Attention Span 2010 – Kevin Killian
Steven Farmer | Glowball | theenk | 2010
Farmer is one of those writers who just don’t get published enough, for often when I look at current events I long to find out what Steve Farmer’s take on it will be, and then ten years later, in a book like Glowball, it’s still the news that makes news. He is always inventive, and his long poems have a shapely quality to them denied to some of his peers. Even in a traditional attraction such as the metaphor, his are exceedingly gorgeous: I like the “greater Los Angeles area” as a “manuscript in a parking lot.” You can tell he takes the long view: the cover is a Robert Fisk photo of US bomb activity in Iraq, and makes it seem like the “return to immensity” nasty old George Bataille was cheerleading for in his cold-war take on de Sade. Well, a sort of jewel box awaits you, courtesy of Palmyra New York and its mighty little theenk Books, and when you read Glowball, that it came from Palmyra will seem so apropos.
Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, eds. | Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque burlesque poetics | Saturnalia | 2010
Lost in the gritty and fabulous world of Gurlesque, it’s easy to forget the whole rest of the world that doesn’t have unicorns with green tails. So many talented writers, all of them working the same vein. Yet as Judith Halberstam assures us, it’s more of a sensibility than a similarity of content; well, that’s true but it seems like a genre too—can a genre and a sensibility equate to the same thing? After reading Gurlesque I have new thoughts about New Narrative of all things, for the two whatevers share more than a coincidental number of common concerns surely: the fixation on shame and embarrassment, the use of gossip to promote social upheaval, the deployment of kitsch, porn and pop to soak the very texture of the poem with discomfort. I’m just upset because Tina Brown Celona’s poem “Event History” shows me up as being sort of a dick. Apparently I snubbed her at a poetry reading, and what’s scary is, I might do so again having never met her and not realizing she’s a Madame Defarge with an elephant’s memory.
Natalie Knight | Archipelagos | Punch | 2009
I heard of her first in connection with her poets theater work and her collaboration with Rodrigo Toscano, but I have been lucky enough to see a fair amount of her poetry too. Richard Owens from Punch Press put out this lovely little book late last year. It ends with a preface—why don’t more books do this?—and begins with one too. In fact it’s a book that meets itself in the middle, or throws itself out like a boomerang and spins itself back in, an able angler. The poem, like a mirror, throws its light back and forth from subject to object. Images of thirst, inertia, desiccation suggest not only a crisis of nature, but an economic arrhythmia troubling the desert like the serpent monster in that Tremors movie with Kevin Bacon long ago. “We mastered weather while soldiers manned uranium rigs in the depths of this unconscious planet.”
Rachel Levitsky | Neighbor | Ugly Duckling | 2009
Neighbor has the feel of a book I will return to often over the next years, and it has also a back story that Levitsky outlines in her back matter that just floors me. I knew writing poetry was hard, but I never thought that I could get a village to help me through! What one comes away with in Neighbor is the sense of a sharply individuated voice, mediating all sorts of very charged political and emotional material, but also the sense, a comforting sense, of the power that a likeminded cohort of massed energies (“many in solitary”) can bequeath to a long project. The upshot is that Neighbor begins well and just gets better and better and better—well, there’s a poets theater type of piece which not everybody is going to love as much as I do—but I can’t picture anyone not swooning over—like bobbysoxers at the Paramount when Sinatra took the microphone—over the final section “The Desire of the Writer,” in which practically every line is great, for how often does that happen, really happen?
Sawako Nakayasu | Texture Notes | Letter Machine | 2010
With characteristic abandon, Sawako Nakayasu named her book after her long-ago blog, retaining that insouciant “notes” flavor that, when I see it in a book title, always makes me think, maybe I should wait for the real thing? “Notes” has a throwaway or at any rate provisional quality to it, though I suppose since Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” has attained more and more that feeling of terminal status that it was meant originally to deflect. Needless to say, Texture Notes is to texture as a Handbook to Surfing was to surfing, i.e., perhaps the last words on the subject. Oysters, she writes, to Paul Foster Johnson, embody the wet more than any other food or beverage, even water. You might wipe your eyes with one, “or rather, desperate for something that could act as a tonic, I would feed it to the next person who was in danger of drying out, yes you.” In other entries she considers the texture of danger, the texture of a raw red cow tongue in her mouth, the “physicality of intelligence” she detects in sumo. Left side right side of the brain: there’s nothing on the left side of each pair of pages, but a title and a dedication; on the right side is all the poetry. I had almost said “meat” because I’m getting so textural. Meat—the traffic of the internal plumbing.
Stan Persky & Brian Fawcett | Robin Blaser | New Star | 2010
I’m a sucker for any book called Robin Blaser, but this one is especially tasty, being that it was written by two of the former protégés of Robin Blaser, the American-born Canadian poet who left us last year. It’s not a collaboration per se, but rather a canny editor’s linking of two lengthy articles; however I find the conjunction very intriguing. Persky met Blaser in North Beach in the late 1950s, during his immersion in the Duncan/Spicer circle that proved an in-depth education for the young seaman. Fawcett’s encounter with Blaser was rather different, he was a young student right off the farm when he wound up in one of the first classes polymath Blaser taught in a formal setup (at Simon Fraser University in B.C. Funny thing is neither man writes poetry nowadays. In fact, Fawcett turns his half of the book into a blistering J’Accuse against the follies of the New American Poetry. I’m like, oh really? And yet the book has, of course, a depth of philosophical inquiry that will help many unravel the mysteries of Blaser.
