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Archive for October 2012

Attention Span 2012 | Paul Stephens

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Takahiro Kurashima | Poemotion | Lars Müller | 2012

Craig Dworkin, Simon Morris and Nick Thurston | Do or DIY | Information as Material | 2012

René Daumal, trans. Thomas Vosteen | Pataphysical Essays | Wakefield | 2012

Mieke Gerritzen et al., eds. | I Read Where I Am: Exploring New Information Cultures |  Graphic Design Museum (Amsterdam) | 2011

Julieta Aranda, Anton Vidokle and Brian Kuan Wood | Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity and the Labor of Art | Sternberg | 2011

Richard Kostelanetz, ed. | Essaying Essays: Alternative Forms of Composition | Out of London (1975) | AC Institute | 2012

Natalie Czech | Je n’ai rien à dire. Seulement à montrer. Ich hab nichts zu sagen. Nur zu zeigen. I Have Nothing to Say. Only to Show. | Spector | 2012

Jen Bervin and Marta Werner | The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems | Granary | 2012

Various Eds. | [Selected Print Journals:] Fillip, Petunia, CLOG, ment, Bulletins of the Serving Library | Various Publishers | Ongoing


Paul Stephens’ recent critical essays have appeared in Social Text, Arizona Quarterly, Postmodern Culture, Digital Humanities Quarterly and Paideuma; he has articles forthcoming in Twentieth-Century Literature and Contemporary Literature. He is co-editor of the journal Convolution, and has just completed a book manuscript titled “The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing.” He teaches in the English department at Columbia University.

Paul Stephens’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011, 2010. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 31, 2012 at 10:48 am

Attention Span 2012 | Rob Stanton

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Chris Goode, ed. | Better than Language: An Anthology of New Modernist Poetries | Ganzfield | 2011

Chris Goode’s excellent overview of what must be now at the least 4th (?) generation ‘Cambridge’ school (actually largely, if anywhere, Sussex-based). As ever with these things, one can quibble about exclusions and excisions—Amy De’Ath, Marianne Morris and Luke Roberts all come to mind immediately—but this is still a thrilling, cogent assemblage anyone interested in ‘what next?’ should read. Makes me feel old (in a good way).

Benjamin Friedlander | One Hundred Etudes | Edge | 2012

The most purely pleasurable reading experience I’ve had all year, this goes down so easily it’s easy at first to miss the sharp edges—‘a / Game of cat / And mouse played / By a cat // And mouse isn’t / A game’—but they do come back unbidden. Nice contrast with Friedlander’s other recent book, Citizen Cain (Salt, 2011): that was all flarf-y fun, freewheeling and mad-jabbing; this is all tooled, precise, laboured-over, incisive.

John Kinsella | Jam Tree Gully: Poems | Norton | 2011

Of the two fine poetry collections Kinsella put out over the last year (Armour—Picador, 2011—is the other), this one probably has the edge: a set of journal-like fever-dreams in which Kinsella and family ‘circle the wagons’ in face of imminent-seeming social and ecological collapse. Even in Thoreau-like retreat–alternately wistful, resigned, enraged–Kinsella never stops looking, looking, looking: his curiosity alone could power the grid.

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

I’m still mid-stream with this long-gestating and comprehensive dream-book, but it already feels like a boon companion. Is there another poet out there today as consistently, thought-provokingly thoughtful as Hejinian? (I do wish she’d kept the original title though: Sleeps.)

Geoffrey Hill | Odi Barbare | Clutag | 2012

Easily the best of the recent (uneven) ‘Daybook’ volumes, Odi Barbare sees Hill attempting to cram his ruminative ire into 312 Sapphic stanzas. The result is even more ‘telegraphic’—blurb courtesy Rowan Williams, out-going Archbishop of Canterbury (!)—than his other late works, making this probably  his most ‘avant-garde’ sequence to date. No mean feat.

Osip Mandelstam, trans. Christian Wiman | Stolen Air | Ecco | 2012

The first Mandelstam versions I’ve seen, if I’m honest, that really make him read and sound like a genius. Wiman excels himself, as he admits in his intro.

