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Archive for September 2010

Attention Span 2010 – Susan Holbrook

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Robert Kroetsch | Completed Field Notes | U of Alberta P | 2000

This collection establishes Kroetsch as Canada’s most important poet. While a collection necessarily leaves out the wonderful design features of the original individual publications (e.g. Seed Catalogue is no longer superimposed over the illustrated 19th-century McKenzie catalogue), it’s fantastic to hold all these innovative, funny, wickedly sharp long poems in one hand.

Robert Kroetsch | Too Bad | U of Alberta P | 2010

A new collection of short-winded gems, at once tight and loose, dry and hearty. A master of timing. Kroetsch is 83 years old now, and will still charm anybody’s pants off.

Margaret Christakos | What Stirs | Coach House | 2008

Stunning, as always. The domestic is procedural and recombinatory.

Gregory Betts | The Others Raisd In Me | Pedlar | 2009

Betts composes 150 poems out of Shakespeare’s sonnet 150 through the “plunderverse” method: all letters (often words) come from the original, in the order they appear. The excess of it is entirely a pleasure, and every poem is imbued with the whimsy of that originating contortion. It’s a rangey book, announcing its survey of culture from the Renaissance to cyborgism. Delicious tension of maximalism and minimalism. Very appealing small fat book.

Darren Wershler-Henry | the tapeworm foundry | Anansi | 2000

Hilarious stream of compositional ideas. My favourite list.

Damien Rogers | Paper Radio | ECW | 2009

Much of the book is more traditionally lyric that most poetry on the third space lists, but I just really loved it. Intelligently aware of form, fresh, thoughtful, impressive.

Sina Queyras | Lemonhound | Coach House | 2006

Very exciting book – prose poem manna. Lisa Robertson, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf are here by invitation, and the host holds her own.

Mark Truscott | Said Like Reeds or Things | Coach House | 2004

Best tiny poems.

Harryette Mullen | Sleeping With the Dictionary | California | 2002

Loved this book for years, but decided in 2009 to assign it to three levels of students (1st year, 4th year, grad students) to see what they would do with it. I had a chance to revel again in its charms, ingenuities and provocations, and the students figured out what poetry could do. We started most classes with 5 minutes of Mullen and that recast the whole year in the most wonderful way.

Rachel Zolf | Human Resources | Coach House | 2007

The perfect title for a book that mines, exploits and puts through the ringer the language of Zolf’s day job in corporate communications.

More Susan Holbrook here. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Vanessa Place

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Divya Victor | Hellocasts by Charles Reznikoff by Divya Victor by Vanessa Place | Factory Series | 2010

There is no genius like the original genius, no caste like the hallow.

Steven Zultanski | Pad | Make Now | 2010

Le dick n’existe pas—donc, ceci n’est pas un dick.

Heimrad Bäcker | Transcript | Dalkey Archive | 2009

The article proposes that transcript should be considered not only as a documentary work but also as a work determined by several forms of incompleteness, and it shows how the aestheticizing aspects of Bäcker’s text repeat or quote National Socialism’s will to aestheticize.

James Wagner | Geisttraum | Esther Press | 2010

Language as solid and fearsome as the religious American Middle West: plain, transparent and similarly constituent of its own allegorical surface.

Gary Barwin | Servants of Dust | No Press | 2010

The punctuation (only) of Sonnets 1 through 20, rendered spatially (O, Mallarmé!) (O, darling buds of May!)

Robert Fitterman, ed. | Collective Task | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2010

“I would argue that a poet who has a project that he can lucidly discuss is a pretty boring poet, at best. I would argue that a poet with a project might not be a poet at all. Or at least a baby poet, not a great one…. I would argue that a poet who says he has a project probably has no sense of the idea of habitus and its intersection with the act of creation. Yeah. I think the term ‘project’ has nothing to do with poetry.”

Immanuel Kant | Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason | Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy | 1999

Radical evil: the primer.

Simony Morley, ed. | The Sublime (Documents of Contemporary Art) | MIT | 2010

Marco Belpoliti, John Berger, Paul Crowther, Jacques Derrida, Okwui Enwezor, Jean Fisher, Barbara Claire Freeman, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Doreet LeVitte-Harten, Eleanor Heartney, Lynn M. Herbert, Luce Irigaray, Fredric Jameson, Lee Joon, Julia Kristeva, Jean-François Lyotard, Thomas McEvilley, Vijay Mishra, David Morgan, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Gene Ray, Robert Rosenblum, Philip Shaw, Marina Warner, Thomas Weiskel, Slavoj Zizek.

Rachel Zolf | Neighbor Procedure | Coach House | 2010

After all, what could be funnier than the slapstick of perpetual internecine warfare?

Jacques Lacan | The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-1955 (Book II) (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan) | Norton | 1991

No self! Only other!

