page. The assumption is that Gordon intends the poem to be composed of stanzas without separation into individual poems or parts, but these lines lend a sense of rupture, both between as well as at times within, to the would-be stanzas. It’s clear that the lay out was decided upon without a reader-friendly understanding of the manuscript to be associated with it.
Gordon ends the collection with a poem that has a quote from Myung Mi Kim as an epigraph which challenges the thrust of this review.
Urge to call
Cohere who can say
- Myung Mi Kim
Begin with the phrase: it’s light outside
with a window, the reshaping of water
to map the shoreline between finger & figure
to say there is so much loss in the current
anchor-ripped coral or coral-ripped hull
adjacent, resolute, an idea preceding vocabulary
the inclination of a knee to bend or body to decay
one would question sleep as one would step
an image, angled—inverted in a spoon
the subject, suspect of syntax
one tests the wind with a finger as a ship settles
between shoreline & the lines on a map
the terms, twinned to coax out meaning
the leakage of water through slats of wood
one must begin with the current, the word cohere
a child who says: the window shows it’s time to get up
Gordon succeeds in searching for the needs of the poem, but when the needs are met the searching continues, Gordon is always casting in every line for a further lure. As the poem indicates, there comes a time when “it’s time to get up.” The poem is forever an indicator in Gordon’s hands, veering away from becoming, pointing towards a furtherance of the act of its own composition rather than existing as a thing itself to be confronted. Whether the book must cohere isn’t what’s at question so much as whether the poems work well on the page and achieve a state of becoming which travels beyond it.
Necessity alone dictates that readers should expect a poet always be on the go, trying on different hats as it were. As Gordon himself says, “being a poet is something that needs to be continually relearned.” This collection publicly bares the early lessons of Gordon teaching himself this rule. It may be that it’s too soon to be unveiling some of these sequences. The best being better suited to appear at a later date with the lesser attempts included here replaced by material yet to come. Perhaps Gordon doesn’t believe in just letting poems get lost and not pushing them into publication. He admits, “I worked for six years on A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow
; some of those poems went through hundreds of drafts.” Whatever the reasons, the volume has a rushed, or perhaps ‘pushed’ is the more proper term, bearing to it. Presented as they are, the poems have a leaned-on atmosphere, as though Gordon has sharpened them to the point where their utility is hampered, and at points, extinguished. +++
[* All quotations of Gordon’s comments are taken from his interview with Joshua Marie Wilkinson published on-line in the Spring ‘07 issue of Rain Taxi.]
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom
, and Red Ant Press among others.
A POETRY BLOG AND TWO CHAPS by SAWAKO NAKAYASU
NICHOLAS GRIDER ReviewsInsect Country (A) by Sawako Nakayasu(Dusie Press, 2006)Insect Country (B) by Sawako Nakayasu(Dusie Press, 2007)Insect Tutelage Blog by Sawako Nakayasu
Though sometimes the miniature narratives that make up Sawako Nakayasu’s ongoing “insect” project (which includes both the two chapbooks reviewed here and on her Insect Tutelage
blog) are compelling and interesting in themselves, what’s most interesting about the project as a whole is Nakayasu’s use of space, time and rhythm between and around the individual poems. There’s no grand narrative or consistent set of characters (except that the pieces mostly have ants or other insects as protagonists) or even a consistent point of view presented by the poems, which forces the reader to either slow down and consider each poem on its own (which is generally worth it) or attempt to find/build an architecture for how these poems fit together other than surface similarity.
There are two points of entry if you’re looking for architecture. The first is the first half of Insect Country (A),
which almost functions as a brief, taut apostrophe to the rest of the poems, and has a distinctly different relationship to rhythm than the other poems, presented as small, justified-margins blocks of prose both in the book and on the blog. Recalling her previous work nothing fictional but the accuracy and arrangement (she, the run-on sentence that leads off Insect Country (A)
is rendered highly rhythmic by its visual arrangement: at one line per small page, the poem rushes across the page, and while there aren’t any line breaks as such, new pages seem like hard enjambments:
A trail of anything – insects, hamburgers, bicycles /// popsicles, miniature lightning bolts, road maps – anything, all of it /// lined up assiduously, all imagining the small of my back, envisioning it, /// bare, exposed to the light, sunlight, moonlight, halogen, florescent, /// all of it –
where something like “lined up” gets special emphasis because of poem/book design and where “all of it” rushes headlong into a blank page, followed in the rest of Insect Country (A)
and all of Insect Country (B)
by recalcitrant and meditative (by comparison) vignettes involving insects that approach but stay a good distance away from the surreal, as in “Parade”:
Today is a unique holiday, commemorated by a parade of black, four-legged stools going down the closed-off street. All the neighborhood ants come out to take a look, most of whom take a very critical stance.
