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Archive for September 2012

Attention Span 2012 | Don Share

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Ian Hamilton Finlay | Selections | California | 2012

A long-overdue and easily obtainable selection of Finlay’s work. While it doesn’t do justice to his landscape and visual creations, it is nevertheless a great sampling of his revolutionary poetry and aphorisms.

Aram Saroyan | Four Monologues | Epicenter | 2012
Ben Lerner | The Dark Threw Patches Down Upon Me Also | Epicenter | 2012

Full disclosure: I facilitated the publication of the two works above in a project for students at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Arts. Saroyan’s and Lerner’s works have been distinctly and aptly embodied in physical objects entirely conceived of and designed by talented young printers under the direction, respectively, of Clifton Meador and Inge Bruggeman.

Lew Welch | Ring of Bone: Collected Poems | City Lights | 2012

Too long out of print and therefore too long out of the discussion of modern American poetry, this ebullient and poignant work has been restored to its rightful readership.

Kenneth Goldsmith | Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age | Columbia | 2011

Even people who haven’t read it are talking about it.

Tav Falco | Ghosts Behind the Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death | Creation | 2012

Part of the Mondo Memphis series, an unprecedented exploration of American history and music as filtered through the strange and dark sensibilities of those who passed through, or came to rest in, Memphis, Tennessee, my home town.

Janet Frame | Storms Will Tell | Bloodaxe | 2008

One of the strangest, most remarkable poets who ever lived. Frame stashed drafts of her late poems in a fountain that had been used as a goose bath; fortunately much work was retrieved therefrom to supplement her legendary collection, The Pocket Mirror. It’s inconceivable to me that so few American poets know her work.

Laura (Riding) Jackson | The Word Woman and Other Related Writings | Persea | 1993


Paul Durcan | Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being | Harvill Secker | 2012

Durcan is to poetry what sea salt is to chocolate.

Franz Wright | Kindertotenwald | Knopf | 2011

Po-biz cyberspace focuses on Wright’s personality, but fails to acknowledge that he has revitalized and reinvented the prose poem, something almost every other contemporary American poet has failed to do.

Mary Ellen Solt | Toward a Theory of Concrete Poetry | OEI, no. 51 | 2010

An exploration of Solt’s landmark anthology, with which this beautiful, absorbing, and useful volume is not to be confused.


Don Share is Senior Editor of Poetry and the author of a dozen books, most recently Wishbone (Black Sparrow), Bunting’s Persia (Flood Editions), and The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (University of Chicago Press), which he co-edited with Christian Wiman. His translations of the poems of Miguel Hernandez, which received the Times Literary Supplement Translation Prize and the Premio Valle Inclan, will appear in a new edition in 2013 from NYRB Classics. He blogs at Squandermania and Other Foibles.

Don Share’s contribution to Attention Span for 2009. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 29, 2012 at 11:57 am

Attention Span 2012 | Rodney Koeneke

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David Abel | Float | Chax | 2012

A testament to the virtues of the longue durée, Float hauls up poems from the jetsam of our inattentions, returning quoted, found and procedurally generated language to a recursive economy of reading, writing, thinking, re-reading, and perceiving. The book’s opening section, Conduction, merges twenty-six quotations from twenty-four writers with pithy, daybook-sized reflections that affirm erasure, exegesis and poesis as facets of the same creative act:

Thinking about writing about having read what I wrote at some long-past moment—and not having access now to what was implied and (crucially) then adjacent—a ‘link,’ the loss of which transforms the actual function of the artifact that remains.

That function—collecting something like a self from the mind’s adventures in text across time—drives the book’s other sections: Orbus Pictus, inspired by Comenius’s instructional picture-books for children, another genre in which words and world blur, and Times of Day, which funnels the attention, like in a zazen “sitting,” to single words and the slow changes they undergo in clusters. “My medium,” writes Abel, “is: traffic/congestion/sprawl/etcetera”—his gift is for registering their instants as “a passing wave, in its limitless demonstrations.”

Judith Goldman | l.b.; or, catenaries | Krupskaya | 2011

Lyrical Ballads (the “l.b.” of the title) was always a kind of experimental provocation. Could the ballad—repetitive, anonymous, artless, folk—accommodate the condensed, consciously crafted interiority of the Romantic lyric? Jasper Johns’ Catenary series of the aughts, with its loose cords hung slack before the canvas, equally challenged the standard split between artful and extraneous, with flaccidity, overload, droop, and excess held up against the sharp angular space of the picture plane, that arena for painting’s traditional display of self-reflexive refinement and mastery.

Goldman’s poems extend both projects to embrace the language and subjectivities of our socially mediated, market-tested, content-provided, customer-serviced, tech-drunk steroidal political moment. Pointed puns (“oinkos,” “Ragged individualism”), portmanteaus (“spaghettoed”), epigraphs from Agamben to Woolf, thinky endnotes, learned allusions, strategic archaisms, and close attention to the line and its musical drive mark the writing as an instance of poetic play and display; “ow ow my hamstring!,” “Get Heart Smart,” “Fuck you lookin’ at?”, “Burger King friended me,” “Trying not to drunk text you,” “I LIVE ON ILLEGAL/EMPLOYMENT AND SHIT JOBS,” “And how you like me now” sound an entirely different linguistic register, the public speech of tweets and comment boxes, that giant, corporately archived 140-character-a-line ballad we’re all obsessively texting together.

The energy in Goldman’s work comes from her insistence on grafting the one kind of language onto the other as if there were no difference to acknowledge. “I’d liefer Peer-/to-peer,” “Whoso listserv, I’ll host,” or “I have seen the slain rise, their faces slosh” smoosh the vulgate up against Norton Anthology poeticity in a way that makes each newly accountable to the other, switching out hierarchical grids for dialectical curves, po-mo detachment for the “tenacity of sentiment, subjectivity, and voice” in the teeth of all that’s out to break it down.

John Beer | The Waste Land and Other Poems | Canarium | 2010

The title and cover set my shields on high for another bout with conceptual irony, but Beer’s Waste Land is neither a writing-through nor a winking critique of Eliot’s. Instead the gesture, in a book that foregrounds attitude and gesture over concept or procedure, blends an old-world Continental elegance with a contemporary feeling for absurdist juxtaposition, like “ a septet of cardinals/lunching at the Rainforest Café.” Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christenthums turns into “Christian Thumbways”; Uma Thurman and Marcel Carné meet through core branding at Lancôme; philosophical theses nest in a “big bowl of pasta overturned on the floor”; and “the disgraced King of Pop” shares air with a lit Gitane.

