ISSUE NO. 6
May 24, 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
Brenda Iijima reviews CONCORDANCE
by Mei-mei Berssenbruge with art by Kiki Smith
J.O. LeClerc reviews LUNCH POEMS
by Frank O'Hara
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews INSTAN
by Cecilia Vicuna
Monica McFawn reviews CHANCE
by Daniel Becker
James Owens reviews BORN IN UTOPIA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ROMANIAN POETRY
, Edited by Carmen Firan and Paul Doru Mugur with Edward Foster
Tim Peterson reviews NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY
by Thomas Fink
Andrea Baker reviews NECESSARY STRANGER
by Graham Foust
Theresa Tensuan reviews UPROCK HEADSPIN SCRAMBLE AND DIVE and AMERICAN KUNDIMAN
by Patrick Rosal
Tyrone Williams reviews NEGATIVITY
by Jocelyn Saidenberg
Ivy Alvarez reviews UNBOUND & BRANDED
by Christine Stewart-Nuñez
Eileen Tabios reviews POET’S BOOKSHELF: CONTEMPORARY POETS ON BOOKS THAT SHAPED THEIR ART
Edited by Peter Davis
Chris Pusateri reviews PICTURE OF THE BASKET
by Sarah Mangold and NEW COURIERS by Dana Ward
Eileen Tabios—and Denise Levertov—review IN A DYBBUK’S RAINCOAT: COLLECTED POEMS BY BERT MEYERS
Edited by Morton Marcus and Daniel Meyers
Patrick James Dunagan reviews ABSURD GOOD NEWS
by Julien Poirier
William Allegrezza reviews EMPTIED OF ALL SHIPS
by Stacy Szymaszek
Alexander Dickow reviews THE BIRD HOVERER
by Aaron Belz
Thomas Fink reviews I'M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU
by Amy King
Lisa Factora-Borders reviews A SLICE OF CHERRY PIE
Edited by Ivy Alvarez
Alexander Dickow reviews FLOWERS OF BAD: A FALSE TRANSLATION OF CHARLES BAUDELAIRE’S LES FLEURS DU MAL
by David Cameron
Eileen Tabios reviews WALKING THEORY
by Stephen Vincent
Celia Homesley reviews ORIGINAL GREEN
by Patricia Carlin
Eileen Tabios reviews THE IMMACULATE AUTOPSY
by Todd Melicker
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews BRAIDED RIVER: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1965-2005 and GUESTS OF SPACE
by Anselm Hollo
William Allegrezza reviews WATCHWORD
by William Fuller
Monica Fawn reviews BETWEEN THE ROOM AND THE CITY
by Erica Bernheim
Eileen Tabios reviews FORTY-FIVE
by Frieda Hughes
Laurel Johnson reviews SKIRT FULL OF BLACK
by Sun Yung Shin
Pamela Hart reviews CASE SENSITIVE
by Kate Greenstreet
Eileen Tabios reviews THE JUROR
by George Dawes Green
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews A STRANGE ARRANGEMENT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
by C.J. Allen
Frank Gampietro reviews THE HUMBLE TRAVELOGUES OF MR. IAN WORTHINGTON (WRITTEN FROM LAND AND SEA)
by Sandra Simonds
Derek Motion reviews PEEL ME A ZIBIBBO
by Pam Brown
Ernesto Priego reviews MORTAL
by Ivy Alvarez
Jeannine Hall Gailey reviews MORTAL
by Ivy Alvarez
Eileen Tabios reviews WHAT'S THE MATTER
by Jordan Stempleman
Addie Tsai reviews THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST: THE COLLECTED POEMS, COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED Edited by Edward Connery, COLLECTED POEMS 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott, and WHAT THE TWILIGHT SAYS: ESSAYS BY DEREK WALCOTT
Eileen Tabios reviews LITTLE WAR MACHINE
by M Sarki
Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews BECOMING THE VILLAINESS
by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Ivy Alvarez reviews from A BANNER YEAR
by Kate Colby
Eileen Tabios reviews PARTS OF THE JOURNAL: NIGHT
by Richard Lopez
Julie R. Enszer reviews FALLING INTO VELAZQUEZ
by Mary Kaiser
William A. Sylvester reviews SOMEHOW
by Burt Kimmelman
Eileen Tabios reviews POETRY DAILY ESSENTIALS 2007
Edited by Diane Boller and Don Selby
Julie R. Enszer reviews THE GREAT CANOPY
by Paula Goldman
Fionna Donney Simmonds reviews THE TAR PIT DIATOMS by Sandra Simonds, OTAGES by John Bloomberg-Rissman, and ISHMAEL AMONG THE BUSHES by William Allegrezza
Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor reviews KOOL LOGIC: LA LOGICA KOOL
by Urayoan Noel
Laurel Johnson reviews WHITHER NONSTOPPING
by Harriet Zinnes
Mark Young reviews THE BEAUTIFUL DAYS
by A.B. Spellman
Sandy McIntosh reviews SAINTS OF HYSTERIA, A HALF-CENTURY OF COLLABORATIVE AMERICAN POETRY
, Edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, and David Trinidad
Appendix Article to Review of SAINTS OF HYSTERIA
: “Filmmaking with Norman Mailer and Ilya Bolotowsky”
by Sandy McIntosh FEATURE ARTICLES
Nicholas Manning on "A Worldly Country by Young Up-And-Comer John Ashbery"
Addie Tsai on “’The Hairy Caterpillar’: An Exploration of Image” FROM OFFLINE TO ONLINE: REPRINTED REVIEWS
Joyelle McSweeney reviews LILYFOIL + 3 and CHANTRY
by Elizabeth Treadwell
Craig Perez reviews composite. diplomacy.
by Padcha Tuntha-Obas
Thomas Fink reviews THE AFTER-DEATH HISTORY OF MY MOTHER
by Sandy McIntosh
Eileen Tabios reviews CORNUCOPIA
by Jukka-Pekka KervinenBACK COVERSelf-Explanatory
We are delighted to welcome the summer with Galatea Resurrects' (GR)
sixth issue. I never expected this project to last this long. But it's fitting since Poetry is timeless, which is why GR
is open to reviews of all poetry projects and not just new releases -- an invitation taken to heart by J.O. LeClerc's review of the oldest book to be reviewed to date by GR
: Frank O'Hara's 1964 collection, LUNCH POEMS
is an all-volunteer operation--and I'm delighted its momentum continues to be healthy, as shown by the following stats:Issue 1:
27 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)
Of these 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 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 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 easily make corrections to the engagements.
And then there's the GR
constituency who reads each issue as a metaphor for my dogs' lives. Well, the latest is that, here in wine country, I've began to consider labels for my future Galatea wines. In the wonderful tradition of Mouton Rothschild offering the images of artists on their labels
(and Tsk, tsk, by the way, to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco for censoring Balthus), what would you think of this image of Moi and Achilles, painted by Clare Rojas
Achilles really does paw at my hand like that! So that would be the front label. And on the back? But of course, poems! Would have to be short poems, perhaps the hay(na)ku.
But poems for sure! Meanwhile, here is Achilles chasing Gabriela through the vineyard--ah, the ecstasy of happy dawgs!
Dog Poetics really is relevant to Galatea Resurrects
. Because dogs are pure Love.
With much Love, Fur and Poetry,
St. Helena, CA
May 24, 2007
CONCORDANCE by MEI-MEI BERSSENBRUGGE and KIKI SMITH
BRENDA IIJIMA ReviewsCONCORDANCE with poems by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and art by Kiki Smith(Kelsey Street Press, Berkeley, 2006)
The book’s face is a 9’x 9’ square with a painted owl visage on sandy colored ground. A bush-like mound, fully frontal with a penetrating (not ominous—sad, perhaps) stare in indigo ink and dull gold is how the owl is rendered. Concordance
, the title falls simply across the upper top portion of the book while at the bottom, camouflaged within the owl’s feathers are the names Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Kiki Smith. The back cover is a mirror image of the art work found on the front cover, except that the owl is now positioned more to the left side and is cropped slightly. Press information, an isbn number and the price are now nestled within the owl’s feathers.Concordance
opens up with this dedication: “for the frogs and the toads”. I don’t think this is merely whimsy. Toads and frogs and canaries in the coal mine warn of impending environmental issues. Toads and frogs are particularly sensitive to toxic chemicals that have been released into the ecosphere—they are the first to show signs of disease and distress. Eleni Stecopoulos’s insightful talk: Composition by Electromagnetic Field: Weiner, Berssenbrugge, and the Poetics of Sensitivity
which she presented at the CUNY Conference on Contemporary Poetry
in November, 2005 highlighted the ways in which Berssenbrugge as a poet registers the unseen but bodily experienced presence of chemical disturbances as she moves within various environments. Substance is chemical and biological systems interact and are in flux with these components. The mind and the body are nothing more: chemical substances within biological systems, interactive, or?. These substances, in particular formations are able to generate the imaginative thought patterns and bodily expressions humans have. Substances flowing within and among substances—this is our condition. Our membranes are permeable. (It is interesting to contemplate how history can be understood (or is understood) chemically.)Concordance
is a book conjoining two artists and contains two works plus the visual responses that accompany these poetic texts. “Concordance” is the first section and is printed on a slightly thinner, stiff, sand colored paper that the cover is printed on. The second piece in the book is titled “Red Quiet” and is printed on a vibrant red, soft, slightly translucent rice paper without drawings by Smith. This is how “Concordance” begins:
“Writing encounters one who
does not write and I don’t try
for him, but face-to-face draw
you onto a line or flight like a
brake that may be extended,
the way milkweed filling space
above the field is ‘like’ reading.”
