Thursday, August 07, 2008

Recommended Reading

Do The Math - Poems by Emily Galvin

Do The Math is a book of presence, of the separation between the body and the self in any given moment, in any unit of time. A book that sets limits and seeks differentials within it. In her work, Galvin plays wonderfully with the absurdity inherent in poetry, in the assuming of persona and the stagecraft of lyric and language.

Wittgenstein said, to paraphrase, that the limits of our language are the limits of our reality. In her work, Galvin builds tiny universes of intricately stacked language, set between two points of set time, and allows them to play out. As the work increases, the mathematical and linguistic limits begin to be reached, but simultaneously unravel.

I don't know enough theater to say if Galvin borrows from Beckett, Brecht or Artaud, but I know enough poetics to speculate on the influence of Stein's architecture and Creeley's breath construction to her work. Galvin plays with communication, challenging our assumption of the line and the units of words as we turn every break. Grammar begins to separate from context, and voices begin to speak past each other, moving into new and parallel worlds of language.

Language within Do The Math builds on itself while dividing at the same time, a wonderful game of language and math, a string theory verse, each unit spinning off and colliding and creating. A great read.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Recommended Reading

The Earth in the Attic - Poems by Fady Joudah

We (and by "we" I mean "me") love the saying "All poetry is political," but for Joudah, a Palestinian-American and a member of Doctors Without Borders, that notion pervades his manuscript as an ocean keeping the many boats of verse afloat. This is not to categorize Joudah's work as strictly political or bland rhetoric, but rather to suggest that for some, their lives and inseparable from their artistic self, their being always a part of their object.

From the first stanza, the depth of Joudah's experience hits us as a sudden rain storm, and we are some of us ill-dressed. Joudah strings the image of wheat reaching into the sky with a helicopter crashing to Earth. In his poetry, Joudah combines the best of western Modernism (H.D.'s Imagism, Eliot's scope and Zukofsky's lyric) with the great Arabic tradition of Darwish and Youssef.

Joudah's poetry is powerful for its scope, but builds that scope with a small and focused lens - a landscape photo built of a thousand polaroids. He captures those smaller moments - people in markets, camel traders, day laborers, a boy gathering water in a bucket. The everyday tragedy of a people suffering in the oppressive throes of the last great colonial war then paired with a western eye. It is startling how Joudah switches between the two, blends them so skillfully. He tells a parable of ants leaving their shelters after the earth has been bombed with rain, before painting a portrait of a child whose skin is "like spandex on the bone" and whose father has been killed. Amazingly, the facts of that death are unimportant in a scenescape where hunger, rape and violent deaths are a constant hum, a dust that seems ever present on the skin.

Joudah's poetry is a poetry of people, but a poetry from a physician's eye. The people in his work becoming more alive somehow when viewed with his diagnostic, unemotional eye. A bus-load of dead children, a girl dying of malnutrition, and Joudah's own father passing through an airport. The objects stand for themselves within his poetic gaze. Joudah's line follows this, recalls Creeley and Oppen as a bass stutter that flows one line into the next as a back beat, a wave ebbing and flowing on his ocean elevating the boats of verse.

His poems are drawn from life, organic you might say, from sand and pain and blood. Unfiltered in an affected journalism, there are moments when we flinch, moments we turn away from the image, from the reality in the verse. Morning coffee is finished before a pig is bled to death. The goats, we learn, are later bled in a different fashion.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recommended Reading

Wild Goods – Poems By Denise Newman

In Wild Goods, Denise Newman combines the grotesque and the sublime into a twisted romanticism – her paintings of family and landscape all dotted with things that leave them as uncomfortable pastorals, intentionally imperfect as the sculpture of Matissé.

Newman folds her poems, one into another. A jarring end line becomes a bold and sudden title – a surprising line break makes absolute sense in the dualism of its existence. She comments on parenting with a detachment from the thing itself, from the actual and the signatory. It is sexuality bound to the “other” that the self has already detached from.

These things exist below the immediate surface of Wild Goods, below its deliciously slow rhythm that begs the line forward, and the moments of sudden improvisation and reflection. Her lines begin as a lure, taking a narrative direction before stopping short, rethinking itself or breaking without apology. They are inventive, each carrying itself in a direction congruent with, or sometimes independent of, all the directions surrounding it.

The issues Newman delves into feed this discomforting balance: family and family preying on itself, nature and virginity contextualized by its dirtying and loss. Newman’s marriage of magical realism to Baudelaireian reality cuts a haunted landscape from the construction paper of memory and observation. She explores the failed promise of our own histories. Each poem in Made Flesh, for example, seems a postcard from the self and placed into a time capsule, all at once questioning the frailty of time.