Alice Oswald | Memorial | Faber | 2011

A lyricist’s Homer, cutting out the narrative of The Iliad and leaving, on one hand, similes describing the action and nature of death (which Oswald then repeats for good measure) and, on the other, brief accounts of the deaths of the various characters, famous lumped in unceremoniously with the cannon-fodder. Stripped of context, death becomes the default hero: rapacious, implacable and—due to the roving range of those famous similes—everywhere.  The text opens with a capitalised list of the victim’s names: a near-literal memorial wall, positing the book (as the title implies) as a work of universal lament and protest. To date, Oswald’s work presented her as a skillful dark pastoralist with traces of Hopkins, Heaney, Hill and Hughes in her veins and something of a specialist interest in rivers (see Dart and A Sleepwalk on the Severn, Faber, 2002 and 2009 respectively); this book re-invents her as something altogether stranger and more exciting.

J.H. Prynne | Kazoo Dreamboats; Or, On What There Is | Critical Documents | 2011

Hard to fathom, even for a latter-day Prynne text: a seeming, sprawling return to the teleology- and totality-driven Prynne of early books like The White Stones, but with all the accumulated baggage of a lifetime’s career of  unprecedented language-abuse in tow. The subtitle—On What There Is—is not I think meant ironically: this encyclopedic work (ranging all the way from the Pre-Socratics to Condensed Matter Field Theory, via Piers Plowman and Mao Zedong) makes a concerted attempt to get at things. Good title too.

Keston Sutherland | Stupefaction: A Radical Anatomy of Phantoms | Seagull | 2011

Much more than a mere stopgap on the way to the Odes to TL61P (next year’s book of the year,  unless something unexpectedly  mind-blowing arrives out of even-further-leftfield), Stupefaction is a model of deep critical involvement and interpenetration, a series of close, loving yet unwavering forensic studies of Marx, Pope and Wordsworth (a heady bunch!). Trenchant, tenacious, far-reaching and sublimely, subtly radical.

Shannon Tharp | The Cost of Walking | Skysill | 2011

Occupying (definitively) a point somewhere equidistant from the neo-Objectivism of a Joseph Massey and the micro-expressionism of a Graham Foust, but even weirder, Shannon Tharp offers up her own stark-lush take on Pound’s ‘direct treatment of the thing’: ‘Evasion’s an angel’s / legacy. / I look // at alarm / as / a // wife.’ The vowel-music of the spheres. . . .

Jonty Tiplady | Zam Bonk Dip | Salt | 2010

That too-often over-simplified confluence of impossibly compressed thought and inscribed intonation that makes for a genuinely new ‘voice’. Oddly deep, deeply odd & oddly, deeply beautiful. Makes me want to cry under a rock AND punch the air at the same time.

‘Bubbling Under’ (a second 11): works by Yves Bonnefoy (trans. Hoyt Rogers); Anne Carson; Paul Celan (trans. Pierre Joris); Nick Courtright; Edward St. Aubyn; Francesca Lisette*; Joseph Massey; Eugenio Montale (trans. William Arrowsmith); Luke Roberts*; W.G. Sebald; and Timothy Thornton.*

* With these three excellent collections out from younger poets and the epoch-archiving Certain Prose of the English Intelligencer under its belt, the to-date-impeccable Mountain Press is my press of the year.


Rob Stanton, wife, daughter & cats now live in Austin, Texas. Details of his debut collection, The Method, can be found here.

Rob Stanton’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011, 2010. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 30, 2012 at 9:11 am

Attention Span 2012 | Virginia Konchan

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Emily Pettit | Goat in the Snow | Birds, LLC | 2012

Our culture is obsessed with DIY projects, specifically the rhetoric that surrounds them (“How to lose 30 pounds in 30 days! How to build a gazebo from junkyard scraps!”), many of which pledge to impart specialized knowledge in a few easy steps. With titles such as “How to Hide an Elephant,” “How to Control a Blackout,” and “How to Know the Worth of What,” Goat in the Snow stages a necessary—and often quite hilarious—intervention in this discourse. Full of both wild divagations and focused obsessions, a human reader meets, in this collection, a human writer, one who adroitly and unsentimentally names the actual dangers of the technological age (“Becoming information/ is not necessarily a choice”) while admitting her implication in same.

Karen An-Hwei Lee | Phyla of Joy | Tupelo | 2012

Lee has spoken of her process as involving “hybridizations, displacements, migration,” a practice of interrogating the grammar of a language, whose taxonomic logic represents a mirror image—in Lee’s capable hands, eyes, and ears—of the world.

Lily Brown | Rust or Go Missing | Cleveland State University Poetry Center | 2011

“How easy to be giddy:/ when faced with nightmare, stare it down.” A gracefully protean meditation on power, speech, and the Stevensian geographies of consciousness and desire.

Ish Klein | Moving Day | Canarium | 2011

Dying and acting are all there is, says the speaker of this collection. What else to hold out for other than a miracle, posited herein as “the voice beyond the screen.”

