Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span 2010 – Barbara Jane Reyes

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alurista | Tunaluna | Aztlan Libre | 2010
Gizelle Gajelonia | Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Bus | Tinfish | 2010
Kristin Naca | Bird Eating Bird | Harper Perennial | 2009
Michael Luis Medrano | Born in the Cavity of Sunsets | Bilingual | 2009

This is a super masculine, justifiably angry collection of poems about growing up in a culture of institutional violence. Medrano shines when he allows his poetic speaker even the slightest bit of vulnerability, where his words and tone become personal and tender. It’s when he strips the poems of their tough guy posturing that we can really appreciate his music.

J. Michael Martinez | Heredities: Poems | Louisiana State UP | 2010

This book is challenging the way I think of writing histories of conquest and imperialism (both of which are staples in my own work) in poetry. Martinez balances “experimentalism” and Latinidad without objectifying either, which proves to me that we can still be “ethnic” poets writing about our grandmothers without falling victim to trope.

John Murillo | Up Jump the Boogie | Cypher | 2010

I appreciate Murillo committing to a tradition of Hip-hop, and expanding that tradition to include poetic formalism. “Ode to the Crossfader,” on the page communicates what I’ve heard in live reading, and/or in live reading really communicates what is on the page, clipped lines, caesurae and all. It appropriately opens Up Jump the Boogie; it is an invocation to the poet’s muse, and his ars poetica. Yes, let Hip-hop poetics also call upon its classical muses; think of this poetry as accomplishing what visual artist Kehinda Wiley does on canvas. You can call it much needed appropriation, or even reappropriation of the “master’s tools.” I think of it simply as remix.

Rachel McKibbens | Pink Elephant | Cypher | 2009

Another fantastic offering from Cypher Books, which has fast become one of my favorite indie poetry publishers. I can only hope to see more and more new titles from them. What I enjoy about Rachel McKibbens is the well-crafted, no holds barred fierceness of her confessions, catharses, and epiphanies. McKibbens’s lovely and serrated debut collection, Pink Elephant, reminds us why poetry as testimony is so necessary. The ex-punk rock chola and mother of five, 2009 Women’s Individual World Poetry Slam champion writes about abandonment and abuse in stark, startling language and well-wrought fable, delivered in well-paced lines, laying bare the history of a woman who’s “fed [her] body to the hungry for years.”

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor | Pause Mid-Flight | Surrounding Sky Studio | 2010

Storyteller and poet Mabanglo-Mayor’s collection contains a chapbook and CD. Her poems are incantation and spellcasting, a nice synthesis of memory, body politics, Philippine and Pacific Northwest geography and mythology.

Joseph Bruchac | Above the Line | West End | 2003

One of the more memorable poems in this collection is the one in which Bruchac references that X-Files episode—an Area 51 experiment causes a US Air Force pilot and an old Hopi woman to switch bodies, and the front half of a gila monster to be encased in a stone. This poem verges on rant (he almost loses his cool and poetic poise), and so I mention it here, so that we can think of one aspect of Bruchac’s work, his writing against and pointedly calling out USA mainstream pop culture use of Native Americans. We still equate the people with scenery and wildlife.

Manuel Maples Arce | City: A Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2010

Reading Arce’s City: Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos, I can’t help but think Whitman, and Ginsberg, though I understand this poem was originally published in 1924, so it predates Ginsberg. Of course, I also think of Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York, obviously because Arce wrote the poem in Spanish, but mostly for the kind of surreal bustling and teeming masses (though not so much vomitous masses). Still, I think of the poet (Arce, Lorca, Whitman, Ginsberg) holding his gaze primarily at (literal and figurative) ground level, an expansive, panoramic gaze in terms of who inhabits the city’s streets, who makes the city work.

Reginald Dwayne Betts | Shahid Reads His Own Palm | Alice James | 2010

Just read this book in one sitting. These are poems from the point of view of an incarcerated African American man, the monotony and despair of passing time, an elaboration of the culture of the “inside,” of survival, negotiation, regret, contrition. This book confirms for me that it is possible for poetry to be masculine and even muscular, but not fall into the territory of machismo. The poems are honest and heavy without being heavy-handed and dramatic. The “I” of these poems I appreciate for his emotionally balanced tone, so as not to fetishize (glorify or denigrate) the incarcerated, or give us spectacle and sentimentality. The words which compose these lines are well-considered. The lines which compose these poems are clean, even lithe. They give space, or open themselves up to the reader without pandering or relying on cliché.

I realize that it becomes easy to enter any poem or body of poems about subject matter with which I am unfamiliar, when the poems open themselves, give us readers space to actually read them.

I was just talking the other day about poetry collections that suffocate, as if I am trapped in a too-warm, unventilated room, and someone’s perfume is so strong it’s weighing down my lungs with its fragrance. It’s too much, and if I were elsewhere, a ventilated or open air space, I could appreciate how lovely the fragrance is.

I bring this up now just to say that Dwayne’s collection is the opposite of this. Perhaps that’s ironic, given the potential suffocation of the jail cell which I think he conveys well throughout the collection. Still, there’s that infernally slow passage of time, which I think necessitates the precision of word choice, punctuation, and line break, and which I think are very well-handled.

More Barbara Jane Reyes here. Her Attention Span for 2009. Back to directory.

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