Attention Span 2010 – Andrew Schelling
Sherwin Bitsui | Flood Song | Copper Canyon | 2010
For anyone who identifies with the land of the American West—all that good Western dust lightly held on our altoplano—this book will sit in your hands as a familiar. Yet buried in all that familiarity coil the edges of violence, abrupt encounters with spirit-world, wild-life, thunder, flash floods. Something close to surrealist imagery occurs here—but not the surrealism of old Europe’s super-charge dream-state. Here it erupts in fragmented visions of deserts, buttes, asphalt baked cities, ravens, long sun-blistered highways. If I read the book rightly, this is the account of an archaic singer’s vision of present day Navajo life. Bitsui’s ear is terrific, and just enough Navajo words occur to send the conscientious reader to a Diné lexicon.
Leslie Scalapino | Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night | Green Integer | 2007
Sometimes I feel alone in my generation, in how much I read Leslie Scalapino’s poetry. Maybe I can’t separate out her writing from the generosity she showed so many of us younger writers and friends over the decades, publishing work in O Books, meticulously responding to letters—hers a dark shy generosity. We will miss her. Of the many titles of Leslie’s on my shelf, I’ll select this as it contains “It’s go in quiet illumined grassland,” one of her most incantatory Buddhist-inflected poems, and the haunting Gulf War Noh play “Can’t is Night.” In fact this fall I will use “Can’t is Night” alongside some Fenellosa-Pound Noh plays with my Naropa kids—we’ll act them out at the local Buddha hall Zen center yurt.
Joanne Kyger | About Now: Collected Poems | NPF | 2007
This is how books used to be made. Bring together a fine poet, pair her with one of the subtlest book designers out there, and construct a book that weighs in your hands like an artifact meant to serve you a whole lifetime. Joanne Kyger’s work: humor, concision, ecological savvy, political alertness, the tempered eye of the naturalist. So many small press titles that run through the years, helping us all ‘live lightly on the earth’; finally collected here, each poem laid with a comparable lightness on the page by JB Bryan.
Paul Moss, edited, translated by Andrew Cowell & Alonzo Moss, Sr. | Hinóno’éínoo3ítoono: Arapaho Historical Traditions | U of Manitoba P | 2005
What good tales, of the recent historical past, occurring in the region given the Arapaho by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851): between the Platte and the Arkansas Rivers, from the Continental Divide into Kansas. Not old-time myths, but events that happened in somebody’s memory. Captivity tales, visions, coyote helpers, the Medicine Wheel. Bi-lingual, with a good account of Arapaho grammar, and a careful glossary of notable words. The translators’ use of Arapaho narrative devices to discern line-break and stanza makes this a contribution to Ethnopoetic practice.
Robert Bringhurst | A Story Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World | Nebraska | 1999
Most exciting book I read last year. Even my first and second year college students couldn’t put down the volume, which weighs in at 527 pages. The fullest account of the Boasian project in “salvage ethnography,” with a cast of characters a novelist couldn’t invent. Also a detailed, and not at all abstract look at oral literature. Accounts of how the singers proceed, how they reshape tradition to deal with smallpox, rip-offs, hunger, even anthropologists with pencils. Bringhurst knows his languages, knows natural history, the twists & turns of ethnography. Even the footnotes ring with discovery.
Diane Glancy | The Cold and Hunger Dance | Nebraska | 1998
A haunted book. Most of its pieces sit on the edge between essay, poetry, translation, and memoir. It looks easy but I bet it’s not. There’s a whiff of sage and other herbs, bitter, medicinal, sweet, nauseating—between Sun Dance and Bible, Cherokee heritage, Christian faith. Lots and lots of driving by night thunderstorm across the Great Plains.
Thomas A Clark | of Woods & Water | Moschatel | 2008
Good to remember how poetry’s power also comes from the unspectacular, the subtle, the brief rhythms, the filtered sunlight through soft leaves. Green solace in a technology-mad world. Poems so light it seems the poet’s hand scarcely perturbs language at all.
Jerome Rothenberg | Poetics & Polemics 1980-2005 | Alabama | 2008
The talks here—especially those on Ethnopoetics, poetry & the sacred, and so forth—remind me why so many of us set out on this troubled, wonderful path in the first place.
Dale Pendell | Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown | Mercury House | 2008
Five conversations with Norman O. Brown. Each in the form of a walk—which Pendell took with Nobby in those last years before Brown’s Alzheimer’s silenced him. For those of us who cut our teeth on Love’s Body’s subtle, visionary politics, its aphoristic wildness, and its dance at the edge of poetics, here is the late book he never got around to writing. I knew Brown, and these reconstructed conversations provide the cadences of his speech, plus his greatest trait: never to settle for easy ways out, no matter how painful clear seeing might be. Pendell wrote these talks up afterwards from memory, they are not the result of tape recording. How did he do it?
Salim Ali | Indian Hill Birds | Oxford | 1949
Tiny volume, maybe the best writing I’ve encountered in a field guide. Salim Ali (1896-1987) was the doyen of ornithology in India. A terrifically literary man, an exemplar of the India that emerged after Independence under the guidance of Nehru: resolutely secular, democratic, confident in both art and science, proud of its culture, far away from North America. Of Salim Ali’s many field guides for birds, his natural history essays, and the autobiographical writings, I choose this title because of its concision, its sumptuous illustrations by G.M. Henry, and the precise use of terminology. Of the common myna he writes: “The nest is a collection of twigs, roots, paper and miscellaneous rubbish placed in holes in trees. Large nesting colonies occupy weep-holes in revetments alongside the hill roads in the Himalaya….”
Ron Silliman | The Alphabet | Alabama | 2008
Rather daunting to have this enormous TOME, but all those separate books on the shelf don’t get you the full poem. It’s the architecture of the sections that intrigues me at present, a lot like the attention to architecture you find through Pound’s CANTOS. And the cumulative emotion that develops within each section, sentence heaped on sentence. Many of the individual volumes have such independent spirit—Paradise, What, ABC, and so on. Now you can see how the various sections fit into the larger whole (itself part of a yet larger whole)…. I hope I finish reading this before UNIVERSE appears.