Emily Kendal Frey | The Grief Performance | Cleveland State University Poetry Center | 2011

Proof positive that Julia Kristeva’s theory of successful mourning is possible, this gut-wrenching assembly of poems was the deserving recipient of the 2012 Norma Farber First Book Award. More on how this collection makes vulnerability (formal and otherwise) possible again here.

Paige Ackerson-Kiely | My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer | Ahsahta | 2012

Begun as a book-length response to Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s memoir, Alone, this collection (Ackerson-Kiely’s second) gains strength from the collective mythos surrounding creation and exploration, and makes the often macabre dance between elegy and eros sweet again. More here.

Brian Spears | A Witness in Exile | Louisiana Literature Press | 2011

A brilliant debut collection in deep sympathy with the maker’s rage to order words of the self, and sea. More reflections, particularly on this collection’s deft handling of place, here.

Darcie Dennigan | Madame X | Canarium | 2012

If the substance of the soul really is “the terrible libidinal whatever,” as Dennigan says, the return of its repressed contents are contained and made bearable through this collection’s sustained break with, and reconstitution of, the line. (More on the book’s form here).

Anthony Madrid | I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say | Canarium | 2012

Original musings here, to which I would add: this collection cuts a swath through contemporary poetry collections of the past twenty years. I blame it on this book’s wholehearted dedication to returning language to the pleasure principle.

Mary Biddinger | St. Monica | Black Lawrence | 2011

 St. Monica (framed as a contemporary epic on the Lacanian process of “becoming-woman” here), Biddinger’s second poetry collection, leaves me breathless upon each re-read, and shores up my belief that the world needs more literary heroines for whom auto mechanics, forensic science, and baking a mean cherry cobbler, is all in a day’s work. Biddinger’s follow-up collections O Holy Insurgency, and A Sunny Place with Adequate Water, also forthcoming on Black Lawrence Press in September 2012 and 2014, respectively, can’t come soon enough.

Kathleen Rooney | Robinson Alone | Gold Wake | 2012

Forthcoming in October 2012, this poetry collection tackles through the means of persona and poems of witness, the conflicted legacy of Nebraska-born poet, artist, and critic Weldon Kees (1914-1955). While the narrative (unsparing in its rigor) focuses on Kees, Robinson Alone is also, writ large, a lyric meditation on the art made—and the souls forged—in the social imaginary of the mid-century American West: “A monochromatic series in the harshest/ light.”


Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets 2011, the Believer, and The New Republic, among other places. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Ox-Bow, and Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, she lives in Chicago, where she is a Ph.D student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This is Virginia Konchan’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Brenda Coultas

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The Last Whole Earth Catalog | 1971

Coveted this catalog for years for the big deep blue portrait of our home planet (NASA photo). Bought for 10 buck at the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society bargain bin. Dated in many ways, still an interesting and relevant resource for building a sustainable society off the grid. Quotes from Kenneth Patchen, Kerouac, and other beats.

Catherine Taylor | Apart | Ugly Duckling | 2012

Knocked out by Taylor’s amazing memoir on race, responsibility, and family. A memoir in the John D’Agata sense, in its non-traditional interpretation of the essay form. Maybe more in the spirit of Chris Marker. Taylor’s book is a brave contemplation and investigation of South African history and of her mother’s activism against apartheid.

Ed Sanders | Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts | online edition

So legendary that I never was able to read due to its rarity. Mostly and sadly, I saw it wrapped in cellophane priced at a 100 bucks or more. Ecstatic when it came online. I almost die laughing at absurdity of the humor and nearly cry at the beauty of Sander’s audacity and vision of a nonviolent protest against the uptight authority of the state and the church. Still vibrant, the work holds up. Great primer for all of humanity.

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

On many lists but deservingly so for Spahr’s relentlessness and innovation. She goes at it again and again, trying out new ways to talk about human impact on the environment by incorporating lost (extinct) and invasive species into narratives that show the depth of that impact on ecosystems.

Gail Scott | the obituary | Nightboat | 2012

First world novel set in Montreal that teaches us a new way to read fiction. Through fracturing the narrative one hears the layers of voices, the cadences inside the language and come away with a sense of Canada’s uncomfortable past.

Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | California | 2010

 Brought this at The Bookstore in Lennox, MA., from one of the best curated poetry sections in this country. I needed brainy and beauty language to open up my headspace.

