Attention Span 2011 | Patrick Pritchett
Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Pitch: Drafts 77-95 | Salt | 2010
The penultimate volume to the now rapidly concluding Drafts. The angel of history (AKA midrash) is alive and kicking in these fantastically sculpted and minutely attentive poem-narratives. DuPlessis may have been all along creating a whole new genre here. This angel is the principle of continual poetic revision as intervention. It reads and writes the past not as it was, but as it is found: deeply fractured by contingency, open to an ongoing process of revision. The midrashic angel takes up its task not merely by bearing witness to what it sees, but through actively constructing new alignments of meaning from the scattered wreckage of the debris field. The highlights, for me, are “Draft 87-Trace Element,” and the already legendary “Draft 85-Hard Copy.” For more, see the feature on RBD in Jacket2.
William Corbett | The Whalen Poem | Hanging Loose | 2010
The maestro at the top of his game, swinging loose and easy—nothing to it. There’s a luxurious liberation coursing through this poem that abounds with grace notes and is overflowing with his customary generosity toward memory and experience, the sweet, raspy pellicles of detail, that is, finally, the history of a life, and of writing a life, inner and outer, moment by moment, and is deeply moving.
Forrest Gander | Core Samples from the World | New Directions | 2011
An itinerary of otherness, strewn with uncanny moments of tenderness and glancing blows that crack the fragility of conscience. The earth’s alien powder is sifted through, poured out, regathered in rich pulses of telluric current from the far side of everywhere. Poem, photo, and prose fold into and out of each other, remapping their own contours. The overlap and feedback amplifies into a kind of 21st Century global witness that is porous and humbling and weird. I can’t think of another book like it. Utterly extraordinary.
Christian Hawkey | Ventrakl | Ugly Duckling | 2011
Officially a tour de force, this is a magnificent accomplishment, one that completely mesmerized me. Hawkey has reinvented the gorgeous and tortured weirdness of Trakl for the 21st Century. More than that, he has carried the logic of the translator’s task forward into a region that is all “interpass, penetrate.” The cumulative effect, when read straight through (and it’s that rare book of poetry, almost impossible to put down), is—how to say this without sounding absurd?—one of the most precisely calibrated vulnerability. Reader, I was carried away.
Fanny Howe | Come and See | Greywolf | 2011
These poems are like messages from a skeptical clairvoyant. The sense of recognition here is humbling and amazing, like the call for justice contained in the simple gesture of saying “you are here.” Everything superfluous is stripped away and what’s left is haunting. “A Hymn” seems to sum up all her concerns and convictions. (Harry Lime as a mix of Paul Celan and Oscar Levant?) These poems insist on an order of seeing that is miraculous, like the movies, and where forgiveness is all about how we do the work of looking. Like a form of levitation, they will break your heart with clarity.
Sharon Howell | Girl in Everytime | Pressed Wafer | 2011
There’s a freshness and insouciance to these lyrical forays that balance the prosaic and the ordinary against the privileged and the secret. The effect overall is one of constant surprise and delight. Spicer, a presence here surely, as has been noted. But behind Spicer, Wordsworth—not the bloated, complacent Will.I.Am of the Preludes, but the swift, sharp gleaner of chthonic music and the joyous spookiness of being alive.
Andrew Joron | Trance Archive: Selected and New Poems | City Lights | 2010
Lines decrypted from a dark book, pitched to an arcane thrum, a holy thread of labyrinthine sound that interweaves the soul’s salt with the sugar of the tongue. In this divinatory praxis, Joron capitalizes on the generative slippages which govern the chance combinatory properties of language. Following the logic of paronomasia, the poems here teeter, at times, on the brink of decay, yet what rescues them is the commitment to the sublime yield of phonemic constellation and all the spaces, and nodes, of micrological difference that open up between each slip-gap, each meld-slide, within a horizon of negation and wonder. The gravity well of logos is mitigated only by the poem’s own negentropic counter-thrust.
Peter O’Leary | Luminous Epinoia | Cultural Society | 2010
A book of impossible risk and endless doxology: in the end, they are the same thing. Liturgical datastreams downloaded and uploaded continually, like the angels in Jacob’s Dream. Fervent and unabashedly naked in its declaration of poetic vision. It reduces to so much kitsch the weak ironies of slacker emo-whimsy emanating from Brooklyn or the timid affirmations of bourgeois pathos praised in the Sunday Times, both of which somehow pass for “spirit” in the late imperium. This is a poetics that dares and ratifies the visionary ratios of song. Written out of what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “spiritual audacity,” Luminous Epinoia is a hymn to the theophanic. This is poetry of vatic kerygma—pure proclamation.