There’s a lot of ambiguity to explore here, not the least of which is the question of whether the stools are anthropomorphized (and if they are, how that frames the anthropomorphosis of the ants and their “critical stance”) and that’s both the charm and the frustration of the remaining poems in both chapbooks: the rush of the opening line/poem creates a kind of vacuum for the other work that can make the poems sometimes seem slight when considered alone but that also prevent the poems from adding up to anything more.
Given the ample demonstration in Nakayasu’s other work that she’s completely masterful at what she’s doing, though, that leads me to Architectural Entry Point #2 – the blog that predates the chapbooks. The easy production of and lack of external editorial control that is part and parcel of the idea of the blog gives the form a bad reputation it doesn’t really deserve. Make what you want of blogs, but the interface architecture of the blog distinguishes it as a form with two primary characteristics: inexorable accumulation and a window/monitor that only permits seeing a small part of the whole at one time. (You could easily argue that a commonplace book or diary—or any book—functions in the same way, but bear with me for a moment.) Nakayasu’s insect work is, in a sense, the perfect “blog” poetry project, and I mean that as a compliment: taken together, the individual pieces add up to a whole in which the quality of addition is important—not just that other poems remain on your mind when you read any given poem, but that each new poem is at once a reworking of and addition to a whole history (or, in this case, country) of insect poems. I’ve been trying to avoid the corny metaphor, here, but when looking at the chapbooks the obvious is, well, obvious: the individual poems, too carefully laid out and thoughtful to be rough fragments, are like so many ants themselves slowly and constantly at work on an anthill constantly in the process of being rebuilt.
Nicholas Grider currently lives in southern California.
TRAFFIC, ISSUES 1 AND 2, Edited by ELIZABETH TREADWELL
PATRICK JAMES DUNAGAN Reviews Traffic: A Publication of Small Press Traffic, Issues 1 and 2, 2005-07, Edited by Elizabeth Treadwell(Small Press Traffic, San Francisco, 2005-07)IT ALL STARTED WAY BACK IN 1974
Theories and opinions about editing a literary journal are diverse, and an ever on-going public discussion continues whenever a new journal starts up. Willingly or not, Traffic
(issues 1 and 2) edited by Elizabeth Treadwell, from out of the Executive Director’s office at Small Press Traffic in San Francisco, has entered into the conversation. And it’s about time, as it is always a pleasure to see signs that a journal is willing to go in more than one direction and not stick to a single content or format from issue to issue. This allows for improvement and surprise, and indeed, the second issue of Traffic
improves upon the first. Treadwell removes a lot of unnecessary front matter and allows the work, itself, to be immediately presented. The first issue reads almost like a high school yearbook when opened, it’s a bit too sweet and friendly in its welcoming the reader in, as well as overgenerous to its cover artist with an extended “Artist’s Statement,” while the second is more professional and serious-looking.
The poems in Issue 1 are, without doubt, its highlights. Stephanie Young’s celebratory “Poem for Small Press Traffic’s 30th Anniversary” opens the “Poetry and Prose” section. Her fast moving inventory of historical reference points from the year of birth she shares with the institution reads like a groovy chuck and jive update of Frank O’Hara. She opens with a list of whom and what else is also born that year:
It’s 1974, quick, you are
getting born, also Leonardo di Caprio
and Jewel. Floppy disk drives, People Magazine,
Dungeons & Dragons, Happy Days, internet,
Institute of Physics Library, Super Pong, Chinatown, Sterling Bank,
Kate Moss, Supermodel! Nobody gets the Pulitzer for fiction or drama but Robert Lowell does.
“Robert Lowell” stands in for “poetry,” as much as he represents what in 1974 was deemed Pulitzer material, things haven’t changed much in 30 years as Young’s poem remind us.
Anne Sexton dies on October 4.
Karen Silkwood dies on November 12.