Hanna Darboven | Die Geflügelte Erde Requiem | Edition Cantz | 1991

While “history” takes place even without human involvement, progressing with time (“History takes place on its own, that is historical time”), both “intellectual” and “technical” history hinge, according to Hanne Darboven, “on what the person has done” (page 26). In this way the two mutually influence one another.

Ryan M. Haley | Autobiography: Volume One (1975-1993) | Ugly Duckling | 2010

“The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.”—David Hume

Walter Benjamin | The Arcades Project | Belknap | 2002

Must be read sequentially to be read in the uncanny.

Eugene Delacroix | The Journal of Eugene Delacroix | Phaidon | 2006

“We are making rapid strides towards that happy time when space will have been abolished; but they will never abolish boredom, especially when you consider the ever-increasing need for some occupation to fill in our time, part of which, at least, used to be spent in travelling.”

Ezra Pound | The Cantos of Ezra Pound | New Directions | 1998

The Pisan Cantos again.

More Vanessa Place here. Back to directory

Attention Span 2010 – Robert Stanton

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John Ashbery | Collected Poems 1956-1987 | Library of America | 2008

On the (debatable, but defensible) premise that “the more Ashbery the better,” this is the best Ashbery to date. A universe unto itself.

Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer | Antwerp | New Directions | 2010

Bolaño remaking himself—somewhat painfully—from post-Beat bard to ruthlessly dispassionate novelist. Fascinating to watch.

Andrea Brady | Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination | Krupskaya | 2010

Human history—and the “essay”—as slo-mo explosion. A timely and salient product of imaginative (rather than ethical) deregulation.

Anne Carson | Nox | New Directions | 2010

Grief as it is, opaque and piercing. Even the accordion form of the text seems oddly allegorical: it’s constantly threatening to bend away from you and scatter as you read.

Joseph Massey | Exit North | BookThug | 2010

The contemporary king of minimalism (“Old news—after a storm— / torn apart between two lawns”—that’s a whole poem, “Sunday”) wandering down increasing philosophical paths.

Ange Mlinko | Shoulder Season | Coffee House | 2010

Mlinko here uses her stance as unapologetic aesthete to craft a surprisingly political volume, presenting in florabundant language our increasingly diminishing world as both great sorrow and supreme joy. Book of the year, if I’m forced.

Ange Mlinko | Hotel Lazuli | in An Instance | Instance | 2010

Written in the shadow of that trickster Pessoa, a glorious pendant to Shoulder Season. Her vocabulary alone—spirochete, cozier, bilabiate, duochrome, phenotype, a-pollyanna-ing (all used precisely)—makes me glad.

Jennifer Moxley | Fragments of a Broken Poetics | Chicago Review 55.2 | 2010

Can any one person be “the voice of a generation” these days? Probably not (and a good thing too), but Jennifer Moxley comes pretty close.

J. H. Prynne | Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage Artesian | Barque | 2009

Like most recent Prynne, this brushes achingly close to some unprecedented meaning without quite committing, leaving the reader alert and abuzz. Title of the year too, by some margin.

Kay Ryan | The Best of It | Grove | 2010

I kept coming back to this. Like good whiskey, Ryan’s poems are bracing in small doses, but increasingly nauseating when consumed in bulk. Taken individually, though, they impress as true works of “quietude,” promoting humility, pragmatism, stoicism and a kind of amused awe at the complexity of the world. “Wisdom” is impossibly unhip, but Ryan has her moments.

More Rob Stanton here. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Erín Moure

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Chus Pato | Secesión | Galaxia | 2009

Pato’s “biography” in a kind of poetic prose, and long meditation on what it is to write poetry. A huge section of it in English translation appeared last year in Hayden’s Ferry Review, issue 44. Makes me think of my own life and what it is to make a mark on a page and call it poetry. (in Galician)

Judith Butler | Frames of War | Verso | 2009

Mostly books or exhibitions that have Americans agonizing over their own national excesses tire me out. Do something, people! This book I haven’t yet fully absorbed but Butler has trenchant analyses and in some ways goes through and further than Agamben’s bare life. The grief element and the question of whose lives are grievable is part of my own work these days too.

Mark Goldstein | Tracelanguage | BookThug | 2010
Myung Mi Kim | Penury | Omnidawn | 2009
Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | U of California P | 2010

These are three books of poetry I have read and read and carried and examined in the past year and which make me glad for poetry.

Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House  | 2010

One of the most publicly important books of poetry of the year, in my view. There are spots where it uses forms in ways that seemed a bit easy (there were openings for more pressure) but overall a stunningly provocative and incisive book.

Shimon Redlich | Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945 | Indiana  | 2002

A book that has been important for my own work in the last year, and to my trying to understand the tri-national or tri-ethnic culture that the 20th century destroyed in the place where my mother was born.

