Attention Span 2011 | Johannes Göransson
Jenny Boully | not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them | Tarpaulin Sky | 2011
A poetic novel that inhabits J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, or perhaps a novel that is haunted by the older book, or that haunts it. Much like Sara Stridsberg’s novel (see below) inhabits and is haunted by Nabokov’s text. And like Stridsberg, it’s deeply lyrical and beautiful, as well as disturbing.
Blake Butler| There is No Year | Harper Perennial | 2011
Another hallucinatory poem-as-novel, much like the Lonely Christopher (see below), as well as David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” in its striking images and scenes; and like Lynch’s movie, it’s explores the gothic trope of the “haunted house” in an age of media saturation.
Daniel Borzutzky | The Book of Interfering Bodies | Nightboat | 2011
This book begins with an epigraph from the 9/11 Commission Report: “It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratiizing, the exercise of the imagination.” One response to this might be to write poems as far away from bureaucracies as possible (an escape into nature or some such), but Borzutzky decides to go through the giant bureaucracy of the “war on terror,” pushing the clinical, euphemistic discourses of a patriot-act government into beautiful, disturbing hallucinations.
Aimé Césaire, trans. A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman | Solar Throat Slashed | Wesleyan | 2011
This is a new translation of the 1948 unexpurgated edition of this book by the legendary Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, maybe the greatest poet of the 20th century. This was Cesaire’s second book, following the legendary Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, and it extend the disturbing, grotesque, beautiful visions of that book. I’m eternally grateful to Eshleman for not only writing his own fine poems but also for his translations of some of the greatest poets of the 20th century: Césaire, Artaud, Vallejo.
Feng Sun Chen | Ugly Fish | Radioactive Moat | 2011
An extreme case of “ugly feelings,” pushed to the limit and then pushed through the limit. The final section begins with an homage to Plath: “The poet does not survive. / Now she is already dead. / Born for the crate / Pure fat being with ammary and simultaneous craters.” But then she goes through the woman’s body with its insects eggs and ham-iness (in every sense of the term) and ends up in a space overwhelmed by affect, a space of Raúl Zurita carrying “the bodies of Chile like a rattle.” It’s not an epiphany but an intensive state of affect, of meat supersaturated by Art.
Lonely Christopher | The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse | Akaschik | 2011
Short stories as prose poems based on relentless modulations of basic sentence structures and vibrant hallucinations. Seems similar to Butler’s book in its haunted, exhaustive, upsetting, poetic aesthetic.
Seyhan Erözcelik, trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat | Rose-Strikes and Coffee Grinds | Talisman | 2010
The language is positively buzzing, words being broken down and recombined in a saturative zone emblematized by that oldest of symbols, the rose: “Rape me. / With my invisible groom. / In your crime bed.” Comes with Nemet-Nejat’s quixotic interpretative framework. He’s an example of a translator whose fidelity to the original takes him so close to it that he comes out the other side, in a place akin to madness.
Polly Jean Harvey | Let England Shake | Vagrant | 2011
I had no idea PJ Harvey could make such a beautiful, poetic record. I had no idea anybody could make a record this beautiful about “England” and its dead sailors and “deformed children.”
Johan Jönson | Efter arbetschema | Bonnier | 2009
This was published a couple of years ago but frankly it’s so long that it has taken me a while to finish it. Jönson is a leading “conceptual poet” in Sweden, a working-class poet whose subject matter is often his job: shoveling shit at an old people’s home. One might say, in line with the typical claim for conceptual poetry, that this 800-page obsessive-desperate poem-as-diary is “unreadable.” But it strikes me as almost “un-write-able.” Jönson made an early debut in the late 80s as a promising poet, but then he disappeared from the Swedish poetry scene, instead writing plays for political gatherings, such as union meetings or information meetings for battered women. These performances were based on interviews with the audience. Since being rediscovered around 2000, he has written many pieces based on samplings of various kinds (Danielle Collobert’s diary in Collobert Orbital, which I translated a while back for Displaced Press). And the shit-shoveling, the sampling, the diary all come together in this paranoid, almost unreadable, unwrite-able 800-pager.
