Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span 2009 – Keith Tuma

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Stephen Rodefer | Call It Thought: Selected Poems | Carcanet | 2008

This is a generous selection from Rodefer’s work, introduced by Rod Mengham. It’s too short on selections from Four Lectures, but other than that most of what you need is here. Reading the first and presumably earliest poems in the book, which I’d not seen, confirmed my suspicion that Rodefer emerged full-grown from the head of Apollo to set up as the last secretary of modernism. The poet is both hero and anti-hero in that tradition: leave it to Rodefer to remake “lives of the artists” as “lies of the artists.” We already knew that Rodefer is Villon, or might as well be, and some years on he’s translating Baudelaire as Zukofsky. There’s not a better poet alive.

Robert von Hallberg | Lyric Powers | The University of Chicago Press | 2008

This will ruffle a few feathers: “My argument is that the most distinctive authority of lyric rests still on its affirmative function, whereas the intellectual disciplines derive from doubt.” Praise rather than complaint as the central lyric impulse, criticality a subset of rationality, the limits of which lyric reveals. “Musicality authenticates poetry, a crucial function in a discourse that strains against social conventions.” Von Hallberg links poetry or rather an “orphic tradition” with structures of belief that persist beyond irony and skepticism in a secular culture, and answers those concerned that the “affirmative effect of form . . . might discourage an intelligent warrior class from the struggle to preserve the autonomy of the republic” with a question about “whether the pleasures of fully realized art do not encourage one to achieve a peace so well crafted that it seems divinely sanctioned.” Chapters on authority, praise, civility, thought, musicality, and universality: much to ponder throughout. This is a powerful defense of poetry at a moment when the academy could care less.

William Fuller | Three Replies | Barque | 2008

This is a chapbook containing “replies” to Parson Platt, Thomas Traherne, and Experience, dedicated to “the New Mystagogues.” Fuller has been reinventing the prose poem since Sugar Borders (1993), and his recent full-length collections, Sadly and Watchword, contain both prose and verse. But what these new poems are doing with the verse line and prose is pretty wild, a step beyond that earlier work. Does it make sense to speak of it as a prosody? As ever, the writing is both meditative and deadpan, fast as a disappearing proposition, thought emptying itself of pretension: “Compare this statement to the gas pump, seen from behind the steering wheel, late at night.”

Norma Cole | Natural Light | Libellum | 2009

Especially for its first sequence or grouping, “Pluto’s Disgrace,” as it works the Pluto/Persephone myth in fragments about “iron disorders” and everyday violence. Notes on metal and wealth. As ever, Pluto is in the dark, and Persephone altogether beyond him, “nobody”: “the smallest telescope / reveals a golden glow / coming from her neck.” Her presence calls up Cole’s fiercely ethical response: “if you can, wave–a / woman holds / binoculars to / her eyes.”

Joseph Macleod | Cyclic Serial Zeniths from the Flux: Selected Poems | Waterloo Press | 2009

Andrew Duncan selects and introduces the great Anglo-Scottish modernist, author of the book-length The Ecliptic (1930), which was of considerable interest to Pound, Bunting, and Rexroth and has been highly valued by poets in Cambridge (UK) since. Only two sections of that book are here, but there is plenty more poetry until now nearly impossible to find, including works from the 1940s, when Macleod published some of his finest poetry as Adam Drinan, and lengthy selections from Macleod’s verse drama, which Duncan rates highly, as he also views Macleod’s career in the theater as crucial. It’s time we move beyond considering what it is that the strange and (as far as poetry is concerned) sad history of Macleod’s career tells us about modernism and British poetry and start reading his poems closely. The poems are marvelous and the unpacking is worth doing. One strophe from “Enterprise Scotland” (1946): “The hard ingine of a mother love / sorts and snowks, fichers and favours, / wales the best of the braw stuff, / sprushes with carved paper / tissues that scintillate and undulate / into and furth of her bairn-multitudes / that enlighten and illuminate / the minds and eyes of her bairn-multitudes.”

