Attention Span 2011 | Cathy Wagner
Cecilia Vicuña and Ernesto Livon-Grosman, ed. | Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology | Oxford | 2009
Beautifully polemical anthology that situates Latin American poetry in its complicated historical and cultural matrices. Alongside work by poets we’ve heard of (or should have), represented here are Aztec and Mayan poems addressing the European invasion; astonishing oral poetry, old and new; and a selection of visual and concrete poetry that connects the midcentury concrete poetry revolution to indigenous traditions. The anthology draws attention to the influence of indigenous poets on avant-garde internationalistas: “The poet is a God. Don’t sing about rain, poet. Make it rain!” an Aymara poet told Vicente Huidobro. Many poems here reflect what Vicuña calls “a poetics of resistance.” I was elated by Gabriel Gudding’s translations of the Nicaraguan Ruben Dario, whose poems Englished had never shaken me before.
Christopher Nealon | The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century | Harvard | 2011
Brilliantly makes its case: that contemporary and recent poetry has all along been influenced by and actively investigating the workings of capital. I didn’t agree with every one of Nealon’s interpretations of individual poems, but I rarely find myself reading criticism with this much note-taking gusto. I have been telling everyone about this book.
Srecko Kosovel, tr. from Slovene by Ana Jelnikar and Barbara Siegel Carlson | Look Back, Look Ahead: The Selected Poems of Srecko Kosovel | Ugly Duckling | 2010
Contemporary of Rilke’s. Imagine Rilke with lashings of John Wieners and Khlebnikov.
Carla Harryman & Lyn Hejinian | The Wide Road | Belladonna | 2011
An enviably intellectually-fecund friendship set itself the important work of trying to think and write sex, collaboratively, as women. I wish I’d had this book years ago. “We eroticize our earthly situations and conditions and likewise they eroticize us…Our vagina accommodates the proverbial railway station it has sometimes been compared to. To be enormous is a wish that comes over us in our hot desperation. Then, miraculously, everything on earth swells to our proportions.” Yup that’s how it works. Crazy smart and crazy sexy.
Dana Ward | The Squeakquel, pt. 1 & pt. 2 | The Song Cave | 2011
In this and in Typing Wild Speech and his newer work Ward is making something new with poetic narrative. Blows forward fast in dawn glow. Bliss to be with.
Ryan Walker | You Will Own It Permanently | regs times | 2010
Charming dorky conversational smart friendly, just adorable; I don’t know how you can get hold of this one, as it’s self-published—try bathybius.com/duh, or Lulu.
Sommer Browning | Either Way I’m Celebrating: Poems and Comics | Birds, LLC | 2011
Again charm, and serious wit, plus arch and goofy drawings. Somebody sent me this and I opened it after a hard day and was lightened. Thanks.
Juliana Spahr | Well Then There Now | Black Sparrow | 2011
Ethical effort is the engine of Spahr’s poems. (I am using an anti-ecological metaphor on purpose, because self-consciousness about the harm a contemporary subject does to the world is central to Spahr’s writing.) Sometimes the effort feels embarrassing, as if the poem’s tires have gone flat because it didn’t want to use up too much air while driving—the effort feels effortful. But then the effortfulness twists before my eyes so that I see that it is part of the poem (it becomes an aesthetic method), and that she is brave for allowing the effort to be part of the poem’s armature, and that an enormous risktaking intelligence is guiding the poem and organizing its anxious pleasures. I like to feel my suspicions of this work, and I like the thinking I have to do when I think about its challenges poetic and extrapoetic.
William Fuller | Hallucination | Flood | 2011
There is something hilarious about the way William Fuller’s profession (chief fiduciary officer at a trust company) is fetishized by his fans, as if he knows something other people don’t—he’s got the secret. Maybe he does. Wry mystical intelligence and pleasure in the word-hoard throughout, and the last poem “The Circuit” is worth the price of the book.
Evie Shockley | The New Black | Wesleyan | 2011
Witty and sharp. Uses many playful forms (often versions of acrostics) to examine the injustices, racist and otherwise, that manifest in the ways we address and describe one other. The formal play means that our attention keeps on being drawn to surface. As the Oulipians saw, surface reconfigured has the potential to disrupt what plays over our thought-screens; these poems are North American instances of Vicuña’s “poetics of resistance.”
Marianne Morris | Commitment | Bad Press & Critical Documents | 2011
Shiny gold-paper-covered chapbook from a younger Canadian poet living in London who grabs all of us, especially the banks, by the hairy scruff and shakes till falling money turns to fumes that light up the shit we’re in. Chris Nealon might want to check it out. A lot of pissed-off marvelously riotous poetry is coming out of the islands off Europe right now. Just got hold of Frances Kruk’s Down We Go chapbook, which is like a cracked white china bowl of shiny nails, and Chris Goode’s new anthology of young (all under 30) English poets, Better than Language: An anthology of new modernist poetries, also worth reading.
Catherine Wagner teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her latest book is My New Job.