Denise Newman's ear and wit are on full instrumental display as her practices her craft. War is the backdrop of Wild Goods – it’s incomplete refrain. War’s rejection as a white noise, as something omnipresent and totally unnecessary disarms and unqualifies its existence. It is another failed premise, failed tradition that Newman deftly weaves away.

Wild Goods seeks to balance the ideal and the actual, showing its impossibility. Idealism achieved, Plato tells us, is idealism no longer.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Recommended Reading

Novel Pictorial Noise – Poems by Noah Eli Gordon

In Novel Pictorial Noise, Noah Eli Gordon shifts frequencies as he has so deftly in the past, while establishing human connections across great analogous space. His prose style, for all its inroads into philosophy and bourgeois culture, becomes more interestingly a reflection of the speaker, an image of self told by removing the object from its signatory and replacing it with an observable, yet unknowable, context.

He laments those things that segue our attention from substance to substance – that we recall the transitory as having been the substance itself. His poems then become wonderful counterpoint; overloaded with substance while his hinges are frail and imperfect. A marvelous contrast acted out on the stage of poetry as a sort of Grand Guignol.

Gordon's wit and knack for off-beat analogy, pairing and simile are on display in their finest forms. He builds a subtext of straight rhetoric, which, at first glance is illusionary though its presence is clearly gleaned. A narrative of well-tooled language existing completely in the mind of the individual reader, however, as the poems move forward a closeness to the metaphorical appears, an intelligent design to the primordial ooze of verse. A wonderful, worth-reading Jenga of language Cubism and hissing pops of a record player.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Recommended Reading

A Fiddle Pulled From The Throat Of A Sparrow -- Poems by Noah Eli Gordon

This collection, comprised of several of Gordon's older chapbooks and limited releases, spans the gambit of verse and becomes in a sense an autobiography of voice. The book begins as a subtle scale on a used bass, almost indistinguishable from modern silence, and quickly asserts its own mind.

Gordon's ability to tell an image as rhetoric and assemble narrative as metaphor are on display for all to see here as he moves from style to style. In one case he may interject a line and, in true improvisational jazz fashion, take it away. His unit of measure is not the syllable or the breath but the line itself as an interchangeable bar of language music.

I still believe, in seeing Gordon working his way through each poetic project, that he is a heavily tattooed heir to Berrigan, Moore, and Hejinian left alone at a piano with a hipster sensibility. Actual hipster, by the way, not, say, American Apparel/Urban Outfitters hipster. This collection is a great book of voice and language becoming self aware and stepping on to land and out of the din of poetic mud.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recommended Reading

How To Be Perfect - Poems by Ron Padgett

How To Be Perfect is a book of memories - the best kind of memories - the kind that wobble around in your head for a decade, rub up against each other, collect even more vivid color, and stumble out again as marvelous line broken parables. The certainty of childhood told through the inhibitions of adulthood is an intriguing combination. If a story can be a still life, Ron Padgett has found a way to paint it. The memory, as photograph, becomes both sign and symbol; How To Be Perfect extends the narrative of both aspects of the object.

Padgett breaks up his menagerie of memory with the occasional insight, the occasional poetics of observation, bringing us back to the contemporary. I think it's relelvent to reference the episode of Doctor Who I just saw where he leaves a DVD message to the past in the form of a one sided conversation, and when someone actually fills in the adjoining emptiness it only reveals that stone statues are alive and exist outside of time, but for them time stops if any living thing in the universe is observing them. How To Be Perfect is a book of wonderment and speculation, an almanac of trivial questions and introspective answers forming an all too human verse.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Recommended Reading

A Thief Of Strings - Poems by Donald Revell

In his latest collection, Revell has crafted poems spanning styles and modes, encompassing within his verse a country in wartime which is willfully unconscious to it. A Thief Of Strings is part eulogy, part peace march, part prayer to a heaven perhaps unwilling or unable to help. Through abstraction he weaves a poetry more concrete and comfortable with its era, using break and line as punctuation and interjecting outside voice without breaking a stride.