The words are enigmatic and ethereal but also, connected to terrestrial happening— immediacies. The enigmatic and ethereal have to do with the internalizations, transformations of thought, recalibrations that happen between outside and inside. The traceries of sight are both artists’ gestures. Tugs of animal, mineral and spirit. “Writing encounters one who does not write”—is this a reference to the owl, does the owl allude to infancy and pre-cultural states? The ever presently returning query: Nature ? Culture? Culture? Nature?
“Then it’s possible to undo
misunderstanding from inside
by tracing the flight or thread of
empty space running through
things, even a relation that’s
Where do the aporias form—in the gap between speech and language? On the boundaries of semantics, semiotics, as objects meet up with materiality? When meanings become malleable through time and space? Between the space of the personal and the social—an irreconcilable space where the social can never quite fully account for all that is personal and visa versa? Between what is animal and that space that is thought of as other and in addition: humanism (is there such a space, really?)? Or is it within imagination, where a concrete term can have burgeoning additional, connective meanings? In these unspeakable, transcendent situations the world fluctuates. Perhaps, in these unmentionable but fertile zones concepts are formed—temporary crystallizations out of mutable ground.
“Seeds disperse in summer air.
Sunrays cease to represent parallel
passages in a book, i.e., not coming
from what I see and feel
Relation is in the middle, relay,
flower description to flower
becoming of the eye between light
Kiki Smith’s drawings are tiles. If the book were dissembled and arranged edge to edge, a single image would emerge except that the images are printed on front and back sides making this physically impossible—they can’t be re-arranged like a Rubik’s Cube. There is a witty placement within the book. The image that follows the table of contents is a detail of a frond. At the very bottom of the page there is the same texture as that of the owl’s head. On turning a couple of pages, the owl indeed shows up—with the top portion of its head cropped. So the book introduces the visual world from top down. The images are animal, particle and vegetal. A human hand reaches for a milkweed pod. Ants crawl over flower sepals. An iconic bird (not the owl), a dove is a curvaceous shape that breaks up the square page. A frog shows up in the middle of the book. There isn’t a boundary separating the animal from the human.
“Warmth, which was parallel, moves
across the shard, smoothes and makes
it porous, matter breath, light
materializing dear ants and dear words.”
What does this have to with animals: animals who engage in language acts and those that are seen as not able to engage? As Giorgio Agamben points out, “Animals are not in fact denied language; on the contrary, they are always and totally language. In them la voix sacrée de la terre ingénue
(the sacred voice of the unknowing earth—which Mallermé, hearing the chirp of a cricket, sets against the human voice as une
(one and indivisible)—knows no breaks or interruptions. Animals do not enter language, they are already inside it. Man, instead, by having an infancy, by preceding speech, splits this single language and, in order to speak, has to constitute himself as the subject of language—he has to say I. Thus, if language is truly man’s nature (and nature, on reflection, can only mean language without speech, génesis synechés
, ‘continuous origin’, by Aristotle’s definition, and to be nature means being always-already inside language), then man’s nature is split at its source, for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse.” (Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience,
p. 59) And Agamben goes on to state that this discontinuity and difference is what institutes historicity. And, stated in a slightly different way Judith Butler contends, “The ‘I’ emerges as a deliberating subject only once the world has appeared as a countervailing picture, an externality to be known and negotiate at an epistemological distance. (Giving an Account of Oneself,
p. 110-111) Yes, it seems, a mirror so often gets in the way—of continuousness!
“Since animals don’t judge, their
evolving cosmic skills are a source
of richness for us.”
For Berssenbrugge there is concordance—with animals, when humans, in a tentative, dissipating (now a definitive creative act) can be seen as animals. The dynamic shifts when humans claim otherwise and gain additional power by separating themselves out of the continuum. With genocides and mass extinctions happening at unprecedented, accelerating speeds, these understandings are vital to consider.
“Color is a mirror where we see
ourselves with living things, scarlet
neck feathers, infant asleep across
your heart, like-to-like.
Attention gives light shine on a
baby’s calf; as he hears what I say,
I become that.
‘Red Quiet’ is the pulmonary interior—what surges through: psychic states, ghost particles, words spoken, vibrations, sex, love, floral blossoms. This sequence at first seems to me to be more intense because of the experience of reading text against glowing red (almost damp) paper; my body response to the color saturation. The tone of this poem is slightly more confrontational than the opening sequence—intensified by this heightened presentation. The poem begins with eye contact and how this will feed awareness—human to human.
“I look into his eyes and feel my
awareness expand to contain what he
will tell me, as if what he says is a
photography of landscape and in my
mind will be a painting of “Hill,”
“Part of the Cliffs,” “Purple Hills.”
These words are the opposite of
Here, vulnerability unravels: impression on impression. “Listeners, like water, resonate dread/in a blue vase, in glasses. There is ever so slightly a register of claustrophobia whereas; in the opening sequence there was expansiveness: the open, the outside while also being inside too: wave lengths of music emanating, dream visions. “Red maintains a strong impression/of the body, while consciousness/flows along its inner images.” The reader suddenly is without tangible imagery (Kiki Smith’s). Now mind and body generate images from our insides; it is a startling transition. “I send out an emotion of warmth,/welcome, the way scientists erase/sound with sound.” This move of articulation from visual to verbal is an intense shrinking and an act of concentration. This is the domesticated (acculturated) space of standardization, yet the imagination flourishes here (also).
The way these two texts are presented shakes up Western notions of time. Time is not separate, acting on its own accord. It is tied up to situation, to atmosphere. Each inference is a revolving universe that brushes up against other inferences but they are all one time. Time isn’t an arrow. Time isn’t a point along a path. It is incidence and inference, a morphic field, a reoccurrence and a resonance. “Friends witnessing grief enter your/consciousness, illuminating your form, so quiet comes.” Seeing is conducted with feeling; here the poetic is not privileged over lived occurrence. History is not supplanting the lived (this need not be paradoxical). And too, time buds and saturates as if osmosis, mitosis. An instance in/of time shifts (in and out and among) space (s), shape shifts out of the sheath imposed on by the Greeks, [periechón
]. The eye is no longer the dominant eye witness position—Berssenbrugge reveals an immersive eco body sensorium and maybe there isn’t all word to represent this perceptive stance.
Brenda Iijima is the author of Around Sea
(O Books). Animate, Inanimate Aims
is forthcoming from Litmus Press in May, 2007 and Eco Quarry Bellwether
will be released this summer from Outside Voices. Lately she has been working with sound artist Austin Publicover to produce Council of Worms
, a collaborative cd. She lives in Brooklyn, NY where she runs Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs.
LUNCH POEMS by FRANK O'HARA
J.O. LECLERC ReviewsLunch Poems by Frank O’Hara(The Pocket Poets Series # 19, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1964)A Retrospective Appreciation
I was born in 1946 -- 20 years after the poet Frank O’Hara’s birth, and a year or so after O’Hara served as a Sonarsman aboard the destroyer USS Nicholas in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. During my early childhood, O’Hara attended Harvard on the GI Bill, roomed with Edward Gorey, met a guy named John Ashbury, and published some of his poems in The Harvard Advocate
About the time my family moved to Roslyn, New York (about an hour from Manhattan via Northern Boulevard), and my father was teaching me how to play Catch, O’Hara got his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Michigan (my late sister Carol took her Masters at Ann Arbor about 10 years later).
In the fall of ‘51, O’Hara moved to Manhattan with his friend and lover Joseph LeSeur. After settling into his new apartment, Frank got a gig working the front desk at The Museum of Modern Art. By the time I got my first pair of glasses, and the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series, Frank O’Hara’s brilliant career was well underway.
