Attention Span – John Latta
Tim Atkins | Horace | O Books | 2007
Tonal mischief is the thing. “ODES II / 20”:
Although lack of theory prevents me from perceiving
The true nature of my oppression, Maecenas
Women of my age usually put on weight
This is the last time I appear in an avant-garde movie
What I’d really like to do is direct
My hands are shaking and my knees are weak
What, Jerry Lee Lewis meets Frantz Fanon? Atkins makes Horace’s six quatrains revert to six lines—brilliant move. Thus “Women of my age usually put on weight” descends fleetly out of: “Even now the rough skin is settling around / my ankles, and now above them I’ve become / a snow-white swan, and soft feathers are / emerging over my arms and shoulders.” (A. S. Kline’s version.)
Or Atkins Mauberleys up Horace (“Odes II / 28”) with a pinch of Housman: “Owing to a shortage of cocaine, / I turned my back on public life / And live in Market Harborough / With Robert Lowell’s widow, Caroline / / 50 Gauloises after Ezra / A pound of lip up fatty / And an anecdote featuring / Mein Kampf / / . . . / / I joined the school of quietude / & ended up with a beard, / Scones, towelling, and the flying day fixed. / Jeremy we could have done worse.” Smashing.
Stephen Collis | Through Words of Others: Susan Howe and Anarcho-Scholasticism | ELS Editions | 2006
Put it amongst a select bunch: Zukofsky’s Bottom, Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, Howe’s own My Emily Dickinson, Williams’s In the American Grain, H.D.’s Tribute to Freud, Pound’s Spirit of Romance, and Duncan’s H.D. Book—all “poets’ attempts to write their response to other poets,” all “Janus-faced works—part exegesis, part original expression,” all “singularities”—works writ in a mode of what Collis calls “anarcho-scholasticism,” dabblers and enthusiasts working the archival holes, bridging the rifts. Such writing a kind of writing into the archive, the “world poem,” writing against the archive’s regulated keepers.
Howe, in “Melville’s Marginalia”: “I thought one way to write about a loved author would be to follow what trail he followed through words of others.” Eliding itinerancy (Howe: “I cling to you with all my divided attention. Itinerantly.”) and name dispersal (Collis: “If identity is fixed order can be imposed. Resistance to singleness is a resistance to the enclosure of capital and empire.”) Collis’s terrific phrase: “scattering identity to the four corners of the page”: “We are traveling as relations through words of others to the lost origins of our other selves.”
Collis, on the nefarious “reach” of notions of “enclosure and privatization” of the commons: “To shut up speech. To shut up documents in archive’s exclusion. To shut up land so that it many be ‘improved’ and become profitable. To shut up definition in dictionary versions.”
Peter Culley | The Age of Briggs & Stratton (Hammertown Book 2) | New Star Books | 2008
A poem or series of poems that here, in its second “installment”—the mind behind the writing is too restless and indefatigable and curious for the word—seems suddenly and absolutely capable of most defiantly rippling out through the various juggernauts of the twentieth century’s collapse and into the present to encompass the brute history and giddy trials of a whole finicky continent, and beyond. Culley explores recent (and not-so) American history with the tamp’d down precision of Lorine Niedecker, the rumpled reach of Charles Olson.
. . . where rising fuel costs
the fear of creosote & coalsmoke
to re-enable the choking fogs
that had disappeared
with the industrial base—
that all of this is safely tracked
from space, indeed,
to be lost is ultimately
economic, those people
under the rubble assumed
their cell phones
would save them, an island
held in place
with mirrors, they
can hear you, they
can see you, they
just can’t help you.
Trevor Joyce | What’s in Store | The Gig / New Writers’ Press | 2007
Reading around in its strange and bold and marvelous pieces, pieces that seemingly sprout out of nowhere, that exhibit incredible variety, that often enough seem spoke by ancient voices up out of the boggy penetrable earth, I think how what one cannot speak of, one calls genius, or quotes too lengthily. Joyce’s range is phenomenal. The book opens with a lovely set of tiny things, the “Folk Songs from the Finno-Ugric and Turkic Languages,” work’d up out some rudimentary literal versions. Here’s one:
A birch tree
bends on the hill.
For a plough, girls chop
is it your first?
For caps, girls braid
Which seems to catch that particular moment of adolescence when the girls’re outstripping the boys and there’s a combo of taunting and impatience and self-reliance going on amongst them. Too, Joyce reworks a series he calls “Love Songs from a Dead Tongue,” out of fifteenth c. (and earlier) Irish originals, and a series of “some of the surviving poems by Juan Chi (pinyin Ruan Ji, 210-263).” The upshot of the threading through of translations and versions is a splendid estrangedness, where the alien flips into customary, and one’s happiest reading the song of a horse:
How happy the life of a horse! Hey!
