Attention Span 2010 – Brent Cunningham
Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge | 2009
The title of Nichols’s book, to my ear, indicates a kind of linguistic density that actually the poems inside don’t much have—instead you get poems of such emotional authority and seriousness of purpose that immediately I was ready to go anywhere with them. There’s lightness and levity as well, lots, but it’s in the refreshing context of feeling like the poet really, deeply knows what she’s doing, I mean really. Even the formal moves, the spacing, leaving phrases off in space, composition by field and the like, has a kind of rightness and intentionality to it that I don’t often accept so unquestionly. This is the kind of book I take around with me to remind me how to write as well as how to read. What else can I say? I know it came out last year and was mentioned often then, but I just love this book
Aaron Kunin | The Sore Throat & Other Poems | Fence | 2010
A lot of writers are influnced by philosophy, but Kunin is one of very few living poet I know where I feel like I’m reading someone with truly philosophical sensibilities and skills, i.e. who really lives in a Kantian or maybe in this case more a Spinozian reality. What his work shows, I think, is in part how much feeling there is in thinking, and also how much pleasure there is in the artistic distanciation of self-conciousness
Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues Poetry & Prose | 2010
I’m not entirely persuaded by all the elements of Mattawa’s work, but I like to mention him since I think he’s completely worthwhile yet almost completely off the radar of most self-identified experimental writers. This makes sense if you read his early, more conventional and overly-wringing writing, or if you look at those who blurb his books, etc., but this book is serious and thoughtful about its politics, courageous in its formal experimentation, and fervent in its contempt for false emotion. If you read one book blurbed by Yusef Komunyakaa this year, it should be this one, etc.
Brenda Iijima, ed. | eco language reader | Nightboat | 2010
To the properly sceptical this book probably won’t, and probably shouldn’t, prove there’s a new movement or even a new sensibility afoot, but whatever Iijima’s anthology is or isn’t claiming in those terms it is certainly very well edited, filled with a great group of contributors, and embarrasingly rich with new ideas and new passions.
Laura Moriarty | A Tonalist | Nightboat | 2010
I should perhaps recuse myself here since I’m one of Laura’s “A Tonalists,” but whether the pseudo-movement/anti-movement/non-movement of the title has any reality or not, Moriarty has used the idea of groups and groupings to make a fierce, delicate, layered text that stands as a work, and an art, of its own.
Douglas Rothschild | Theogony | Subpress | 2009
Rothschild has, basically, a classical sensibility (where “classical” is considered as running the gamut from the unadornedness of certain ancient greek writers to the unadornedness of Ted Berrigan), which is then shot through with a whole lot of eccentric, baroque intelligence. I may have been a little less taken with the long middle section about NYC than some: it’s what seem to be framed as the more “minor” poems that really have stayed with me. And in a way that makes perfect sense because the significance of the minor is what Rothschild himself is so productively interested in.
Tan Lin | Heath (Plagiarism/Outsource) | Zasterle | 2009
There’s something fascinating about limit cases, and Lin has been exploring those frontiers for a few books now, but this is the first time I really & completely got it. I like to carry around what I’ll call Heath (the title is a subject of debate by the way) just to show aspiring conceptualists how tepid and obvious their plans often are, by comparison. Really I can’t think of another book that seems to have gone farther off the grid of our presumptions about “the book” and “poetry” than this pleasantly transgressive text. It’s a further mystery that it remains, inexplicably, rather readable (with the right kind of approach). Everything in it—images, computer code, emails, texts—have the feeling of being placed, not overly systematically, but such that they beg for your own thinking to complete them.
Michael Cross, Thom Donovan, Kyle Schlesinger, eds. | ON: Contemporary Practice, Issue #2 | Cuneiform | 2010
Some will say the structure of this magazine, where poets talk about the work of poets, will only add to the feeling that experimental poetry is a small coterie with a secret knock to get in. Others, including me, find ON to be just what was lacking, and will find it far less about in-group backslapping than one might presume (very much like the Attention Span project, which has a lot in common with ON). Coterie is a sword of the two-edged variety, and ON is a much needed venue for poets to not only talk about works by their contemporaries but to fashion a renewed sense of basic, shared critical values.
Yedda Morrison | Girl Scout Nation | Displaced Press | 2008
This is the oldest book on my list but I only just got to read it. I had the pleasure of hearing a lot of the poems in this book for a few years at various readings, but the effect of reading them all together is fierce and splendid and at an entirely other level. Anger and love seem to be Morrison’s twin obsessions here and in other works—the love that both lies and lies in every anger, maybe. These concerns dovetail into her starkly eco/feminist/activist/understandably-pissed-off approach in ways that I find enviously original. She’s doing some great work and to me this book is both sweeping and, despite or because of the intensity, suprisingly personal.
Tyrone Williams | The Hero Project of the Century | The Backwaters Press | 2010
Unlike a decade ago Williams is not a secret anymore, but he’s still one of those poets I always read no matter what. I’d say I liked this book just a sliver less than On Spec, but it’s still terrific. Compared to On Spec it’s driven a bit more by content than form, but regardless TW is always, to me, most compelling in the way he works with linguistic density, counterpunctuating it with sudden moments of simple anger and direct content. I never thought enjambed aesthetic complexity could come across as so persuasive and natural, but it is here.