Attention Span 2012 | Kevin Killian
Demosthenes Agrafiotis, trans. John Sakkis and Angelos Sakkis | “Now, 1/3” and thepoem | BlazeVOX | 2012
On the face of it the two newly translated books by Agrafiotis couldn’t be more different: your fingers can practically spell out the difference in the textuality, the broken lines in “Now” and the prosy blocks of words that make up most of “thepoem.” He’s got a way with titles, that Agrafiotis; maybe Ford should hire him today the way they hired Marianne Moore in the 1950s to come up with new names for automobiles. (How about, “thecar”?) But the longer I read and re-read these poems, the more they come to resemble each other, and perhaps that is a compliment to his US translators, nephew and uncle team John and Angelos Sakkis, each an accomplished poet himself in the Bay Area. There are Duncanesque stumpers here (“the tongue holds the word / the word holds the pleasure / the pleasure holds the flesh / the flesh holds the word”) but the most impressive aspect for me is Agrafiotis’ near total control over language’s material, its heft, here subject to a lyric teleportation.
Lindsey Boldt | Overboard | Publication Studio Berkeley | 2012
Colter Jacobsen’s stunning design makes Lindsey Boldt’s debut book an art event as well as a poetry event, so run out and get yours now, but even if it came on tickertape the achievement of Overboard is pretty statuesque. Boldt has been haunted by two movies she saw as a toddler, the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba, and the Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell black comedy Overboard, and she has spent the past few years remaking them into a sort of American childspeak which I find utterly captivating. Overboard the movie was about Hawn as a spoiled heiress who gets amnesia in a boating accident; rescued and sort of enslaved by Captain Kurt and his motherless family, she gets to become a woman (sic). And Boldt seizes on this cloying element and goes mad with it. Her Goldie Hawn is hundreds of feet tall and becomes a veritable sea goddess, destroying cities like Godzilla, her ageless body sprouting destruction a la Kali. As Jack Smith felt towards Cobra Woman, there’s something of the devotional lunatic in Lindsey Boldt’s very canny projects.
Julia Drescher | Hands Chalk the Walls | Further Other Book Works | 2012
Drescher is a new writer to me but apparently she’s been writing quite a bit in Texas, where, she writes, “vulture [is] // the first / new word // learned here.” Her writing is enough to strip flesh from a bone, and in this book at any rate she is concentrating on surfaces, what’s behind them, what obscures them—like the old Pentimento concept that Lillian Hellman wrote about in her memoir. The back cover presents a typical Cy Twomblyesque abstracted drip of pinks and grays and ochres, and the front cover carves words out of it by framing its colors with a maquette of white cut to reveal the letters hidden within. “Hands chalk the walls”—reportage of revolutionary graffiti event, or H.D.-War Trilogy affirmation of alwaysness? “Slick wreck I // weathered // longing / swell / a sea / in pencil.” I’m reading the evidence both ways, including the possibility that it’s the game we used to play as kids, challenged to turn (say) “face” into “head” in five moves.
Evan Kennedy | Shoo-Ins to Ruin | Gold Wake Press | 2011
I became interested in Kennedy’s work when he moved from New York to San Francisco with an agenda, a mission if you prefer. Later on I acted a part in a play he wrote (with Brandon Brown) based on the confessions of St. Augustine. I played a mean old bishop, and Dodie was the angel of charity or something. The poem is in the present book, “Recollections from the Adolescence of St. Augustine,” is very much a young man’s poem, a stuttering mix tape of Djuna Barnes psalmspeak, Grindr body English, nouns in parade sans verbs. Each sort-of-serial poem in the book is written in a different techne—”lovely, all composed,” as Zukofsky wrote of Gerald Malanga’s photographs. But warning, this is a book heavy on radical disjunction. If that is not for you, read on, skip ahead to the next book.
Nicole Markotic| Bent at the Spine | Bookthug | 2012
You get to hear a lot of registers in Nicole Markotic’s poetry, sometimes within a single poem, or within a single line you snap! Like falling off a tree, and the rest of the line takes place down on the snowy forest floor. Maybe the images of leaping and falling that brighten the book stem from a single impulse, a romantic or somatic drive to oh, just get rid of it all, but they do wonders for the writing, and I think free up the poet to introduce, without making a big deal of it, the theme of failure, crossed wires, the senselessness of what happens to us, and something of our own moral failures. Wasn’t it Eliot who wrote about the skull beneath the skin”? Elsewhere the sheer Pig Cupid gorgeousness of the lines will float you over page after page in torrents of pleasure. “white peaches in Paris / hats off to partial aches // rogue Achilles throws arrows at that hate-queen / go figure, the figure of Hades bequeaths mask insignia”—no, that’s the problem with quoting, I just don’t want to stop.
Jennifer Moxley | There are Things We Live Among: Essays on the Object World | Flood | 2012
Moxley’s delight in hitting on just the right title for her book is just the beginning of her voyage into what she terms the object world. At first I had to lean on my trust in her, for otherwise the object world sounded alien and sort of scary, like the “Blazing World” in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. Then I learned that it was her shorthand instead for a whole system of complicated relations between subject, reading, and thing—sometimes a thing seen, or unseen, sometimes a thing heard or even smelled. It is an analysis curiously pre-Socratic and post-Socratic, and she goes right to the source in an early essay, the grave of Emerson in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, pondering Emerson and friction, Emerson’s curious pan-Asian sympathy and his ambivalence regarding possessions—like, why have such a huge, Jackson Pollock sort of grave marker anyhow? Moxley’s new style is not a French Max Beerbohm nor a New England Roland Barthes, but it rivals the best of both; I meant to say that the little essays grow as they agglomerate, into a veritable convincery.
