Attention Span 2011 | Kevin Killian
Martine Bellen | Ghosts! | Spuyten Duyvil | 2011
Martine Bellen is one of the poets I most often wish I had met; when I read her work I feel the thrill of making a new friend, someone just for me. Her new book Ghosts! begins with a sensational, almost flip title and never looks back. Sketched within three series of poems, a woman’s story reflects and refracts through the brackets of life and death, and the “story,” as I have called it, never manages to dry into any flat sort of wholeness. How to see her? It would be like defining what Ingrid Bergman was like through the six films she made with Rossellini. What happens in Ghosts! is, on the other hand, strikingly similar to what happens to Ingrid in Europa 51 and that one with George Sanders—we change, change utterly as the words mount up to our waists like dry leaves in a red country.
Gregg Biglieri | Little Richard the Second | Ugly Duckling | 2011
Ugly Duckling puts out some striking books and this one, without a spine or really much of anything holding it together except for a length of brown string and a trio of tiny bored holes, is one of the fairest. Biglieri’s poem is pretty short and is printed I think all on one side of a length of paper with two dozen folds in it. Every time you turn a page you’re conscious of the pages as uncut; squeeze them between your fingers and they balloon out, revealing blank folds underneath. The writing produces an uncanny, And Then There Were None feel of words eating themselves, disappearing before one’s eyes, often enough through a puns and anagrams approach Mel Taub himself might envy. Or “Captain Mnemo,” Biglieri’s mascot. “Hurt his iris/Hiss her ear.” Yes, it’s a short book, but humankind cannot stand much reality.
Brandon Brown | The Persians by Aeschylus | Displaced | 2011
Displaced Press from Michigan has put forward an awesome initiative, printing the first books of a handful of young American poets I’ve been following for some time. One of them is Brandon Brown, a figure on the San Francisco poetry scene whom I first met some years ago when I enlisted him to help me and Peter Gizzi and our work on collecting Jack Spicer’s poetry. Brown is a classicist and it shows up in his work to an almost irksome degree, but his book is a rousing reminder, not perhaps of the relevance of ancient Greek drama, but of the ways in which change is forever written into all things, a golden thread amid the dreck. I remember hearing about the poets’ production of The Persians, held outdoors at the Presidio, and I was actually present for a scene or two Brown delivered onstage at Timken Hall, where the parallels between the Persians of Aeschylus’ days, and the Iranians of ours, were made very clear through deft riffs of stagecraft, declamation, and an Olsonian take on the function of the city in poetry.
Stacy Doris| The Cake Part | Publication Studio | 2011
People know so little about the French revolution, but they do remember the cake part. Publication Studio is a sort of “print on demand” company based in Portland (Oregon) that can take on the most innovative and complicated sort of project, and has made a perfect match with Stacy Doris’ unique text application. Part found poem, part manifesto, part investigative poetry, and sometimes as silly as Ronald Firbank. In recent months she asked a whole bunch of poets and other friends to make little videos based on assigned parts of her book, so I got to know “mine” pretty well, and to launch the book she posted them all on her own Vimeo channel which please check out. This sort of history lesson is infectious, like a show and tell lesson combined with a trip in the Wayback Machine—there can be nothing, literally, more outlandish.
Jennifer Natalya Fink | Thirteen Fugues | Dark Coast | 2011
Fink is the veteran author of several books, but she keeps surprising the attentive reader. Her stories share textual strategies with prose poetry, woven together out of myriad weaves and looms, tying themselves together in what I, if I knew more about music, would ascribe to some sort of fugal structure. Here the stories slash prose passages accrete into what could almost be a novel in the hands of a lesser writer, and sometimes prose itself breaks down into the stronger and harsher mode of poetry itself, line breaks and all, when “Tanya,” Fink’s appealing and yet scary heroine, decides to stop making sense and to give her soul a little room to breathe. Fink ignores also the conventional geographies of writing, and her book transports itself with abandon from South America, to Canada, to the US suburbs of her deep affection.
Colleen Lookingbill | A Forgetting Of | Lyric& | 2011
Did you ever write something, almost a book’s worth of it, and then you put it away for one reason or another? Perhaps life intervened, perhaps something more interesting than life. In the gritty and determined world of A Forgetting Of, Colleen Lookingbill performs a complex and dangerous operation, that of reviving a forgotten body of poems. She had made a wonderful debut in the 1990s with her first book, Incognita, and then nothing. So much talent and grace, however, coupled with a health scare while she was still young, could not let the matter rest. From somewhere deep within, and accompanied by a suite of full color paintings very much in the Romantic vein of the poems, a book came to life, and a family of fans, at last, finds entertainment.