What Beer lifts from Eliot is a reserved and slightly formal dramatic persona that hints at muffled emotional depths just under the mask, the old themes of love and death and identity dressed up as color experiments or dreamy travel narratives. The result is more bemused than despairing, more cinematic than apocalyptic, maybe finally more Stevens than Eliot, but no less urgent for that in its push to its own Busby Berkeley shantih.

Brent Cunningham | Journey to the Sun | Atelos | 2012

To get a sun, you need “the scientific meeting/of divergent gasses,” but also an “Inquirist” to point up and name it and shout “falla!” Cunningham’s journey’s propelled by that dialectic—the cognitive jumps between suns outer and inner, “PEDANTRY” and “SELF-PLEASURE,” “the summing mind” and “the having mind,” tabulation and apperception, Truth and “sparkling humors,” Formality and Soul. Philosophically it’s a gleefully bumpy ride, since the Cosmiverse keeps leaking into the apprehending mind from which it’s meant to be distinct, a microcosm of the history of Western philosophy. Poetically though it turns out you can, in fact, walk on the sun, so long as your captain keeps up the nutty Russian Futurist shouting, which is also a kind of whistling past the graveyard, since suns and poets both finally have to die. By the end, the CAPS and exclamation marks reveal themselves as aspects of a skewed but knowing pathos, as poet and Poetry steadily divest themselves of the fiction that “the Imagining Force” might ever reach Truth and stop Time, admiring “its great frozen monosyllable” which, except in the temporary insanity of the poem, refuses to ever submit to our systems and freeze.

Cynthia Sailers | Lady of Leisure | Cy Press | 2011

Fans of Lake Systems will recognize the tension between luscious surface and dark undertow in Lady of Leisure, which evokes gendered Victorian otium but also the rich family of “paraphilias” that went out with the 19th century—abulia, glove paralysis, handkerchief fetishes, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s freeing mania, Dora’s “hysterical choking,” etc. Sailers picks out traces of these vanished repressions in Barthes quotes and Bergman films, Lacanian theory and Zizekian tirades, to make poems that themselves carry traces of the stories suppressed to make their lines:

I find the refineries of Europe monstrous.
We are finding ourselves boys with interior lakes.
I had my palm read and was told what I wanted to buy: an audience
Anyway, something was penetrating my space under the lanes.
We lost our initial budget to find out who we are.
Our new behavior is urban. Our new behavior is derived.
‘The ruinous winds’ (Oppen) seduce me into menial jobs.
I’m fulfilling a capitalist ethic: making the best of things.

It’s the charged field of antinomies between rigor and leisure, repression and spontaneity, love and perversion, the thinking self and its delirium for the other that Sailers’s special “image repertoire” exposes and, in a weirdly therapeutic way, condones. The Talk at the end knits together Sailers’s training in psychoanalysis, struggle for time for her creative process, and deep cinephilia to make a beautiful case for the proposition “that free association and play are vital and essential activities to creativity,” not the privileged time-wasters that analysis and poetry are both often taken to be.

Julian Talamantez Brolaski | Advice for Lovers | City Lights | 2012

Brolaski’s distressed and gilded englyssche can go “Hellespontine onna Trojan sibyl” but knows how “to be a common man in a dent truck.” It also knows that form’s for feigning, feigning fucking, and “to feign—not to fuck a form, Arnault/Is making shoddy deals.” Don’t let the four-letter fun fool you, though; the advice here is really how “to hold a thorny thing tenderly,” salt mixed with sweet in “surly chivalry,” and how to swoon without forgetting that “Love poetry is about knowing your references.” In the “sweet science of bruising,” Brolaski’s Einstein, test sheep, prof and champ: “Honey my prowess I take as it comes.”

Brandon Brown | The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus | Krupskaya | 2011

Brown’s Catullus is an experiment in translation, really an intervention to save translation from the academic taxidermists who empty, re-stuff, and try to fix the classics into their original positions. His method “resists the binary of fidelity and treason which haunts the apprehension of the activity called translation” by “[acknowledging] the fact of detour” as “the preceding writing is absorbed by the body of the translator in the act of reading.”

That’s about all the theory you’ll need to get into the funhouse, where commentary, exegesis, autobiography, prosody, etymology, somatic exercises, homophonic ear jazz, celebrity sightings, letters to and collaborations from the coterie, urbane academese and a brilliantly charged vernacular become mirrors for Brown to watch himself perform Catullus in, the centuries squashed and stretched till you can’t tell one’s lovebird from the other’s, his crumbling republic from ours.

When’s the last time a book this important was also so hard to put down? Brandon, this will embarrass you, but surely not since Zukofsky, or Rodefer’s Villon, maybe not since “the two thousand years that slipped between Catullus writing Sparrow and me writing The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus.”

Dana Ward | This Can’t Be Life | Edge | 2012

“Brittle as cinders”: That’s a phrase I recently came across in Rodefer’s VILLON and instantly applied to Ward’s This Can’t Be Life, which I’ve been tangled in the glittery hoops of all year. Three sections of the book—Roseland, The Squeakquel, and 2010’s totally bravura Typing ‘Wild Speech’—appeared earlier as chapbooks, so if you’re a friend or fan of Dana’s (the self-exposure and conversational address of his work blurs the line between the two) there are some welcome anchor points.

The beautiful surface of the writing in the chapbooks—his fearlessness about aiming to be beautiful—extends throughout the full-length collection. Ward’s image hoard is one of gold, silver, fluidity, liquefaction, summer, twilight, glitter, carousels, and slumber, a floating world of affect and glamour grounded firmly in an everyday life full of friends, partners, jobs, conversations, emails, smoke breaks, and political desires, and annealed with a sharp, subtly tragic sense of the darkness the aesthetic holds at bay.

What comes clearer reading the chapbooks together, interleaved with the other poems/prose/letters/journal entries (more blurring), are the delicate structures of inquiry and concern that Ward builds up over time. His writings divigate, pivot, carom, swerve, volute, twist, and loop from topic to topic—from “twilight’s newer gears” to “Speaking of Twilight, the movie I mean, have you seen it?”—in a way that feels casual, conversational, improvisatory, even slapdash, but that gradually grows, within and across poems, into cindery armatures that threaten to collapse any instant, poetry into prose, idea into aside, thought into reverie, plan into décor, until, with a final set of twists, you’re surprised with a completed poem, the ends closed up into a perfect lemniscate.

