Attention Span – Steven Zultanski
Some of my favorite poetry with a 2007 or 2008 copyright date.
Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge | 2008
O’Hara said that Whitman , Crane and Williams were the only American poets who were better than the movies, but today, in a world with Apocalypto and 3-D Imax Beowulf, only Kevin Davies is better than the movies. Maybe you’re in it for the giddy surprise of a turned phrase. Maybe you’re in it for the zonked formal apparatus (“floaters”?). Maybe you just want to drink a Corona and take pot shots at the government. Anyway you want it, that’s the way I need it. More than one Davies book a decade? Yes, please.
Craig Dworkin | Parse | Atelos | 2008
Like the chase scene in Apocalypto, Parse is a feat of athletic strength and technical virtuosity. And I mean that in the best sense (I’m a Yes fan, after all). This book is proof that conceptual writing deserves to be realized. Sure, the idea of parsing a grammar book by it’s own rules is clever, and many lazy McLazies would leave it at that and call it a piece—but the actual fact of the book goes way deeper than any mere suggestion. This work is ‘pataphysical’ in the truest sense—it appropriates a logic only to drag it to its limits, where the supposed rationality of its system is inverted—university discourse in the service of parody, or truth.
Rob Fitterman and Nayland Blake | The Sun Also Also Rises | No Press | 2008
Mr. Fitterman at his most tender, no kidding. Conceptualism and the lyric do meet, despite hysterical claims otherwise. In what seems at first like a closed system (all of the first person statements from Hemingway’s novel) we find instead a subjective opening: the sentences are so vague and gestural that they cry out to be grafted on to the autobiography of the reader, they serve as little memory-nuggets, each interchangeable and abstract. Which is precisely why the second part, a rewriting using material from the author’s own biography, is so necessary. Fitterman finds the ripples in Hemingway narrative (or, to be more broad, in novelistic conventions of masculinity) and, instead of a destructive gesture which breaks the original, ideologically-encrusted text apart, he adds more ripples, until eventually we can’t see to the bottom of the text. Psst—there is no bottom. Nayland Blake’s terrific minimalist coda sends us off on another open, leaky note, like the closing shot of 3-D Imax Beowulf, in which a computer-enhanced actor gets caught in the freeze-frame, or the fade-out, I don’t remember which.
Peter Gizzi | The Outernationale | Wesleyan | 2007
Peter Gizzi’s cameo in Apocalypto might have increased his star power, but it hasn’t diminished his poetic ability one bit. The opening sequence, “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me,” is an ambitious serial work that takes Gizzi’s engagement with the complex arragement of image and statement to knottier, stranger territory. The title poem knots statement even tighter by mixing the poetic line with part-words, which can only suggest meanings, and defer the meanings made by the full sentences. This is dense poetry: not in the sense that say, Prynne is dense, nor in the sense that Oppen is dense. Instead of bludgeoning us with experimental vocab or treating us to crafted, meaningful line breaks, Gizzi’s lyric resides in the no man’s land between information management and intimate conversation. His romanticism (and I mean that in the best sense—I’m a Wordsworth fan, after all) is completely contemporary—the language of the present authors the poet. Said language is soaked in both abstract, highly mediated war-time quasi-correspondence, the dailiness of human sociality, and the sensory experience of the distance between those two things—as Gizzi says, bewilderment.
Renee Gladman | Newcomer Can’t Swim | Kelsey Street | 2007
Gladman’s writing so successfully carries the illusion of transparency that sometimes it seems like there’s not much there, in any particular sentence. But the accumulation of sentences, and especially the sense of narrative blows back that very transparency to create an effect that is more crystalline than glass-like. Identity is refracted – not invisible but manifold. The narrators of these fictions, or these poems, or whatever, are not lacking identities but exposing them, not as frauds but as real structures, and as real feelings. The sentences, likewise, are not frauds in their simplicity, in their transparency. They are part of a complex and many-sided form, somewhat akin to 3-D Imax Beowulf.
