Attention Span 2009 – Kevin Killian
David Buuck | The Shunt | Palm Press | 2009
David Buuck’s first book is relatively slim—well it’s normal size, not one of the 110 page behemoths that pass as regulation fare nowadays—but it is exquisitely focused and honed in on the torment of being alive in the world we live in, a citizen of the evil state of America. And a vulnerable human cell heavily implicated in capitalism. As a summary of the different formal experiments Buuck has tried out in the past ten years this book is marvelously effective, for he is the most impatient of poets and the one most disgusted with his own efforts. “Stanzas in Mediation 15-20” (“The Suck”) is my favorite of these dramatizations of self loathing. “Sure–I am/ a poet—against/ the war & a poet/ against “poets”/ “against the war” & I’m a poet against the post-/ war & well/ I’m not really/ much of a poet/ either, but & yet/ I’m just trying to do my part/ by Iraqifying/ my CD collection ]…]”–it just goes on like this taking strips of his flesh with it. When I first met him his Hamlet nature fascinated me, his mercurial balance of air and water, and now years later he steps forth, a Hamlet with balls.
Garrett Caples | Complications | Meritage Press | 2007
Garrett’s my editor—at City Lights, where we will publish my new book Impossible Princess in the fall—so by rights I should leave him off this list, but if I couldn’t write about my friends’ books my list would be tiny indeed, and Steve Evans, if you enforced that rule on “Attention Span” then you could show all the books reviewed on one screen. As I cast my gaze on the books I’m writing about this time around I see to my shame that indeed they are practically all by my friends, except for one girl whom I have never met, and one guy whom I only met once and yet was captivated by his dark intense Nijinsky grace. Does that count? Garrett Caples wrote Complications during a time of worldwide grief and mourning, and during a time when the culture figures he admired were too slipping away, as though they knew—and the elegiac factor in Complications is high. Thom Gunn, Barbara Guest, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, all ghosts now, are invoked without sentiment and with plenty of wry humor. Caples’ experiments with sound and the slipping image are well known, and here they really get a workout: those of you who have read “Dub Song of Prufrock Shakur” know what I’m talking about. And there are also lovely straight essays here (if I could apply for a second the dubious adjective straight to this writing) which I always enjoy in a book of poetry.
Norma Cole | Natural Light | Libellum Press | 2009
Norma also has a new book from City Lights, a book of selected poems called Where Shadows Will, 1988-2008, which makes my mouth gape, as though to remember that I met her before she had written any books and was just starting to publish after a career as a painter. Well, I don’t have the space here to do more than recommend this one wholeheartedly— though I wonder why there’s nothing in Where Shadows Will from Norma’s greatest work, the epic verse drama Art Colony Survivor (2002), the play I wrote with her over months and months of laughter and tears? In the meantime I have thought often about another new book by her, Natural Light. Cole strikes out as she has in all of her books in a new direction, and several at once— her mind is like a weathervane that spins in a hurricane, unerringly finding the rough underlining to any solace. “Where Shadows Will” does a decent job of excerpting from Natural Light, but it leaves out the majestic centerpiece, the final serial piece Collective Memory. Collective Memory is a book of mnemonic that lavishes attention on the smallest elements of our tongue— on the individual alphabetic character. Like bp nichol her countryman, Cole understands why petulant pixies clamor for Frosted Flakes. Who is JJ? What happens when a little inverted c is placed over the actual c in the proper name Bavčar? Well, she is a wonder and I’ve anagrammed her own name endless times, clear moon, name color, coral omen, elm corona, need I say more.
Kate Greenstreet | Case Sensitive | Ahsahta Press | 2006
Kate Greenstreet’s first book came as a surprise to me, having been burned by a few other Ahsahta publications in earlier years. Now I see thanks to a handy list in the back of the book, that there have been just as many Ahsahta titles I’ve enjoyed as the ones I remembered dismissing. Just goes to show me how easily stereotype draws me in. I wonder how many folks think of Krupskaya in the same way. Tried one, didn’t care for it, the rest are probably all shit as well. In Kate Greenstreet’s case, the book itself is physically lovely with that thick lustrous yellowy paper that’s like a cross between buttermilk and cheesecloth. Above all else her book reminded me of the classic work from Kathleen Fraser I first learned to love in the early 80s, and it even comes with Fraser’s own [brackets] and signs of domestic life made fraught by a highly tuned consciousness, and her overheard scrap[s of enigmatic Antonioniesque fragments of conversation— and with a blurb by Fraser on top of it all. But she is more than— I mean other than—a poet in the How/ever mode, she has her own prosody (seen at its best in a small poem like “phone tap,” so perfect it must have been written with a diamond on glass—and her own trips to take and dare.