O’Hara was a man of energy, intellect, wit, and warmth. He made friends with hundreds of the flowering petals that populated the wild, beautiful, effulgent garden of art that was Fifties New York. That was the City of Abstract Expressionism and its spark points: The Janis Gallery, The Cedar Tavern, the lofts of Lower Broadway, Duane Street, and Coenties Slip (there was no SOHO, no TRIBECA in them thar days). Among that crowd, O’Hara had friends like Bill DeKooning, Joan Mitchell, and Larry Rivers. Painter/Horn man Rivers connected O’Hara to Big Apple Jazz and its great downtown haunts: The Village Vanguard, The Half-Note, The Five Spot. From O’Hara’s "The Day Lady Died"
…, I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with
her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
The last five lines of the poem live as elegy and homage to the great Billie Holiday. O’Hara saw her in her decline -- drug and booze wasted. Fated to die under police arrest in a lonely hospital bed.
But the preceding 25 lines tell about a day in New York City -- Mid July -- 1959 (the baseball Giants and the Dodgers have skipped to California since O’Hara has found his rightful home in Gotham). Shortly after noon, O’Hara gets a shoeshine (men did that in New York then) because he’s got a train to catch later on in the afternoon. He walks muggy streets and gets a hamburger and a malted (no fast food franchises then -- just Horn & Hardart’s Automats and Luncheonettes, and their poor cousins “Greasy Spoons“ -- otherwise you went to a “real” restaurant. He buys a literary magazine formatted in paperback book style called “New World Writing” -- he wants to know what the writers in Ghana are doing (magazines like that no longer exist, but then, neither does Frank O’Hara). He goes to a bank and then to a little bookstore The Golden Griffin
. He buys a gift book for “Patsy” by Verlaine, with drawings by Bonnard.
He also considers books by Hesiod, Jean Genet, and the then darling of the White Horse Tavern, Brendan Behan (people still read Hesiod and Genet, but Behan’s up yours boyo charms are now faded Irish mist). The death of Billie Holiday becomes the catalytic center of whirling, spindrift memories. Memories of 1959 imprinted like the images of Bogart and Veronica Lake recall the ambience of the Forties. As the image of Louise Brooks makes vivid the now historical 1920s.
Prior to his military experience, O’Hara was a conservatory trained pianist. He would remain an excellent musician all of his life. He wrote articles for Art News
in its glory days. The magazine contained scintillant essays and beautiful reproductions on the art of Pompeii, the Venetian Masters, and the Avant-Garde that found its true home and sanctuary in O’Hara’s New York. The “Avant-Garde” has long since transmogrified into “New Products” from corporate brain trainers, but when O’Hara lived, Jackson Pollock flung his articulate skeins of “energy made visible” (O‘Hara wrote a great monograph on Pollock -- one of Braziller’s Great American Artists Series
) , John Cage made silence audible, “Modern Dance” met “Off-Broadway Theatre” met “Free Jazz” met “The New York Poets” met “Abstract Painters Painting Stage Sets”. The magnetic draw of New York was felt throughout the United States. Three Tulsa school buddies from Oklahoma came to the Apple to meet O‘Hara. Ted Berrigan - who would himself become a major figure in the downtown poetry scene - spread the “I do this, I do that” Gospel according to Frank. Okie Ron Padgett also saw O’Hara as a mentor and went on to a distinguished career as a poet and translator. Joe Brainard, whose 30 image cover for the 70th Anniversary Issue of Art News
is a masterwork of modernist iconography, would find his footing with O’Hara and become one of the great draughtsmen, collagist, and set designers of his time. O’Hara was also a playwright, and Brainard designed sets for him.
In 1960, Frank O’Hara was made Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. In September of 1960, I became a Freshman at Roslyn High School (four years behind Roslyn Basketball hero, Mike Crichton -- another guy bound for Harvard. Crichton didn’t shine in college hoops, but he did graduate Summa Cum Laude, was Phi Beta Kappa and became an M.D. He also guest lectured on Anthropology at Cambridge. As I write this review, Crichton has written 25 successful novels and has established himself as a film and television director and producer. He never became a Doctor, but he did create ER
One of Crichton’s classmates was my buddy Bill Miller’s brother Chris. He went to Dartmouth. A sentimental education in New Hampshire turned out to be lucrative for Chris Miller. Based on his rowdy college experiences, he wrote the screenplay for a movie called Animal House
. As far as I know, the party is still going on (Chris was Dartmouth Class of ‘62). Little did J.O. know that the tall guy and his pal’s brother were destined to be Titans of Pop Culture -- But Freshman LeClerc (very shy with all those strange but very desirable creatures in mini-skirts) had found a passion that he could
put his hands on. His first high school sweetheart was Poetry
Rather than study my Algebra and Russian (Cold War at the Freezing Stage), I buried my myopic head in Oscar Williams’ anthologies and tried to stop thinking about GIRLS (!) But the babes were in Oscar’s books too! Willie Yeats was tortured forever by his obsession -- Maud! Lorca (I didn’t know then the guy was gay. I did
know he was great
). The first poem of Lorca’s that knocked me out was "Preciosa" and the "Wind". The wind was howlin’ in the moonlight for Preciosa. She ran to the English Consul’s house. Preciosa wept and told her woes to her British protectors. But the wind was still bangin’ on the Brit’s White Towers. I knew
how Preciosa felt. But I knew how the wind felt too.
‘Twas Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens that truly made me think poesy was the cat‘s pajamas. Pound’s Canto II
(“Hang it all Robert Browning, etc”) and Steven’s Peter Quince at the Clavier
-- which had to do with Susanna and the Elders (The story from the Apocrypha -- but you knew that) both blew me away with their word magic. I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were about -- but -- that didn’t matter!
What mattered was the magic -- and I was on it like a hound dog on a fox.
My curiosity in things poetic, musical, and erotic compelled me to get on a Long Island Railroad train and get off at Penn Station (that’s 34th Street for you outtatowners). I would hang around midtown and go to movies like All Fall D
own with Beatty and Saint, or Cape Fear
with Mitchum and Peck, or La Notte
with Moreau, Mastroianni, and Vitti.
From O’Hara’s "Ave Maria"
Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what
you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing
My soul grew with the silvery images of Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player
, Pasolini’s Accattone
, Hitchcock’s Marnie
. And the plastic bonk honk of Ornette Coleman’s Doctored Sax with Don Cherry (he of Oklahoma City) on Pocket Trumpet. The Stones roll in not to fade away (not gently into that Good). Trane and Eric WAIL at Philharmonic Hall on New Year’s Eve, 1963 -- and while they play India
, I’ve got my raven-haired long-legged GIRL FRIEND(!) sitting next to me. Just short of two months before, the day I’m supposed to play Lysander in The Royal Crown Players Production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream
, a guy blows Jack Kennedy’s brains out in Dallas. Welcome to The United States of America.
A month before Marnie
, I graduate (thanks to Dexedrine and the Biology Regents Exam) with an Academic Diploma from Roslyn High School. I head to Manhattan and sublet an apartment on West 10th right across the street from The Ninth Circle bar
. My roomie is Chris Miller’s brother Bill. Within days we transform a sparkling little pied-à-terre into an animal house. Bob Dylan sings “Hey Mr, Tambourine Man” at Newport. My father gets an executive management gig out in LA with Capitol Records. The summer is very hot. My hair grows to a length midway between Mick’s and Brian’s. Come September, LBJ sends me a letter that says “Greetings”. Wham Bam Vietnam.
Remember, this is the “Make Love, Not War” generation. Unlike Lee Marvin, Paul Newman, Neville Brand, and Frank O’Hara, a lot of us long-haired fair-skinned rockers were not buying into The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or The Domino Theory. A lot of crew cut white boys and many, many of the Brothers y Los Hermanos joined up for the jungle rumble. But we had guitars, Marine Band Blues Harps, and sparkle red drum kits. Women tend to like musicians. Later for you, Lyndon. Hello Christie, Ginny, Patti D., Francesca, Michelle, Elaine, Kelly, Faith, Muffy and Rachel. My buddy Bill splits to Utica College (Jesus!) I move to Alphabet City and start playin out with my pal Wes (Guitar & Harp -- Blues, Blues, Blues). We’re hanging out at the Village Gate one Friday night and two of Les Femmes known to us come in with Brian Jones and Bill Wyman. I wind up in an all-night loft party jam with Wyman and a great, now not much remembered guitar player named Sandy Bull. Wyman has small hands, black leather chaps, and an amazing sense of pitch. We play R&B till the moon goes down.
What I describe above are not simply recollections of reckless youth. It’s a time of tectonic shift. The Beau Monde that O’Hara entered with the best possible preparation has now been rent five ways crossways blind by Presidential murder and a vain, and, therefore, doubly immoral war. O’Hara’s conservatory life, his service on a U.S. destroyer, his adventuring years at Harvard, at Ann Arbor, his arrival for Autumn in New York, his glory entry level job at MOMA -- all of that was now impossible for the youngbloods of my generation. There would be no April in Paris after the Battle of the Ardennes.