George W. Bush is discharged from
the U.S. Air Force Reserve. They’re putting
carnations in their guns in Portugal and bombs
go off in pubs, Dublin, the Tower of London, 107 meters
underground, India’s testing a Peaceful Nuclear Explosive.
The beautiful-the famous-the tragic-the corrupt, death and bombs going off, bombs being tested: a dangerous world.
It’s all happening now
Patty Hearst with a rifle in her hands
John Lennon is still alive
the oil embargo is over
Sonny and Cher are over
but the Talking Heads are getting together.
The Ramones are getting together.
Japan is getting together.
Stephanie Young is definitely getting it together. It’s difficult to think of another poem better suited to open what will hopefully be an ongoing enterprise for the organization, “started way back in 1974,” which continues to be an integral force of the experimental poetics community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Young, stepping to as a fresh member, keeps the rhythm of her lines going, the listing of historical births a surprising delight, right up to the end.
Grateful Dead unleashes the wall of sound
the UN grants observer status to the PLO
Rover Thomas and the Krill Kill songs
it all started way back in 1974:
walking for exercise
over 12 million donuts
the Australian Forum for Textile Arts
my Queen collection
the International WONCA news
grass Oil for Men By Javan
the NewMath, where one must be
wary of empty formalism,
by, being, multiplactors.
Following Young, Will Alexander’s dark, surreal testimonial, “The Blood Penguin,” engages in an entirely different manner. “I am the carnivore / the hounded night walker / searching for my wings under scattered glass,” it’s not easy to understand who the person, or thing, Alexander describes is, it’s also not necessary. Alexander is tapping into a powerful, mytho-spiritual force that language yields up from deep within. A global, even inter-stellar, consciousness, “it says / I am of Africa & the sea coast / of Ghana & the Seychelles / of insular breakage near the Azores // yet it states my non-placement / my cavern / my debilitating refuge // not even a dwelling beneath the stars / as etheric camp base on Saturn.” As always with Alexander’s poems, the reader is taken on a thrilling ride of auditory splendor, of which the meaning, perhaps, is not obvious yet the feeling that language is being presented in fresh, world-thought provoking ways refuses denial.
Margaret Christakos’ work displays a playful ease with bringing words together and delighting in the lushness of the evocative phrase, “Tender repartee taunts / if in a cockle is your conch / gush up mister” (“The Groin Area (Wet Version)”). An opening that catches the reader’s attention, if the title didn’t, and her interrogation of the possible acts these phrases capture carries through to the end of the poem,
The groin area wetter to roam
repartee still and tender
such minstrel speech—
shush shush hush
about get else gush on lever us
with several words of advice
gentle shelter overhead:
pear-shaped bulb a pulse
or else no lesser.
It is clear that the intent is not mere titillation.
Small Press Traffic is also supportive of experimental prose writing, the writers involved in events held there, being just that, “writers,” the line between prose and poetry continually blurred. On many occasions this produces a difficult reading to sit through, but when the writing holds the listener’s interest, the evening’s enjoyable. Thankfully, Lise Erdrich’s prose is capable at times of being a good example of the latter. There is the resistance to being classifiable, is this memoir-mini-story-or what?
When my cousins came back once I told them it was easy to see
they were hard-core regulars in here, they were going to be losers
and throw away their opportunity to get an education. They just
laughed and started singing, “Go My Son” but the words were
all changed like, Go my son, leave the reservation, go my son, you’re on
Relocation, go my son, take your medication. Finally we left and started
walking down the street to somebody’s house nearby where there
was a party, like they promised in the first place. This car full of
white people came speeding down the street and they swerved up
alongside us and stuck their heads out the windows and hollered
all at once “HAIRY BUFFALO!” and I thought I was going to be
a hate crime but they kept on going. My cousins explained that we
were being invited to a party.
Erdrich combines a delicate flirtation with amusing aspects of the scene alongside forthright honesty of lines that catch the reader up, “I thought I was going to be a hate crime.” Erdrich keeps her lines clean and crisp, leaving the impression she knows all too well the dangers she addresses and grounds her text in the occasions which inspired the writing of it.
The selection of poems from Mark McMorris’ “Letter for K & Poems for Someone Else,” demonstrate a lyrical drive bent on beauty, caught in the in-between luster of the desire towards the beloved “Other.”
dis poem shall say nothing new
dis poem shall speak of time
The larks animate the morning with their signals
to each other that I overhear and cannot decode
draw me from the doorway to the street, to be one
among several musics that score the city I love.