Revell owes his line in part to Creeley, whom he writes for in homage within the center of the manuscript, then concludes the collection in a voice and line all his own, using repetition and collage to show language as music within a very American poetics. A Thief Of Strings is a search for peace in a time which cannot separate itself from war. The omnipresence of violence and vulgarity is barely recognized and needs a new language within to define itself. Revell attempts to give voice to that language.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Recommended Reading

The Frequencies -- A Poem(s) by Noah Eli Gordon

What Ted Berrigan did for the sonnet sequence, Noah Eli Gordon has done for the prose poem. He uses the tool of sestinatic refrain to create a world which is already dead within its own present. The Frequencies is an incredible experience, changing rhetoric into break and narrative into collage. Gordon himself becomes receiver, sliding between stations as easily as the eye moves from place to place in a crowded landscape; a quantified and curated everything, again, made to feel its own history in the form of fugue and mortality. The first message transmitted on the telegraph (I learned this at trivia night at a bar last week) was "what hath God wrought?" Gordon's poems take place in the stage after the abomination has sunk in, when it has become common place, when it struggles self-aware with its own relevance and being. The originality of the poems, paired with Gordon's intellectual depth and booming radio voice make for a superb read.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Recommended Reading

Coctails -- Poems by D.A. Powell

D.A. Powell is a master of using overt sexuality to mask an even more masterful underlying subtext. It's amazing how someone can toy with language in such a way a refrain can seem present within a poem were words and phrases do not repeat. Coctails shows the mundane and shocking complexity of everyday for a gay man in a city of brick and blue collar. Whereas Tea was a eulogy, a book of AIDS and loss and the lives claimed, Coctails is its opposite, its Whitmanesque singing. His approach to the line as fresh as we've come to expect, a breath both extended and stuttered all at once. Powell is a poet of the body, both its gritty reality and its Platonic ideal. He juxtaposes the voice of the poem with outside voices, song lyrics, and the occasional clip from a John Waters film. Coctails becomes D.A. Powell's Song of Myself, the perfect end-stop to his trilogy in verse.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Recommended Reading

Tonight's The Night -- Poems By Catherine Meng

Meng’s poetry is a work of research and collage, originality and history. A biography committed to music, and then back to the page. On the surface, her work seems to exist as fugue, imitative counterpoint, but a deeper meaning and music emerges as the line, breath, and constant refrain of "Tonight’s The Night” carry the movement forward into a place of grand collision.

Meng uses repetition as hook and line, as a bar and scale for language. Bach appears at first seemingly as himself, but soon becomes sign and symbol for Bach the artist and Bach the man, and eventually as fugue itself, a constant reminder of the falsehood inherent in the very fact of Bach.

The repetitive word beat and syllable flow serve to highlight the music and image of her poetry, especially as she moves from an extended breath across several lines, to something more Oppen, a tight snippet of thought stilting the breath and slowing the eye. As the fugue and collage dance and collide into something new, something wonderful happens within the poetry. The new language art becomes self aware, new life self referencing the music and narrative poetry of its own creation.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Recommended Reading

Bewitched Playground -- Poems by David Rivard

David Rivards's poems are wonderful dances between humor and sincerity, stark Emersonian observation, and tongue in cheek Schuyleresque introspection. He transforms the actual world into sign and symbol of itself. A woman or lamp is there in literal fact, but also sign for hundreds of different impressions and connotations. His thoughts are clear extended breaths, wrapping across several lines and waterfalling down the page, yet never meandering.

Bewitched Playground is a wonderfully American collection of verse. Rivard speaks to fatherhood, to Bob Dylan, to eulogy, to Sears and bottled water, to dozens of people in dozens of cultural settings, to the American landscape as it moves through the seasons. His voice is constant and quick, even as he moves across form and stanza, altering line structure and playing with modes. There is politic within the book, but it is subtextual, tied into indoor pools, boxing rings, and the scattering of children's bath toys.

Rivard may be guilty of occasionally dipping into sap or extended rhetoric, but who among us hasn't? Within the context of a northeastern poetics of fatherhood, it is seamless and funny. A quip about his wife's bumper sticker in one poem gives way to a philosophical extraction of Jung and gender the next. Rivard is Bruce Springstein at his best, and Frank O'Hara at his brightest. Rivard is the poet's cool uncle who plays guitar and seems to know something the other uncles don't, but he's not all smug about it.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Poems from Guantanamo

I have to admit, for someone who spends most of his waking life writing about poetry and politics, when the two combine I'm sometimes left with very little to say. It wasn't until I saw the front page of the Wall Street Journal today that I became aware of a forthcoming volume from the University of Iowa press: The Detainees Speak a collection of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The poems, most of them carved into styrofoam cups with pebbles, were considered "classified" for many years, and have only recently been given the okay for release by the U.S. military. The collection was compiled by Marc Falkoff, a military defense lawyer with a Ph.D in English, and Iowa offered to publish it. Here, former Poet-Laureate Robert Pinsky (of Colbert Report and the Simpsons)discusses the upcoming collection with the BBC.

Poetry written not out of art, but out of desperation and defiance, I personally can't wait to read the collection, and at the same time, its front page exposure is bringing more and much needed light to the plight of hundreds of men and boys who our own military is holding indefinitely and without trial. Unfortunately, according to Mr. Falkoff, the military rejected many translations of the poems, for "security" reasons, and so laments the collection doesn't do justice to the original verse.