Uljana Wolf | Falsche Freunde | KOOKbooks | 2009

Of course I can’t read German but the form and intent of the book are clear to me, its armature and the way it is executed, and I can tell the language is acute. I did translate a few of the pieces into English for a reading of Uljana’s, to read with her, and though my translations were also alterations of sense, they were based on sound and I was quite liking what her poetry was giving me. A young German poet to watch! (in German)

Jean-Luc Godard | Film Socialisme | POL | 2010

The film hasn’t come to Montreal yet but the text and photos awe and break me. “Et ça existe la volonté des peuples.” Analyzes without analysis, just with movement in space and text: socialism is what makes us human in the face of all else. Seminal. (in French)

Chus Pato | Fascinio | Galaxia | 2010

This book first appeared in 1995, five years before Pato’s groundbreaking m-Talá, and is now reissued in the Dombate series (which combines seminal poetic works in Galician with new works). The surprising thing is that reading this book after m-Talá, after Charenton, and (for me as I read Galician), after Hordes of Writing (to appear in 2011 from Shearsman in English!), after Secession (translation in progress) – all groundbreaking and explosive books in their way –Fascinio reads anew, as if it were published today and actually comes after the books that it originally preceded. A peculiar example of time going backwards and poetry exceeding whatever grasp one first imagined for it. (in Galician)

Iannis Xenakis (drawings), Ivan Hewett, Carey Lovelace, Sharon Kanach, Mâkhi Xenakis (essays) | Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary (series Drawing Papers, number 88) | The Drawing Center, NY | 2010

Carrying this book around with me now after seeing and hearing the exhibition at the CCA in Montreal (it will also be at MOCA-LA from Nov 7 2010 – Jan 30 2011) and its use of space and laws of curvature and displacement in nature is blowing my mind. Oh poetry, I think! I went to the exhibit with Chus Pato, who already knows Xenakis’ work. Funny how someone from a small town in an obscure part of Spain can have a fabulous education and know of these things, whereas I stumble along…anyhow: talk about conceptual, procedural work, in two dimensions, in three, in four.

More Erín Moure here. Her Attention Span for 2008. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – John Sakkis

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Alastair Johnston | Zephyrus Image A Bibliography | Poltroon | 2003

George Oppen | The Collected Poems Of George Oppen | New Directions | 1976

David Brazil and Sara Larsen, eds. | Try Magazine | 2010

Micah Ballard and Patrick James Dunagan | Easy Eden | Push | 2009

Daniel Clowes | Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron | Fantagraphics | 1998

Gad Hollander | Walserian Waltzes | Avec | 1999

Jack Spicer, ed. Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian | My Vocabulary Did This To Me The Collected Poetry Of Jack Spicer | Wesleyan | 2008

Sean Cliver | Disposable A History Of Skateboard Art | Warwick | 2005

Jason Morris | Spirits And Anchors | Auguste | 2010

Steve Lavoie and Pat Nolan | Life Of Crime Documents In The Guerrilla War Against Language Poetry | Poltroon | 2010

Rodney Koeneke | Rules For Drinking Forties | Cy Press | 2009

More John Sakkis here. His Attention Span for 2007, 2006, 2005. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Craig Dworkin

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George Albon | Step | Post-Apollo | 2006

A book-length meditation on the moment between one foot leaving the earth and its back-again fall, or what Marcel Duchamp termed the “inframince”:

“le bruit ou la musique faits par un pantalon de velours côtelé comme celui ci quand on le fait bouger [the noise or music made by corduroy pants like these rubbing when one moves]”; pantalons de velours—/ leur sifflotement (dans la) march par/ frottement des 2 jambes est une/ séparation infra-mince signalée/ par le son [velvet trousers—/ their whistling sound (in) walking by/ brushing of the 2 legs is an/ infra-mince separation signaled/ by sound].”

Following the lead of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Samuel Beckett, and Bruce Nauman, Albon puts the locomotive gesture in the service of philosophy. It’s been out a few years now, but I just came across this book and it’s the most intellectually exciting and sonically exacting poetry I have read in a decade. Absolutely thrilling.

Christian Bök | The Xenotext Experiment | manuscript | forthcoming

I have seen the future of writing, and its name is Deinococcus radiodurans. Bök has encrypted alphabetic letters as amino acids, writing a poem in the medium of genetic nucleotides inscribed in an animate biological substrate. With that sequence implanted in its DNA, the bacterium, through gene expression, manufactures a protein which can then be decoded in turn, using the same cipher, as an equally legible poem. It is not surprising that Bök has set himself an Herculean formal task and a nearly impossible lettristic puzzle. Nor is it surprising that he solved it with aplomb. But what will shock you is the degree to which the alphabetic code generates a style of wispy late-romantic lyricism (with a Steinian twist at the end).