Today the Lord dies again; a scholar writes in Greek
his story of mystery; the translator comes to Antioch
to start on the final book, the one that was lost for good.
I breathe the same air and sound of voices falling
onto a page that cannot record the thing itself
how your face is close to my thought, as close as a breath
that I still listen to, a translator who keeps very still.
In one or another folio on the shelf, it says that I look
at train schedules and take steps to book your flight
dressed up for a meeting at a café. It is a volume
I want to read at once, to conclude, and start over,
a book that meets a scholar, a scholar that meets a train,
a train that meets a woman, a woman that meets me.
But this poem is like a war that never ends, this poem
has no closure, it unravels as I write, it starts again
on the Pontus Euxine, on an island, and then it says:
An epistolary sequence, as the title indicates, these poems are held in the eternal stasis of lyrical containment. “And then it says:” which is to say, it keeps on going, “this poem has / no closure,” caught up in the swirl of the world “the larks animate.” McMorris, free or not, as any other, acknowledges the poem and moves forward in it. This is the lyric of nostalgia.
Charles Alexander’s “Pushing Water 23 for Jackson Maclow
” is a moving tribute to the recently deceased older poet, structured similar to Maclow’s “Light Poems,” of which, it is reminiscent. The line “the movement of light through a prism
” plays as a refrain throughout, gathering lines to it, almost ceremonially reminding, “it’s all part of the same light / it’s all part of the same light,” becoming a prayer, of sorts, for The Poem continuing past the page becoming The Life, “bloomsday light // French sonnet light // missing the light // beyond the light.”
Robert Fitterman (with David Buuck)’s essay, “Identity Theft: My subjectivity” succeeds in asking lots of good questions, as he states, it is more of “a Q and Q than a Q and A,” and troubles only when he attempts to somewhat provide answers. His acute comments on the fluid sense of identity brought about by aggressive marketing in our ever-increasingly consumer culture of the last three decades is appetizing: “This 70s splintered youth, especially in the suburbs, struggled against and identified with a new consumer culture that was both mercurial and superficial. It was an identity that was carefully engineered by marketing strategist[s] who foresaw the benefits of emptying one identity and refilling it with multiple identities.” Fitterman is accurate in pointing out the potential for a poetics of adaptation based upon a borrowing and blending of subjectivity,
a new prosody in this sense would necessarily mean not only a
rigorous rethinking of formal approaches to the commodity
aesthetics of consumer culture, but also would require a critical
engagement with the actual processes of content-gathering, textual
retrieval, research, culling, etc. What is the relationship between
sources and fragments, and the new forms that (re)articulate them?
How is context established, framed, or ‘staged’? Following Olson,
does our cultural weeding carry with it the soil and roots of historical
sedimentation? (in an active, and not nostalgic or fetishistic way?)
These are great questions, and the potential excitement of a rising generation of young poets already at work with the issues Fitterman raises is strongly apparent. The trouble arises in so far that there is the possible loss of this potential if one loses belief in the actual. Fitterman claims he likes “the personal,” he just doesn’t want it to be his “own,” which is fine, but don’t give up your stake in it. If, truly, “we have experienced the same with the same,” it’s hard to see any reason to bother defending the experience, or sharing it for that matter. Fitterman would do well to find himself an adage, such as, “all pop songs are lies
, but the good
ones you believe
in,” and to trust in feeling, even if it isn’t his own.
Carol Mirakove’s, “Anxieties of Information,” suffers from poor textual formatting. She cites the work of numerous poets, with extended quotations, none of which are indented, making it a challenge in areas to decipher where her commentary picks back up and the work she’s quoting ends. Perhaps this is purposeful, to merge commentary and text, unfortunately it doesn’t work out very well. There is also the distracting nuisance of having the names of the writers she cites printed in bold. It is assumed that this is according to her wishes. If there is a good reason for it, the essay does not reveal it. By the end of reading through this piece, the reader is rather glad to be finished with all the confusion and is slightly annoyed that Mirakove’s “anxieties” have, however briefly, become her own.