Ward seems deeply aware of his own process—“O the badly managed metaphors are everywhere!”—and inures you to it with a disarming abjection, revealing his “gynecomastadons” or fumbling ways with sushi or moments of artistic humiliation in a manner that’s affecting and generous, but also central to his poetic: “the language of daily life drenched in intimate affect which itself is soaked in unchecked mediation.” Consider the twist in that—affect spun with mediation—or take it a little straighter:

well, Hell.
I couldn’t tell you any other fucking way.

Juliana Spahr | Well Then There Now | Black Sparrow | 2011

WTTN yokes together a decade’s worth of Spahr’s shorter works, linked by the locales (complete with street address and ZIP code) in which they were written. The structure implies a thesis about place, and about the concomitant experiences of displacing and being displaced, but when I went to extract it to write this, I found less a thesis than a process: a process of trying to be placed, to create a sense of place in places where one is, or was, but doesn’t entirely belong.

Spahr’s process involves snapping pictures, walking streets, researching histories, taking ethnobotany courses, pushing writing back and forth through translation machines, producing lists and catalogues, but above all thinking, which may be the book’s home gerund, as in: “As I am always walking on Dole Street, I am always thinking about Dole Street,” or “I was thinking about a story I had heard about a French grandfather,” or “I was trying to think about______,” in which “think” isn’t the gerund but “trying” is, and “trying to think” is maybe the better home phrase for Spahr’s writing anyway.

What attracts me most in the work is how it performs thinking at the level of syntax, building up larger, complex patterns of repetition from relatively simple and straightforward phrasal units, a technique which owes something to Stein but reminds me even more vividly of the way Minimalist composers restrict and recycle their tones. Because thinking for Spahr primarily involves connecting—this here to that there, the body to a landscape, the present to a past, things included to things excluded—grammar itself, which sets rules for connecting, takes on a heightened ethical dimension in her writing, so that ecosystem and language system and biosystem and social system all finally stand in for one another, or are seen to be parts of one another, just as “Some of we are all eating grapes” expands to include “Some of we are all together in the grapes.”

A paradox in Spahr’s writing for me is that as direct and inclusive as the mode of address is, I don’t finally feel a part of her “we,” except in the most general terms (which may be exactly the point) of having a red blood cell count or breathing or belonging to the set of beings included in a statement as broad as: “We are in this world.” What I sense instead in the work is a powerful mind thinking through serious questions in a unique and highly personal way, with the thinking, or the moral imperative of trying to think, being theme, virtue, and obstacle all at once:

I wanted to end this piece with a scene of metaphoric group sex where all the participants were place names, but the minute I attempted to do this I got bogged down in questions of which places would penetrate and which places would be penetrated.

Bill Luoma | Some Math | Kenning | 2011

I forgot you could have fun like this with poetry anymore; percussive, sound-driven, slant-rhymed and metered, Dr. Seussical, project-free, pre-Sincere word bliss. When I was in school pants (and Luoma’s writing takes me back to a time when writing was fresh like that), we did a project where you colored a sheet in rainbow crayons, then colored it black, then scratched in designs with a pin, the colors showing through against the black wherever the lines moved. Luoma’s poems have that kind of underlay, the background hues of the techy-mathy end of the late capitalist spectrum, and the algorithmically driven search results for war and celebrity and war, doodled over with lines and allusions and skewed directions all his own.

The phantom limb of system, present in the echoes of poetic meter, has a point to make about structure, too, or maybe just points to structure, naming its name at the moments we think we’re most random and free, like the shots in the target on the cover: each hole the sign of individual effort, but taken together, a measure of precision and accuracy whose patterns stand out only in the systemic, depersonalized whole.

Jordan Davis | POD: Poems on Demand | Greying Ghost | 2011

This chapbook-sized soil sample of Davis’s recent work makes me long to see the whole range. My favorite effect in these poems is ‘the swoop,’ where Davis has you moving pleasurably in one register—quotidian, casual, urbane and absurd (“I passed the hamburger stand/With five dollars in my pocket”; “A half a saxophone/In the paint tray/With the chalk and/An inverted limousine”)—then drops from the sky for the kill. The sting usually comes in the form of a deflation, indicating the poem’s affective weight by what it seems to shrug off. Take, for instance:


 Sensible to have it under lock and key,
Or baby-latch at least.

 In botany, known as pollarding.

 Yes, very clever. 

Its polarity
Can reverse suddenly.

Scribble, scribble, scribble,
Eh, Mr. Gibbon?

In fact, Jesus like Marlowe
Was capable of insult.

Remind me again
Why I care?

It was that last couplet that got me; looping back to see why reveals the poem’s careful prep for its final zip. Marianne Moore-esque opening line, which amplifies the title like so many of Moore’s do, and puts us (like the later Gibbon name-check) somewhere in the 18th-century zone of instructive ‘manners and mores’ verse: the realm of measured self-control (baby latch, not Yale lock) and capital-lettered Virtues and Vices: “Ridicule,” “Sensible,” etc.

“Pollarding” is pruning, so Ridicule—the poet’s of others, or others’ of the poet?—must aim to do that, cut down to size. Is it beneficial, or harmful? Helps some trees anyway. The agent of ridicule’s called out as “very clever” (perhaps by the ridiculed?) in that coyly dismissive, eye-rolling way we have with ‘clever’ in the vernacular. Clever for comparing Ridicule to pollarding, lending it a corrective power it lacks? And who’s being clever? Is this Ridiculed talking to Ridiculer, or Devil and Angel on the poet’s own shoulders, urging him in turn to lock it down and let ’er rip?

“Its polarity”—Ridicule’s—“Can reverse suddenly,” presumably making the ridiculer look ridiculous. “Scribble, scribble, scribble” is George III’s brother’s idiot response to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—ever heard of the idiot? So one for the Angel, plus sticks and stones, etc. But now here’s the Ridiculed, opening another sluice: words do hurt, why shake it off and pretend they don’t, with victims like Jesus and Marlowe for precedent?

The Rabbi Gone Wild and Elizabethan bad boy lift the poem out of its sensible 18th-century frame and hold it over an abyss deeper than these short, witty, densely allusive lines care to explore, hence the violent snap of the pullback: “Remind me again/Why I care”? Okay: it’s because you care a lot about the interpersonal ethics of ridicule, and about the feelings it provokes that threaten to destroy the poem’s frame, Poetry’s frame. And the “you” by now, if you’ve followed along this closely, is really ‘me,’ or better, ‘we’: poet and reader in a kind of compact to acknowledge and resist Ridicule’s affect and power.

