Attention Span 2012 | Rob Stanton
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.