There’s very little to be said for “The 10 Minute Hollywood.” This collaborative “play” written by Tanya Brolaski, Brent Cunningham, Dan Fisher, Kelly Holt & Cynthia Sailers, cruises in on the skirts of the now annual Small Press Traffic Poets Theatre and takes advantage of the snide humor towards Hollywood and popular culture that has become de rigeur in the works performed. Kevin Killian’s plays are the best of this style. What you get without his involvement tends towards the juvenile; while amusing in parts, there’s nothing original or worthwhile. This is the kind of writing best kept between friends having some fun, possibly distributed cheaply and on-the-go for distribution among each other and other small communities. It’s strikingly out of place with the best of the work in Traffic
and demonstrative of just how bad the magazine might be without proper editing.
Each issue of Traffic
contains an interview. The first is with poet and editor, Allison Cobb, the second with poet, artist and editor, Yedda Morrison (whose original art, “Bioposy #12,” adorns the cover). Interviews are absolutely necessary documents allowing for discoveries about an artist’s processes and life circumstances which the work does not convey, but relies upon and, often enough, is derived from. In the last decade’s boom of email barrage, an ever greater number of interviews have been published which are, in actuality, email exchange. An email exchange is not an interview, it is a correspondence. Elizabeth Treadwell acknowledges that her “interview” with Morrison occurred via email. Jane Sprague does not state whether or not her “interview” with Allison Cobb took place via email, but it suffers from too few questions and rather long, extended responses which tend to characterize such interactions. Call it old fashioned, but there’s something to sitting down in person with somebody and having a chat which email fails to live up to. Both Morrison and Cobb are doing fairly interesting work, these “interviews” do offer insight into them as individuals, but it would be pleasant to have the opportunity to see the results of a more thorough exchange. Nevertheless, if Cobb and Morrison continue on the paths they’re currently on, producing work that motivates and encourages others, there’s sure to be desire for the information these exchanges contain. Each brings additional value and depth to the individual issue in which it appears.
Issue 2 is chock full of engaging material. One improvement Treadwell has made is the addition of 100 pages over the 124 pages of issue 1, printed in a smaller, more scholarly font, which she then packs with worthwhile poems, essays, and an “Editor’s Forum: On poetry & women’s embodiment.” It’s fair to say that the title of the forum itself is the theme of the issue. All of the work is by women and provides, by example, a counterbalance, as well as response to, many of the statements made in the forum, which focus primarily on the SuicideGirls cover of a recent issue of Fence
and the inclusion of some sexually charged photographs of women in a recent issue of Shiny
. The debate in the forum is both appropriate and necessary. The work in the rest of the issue, when at its best, is inspiring and, at times, daring.
Alice Notley starts the issue off with a generous new selection from “Songs and Stories of the Ghouls: extract from The Book of Dead
.” This is Notley writing in top form. None of this selection appears in her recent new and selected poems, Grave of Light
, which also contains a portion from the same manuscript. The ancient Greek figure, Medea, makes numerous appearances, her story—of murdering her brother for the love of Jason only to later be spurned and murder her own children—gets reworked and inextricably interwoven with that of the narrator:
Medea ran with her children
She fled with them leaving the house where one must
accept the elaborate head in a box with its
silver and turquoise ornamentation as one’s own
civilization. This severed thought will do you good
No we are leaving you. Though it was reported
she killed her children and left alone since that story
took care of all of them. Medea entrusted herself with
the remnants of her culture, in an old box. What was her
culture? You say it was a dream, leading you on
I am the most destructive person alive because I
can’t bear the lies in your heart. Every murder attributed to her
had no victim but feelings, was an assault on the sanctity of your
language covering one with the white shit of pigeons in an airshaft.
Along with Medea, Notley reminds the reader she has “to tell you about ghouls, too.” The ghouls appear frequently and are appropriately, well, “ghoulish.” “In Dead,” which is the state the narrator writes from, everybody’s a ghoul. Turns out ghouls still pay attention to poetic form, all the while retelling Medea’s story, as well as calling their own into being, and the matters of the living don’t drop away.
Why kill anyone? There are much more radical things to do.
I need to write in verse for a moment
effecting a temporary change. Can you
feel it? I’d always rather write a poem.
But I’m shaky, lacking in control. The murder
makes me nervous, this talk of my own death. No,
it’s more that I’m afraid prose won’t go deep enough.