It’d be fun to do this for other poems—the fire of Buddha’s Fire Sermon pared down to a day at the beach in “Toothpaste Kids Sunburn,” or the universe dropping a tart “Good for you” on the poet in the magnificently titled “Chanting Monotonously,” or the feelingful but masterfully subdued “Everywhere you hear/Nature say ‘Oh’” that closes “Hello Thank You.” But Steve—and you, gentle Reader—would surely cut me off if I keep going, so check the rest for yourself & see if Davis really is our flarfy New York School Swift.


Rodney Koeneke is the author of Musee Mechanique (BlazeVOX, 2006) and Rouge State (Pavement Saw, 2003). Cy Press published Rules for Drinking Forties, a chapbook, in 2009; OMG! published another, Names of the Hits (of Diane Warren), in 2010. Work in 2011-2012 appeared in Aufgabe, BOTH BOTH, Mrs. Maybe, The Nation, and The Poetry Project Newsletter, as well as at Small Press Traffic’s Poets Theater, in collaboration with George Albon. He lives in Portland, Ore.

Rodney Koeneke’s contributions to Attention Span for 2010200920082006.. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

Attention Span 2012 | Miles Champion

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Paolo Baldacci, trans. Jeffrey Jennings | De Chirico: The Metaphysical Period, 1888–1919 | Bulfinch | 1997

Bought used for $3.56 (with free shipping) from the quite baffling Better World Books of Mishawaka, IN. If you only have room for one Chirico monograph on your shelf, it’s gotta be this one.

André Breton, trans. Mark Polizzotti | Anthology of Black Humor | City Lights | 1997

Lately my bathroom book of choice. The selections are excellent and Breton’s prefatory notes are sharp. Freud hops into bed with a dialectics of the impossible object. Cloaca as process. Excrement cocktails all round.

Alastair Brotchie | Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life | MIT | 2011

A long, luxurious bath in ether. Truly a labor of love and well worth the wait. Congratulations, Alastair!

David Ellis | Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816 | Liverpool UP | 2011

There’s lots of information here, plus it’s nice to read a book about Byron that bucks the recent trend by being sympathetic to its subject. (Incidentally, why did the Greeks hang on to his lungs? did they still have air in them?)

Larry Fagin | Complete Fragments | Cuneiform | 2012

This was a long time coming and Kyle did a great job.

P.V. Glob, trans. Rupert Bruce-Mitford | The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved | New York Review Books | 2004

The Donald M. Allen of the 1st century B.C. The 2,000-year-old Tollund Man reminds me a little of Keats. If Glob were still with us, would he have a blog? 

Jess | Paintings | Tibor de Nagy Gallery | 2011

Only a slender catalogue (22 reproductions), but this gem of a show (at Tibor de Nagy in Dec/Jan) sustains me still. It was a revelation to see a handful of early (‘50s) paintings for the first time: uneven, yes, but somehow the unevenness was every bit as thrilling as the works themselves. Off the charts. Totally.

Bernard Lassus | Jardins Imaginaires | Les Presses de la Connaissance | 1977

Another absolute steal ($7.07) from the irrepressible Better World Books (Dunfermline branch). A desert island book, worthy of a cult, etc. Now I just need to find Masques Eskimo d’Alaska for under $10.

Lauren Levin | Working | Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs | 2012

I was introduced to Lauren’s work via her stunning book Not Time (Boxwood Editions, 2009) and I can’t think of a dull word that’s issued from her typewriter since (I have a photograph of her typewriter, if you’d like to see it). A tremendous poet. What a treat it is to follow her work.

Beatrix Potter | The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher | Frederick Warne | 1906

Most of the reading I did this year was out loud to my two-year-old daughter. We’ve read the first 10 of the 23 Peter Rabbit books, of which this—the seventh—is my favorite (hers is the first, The Tale of Peter Rabbit).

Robert Walser, trans. Christopher Middleton, rev. Susan Bernofsky | The Walk | New Directions | 2012

As devastating as it is beautiful. Part at least of the astonishment derives from the fact that, as open to the whatever-may as Walser’s walker–writer appears to be, not once does he deviate from Kafka’s true way, that tightrope stretched not aloft but just above the ground. A jaw-dropping work; remarkable to think Walser was alive when Middleton translated it in 1954.


Miles Champion’s How to Laugh is due out from Adventures in Poetry. A book-length illustrated interview with Trevor Winkfield, How I Became a Painter, is also forthcoming. He lives in Brooklyn.

This is Miles Champion’s first contribution to Attention Span. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 27, 2012 at 10:00 am

Attention Span 2012 | Philip Metres

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In no particular order, ten recent books of poems that I’ve mulled over more than once (and, for some, reviewed elsewhere):

Douglas Kearney | The Black Automaton | Fence | 2009

Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues | 2010

Morgan Lucas Schuldt | as vanish, unespecially | Flying Guillotine | 2012

Anna Moschovakis | You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake | Coffee House | 2011

Naomi Shihab Nye | Transfer | BOA | 2011

Nick Flynn | The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands | Graywolf | 2010

Joseph Harrington | Things Come On | Wesleyan | 2011

Kevin Prufer | In a Beautiful Country | Four Way | 2011

Arthur Rimbaud, trans. John Ashbery | Illuminations | Norton | 2011

C.D. Wright | One with Others | Copper Canyon | 2011


Philip Metres’s recent books include abu ghraib arias (2011), which won the 2012 Arab American Book Award for poetry, To See the Earth (Cleveland State, 2008), and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (Iowa, 2007).

Philip Metres’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011201020092008. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 27, 2012 at 8:30 am

Attention Span 2012 | Anne Boyer

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Honoré de Balzac | Lost Illusions | 1843

Soon enough, every other thing we said was “Rustics in Paris.” I couldn’t pack for a trip without a new awareness of the perils of mis-styling facing the provincial poet. I couldn’t read poetry aloud without imagining someone would rather be playing cards. It began to mean something when I wore the right pair of boots.

Eileen Myles | Inferno | OR Books | 2010

Rustics in Paris, or how some girls can make currency.

Ariana Reines | Mercury | Fence | 2011

I ran into Ariana Reines and her lover literally reaching for the stars on the streets. This wasn’t even the dream part—that came later that night, on Nada Gordon’s sofa, when in my restless sleep, Ariana’s veins were a map.

Lisa Robertson | Nilling | Bookthug | 2012

In my 39th year, I’m reading The Men on repeat. I’d been waiting a long time for someone to write about Arendtian natality, the agora, and the vernacular in relationship to poetics. Nothing is better than the person who gave us “their problematic politics adorable” also giving us this.