Till the end when they mock him
and whip him and kick him,
and for Purgatory sell him to gypsies.
Thirty years I served one man,
hauled his harness like a colt,
now I’m old I’m down and done for,
corn-stalks hurt my gums.
Smiths and farriers rot in hell!
Your tackle was the death of me,
they broke my head, they stole my skin,
now sheep dogs sniff my meat.
Caroline Knox | Quaker Guns | Wave | 2008
The temptation to go off into completely giddy self-effacery and nonsense stands down against deeply-soak’d-in and censorious habit (in the case of most of us): Caroline Knox defeats just that with moments of vocalic sprezzatura shying into ur-language, or post-speech, or pre-speech. I suspect that she’ll eventually become a marker of the “era”—she is consistently restless, inventive, unalign’d. Two pieces in a contrapuntal (bilingual) face-off:
Dreyken fabe, wer ingete dreyken
(dor droy rittavittastee orn canar).
Preb. Refen ingete inget. Preb.
Santona nofa Xeroc;
Ter quittz mivin movip.
Morm faria greel Florida
faria greel pandeck.
We took our bathrobes ad stuck them in the washer.
(Ritta put hers in the blue laundry machine.)
I said, “Refen ingete inget.”
Nocturnes are hard to Xerox;
birds follow the glare of water.
We prepare tax returns for people in Florida,
People in Florida whom we have never met.
(Translated by the author and Carline Knox)
Carl Martin | Rogue Hemlocks | Fence Books | 2008
My immediate sense is that Martin’s earlier work (Genii Over Salzburg) owes less to Ashbery: immoderate, sui generis, awe-inducing. No matter: there’s plenty of heart-stopping mischief here, effects identifiably Martin’s own. “White Cargo”:
As the adverse account shoos flies
there are still remnants of the dynastic fan.
Golf balls are tinder in the muzzle of art.
Camels like glittering ashtrays in the barber’s mirror
sink to their knees with domino teeth:
an advert for a fleshy deck of cards. Only
a straight razor separates hell from marriage.
And if camels are marriageable they adorn
the stern of this ancient bateau-citerne: The captain
smiling like a mule. How fitting for the French coast!
Noël, old boy, pass the oxygen—would you?
The highly palpable sense that that is verging on a logical (paraphraseable) sense—is not “merely” surreal—puts it into the territory of the uncanny. (Surrealism rarely does so: in the hands of most of its adherents it becomes tedious, mechanical, predictably “zany.”) Look how he rewrites Stevens, comes out looking like the King of the Ghosts!
NO SOP, NO POSSUM, NO JIVE
We must pit ourselves brutally,
testing the tar and pitch
of immaculate forefathers. Ditto, etc.
X-temporizing, scrounging luxuriously
as we climb intricate cobs, nipples
and rosy vellums inscribed with an oriole.
I see no further than this, though
I’ve been lower, into hell’s orifice;
popped back in like a rabbit!
Chris Martin | American Music | Copper Canyon Press | 2007
Martin writes: “Words lead double lives: anonymously adrift and tethered to authorship,” admits to how “One of the things that opened the world of American Music to me was plagiarism, ” and provides a splendidly variously listing of some of the “voices in the chorus.” In spite of (or because of) the approach, Martin’s voice is remarkably present, sardonic, toying, sheepish, mischievous, full of exceeding wonder—indeed, the “chorus” barely impinges at all. The poems are models of velocity and containment—they fly short-linedly down the page, they scoop together a whole range of things, worlds of simultaneity.
. . . the way the boy
His inviolate sheen, combing
The grates with his eyes, his fists
Hidden but surely
Balled, not often am I
Prepared for violence, though I find it
Natural, in me as in
The world, and it remains
Revolting, the brief
Desire to trample something
Living, loving certain
Registers of collapse, tiny pockets
Bereft of grief, it reminds me how Henry
Miller spent three years
Inside a slide
Trombone and I have
Found myself too
Sane, and sullen, and suddenly
I feel just like Bonnie
Raitt on the cover of Streetlights
Her mouth unself-consciously
Open, a little
Question in her
Eyes as if
To say, “I am so
Full of this . . .
This . . . what is this?”
Alessandro Porco | Augustine in Carthage and Other Poems | ECW | 2008
At bottom, a sense of language in excess, skittering (gleefully) out of control, uncontainable, dictating its own terms: manhandling its handler, mocking, fun. Porco’s work isn’t all so neologistically “ripe” as “Tugnutt” is—though the beasts Lewis Carroll (“winkel and wame” bastard son of “gimble in the wabe”), John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, and James Joyce himself do hold heavy sway.
did Tugnutt knock nock,
and in hogeye bacchi
winkel and wame
the quimwig quimbush;
of the city, world-wary—
too, too much so
to ginch, zither or futz
with any impression of dee-
light: jutsum just some,
I would weary, bid
thingamy, and good-blite!