It can’t solve the murder this time; because it didn’t pose
it, the deathly situation, in the first place
Poetry tells me I’m dead; prose pretends I’m not.
And yet I go on in prose.
In Dead, voices have begun to speak to me in old languages: it
sounded like Latin last time. In English a man’s voice said, “The prisons
are fragile.” All the prisons at this time are fragile, that is, the prisons of
form. He said as well, “Move on,” but I translate that as Use the fragility
Though “ghouls are amassing everywhere,” Notley continues to excite with her shifts of imaginary forms. What happens in an Alice Notley line drifts in the reader’s thoughts for days afterwards, there’s no shaking it. As Catherine Wagner notices in her perspective essay, “Leslie Scalapino, Alice Notley, and the Better-World Thought Experiment,” which directly follows the Notley selection, “Both Scalapino and Notley are conscious of the role of language in creating and reinforcing hierarchies and oppressions.” With her “ghouls” Notley continues to wage the good fight in her oh so lovely dark manner.
Joining Notley, Tonya Foster reacts against reinforcements of “hierarchies and oppressions” in the “role of language,” in her own way, posing an explorative experiment with memoir in the section presented here from her “A Mathematics of Chaos: Pay Attention to Where You At.” Several sections of which demonstrate her to be directly in the line of Gertrude Stein. By use of repetitive phrases and words, she opens her text to the free play of sound, making new meaning.
Foster also shares anecdotes from her childhood which demonstrate an early interest and awareness in the flexibility of possible meanings of language. An attention to the fact that it is how words are heard, determines meaning.
Once, my little cousin Amber asked my sister Briana where my sister
Chonda had moved to. “Indiana,” Briana explained. “Indiana?” Amber
responded bewildered. Thinking Briana hadn’t understood her, she
repeated her question. “In di ana,” Briana responded more slowly, in
her careful schoolteacher diction. Amber looked back and forth from
Briana to my sister Deanna. “How can Chonda be in Deanna?” Amber
The pleasure of being playful, yet direct, aware of the various dead end paths which proliferate the further the writing heads into unmapped territory; is the thrill these poets are sharing in. In her own poem, “There’s No Kindness,” Joanna Fuhrman shares her sense of her identity as poet:
in water vapor doing
what I am afraid to be
sure I could write
a love poem and appear
or a business letter,
perfectly adroit, confident
a wingless fly scurrying
over an air conditioner
makes the afternoon
less than praise-worthy
to the fanatically clean,
but not, to me,
a veritable believer
in the inherent
glamour of error
In this “glamour of error” the poet achieves a role distinctly suited to her purposes. Many, if not all, the poets presented, share in a similar sense of purpose when it comes to the activity of writing. Fuhrman’s work totters on the edge of sliding too far over that edge of error, but manages to maintain a somewhat usefulness. Not every poet practicing in this same manner achieves the ability to stay away from the temptation of allowing the lines to wander off into self-indulgent nonsense. Fuhrman shows she has the good sense not to over-reach her abilities.
As Yedda Morrison tells Treadwell, “My poems come mostly from preoccupations with structures of power, from personal weaknesses, mass media addictions, points of desire and confusion.” It does not belittle the work to admit things which are true. Nada Gordon’s ecstatic “I LOVE MEN,” teases the tension of being radical, experimental, and feminist, with a boisterous ironic shout, “I wrote the meanest, silliest thing below about men. I’m so sorry. Please ignore. / Anyway, here’s why I love men. They are brave. I love men’s thighs, their hands; the small of their necks; I love men.” What makes Gordon’s poem work is that she truly does know what men love. She compiles a list that seduces as much as it scathes, “I love men for their strength. Sometimes it is that vein that bulges on the upper part… I love men for the way they give up everything but themselves for love. / I love men with big penis… and I love men’s hair.” She’s playful and jabbing,
Urgh, I love men with top hats and beautifully tailored tuxedos and immaculately polished shoes. I Love Men In Uniform I Love Men In Uniform Charm. I Love Firemen I Love Firemen Charm.
I love men in turbans.
I love men who wear fishnet and skirts. It’s just downright sexy,
I love men staring from buses in the next lane. Sometimes, my boyfriend will make me go out in a miniskirt without panties to go on an escalator.
I Love Men in Boots! That’s a whole lotta boots!
I love men, but they wear me out with all their confusing issues. One day
they say they love you and the next they see someone with a bigger ass.