Lauren Berlant | Cruel Optimism | Duke | 2011

Rejecting both self-improvement and sociality, I spent New Year’s Day reading about the perils of both. I text messaged a lot of it to non-academic friends, probably up through January 10. Later, whenever I’d visit an apartment in a city, I’d see it on every coffee table.

Silvia Frederici | Caliban and the Witch | Autonomedia | 2004

And when will Caliban and the Witch be on every coffee table? Or is it mostly suitable for book-shaped shields against cops? We talk about it on sidewalks, in restaurants, in martial arts classes, on the sofa, in the pool.

Jackie Wang | Assorted Internet Presence| ballerinasdancewithmachinegun | 2011-2012

Looking through my notes for the year, I found I’d written “everything that Jackie Wang tagged Tiqqun.”

CA Conrad | A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon | Wave | 2012

The world gives us cops and cops and cops and cops and cops, but CA Conrad gives us Breton-trumping anarcho-lyric behavior and l’amo[u]r mundi fou.

Guillermo Parra | Venepoetics Blog | 2011-2012

Without Parra’s generous practice of translation I’d never have found “Against the Police” by Miguel James or Víctor Valera Mora’s poem “3 Liter Masseratti.”

Juliana Spahr and David Buuck | Army of Lovers | BOMB 118 | 2012

The political vision/ pornographic.

Annie Le Brun | Sade: A Sudden Abyss | City Lights | 2001

The pornographic vision/political.


More Ann Boyer here.

Anne Boyer’s contribution to Attention Span for 2011. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

Attention Span 2012 | Barry Schwabsky

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Adriano Spatola, trans. Paul Vangelisti | The Position of Things: Collected Poems 1961-1992 | Green Integer | 2008

Amelia Rosselli | É vostra la vita che ho perso: conversazioni e interviste, 1964-1995 | Le lettere | 2011

Amy De’Ath | Eric & Enide | Salt | 2010

Amy King | I Want to Make You Safe | Litmus | 2011

Arthur Rimbaud, trans. John Ashbery | Illuminations | Norton | 2011

Denise Riley | Time Lived, Without Its Flow | Capsule | 2012

Dennis Barone | Parallel Lines | Shearsman | 2011

Frances Richard | The Phonemes | Les Figues | 2011

Gennady Aygi, trans. Sarah Valentine | Into the Snow: Selected Poems | Wave | 2011

John Yau | Egyptian Sonnets | Rain Taxi | 2012

Seyhan Erozcelik, tr. MuratNemet-Nejat | Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds | Talisman | 2010

Simon Smith | Gravesend | Veer | 2011

Susana Gardner | from Idylls & Rushes | Dusie | 2011

Susana Gardner | Herso | Black Radish | 2011


Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. He writes about poetry for Hyperallergic Weekend among others. His recent publications include 12 Abandoned Poems (Kilmog Press, 2010) and Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting (Phaidon Press, 2011). This fall Abaton Book Company will release A Voice Hears You from Mysterious Places, a cd of poetry with music by Marianne Nowottny.

This is Barry Schwabsky’s first contribution to Attention Span. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Marjorie Welish

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Louis Armand and John Kinsella | Synopticon: A Collaborative Poetics | Literaria Pragensia | 2012

An epistolary exchange via email over a decade has allowed co-creators Armand and Kinsella to share but not merge mentalities, and the result is Synopticon, wherein panopticon is lost in the labyrinth it makes for its own escape through the exercise of stylistic thingmabobs: echo pangenesis to tachistoscope. “Nature morte with arcane substances” begins thus: “periphrasis / of the outwardly revolving” “not a trace / no longer qv. lixiviate.” And there you have it.

Sean Bonney | Baudelaire in English | Veer | 2008

Collaged poetry is mostly tedious, in my view, because its practice is assumed to produce a kind of instant avant-garde; but assuming that any cut is radical—yet again—is not at all the case with this book, an assumption assiduously avoided by Sean Bonney, who translates Baudelaire and subjects the translations to concrete splicing, rotations and overlays so intensively that material foregrounding makes for a babel of the letter. The reader and rewriter are textual producers anew.

Judith Goldman | l.b.; or, catenaries | Krupskaya | 2011

If there were ever a book in which the sentence is held in suspicion, this is it. Remarkable here is that l.b. undermines the sentence as an instrumentality of imperial authority wielded on behalf of the polis. By depriving it of propositional force through every rhetorical torque and linguistic rupture you can think of—that is, without resorting to parody—Goldman puts received ideas of sentences in situations over which they have no sway.

Stéphane Mallarmé, trans. Peter Manson | The Poems in Verse | Miami UP | 2012

A sustained grace characterizes these translations, relying on the resources of the alexandrine yet also on the fluidity of assonance and consonance wherever possible. Then, too, Anglo-Saxon gravity is diminished in light of an American sort of plainness that alleviates the French lilt. With these tactics Manson has allowed the Symbolist poet to recreate his own surrounds, cerebral and febrile, and so allow us to participate in Mallarmé’s forms of thought. Thanks to the fine poet Peter Manson .

Jonathan Monroe | Demosthenes’ Legacy | Ahadada | 2009

Prose poems from A to Z pose questions, both in the manner of finding one’s voice and entering into dialogue with oneself, about the nature of language and its relation to public speech. The figure of Demosthenes is the pretext . “P” is for “Podium” So Monroe writes: “‘What could be worse?’ And closed his eyes. That was the signal: ‘Start again.’” This extremely vexed speaking voice is given a thorough workout in the poetics advanced through impediment and aspiration. And stops.

J. H. Prynne | Sub Songs | Barque | 2010

The lyric is not an obvious choice for economic theory, but Jeremy Prynne has engaged it in a way both direct and innovative: by treating the lyric as a discourse at the threshold of human hearing but below the threshold of human understanding. Messages about the over- and under-estimation of value and worth compete for our attention as bits and bursts drawn from commerce and literature interfere with each other’s zones, in a stratified field of rich linguistic construction.

Amelia Rosselli, trans. Jennifer Scappettone | Locomotrix | Chicago | 2012

The loss of liberty for Europe, signaled through the assassination of Carlo Rosselli and Nello Rosselli in Fascist Italy, finds a poetics of profoundly de-centered resistance in Amelia Rosselli’s poetry, here edited and translated and given context both in being seen alongside Rosselli’s prose and in the introduction written to situate Rosselli’s writing in her family’s special place in Italian cultural history. Indispensable for modernist studies.