Clark Coolidge | The Act of Providence | Combo | 2010

Just enough sense to encourage referential pursuits, but not enough to let semantics get the upper hand in the contest of percussive sound patterns and the grammatical slap of words in willful categorematic insubordination. Speed along the I-95 overpass of phrasal rhythm (“The city lulls you/ as you farm on by”) or settle down in the Armory district of documentary polaroids (“Having a good time? Lock right down”). Either way, “Providence rates.”

Michael Cross | In Felt Treeling: a libretto | Chax | 2008

This little book suggests tracery in both sense of the word: a delicate interweaving of open-work lines as well as phrases traced from archaic sources. With syllabically based sonic densities and fleeting gossamer hints of sylvan drama, Cross’ perspective shifts between the mottled-shade expanse of the forest and the hardwood singularity of every individual tree. Exquisite.

Larry Eigner, ed. Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier | The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner | Stanford | 2010

I have to confess that I never really understood all the fuss about Eigner. But then, every once in a while, I catch a glimpse. Like the poem first published in Bob Perelman’s journal Hills (Number 4; May, 1977): “Whoppers   Whoppers   Whoppers!/ memory fails/ these are the days.” I think of it every time I pass a Burger King. Here, that poem is number 952, on page 1267 of Volume III, leaving another 825 poems to go before the end of Volume IV. A luxury production (each book has the heft and gloss of a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary), the set is marketed for institutional sales. Put in an acquisition request with your local library.

Graham Foust | To Anacreon in Heaven | Minus A | 2010

Discursive, chatty, and topical by Foust’s standards, To Anacreon in Heaven is more direct and less wryly torqued than his previous books. But all the pain and precision are there in full. An alternative “Star Spangled Banner,” with an ethics of enmeshment and implication in place of bellicose nationalist fealty, the poem commemorates the battle between a subject who knows it can neither genuinely connect with others nor retreat to an easy unaffected detachment. The work, accordingly, is not Anacreontic in the traditional sense; if this is a drinking song, it has the bitter taste of necessity rather than cheer—“and that’s a vodka bottle full of quiet bees.” Every sentence goes straight into the stanza, but cannot leave the stanza to itself. Signature design by Jeff Clark.

Robert Grenier | Sentences | Whale Cloth | 1978

Long out of print and exceedingly rare, a score or so of Grenier’s legendary boxes were recently discovered; they had been safely stored inside Michael Waltuch’s printing press and completely forgotten for decades. Each of the 500 cards in Sentences offers an understated epiphany—a quick glimpse of the enlightenment that can only come from sustained meditative attention to the tantric forms of the individual alphabetic letters that filter, distort, and permit the linguistic environment of our everyday experiences. Shuffle ’em up and deal ’em out. The few remaining rediscovered copies are priced for accession by library special collections; see whalecloth.org for details.

P. Inman | now/time | Bronze Skull | 2006

Two volumes of Inman’s collected poetry have been announced by James Davies’ imprint If p Then q; for now, it’s time to puzzle over this performance score. The title translates Walter Benjamin’s keyword Jetztzeit: the pressing immediacy of the present moment—or, more striking, the snapshot image of a past moment grasped with all the fullness of the present in an interrupting flash of profane illumination—isolated from the causal narratives constructed by conventional historical views. In Inman’s text, intersecting lines enact the concept at a syntactic level since each word is freed from the subordinations of grammar and separated from neighboring words by full stops. With “time. occupied. of. my. language.” in this way, words—for a moment—can be seen to be replete without the buttressing hierarchies of semantics. A word, in now/time constitutes a lexical plenum of sound and materiality: “a Nunc-stans,” as Hobbes writes in the Leviathan, “which neither they, nor any else understand.”

Kenneth Irby | The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962-2006 | North Atlantic | 2009

Irby’s Collected is the secret consistory located somewhere between Placitas and Berkeley, somewhere between intellect and orexis, somewhere between Olson and Ponge, where Peter Inman and John Taggart hold council in lyric tribunal. One would do well to pay the kind of attention to the corpus of Irby’s poetry that it pays to the embodied, numinous world around us.

Joseph Massey | Exit North | BookThug | 2010

Microtonal miniatures from a poet able to gauge the precise, graduated degrees of catenarian variance in the tension of the simplest sentences.

Aram Saroyan | Complete Minimal Poems | Ugly Duckling | 2008

Not truly “complete” and certainly not “minimal,” but completely provocative and prescient works of minimalist poetry (UDP must have intended the title in the topological sense of “complete minimal surfaces,” such as catenoids and helicoids). They may have mean curvatures of zero, but the intensities generated by rotating one of Saroyan’s single words can feel infinite. Challenging Clark Coolidge’s conviction that there cannot be a one-word poem, Saroyan moves between visual poetry, the Bolinas goof, and steely proto-conceptual writing. I always hear Robert Grenier’s “JOE JOE” [from Sentences, see above] as a reply to Saroyan’s “Coffee Coffee.”