Toxic racial fumes explode. Watts. The welfare scramble to New York and the destruction of black families and black baptist churches. Martin and Malcolm both know they’re in somebody’s cross-hairs. “We Shall Overcome” is now not heard above the noise of urban collapse. The community of jazz masters becomes a battleground. Furious Black music counters the sterilities of peau blanc serialism and an end to a belief in “Europe” as the center of World culture. O’Hara’s world -- still grand enough to fill his senses -- is beginning to deflate. JFK (and “Jackie”) gone. And with them, gone is the world of Pablo Casals at the White House. Gone the progressive cadence of ‘racial integration”.
The Art Market is still huge -- but “Art” starts its retreat from the center of American life. Arthur Miller tucked away comfortably in Connecticut, Tennessee Williams drugged and drug down in Key West. “Broadway Drama” is becoming just another cracked and curling sepia photograph.
Here’s a connective to the good young days: Frank the aesthete par excellence contemplating a saw mill. If O’Hara’s in the woods, can Frost be far behind?
From O’Hara’s "Poem En Forme De Saw"
if I stay right here I will eventually get into the
like Robert Frost
willow trees, willow trees they remind me of Desdemona
I’m so damned literary
and at the same time the rivers rushing past remind
me of nothing
Willow trees as Othello’s wife. Tragic? Strangled by Iago’s inexorable hatred? Such are the rushing rivers of Frank O’Hara’s meditations. Tumbling over the rocks and timber of last night’s cocktail party thoughts. As the sixties start to become “The 60s”, Hartigan and Frankenthaler are paid less attention. Warhol and his Factory workers will labor at the marriage of beauty and Capital. Donald Judd will have us contemplate the Isness of blonde wood, of aluminum geometry spray-coated with industrial hues.
I formed a Rock and Roll Band in 1965 (just like 10,000 other young men and women did). We recorded Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?
And Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me
at a NYC recording studio for Chess Records. Somewhere black vinyl discs step down their half-lifes. We rejected the contract that Chess offered us. Our drummer was busted and strung out. We re-grouped. Somewhere we recorded a song about astronauts called Gemini Blues
. Twang, bang and Gus Grissom sleep in the black platter mystery tomb. That group broke up. I studied jazz piano with John Mehegan and Lucia Fitzpatrick. One day, Marian McPartland showed me how to play Willow Weep for Me
. I started working blue collar. I was thinking about going to Mexico.
In the wee hours of July 24th, 1966, Frank O’Hara stood still as a beach buggy drove toward him. O’Hara didn’t move. The buggy didn’t stop. Frank died the next day. He was 40 years old. I was 19 -- going off on a tear.
From O’Hara’s "Five Poems"
I seem to be defying fate, or am I avoiding it?
I have made some progress in life -- and I have been lost in dark woods. I’ll always have the poetry of Frank O’Hara in my heart.
J.O. LeClerc is a writer and musician who lives in the Hudson River Valley.
INSTAN by CECILIA VICUÑA
JOHN BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN reviews:Instan by Cecilia Vicuña (Kelsey St. Press, 2002)
- When a girl is born, her mother puts a spider in her hand, to teach her to weave. (Cecilia Vicuna, “The Glove”)
- According to E. A. Wallis Budge (The Gods of the Egyptians) the root of the word for weaving and also for being are the same: nnt.
The Kelsey St. Press press release for Cecilia Vicuña’s Instan
as “a long poem, a series of drawings, a fable, a multilingual dictionary …”. That’s as good a place to start as any. But who familiar with Vicuña’s work would expect anything less than something that ignores as many boundaries as it can? As Lucy Lippard notes “Vicuña has never accepted the boundaries between cultural disciplines, creating a terrain of her own in the interstices …” One of her earliest works is dated 1966, a tiny precario
in which a circle, a spiral and other lines have been traced in sand, surrounded by upright sticks and feathers and bits of ice plant that look to my eyes a little like waving (or drowning) hands. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this “earthwork” (in this context, at least) is that laid into the circle is a circlet of what appears to be hair or thread.
In her “autobiography in debris”, quipoem
, the image of this work is preceded by an even earlier work: three pages that look remarkably like the drawings in the first section of Instan
. A drawn line (a thread?) precedes from the outer margin of the first of these three pages through the typeset words “the quipu that remembers nothing, an empty cord”, through the gutter onto page two, then as it approaches the outer margin of the second page begins to loop itself into letters (“is the core”), to resume at the outer margin of the third page after a brief moment with the typeset “the heart of memory”. The line continues on into the gutter of page three.
The line – or thread – connects. In 1990 Vicuña wrote a piece called “Connection”, which she defines as “the art of joining, union / from ned
: to bind, to tie / … / Old English: net
/ Latin: nodus
/ knot”. She goes on to quote David Brower: “The earth is dying because people don’t see the connections”; Rene Guenon, who notes that “the connection protects”; and that “In Nahuatl one of the names of God is “nearness and togetherness.”
This juxtaposition of drawn line/thread that passes through typeset words, turns into words itself, and runs right into the photograph of the beach precario
made of traced lines, found objects and
worked hair or thread, is more than an example of her refusal to accept “the boundaries between cultural disciplines”. It’s a refusal to accept the forces that separate and diminish us. By breaking down boundaries, she’s trying to save the world. “The connection protects.” She’s dead serious.
So, though the drawings in part 1 of Instan
are indeed drawings made of letters and lines/threads that turn those letters into words, as well as lines are all looped words, as well as words that loop themselves and leave out (become?) the lines/threads, I see them as much more than just that. And the multilingual nature of the rest of Instan
is not simply a reflection of her history as an exile, though that’s not ignored. The whole book is composed of “knots for climbers in the rope of the world.” She weaves. She connects connects connects.
Since I can’t reproduce the drawn/woven here, I’ll just pull out a few phrases that jump at me: “time-------tongue”; “luz-------del-------portal”; changing -------the-------heart”; “re-------late”; la-------leche-------de-------teta-------común”; “word-------loom-------star”. You have to picture my dashed lines as unbroken whirls and swirls and the words as part of them.
Part 2 is called “el poem cognado / the poem”. Though part 1 is multilingual I think that here in part 2, perhaps because line follows line down the page in a much more traditional sense – the poem looks like a poem, at least as I (dare I say we?) have been conditioned to expect it to look (and dear god yes I know millions of poems don’t look like this) – the intermarriage of languages becomes much more apparent and effective:
… luz y del qué
el cruzar …
At least some of the text in part 1 (perhaps all – I suspect all – I didn’t check) reappears in part 2:
… a pond
I noted above my sense of her mission. Here she makes it explicit:
of the ear
Part 2 ends:
Part 3 is called “fabulas del comienzo y restos del origen / fables of the beginning and remains of the origin”:
turns the page
the poem begins.
alba del habla, the dawn of speech.
What we have here is a collection of textual (and though I’m not the first to note it, I can’t help but mention here how close that word is to textural
) fragments that point towards “the” (!?!) origin, and what remains of it. But why/how expect more than fragments? What myth remains whole? What anything
remains whole? If our world (our myths) did
remain whole then there would be no need to reconnect time and tongue, to weave it all back together.
Throughout the whole work, but particularly in this section, Vicuña puts her faith in the artist’s “weak Messianic power”, to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase. This is from number two from his “On the Concept of History/Theses on the Philosophy of History”:
There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply.
In other words, we can more or less redeem the past by more or less taking care of business in the present (since those in the future will continue to be endowed with the weak Messianic power, if we give them a chance – if we give them a chance – they’ll be able to exercise their own power themselves. In a way, then, we redeem the past by making a decent future possible – see how important we are? The past and the future depend on us). Vicuña:
An instant is present,
a filament of sta, a state of being, stamen,
a thread in a warp,
a web in ecstasy.
A bit later:
… “yes, it may be so.”
To be not an estar, but a way of being.”
And the fable proper hasn’t even commenced. To simplify greatly, to pull one thread out of a fabric and pretend that the thread is the fabric itself (it’s either that or simply quote the whole thing): “you and I are the same … dis solve into union … Corazón del tiempo, el instan … the handiwork of peace, the search for a common ground … the music of am … El am del am or … we are only exiled from the inner estar … Love in the genes, if it fails / We will produce no sane man again
(George Oppen)”. Remembering Lippard’s “Vicuña has never accepted the boundaries between cultural disciplines …” one might be tempted to add that she has never accepted the boundaries between people (or peoples), at least to the degree that the boundaries become walled-off, patrolled and dangerous borders.
The last two sections are an endnote describing the genesis of and some of the intent behind Instan
, and a glossary. Both are worth reading, continuations of the “themes” (if one can speak about “themes” without unraveling the fabric) already presented, and contain lovely twists.
