Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Attention Span 2012 | Kathleen Ossip

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Roddy Lumsden | The Bells of Hope | Penned in the Margins | 2012

For some time I have been a fan and a friend of the British poet Roddy Lumsden. We met in 2002 when we read together at the Ear Inn on Spring Street, one of the chill old and now lamented meccas for poetry readings in New York. Coincidentally, we both read from confessional(esque) sonnet sequences; each of our sonnets’ titles began with the word “My.” That spoke to some kind of affinity, which I think boils down to a fondness for self-concealment/revelation via very rich and concentrated language and tight structures and formal gameplaying. His latest, The Bells of Hope, inches more toward revelation than concealment and his language is more heady than ever. It is a breathtaking account of a dark night.

Donna Tartt | The Little Friend | Vintage | 2003
Jennifer Egan | A Visit from the Goon Squad | Anchor | 2011
Cormac McCarthy | Blood Meridian | Vintage | 1992

More and more I have a hankering for narrative, relatively undiluted. Sometimes I can get this from poems, but sometimes I need novels. This summer I read three, late to the party. Tartt’s followup to The Secret History threw me back to my idle novel-reading summers as a kid, when I would drench myself in long narratives, preferably set in small, languid southern towns. Egan’s smash hit is a poet’s novel (although she’s not a poet) in its disjunction and its formal experimentation. It’s a very readable pleasure, full of despair and redemption, though I was surprised that the redemption took the form, almost exclusively, of heterosexual marriage and family. A trip through the southwest this summer urged me toward Cormac McCarthy—I wanted to understand what stories could be born from those huge, bare, alienating landscapes. I’m still in the middle of it, but once I got past the florid language, I’m compelled by the horrific and historically accurate violence of the story and find myself drawing a pretty clear through-line to 2012.

Ezra Pound | The Cantos of Ezra Pound | New Directions | 1996
Carroll Terrell | A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound | California | 1993

I’m perpetually rereading The Cantos—it’s my desert island pick. What seems indispensable about it is its inclusiveness, how Pound put everything in, a big swath of human history, his longings, his mania, his hatefulness, his intellect, his music, his heart, his profound regrets. I read the behemoth black-covered paperback from New Directions, alternately consulting the mustard-colored Companion, an obsessive-compulsive’s dream.

Shane McCrae | Blood | Noemi | forthcoming
Joseph Harrington | Griefing on Summit
Sarah Vap | Arco Iris | Saturnalia | forthcoming
Christina Davis | An Ethic | Nightboat | forthcoming

One of the luckiest things about being a poet is getting sneak peeks at other poets’ books. This year I was lucky enough to read four beautiful manuscripts, all but one due out soon. Blood is nothing less than the story of race in the United States, from the slave trade to the McCrae’s own immediate family history. Harrington’s latest, from his multivolume documentation of his mother’s 20th-century life, explores her time as a political worker on Capitol Hill. Vap writes of a pair of American lovers and their trek across South America and the resulting enchantment, revulsion, moral uncertainty, and lots of sex. Davis’s second book asks tough spiritual questions in the aftermath of her father’s death. What they all have in common: narrative (yes), urgency, hard thinking, emotional openness, an acknowledgment of our complex relationship with language. Look for them.


Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Cold War, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s 100 best books of 2011; The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. She teaches at The New School and the Hudson Valley Writers Center and online for The Poetry School in London. She was a co-founder of LIT (the journal of the graduate writing program at The New School), and she’s the poetry editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly. She has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

This is Kathleen Ossip’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

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