Attention Span 2009 – John Latta
Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge | 2008
A model book. A sort of anti-book. The whole, in its jostle and jag, its loud call to attend, to refuse to allow one’s attention to plummet into the usual listlessness, functions with impeccable formal force, enacting the cacophonous compendium it musters. . . . What it posits is a supposed world of “radiant connectedness,” a world beyond narrative ploys (“your life has no plot so stop narrating”). Except: it refuses to mete out the necessary credence in that world, the connectedness is a foil, a spark-spitting short in the circuitry, sign of dystopia.
Kent Johnson | Homage to the Last Avant-Garde | Shearsman | 2008
Is Kent Johnson a nervous Nellie, or what? I think he positively thrives on yatter and scorch, that version of the lyrical big itch that accounts for Art and Trouble (two manifestations of one compulsion) amongst all us humankind. He’s always looking to “mix it up a little,” flinging down the fat puff’d up old-style boxing gloves of ego for a little delight in exchange and engagement. Man least likely to consider (or care) about the possibility of looking a little foolish. Besides, he likes people, in all the muddle and mayhem and mopery. Endearing crazy vulnerability and that obscenely huge grease-slick of high ambition. And all of it highly nuanced and terrifically “up front.” . . . What Kent Johnson does—unlike anybody else—is interrogate (badger) that place, that “situation,” its ways and functions, how its writers behave and misbehave, lie to others and themselves, trade favors and insults, pose, vindicate, prance, vilify.
Richard Owens | Delaware Memoranda | BlazeVOX | 2008
Proper care of the materials, human, historic, and natural, a respecting attunement: that’s one place to begin. Everywhere in Owens’s notes and accumulations that make up the six sections of Delaware Memoranda, a poem of the river that pours through the eponymous Water Gap, there is the insistence: “to strike an appropriate key.” Or: “the dire need / to repurpose the trash so rightfully ours.” There’s something supple, all-including, and, most rare, highly moral about Owens’s work here in Delaware Memoranda: unhesitant witness he is, turning up the river’s sluice and item with measure and respect, all the while refusing to make a bright something where there is nothing: “Not to fetishize the fucking river / but to think through the transformation / —how we come—to be to mean / encountering others along the banks.”
Forrest Gander | As a Friend | New Directions | 2008
A kind of skinny roman à clef, a version (with all the fat skimmed off) of some part of Arkansas poet Frank Stanford’s short life. Which is, admittedly, probably the “wrong” way to read anything. And, I admit, it made me itch a little—even in my admiration for the way Gander so deftly turn’d that life into art. . . . I read it in a gulp, one sitting. It is prose pump’d up to a high pitch with no release—a gusto-prose.
C. S. Giscombe | Prairie Style | Dalkey Archive | 2008
Giscombe is entirely capable of shuffling the terms, reassigning the scores, mocking the tune, all in a disturbing sleight-of-hand way that leaves one pop-eyed and shiftless and itchy, wondering if the train’s pull’d out or the stationmaster’s slipped one a mickey, and what about the music?
“Trim paragraphs of uninflected speech hung over the prairie, sound’s origin. Eros came up out of its den in the embankment—came out tawny, came out swarthy, came out more ‘dusky’ than ‘sienna.’ The sky was a glass of water. White men say cock and black men say dick. One gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest. Eros was a common barnyard pest, now coming to be seen in suburban settings as well, a song with lyrics, clarified and ‘refined’ both . . .”
Distill’d into that signifyin’ fox, “Eros” and “pest” and “song”—“Mistah Fox” elsewhere—is a hugely rich—complicated—history of racial and sexual and geographical attitudes; what’s astonishing is how deftly Giscombe sounds—utters and penetrates—that history.) . . . There’s a kind of ferocious need in Giscombe’s work to annotate, to record the details, a need that struggles against meaning’s lazy splay ravaging of the discernible. I love how—since Here (1994), Giscombe’s books’ve carried notes detailing the precise addresses where composition occurred.
Out of a terrific essay call’d “Why I Wrote Stretchers,” some “rules” and constraints glean’d: “Each stretcher is nominally a 33-line unit,” a decision made for reasons “ultimately banal, based on [Hilton’s] age at the time of writing the first set.” “The poems incorporate a lot of found material . . . much of it (though by no means all of it) verbal detritus heard or seen on journeys through this city.” “Pillaging cheap secondhand texts for material enforced another kind of reading which was partial, discontinuous and manic.” “Page 33 of texts became for a time a focus.” “The opening is a measure for the rest of the stretcher not necessarily in terms of content, but certainly in terms of (line) length. This is what gives stretchers their shape. If stretchers have a constraint it is that they can’t be too wide.” “All spelling mistakes are deliberate.” “Each stretcher tells a story and each story contains many other stories.” Hilson calls the stretchers “ruins, constructed ruins,” and he “tried whenever possible to avoid the ‘effects” which line ending can produce . . . They are tatters, ragged flags.”