Hoa Nguyen | As Long As Trees Last | Wave | 2012
A mystical mother presides over these poems from a chinaberry tree, alternately bossy and mellow, like mine. I first read about this book in The Boston Globe, and when the reviewer said that “her poems ache for rain—you sometimes get the sense they’re so spare for lack of it,” I decided to get the book to verify these claims. Indeed there is a rain poem, but the book ends on a l’envoi sort of note about the sun. “Please / just open the door / to the sun.” I was wondering, maybe this is a misprint for “the rain.” Nguyen has written some good books before but this one tops the others; perhaps her recent transplant to Canada has done her soul good. Wave Books, you have America’s greatest designer working for you, but don’t limit his palette to cream and black, it’s soul-destroying, and if you don’t return to color you will have poetry fans protesting for as long as trees last!
Lisa Robertson | Nilling | Bookthug | 2012
These seven essays were written between 2006 and 2010, and will please some who’ve been looking for a sequel to Robertson’s Soft Architecture book, but there are some of us who will follow her anywhere and that’s where I plant my flag, in that cohort. I hardly know how to explain it. I tend to grow tongue-tied and frenetic when reading Robertson, largely because the methods by which her essays grow and swell defies strict linguistic analysis. It’s a combination of realistic insight (that’s why she is so good with artists whose work, like hers, is grounded in the solid—like Eugene Atget, here, or Eva Hesse) and an insistence on the eternal mutability of all things. Everything changes all the time in her writing; there are no more static subjects, she avers. The sheer variety of the occasional pieces in this collection is, to me, like a wonderful potpourri of flowers and scents, and if some might find little direction in the volume, they will not deny that by the time it’s over, one has been vanquished and exists now only in a pool of plasmatic consciousness, like the Thing in the Howard Hawks film.
Samuel Solomon | Life of Riley | Bad Press | 2012
Like Discrete Series, Life of Riley is but a mere handful of poems thrown down onto a septet of flaring white squares, and yet I imagine people will be talking about it eighty years later, just as we are still trying to parse out what Oppen meant by the “pruderies of the Frigidaire.” First off, dust off your knowledge of 1950s radio and TV history for the ancient Jackie Gleason-William Bendix blue collar sitcom Life of Riley, I enjoy reading the poems of Life of Riley, even the slightest, but most of all I am enjoying the title poem in the sequence, a multipart piece that keep stopping and starting once it reaches a point of ecstasy—political will—disappointment—romantic grousing—encouragement—trenchant look at a generation blighted with hopes—it’s a peculiar way to construct a poem, like he or she who would build a house of cards atop the Bermuda Triangle, and yet strangely enough I find it madly affecting—as I do Tantric yoga and other forms of excitement spiced by deferral. I dreamed a dream in which poet Sam Solomon, and Simeon Solomon (the pre-Raphaelite painter, the friend of Swinburne) met, young and unafraid, and dreams were made and used and wasted. There was no ransom to be paid; no song unsung; no wine untasted.
S.J. Seidenberg | Verge | Hidebound | 2012
At first he reminds me of those authors like Jones Very whom my old teacher Yvor Winters used to champion, with a clotted vocabulary drawn from classical authors and Shakespeare’s late romances, and a severe disposition that leads, presently, to a breathless new revelation. “What surge of gurry chafes the furrows,” asks Seidenberg, “of your gill folds into gullet, / what chimeric pinhole drains / your hovel rot of skies?” Yes, you heard me right, that was “surge of gurry” and that was “hovel rot of skies.” It can take awhile to bend your mind around such questions, and your tongue and throat will get workouts when you read these poems aloud, just like Edwardians heading into World War I were going gaga over the tortured syllables of Gerald Manley Hopkins, I’m hooked on Verge, nicely designed by Lara Durback and Andrew Kenower, who got swept up as I am by Seidenberg’s steampunk energies.
Matthew Zapruder | Come On All You Ghosts | Copper Canyon | 2010
Zapruder moved to San Francisco for love, he says, in his handsome book Come On All You Ghosts from Copper Canyon, and although he may not have been here long he has already made himself part of the fabric of the city, so that whenever I trawl past one particular strip of San Francisco Bay I always think, Matt and Sarah live somewhere near here. I love the way it shows up in his writing as I love the way Union square, for example, shows up in Vertigo and The Birds. Here there’s a poem where the speaker hobbles down the street to a café where he reads the Times and spots Ferlinghetti nearby, in another chair. At least he’s pretty sure it’s Ferlinghetti. I like the fanboy aspect, I guess, is what I’m saying. That aspect that engraves the casual chitchat he shares with the Ferlinghetti possibility, and wields it into a poem called, “Poem for Ferlinghetti.” And so it is appropriate that his book ends in a torrential invocation of the ghostly side of things—the other side of the coin, for this is a city I imagine flush with them on every corner. “There is one great bridge / at the edge of the city falling asleep. And another / humming an orange welcoming song.”