More Craig Dworkin here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2007. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Allyssa Wolf

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Teresa Carmody, Vanessa Place, and Christine Wertheim, eds. | Feminaissance | Les Figues | 2010

everyone has his reason, That’s what’s terrible

Luce Irigaray | Elemental Passions | Routledge | 1992

Boris Groys | The Weak Universalism | online here

Mark Wallace | Felonies Of Illusion | Edge | 2008

Joshua Clover | 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About | California | 2009

More Allyssa Wolf here. Her Attention Span for 2009, 2008. Back to directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

Attention Span 2010 – Stephen Collis

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Kaia Sand | Remember to Wave | TinFish | 2010

Site-specific poetry at its best—collages, documents, and roller derby—what more could you ask for? Sand continues to produce some of the most earnest, delicate, and pointed political poetry out there.

Jane Sprague | The Port of Los Angeles | Chax | 2009

What Sand does with Portland, Sprague takes up in Los Angeles, only with more thorough-going lyricism. Ikea products come ashore, drug dealers get busted, and the commons once again raises its head amidst new enclosures—”this / in the how now moment sullied biosphere.” One of my favorite poetry books to come along in a while.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Pitch: Drafts 77-95 | Salt | 2010

The next installment of DuPlessis’s major life-long poem, now getting up over 800 pages all told. I’m finding the increasing pleasure is in following the Drafts back “down the ladder,” as it were, along the line of 19, as there are now 5 poems in each 19-poem cycle which pass over each other once again, picking up on stray elements, deepening and contorting themes.

Lissa Wolsak | Squeezed Light | Station Hill | 2010

Long one of the best under-recognized poets, Wolsak’s new “collected” includes everything from The Garcia Family Co-Mercy and Pen Chants to her amazing prose-poem/essay, An Heuristic Prolusion. Precise thought, compressed imagery, and a deeply human sense of the universe and our fragile place in it. A book to keep close by at all times.

Jeff Derksen | Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics | Talon | 2009

Selected essays from one of his generation’s seminal poet-critics. Need to know what neoliberalism is and how poetry (as it must) bites the hand that feeds it? This is your book. I know of no other writer who can so seamlessly move from complex analyses of political economy to wry readings of avant-garde poetry.

Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House | 2010

Poems from a stay in Palestine, the opening section, “Shoot & Weep,” is alone worth the price of admission—some of the most powerfully affective statistics (!) I have ever read, as Zolf weaves magic out of Butler’s Precarious Life.

Jules Boykoff | Hegemonic Love Potion | Factory School | 2009

Along with Derksen, Rodrigo Toscano, and Kevin Davies, one of my favorite guides to the perplexing terrain of late neoliberal mayhem—and what poetry might be doing there. Sharp, sharp wit. News that indeed stays news.

Josely Vianna Baptista | On the Shining Screen of the Eyelids | Manifest | 2003

A late discovery for me, and the press might not exist any more, but Baptista’s poems, in Chris Daniels’ painstaking translations, certainly satisfy Dickinson’s requirement that poetry take the top of your head off. South American concrete, material lyricism—this is language as I want to meet it—a net thrown over another world.

Erín Moure | My Beloved Wager | NewWest | 2009

Essays from some 30 years of a writing life, reading Moure on translation—amongst other things—is a marvel, instructive and electrifying. I have deeply enjoyed this book.

More Stephen Collis here. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Keith Tuma

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Tom Leonard | Outside the Narrative | Etruscan | 2009

Outside the Narrative includes all that Tom Leonard wants to keep of his poems written between 1965 and 2009. Readers wanting to know what he left out will also need his earlier volumes of selected poems, Intimate Voices and access to the silence; this is the most beautifully designed of the three books, its fonts especially. The other week on the UKPoetry listserv Keston Sutherland wondered if “Tom Leonard’s work [is] one of the only great contributions to the European realist tradition that we have in British poetry of the past 50 years.” Robin Purves chimed in with a word on behalf of the influence of William Carlos Williams, praising the poetry’s “patient, accurate notation of phonetic detail” and Leonard’s “meticulous placing of phrases on the page” as these combine to “give each voice a presence with a quality I can only describe as unarguable.” Malcolm Phillips remembered his mother reading Leonard’s poems aloud at dinner and laughing, which led me to wonder how much poetry gets read at the dinner table these days. I have been practicing this one, a section from Leonard’s “Ghostie Men” sequence, in case I get a chance somewhere:

baa baa black sheep
have you any wool
yes sir yes sir
three bags full

one for thi master
n anuthir wan fur thi master
n wan fur thi fuckin church

Clark Coolidge | The Act of Providence | Combo | 2010

If you were the manager of the World League of Poetry, would you trade J. H. Prynne for Clark Coolidge and a Webster’s to be named later? This latest book by Coolidge is tremendous fun, a book of American prosodies, beginning in its first several sections with variations on Whitmanian sprung anaphora as bebopped by Ginsberg and others, here spritzed with a Coolidge twist—the phrasal echoes heavy, the nouns changed. That’s before the poem practically explodes in section 11, “A Chronology.” Suddenly, and only for a moment, you’re in some strange chronicle thinking maybe this is an epic poem after all, like Paterson or something, except that they haven’t made epic poems like this until now. Then you see that Coolidge has still more hat to chinchilla: Professor Providence has not yet begun his dialogues with Providence. All of which is to say—duh—this poem keeps on surprising. On the evidence of one remark in Coolidge’s Jacket interview with Tom Orange, Coolidge seems to have been working on it since 1996. Would it make a difference if I knew his hometown better or more about King Philip’s War (1675-1676) and that kind of history? Probably, but this is Providence “intuited,” as the poem says at one point. Photographs are included, one of a book or magazine open to a chapter called “Poetry,” where at the bottom of the page on the left I can make out “I wish poets could be clearer, shouted my wife angrily from the next room.” A few lines from the first section, where the poet is warming up:

Providence is missing a lad
Providence is short a load
Providence sloshes tacks like the cogs melt in rootbeer
I have a livid fear of lights by the end of Westminster Road

. . .

I celebrate the something out of too much tobacco
Providence stands and wins then slips and deuterium
Here comes the sun, it’s its duty

In section six Coolidge pauses to say—”Providence silliness taking over the poem”—which is just right at that moment in the poem. I steamed on, as I hadn’t had such a good time since On the Nameways. Two lines for dinner recitation: “Poets are lost in the cold but keep yacking / yadda yadda and fry the rest.”

Bill Griffiths | Collected Earlier Poems (1966-80) | Reality Street | 2010

Alan Halsey and Ken Edwards have done us all a big favor by assembling the early poems of the late, great Bill Griffiths. By all accounts this task was not easy, given the poet’s habit of revisiting material and the sheer size of his work—think Hugh MacDiarmid maybe, though Griffiths has a richer sense of humor. It made sense some years ago when etruscan books put poems by Griffiths beside poems by Tom Leonard and Tom Raworth. Of the three poets, Griffiths is likely to make for the most challenging reading for Americans. Anarchist and classical pianist, publisher, translator of Old English, scholar of North East dialects, a legendary figure among the British avant-garde, Griffiths created “a body of work second to none in its formal enterprise and necessary aggression against what this country has become, a deteriorated tyranny, both economically and culturally.” That’s Eric Mottram writing in 1983, as reprinted in The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths, a useful volume for glossing a few of the poet’s many concerns, first among which might be the law, as a friend said to me some years ago. The volume’s highlights include the sequences Cycles and War W / Windsor, but it is consistently mind-boggling from first to last, not even close to any writing I know for its idioms and frames of reference. Peter Middleton has written about the first poem in the Cycles sequence, which opens “Ictus! / as I ain’t like ever to be still but / kaleidoscope, / lock and knock my sleeping.” And here’s the opening of “Mandrake Song”:

who, obscene hey?

you’re in my fairground yep

I bawl
about
about about by my navel

I oped
Both Eyes

it groweth in the greas
ov dangled men

There’s a good review of the book by Tony Baker at Jacket.

Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey | 2009

There are a couple of thoughtful reviews of this book up on the web, too, one by John Latta, who might be the best close reader of the poetry bloggers I read. I don’t have more to say about Nguyen’s “sparse (sprawl’d), notational, constellatory, measured” writing as it is grounded in domestic and daily life and “liable to jut off anywhere,” or about her work’s precursors (Mayer, Notley, Whalen, others), or the care with which what appears as “notational” is composed, the eclectic “myth-hints” of her poems, or anything else, unless it’s to say that Nguyen can also be funny, as she is toward the end of this book’s final poem: “Make afterlife banknotes / for your ancestors and burn them / in an impressive wad.” She’s not afraid of statement, of offering practical wisdom, so the light touch helps. I found reading the book immensely reassuring—calming, as if Nguyen sees the same horrible news we all see and wants to write about it but won’t always, won’t obsess and let it altogether dominate her life. She has found a way to carry on because she must, which might mean there’s hope for the rest of us. Here’s a poem with a final couplet that underscores Latta’s point about the precision of this writing—its last word is perfectly placed:

Washington

Washington (George) is not in
This poem         powdered wig powdery
And anyway who chops down a fruit
Tree       (idiots)
My sense of
History lies        We buy things
::::chicken wings:::::butter::::

Yesterday Dave took away
My office            my boss         Saturday

Tom Raworth | Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems | Carcanet | 2010

The old poems are poems lost or forgotten when the Carcanet collected poems was assembled in 2003, mostly poems from Pleasant Butter (1972). And the old couldn’t be newer, “Breeding the Arsenic-Proof Baby” about hearing about China, “Into the Wild Blue Yonder” opening with two lines—”prisoner / christmas”—that might have been occasioned by news about—what prisoner swap would have it been? The new poems are from Caller and Let Baby Fall with a few more added. Excerpts for the reader’s guide to blinking mind: “sometimes a fragment of language / illuminates a world not consistently round / breathing its air” [from “Baggage Claim (a slugging welterweight natural)”] and “where do they go / these things we know we know” [“Title Forgotten”]. Also an errata list for the collected poems. “Nothing wasted” here, as usual.