I was going to make a bad joke about the Pentagon brass demanding a strict Neo-Formalist translation to Falkoff's Post-Language Futurism, but, while I'm making jokes these detainees are still suffering in silence. I'm anticipating the release of this collection, I'm anticipating justice for what our own military is doing even more.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Recommended Reading

Homeless at Home -- Poems by Gloria Frym

This recommendation could easily start with, "In the Rabbinical tradition of John Cage...," but it won't. Frym's poems are letters by design and device but pure cutting verse in image and breath. Frym is creating and burning originality and emotion, tradition and defiance.

There's both politic and eulogy in every movement, joy and disgust in the layering and shifting of forms. Poets both young and old could learn the possibilities and power of verse from Gloria Frym. Each refrain becomes a philosophy of the body as history, and history as the cultural, racial, and feminine wound it is.

I know I'm piling on generalities, but the spectrum of language, intelligence, and fire going on within Homeless at Home is so humbling I could go on for weeks. Her rhetoric is smart and funny, her juxtaposition startling and insightful. Her poems are meditations on mortality and death, and the life often lost and muddy that leads to it. Really, an amazing volume of poetry from one of San Francisco's most kick-ass poets.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Recommended Reading

The Guns and Flags Project -- Poems by Geoffrey O'Brien

Three times during my reading, and rereading, of this book, I realized the various cafe's I was sitting in were all playing Fine Young Cannibals' She Drives Me Crazy, and I really wanted to make some sort of elaborate symbolism out of it, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't do it.

So I'm sorry to say, this book recommendation will be tragically free of Fine Young Cannibals. O'Brien's poetry, however, is an exercise in pace and line. Imagine if Baudelaire had written Song of Myself and given it over to e.e. cummings to edit. Imagine -- go ahead -- that's where the joy of this book begins. In The Guns and Flags Project we find a new way of listening to and recording the world, the hum of all the deepest shadows around us.

His photographs are large print photographs of a discourse on death at the edge of winter when snow warms to fog, and the world, still asleep, threatens to live again. The beauty in O'Brien's poems are a compelling oxidation. A density of thought woven out as a quilt of a language game with politic in the periphery and at its core, a new mode of interpreting sign and symbol to replace the current, which deteriorates as we watch, unwilling and unable to become involved.

O'Brien's poems are a densely layered world of rich color, cartographers, skys, dichotomies, and the nervous movement of the world. His poems are both smart and clever. Not a syllable goes by that doesn't challenge the reader, all the while respecting the intelligence of his audience. O'Brien refuses to thin out that which does not need to be, a lyric in the vein of John Ashbury and C.D. Wright. He uses subtle refrain, core groups of word and image repeat within poems, and within the book as a whole to create an atmosphere, a climate, and a new landscape of choppy discourse like a failed ocean in autumn.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Recommended Reading

Whethering -- Poems by Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison uses form to affect breath, and breath to accent even the simplest of words into space and gravity. That isn't to say her words are simple--quite the opposite. Morrison is playing a game of language, using internal and slant rhyme so subtly as to draw attention to and from a point on a line, becoming speech, becoming a distillation of human conversation.
Morrison moves from image to Imagism, , sparsity to Oppen, simile to the audacity of Frazier and Stein. Her poems are elegant without elegance, and densely layered--there is an intelligent design at work here, to borrow the parlance of our times.

Morrison intermingles weather and certainty, showing us how both can change in a matter of moments. The body in her poetry is assembled from pieces, each excerpt becoming sign and symbol for something more. She moves fluidly through forms, scattering words on a page like fireworks to slow the readers attention, then moving o prose blocks, condensing the language to emphasize the narrative and emotion. Often in her poetry she staggers our perception, emotionalizing the dry and factual, while analytically approaching the emotional self. Whethering is all the accompaniment of a storm front.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Recommended Reading

Flying in Water -- Poems by Barbara Tomash

Barbara Tomash's art is based in a myriad of icons and iconoclasts, the pieces of her poetry seem a delicate Williams, or an East Coast American H.D. Those line structures, that careful attention to image and scene, take on new life within Tomash's structure -- the prose poem. She takes the tools that most of us use to measure breath, and, instead builds and atmosphere.

Tomash juxtaposes image and statement to create metaphor, sans the heavy handed baggage which so often accompanies it. Even within the form of prose poem, she shows remarkable restraint in language and meter -- the prose poem becomes unexposed paper, and her film has been shot at f22. Everything is in focus, and everything in the frame is necessary. The eye cannot see the entirety of a landscape on its own, and Tomash reminds us of that.