Michael Palmer | Thread | New Directions | 2011
Simply put, his best work since At Passages. There’s a certain kind of reader who can’t get past Palmer’s apparent break from the heavily encrypted style of his earlier work. Narrow constructionists, they want every book to be Sun or Notes for Echo Lake. But the idiom he has been exactingly developing since 1988, a kind of theater of the neo-allegorical that juxtaposes the driest of satire with a messianic thirst for the impossible ur-sprach, continues what were always his deepest concerns. Here, they are brought to a vivid pitch in this delicate and powerful collection. Flashing with spiked barbs of humor, these poems still inhabit the melancholy landscape where language ratifies itself by signifying its own failure. Written under the sign of Saturn, they are harrowing in their humility and directness. Simplicity here is neither a reduction nor a retreat, but the earned complexity of a late style in a late hour. To call the title sequence a tour de force is to defame it. These “threads” are addresses, colloquies, homages, haunted questions that concentrate Palmer’s concerns for the art as a site for making counter-meanings, the micro-resistances that push back against the crushing sense of fatigue born of suffering and slaughter. This is elegy as crystalline paleography. Every word is merely on loan from the thief’s journal. They haunt the dream of memory with the hope for the Not-Yet.
Andrew Schelling | From the Arapaho Songbook | La Alameda | 2011
This may well be the best thing Schelling’s ever done. Superbly attentive to the discrete seams where language and geography ripple over and through each other, this is an initiation into another world—one that exists side by side with the everyday. These poems track pathways back and forth between the ancient and the contemporary, language and the natural, without ever sliding into the false a-historicism of the romantic. The care with words—guttural, elusive, probing, shamanic—and the handling of the line breaks—is deliciously deft and subtle. A beautifully wrought, intimate book.
Rosmarie Waldrop | Driven to Abstraction | New Directions | 2010
The title sequence is superb. Waldrop’s extraordinary constellation—beginning with “Zero or, the Opening Position”—reads like a history of the metaphysical comedy of negation, its failures and its hopes, as traced through everything from cosmology to monetary exchange. It is a poem about the manifold ways nothing is implicated in everything, whether the via negativa of Pseudo-Dionysus or the khora of Derrida. A recitation of zero and its history as a concept. Of its migration into the West from medieval Arabic mathematics and its subsequent role as a placeholder for the underlying, the foundational that is anti-foundational, “zero, the corrosive number,” as she calls it, without which nothing counts.
Elizabeth Willis | Address | Wesleyan | 2011
I heard Willis read “Blacklist” two years ago at MLA and it fairly took the top of my head off. In this poem, the legacy of the Salem witches is made over as a noble tradition of transgression, a powerful and ongoing voice of resistance to the state, the system, and the boss. Woody Guthrie was a witch! After the headiness of the dazzling Meteoric Flowers, the tune and turn of this collection digs deeper into the marrow of the word, refining down to nubs and particles, a process not to be confused with simplicity. To say the thing austerely turns out to be incredibly complicated.
Lissa Wolsak | Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 | Station Hill | 2010
The summa of an extraordinary ambition. If the stutter is the plot, then what to say of the hyphen, the line-break, the neologism reaching after a glimpse of fugitive cognition in a cascade of vowels? The fragment here becomes fragrant, imbued with a fragile knowing. The letter, atomized, becomes the law of spirit—darkened with matter, made radiant by it. It is by such carefully broken apart attentions that these poems stage extravagance as investigation. They generate a singing that both binds and unravels, spelling out a new form of orthography that makes the traces of the invisible not only legible, but achingly near to us.
Andrew Zawacki | Roche Limit | Tir Aux Pigeons | 2011
Laid out in four-line stanzas, each one marked by roughly four beats per line, this short, perfect poem surges forward in a compelling rhythm capable of surprising turns and reverberating with fractal resonances—the complex echo chamber of attractions and resistances as words slide through one another and into their own process of associative elision and repetition, a principle of rime, as Duncan might say, that recalls the innermost linguistic and ontological structures for mapping levels of relation.
Patrick Pritchett is the author of several books of poems, including Burn, Antiphonal, and Salt, My Love. Recent projects include editing a feature on Rachel Blau DuPlessis for Jacket 2, a talk for MSA on Pound, Sobin, and the ruins of modernism, and a book project on the messianic turn in postwar poetry. He is currently a Lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and Visiting Lecturer in Poetry at Amherst College. Pritchett’s Attention Span for 2010, 2009, 2008. Back to 2011 directory.