Kate Greenstreet | This Is Why I Hurt You | Lame House | 2008
In five sections, This Is Why I Hurt You acts as a severe corrective to the pingings of consciousness featured in Case Sensitive, Greenstreet’s previous book. The flatness and foundness of the material here allows for all sorts of interpretation, but it beats a path away from the numinous, into a celebration of the reflexivity of ordinary USA syntax. “He had these big sharp claws on his hooves, and sometimes he’d put one u[p on me.” Didn’t I read this, in Little House in the Big Woods? “I understood it as the part of our mind where art comes from.” That’s from William James via Gertrude Stein. “And I hoped he wouldn’t scratch me with them, because that would really hurt.” I don’t know, Bastard Out of Carolina? American sigils fill this little book to the point of bursting, like fifteen sweeps down my chimney. That’s the fairy tale of the US—it will leave a mark.
Kreg Hasegawa | The New Crustacean | Green Zone | 2008
This young man is writing flash fiction that sits right on the chasm between the prose poem and the traditional short story. Is it parody? Not quite, though Hasegawa delights in his puns and his wordplay, enough to allow it to direct the action from the inside out. “What poetry,” he asks, “can you quote from that can’t possibly poison you back?” So there’s an awareness of the risk involved in writing, a picnic phenomenology. One long story—I use the word “long: in quotes because most of these stories could be written on the surface of an aspirin with a laser beam—one long story is the title piece, “The New Crustacean,” in which a traveler, meeting with a terrible accident (or other trauma?) becomes the victim of a pair of bad Samaritans in khaki. I’m still scratching my head about how beautiful it is. On another front he uses his close watch over words as a strategy for characterization, or the sensuality that leads from it. “Her life was something I had glazed myself with, or poured myself over, slowly, like gravy. I was something to make meat moist.” You don’t often hear people reveal so much of themselves, not even in fiction, and definitely not in poetry. Grosbeaks fly in and out of the stories like the moths in Robin Blaser’s Moth Poem. This guy Hasegawa has it, as my little nephew says, going on.
Donato Mancini | Æthel | New Star Books | 2007
At Naropa, Allen Ginsberg spoke of Gertrude Stein’s project as “building little sculptures out of words.” I thought of his, well perhaps rather patronizing description when trying to describe to a former student just what Donato Mancini’s book Wilcox Æthel is all about. It’s a little difficult to show you what he’s doing without illustrations, but luckily Johanna Drucker has written it up on the back of the book and I can crib from her. She avers that Æthel is based on Mancini’s “appropriation of typefaces” and that he uses type we’re used to in other contexts to stand on its head our conventional wisdom on them. In practice even I can see that Mancini twists, stretches, reverses and entwines these fonts into garlands and blobs to satirize our preoccupation with reading itself, for one can barely make out a single word, though each poem has suggestions of words in it. Rather like birds building nests from particles that top scientists might be able to identify individually. Dodie and I printed some selections of Æthel in our zine, Mirage #4/Period[ical]. We’re baby boomers so we recognized the font Jim Morrison and the Doors used again and again as their logo, but what Mancini did with it is provocation in the highest.