Tom Raworth, trans. and ed. Gabriela Jauregui | El Tiempo Se Volvio Cuero | Sur +/avra ediciones | 2009
Gabriela Jauregui of Mexico City, who wrote one of my favorite books of poetry of 2008 (Controlled Decay) told me of her long immersion in the work of Tom Raworth and got me all excited when she said she had been translating his work into Spanish. And now here the book is, in a bilingual edition that, as I read through it, may I realize be the best selection of Raworth’s writing that we have. What comes to mind is the speed with which Raworth plows through his readings, so fast he’s huffing and puffing through the end, and the speed of Spanish, the multiple vowels and syllables so that there’s even more to hear and more to experience. Maybe a year back I went down to Glendale to hear Raworth and Juaregui read together for this book’s launch at the Poetics Research Bureau; sometimes he’d read, sometimes she would, but when they stood side by side and erased simultaneously it was better than the Kentucky Derby or Seabiscuit! I should also say that Juaregui’s notes (footnotes) in El Tiempo deserve their own five stars.
Sarah Rosenthal | A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area | Dalkey Archive | 2010
Sarah Rosenthal’s idea of the Bay Area writing community is hardly mine, but how I envy the poets who got to sit down and glory in all those sharply focussed, attentive and ultimately liberating questions she asks. She seems to have read everything each of her subjects has written, and to have it all at the tip of her tongue. It must be heaven to be so understood! At times such depth of knowledge leads to comic effects: Barbara Guest, faced with a multipart reading of her difficult work, seems so pleased that all she responds with is, “Yes,” or “What you’re saying is true.” I’m happy to see the New Narrative ably represented by Bob Glück and Camille Roy, but after a promising appearance in Rosenthal’s introduction, the Language poets seem to be disappeared from the bulk of the book, save by Bob explaining that life here in SF has become less bellicose in recent years, now that Tom Mandel, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten and Bob Perelman have all moved along.
Nathaniel Siegel | Tony | Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs | 2009
In short, sharp little lines that resemble the bursts of memory and shame of a young man’s journey towards gay self-acceptance, Nathaniel Siegel’s psychological acuity and his skill prevent him from ever getting too sappy about it. It is the sort of poem I wish I could have written, a montage of scenes appearing quickly, then flash, you’re in another awkward, sexy place with a musical soundtrack, and even sweeter, the names of boys and men like a litany of broken promises. He gets everything right, even the moment of steeling up your courage to come out to your brother, like he didn’t already know years ago. Each stanza I would have worked up into a touching short story, but here it’s the speed and the accuracy of the notation that matter, like what’s his name, like listening to an old Art Tatum session and shaking your head in wonder and envy. By the end, you have lived a stranger’s life so intensely he’s become your comrade, your rabbi, your favorite boyfriend.
Christopher Wagstaff, ed. | Paul Alexander: On Black Mountain College and the San Francisco Scene | Rose Books | 2010
I know that I promised Brian Fawcett I would have no more truck with the evil New American Poetry, and yet this beautiful transcription of three mid-1980s interviews with the painter Paul Alexander broke my vow right away. (This book is #3 in a Rose Books series called “Painters of the San Francisco Renaissance.”) Paul Alexander, happily still alive and working in northern California, was a student in the late, decadent flowering of Black Mountain and came west with the others once the college closed in 1956. He worked closely with Olson, Duncan, Keilty, Borregaard, Jess, Adam, maybe not so much with Jack Spicer, though his younger brother Jim was one of the key figures in Spicer’s artistic development. Alexander, Tom Field and a few others found themselves at odds with the artistic trends of their time, ignored both by New York and by the SFAI/”6” Gallery artists like Deborah Remington and Wally Hedrick, but they persevered despite it all. Their uncanny work is ripe for full rediscovery.
David Wolach | Occultations | Black Radish | 2010
I come to this work thinking of the meetings I’ve attended of the Nonsites Collective here in San Francisco, a movement that has certainly inflected Bay Area writing practice over the past couple years. Wolach seems one of the most talented of a phalanx of talented participants, but I will have to read Occultations many more times to tell you how I really feel about it. He must have given his designers hell, as do many performance artists-turned-book poets, for nearly every page has some visual stunt going on to amplify or complicate the already dense and Halpernian movement of the words. This is a writing attuned gingerly to a certain amount of pain, proposing itself in a world where it’s always 3:30 in the morning. I admire what he does with his body, and the advocacy with which Occultations speaks for (or to, perhaps) the victims of brutality, government indifference or policy, the heteronormative dictatorship, and disease. It’s a long book, but it’s been a long war.