While a vision of merging into oneness and “the all” can be misused to (pretend to) shoo away suffering and dread (e.g. of death) as simply an illusion (see the opening pages of Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption
for a little insight into how that’s done and what’s wrong with doing it), I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Her quote from Oppen seems to indicate that when Vicuna says “you and I are the same … dis solve into union” she doesn’t want us to lose our individuality, to disappear. She simply wants us to get a little closer to sane. And to get along a little better with one another, and with the planet with which we share this little corner of the universe.
Oppen writes, “We will produce no sane man again
” (emphasis mine). “Again” isn’t Vicuña’s word, though she quotes it. Were we ever sane? Whole? My feeling is that I live in a world after
any sense of wholeness or sanity has been irredeemably and entirely lost, in which meaningless fragmentation is the always-already, so I tend to think of wholeness as mythological. Maybe when we were hunter-gatherers … back in the garden … but even then … Were we ever anything but fragments? That I don’t really believe in a once-upon-a-time-we-were-all-woven-together, or that one day we could
be all-woven-together, doesn’t mean I don’t love what Vicuña’s trying to do here. My use of “love” is not hyperbolic. What could be more necessary? What could be more beautiful? What could be (will be) more tragic if (when) we don’t make it?
John Bloomberg-Rissman’s most recent publication is OTAGES
; a new chapbook from Bamboo Books, WORLD ZERO
, is in press; and later this year, with any luck, NO SOUNDS OF MY OWN MAKING
, a 200 pp. hay(na)ku
, which in fact includes very few sounds of his own making, will be published by Leafe Press. Recently, he has begun to incorporate photos into his work, which certainly wasn't expected.
CHANCE by DANIEL BECKER
MONICA MCFAWN Reviews Chance by Daniel Becker(H_NGM_N Chapbook Series #2, Natchitoches, Louisiana, 2005)
It may be unfair or unfounded to use the biographical knowledge of Daniel Becker's career as a physician on which to base a review of Chance
. Yet Becker's career does factor into his work directly, and any reviewer should thus be allowed to reference it--as long as she restrains herself from comments such as "Becker peels open the human experience with the slow, precise scalpel-drag of language."
The truth is, the aspects of his career that Becker seems to use in his work are more broad and suggestive than a surgery metaphor could cover. Becker's poems engage guilt, responsibility, and chance--three things that certainly factor into any human life, and perhaps a physician's most acutely. You'd think that Becker's poems would explore the limits of responsibility, mourning, perhaps, the emotional distance his role demands. Becker, instead, explores the strange joy that comes from this professional necessity, and the larger implications of opting out of guilt.
If you think about it, guilt is a very limiting, ego-driven emotion. People who feel guilty spend their time communing with their conscience, and believe themselves instrumental enough to have created a wrong (a somewhat solipsistic assumption). The downward cast, inward looking that guilt necessitates surely limits one's field of vision. Becker seems to imagine a different mode of being where chance replaces human agency and guilt is traded for an intense observation of fate rather than a self-torturing belief in one's part in it. In "The Expert Witness Gets Deposed," Becker's description of the river seems to describe this languid approach to fortune and mistakes:
like a citation bass but triple spaced and lifted up
out of the water, the river lazily correcting itself,
unconcerned with loss, moving out to sea.
"Lazily correcting itself" is particularly compelling image, because it is such a perfectly apt contrast to the human response to mistakes. A river, should it splash or sway off route one moment, settles back into its groove the next. There's no need for self-reflection or regret. The river is also "unconcerned with loss," but in a whistling-with-your-hands-in-your-pockets kind of way. The good way.
Becker's poems, however, aren't recommending we make like a river and move out to the sea of amorality. Rather, Becker is most interested in the brief moments we free ourselves from guilt. Not because this is a preferred mode, but because it is so rare an occurrence that it begs study. Becker's funeral poems are best, because of the narrator's liberation from guilt and self-reflection. Becker's "In Memoriam" seems to be about briefly stopping by a former patient's funeral before dashing off to more pressing responsibilities. The premise alone seems calibrated for maximum guilt--how can the speaker treat a funeral like just another part of a harried day? But Becker's narrator has no qualms. As he gazes around during his brief, obligatory stay, he notices the stained-glass saints, who seem as much apart from the nitty-gritty of saint hood as he is from death:
The windows are too kind--
saints in post-beatitude poses
as if their share of suffering
is over, blame placed, sins forgiven,
and all they have to do now
is exemplify faith and endurance
The narrator's distraction--he counts these "panes of stained glass" rather than dwelling on the deceased--could be read on as a comment on the poetic mode itself. To be a poet may be nothing more than living in the blind spot--blocking out the essential to tease out the implications of the details. Both the saints and Becker's narrators exist as if everything has happened, and they are merely left to survey the damage or erect themselves in memoriam to it. They are at once both irrevocably removed and inextricably involved--a paradox perhaps common to both doctors and poets.
Monica McFawn is a writer living in Michigan. She also trains dressage horses and teaches humanities. She moderates Litandart.com
, a forum dedicated to tracking the state of both visual art and literature.
BORN IN UTOPIA:...ROMANIAN POETRY, Edited by CARMEN FIRAN & PAUL DORU MUGUR, with EDWARD FOSTER
JAMES OWENS ReviewsBorn in Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry Edited by Carmen Firan and Paul Doru Mugur with Edward Foster(Talisman House, 2006)
Romanian poetry slips across borders in disguise. It is easy for American readers to forget, or never to have noticed, that Tristan Tzara, whom we might think of as a French poet, and Paul Celan, an indispensible figure of modern poetry in German, were both in reality Romanian poets. Tzara and Celan both shaped significant bodies of work in their native language before the winds of the World Wars blew them west to stake out holdings in their more internationally familiar, adopted idioms, and it seems symptomatic that Celan’s Romanian poems have been dribbling slowly into translation only during the past few years or so, while Tzara’s have never been widely available. Other Romanian poets have drifted into Russian, or, especially after 1989, English.
The countries of Eastern Europe seem to breed good poets thicker on the ground than anywhere else on the planet except, maybe, Ireland. The Poles have clearly won out in finding the right translators during the past three or four decades, with Czechs, Slovenians, and Hungarians putting in a fair showing, as well. Now Born in Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry
, edited by Carmen Firan and Paul Doru Mugur with Edward Foster, makes it clear that the relative obscurity of Romanian poetry has been a historical accident, never a matter of lesser quality. This rich and readable book, as ably edited and translated as it is, is only the first lines of an account of Romanian poetry still to come, one hopes, from future translators out there somewhere muttering conjugations in their sleep.
Andrei Codrescu, who has been writing in English since the 1960s, addresses some of the difficulties of bringing this poetry over to another language in his introduction. On the one hand, “Romanians, whether in the depths of the Transylvanian provinces or in the better parts of Manhattan, respond to the word ‘poetry’ with a straightening of the shoulders, a chin-forward movement, and a far-away gaze. ‘We may not be sure of many things,’ they say with that rearrangement of the body, ‘but we are sure of our poetry.’” On the other hand, Codrescu writes, “Great (or even good) translators into English are harder to find than tzuica in Mississippi, and that’s not because the language is difficult but because Romanian poetry created complexities within the language that lose their meta-shivers when transferred to another bottle.”
History lies heavy on Romanian tongues. Much of the complexity that Codrescu mentions comes from the paradox that Romania has been both geographically remote and a cultural crossroads, at once, ever since the Romans founded an outpost on the shore of the Black Sea (and exiled the poet Ovid to languish and die there). The language is Romance, a legacy of the empire, but ballasted with the influence of Slavic neighbors and salted with important reminders of the Ottoman Turks who ruled there for centuries. Add the first and second world wars, the isolationism and repression of the Communist decades, the stark horrors of the Ceausescu regime, and even a foreigner can get a glimmer of the problems facing a translator.
The translators of Born in Utopia
, especially Adam Sorkin, who did the most, have acquited themselves well. Their versions of the poems are clear and affecting and usually make respectable poems in English, even if a Romanian reader might lament lost subtleties.
The first poem of the book seems carefully chosen to evoke the delicate and audacious balancing act that any work of translation inevitably turns into. Tudor Arghezi’s “Come On” begins, in Sean Cotter’s translation,
If your eyes would like to see
The unseen and unknown, you could
Come into my house, possibly, you could
Abandon yourself to the danger of my raft.
It becomes clear before long that Arghezi’s speaker is weighing religious questions -- “The healing clap of mystery / Churns inside me” -- but the lines could apply as well to the erotic strangeness of a reader’s encounter with poetry from another language and historical context, everywhere unfamiliar, yet shot through with off-kilter recognition:
In the language of barbarians
I would tell you stories,
I would let the wisdom of that country,
Like sand from the fields,
Sift into your hand.