Jeffrey Yang | An Aquarium | Graywolf | 2008
A bestiary of the sea, alphabetical (“Abalone” to “Google” to “Rexroth” to “Zooxanthellae”) and wayward, comic and modest. What I find enthralling: Yang’s restraint (a form of caring, of respect), the near absence of the usual clamoring self, I-identify’d or not. (In “White Whale” one reads “Round and round we wheel / . . . / till self’s freed from ego.”) In its place: taut arrays of (predominantly) fact (“Nature describes its own design.”) intertwined with myth and (mostly point’d) human history, “a felicity of association.” Sense of no padding, the lovely leanness of the notational. . . . Yang is a fierce cultural internationalist in the tradition of Rexroth and Pound (a guideway nigh-completely abandon’d by the presumed inheritors of the lineage, the mostly myopic and homegrown Language writers), capable of drawing on Chinese, Arabic, Mexican, Hawai’ian (see the poem about “Hawaii’s native triggerfish,” the humuhumunukunukuapua’a), Indian, and Old Norse, beyond the usual European and “Classical” sources.
Chris Nealon | Plummet | Edge | 2009
Plummet is nigh-terrific. Nealon works a supple long line (“I know prose is a mighty instrument but still I feel that plein-air lyric need to capture horses moving” he writes in “Poem (I know prose . . .)”) and, in a world seemingly divided between the jaunty and the raunchy, chooses both (“Your job? Just keep cracking Demeter up” slides uneasily into “At the gates of Arabic I enter, illiterately // Actually I know two words // shaheed / habibi // I watch depictions of electrocution under bright fluorescent lighting with a slightly elevated heartbeat” into “Do I have an astral body or a tapeworm?”), Verve and wit is what regulates (without throttling) the underlying political rage of the book.
we’re here to puke in many colors—
elf-puke, witch-puke, giant-puke
disco puke and punk puke
vomit on the apron of the government
vomit on the boots of the police
it’s January 17, 1991
it’s March 20, 2003
Puke and sing
(Out of longer poem call’d “Sunrise.” The dates, obviously, of the beginnings of “our” two illegal and preemptive incursions—wars—against the sovereign state of Iraq.)
The revels and joys of utter excess. Thumbing through: “prose poems,” though too raggedly untidy (odd long or variably short paragraph indentations, queer titular sprawl erratics, stuff that looks, not squared off blocky, something like verse with midriff-bulge). Studious (or not) “can’t be bother’d”-ismus. The titles blare infidelity to any serious “pose” (or “poise”) whilst generally avoiding the crime of the “merely zany.” . . . I love the spastic anarchy of it, the ga-ga gawkinesses, the insouciant (possibly “intentional”) “errors” (“bells . . . peel”), the odd conjunct of the various alluded-to’s (Hemingway, Gene Stratton-Porter, The Waste Land, one hit wonder Gary Wright). I like its push against the tidy, the finely-wrought, I like its ramp’d up rampant all-over energy with broken off threads (or sunken under-juttings) of random narrative.
Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey Press | 2009
Nguyen’s work is sparse (sprawl’d), notational, constellatory, measured. Too, it is uncensoring, all-encompassing, both domestic (“Wipe poop,” “Grackles in the hackberry” “Bendy vegetables in the drawer”) and liable to jut off anywhere (“Levittown goes ‘green’ / Oil at $100 a barrel,” “Cupid rides a goddam dolphin / at the hand of Venus”). I think it’s easy to mistake Nguyen’s seemingly casual jottings—and the quick variousness of the turns there, quotidian detritus, news reports, stray conversational gambits, syntactical goofs, myth-hints East and West—for “mere” verbal manifestations of dailiness, its root unstructuredness. Too, though, there’s a push toward myth and ritual that seems always on the verge of intervening / disrupting the quotidian notational. The stunning Kiss a Bomb Tattoo (Effing, 2009) arrived nigh-simultaneously.
Out of the “Postface”: “Beginning with the exchange of free-verse lines that (some 300 mailings later) became Sunflower (originally published by The Figures in 2000), we gradually multiplied and diversified our projects. Soon, a typical exchange would include ten or so formally different works.
Only one of these works, called ‘Interview,’ is not included in this volume; we anticipate that it will appear as an independent book, a companion (though not a necessary companion) to this one.
Apart from ‘Interview,’ all the poems we’ve composed together to date are collected here. There are eleven of them.”
More John Latta here.