Deborah Meadows | Saccade Patterns | BlazeVOX | 2011
She has published ten books of poetry since 2003, and here comes an eleventh. I’m sure that, like Leslie Scalapino used to, she will forgive you if you haven’t read all of her oeuvre. (RIP Leslie!) Saccade Patterns are apparently the movements of your eyeballs in your heads, back and forth, up and down, the rotations eyes make continually until pattern recognition momentarily soothes that restless urge to know. Meadows has been good at evoking patterns (of loss, of recognition, of right and wrong) for a decade, and here she steps back from the powers of her own sight and applies what she’s learned to the social and political problems that engorge our times.
Jennifer Moxley | Coastal | The Song Cave | 2011
Steve, you thought you could box in Jennifer by referring to her then-ongoing long poem “Coastal” as “your 9/11 poem”? Ha ha, she responds with a quick twist of her poniard. But I sympathize with you because to all intents and purposes I agree a little. “Coastal” is a continuous unfolding of a book that contrasts the southern Maine of Moxley’s present surround, with the Southern California in which she grew up, and in the telling, Maine comes to stand in synecdochically for middle age itself, San Diego for youth. And the poem organizes itself along these lines (there’s also a James Schuyler/Rae Armantrout dialectic) until the artist reveals that despite obvious differences, the similarities that link worlds together—poetry and painting—the East and the West—the heterosexual and the lesbian—the past and the present—are more provocative, more enigmatic. I’m sure you were just testing this theory when you made your now famous faux pas.
Olumide Popoola | This Is Not About Sadness | Unrast Verlag | 2010
The reverberations of African revolution shake up a mixed neighborhood in a working class backwater of London. This is the first full-length book by the Nigerian-German author Olumide Popoola, published in English in Munster. Wait, is that the same as Munich? When “Olu” came to San Francisco recently, introduced to me and Bob Glück by UK novelist Shaun Levin and by Olu’s advisor the poet Tim Atkins, we had the feeling that a necessary voice was being heard, and that the world had expanded from within. “We don’t measure in impossibility/ in anguish or that which sliups/ through our hands,” writes Popoola. Two women, one old, the other young, meet in London—two different Africas in their pasts, and the secrets they have kept begin to break down under London’s weak and tenuous sun.
Jane Sprague, ed. | Imaginary Syllabi! | Palm Press | 2011
This has got to be the funnest book I’ve read in eons. Editor Sprague’s opening statement tells us that she has made up a book by multiple authors “that aims to collect writings which […] essentially challenge pedagogical strategies pursuant to the work of teaching writing and other disciplines.” The book has some utopian syllabi, but not all of them are as imaginary as others, and some have actually been taught in classes in college programs in official “and mongrel” schools. An expansiveness fills the volume, even when the courses offered have a touch of our 21st century despair to them; Sprague must have felt like, oh who was it put out that “curriculum of the soul” and assigned all his favorite poets to writer on all those topics in the 1970s? Anyhow I think you get the gist. OK, not all of the contributions are of equal value, but I can see myself as an eternal student making use of them all for my own edification. And if I ever teach a poetry course I’ll be thinking primarily not of my own students, but of how to make my syllabus thrilling enough to get into Sprague 2.0.
Nicholas James Whittington | Slough | Bird & Beckett | 2010
I read the whole book several times and only now, as I struggle to type out the author’s name and the name of his book for the demanding readers of “Attention Span” have I realized that the book is not called Slouch, but Slough. It is the sort of California-landscape poetry, honed and polished to a few memorable lines per page, that I think of as the province of sloughmaster Joseph Massey of Arcata, but no, in fact it is written by someone totally different, and someone with his own sort of dreamy and visionary consciousness, a man with more air in his slough, with more than a trace of Beat DNA in his blood. And Jabès too. It is a wellshaped book, not quite small enough to fit in your hip pocket, but you could slip it into a trenchcoat pocket without protest and with a certain synchronicity. “Tell me where you live,” Whittington writes, “light’s particles shall settle in/ troughs of your voice.” I’m saying he ain’t no slouch.
Kevin Killian is a San Francisco writer His books include Bedrooms Have Windows, Shy, Little Men, Arctic Summer, Argento Series, I Cry Like a Baby, and Action Kylie. His new book of stories is called Impossible Princess (from City Lights Books).