One of the recurrent themes of the poems in Born in Utopia
is the nature and purpose pf poetry itself. Romanian poets, more so than American ones, are disposed toward the sort of unselfconscious reflection on their own craft that takes seriously both its limitations and its possibilities. For example, Ion Pop’s lyrical ars poetica, “Moment,” translated by Adam Sorkin and Liviu Bleoca:
In the upper corner of the window
I see walnut leaves quivering
in the noon wisp of wind,
and a starling feather floating down.
All I can do for it
is put it down here, to catch in coal black,
on the point of my pencil,
maybe to make its fall slower, slower.
As might be expected, there are plenty of poems here that seem drenched in the violent history of the 20th century, such as Marta Petreu’s “In Memory of Cruelty” (translated by Sorkin and Christina Illias-Zarifopol). The opening lines:
Touch me. Slowly walk your fingers over my body
feel my skin on the inside
softly completely compassionately. I used to be in it
Yes. I. Just me. Identical to myself
Caress my skin on the inside. Wet your hands
with the sticky smell of blood
gather blood in your palm as in a clay saucer
taste it with the tip of your tongue: it used to be my blood
Or Stephan Augustin Doinas’s “The Great Crippled” (translated by Sorkin and Liliana Ursu):
how could you
cripple me more?
is a hole
my heart -- a clot of gore
But one impressive fact about this book is that the dark side of history does not dominate. Perhaps the shape of Romanian poets’ resistance to the forces of destruction and chaos is that they also write about -- Who would have expected it to be otherwise, really? -- love and beauty and nature and childhood and art and boredom and television and travel and sex, to name a few things.
Some of the last poets in Born in Utopia
are those young enough to have come into their own after the dissolution of Romanian Communism. Adina Dabija expresses something of their historical moment, detached from the past, uncertain about the puzzling future, closing the book with another ars poetica, “On Love, with Time” (translated by Mona Momescu).
We don’t even imagine that we existBorn in Utopia
Together we are somebody’s cake on the moon
that eats us slowly
with your mouth, with my fingers,
with my scar caressing your scar,
with my pain kissing your pain
until nothing of us is left
is such an abundant book that it seems unfair to single out particular poets for mention, leaving dozens just as deserving to await discovery quietly. And there are important discoveries to be made here. Any reader new to Romanian poetry but willing, in Arghezi’s words, to abandon herself to “the danger of [this] raft” will be setting out on a voyage that may take a lifetime to complete but will be worth every stop along the way.
James Owens's book, An Hour is the Doorway
, is scheduled for publication in 2007 by Black Lawrence Press. His work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Blue Fifth Review, Birmingham Poetry Review
, and Boxcar Poetry Review
. He is a staff reviewer for The Pedestal
NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY by THOMAS FINK
TIM PETERSON ReviewsNo Appointment Necessary by Thomas Fink(Moria Poetry, 2006)
In Thomas Fink’s new collection No Appointment Necessary
, the author continues to investigate a series of invented and borrowed forms, including a series of shaped poems, Yinglish Strophes, and Haynaku
Box sequences. Each of these forms provides a slightly different means for Fink’s ongoing exploration of a sardonic political critique of referentiality, which at times also becomes a kind of “targetless parody” in the tradition of Shapiro’s reading of Ashbery. Fink’s weird speaker talks in a kind of colloquial tough-guy shorthand, now commenting on politics, now addressing a series of fragmentary scenes or foregrounding dead metaphors:
underbudgeted chorus of
ignited its own
big cleanup will
many sore pockets”
Oddness, surprise, humor, and the grotesque are all central to this project which at times creates a texture not unlike that of Jackson Mac Low’s poetry. Common to much of Fink’s writing, this texture is most prominent in the first series of shaped poems in the book, which are each shaped like a sickle or a backwards question mark. This passage is from “Responsible Fires Inserted” (Editor’s Note: To compromise with Blogger format, the poem is presented with a series of periods which the reader should ignore as the insertion of periods is done to shape the text the way the poet intended for the poem):
……..upper business com
……..-mune asks, ‘Why
……placate the screw-
…exegesis? An auto-
…..crat ally narrowly
Here elaborate theoretical words such as “exegesis” are set into the unlikely context of a speaker who sounds like he could be reading news headlines. Is he talking about homosocial relations, the military industrial complex, the phallus, or something else? How seriously are we to take the glib shorthand utterance “Can’t bitchslap government”? All we know is there’s a slyly cynical, wisecracking quality which cuts across the various sentences, establishing a consistent tone, rhetorical context and direction for the politics of the poems, which might be liberal but might also be described as a bleaker position of a leftist critique of the left: “Wart / paid for / by liberals / les miserables / illegibles alike.” Could fashion be to blame? “What’s toxic / tomorrow / might be loveable now.” In this situation, the reader is continually drawn back to the language as a context and the ways in which stating the problem might be the problem. The poems have trouble taking their own metaphors seriously, because it all seems somehow pre-commodified, and the individual words are implicated: “A drained camel / has blushed casual Disneyland / quicksand” which leads to “Hollwood bacon crawl,” a conflicted attitude towards postmodernity.
The critique of the system of reference here attempts a critique of other political systems, as in some work by David Shapiro or the arguments of the Language poets. The echo of a context is continually established only to have the subject and the speaker’s location in a scene change sentence-to-sentence, as in “The rondelay in the air is”: “Please don’t maul the display goose / Reaching the entrance, she removes glasses.” What display goose, and what glasses? Such moments of partial imagery in Fink’s poetry acts as props for a kind of private objective-correlative that, you guessed it, figures an attitude of bemused critique. It’s important that this critique in Fink’s writing is somehow continually thwarted by the sardonic simulacrum of reference that lies waiting for it, because that’s where a great deal of the pleasure and humor in the poetry lies. The “Yinglish Strophes” in this book continually demonstrate a kind of loving ambivalence toward the author’s linguistic and cultural heritage, foregrounding the bizarre moments in a syntax that is also native to his family: “There is a lady very old / and she paints gorgeous.” The affectionate simulacrum of Yiddish-influenced syntax here reminds us that identification in language is a complicated process, an always elusive, incomplete project with a shifting ground.
Tim Peterson is the author of Since I Moved In
, recipient of the first Gil Ott Award from Chax Press. He edits EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts
and is a curator for the Segue Reading Series in New York.
NECESSARY STRANGER by GRAHAM FOUST
ANDREA BAKER ReviewsNecessary Stranger
by Graham Foust (Flood Editions, 2006)I. Sneaky Goodness that Works When it Shouldn’tNecessary Stranger
is a book to judge by its cover
. Meaning, before you even notice quite what it’s doing, what it’s doing will be bringing you a smile. It’s very fast like that. Its vision happens to you even before you notice that it’s agile and spry, but not right with the world.
It has a plan though and it’s stated right up front. The first poem begins, “Look at the sky, go/ back inside.” The plan is, look broad, but go back to the small. Or, make small from the large, reducing to microcosms.
This is that first poem in its entirety:
Look at the sky, go
back inside. Cocaine
makes its way to Wisconsin.
The TV’s thick with burial, hilarious
with seed. And while the moon,
my mind, and the real world stay home,
I will walk walk
walk unkilled around
a new year’s clumsy gallows.
Anything’s impossible. I’m not
you. Here’s to music
to be in the movies to.
Plain language is used plainly. Faux-innocence (“I will walk walk/ walk”) doesn’t deceive, but winks like a man pulling a quarter from behind a child’s ear. And playfulness is mirrored by odd negations (“Anything’s impossible.”) Contradiction is part of the fun and games, but also something to keep a leery eye on.
The poems here are often wry and occasionally, even vaguely collegiate. Take this stanza excerpted from the poem “Panama”:
If only I couldn’t
understand, I’d imagine
some sarcastic new Christ and say
something someone would say
The phrase, “sarcastic new Christ,” is on the verge of staking too easy of a rebellion and the idea of, “say[ing]/ something someone would say” is a tad on the familiar-cleaver side, but both phrases, even placed next to one another, work in this poems because they are redeemed by the desperate tone of surrounding negations:
In the trash-
I want something to not
do with my hands.
In poetry, I’ll always cheer for things that work when it seems they ought not. That success alone makes this book well worth reading.II. Oh, but there’s more!
I certainly can’t neglect to mention the force with which Necessary Stranger
locates itself in the Right Now of Poetry and the Right Now of America, which are both places where, of course, “my neighbors cough and/ wave and wave and frown” and, “It’s a/ dream I’m not ashamed.” (Oh! Just look at those line breaks! Meaning doubles when it’s maimed.)
“Barest Gist” is one of the most successful poems in the book. Here it is in its entirety:
The way the days gray
over is almost
we believable slaves
I move around
There are acres ever through me
I can’t explicate this poem, or don’t want to. I love its nimbleness, other than that I just want to rest in its wow. This is how I like my poems; I want them to happen TO me when I read. This book delivers. And it’s fun. There are scads of choice lines like, “A brawl/ of water, the sea/ is not radiant,” in which I don’t receive new information, but I do get to think, yes, yes, radiant things are deigned their radiance in American spiritual frustration. And no, “It doesn’t seem/ to want to rain.” This book lives exactly where I live. I don’t mean that it’s trendy; I mean that it’s true.