Daniel Tiffany | Privado | Action | 2010

At the close of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, in the aftermath of murder, is Wozzeck’s child playing in innocence of this, singing “hop hop, hop hop.” So, too, to take Privado’s doggerel on the level of parody, in which our avidity for popular culture has left us marches and nursery rhymes and little else, would be to miss the deepest and most despairing of cultural ironies whose enactment is offstage.

Mac Wellman | Left Glove | Solid Objects | 2011

From the playwright comes finger puppetry in the form of a play in which, as the author writes “A chorus of gloves enacts the Ballad of the lost LEFT GLOVE.” But whether or not a dramatization of voices, Left Glove remains first and foremost a vehicle for word play drawn out and attaining to sound play.

Tyrone Williams | Howell | Atelos | 2011

Of the many things to admire in Williams’ poetry, one is his entirely unforced verbal experiment that gives full scope to a cultural critique of master/slave polarity. The poetics of Black Arts Movement and LangPo inform and test the other’s assumptions in this latest book as before, and as before the reader should expect no crude ideological instrumentality but tact in the delivery of sharp words—these put in the service of deterritorializing the given language.


Marjorie Welish’s latest book of poetry is In the Futurity Lounge / Asylum for Indeterminacy.

This is Marjorie Welish’s first contribution to Attention Span. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Pam Brown

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Ken Bolton | Selected Poems | Shearsman | 2012

Another extensive selection of the indefatigable, inimitable Ken Bolton’s poems from 1975 to 2010. This book is veritably fecund with diverse ideas and references—from Howlin’ Wolf to Jackson Pollock, Braque, Renoir, to patterns on a Tampon packet to Errol Flynn to Fairfield Porter to Robert Mitchum—inventive notations, appreciation of relationship—both friendship and family—and plenty of terrific jokes.Nobody else in Australia writes like Ken Bolton. He is a singular (unique) poet who knows that poetry is an important critical form as well as a means of doing some of the work of philosophy. Includes the famous sestina, ‘Bunny Melody’, about a greyhound dog race—aesthetically terrific.

Ken Bolton, ed. | Kurt Brereton: More Is Plenty | Jellied Tongues | 2012

A monograph covering the art career of Australian artist Kurt Brereton from 1973 to 2011. The book spans photography, painting, sculpture, animation, film, performance, poetry and writing. It also includes biography and an exhibition chronology. Plus an interactive graphic artwork—handmade. There are extensive essays on Brereton’s lyrical-critical art practise by Ken Bolton, George Alexander, Arnie Goldman, Diana Wood-Conroy and others. Hundreds of graphics. (Hard copies sold out—now available on lulu dot com as an e-book)

Laurie Duggan | The Pursuit of Happiness | Shearsman | 2012 

The Pursuit of Happiness collects shorter poems written during and after the composition of Laurie Duggan’s last book Crab & Winkle (Shearsman, 2009) poems engaging with his move from Australia to the U.K. in 2006. The collection concludes with ‘The Nathan Papers’, an earlier and longer work written in Australia. The poems address the state of the art and the state of the nation, investigating the spaces left for pleasure in this new dark age. As anthropological investigations, they shift from Robert Creeley, burgers and South African wine on Charing Cross Road to images of Santa Claus in Anglo-Greek Paphos and Japanese tourist signs in the Brontë country. These are wonderful notational poems from Laurie Duggan’s various strayings to diverse places. Tony Baker’s blurb: ‘Duggan’s poetry has the virtue too that it never “abandons the local”. Like Paul Blackburn . . . he builds his work out of what he finds in, on or about the premises.’

Kate Fagan | First Light | Giramondo | 2012

Here is a genial relational aesthetic compiling reanimated centos for friends from expert samplings, plus a musical correspondence and other sonic moments. Kate Fagan is a musician and a poet. She quotes Nina Iskrenko directly—’…the world tumbles and is caught / In consciousness a blazing future is predicted’. In this blazing future my reading remix registers and savours First Light‘s quietly warped syntax—’must a sentence stop and settle / I bend to drafts and read each tablet / a memory made haphazard in a high storm’–that is to say many of the phrase flashes in these poems are electrifying.

Kim Hyesoon, trans. Don Mee Choi | All The Garbage of The World Unite | Action | 2012

‘The ghosts always gripegripe / The women who met an undeserved death are the noisiest among them.’—ghosts who gripegripe, dripdrip and pukepuke, and holes—’Goodness, I didn’t know there were such repulsive holes!’ Holes are everywhere, all kinds of holes—in the early 1950’s the U.S. pounded Korea with bombs and napalm leaving literal, emotional, psychological and societal holes everywhere as Kim Hyesoon’s powerful poem ‘Manhole Humanity’ reminds us. This feminist, somatic, startling, vivid poetry is with loaded with shifting, playful, surreal linguistics. ‘meme is a lone tree that got planted in a bed’.

Kim Hyesoon, trans. Don Mee Choi | Princess Abandoned | TinFish | 2012

Excerpts from To Write as a Woman: Lover, Patient, Poet, and You (published in Seoul in 2002)—three essays that connect contemporary women’s writing and a Korean shaman narrative called ‘Princess Abandoned’ or ‘the abandoned woman writes the abandoned woman’. Published in the inexpensive TinFish Retro chapbook series.

Daniel Levin Becker | Many Subtle Channels: in praise of potential literature | Harvard | 2012

Half a century of OuLiPo recounted by the most recently anointed oulipian. A totally readable anecdotal book detailing the lives of the members of this amazingly inventive experimental ‘workshop’ and their technically constrained writings. Daniel Levin Becker includes OuLiPo offshoots both older and recent, like the work collected by Christine Wertheim and Matias Viegener in the Les Figues Press compendium The noulipian Analects in2005.

Michele Leggott | Northland | Pania | 2010

Five poems in a gorgeous, limited-edition chapbook. Michele Leggott’s note: ‘Nobody knows for sure who brought the first rose to Northland but chances are it came with the westerlies that blew everything else from Port Jackson (Sydney) to the Bay of Islands in the early 1800s’. As I read these engrossing poems, I researched the unfamiliar plant and place names, historical events and Maori language in the online reference Te Ara: The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. The poems cover a variety of topics involving the region including Maori land rights, botany and everything a rose might represent. ‘Once there we found ourselves footstepping other travellers’—Auckland poet Leigh Davis who frequently visited one of the Bays and met an early death in 2009, the poet Robin Hyde, a prophet (TW Ratana), Richard Taylor, a C19th missionary and natural historian and others. Michele Leggott again follows her dictum from the earlier book Mirabile Dictu—’something strange happens every day / sometimes up close, sometimes further away. / if you can’t see the whole story in one place, / you may find it in another.’