C.A. Conrad | A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon new (soma)tics | Wave | 2012

I love the energy of this big joyous book. I find that Conrad’s (soma)tics ground me in the present and in my body. They make me aware that I am a physical and spiritual being. Conrad and Kristin Prevallet are both serious pioneers in developing the field of poetry and the body-mind connection. Exciting to see where their techniques for unblocking our minds will lead. I will certainly be paying attention.

Dawn Lundy Martin | Discipline | Nightboat | 2011

Elegy about a troubled and troubling father. About discomfort, about cracked bodies and lives, written in taut prose blocks. Simultaneously direct and indirect story telling in dense and fragmented narrative.


Brenda Coultas lives and works in New York City. She is currently writing an elegy for the end of paper and print.

This his her first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

Attention Span 2012 | Tim Conley

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Frans G. Bengtsson, trans. Michael Meyer | The Long Ships | NYRB Classics | 2010

A ripping yarn, all right, but can you imagine Vikings as written by Jane Austen? Well, neither can I; but the archness of Bengtsson’s novel compels the imagination to try harder.

Phil Hall | Killdeer | BookThug | 2011

It’s autobiographical and intimate, but not a memoir and not confessional poetry. It gets down its knees, but it’s not about abjection: the gestures are fuller than that, inclusive. Communal poetry.

Daniel Heller-Roazen | The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World | Zone | 2011

Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo, eds. | Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven | MIT | 2011

“Eternityshit!” The Baroness gets her due at last. A beautiful production, too.

Donna Stonecipher | The Cosmopolitan | Coffee House | 2008

A nice book to stay put and travel with.

Philip Dray | There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America | Random | 2010

A solid overview of the ups and downs in the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights in the United States. Needless to say, the book has pressing relevance now, though perhaps not for that one percent.

Matthew Rohrer | Destroyer and Preserver | Wave | 2011

The weird sensation that the Beach Boys would make a terrific album out of this book gradually overtook my reading to the point that I’m convinced that the reading involved wearing headphones. Just let it drift: “and dreams that complicate / things their velocity / is a mystery but if we / stay there you don’t / have to leave in the morning”

Ingeborg Bachmann, trans. Peter Filkins | Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems | Zephyr | 2006

Bertrand Russell | History of Western Philosophy | Routledge | 1946, rpt. 2005

“It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before the dark ages were concerned, not with saving civilization or expelling barbarians or reforming the abuses of the administration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damnation of unbaptized infants. Seeing that these were the preoccupations that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed almost all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition.” That’s Russell writing in the last years of the second world war, with one eye clearly fixed on the present while recounting the past.


Tim Conley is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Brock University in Canada. His most recent books are Nothing Could Be Further (2011), a collection of short fiction, and the anthology Burning City: Poems of Metropolitan Modernity (co-edited with Jed Rasula, forthcoming in 2012).

Tim Conley’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011201020092008. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 25, 2012 at 9:26 am

Attention Span 2012 | Maya Weeks

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Maggie Nelson | Bluets | Wave Books | 2009

To go out from the point of a colour.

Gaston Bachelard, trans. Maria Jolas | The Poetics of Space | Beacon Press | 1994

Reading this aloud on the wooden floor of a one-room apartment in Sweden furnished with only a coffee table and four old grammar school chairs. Trying not to fall in love.

Jean Baudrillard, trans. James Benedict | The System of Objects | Verso | 2005

Addresses the positive space to Bachelard’s negative, with a complementary regard for sublimation. What makes a world?

Marcel Proust, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrief and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright | Swann In Love | Modern Library | 1998

Mitigate time, space, sensation. “An anguish the present assuagement of which was so agreeable that it might almost be called happiness.”

Joan Retallack | The Poethical Wager | California | 2004

Yelling from this on the steps at Occupy Oakland. Witnessing closed membranes become more permeable.

Anaïs Nin | Diary Volume I 1931-1934 | Mariner | 1969

“I am not committed to any of the political movements which I find full of fanaticism and injustice, but in the face of each human being, I act democratically and humanly. I give each human being his due. I disregard class and possessions. It is the value of their spirit, of their human qualities I pay my respect to, and to their needs as far as I am able to fulfill them. If all of us acted in unison as I act individually, there would be no wars and no poverty.”

Gertrude Stein | The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas | Vintage | 1990

Did not begin again, just began.

Arthur Rimbaud, trans. Bernard Mathieu | A Season in Hell / Illuminations | BOA | 1991

“It’s the vision of numbers. We’re going towards the spirit. What I’m saying is absolutely sure, it’s oracular. I understand and, not knowing how to explain myself without using pagan words, I’d rather shut up.”