In a poem entitled “Google,” “The sky goes/ every way.” Here I say, yes, google is some new perversion of the unbound sky. And in the poem, “Historyless”:
Go ahead and feed me that hole.
The only thing I know to say is that, yes, many people I know feel this way. Do “Go ahead and feed me that hole,” which must be some sort of homeopathic cure for the larger emptiness because I suddenly feel a temporary lifting of the weight of it all when those words arrive so exactly as they’re needed, each one stacked carefully and precariously on top of the other.
In, “Poem with Hands and Tools” Faust writes, “ The loud/ pain makes her/ my necessary stranger.” The loud angst of this book will make it yours.
Andrea Baker was the recipient of the 2004 Slope Editions Book Prize for her first book, like wind loves a window
. She is also the author of the chapbooks gilda
(Poetry Society of America, 2004) and gather
(moneyshot editions, 2006). She maintains a blog at andreabaker.blogspot.com
2 BOOKS by PATRICK ROSAL
THERESA M. TENSUAN ReviewsUprock Headspin Scramble and Dive by Patrick Rosal(Persea Books, New York, 2003)
andAmerican Kundiman by Patrick Rosal(Persea Books, New York, 2006)
In his first collection, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive
, Patrick Rosal established himself as a poet whose words rearticulate the world. From the dark corners of “Nine Thousand Outlines” in which the poet traces out a story of violence and violation that
…starts in the armpit of a god -- the plots
of fishbone and vinegar a history of nails
a war or two a swan some saints of course some
to the declarations of the poem “Who Says the Eye Loves Symmetry” that sings of the visual pleasures of “unpainted pickets/cracked planks,” Rosal’s poetry compels a reader to view the world afresh, to take in the full measure of its funk, its pain, and its unexpected beauty. Uprock
spins the rhythms of Kurtis Blow and riffs off of the inflections of Audre Lorde, creating a framework in which the poet paints tableaus of sons keeping vigil at their mother’s death bed, of the gravel lots and strip malls of Edison, New Jersey, of a child staggering on a sidewalk in the wake of a hit and run. The beauty of Rosal’s language and the clarity of his vision compel a reader to look closely at scenes from which one would normally avert one’s eyes; in the hands of a lesser writer such scenes could be mere spectacle, turning a reader into a casual voyeur but Rosal transforms his readers into witnesses compelled to bear the full weight of the poet’s revelations.
In his new collection American Kundiman
(Persea Books, 2006), Rosal opens new poetic registers, drawing from both new vernaculars and traditional lyric forms. In addition to the rhythms and inflections of black literary traditions and b-boy speech, the poet incorporates the soundscape of Tagalog through the invocation of Emmanuel Lacaba’s “Kundiman” (gracefully translated by Paolo Javier) and highlights the trace that mother tongues leave in the words of those who find themselves on American shores, from the manong who is the subject of the fabulously titled poem “Tito Teddy with a Cigarette Dangling from His Mouth Uses My Arm to Illustrate a Jiu Jitsu Bone-Break Move from His Coast Guard Days” to the father for whom English “rises from [his]/ankles into his belly from his torso into his limbs/ like molten glass.”
In “As Glass,” English is a medium that leaves father and son immobilized -- “all the lexicons/of sadness and delight turning cold and hard” (46), an impasse broken by a long distance phone call from poet to father in Spanish which enables him to speak to his father “with an affection/whose prepositions point in all the wrong directions/but for six full minutes we are unfamiliar/with one another’s rage For once/we are laughing at the same time/It’s simple: we don’t loathe one another in Spanish/like we do in English” (43). This moment speaks to the tangle of familial relations, national histories, and circuits of mobility and displacement that at times bind generations together, at times sunder those ties; Rosal’s poetry is shot through with unexpected revelations -- an old colonizer’s tongue can momentarily open up a profound connection, distance can be a necessary element of intimacy. American Kundiman
reanimates a Filipino lyric form that helpfully glossed in an opening note as “a traditional Filipino song of unrequited love” that became a site of cultural resistance and transformation during 400 years of Spanish colonization and the ensuing American occupation. Rosal casts the kundiman as “coded desire, a manifest longing in song, a beloved poetic subversion” (xi) and frames this body of work as one that honors the kundiman’s spirit -- literally as well as figuratively opening up a circuit of inspiration. The middle section of the collection offers a cycle of poems with titles like “Kundiman in which a B-Boy Contemplates How Rome (Like Many Fallen Cities) Was Not Built in a Day” and “Kundiman Ending on a Theme from T La Rock” which praises
Your funk Your every-
day nasty Your very
revelry Your break-
neck scat the loot
you boost Your
rags Your seven-
slang Your hype
Your hips Your spit
Your sickest wit
and snip Your every
The hypnotic ebb and flow of Rosal’s words remakes the reader’s own relationship to language, conveying both the poet’s and the reader’s power in re-envisioning the world. This kundiman’s litany conjures the power of untamed tongues that know the pleasures of “The sweet/convections of soy sauce vinegar garlic” (“Instructions on the Painting of a Portrait of My Mother” 63) that relish the “consensus of sweat and blood/and bloom”(“The Blue Room,” 50) as well as the “rich/bitterness we’ve learned to live on for so long/we forgot how -- like brothers --/we put the first bite in one another’s mouth” (“About the White Boys Who Drive By a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me,” 42).
While not labeled a kundiman, Rosal’s “Ode to the Hooptie” is one of the collection’s finest refigurations of the form:
This is for those cars—early model
Part rust/part primer a patch
of clear coat still holding on
to the bumper—chugging mid-day
down I-95 packed to the rear
window: milk crates blankets books
Someone in there is determined
To move on… (52)
Rosal’s love songs to those outside the conveyances of upward mobility, his ability to convey the grace of characters cast as convicts and beasts, his celebrations of the mothers and lolas and lovers who hold the world in balance all establish him as a poet of extraordinary creativity, breadth, and force. On my shelves, Rosal’s books rub shoulders with collections by Al Robles and Muriel Rukeyser -- fit company indeed for a writer who is transforming the voice and verse of America.
Theresa M. Tensuan teaches contemporary American literature at Haverford College; she is currently at work on Breaking the Frame
, a study of the figure of the misfit in autobiographical graphic narratives which will be published by the University of Mississippi Press.
NEGATIVITY by JOCELYN SAIDENBERG
TYRONE WILLIAMS ReviewsNegativity by Jocelyn Saidenberg(Atelos, 2006)
Near the end of “(New, Improved) Strange Matter,” a prose poem from her 2002 book, Etym(bi)ology
, Liz Waldner writes, “ On my body. Of. At. To. For. With. In the body. Is the word.” In her work before and after, Waldner picks at the scab of language, the index of separation, of the wounding called birth, consciousness, entrance into the symbolic order of the world, etc. Healing that breach, language refuses removal from the skin, refuses excavation from the body. And yet, language can never be located, as the list of prepositions above suggests. It appears to have any number of positions in relation to the body. The struggle to locate language by triangulating the self, the self’s body and the other is hampered, first and foremost, by the ideology of carniphobia, the foundation of, among other irrational fears, xenophobia. It is not insignificant that those who have been most interested in the relationship between body and language are subalterns, those at the margin of, if not absolutely outside, normative sexual and gender determinations. Like Waldner and others, Jocelyn Saidenberg has been exploring the foundation of ideology in general—the enabling confusion between the body and language (it gives rise to both the “natural” and the “artificial”) in her writings.
In her most recent book, Negativity
, Saidenberg continues the exploration of what, in CUSP
((2001), she provisionally named as “the de-emphasized.” This was merely one term in a series of (mis)nomers that tracked the elusive, receding horizon of what Elizabeth Willis, following William Blake, aptly named as the title of her first book: “the human abstract,” remainder and necessity. For Saidenberg this “abstract” can only be glimpsed in passing, in medias res
, for we always find (and lose) ourselves already interpellated in a network of relations. In this situation the body appears as the material cognate to—and so antithesis of—the Cartesian idealizing cogito qua
sum. How, then, to “know” the body outside its predetermination by consciousness? How to pose the amniotic against the semiotic when the structure of such oppositions is predetermined by the latter? These problems regarding the eros/logos dynamic have far-reaching consequences; they are, least of all, “personal,” though the dynamo is set into motion as a “private” concern. For what is personal is simply the given, how one has been shaped and filled out, so to speak, by one’s culture. However, the “social construction” of the self is hardly absolute; were it so, resistance or “identity,” in any significant sense, would be foreclosed, literal impossibilities. Yet, resistance itself, the self that resists, is not born ex nihilio, which means the social is the site of both ideology and the resistance to ideology.