Francis Crot (aka Jow Lindsay) | Pressure in Cheshire | Veer | 2009

On the evidence of the poems I’ve seen, Jow Lindsay has pushed about as near to Renaissance lyric as any of the younger poets in England: Thomas Wyatt, here’s your trousers. He’s a love poet in the first of three texts included in this little book, though the text is not poetry but prose fiction, with a plot even. It concerns Arthur House trying to get across a police line to the 7-Eleven while hoping he won’t be killed—crushed—by a woman jumping off the bridge. That’s part of it anyway. Arthur works little at his corporate job. He’s been offered a promotion he doesn’t want and regularly pongs insults with co-workers, one of them apparently the lover of the officer holding back the crowd. The story is more or less told by Arthur (with what is likely treated found material cut in) and addressed to his recently estranged lover—he’s said something stupid. The story moves fast without really moving, “unfolding certain diverse speeches in the canting tongue” as the prefatory note has it. It contains some of the best prose I read all year. The second piece in the book crashes poetry and poetry gossip into language about the disbursement of foreign aid (conditional aid). I was briefly reminded of Prynne’s Plant Time Manifold transcripts, which Lindsay has written about in Quid 17. The third text is out of Sir Thomas Pope Blount, with bits cut in from elsewhere, “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross” and other sources: I haven’t parsed it sufficiently to see what’s worked up and how. It’s Blount on the spewing of volcanoes, words, and thoughts; the word “bowels” recurs: “The truth is, its cities are built upon ruins, and its fields and countries stand upon broken arches and vaults, and so does the greatest part of the outward part of the globe, and therefore it is no wonder if it be often shaken.” I think this was written before the top blew off Iceland.

Barbara Claire Freeman | Incivilities | Counterpath | 2010

One of the two blurbs is by Judith Butler, which caught my eye: I’m not sure I’ve seen Butler blurb poetry previously. She says the poems “range in form and style” and “participate in an austerity, a political edge, and what one poem calls ‘abbreviated violence.’” Four of the poems are called “georgics.” There’s a welcome earnestness throughout, even a hint of “solemnity”—to borrow a word from the first poem, titled “The Second Inaugural.” Freeman samples political rhetoric (of Washington and Lincoln) and her writing in places takes on some of its characteristics. Butler is right that her forms are various, and her line, but this is writing that knows about the prose virtues Pound wrote about long ago. The three-poem sequence “Incivilities” especially held my attention. It might have been written as the stock market was crashing in October 2008: “Then shall they be cut: the sovereign debt, the wailer, // the whistler, the sloped yield curve, the rearing traveler. . . .”

Elizabeth Arnold | Effacement | Flood | 2010

One of the poems in this book-length sequence describes summer-long radiation treatments for breast cancer and does so matter-of-factly, in seven short lines. Emotions attending mastectomy and reconstructive surgery are on view throughout the sequence, but what impresses is the way Arnold looks outward to situate her experience. The book is charged with compact, unpretentious, smart reflection on body and mind, and not only on varieties of damage and “effacement” but also on surgical and emotional repair. The poem uses diverse materials to think with—Phillip Johnson’s glass house, passages from David Jones and Dante, case studies of surgery, studies of the fish of the hadal depths, the war drawings and letters of Henry Tonks, more. In some ways I was reminded of the longer poems of Frank Bidart, without the theater.

Frederick Farryl Goodwin | Buber’s Bag Man | The Gig | 2010

This is a chapbook containing eighteen poems and a final fragment (“To light up posthumously, / leeke a word”). Three texts are prose, or poetry and prose—imagine Rimbaud with a sense of humor. A few lines from “The Bouncer”: “I was caught up in a maze of Oscar Kokochkas. The Ger man s / w/ their potato mashers to the head. I swooned in small barbaric rooms.” Words fall apart, or rather their letters migrate, attaching to and forming other words, or simply mangling them. The self is much the same, on the edge of disintegration but also somehow spirited and genuine and funny. I take it that Goodwin must have worked as a bouncer at some point: “I felt like a cuckoo clock with its cuckoo guts cut out.”