I love men, muscles, sex, porn, and chocolate.
I love Men on Prozac. I love men on Prozac with their calm, James Dean
smiles and dreamy novelist eyes.
Of course I love men of all races…but, I have to admit I am completely
fascinated by Asian men. Japanese, Chinese, Korean…I love it all.
I love men. They are energetic, great at fetching and I love them. Darlings,
I love men, especially when they are silent, beautiful and have no panties.
I LOVE WIENERS And Jewels I love men Money Power And I love my sex Me and My sex And I love my sex Only Me and My sex La la la la la
la la la la..
Gordon acknowledges and confronts the ludicrousness of the Male gender at large. And she does so with glee: “I LOVE MEN!!! I LOVE MEN!!! I LOVE MEN!!!” There’s no blaming her.
At the heart of Issue 2, and a gem of an example of possible promise in the future for any “new poetics,” is Alicia Cohen’s “Lyric Creatures: New poetics and the Animal,” her exploration of various avenues available to poets via closer examination of the manner of communication between animals is precise and, on the whole, entirely heart-warming. Cohen grounds her argument in the philosopher Levinas:
According to Levinas, western metaphysics commits an ethical violence
against “being” because it approaches the world like a hunter who
demands of all things Reveal yourself to me. I will understand you, grasp
you. The violence of metaphysics is hidden beneath a cloak of scholarly
quiet and a kind of worldly remove but knowing the world, according to
Levinas, is always a predatory mode in which revelation is ultimately a
means to seize, control, and subjugate what is known. An ethical
philosophy, for Levinas, cannot involve a demand like: reveal yourself. An
ethical approach to being involves instead the offer of a greeting as a means
of opening a conversation. In this approach to knowing “what is” one
recognizes and respects the autonomy, the radical alterity, which is the face
of the Other. The philosopher in this approach does not expect (ever) to
penetrate, reveal, and grasp “what is” or the Other’s otherness. What is left
is the possibility of conversation. A conversation in which one is beholden
to the Other.
Cohen continues, describing how, for herself, “Poetry doesn’t serve to penetrate, reveal, or grasp otherness. Rather, it creates a space in which otherness can move— a place in which one can greet and open to and share a space with otherness.” Cohen is arguing for poets to find it worthwhile to look towards animal communication as a means of liberating the imagination.
William Carlos Williams, in his original preface to Kora in Hell, posed a similar possibility, citing St. Francis of Assisi,
I should like to make St. Francis of Assisi the patron saint of the United
States, because he loved the animals. The birds came to him not for
wheat but to hear him preach. Even the fish heard him.
The columns of the trees in his forests were a lesson to him; he looked
up between them and mingled with the animals as an equal.
Williams adds, “Nor do I think it is especially recorded that St. Francis tried to make the sparrows Christians. When the service was over each beast returned to his former habits.” Assisi did not convert animals to his own means. He did not attempt to exert control over them, so they were relaxed and comfortable in his presence. Assisi’s removal of his own interests aligns with Cohen’s own writing habits. As she states, “When I go to write I sit and just open to whatever moves through me to write. I try to follow what the writing has to tell me rather than use the writing as a mode of willed articulation.” Cohen is chasing down a means to imbibe the writing of poetry with a fresh perspective that challenges, and adds to, the preconceptions which grounded past poetics. Her pursuit contributes an approach that is both a wonder and a necessity as it rises above the squabbling connected with the numerous poetry scenes and settings of today’s world, not to mention the ludicrous violence of mistaken governments.
It is to be hoped that there will be many future issues of Traffic
, the material getting better and better, as each issue continues to allow for change of direction and consistent striving after the best work happening in the contemporary moment. If Treadwell sets her sights right, she’ll broaden the net of potential contributors and keep up with a wide range of substance and format of the work presented. Transcription of panel discussions, for instance, whether they occur on the premises of SPT or not, would be terrific to see appear. Perhaps most promising about her editorial work so far is her ability not to lapse into merely publishing the work of readers from the SPT reading series, but continually reaching for examples from beyond immediate quarters. Subscriptions (faculty and librarians of Poetry Special Collections, take note—your library is lacking without Traffic) and/or memberships to Small Press Traffic
(which include a copy of Traffic
) are recommended as means to ensure the venture stays afloat.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom
, and Red Ant Press among others.