For Saidenberg, as for so many, writing turns out to be one site where resistance is enacted, “is the inch of place and the times when we did and us spoke to me, reading spoke to me its deficit, sufficient forces to follow…” (27); however, the point of reading is not construction but destruction of that “forc[ed]…little thing’s personhood.” (20)
Yet the body—and this is its scandal—resides outside all ethical and moral systems. And are not all systems of thought and action—especially religious and political systems—sundry essays at managing, controlling, the body, “sundry essays” because language is the first and foremost attempt at reigning in and over the body? Since there is no way “out” (silence and death do not escape systemization), one can only repeat and reenact negation, not only the negation of negation but also the negation of the negation of the negation…until a work comes into being as the cessation of this logic of deferment.
Saidenberg recognizes a self, as she must, initially, through the lens of the normative, but there is no making a heaven of hell. After all, “degradation is but one solitude more and yet another dark wall brooding gloomily.” (32) Saidenberg’s “I” is, in all these poems, polyvocal, not out of some kind of aesthetic tribute to postmodern indeterminacy but because the assertion of an “I” is, here, a kind of hope, an insistence, though the moment it is asserted it is doubled (at least), figured as, to paraphrase English rock singer Joe Jackson, another me—or, as Saidenberg suggests, “merely” “The Quite-Quite”: “I’m the Quite-Quite, Quite-Hideous, Quite-Wastebody, Quite-Lowmurmur.” (42) The moment we utter or write we double ourselves, and each subsequent assertion of a stable “I” (or complete “work’) is only part of the serious game of sincerity we play before different audiences, to say nothing of ourselves.
And what comes “out” is what was put “in, and so in a move familiar to postmodern aesthetes and the uttered marginal merely trying to survive, Saidenberg shuttles, moving back and forth between desire and guilt, assertion and indecision, agency and objectification. This movement could be described otherwise: circumnavigation of a circle, spinning one’s wheels, etc. The structure of this book—its sections, subtitles and individual poems—constitute circles within circles. “Dusky, or Destruction as a Cause of Becoming” begins with this typical conundrum-dilemma shuttling: “1. to tell back dear, dusky, be told to tell…so that I turn and turned…” (17) And the book ends with the body still exhuming what wails but is not heard (itself): “…carnal excavating relentlessly. inaudible slow. howling recalcitrance behind the music. beneath the ground.” (117) Still, to one’s body one goes through, loops around, the Good Book—the Bible, the law and literature—that constitute our collective revulsion toward the body. As Kathy Acker discovered, Saidenberg must confess, must self-abhor (from “The Crave”: “I place myself lower than dirt, will keep digging, filthy, hands taught, in darkness all in order to not. [Infer: that I like it] Here in the dirt I am an inductor, I attract and gender myself in accordance with my habit, attraction, unheeding, steadfastness that wants only to weep over itself, limping further along, in the poured concrete cage, weeping over itself it sheds attraction, ridding and taking its shape dreaming again, that lull.” 39), and yet the “residue” (“The Beginner”: “falling the figures turn their back on falling…” 73), what remains, however much a mere “stain” (from “One of the Spurned”: “Being rotten being stained the stain itself, drained or blocked, I gift me, or that malingering temptation to return, somewhere in the inbetween: that crossroads. I bend down and kiss, marking the confession, signing the poison.” 40) is also a beginning, a matrix, for confession and self-revulsion do not annihilate. As children know, dirt, minutiae incarnate, tastes good: “That description excites me, discursive in its minute detail.” (37) This sentence from “I’m in Heat,” the first poem of the section Not Enough Poison
, signifies desire as inescapably bound to language, why one reads and writes, however much caged: “the room was lit.” in the middle of the poem “The Cockcrow” (surrounded by seven lines) is also the middle of this book (67). The path to the body turns out, is turned out, “to be” illuminated by precisely what delimits: the privilege of reading and writing (by) “lit.” And the association of reading with castration (cf. Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, etc., to say nothing of the Islamic-Judaic-Christian triumvirate in general—cf. “In This Country”) simultaneously wounds and heals: “The gash, not separating but unifying the abrasion to all the impure, non-separated…Blending into the boundaries, coterminous sore on the visible, not presentable superannuated surface of self.” (38)
Saidenberg thus calls into question oppositionality itself, including that initial amniotic/semiotic one, but she no more than anyone cannot speak or write outside these enabling dualisms. Though “The Beginner” begins in heteroglossia, “the figures” approach—or one is drawn to the figures. A self is “upthrown,” “light/scattered” into self-disgust/revulsion. That first rope that bound and nourished one’s body to/in the womb is replicated in the outer world. “Beckon” re-imagines Odysseus’s journey—yet another circle—as driven and pulled, and so the scene of the Sirens, like the episodic on general, enacts circles within circles: one is beckoned from, bound to the mast(er) that sails “ere/ear” a self. The rope of language insinuates itself as listening; its binds from within. As “Carnal” reminds us, this rope is the first ruler, first meter, measure and standard that reigns in possibility. Self-revulsion is thus a necessary precondition of other-revulsion, but what happens, this book asks, when the other mirrors the self, when the other is a double of the self? Same-sex desire undercuts the dialectic, those interwoven strands that naturalize the order of binary oppositions. Saidenberg’s gerunds and participles enact the serpentine even as the profane indicatives and imperatives (“Hey Fuck Face,” “Fuck Death”) explode through the decorous constraints of the twine. It is, then, the twin (of sexual orientation, of literary idealism, of political and religious capital and so forth) that threatens to unravel prevailing orders. For the twin, the double, is an index of non-productivity, redundancy, one too many: Jocelyn Saidenberg’s Negativity
marks—and remarks—this emblem of re-instantiation, re- and de-sistance.
Tyrone Williams teaches literature and theory at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. His book, c.c.,
was published by Krupskaya Books in 2002, the chapbooks AAB
and Futures, Elections
were published in 2004, and a chapbook, Musique Noir
, was published in 2006. New work is forthcoming in fasicle, Combo, Cincinnati Poetry Review
, and West Coast Line
. A new book, the Hero Project of the Century
, is forthcoming from The Backwaters Press in 2007 and another book, On Spec
, is forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2008. He is currently writing a book for Atelos for publication in 2009.
UNBOUND & BRANDED by CHRISTINE STEWART-NUNEZ
IVY ALVAREZ ReviewsUnbound & Branded
by Christine Stewart-Nuñez
(Finishing Line Press
Following her first chapbook The Love of Unreal Things
, Christine Stewart-Nuñez’s second chapbook Unbound & Branded
is based on ‘a forty-page portfolio of artists … responding to supermodel Kate Moss’. Using the image of Kate Moss, she examines every woman’s complex relationship with her body, as it is viewed through the lens of media and art. By turns interrogatory, irreverent and self-possessed, the poems mirror the longing, absurd fascination, frustration and anger directed at society’s concept of the idealised female body.
Still fashionable, her slim torso free
of marring muscles; raised nipples
look metallic. A wedding ring—
her only adornment—shines
like a sold sign for the display.
(‘Embodied’, p. 7)
The danger in portraying fashion’s superficiality is an involuntary artfulness in the poems themselves. Only when ugliness intrudes does real life bring such artificial constructs into relief:
Reporters still call you girl. Now that you’re out of rehab,
the press will search for signs of too much Stoli.
Dear daughter of Twiggy: There’s nothing simple
about being you. Absolutely fabulous.
You drink twelve cups of tea a day.
(‘Flying Eyes’, p. 18)
Other poems in Unbound & Branded
identify the uneasy relationship between the viewer and the object of the viewer’s gaze. The language in ‘Red Light District’ suggests that beauty engenders violence and degradation: ‘cluster on her neck // like a bruise. / Long hair a slap’ (p. 17). In ‘Between the Lines’, the speaker’s proprietorial concern over an incompatibility between an artist’s portrayal of Kate Moss and her own personal vision of a ‘typical Kate’ gives way to a sense of loss: ‘I know this absence is mine’ (p. 21). So how does an image or object return the gaze of the viewer? Perhaps Stewart-Nuñez’s answer lies in her poem, ‘She Who Gazes’:
bodily, female, gazing out
from a page, but I’m no closer
to knowing her than
when I first traced my name
across her lips.
Christine Stewart-Nuñez’s Unbound & Branded
is a cohesive, thoroughgoing exploration of both beauty and the beast that is the media and society at large.
Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal
(Red Morning Press, 2006) and three chapbooks: 'what's wrong, 'catalogue: life as tableware'
and Food for Humans
. She also edited 'A Slice of Cherry Pie'
, a chapbook anthology of poems inspired by David Lynch's Twin Peaks
. The Australia Council for the Arts
recently awarded her a grant to write poems for her second manuscript. Her poetry appears in journals and anthologies worldwide and online.