The poems freely move from one into the next, the beauty of us piece rising up as a wave and lowering us into the first movements of the next. The story is the entirety of a photograph, but also within Flying in Water is a gallery of emotion and experience. Tomash touches on all our senses: we hear piano music played by her son, smell bread and straw, feel the veins in our arms and suffer the vertigo of waking dreams.

Flying in Water becomes a kitchen floor covered in dropped moments, becomes a life viewed from outside of life, at f22, when everything is clear and connected (and not in so off New Age way.) The language is wonderfully original and unwavering in its poise and poignancy. Tomash balances the spreading of ashes and the spreading of jam, promises both failed and fulfilled, motherhood and sexuality, the violence in beauty and vice versa; in essence, life. Tomash dances us through all of it.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Recommended Reading

The Unreasonable Slug --Poems by Matt Cook

In The Unreasonable Slug Matt Cook's Milwaukee poetic chops are on full display, like a Sausage Race at Miller Park, you just can't take your eyes away from it. Cook takes one part narrative verse, one part list poem, one part Lenny Clark, and one part good 'ol American midwestern spoken word, simmering it all down into a poetic reduction.

Cook strings lines and ideas together with progression and uncommon logic, forcing the reader to reexamine all the things in life which go without examination in our day to day. How does the wolf spider in the mailbox break up its week? It's a beautiful American verse, a common sense reconsidering of lyric and poetic order through comedy and memory. A sort of Heidegger meets Ron White. Think about that one for a moment. It's important to discuss the composition of the photograph. It's important to discuss the content of the photograph. Matt Cook reminds us it's also important to discuss the content left out of the photograph.

A dialogue is always emerging; between people, between bare feet and the grass, endless strings of stories, some important and some not, but all alive in the act of telling. In this, The Unreasonable Slug is an almanac for modern living, a commentary on American society and politic, sans commentary, society, and politic. Cooks observations string together as a necklace, creating moments, all the while taking actual moments and using them as clear and poignant observation. Cook comes off as a young Bruce Springstein, a Box Car Willie cover of a Hank Williams tune played with a wink and a nod, and that somehow makes it more real.

Funny, smart, satirical, populist, academic, subtle, loud, musical, lamentable, social, an inside joke that everyone gets a little of -- jut enough so as to leave you wanting more.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Recommended Reading

Nude Siren--Poems by Peter Richards

Upon first inspection, Nude Siren is a slam-dance of cubism, language writing, and American surrealism, a secret language spoken between friends with both knowing there's no need for a decoder ring, because the words can mean anything and everything. Nude Siren is a walk through a closet of curiosities, skeletons, and almanacs. Richards' images are astounding, the diary of a Picasso painting with open pages, or a naturalistic photograph of complete and perfect nonsense. The depth of originality is astounding, the freshness of language and the secrets therein that keep the reader on his or her toes.

Even if the immediate focus is on the odd originality of the language, Nude Siren doesn't waste a single word or breath. The way Richards pairs surrealism with imagism, a lack of ornamentation, and a pacing of metered breath, creates an H.D. meets Appolinaire, something truly wonderful and smart. As the oddity builds, the occasional moment of complete lyric and narrative clarity draws attention like a torch and violin coming from a bass darkness. It flicks the moment of importance to live, without any sort of heavy hand.

The poems are a collection in the sense of a menagerie, a Santa's Village set out on a poet's table with abstraction for snow.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Recommended Reading

Broken World -- Poems by Joseph Lease

(For the purposes of full disclosure, I have to admit this is a somewhat biased review, as Joseph Lease is a friend, and I myself had a hand in the pre-press copyediting. That being said--)

Broken World begins in a low tone, an easing of whispered language, reminiscent of James Schuyler or Robert Creeley (himself somewhat of a mentor to Lease.) That ease soon fades as we move into the title poem, a eulogy for Lease's friend James Assatly, who died of AIDS at a young age shortly after completing a novel which remains unpublished. By eulogizing his friend in verse, he also eulogizes a bygone America, a bygone hope, and a faltered national dream and identity.

In many ways, Broken World is about death, but it does not mourn, it is death as transformation, death as opportunity, death as rebirth and re-imagining (the refrain of Free Again builds this into a chorus, a raucous mercy meal for the departed.) The world and its norms are failing all around us, but once the soul leaves its body, the next body is waiting, there is new hope and new life, and a new will to fight for what is important. Nietsche thought we could form the world with our will, and so does Broken World. It is our prayer.