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha | Dictee | California | 2001

Three generations, four languages, unreckonable stories.

John Ashbery | Flow Chart | Farrar | 1998

Every time I’ve gone swimming this week I’ve found myself bleeding when I’ve gotten out of the water without knowing what’s scraped me. Until I was two-thirds of the way through this book I didn’t have any idea what I was reading, then I felt like I was on an endless beach walk.

Inger Christensen, trans. Susanna Nied | It | New Directions | 2006

Life is holy. While the Danish language emphasizes location, English relies on time. How does this play out in the coda? the pronoun? us?


Maya Weeks’s obsession is and has been and probably will continue to be the intersection of systemic + intimate. Based in Oakland, California, her endeavors are in merging worlds.

This is her first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

Attention Span 2012 | Craig Dworkin

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Brian Ang, ed. | Armed Cell 3 | Armed Cell | 2012

“guppy / tension” [Maya Weeks]

Michael Cross | Katechon, lines 101-200 | Compline | 2012

“I am beaten by time, this eve, sleeps and no raveled sleep either—a non-existent narrative corresponding to a non-existent desire to explain”

Laurie Duggan | Allotments| Fewer & Further | 2011

“the notebook / steers towards November”

Crane Giamo | Gun Spread Butter | Pocalypstic / Delete | 2012

“ere / eve / all     pretty lit / youth / ish”

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

“I sense / the widowed stone divested fold by fold”

Sandra Ridley | Post-Apothecary | Pedlar | 2011

“I am breathing on my own but my fears are blunted flat”

Chuck Stebelton | Asterisk 13 | Fewer & Further | 2012

“the thumb string drones / a cabinet clock”

Eleni Stecopoulos | Daphnephoria | Compline | 2012

“no one young can see opacity’s protection / but no one can see like the young in the dark”

Mac Wellman | Rat Minaret | Little Red Leaves | 2012

“A medley of whacks / watted.”

Sara Wintz, ed. | The Feeling Is Mutual: A List of Our Fucking Demands| SPT Benefit | 2012

“I want volume and accuracy / why doesn’t this thing have any answers” [Paul Ebenkamp]


Craig Dworkin has recently co-edited Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (with Kenneth Goldsmith, Northwestern University Press, 2011) and The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound (with Marjorie Perloff, University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Craig Dworkin’s contributions to Attention Span for 2011201020092007. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

Attention Span 2012 | Ann Vickery

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Gig Ryan | New and Selected Poems | Giramondo | 2011

This volume brings together a substantial section of blow-you-away new poetry and a sharp selection of past work over a number of decades. Ryan’s is among the best contemporary poetry going, from classics like “If I Had a Gun” and “Not Like a Wife” to “Parting Winter”.

Kate Lilley | Ladylike | UWA | 2012

What a killer follow-up to Versary! This collection is a major renovation of the poetry corpus, redesigning the gender effects with assured style. “I await the southerly buster like any denizen,” and here it is.

Duncan Bruce Hose | One Under Bacchus | Inken Publisch | 2011

The second collection by this self-proclaimed troubadour and devilish dealer in myth, One Under Bacchus is hilarious as it is tender and louche. A definite front-pocket read for the coming decade.

Kate Fagan | First Light | Giramondo | 2012

Ten years after The Long Moment, we finally have Kate Fagan’s breathtaking collection, First Light. Fagan threads between poetry, philosophy, and friendship to construct a lucent tissue of being both in the world and through language.

Michael Farrell | Open Sesame | Giramondo | 2012 

Open Sesame is a collection of a poet at the top of the game: incredibly funny, linguistically and conceptually adventurous, and often political in pointing to instances of injustice and loss. Poems may range from an absurdist fascination with the everyday to crossing the tyre-tracks of past avant-gardes.

Ali Alizadeh | Ashes in the Air | Queensland | 2011

In this distilled, intense collection, Alizadeh confronts social and personal histories head on and takes on the challenge of a transformative poetics.

Astrid Lorange | Eating and Speaking | Tea Party Republican | 2011

Published the same year as her Minor Dogs, the Steinian flair and lust for language demonstrated in this collection makes Lorange an exciting textual impresario.

Toby Fitch | Rawshock | Puncher & Wattmann | 2012

Producing some of the most visually ambitious poetry around, Fitch’s revision of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth through the original Rorschach inkblots is inspired.