Kenneth Goldsmith | Traffic | Make Now | 2007
Kenneth Goldsmith | Sports | Make Now | 2008
Goldsmith’s “American Trilogy” is the Apocalypto of poetry—one long chase scene, the spectacularization of suffering, and a relationship to history that makes accuracy an irrelevant question. Of course, the big difference is that Mel Gibson is an anti-semite, and Goldsmith is a Jew. They would probably not get along.
Ted Greenwald | 3 | Cuneiform | 2008
Quoth Patrick Lovelace: “The fundamental question of writing is: after you write a word, do you repeat the word that you’ve just written, or do you choose another?” Quoth Beowulf: “The sea is my mother! She would never take me back to her murky womb!” Ted Greenwald has been grappling with just this problem for decades. 3 is one of my favs by him, especially the standout first poem, “Going Into School That Day,” a long poem on love and memory, in which the next word is either a new word, or the previous word, or the previous word in a new place.
Juliana Spahr | The Transformation | Atelos | 2007
Juliana Spahr | Intricate Systems | The Press Gang | 2008
The Transformation may be, by the author’s account, a novel. I’m not sure. If so it’s a little out of place on this here poetry list, but who cares? The disregard for genre is part of its charm. Spahr’s increasingly intensive connective writing brings as many things into relation that can fit into a linguistic scene. Actually that’s not quote true – the relationships she builds are precise ones, with particular contemporary and political resonances. For instance, the migration from Hawaii to NYC narrated in The Transformation brings us from a colonial scene to it’s obverse: late 2001 America. Within this broader frame, all manner of institutional effects, social contradictions and forms of natural life are brought into conversation. That’s what keeps Spahr’s work from lapsing into a hippie monism or relativism: the politicized frame always reconfigures the disparate material into a specific critique. And Apocalypto.
Kevin Thurston and Lauren Bender | Boys are Retards | Produce | 2007
Kevin Thurston answers all the questions from a Cosmo Girl quiz-book, and he answers them truthfully. Is this because Thurston is a Cosmo Girl at heart? Or is it because he has a non-patronizing relationship to mass culture which allows him to engage with it formally, in a way which respects the sincerity of feeling structured by ideology? See, Thurston’s feelings are also ideological, he doesn’t pretend not to be cry during 3-D Imax Beowulf, he doesn’t pretend to be outside. Instead of a condescending attitude, instead of mocking forms of entertainment which swell legitimate emotion in legitimate humans, Thurston offers a skeptical but honest response to manipulative ad-affects. A single tear runs down his cheek.
Rod Smith | Deed | University of Iowa | 2007
There’s a part in 3-D Imax Beowulf where Beowulf jumps out of the eye of a seamonster, presumably killing the beast. How he got into the eye remains unclear. Deed is better than that scene, and Rod Smith is more heroic than Beowulf, by far.
Rachel Zolf | Human Resources | Coach House | 2007
Like spam but better, Human Resources reworks the junk language of the internet to bring to the surface it’s conflicted relationship to desire. On the one hand, spam is work written by a bot. On the other hand, spam is work written to be an intrusion in lives of people who are not bots: to spark the reader’s interest with its outrageous subject-heading or its surprising collage of often-sexualized language. Zolf uses this language to write a book not written by a bot, a book about desire as articulated by a person who speaks the language of spam, a language which is not necessarily rational, but which as immediate as a Jaguar eating a man’s face (as seen in Apocalypto). This book is spazzy, surprising and over-the-top. Since I only like things that are over-the-top, I like this book.
Special Mention: the comments box on Silliman’s Blog
Day after day, loyal Silliman readers fill up his comments box with: insults and whining? A terrific and totally baffling phenomenon. The misdirected anger of poets everywhere comes to a head here, in a great wash of complaining and PC finger-wagging. Silliman, to his credit, is graceful – he doesn’t seem to censor the comments, he allows all the regulars their space to be wacky or conservative, and he keeps on blogging on. A toast to Silliman, of course. But a second toast, please, to the folks who transform a poetry blog into a absolutely entertaining parade of off-beat characters.
More Steven Zultanski here.