It is also identity -- Jewish identity, middle class identity, American identity, and the collective history and baggage that comes along with it. Lease moves through form and line, verse and prose, image and breath, approaching these weighty issues with ease and grace from so many angles -- this death becomes our history, our refrain. His politic is subtext, and the lack of a heavy handed overture is refreshing.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recommended Reading

The Maverick Room -- Poems by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Jazz had its army of poems and poets. Hip-hop has its army of poems and poets. In Thomas Sayers Ellis' Maverick Room, funk finally gets its due. He brings the scene and memory of growing up impoverished in Washington D.C. in the shadow of the White House in the richest country on Earth, and pairs that youth with a rhythm and verse of political and neighborhood lyric with a bass line meter and soaring guitar breaks.

The beauty and fire of The Maverick Room doesn't stop there, however. Ellis moves from form to form, keeping lines quick and unornamental, or letting them weigh down with density. He lets the form sit in tradition, or frees it to give and take from all the space on the page it needs.

Ellis lets his language create fast flowing idea, and those ideas become image and emotion. Culture and cultures float in and out in half reference -- everything from movies to music, art to clothing fads -- in half reference. Without a heavy hand, The Maverick Room combines that culture with sometimes subtle, sometimes not, shout-outs to Amiri Baraka, Robert Hayden, Bob Kaufman, and other forebears. And bringing together Baraka and Hayden is like overcoming physics -- something Thomas Sayers Ellis does time and time again in this book.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Recommended Reading

Crush -- Poems by Richard Siken

SIken's Crush, his first book which also won the Yale Young Poets' award in 2004, is one of he most complete works of poetry I've come across in years.

He uses the pacing of his long line to slow time, and create a darker atmosphere within the verse, where shadows move from walls and creep along the legs of lovers. Time drags in elongated moments, or appears in flashes of memory and scenescape. His pace and image teach us fight from the first two pages how to read the work, and how to prepare yourself for the worlds of panic, death, and love which are to come. Siken reminisces in sadness and joy, madness and damagingly clear thought. He pairs image and notion with time and yearning. There is beauty in the voice and damage of this book.

Siken's poems are punk rock anthems, old country ballads, 60's B-movies, pulp novels, tin pail lunch boxes stuffed with old polaroids and love letters. His poems progress to a down tempo drum beat, and the skill in line break leaves the reader constantly moving forward, the combination forces us to digest and contemplate the words as they come, but never let up a moment for us to stop chewing. It's almost dumbfounding how Siken combines the long breath of a Ginsberg with the complete, unornamental word choice of a Creeley.

Crush is a project in obsession. The repetition of pacing and break builds on the down tempo into a culminating panic under the weight of body and the gravity of obsessive love. Siken has, within Crush, created a world of love and death, of paranoia, where voices drift in and out, where the self questions its other aloud, causing disbelief in the fact of the world even as it builds around us into existence.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recommended Reading

Steal Away -- Poems by C.D. Wright

I love C.D. Wright, and I'm not afraid to say it. For over twenty years, she's been at the forefront of verse, form, and language.

Steal Away collects selected verse from 1982 until the present, showcasing her early whit and play with form and language, her movements marrying narrative and image, and her perfection of the list poem. She changes form and style as easily as you or I might our socks. Her partnering of line to form, her use of punctuation as line break and line break as punctuation, and space as breath, are the building blocks of her work. The things many poets struggle to combine in their own poetry kitchens, C.D. Wright wields with ease and grace.

Her subjects are as varied as her approaches. In one poem she may weave the day to day of motherhood as a literal laundry list, and in another may confront the body politic with a series of periodless prose blocks. She muses on seasons and urban streetscapes in semi-traditional line and meter on one page, only to then launch into twenty pages of post-surrealist Oppenesque lines which using no space and changing twenty aesthetic approaches across the entire span.

The reason I myself love C.D. Wright, is because I can see in her the poetic ingredients that I love to reach back into for my own work; Language Poetry, New York School, Black Mountain, Surrealism, Modernism, Imagism (not to mention a political feminism so subtle as to be screaming), she is the culmination of 20th century American poetry. This book is a must read for anyone writing today, one of the pivotal benchmarks for we younger poets as we look to write our way into the next century.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Recommended Reading

Codes Appearing -- Poems by Michael Palmer

Michael Palmer is the Depeche Mode of poetry.

For someone like me, growing up on the East coast, with the only bookstore in one hundred miles being a Barnes and Noble, I thought the poetic world revolved around James Tate, John Ashbury, Charles Simic, and Jorie Graham. When I was first handed Michael Palmer's "Sun" it was a much needed and bewilderingly amazing bridge to Language, Post-language, and the greater intellectual possibilities inherent in verse.