Benjamin Frater | 6am in the Universe: Selected Poems | Grand Parade Poets | 2011

Electric and demonic, this collection of Frater’s poetry written across his short life leaves one salad-tossed between ambivalence and admiration.

Jessica Wilkinson | marionette | Vagabond | 2011

This chapbook provides an opening frame-shot of Wilkinson’s full-scale long-poem on the Hollywood actress, Marion Davies, and is a sophisticated example of feminist documentary poetics.

Chris Edwards | People of Earth | Vagabond | 2011

A fluking Mallarmé revisionist, effigy ransacker, and brilliant humour fiend, Edwards is an addictive poet to read. His “Plan C” is obviously an insider’s blueprint of the Official present.


Ann Vickery teaches at Deakin University, Australia. She is the author of Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing (Wesleyan, 2000) and Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry (Salt Publishing, 2007), and co-author with Maryanne Dever and Sally Newman of The Intimate Archive: Journeys through Private Papers (National Library of Australia, 2009). She also co-edited Manifesting Australian Literary Feminisms: Nexus and Faultlines (Australian Literary Studies, 2009) with Margaret Henderson.

This is Ann Vickery’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

Attention Span 2012 | Jed Rasula

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Lisa Robertson | Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip | Coach House | 2009

This one and R’s Boat (2010) have cornered the poetry voice of this moment: fleet but also on the mark when it counts, hovering neatly over incommensurate historical idioms but somehow torqued into a singular sustenance and elegance of New Millennium prosody. Is Robertson our (“our”?) Lucretius?

Lisa Samuels | Tomorrowland [cd] | Deep Surface | 2012

Samuels on the page can be tough going; I have to read a poem several times to gain basic traction. But released into a sonic environment, they come alive. Her reading voice has tremendous nuance and vernacular agility (with none of the fretful singsong “please like me” cadences that have nearly made me swear off poetry readings altogether). Hers is like a dozen or more voices stitched together, befitting a rhapsode. Tomorrowland sounds like a book length monologue by Miranda on Prospero’s island, albeit a Miranda wiser than the magus, letting her agile fantasies intercept radio waves from oblique semantic menageries, sonic canoodling to tingle-tune the inner ear.

Kimiko Hahn | Toxic Flora | Norton | 2010

Yes, there are faint traces of workshop craftiness, but these fade in the face of Hahn’s determination to compose integrated books rather than just accumulations of poems. Each book is a triumph of creative singularity and ethical determination. The latest feasts on press clippings to introduce off kilter themes that boomerang through and around the personal like a force field of extra-galactic billiards.

Evelyn Reilly | Apocalypso | Roof | 2012

Environmental cataclysm lip synced as bucolic daydream?—that’s the weird mesmerizing elegance Reilly spins in this follow-up to her wizardly multi-mediated provocations in Styrofoam. The festering vocabulary of our media portal access to the new norms (from reward points to security checks) is seamlessly bonded with the stately cadences of Childe Roland.

Place | Jorie Graham | Ecco | 2012

Not having read her work in a decade, I found this latest compulsively readable. Also weirdly resonant with that moment, late Sixties, when I first plunged into poetry: it’s as if Place were a neurological tattoo I’d impulsively gotten at seventeen, long forgotten about, then recovered accidentally by some unsuspected mirror angle. Place is an archaeological archetype of certain wavelengths of a generational psyche.

Kirsten Kaschock | Sleight | Coffee House | 2011

 Spellbinding: ostensibly a novel, Sleight reads like a critical theory treatise that’s been Pixared into plot and characters, with all the sentences personally airbrushed with the scrupulousness of Mallarmé.

George Steiner | The Poetry of Thought, from Hellenism to Celan | New Directions | 2012

Philosophy as language art was a founding theme of deconstruction. Steiner, resisting the expository wiles of Derrida, demonstrates that even the most elegantly level headed prose ends up pondering the stylistic audacity of “pure” thought. I always relish Steiner’s vocabulary and syntax, now filtered through a kind of “style of old age” in which these ruminations on the poetics of philosophical expression drift into focus like clouds then dissipate, leaving some indelible impressions.

Kenneth Goldsmith | Uncreative Writing | Columbia | 2011

Given the vaunted unreadability of his “uncreative” conceptual tomes, it’s an intriguing pleasure to find this manifesto is eminently readable. Kenny’s consistently sensible observations reveal that his touring role as agent provocateur could only provoke anguish in the most blinkered and hidebound. Oh they’re out there alright, but probably not reading this.