Filip Marinovich | Zero Readership| Ugly Duckling | 2008
I had this book and couldn’t remember how I had it, even though the inscription was a warm one. Then it came to me like a flashback in a Resnais film—me, like Emmanuelle Riva, distracted, at Canessa Park the city’s most unreliable art gallery, at a poetry reading. Him, Filip Marinovich, perfectly pleasant and gamin offering me his book in good faith I imagine, but me preoccupied by professional problems hardly gave him the time of day. A curtain of shame falls across Emmanuelle Riva’s piquant features. She lies to friends, pretends she doesn’t care. In the meantime the book grows bigger every day in her hands. Well it is, as he had told her, “an epic,” a massive, oversized account of poetic activity in Montenegro, Belgrade, New York, the savage capitals of torn and bruised faith. Marinovich’s soulful, notebooky lyrics etch out the struggle of the artist in hard times and the refugee making his way from palace to soup kitchen with an élan invincible. You can feel the slushy snow, you can smell the smoke, you can certainly take or leave the hardboiled Serbian refugee family with their sage advice and their magic realism and Grammas Nada and Mercy. The epic is structured in roughly the same proportions as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, as an accumulation of mass leading to apocalyptic takeoff, but in Marinovich’s hands this progression turns into a “new tune in the oxygen mix.” Well done дечко!
Lisa Robertson | Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip | Coach House Books | 2009
Alana Wilcox has again designed what seems like a perfect book, and it’s not magenta but rather a yellowish greenish chartreuse halfway between pear and olive—thus the suggestion of the magenta fairly pops out like one of those old Jasper Johns’ paintings of the Canadian flag. Robertson’s seventh book of poetry works differently than some of her others, and it mostly nearly approaches the way other people make up books of poetry, by accretion, a drifting into the harbor of the book the isolated moments of a lifetime of work. But hers are not like yours or mine, instead this is the work of one who can say with some pride, “My fidelity is my own disaster.” Its a heraldic book, but as its title suggests, a sassy, almost a Debbie Allen sort of book too. It might be her best book! If not, I predict that it will vie with a few others as many people’s favorite book by her. Robertson is coming from a place in which a tormented silence insists, “When women are exiled it seems normal,” and these poems are the tufts of marsh grass on which, like Eliza, the exile finds her footing in the rush of the restaurant/river.
Jared Stanley | Book Made of Forest | Salt Cambridge | 2009
If I ever publish another book I want Graham Foust and Bhanu Kapil to write blurbs for it! Jared Stanley, on top of winning the Crashaw prize that resulted in the publication of this book, Foust and Kapil wrote these great blurbs on top of it. Now as for Crashaw, I’m looking and looking and it took me nearly a week of re-reading the entertaining and exciting poems of Book Made of Forest, and I just wasn’t feeling the “Crashaw” reference, but then it came to me… The historical Crashaw, who lived nearly 400 years ago, wrote as many poems after turning Roman Catholic as he did before it—poems of objects joked together in the metaphysical style, poems in which a simple comparison balloons out concentrically into a dirigible capable of lifting the planet off its hinges. Thus the play Foust makes out of Stanley’s title, the book made of forest which Foust examines in the Crashevian style, relinquishing his hold on the metaphor to Arshile Gorky’s notorious boast of destruction. “I love it,” reads one of Stanley’s poems, in its entirety, “it’s so dead/ it’s straightforward.” I admire this continual stretching for it, and for the most part Stanley succeeds in the form of his creation. The only thing he can’t do, or hardly ever, is finish a poem as resoundingly as it begins. Maybe that’s the point, in which case, OK.
Suzanne Stein | Hole in Space | OMG! | 2009
“You went to the conference speculating on the expanded field of writing, and I went to work.” The truth is, some of us have to go to work, but Suzanne Stein’s little chapbook, produced by Brandon Brown’s ingenious OMG! press, punches a hole in space and into the formulation. You might call this a conceptual piece of writing, certainly it winds up with a eerie J B Priestley hole in time, for Stein takes us to a November 2008 event at the Poetry Project in New York, where she is delivering a talk in cold Manhattan, while in southern California fires are burning down whole coastal regions. The talk apes ordinary human speech, but it has an aspect of prophecy to it, Edgar Cayce the Sleeping prophet, for Stein announces that in four months time she will repeat every word of the talk a Manhattan tech is now recording, in an art gallery space in San Francisco. The second half of the book gives us the text of her San Francisco talk, and for those of us who were there at Canessa Park, the book presents an eerie souvenir of one occasion when the past completely predicated the present. We all know there are scripts we are doomed to repeat, but Hole in Space makes it all come real, the tangle at the end of the mind. And yes, that was the gallery space in which young Filip Marinovich and I shared one stolen moment of brief encounter.
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