If Ted Berrigan and Bruce Andrews had a son (God help us), he might be Michael Palmer. Palmer presents his life and his periphery with room enough in the words and style to make, as readers, our own. There is freedom for everyone within the pages of Codes Appearing. There is no extraneous within Palmer's language, every color makes sense, every turn of phrase, every image builds on the fragment and suggestion surrounding it.

In his "Baudelaire Series" Palmer writes for and after the heavy weights of poetic history. He pays homage but also builds and brews his own voice, using the shreds of history and tradition to build his own platform on the heads of giants. He moves swiftly from Rilkeesque verse to Oppen's sparse line, to prose poems worthy of Edson and Wright, all written in the same searching vein of consciousness.

He pairs a bare-bones approach to verse with seeming plays and monologues, with found text, with implied text, and creates whole short stories embedded with one or two lines. His play with form and space, taking breath or inflating it, alter our perception of the possibility of verse and intellect. His use of refrain, something amateur hands easily squander, is both masterful and adds to the layers of word and intent. Poetic history is colored sand from a tourist trap, and Michael Palmer's Codes Appearing is the glass jug encasing it.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Book Review

Return To The City Of White Donkeys -- Poems by James Tate

James Tate suffers from a crucial problem I myself would kill to have: he's prolific and has published many, many books. Having said that, across his many books, both poetry and prose, he tends to write within the same theme and voice, with the same consistent poetic choices. James Tate suffers from a crucial problem that almost all of us do: he has a comfort zone.

That in and of itself isn't a bad thing per say. At his best, these factors meet in crescendo, creating fresh and inspiring verse. At his most comfortable he comes as off as someone else writing their version of a James Tate poem. Tateiness, you might say, is what ruins Tate's latest volume of poetry. The wonderful Russell Edsonness of the first poem quickly dissipates in a sigh of the same tricks and Tate as you turn the page.

If not for Tate, Edson, Simic, and Knott, the "Boston Surrealists" like I like to say, many folks like myself may never have gotten into poetry. Prose poetry's knack is weighed to its content, but in this book Tate seems to heavy-handedly suggest a meaning larger than the small worlds and moments his characters occupy. He does this mostly in the last lines from poem to poem, leaving us a bit forced into conclusion, or the purposeful absence of one.

In this absence, we tend to search. In this day and age, we've come to expect every poet to be working out an intellectual project in his or her book, a "wire monkey" as Brian Teare often said to me. It reads like a Spoon River anthology in disparate verse, each poem is an interesting through dimensionless new person and place, though that is just my personal projection.

This book is about 1/3rd too long, not necessarily poem wise but word and line wise. Tate's imagination is as odd and amazing as ever, but his editorial choices and eye are the largest question. It's a shame that a smattering of mediocre poems skews the bell curve for the small smattering of brilliant poems. It's worth flipping though, but for Tate at his best pick up Worshipful Company of Fletchers or The Lost Pilot.



Monday, February 12, 2007

Recommended Reading

My Kafka Century -- Poems by Arielle Greenberg

Arielle Greenberg is renaming, reclaiming, reconstructing, and having fun doing it. In My Kafka Century, she builds a grotesque new world brick by brick, line by line. Blocks of memory become the air and soil of her poems, the fragmentation of which both stutters the reader and beckons him or her on. She creates a web of obfuscation, rhetoric, and image. Her writing is that oft sought after combination of accessible, sarcastic language with a densely layered intellectual project.

Greenberg weaves the struggles of gender politics and femenist identity, within the world and within the narrative I, so cleanly and plainly that it becomes an unquestioned hum, like the everyday expectation of voices and cars outside our windows. Her poetry is the poetry of the old city, be it European or American. My Kafka Century makes it quickly evident that simple description can invoke paranoia, desperation, and gravity, from line construction down through the very nouns and verbs she circles with. There is an urgency in her images, and a simple calm in her rhetoric.

My Kafka Century is both a communion with God and a struggle away from him. Faith becomes trial and ordeal, plea and hymn. A flight from God and an awakening to a new, more real, God. She takes every part of herself, her heritage, her identity, and dissects it piece by piece, wraps it inside out and ends up with something wholly new and astounding. If God made Greenburg in his own image, then the reverse must also be true.

Greenberg’s poetry is of the body without the body, without the mind needlessly taxing every feeling and whim. The great paradox of My Kafka Century is that her poetry is also the mind speaking without the weight of the body to narrow its scope. Her tales are broken nursery rhymes told dejected and after the fact. The book is staggering and unpretentious. Her words are musical and funny, distopic and prosaic, narrative and New York School, German Jewish and crass austere.

