Attention Span 2011 | Daniel Bouchard
Benjamin Friedlander | Citizen Cain | Salt | 2011
I used to think of “flarf’ as embodying the poetics of insincerity. Ben Friedlander’s book has changed my mind. This is a sincere book, and it’s really weird and wonderful. This stanza, opening the poem (title lifted from Baraka) “Somebody Blew Up America,” provides a kind of framework for the collection’s many modes: “The poem you just heard was ironic and this one is sincere. / How can you tell? Because it was written in ‘my’ voice.” Don’t ask the criteria for insincerity but rather think what the search terms might have been: “The special sin that arouses God’s anger is in reality an aborted baby.” That’s just language from the Web, right? How about “the sticky / white load he pumped on her toes. / Bookmark this site.” I’ve never read such a variety of contemporary voices commandeered in poems. Yet for all the noise that might suggest the poems read with consistent grace and an even pace despite their detachment from the Literary. And they’re hard voices to identify. Maybe it’s better not to think too much about who they may be or represent or where they come from, either as individuals or composites. The Web is dark and strange: your keyboard is a Ouija board that can summon a wide array of spirits. They show up and begin to reflect or speak to your preoccupations, even demons. Better to read with your eyes slightly out of focus (like being online too long) to get a picture of the poet shaping these poems (in 4, 3, or 2 line stanzas, almost exclusively) and the umami of sensibility. This is a good book of poetry. This is a funny book. “Remember Vietnam? No, not really. / But I do remember what shaq did / last year in the playoffs. Hoooooooo!” (16) Jewish culture, user feedback, user profiles, modern poetry, politics (“Senator shithead”), internet porn: not many books published today make me think ‘oh, I could never write this’ and also elicit respect in the form of envy. Pound appears throughout the book, a significantly higher number of times than placenta, and placenta is no small presence. Read “Alterity Cudgel,” “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” and “Me and My Gang” (“Sexy Librarians of the Future \ are behind you, with a big strapon \ called Knowledge . . .”) and then just jump around. If someone who doesn’t regularly read poetry wants to know what book they should purchase by a living poet, Citizen Cain is a lively choice.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis | The Collage Poems of Drafts | Salt | 2011
It’s not a difficult shift from the thickness and rich verbal density of all the preceding of DuPlessis’s Drafts to this new mostly-visually based format. The mode of collage isn’t new to Drafts and the pictorial element (four color at that!) in this collection has strong ligatures cementing the continuity of the overall project. Somewhere she has said she thinks of Schwitters all the time, a claim substantiated and made quite apparent in the materials and arrangements of these works. Attentive readers will see familiar themes, processes and words sustained here from earlier incarnations and with a similar richness resulting: “A process of scraping, of ripping, of pasting. . . . Mite and mote.”
Edgar Lee Masters | The Great Valley | MacMillan | 1916
Published a year after Spoon River Anthology, Masters broadens his sustained meditation on American history and society in a book that is very long and very prosaic. But its flatness is somewhat countered by the sheer range of interest the poet takes in so many things, and the belief that there is so much to give voice to, and so many worthy. The title refers to Illinois, and the elegies within sing of long forgotten figures, mostly local. The Lincoln–Douglas debates, Dreiser, and Robert Ingersoll are among the better known subjects. (I couldn’t help but think of Sufjan Stevens’s Illinoise throughout.) Honestly, I lost interest about halfway thru the book but I am glad I read the entire thing. Masters is a lot more than just the famous Spoon River. There is a fat selected poems waiting to be created. It should aim to bring the best of his work back into view.
Bryher | The Fourteenth of October | Pantheon | 1952
Bryher | Roman Wall | Pantheon | 1954
Bryher | Beowulf | Pantheon | 1956
Bryher | Ruan | Pantheon | 1960
Byher’s historic novels have a pattern: a boy’s coming of age tale in which he is caught up in the forces of history. His native land is in the throes of turmoil: Saxon England fighting the Norman invasion; a Roman outpost fighting the plundering Goths; London during the Blitz; a druid heir fleeing the conversion of Cornwall to Christianity. In each narrative there is a slackness or incoherency to the society which makes it vulnerable. Old ties and traditions will soon be washed away. There is usually one character who knows better and can see the peril coming but no one will listen to them and then it’s too late. In this, Bryher herself is represented directly. She wrote in her memoirs that she saw WWII coming years before it began. But, alas, no one would listen. She acknowledges a deep influence by G.A. Henty, a nineteenth century novelist who wrote adventure stories for juveniles. Bryher’s attention to detail for what life may have been like for common people at turning points of history across many centuries makes her stories vivid and interesting. All of the books can be read rather quickly. The Player’s Boy and The Coin of Carthage are among her best. Her two memoirs, The Heart of Artemis and The Days of Mars, are not to be missed.
Brook Holgum, ed. | The Capilano Review: George Stanley issue | Vancouver | 2011
A festschrift for George Stanley, San Francisco-born Canadian poet: interviews, photographs, recollections, dedicatory poems and critical takes. As if that were not enough the issue also contains the debut of Stanley’s serial poem After Desire which alone is worth the price of admission.
Humbert Wolfe | Humoresque | E Benn | 1926
Wikipedia describes him as “an Italian-born English poet, man of letters and civil servant, from a Jewish family background.” A contemporary of Pound and Eliot, Wolfe’s work falls to the lighter side of poetry. Prolific in the 1920s and 30s (he died in 1940) he left a largely forgettable body of work. But once in a while there is a gem:
I looked back suddenly
into the empty room
and saw the lamp that I had lit
still shining on the little table by the window
and throwing its light on the tumbled sheets of paper
on which I had been writing.
And I felt as though long years ago a man,
whom I had know very little,
had lighted that lamp,
and sat by the window writing and believing that he was a poet,
and then he came out of the room and found the letter.
He would not go into the room again:
And not he, but I will go in softly
And put out the lamp,
And lay aside the useless paper.
Joseph Torra | What’s So Funny | Pressed Wafer | 2011
This short novel is the narrative of a washed-up comedian on the verge of quitting his trade. Angry, depressed, misanthropic, not even his trademark biting humor gives him satisfaction anymore. “Is there anything more sickening than a couple falling in love?” His marriage is long over, his family distant, dead or in decline. “Could there be anything sicker than the concept of baptism? That some precious newborn baby is born in sin, and has to be cleansed?” The pathos of the story, the loneliness and sadness of an individual who can’t see or won’t admit or simply can’t overcome the causes of his suffering, is nearly drowned by the humor with which the material, and life, attempts to redeem itself. Finally you realize you are reading the transcript of one long comedy routine. Childhood, sex, race, religion, dating, therapy, war, porn, the usual and not so usual material of stand up, are all grist for the mill. “If everyone would lie about Santa, they’ll lie about God.”
Joe Elliot | Homework | Lunar Chandelier | 2010
Cedar Sigo | Stranger in Town | City Lights | 2010
Jennifer Moxley | Coastal | The Song Cave | 2011
Daniel Bouchard’s poetry books include The Filaments (Zasterle Press) and Some Mountains Removed (Subpress). He edited The Poker for many years. An essay on George Stanley’s work appeared recently in The Capilano Review, and an essay on Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts is posted at Jacket2.