[. . .]
the Musée des Poontenanny
schmoya of Goya fl-
gammon of Lautreamont and
twat blivvets—the like
of which dollup off cooch rides
whipped by gimcracks
Spadger, and Stinkpot streets.
Elisabeth Workman | Opolis | tÿpøgrafika / Dusie Kollektiv 2007
There’s something otherworldly about it: thinnish canary-yellow paper, imprint’d in green inks, covers of identical stock—it’s audaciously flimsy, an honest pamphlet and shot through (accompanying each of the twenty-six prose-looking texts) with photographs, architectural, signage, Arabic, a Michelangelo David against a brick wall, minaret silhouettes, a Bush-vampire fanging Lady Liberty, pines, debris, print’d every which way, and bleeding spectacular ghost images “behind” each piece. Graphic work and images by Erik Brandt. An slippery (hid) alphabetical scheme to the doings, the pieces chameleon’d, one’s focus going in and out in the reading, emphases shifting. Here’s “Notion of Arts as Frivolity” (01:14):
mercenary, maverick, or missionary—one of the three. Apparently, aside from the alcoholic, oil-eyed narcissist who hasn’t left the sealed villa in three weeks, you should submit to classification. Live on the street with a concrete-slab vista, among amiable guards you always make a point of waving to and the mechanical gushes of water over plastic rocks, marking the entrance. Live as a number under the name, most likely a neologism of capitalist & eastern ideals. There’s the over-chlorinated pool and the water that induces balding. Live a refrigerated existence. On the other side of the walls, the nature of the shifting desert, snakes, and the yellow school bus full of indentured navvies lurk. The nefarious cranking and tapping of industrial machinery define nocturnal white noise. You find yourself wanting to complain about local ways though you’re not really certain how much is local or how much you’ve become a non sequitur
Everywhere in Workman’s piece is uncertainty, failure, blockage, threat. Opolis seems wholly and profoundly of its era (an “era” partially defined by statements like Workman’s “heaven is as hell is a hoax I decide so I make up multiple eras all at once and so overwhelming one wants to explode out of sheer inherited longing”). The unnamed global city consciousness-miasma we imperialists’ve inherited (made) versus the longing for elsewhere. Workman, in a lovely line (there are many): “we dream omnisciently of there, which oscillates between never and now, operatic and open-mouthed.”
C. D. Wright | Rising, Falling, Hovering | Copper Canyon Press | 2008
A polis norteamericano in crisis, a citizen unmoor’d, a calling out (in two senses—for aid, to accuse). The center of the book is largely split between the terrific title poem and its “Cont.,” its continuation. Essentially a fractured (and gut-wrenching, and maddening) narrative of the immoral and illegal preemptive “excursion” into Iraq, it is itself punctuated by “to be cont.,” by contradictory reversals (“Not so; instead”), by doubts as to the efficacy of writing, period (“Nary a death arrested nor a hair of a harm averted / by any scrawny farrago of letters” and “This is no time for poetry”).
. . . And so I have come to want them—
them being, those people, the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania,
I can’t even bear to say their [expletive] monosyllabic surnames
for dread of it calling up their bland [expletive] faces; yet I have come
to want them, almost obsessively come to want them, to exist in this dread:
for the nondescript car to pull up and disgorge the uniformed men
with their generic words tapped out of their well-drilled heads;
for the blunted bodies of this couple to be riveted to this dread,
for their blunted minds to stick on this expectation as if driven into
their bones of the natural order upended—that their twins are dead. No,
that their twins are blessed to give of themselves so selflessly in this struggle
for our way of life as it is so correctly, so vulgarly called; though I do not want
them to actually receive this news to actually have the twins be dead,
nor for their eyes to be blacked out, nor their earthly functions
be stopped, nor their blood to quit flowing to their temporal lobes,
but I sincerely do want this couple this very couple, the current occupants,
to exist solely, wholly in this dread. Because we do.
An [expletive] lovely and fastidious apery of the lingual buncombe of war and its masters, the “current occupants.” Wright assuming the debased lingo of el otro lado (“the other side,” another recurring phrase) in an attempt to “get through”—though recognizing, too, that any addressee’ll see in “current occupants” a sign of junk mail, and likely toss it. No doubt “Rising, Falling, Hovering” is the most ambitious U.S. anti-war poem of the twenty-first century.
More John Latta here.