Greenberg takes a step back from the world, looking at it with laughing yet serious eyes. Humor and melancholy often go hand in hand in the human experience, and that comes across with great care and poetic furor in her lines. It’s been said that the good comedians see the world as a ridiculous place, the great ones don’t. My Kafka Century is something great.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Recommended Reading

Moraine -- Poems by Joanna Furhman

A moraine is a mound, ridge or ground covering of unsorted debris left behind by a melting glacier. Joanna Fuhrman’s form follows function as the melting away of her lines and verse deposit perfect piles of metaphor and imagery building to pyramids of postsurrealism, and at the same time questioning the very things they left. Her ridges are the frustrating dynamics of relationships, her ground coverings the asphyxiating place of gender roles in the world, and her mounds the poet struggling with this vague idea of poetry.

Ted Berrigan once said that being a poet is possibly the most ridiculous thing you could be, so you might as well have some humor about it, and Furhman has it in droves. That humor, married with sass and grit, becomes a plea to poetry and for poetry. Some people might say Furhman’s poetry is line after line of wild horses without a hitching post in sight, but these poems were not meant to be tamed or ridden. That isn’t to say there is a lack of control -- Fuhrman’s chaos is mathematical, what on first glance is an endless string of wild digits becomes a wonderful algebraic truth as the poems continue to build their mounds of sticks and mud and until an entire city of glacial debris springs forth.

The urban landscape is not to be denied in Fuhrman’s poems, and in true post post New York School she melds city life with historical influences, friends and lovers with the endless movement of city life. Think Baudelaire meets Sarah Silverman. In the poem "You Should Have Been There For The Hangover! Moraine," Fuhrman invokes O’Hara, Whitman, Rukeyser, Parra, Breton, de Campos, and Lorca by name, but that list could easily go on to include Bishop, Vallejo, Knott, Berrigan, Tzara, Apollinaire, Schuyler, Edson, Notley, and so many more. She piles these things and more until the forest is lost before the trees, until the reader has to adjust his or her eyes to see the reality going on just below the sticks and leaves.



Saturday, February 03, 2007

Recommended Reading

Dust Habit -- Poems by Trane Devore

Robert Creeley's grandson would have made the old man proud. Devore's poems are shoe-boxes of polaroids and Daguerreotypes, each one tainted and beautiful and alert and alive within the act of being. Each line and phrase breathes rediscovery into the space which Devore gives them; the absence of physical density alters time in the poem, drawing the pieces across the tongue in half speed film. Moments become days and days become breaths.

Voices float freely in and out of Devore's poems, as in an old and smoky room. Sections cobbled from meter, speech, seemingly found text, all fall together into autumnal verse. One hears Creeley, and through him Williams, Oppen and Zukofsky. Give yourself time to spend with the lines, to absorb the depth that so few words can carry. Devore's book is a slow bourbon, a savored chocolate mousse, and a dusty old shoe-box all rolled into one.



Monday, January 29, 2007

Recommended Reading

Shake -- Poems by Joshua Beckman

Elliot passed this book along to me at an Arielle Greenberg reading two weeks ago, and I'm grateful. The poems are self assured, certain. Beckman staples statements and series of images, all odd and amazing in their own right, into construction-paper garland. There's a wonderful beat underwriting his measured line. He uses this measure to link his surreal generalization in a way that informs the subtle and infrequent facts of life which bleed in from the margins.

Beckman uses linebreak as punctuation so fluidly that you're unware you're missing out on commas and periods until several poems have passed you by. His repetition draws emphasis to phrase and layers beat, forming the lines into a music, a kick-ass electroacoustic composistion bouncing around the stereoscopic speaker system in your head. This, married to the form changes from section to section, mold wit, beat and image into a wave, a current of peaks and valleys giving the line space to breath one moment, then crushing it into distilled constriction the next.

The book is made of three disinct, powerful movements. Shake draws life from that construction-paper garland of statement and image. "Let The People Die" stalls the form to draw the most from the repetition, meter, and taste of the language. "New Haven" frees the line from constriction, and flips the sentence on it's head. As parts they form a beautiful and exquisite corpse, given a heartbeat of strict meter, and fed the mad lightnings of surrealism, imagism, and cubism, they become an undead poetry monster. This book kinda rocks.



Sunday, July 30, 2006

Recommended Reading

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise -- Poems by Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish is the somewhat official poet laureate of Palestine, and his recent selected poems Unfortunately, It Was Paradise is a dynamic lyric voice full of wild imagery mixed with the fury of scripture. His voice is calm poverty in a storm of mideast chaos, a man who lived through and mourns the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but was himself inspired to write by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. With Israel currently shelling the entire state of Lebanon into the ashes of history, and nobody (read: America) really seeming to care, it seems an appropriate and unsettling book for the current geopolitical situation. Three hours of your time you won't regret having spent.


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