K. Silem Mohammad | Sonnagrams 1-20 | Slack Buddha | 2009

The compositional process is explained by a note in the back: “I feed Shakespeare’s sonnets one line at a time into an anagram engine, thus generating a new group of words from each line, which I then paste into a Microsoft Word document. This initial textual output gives me a bank of raw material that is quantitatively equivalent to Shakespeare’s poem at the most basic linguistic level: the letter. At the same time, it sufficiently alters the lexical structure of the original poem so that I am not overtly influenced by Shakespeare’s semantic content. I click and drag the text generated by the anagram engine by letter until I am able to rework it into a new sonnet in iambic pentameter, with the English rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The letters that are inevitably left over are used to make a title.” The resulting pentameter thumps a bit at times, the syntax bending for it, but it’s an interesting experiment to be sure, given the source material. Leftover letters being allowed for the title makes for a lot of wiggle room. Some of the poems are funny in the way light verse can be funny: we could use more of that. I laughed when I heard Mohammad read them aloud; his timing and deep bass tones had the whole room in stitches.

Lisa Samuels | Throe | Oystercatcher | 2009

Samuels’ Tomorrowland, a book-length poem about New Zealand and “bodily transit and colonial forgetting” (to quote from the publisher’s description) also appeared (from Shearsman) in 2009, and it’s in a stack of poetry books and chapbooks I read with interest this year and thought I might include among my eleven, but now I’ve run out of room. I thought I’d list this one and Mohammad’s book above to support chapbook publishers, Oystercatcher one of the best of these in the UK as Slack Buddha is in the USA. Not to forget a-bend press and Tinfish, Wild Honey active again, Punch Press, Ugly Duckling, Critical Documents, and many others. Throe is twelve shorter poems. I won’t try to characterize them except to say that the first poem has some very funny lines (“I have heard that story before. She lifts her leg and / it’s a social occasion”). Funny is obviously one thing I’ve been looking for this year. You can read the whole poem at Jacket.

More Keith Tuma here. His Attention Span for 2009. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Megan London

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Fritjof Capra | The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems | Anchor | 1996

“A brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other explanations of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems.”

Stuart Chase | The Tyranny of Words | Harcourt | 1938

“This book is an experiment. Is it possible to explain words with words?”; “The semantic discipline as set forth in these pages is concerned primarily with objective relationships between the individual and the outside world, between the ‘me’ and the ‘beyond-me.’”

Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Irma A. Richter | Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci | Oxford | 1998

“Combining an artist’s sensitivity with a scientist’s desire of knowledge, [Da Vinci] analyzed the objects of vision and the way in which vision functioned…”; “Throughout his life Leonardo Da Vinci carried notebooks in which he scribbled down ideas and opinions as they occurred—personal, domestic, scientific, philosophical, artistic—frequently accompanied by explanatory sketches and diagrams… The present selection gives coherence to this rich kaleidoscope of ideas.”

Gerald Hausman | Turtle Island Alphabet: A Lexicon of Native American Symbols and Culture | St. Martin’s | 1992

“We who look into this book are literate human beings, and we are obliged to love alphabets…if I remember his fine story rightly, Jorge Luis Borges defines the aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as the point in space in which all other points in space are contained. If a single letter can signify so much—the infinite, by and large—how potent then are words, lines, stories?”

Federico Garcia Lorca, ed. and trans. Christopher Maurer | In Search of Duende | New Directions | 1998

“There are neither maps nor exercises to help us find the duende. We only know that he burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass.”

Moses Maimonides, trans. M. Friedlander | The Guide for the Perplexed | Dover | 1956

“At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau, trans. William Waring | A Complete Dictionary of Music | AMS | 1975

“A copious explanation of all words necessary to a true knowledge and understanding of music.”

Scientific American | Human Communication: A Compilation of Readings | W.H. Freeman | 1982

“Written by leading authorities in their respective fields, the readings address three disciplines of study: the evolution of human language and animal communication, language families and writing systems, and the biology of language and its relation to social behavior.”

Simon Singh | Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem | Anchor | 1997

“The story of Fermat’s Last Theorem is inextricably linked with the history of mathematics, touching on all the major themes of number theory…The Last Theorem is at the heart of an intriguing saga of courage, skullduggery, cunning, and tragedy, involving all the greatest heroes of mathematics…In telling the tale of Pierre de Fermat and his baffling riddle I have tried to describe the mathematical concepts without resorting to equations, but inevitably x, y, and z do occasionally rear their ugly heads.”

Arthur M. Young | The Geometry of Meaning | Robert Briggs | 1976

“All meaning is an angle”; “Because [the twofold division] is so far beyond rational understanding, we can say little about initial unity itself beyond describing it, in one sense, as the dynamic potency whose division creates a tension between the parts. In causing their interaction, this tension creates meaning.”

More Megan London here. Her Attention Span for 2008. Back to directory.