Kate Lilley | Ladylike | Western Australia | 2012

The blurb I wrote for the back cover says ‘Kate Lilley’s trim poems linger in thresholds between the material world and otherworlds of slippage and undersound. Women and girls—strumpet, slattern, coquette, rubbermaid, princess—wayward, proclaimed, scandalous, diminished, wronged —are recovered and redeemed. In the dolour of grief, mother and daughter coalesce imperceptibly and mourning is immense. Ladylike loves language literarily. Kate Lilley is a mistress of adverbs and discrepancies. She adroitly melds the seventeenth century with the nineteenth and the twentieth, with its cinema classics and Freudian psychosexual dreams and neuroses, into the televisual synthetics of the twenty-first. These poems are compelling and exquisite.’

Alistair Noon | Earth Records | Nine Arches | 2012

Formal without being formalist, this first collection from Berlin-based English poet Alistair Noon begins with the title poems ‘Earth Records’—a sequence of forty classic sonnets keeping a record ofworld memory, religion, politics, disasters, iconsand sometimes listening to records—’the music of the west thuds through the speakers / trade winds taking its noise, spreading it wideand, a metaphoric sonnet begins ‘An endless machine moulds the acetate / we listen to, scoring earth as it blasts /  the uncooperative hills’. Alistair Noon’s poems are urbane and complex. His is a European view often favouring quatrains for explication. A freer form section, ‘Holidays of the Poets’, follows, mimics, pays homage to and sometimes parodies a variety of ‘greats’—Gilgamesh in London , Homer in New York, Catullus in Berlin, Basho in Scotland ( a poetic prose piece), Coleridge in Beijing, Yeats in Macedonia and more. Lovely modernism for the twenty-first century.

Pete Spence | Perrier Fever | Grand Parade Poets | 2011

The word ‘exuberant’ is used twice on the book’s back cover and these poems are. Pete Spence’s poetry has been described variously as surrealist, naïve, outsider, but although these descriptions nudge elements of his poetry it is not really any of them. Pete Spence is a well read, well informed absurdist who is fluent in modernist poetry and lightly sidles up to it in his own poems. He knows how poets directly perceive and the poems appear to have been written effortlessly, an effect that’s actually quite difficult to achieve. They can seem naïve or like deliberate art brut, but the references are literary, traditional even. These poems are actually very well-behaved. Pete Spence has an obvious, compulsive interest in language and can turn what he hears and reads into profoundly clear and surprising poems.


Pam Brown recently edited Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia for ‘Jacket2’ where she is an associate editor. She has published many books including Dear Deliria (Salt, 2002), True Thoughts (Salt, 2008), Authentic Local (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010) and, more recently, a pocket book of ten poems, Anyworld (Flying Island, 2012) and a booklet More than a feuilleton (Little Esther Books, 2012). A longer collection of poems, Home by Dark, will be published by Shearsman Books in the U.K. in 2013. Pam lives in Alexandria, Sydney and blogs intermittently at the deletions.

Pam Brown’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011, 20102009200820072006200520042003. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Meredith Quartermain

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Marcel Proust, trans. James Grieve | In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower | Viking | 2002

I once read a book called Remembrance of Things Past and thought well that’s it, I’ve done Proust. How wrong I was! How wonderfully wrong. This second volume in his multi-volume work is a delight and has set me on the course of reading them all, for their priceless excavations of language and perception.

Dionne Brand | Land to Light On | McClelland & Stewart | 1997

This book-length meditation on being an outsider in Canada swells and falls in long lines setting the reader adrift in the waves of a foreign sea. Winner of a Governor General’s Award for poetry. Well deserved.

Erìn Moure | The Unmemntioable | Anansi | 2012

EM is up to her usual tricks in disrupting the title spelling, replacing the title on the cover with a description of the book, and replacing the title page with a cell-phone readable encryption. Where is subjectivity located the text seems to ask—caught in a web of alter egos—EM and Elisa Sampedrin—memories and reflections on Moure’s trip to the Ukraine.

Susan Steudel | New Theatre | Coach House | 2012

I enjoy Steudel for her sharp, discrete observations and great formal ingenuity. Nor is she shy of difficult terrain, as her series here on Lenin shows.

Nicole Markotic | Bent at the Spine | BookThug | 2012

I first tasted Markotic’s inventive, understated poetics in the Nomados edition of “Widows and Orphans” which is included in this collection. She picks up the rug of language, gives it a good shake, then transforms herself into a cat under the rug chasing the wrinkles, and laughing as you, on the other side, become a mouse.

Dodie Bellamy | The Buddhist | Production Studios | 2012

At Embers bar in Portland, Bellamy gave a splendid reading from this blog-book, in between drag shows by Siren impersonating Kylie Minogue. I could not put this book down once I opened its covers.

Phil Hall | Killdeer | BookThug | 2012

Winner of this year’s Governor General’s award for poetry, the book is a series of essay poems, reflecting on Hall’s writing career and on the nature of his poetics, as well as taking issue with over-celebrated predecessors. He’s quite frank about being a confessional poet, but he’s learned a thing or two from procedural and language writers, and he writes acutely from a position outside the privileged and canonical.

Alex Leslie |People Who Disappear | Freehand | 2012

Stories of the highly invisible among us: a young man known only through traces on YouTube, a first nations woman whose skeleton is unearthed by children, a young man suffering from mental illness, scrounging for furniture, communities living in the tops of trees, trying to save the forest. Quirky unusual tellings, insightful and deeply felt, these narratives remind us of our complicity in the tragedies we hear about in the news.

W.G. Sebald, trans. Michael Hulse | The Rings of Saturn | New Directions | 1999

Sebald may blur the boundaries of fact and fiction in his narratives of rambling around East Anglia, but he never blurs the truth about forces of nature and the forces of humanity on the planet. His vision of human interdependence is global, linking a train in an English amusement park to a 19th Century Dowager Empress in China, the fortunes of English manor houses, the destruction of the herring fishery, the economic wars of silk manufacturers and many other marvelous serendipities of human history. What emerges is the melancholy poetry of human destructiveness, particularly in the last two centuries, and the beautiful dream of what humanity could mean.