Rodrigo Toscano | Collapsible Poetics Theater | Fence Books | 2008

I have seen a few of the texts collected here performed at conferences: they’re fun to watch. One text, “Eco-Strato-Static,” which might have been written by Albert Camus had Albert Camus Toscano’s sense of humor, is up at the Meshworks YouTube site, in two parts, the first of which is here. This one might as well be—would work well as—radio drama. The physical theater of poetics theater is not always important, I think, though I’m hardly an expert, and it matters more to some of these works than others. A “collapsible” poetics theater might be one that you can fold and carry in your pocket, like a book. Toscano is very funny and his writing lively, playful—Sitwellian or Steinian and shaped by popular and local idioms and several languages—and these texts move easily if sometimes a little self-consciously among the discourses and problems of post-identity and labor politics, philosophy, and (alas) experimental poetry. It’s interesting to think of what the poetics theater format adds on the page, which is where most will find this work, and arguably where it is most realized. Consider the opening of Part 2 of “Truax Inimical,” for instance, where the format allows Toscano to get away with lines he’d never get away with in poems: “I fly in the deep of the night. I fly toward the source of the light.” That’s cheesy but only because I’ve stripped away numbers that precede each word (there’s one word per line) and slow the reading and make it something else. One of the few books I’ve read recently that is truly “innovative.”

Tim Atkins, ed. | Onedit 13 | http://www.onedit.net/issue13/issue13.html | 2009

This is one of my favorite webzines, its selections mixing familiar and less familiar names mostly from the UK and USA, each number short enough to allow for focus, avoiding the sprawl that the web encourages. Austere production nods to the typewriter, and Atkins keeps finding interesting new work. Number 13 includes “Proposals” by Allen Fisher, which features images of Fisher’s paintings (diptychs) giving on to texts (diptychs of verse and prose). There aren’t many images of Fisher’s paintings easy to find, so I was grateful for this simply for the view of Fisher’s practice it allows, and here the web format is perfectly considered. In what ways is Fisher Blakean? “As if anyone really knew what existence links to ecstatic life.” Work by Sophie Robinson, Rebecca Rosier, Emily Critchley, and others.

Caroline Bergvall | Alyson Singes | Belladonna Books | 2008

Pseudo-Chaucerian idioms romp through the history of women and post-feminist discourse: “Everything was different / yet pretty much the same. / Godabove ruled all / & the Franks the rest. / Womenfolk were owned ne trafficked / nor ghosted, and so were / most workfolk enserfed. / Sunsets were redder then, / legs a little shorter.” Light fare and the better for it, at its best when least self-conscious of an avant-garde, where sex trumps theory.

John Wilkinson | Down to Earth | Salt | 2008

The date and title of his last book, Lake Shore Drive, might suggest otherwise, but this is John Wilkinson’s first American book following his arrival at Notre Dame, because of its subject matter and in some ways its prosody. It makes sense that the book takes its epigraph from Ed Dorn. The longer poems catalog the devastation of the psychic and material landscapes encountered: “dawn / recurs with its terrible systems of belief, / whose proceeds kill in all good faith . . . .” The turbines involved are global, but the focus is on local exhaust fumes, which is to say North America. Since landing in the USA Wilkinson has also emerged as one of the sharpest critics writing about poetry, American and British both. A note describes Down to Earth as one book-length project, though there are titles for individual poems: the haunting “Like Feeling” and “The Indiana Toll” are probably my favorites. Anthony Walton’s Mississippi and Luis Urrea’s Across the Wire, together with an exhibition about Mexican migration at Notre Dame’s Snite Museum, are mentioned as important to the work. English idioms (“hoovered up”) survive and Wilkinson’s impressive vocabulary, but the sentence rhythms have been punched up, phrases clipped. Odd to have the burning tires and trashed cars of North America catalogued by such a poet, trimming his impossible eloquence. Traces of the earlier syntax remain, of course, and he’s capable of smuggling in Eliot or Bunting (who would after all make more sense to a new compression as it meets this catalog of horrors: “Words! A light-pen is too /compromised,” which is funny in more ways than one). I might add without pretending that it means very much that it seems to me likely that American readers will find this Wilkinson’s most “accessible” volume.

cris cheek | part: short life housing | The Gig | 2009

An impressive selected poems spanning some twenty-five years, revised and introduced or reframed for this substantial, sharply produced volume. For me the best of it might be the longest, central section, titled fogs, written in Lowestoft, England over ten years: “The initial year’s procedure was to go for a walk in a fog and to talk into a voice recorder whilst walking. Speaking fogs, phatic models for embodied creative consciousness, intensified formal quirks of my curiosity with these engagements.” Here’s the ending of one of the poems in that series, sans format (the poems are all in boxes, for starters) and line and word breaks: “rains for a blithering pink in the shape of collective drunk mated who milks buckled moons from a stick waves a clouding root stun-planted shivering dress of sheet lightning ink plotted witness and span.”

Paul Craig Roberts at Counterpunch, and Nouriel Roubini at his RGE Monitor site, among three or four economists who are worth reading as it all falls down.

More Keith Tuma here.

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