Jed Rasula teaches at the University of Georgia. He has recently completed two books—The History of a Shiver: Modernism to Wagnerism, and Relentless Metabolism: Modernism and the Pathos of Making It New—and is writing a book on Dada for Basic Books. Of previous titles, The American Poetry Wax Museum and Imagining Language are now out of print, but This Compost is being made available as a print-on-demand paperback.

Jed Rasula’s contribution to Attention Span for 201120082006. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

Attention Span 2012 | Scott Thurston

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Dante Alighieri, trans. Allen Mandelbaum | The Divine Comedy | Knopf | 1995

I took some advice from poet friends who know their Dante before selecting this version. It lacks a parallel text, which would normally have put me off, but the translation came highly recommended, and I can see why. Reading this famous work put a lot of literary-cultural questions in context for me, as well as raising a whole bunch of new ones. It’s clear to see why the Inferno has retained its appeal over the centuries: even the Botticelli illustrations with which this edition is furnished lose something of their inventiveness when faced with the more abstract prospects of the Paradiso – although I found the interweaving of the moral arguments and scientific imagery in this section utterly compelling.

Ernst Bloch, trans. Anthony A. Nassar | Traces | Stanford | 2006

This book opens with a section entitled ‘Not Enough’, which reads in its entirety: ‘One is alone with oneself. Together with others, most are alone even without themselves. One has to get out of both.’ This sets the tone for an extraordinary sequence of prose vignettes which take various stories and anecdotes as the starting point for philosophical reflections. Divided into ‘Situation’, ‘Fate’, ‘Existence’, and ‘Things’, this is really rigorous, uncompromising thinking: ‘our Here and Now tastes bad without activity, not least because it could be so superb, and isn’t’. But there is still a reaching for Utopia, however distant: ‘the traces of the so-called Ultimate, indeed even of a hospitable Becoming, are themselves just the imprints of a Going that must still be gone into the New.’

David Toms | Soma / Sema | The Knives Forks and Spoons Press | 2011

I was asked to blurb this pamphlet from a young Irish poet and historian whom I met in Cork in 2010. It issues from the prolific Knives Forks and Spoons Press, based in Newton-le-Willows—equidistant between Liverpool and Manchester. This is David’s second pamphlet from the press, but it impressed me with its formally-diverse territory, full of haptic and visual elements. The recombined found-texts of ‘A Brief History of Ireland—Version #136’ are a highlight, but I was also struck by the subtle discriminations in this writing: ‘what if I find complicity / Complementary?’; ‘the difference / Between freedoms / And mere:: / Feeling’.

Francis Crot | HAX | Punch | 2011

I just recently finished reading this on a train up to Edinburgh where I stayed with its ‘author’—the irrepressible Jow Lindsay. It’s a work which takes its cue from a line in a poem by Sean Bonney and offers a narrative imagining of a civil war taking place between the London boroughs of Hackney and the City. The prose here is vivid and condensed : ‘In the Algae Room, Aldgate, the Strategy and Solidarity Working Group has begun to explore the issue of the battalion of hairdressers slaughtered in the early morning, their corpses dumped on Holborn Circus, in a safe and uninhibited environment.’ What further animates the work is the inclusion of beautifully reproduced fragments of draft and collage material in type and computer-face and handwriting, chaotically dispersed across the pages. A wild and unusual book.

John Rowan | Personification: Using the Dialogical Self in Psychotherapy and Counselling | Routledge | 2010

Rowan recently appeared in a documentary about Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum press directed by Steve Willey (The Sound of Writers Forum—look for it online), having participated in the WF workshops and published with the press since the 1950s. He is a prolific writer in the fields of counselling and psychotherapy, but I’m particularly interested in his work in transpersonal psychology. I got hold of this book to find out more about the idea of sub-personalities, and have since been harbouring a pet theory relating them to the kinds of things poets talk about when they translate poetry or write using personae—a kind of expansion on Rimbaud’s ‘je est une autre.’ Rowan writes in a refreshingly un-academic, if rigorous, way and this book is enlivened by his outspoken and no-nonsense approach.

Mark E. Smith & Mick Middles | The Fall | Omnibus | 2008

A chance encounter with this alternative rock book in Salford Art Museum has sent me on a journey of re-encountering what I’ve discovered is still my favourite band in the world! I started listening to The Fall in 1989 when I first heard them on John Peel’s radio show and got seriously hooked—the first band I joined shortly afterwards had five Fall cover versions in its repertoire, with me on vocals! I’ve more or less kept pace with them ever since, although I’d only bought one album in the last eight years or so. Interestingly Middles recognises this phenomenon among Fall fans: ‘Long-term Fall fans often tell of ‘dark years’, more often than not following a marriage or a period in exile, when their lives were not punctuated by the release of new Fall product.’ Middles’ view is that you have to be there: ‘if an album is missed, it is best to be allowed to drift into some individual abyss.’ For myself, I’ve been filling in some gaps. This sprawling, eccentric but very readable book has a great interview with MES’s mum amongst other gems. The most unlikely disclosure in the book? I think that has to be: ‘I would start speaking Russian in Rhyl.’