Stina Kajaso | Son of Daddy blog | http://sonofdaddy.blogspot.com/ | 2011
Some of my favorite “poems” of the past year has been the ranty entries on performance artist Stina Kajaso’s ultra-gurlesque blog of roughly biographical writing. If it’s biographical it’s in the best sense: performative, fantastic, ridiculous, excessive, over-the-top. And for people who don’t read Swedish, it’s got hilarious, ridiculous collages and videos (such as the one in which she explains how to put a fake sore on your shoulder and why that’s a pretty thing). She’s as likely to talk about eurovision competition as performance art (which is to say she’s likely to talk a lot about both topics).
Sean Kilpatrick | Fuckscapes | Blue Square | 2011
The violent, sexual zone of television and entertainment is made to saturate that safe-haven, the American Family. The result is a zone of violent ambience, a “fuckscape”: where every object or word can be made to do horrific acts. As when torturers use banal objects on its victims, it is the most banal objects that become the most horrific (and hilarious) in Sean Kilpatrick’s brilliant first book.
Alexander McQueen | Savage Beauty | 2011
I love these dresses (outfits, costumes) made in the mode of what McQueen insightfully called “Romantic Gothic” (my favorite genre), dresses that seem to be in the process of hybridizing with the scuffed-up mannequins, generating horns and leaves. When I first got this book earlier this summer, I was in the midst of translating Swedish poet Aase Berg’s masterpiece Dark Matter and it struck me immediately that McQueen’s outfits are perhaps closer aesthetically to this book than just about any book of American (or Swedish) poetry.
Joyelle McSweeney | The Necropastoral | Spork | 2011
This beautiful book, decorated with Andrew Shuta’s Eazy-E-featured collages, includes McSweeney’s “King Prion” possessions, which are both about and formally based on the “prion” that causes Mad Cow’s Disease, as well as two lyrical essays on McSweeney’s concept of “the necropastoral.”
Alice Notley | Culture of One | Penguin | 2011
Notley is one of my absolute favorite poets and this series of interlinked prose pieces meditating on “mercy” (which I read as “Art” with its “thousand tentacles”) might be my favorite of her many books. It’s also her most grotesque, full of odd monster bodies, such as “the death fish.” Absolutely visionary. As in books like Alma and Descent of Alette, Notley uses narrative in a fascinating way—at times in rants, at times in dramatic monologues. I love this book.
Sara Stridsberg | Darling River | Albert Bonnier Förlag | 2010
I love Stridsberg’s previous book, The Dream Department as well. That one is a kind of dream diary of Valerie Solanis. This one is a dreamy story of a series of “Lolitas,” including Nabokov’s original Lolita (which of course was tragically not an original but based on a memory and Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabelle Lee,” and also supposedly stolen by Nabokov from a Nazi neighbor). The central Lolita, named after Nabokov’s character, drives around in a hallucinatory landscape of forest fires and prostitutes with her dubious father, who has been abandoned by her mother. Together they shoot target practice on her clothes nailed up on trees in the woods. A visionary, baroque novel as poem. Or poem as novel.
Anja Utler, trans. Kurt Beals | engulf – enkindle | Burning Deck |2010
If the sublime is the intrusion of a foreign object, this books gives a kind of negative sublime: the reader as an intrusion into the text, whish “engulf[s]” the reader with an intensity somewhat reminiscent of Danielle Collobert.
Ronaldo Wilson | Poems of the Black Object | Futurepoem | 2010
Poems not only about America’s “wound culture” but in and of America’s “wound culture.” Out of those wounds leaks Art. Grotesquely beautiful. Wilson’s first book, The Narrative of the Brown Boy and White Man is also a good book. My favorite pieces in the first book recount dreams; the entire second book generates a kind of wounded dream space where Wilson explores the violence and sexuality that surrounds race in our culture.
Uljana Wolf, trans. Nathaniel Otting | My Cadastre | Nor By | 2009
Wolf explores a tension between the hierarchical/Freudian family with an ambient language-scape where fathers and daughters multiply and get rearranged in language. And of course this kind of language-scape is interesting for purposes of translation. Especially with words like “Cadastre” or “flurbuch,” the “ownership” that seems to be “translated” away. The accounts are unsettled.
Johannes Göransson is the author of four books, most recently Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate as well as several books of Swedish poetry in translation. He teaches at the University of Notre Dame, co-edits Action Books and Action, Yes, and blogs at www.montevidayo.com.
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