Attention Span 2012 | Sarah Rosenthal
giovanni singleton | Ascension | Counterpath | 2012
Ascension by giovanni singleton tracks the passing of musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane through the bardo—the Tibetan Buddhist state between death and rebirth. Grounded in African American history and artistic achievement, Ascension provokes readers to reexamine facile notions of identity, race, and perception: “black is not / a shade but rather / an impression.” Through short, lyric poems, concrete poetry, an acrostic, recipes, and other forms, singleton attends to the details of the everyday (“the sound / of gravel / underfoot”), our shadow side (“some things / we’ll deny / ever knowing”), and our most generous dreams (“to cry / a litter each day // until all of hers / and the world’s / sorrows dissolved”). The book ultimately is, in singleton’s own words, an “ecstatic song” dedicated “to love.”
Carrie Hunter | The Incompossible | Black Radish | 2011
If you’re going to write sentences that evoke the New Sentence, you’d best find a fresh way in. Carrie Hunter does just this in The Incompossible, a collection of paragraph-poems that hover in an energized zone between disjunction and connection. Hunter doesn’t mind revealing that there’s a particular self generating these sentences. But her capacity to rub the personal up against the impersonally philosophical, often via humor, reveals that she isn’t entranced by the self either. “Leaving theory in the doorway. It is only neurosis that makes me plug everything back in. I’d rather just sit here for now.”
Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto | Waveform | Kenning | 2011
In Waveform by Denise Leto and Amber DiPietra, the reader is invited to eavesdrop on a liberated conversation about living with disability. Through a collage of poems, email exchanges, scientific studies, equipment manuals, and excerpts from various authors’ essays and blogs, the two poets readily release the authority of the single self in order to engage the power of hybridity. “It doesn’t matter whose voice. It is slamming against a thin paper wall and breaks so that what comes through cannot be owned.” The “difficulty” of this writing enacts the condition of living in bodies on intimate terms with pain and discomfort, bodies that do not necessarily execute the wishes of the mind—as well as the challenge of conveying this experience. For those weary of the cult of superficiality and eager to reflect on issues of embodiment and form, this is a vital text.
Micah Ballard | Waifs and Strays | City Lights | 2011
In Micah Ballard’s Waifs and Strays the here and now—daily life in San Francisco among poet friends—is infiltrated at every turn with an over there, an otherwise—including dead poets and blood ancestors—providing the rush of contact and the mystery of absence in the same intoxicating cocktail: “I was told to lay down my song / & make use of my past / lush marshes and a walk across Aquatic Park.” The lines in this volume typically end rather bluntly, which, along with an often casual diction, makes the work feel appealingly unaffected—even as, O’Hara-like, it references dozens of living and dead poets and other artists. Is this the work of a poets’ poet, or is it a set of contemporary song lyrics? It’s both of those, and more.
Denise Newman | The New Make Believe | Post-Apollo | 2010
Denise Newman’s The New Make Believe evokes Leslie Scalapino and Gertrude Stein. Both writers would celebrate this book that plunges deep into the schism between the need to speak and the impossibility of ever getting it right, and in the bowels of that potentially frustrating and scary place builds dazzling pink palaces of language at once earthy and ephemeral, somber and blithe. “[N]othing is simply as one can say, in other words / I go out through the middle of missing // like the waters of Lake Poverty heading for the / lowest point in exchange with / the flowering light of / childhead.”
Cheryl Pallant | Continental Drifts | BlazeVOX | 2012
The long lines in Cheryl Pallant’s Continental Drifts dash, dip, twist, double back and leap ahead, enacting simultaneously the groundedness gravity demands and the instability wrought by the law of constant change. “Adrift I am sands to shore, fire to ice, bones tendoning tendencies.” Pallant’s background in dance feels evident here; these poems are ready for a session of seasoned, rough-and-tumble contact improv between a constantly filling and emptying “I” and “you”: “Who follows whom can or may situate her or himself. Together or alone lifts cup to drink. We or I romp in a field or flatter yet, a pain.” A heightened awareness of limits—”After this there is no other”—leads to a fearlessness that invigorates: “Space opens like a book yet to be written.”