Eléna Rivera | The Perforated Map | Shearsman | 2011

I had the pleasure of reading alongside Rivera at the ‘Blue Bus’ series when she came to London in April this year. She then read for us at The Other Room in Manchester two days later, where we performed a short collaborative poem we’d been working on. Rivera is a true internationalist, having been born in Mexico, brought up in Paris and now living in New York City. This book exhibits the intellectual complexity of poetry written under the sign of contemporary French poetics, but it also roots itself in the quotidian, whilst maintaining a sharp political edge:

Disregarded the need for words
in a book tangled threads and smells
of paper and private pictures
arrests development, tagged
on city walls

It’s also a book very much concerned with an embodied poetics: ‘“Just as thought is written on the body.”’ Every six pages one finds the most discrete and subtle of conceptual gestures—an almost invisible perforation running down the middle of the page, top to bottom.

Saint Augustine, trans. Henry Chadwick | Confessions | Oxford | 1998

I’ve been meaning to read this since it came up in my interview with Jennifer Moxley three years ago—and I have to confess I’ve not finished it yet! But it is an extraordinary piece of writing. The quality of Augustine’s thought is compellingly modern in places in the way it seems alert to, and deconstructive of, binary thinking: ‘this argument will prove untrue their usual assertion that one is good, the other bad.’ He writes with extraordinary candour and the rigour of his critiques of Manichee theosophy and of Neoplatonism are fascinating. What also interests me is his vivid evocation of the ethics made possible by the structure of Christian faith.

Anne Tardos | Both Poems | Roof | 2011

I’m halfway through this book which comprises two long, formally-constrained pieces. ‘Pronounce’ offers a not-quite A-Z of short poems each driven by a single pronoun (All, Another, Anything etc.), using material gathered from various sources—the form and the title echoing Jackson Mac Low’s The Pronouns (see below)—whilst ‘Nine 1-63’ offers nine-line poems of nine words a line. What I love about this work is the productive tension that emerges between the technique and the material going into it—work often so personal it becomes impersonal: ‘I paint my identity in a light that elevates me above the mean cravings I’m subject to’ (‘Myself’); ‘my role as a form is to seek other forms’ (‘My’); ‘everyone is potentially everyone else’ (‘Everyone / Everybody’). And what’s not to love about a book which contains a picture of a ‘slumbering kangaroo who is into wordless thinking’?!

Jackson Mac Low | The Pronouns | Station Hill | 1979

I recently acquired an edition of this important work by Mac Low as part of my researches into the relationship between innovative poetry and dance/movement, which will bring me to New York this September to see a new performance of this piece organised by Mac Low’s daughter Clarinda at Danspace Project. These are remarkable texts which are highly formal, yet combine a range of gestures in their ostensible instructions to dancers: ‘Each gives a simple form to a bridge’; ‘each is letting complex impulses make something’; ‘each gives the neck a knifing or comes to give a parallel meal, beautiful and shocking.’ Whilst it’s possible to get a lot out of these texts on the page, they are not really to be treated as poems, but as ‘dances’, ‘dance-poems’ or ‘dance-instruction-poems’. There are some photographs by Peter Moore of a 1965 performance which helps a little to visualise the possibilities, but, as I’m learning with trying to write on the performances of Bruce Andrews and Sally Silvers, you really have to be there. And so I will!


Scott Thurston’s books include Reverses Heart’s Reassembly (Veer Books, 2011), Of Being Circular (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2010), Internal Rhyme (Shearsman, 2010), Momentum (Shearsman, 2008), and Hold (Shearsman, 2006). He edits The Radiator, a little magazine of poetics, and co-edits The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry. Scott lectures at the University of Salford, UK and has published widely on innovative poetry, including a recent book of interviews Talking Poetics (Shearsman, 2011) which includes conversations with Karen Mac Cormack, Jennifer Moxley, Caroline Bergvall and Andrea Brady.

Scott Thurston’s contribution to Attention Span for 2009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 22, 2012 at 9:46 am