Sina Queyras | The Autobiography of Childhood| Coach House | 2011

Prose by a poet is often the most poignant, and childhood is the writer’s deepest wellspring. Queyras plunges way into a territory we all share—the dysfunctional family. In the space of a single day in which one of them is dying of cancer, five siblings struggle with the legacy of their parents’ stormy relationship, living out their stubborn individual searches for escape or meaning. Queyras shows us that poetry lives in the pain of their disparate journeys.


Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking won a BC Book Award for Poetry. The Dalhousie Review describedMatter and Nightmarker as “perhaps the two most noteworthy titles” in recent radical poetry, “prescient, daring,” and “undoing the knot of human understanding.” Recipes from the Red Planet has been shortlisted for a BC Book Award for Fiction and the ReLit prize.

Meredith Quartermain’s contributions to Attention Span for 20112010200920082007200620052004. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Carl Schlachte

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Anselm Berrigan | Notes from Irrelevance | Wave | 2011

This book-length poem is one of my favorite recent reads. Berrigan has said that he wrote it in sections, but then later combined them, and while I can acknowledge that, my brain resists any claims against the poem’s inherent unity. Plus, the poem has a good deal of vitality and a steadiness that keeps it interesting and a pleasure to read. I think the poem is at its best when Berrigan slips into autobiographical narration, made all the better by the way that these moments crop up only occasionally. His language, as always, is beautiful and precise.

Cyrus Console | The Odicy | Omnidawn | 2011

Console is not the only poet on this list to make interesting use of pentameter in his work, but he’s probably the most conspicuous about it. This book, which deals with the seemingly boundless issues of religion, global corporations, and processed sugar products, is carefully written and never feels heavy-handed, despite the lack of ambiguity or equivocation in what is being said. The third section of the book, “The Ophany,” is made up entirely of the repeated acrostic “RAINBOW,” which is amazingly devoid of kitsch. That, if anything, is a testament to Console’s skill.

Lyn Hejinian | The Book of a Thousand Eyes | Omnidawn | 2012

Hejinian’s an acknowledged master, but I find myself continually surprised by the way her books work within their modes to utilize and re-activate many of the traditional concerns of lyric poetry, filtered through what is left of the Language sensibility 30 years on. In this case, Hejinian is working with folklore, sleep, and the night, in the framework of Scheherazade’s thousand tales. But frequently, the tales that Hejinian is telling acknowledge the fact that they are being told (one common device is to declare a moral), in a way that seems artful without being irritatingly coy.

Liz Kotz | Words to be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art | MIT | 2007

There’s a long history of poets being involved with the art world, and this book of art criticism feels as if it was written for poets, or poets interested in art, at least, due to its focus on the linguistic aspects of the 1960s art scene. (It also features jacket quotes from Kenneth Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin, so my claim may not be unoriginal.) There’s a lot of focus on inter-media arts, with chapters about John Cage, Fluxus, and even two specifically about the use of poetry in the arts. I appreciate how it is able to contextualize much of the single-discipline art developments of the 1960s in relation to other contemporary art developments.

Ben Lerner | Mean Free Path | Copper Canyon | 2010

Much has been made of this book’s fragmented composition structure, but I find that as I continue to return to it, the less fragmented it seems. This is not, however, to the work’s detriment; the poems feel increasingly personal as they are experienced as pure representations of a mind at work. Instead of offering declarative answers to the questions they raise, they offer disjunctive uncertainty, and the result seems more truthful than if any answer had been given.

Christian Marclay | The Clock | Film | 2010

I have finally managed to see (repeatedly) the conceptual art film sensation that’s sweeping the nation(s). A number of good critical pieces have been written about the film, so I won’t add much description here, except to say that the film should perhaps have bearing on the ongoing debate over conceptual poetry; as Robert Baird notes, the film is “a powerful demonstration that boredom is not a necessary response to conceptualist art.” He adds: “So maybe the trouble with conceptualism in poetry is just that we haven’t found our Christian Marclay yet.”

Lorine Niedecker | Handmade Poems | CUNY Poetics Project | 2012

This chapbook is a facsimile reissue of one that Niedecker made in 1964 and gave to friends, and is now held in the New York Public Library’s archives. Though these poems appear among Niedecker’s Collected, seeing them here in her own handwriting is a well-conceived stylistic touch that only further serves to emphasize the mundane and beautiful simplicity of her verse.

Geoffrey G. O’Brien | Metropole | California | 2011

A book that is purposefully difficult without being insensitive. The concerns of the poetry are frequently political, and are insistent without being didactic. More interesting, however, are the formal concerns (constraints?) as the poems mediate their use through iambic pentameter in a way that feels contemporary, even as it purposefully invokes and challenges the traditions and histories of that form. Also notable is the way that O’Brien hinges and twists phrases in the title poem. For example: “They have a second life in prison time moves slowly in the middle of their sentences” (58).

Michael Palmer | Notes for Echo Lake | North Point | 1981

Palmer’s trilogy of books published in the 1980s was reissued in 2001 by New Directions as Codes Appearing, and as I’ve been spending time with these volumes (particularly Notes for Echo Lake) I think that the collected title is rather apt. Reading much of Palmer’s best poetry feels like waking up, in that I feel like I’ve been gone, and missed something while I was out. The “Notes from Echo Lake” series in the book that bears its name provokes in me the greatest feelings of wonder, and is well worth returning to repeatedly.

Rosmarie Waldrop | The Road Is Everywhere or Stop This Body | Open Places | 1978

I’ve been going through the back-catalogs of poets whose work I particularly enjoy and admire, and this book of Rosmarie Waldrop’s was a pleasure to find. It’s early work—her second book—but it’s completely realized in its project: a road chronicle of trips driving around the United States. I find particularly interesting her inclusion of graphical representations of road signs among the words of the poems. This element seems (to me) to be a precursor to more contemporary works that also include graphical elements, like Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely or Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking.

Tyrone Williams | On Spec | Omnidawn | 2008

Williams’ poetry manages to do two difficult things, things that are even more difficult when done together: it manages to be both formally and thematically interesting. One of my favorite features of his formal innovations is the use of words or parts of words within parentheses, to create multiple possible and equally valid readings of poems, almost like printing all of Emily Dickinson’s variants directly into her poems at once. It makes the role of the reader in relation to the poem much more (excitingly) active.


Carl Schlachte is yet another poet living in Brooklyn. He is an MFA candidate at Brooklyn College. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Brooklyn Review and 1913: A Journal of Forms.

This is Carl Schlachte’s first contribution to Attention Span. Back to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

September 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm