Archive for the ‘Commented List’ Category
Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge Books | 2008
Like Davies’ earlier Comp, this is structurally little more than a series of sound bites strung together as “verse.” Yet also like Comp, it crackles with Ecclesiastical scorn and verve. The conscious and subconscious minds are sitting together on a sofa trying to relate the big game to the latest CSPAN feed of senate hearings, and these broadcasts interrupt them.
Craig Dworkin | Parse | Atelos | 2008
Page after page of … parsing. And the text that is parsed (an 1874 grammar manual by Edwin A. Abbott) is itself a treatise on parsing. One might think that this is a perfect example of a “conceptualist” book that asks merely to be thought about rather than read, and for some people that is probably the more attractive option. But those people will miss the metagrammatical massage that prods the reader’s brain into little shudders (not quite paroxysms) of attentiveness, of alertness, of being-in-poetry.
Robert Fitterman | Rob the Plagiarist | Roof Books | 2009
Contains the already-classic “This Window Makes Me Feel,” as well as other manipulations of public discourse and commercial sense-input. Fitterman plays the part of a Benjaminian flaneur, but one as he might exist in the world of John Carpenter’s They Live—a flaneur who is not wearing those special glasses that let you see the aliens and the capitalist dystopia they have erected for what they are.
Robert Fitterman and Vanessa Place | Notes on Conceptualisms | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2009
Shallow art-theory rehash or stimulating commentary on contemporary poetics? Both? Oh, it couldn’t be both. Admit it: for a week or two, you too were reading this little blue booklet and actually trying to make sense of the proposition that conceptual writing is allegorical writing.
K. Lorraine Graham | Terminal Humming | Edge Books | 2009
A deftly casual versish essay on different stages of social ambience (from “droll” to “malignant”). Its timbre is perfectly captured in the title pun: either a bustling public nexus, or a fatal condition of subverbal singing-along. Graham hits a perfect balance of easygoing “girlishness” and sardonic bemusement.
Kevin Killian | Action Kylie | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2009
There should be a periodic announcement made over loudspeakers on the main streets of major cities: Citizens! Why do so many of you seem to have neglected to notice that Kevin Killian is one of our finest poets? Because you were too busy being impressed by his fiction? No excuse. He is also (this is me now, not the loudspeaker) one of the few poets writing today who can still do transmissive (e.g., Spicerian) lyric convincingly. Heartbreakingly.
David Larsen | Names of the Lion | Atticus/Finch 2009
Go find a book that is either a more beautiful physical object or a more stunning instance of creative scholarship. Larsen’s loving translation of Ibn Khalawayh’s treatise (with commentary) should be written up in every arts and literature review section of every major newspaper and magazine worldwide as a major publishing event. Mindbogglingly, this unbearably gorgeous Atticus/Finch “chapbook” (too humble a word) costs only $10.
Chris Nealon | Plummet | Edge Books | 2009
It’s hard to think, in the world of contemporary poetry, of very many books that spawn a popular (I mean, popular among other poets, anyway) catch phrase within what seems like mere moments of their publication. I wouldn’t be surprised to see “I am not gay, I am from the future!” on T-shirts and bumper stickers soon. The obvious stylistic reference point for Nealon’s “voice” is O’Hara, but this is far from being derivative nth-generation New York School; it’s absolutely modern in all the right ways.
Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge Books | 2009
Nichols asks early in this book, “can a woman compete with the city”? The question is answered in the pages that follow by a flurry of winged images and phrases like paper scraps from a shredded diary flying down busy streets, between skyscrapers, in and out of shops and offices and homes. Nichols renders both the sensually vivid and mundanely bureaucratic details of everyday life with a lyric attentiveness that constantly places the “nucleus of the individual / in productive tension with the collective expanse of white.”
Jordan Scott | Blert | Coach House Books | 2008
The author, a chronic stutterer, set out deliberately to write poetry that would be hard for him to read aloud. A pretty rudimentary concept, but the resulting verbal bumper car ride taps into essential currents of recent prosodic weather patterns. Rubbery, blubbery, heap big unheimlich fun.
Stephanie Young | Picture Palace | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2009
Sometimes I forget that Stephanie Young is not a phenomenally famous pop-soul diva. I really don’t have words to describe the complex and passionate effects her work produces. Tonally and formally, it’s all over the map, and it makes the map look fabulous. Maybe my favorite move of hers (among the many she routinely busts) is her talent for the abrupt declaration of a devastating, obvious fact, such as her observation that “of course the revolution won’t be televised! Not because the most important things don’t appear on television but because the revolution will knock out electrical plants and the TV itself will collapse under the collapsing house.”
More K. Silem Mohammad here.
I keep thinking to myself that it has been a really amazing year of reading for me. I have loved so much of what I have read. I have no complaints. I’m not sure I have read a book I thought was a waste of my time all year. I think I feel this way because I have had trouble reading because I have a two year old who is at that stage where if I am reading in his presence, he comes up and grabs the book and says no, no, no. Reading feels a little illicit right now when I get to do it. Thus all the more sweet. So I should also confess that I think I might write this very differently if I was reading more inclusively. There are many books that came out this year that I have not yet gotten to read. I have an exciting large stack to read.
Mark McGurl | The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing | Harvard | 2009
I confess that I have at moments gotten bogged down in the long readings of Thomas Wolfe and Flannery O’Conner. Mainly because I’m not a super huge fan of that work and so not very well read in it. But the money shot, if one can say that, is the analysis of what he calls “program fiction.” So much here that feels right. Mainly that the university system has shaped US writing dramatically in the last half of the 20th century. Also really interested in his talk about how this fiction has a sort of generic localism (my term not his). But at same time I find McGurl’s respect for “program fiction” super frustrating. He keeps talking about how he likes it! And I’m so suspicious of the writing that this system has produced (not the teaching of writing, that is another complicated story). Primarily because it is a sort of generic local writing that has isolated writing from more activist and urgent concerns.
M Nourbese Philip | Zong! | Wesleyan | 2008
Super obsessed with this book. It has everything. Anti-imperial righteousness, avant garde extremity, ghosts or channeled beings, lists, etc. I love how she “recovers” the names of those lost on the Zong.
Ian Baucom | Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History | Duke | 2005
Also about the Zong and the development of credit around the slave trade. He talks a little about Philip’s book. I was reading it just as the financial markets were collapsing.
Renee Gladman | To After That | Atelos | 2008
Gladman at her best.
Aaron Cometbus | Cometbus | na | na
Joshua Clover gave Chris Nealon the issue of Cometbus on the Berkeley bookstores. And I had to go out and get my own copy. And then I started buying more and more copies to give to people because it such a lovely history of the complications around Telegraph Avenue.
Felix Feneon | Novels in Three Lines | NYR Classics | 2007
Reznikoff-style. Or I should say Reznikoff is Feneon-style. Classic playful social realist writing.
Mark Nowak | Coal Mountain Elementary | Coffee House | 2009
It surprised me! I don’t need to say anymore. I am so in love with this book right now.
Roberto Bolano | 2666 | Farrar, Straus, Giroux | 2008
I know, everyone else has already said all that needs to be said. I will add this though: there is no other male writer of women that is better than Bolano. Plus I keep rereading the sermon in the third book.
David Buuck | The Shunt | Palm Press | 2009
Juggling, with disgust.
Jennifer Moxley | Clampdown | Flood | 2009
I want to say something about beauty and lyric but I feel that would piss her off. But really, the book made my heart happy.
C. D. Wright | Rising, Falling, Hovering | Coffee House | 2008
How the world defines the personal. Also a really beautiful book. With hope for poetry despite its claim “What is said has been said before / This is no time for poetry.”
More Juliana Spahr here.
Ludovico Ariosto, trans. Barbara Reynolds | Orlando Furioso, Parts One and Two | Penguin | 1975 and 1977
Lit up by rare flashes of gunfire, a hundred characters fly every which way in the twilight of the middle ages, in stories as ragged as the back of a tapestry. It’s ridiculous fun—The Faerie Queene as told by Rabelais—made perfect for bedtime by the rhymed translation, which aims to be as rubbery as Don Juan. Making me wish Byron had been born in the Renaissance.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Harold Bloom and Paul Kane | Collected Poems and Translations | Library of America | 1994
What finally won me over is the pulse of composition: an engendering rhythm urged forward by rhyme, lifting the flower out of its seed, delivering into consciousness what gets delivered into script. No other poet of the nineteenth century gives me the same sense of scribble as bioproduct. To be sure, the poems I like best are much more than that, but it’s the bioproduction that defines the overall experience, a fitting expression of Emerson’s commitment to nature.
Flarf and Conceptual Poetry | various websites and presses | 2008-2009
Perhaps the one indisputable achievement of conceptual poetry is its radicalizing of the old truism that being is inferior to becoming, that one should prize thoughts less highly than thinking. In works like Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (a list of every body movement made over thirteen hours), it’s the completeness with which the initial inspiration is carried out that matters, not the result. The heft of the book matters more than anything said in it. Even a project as magnificently crafted as Christian Bok’s Eunoia (a set of lipograms, each highlighting a different vowel) is of little interest in what it says; what we admire, finally, is the fact that anything gets said at all. The being of such projects is not simply inferior to becoming; it makes us yearn for a dissipation of being, for a conceptual project that would free us from the burdens of consumption altogether; a project that could marshal all the obsessiveness of Fidget, all the ingenuity of Eunoia, but in pursuit of nothing tangible…of nothing at all. Wait. I think I just discovered the death drive.
Flarf is the opposite. It cares not a whit for becoming, though it responds to change, and reproduces. Like an amoeba, growing and splitting, splitting and growing. Except that flarf is hardly single-celled. It’s a whole culture, decaying matter newly charged with life, responding to stimulus. In flarf, any stray word or phrase can become an organ of feeling, obeying the pleasure principle, luxuriating in its being. Which is why consciousness ripples through it so confusingly: with consciousness comes intention, reflection, concern for becoming. Ripples, however, are unavoidable: consciousness, or its influence, is irrepressible, except through the rigorous application of a method. Which is really a conceptual thing.
Rob Halpern | Disaster Suites | Palm | 2009
In which the lyric I is a materialist project and language the flood setting the wreckage adrift. Flood, however, is not the disaster, only its means of becoming manifest. Transcendance? A survey of the wreckage from above.
Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Asahta | 2009
Pleasure and disgust are modes of understanding. Humor, a pedagogy that relies on them. Which is why Rachel Loden’s history is so effective. Its lesson? A reawakening of sensation. Call it proprioception, but of the mind.
Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge | 2009
Flickers of happiness like red lights from tapped brakes, driving into northern Virginia, immersed in music and the passing view. It all made so much sense when I learned that Mel Nichols used to live on the same road toward which I careened nearly every day. A historic city split open by highways, bandaged with strip malls, unexpectedly hospitable to foreign substances. “I kiss you city // and melt into your dangerous tongue.” Or drip into you, as through a feeding tube. However evoked, a very particular experience of place. Which these poems reproduce, in calming flashes.
Kit Robinson | The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems 1976-2003 | Adventures in Poetry | 2008
If craft, poetics, and experience form a triangle, the area they enclose is ruled by artifice. And no poet has succumbed to that rule as winningly or knowingly as Robinson, who appreciates with cheerful horror the larger mandate: to remake the world in our own image.
Susan Schultz | Dementia Blog | Singing Horse | 2008
Family and caretakers, bent by love or duty toward the ultimate abjection: cognition after twilight. According to Susan Schultz, all of us are likewise bent relative to authority, making this six-month report essential reading.
Jonathan Skinner | With Naked Foot | Little Scratch Pad | 2009
It’s waaaay better than slow poetry. It’s Skinner! (With apologies to Wendy’s.)
Peter Weiss | Auschwitz auf der Bühne: “Die Ermittlung” in Ost und West [Auschwitz on Stage: “The Investigation” East and West] | Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung | 2008 | DVD and DVD-ROM
Like Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust, The Investigation is based on trial transcripts. In this case, the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of 1963-65, which Weiss briefly attended, breaking away from the rehearsals of Marat/Sade to hear the testimony of the victims and perpetrators. Subtitled “an oratorio in eleven cantos,” the resulting text is an exhumation of the past, not a reconstruction of the trial; it moves didactically from ramp to camp to gas chamber and ovens. Overshadowed now by other exhumations, most notably the film Shoah, Weiss’s play deserves to be remembered. On October 19, 1965, it was performed simultaneously in fifteen German cities, including both parts of Berlin, no small feat in the Cold War. Coming twenty years after Hitler’s defeat, and twenty years before the West German president pronounced that defeat a liberation, the performances marked a turning point in Germany’s coming to terms with its National Socialist past. Really, one of the great moments in political art ever, documented on these DVDs.
Philip Whalen, ed. Michael Rothenberg | The Collected Poems | Wesleyan | 2007
The skills needed to read a poem are specialized enough that acquiring them was at one time what people meant by acquiring an education. In the twentieth century, the old skills became curiously inapt; what was needed instead was a reeducation. The modernists approached this problem with a ruler-to-knuckles kind of fanaticism. With Philip Whalen, we arrive at the public schools of my childhood: the ruler is used to make straight lines, and there are penmanship classes, and sleepy moments in the afternoon when we study ancient dynasties. And recess, and lunch, and doodles, and the joy of the bell, and dispersal home.
More Benjamin Friedlander here.
Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge | 2008
A model book. A sort of anti-book. The whole, in its jostle and jag, its loud call to attend, to refuse to allow one’s attention to plummet into the usual listlessness, functions with impeccable formal force, enacting the cacophonous compendium it musters. . . . What it posits is a supposed world of “radiant connectedness,” a world beyond narrative ploys (“your life has no plot so stop narrating”). Except: it refuses to mete out the necessary credence in that world, the connectedness is a foil, a spark-spitting short in the circuitry, sign of dystopia.
Kent Johnson | Homage to the Last Avant-Garde | Shearsman | 2008
Is Kent Johnson a nervous Nellie, or what? I think he positively thrives on yatter and scorch, that version of the lyrical big itch that accounts for Art and Trouble (two manifestations of one compulsion) amongst all us humankind. He’s always looking to “mix it up a little,” flinging down the fat puff’d up old-style boxing gloves of ego for a little delight in exchange and engagement. Man least likely to consider (or care) about the possibility of looking a little foolish. Besides, he likes people, in all the muddle and mayhem and mopery. Endearing crazy vulnerability and that obscenely huge grease-slick of high ambition. And all of it highly nuanced and terrifically “up front.” . . . What Kent Johnson does—unlike anybody else—is interrogate (badger) that place, that “situation,” its ways and functions, how its writers behave and misbehave, lie to others and themselves, trade favors and insults, pose, vindicate, prance, vilify.
Richard Owens | Delaware Memoranda | BlazeVOX | 2008
Proper care of the materials, human, historic, and natural, a respecting attunement: that’s one place to begin. Everywhere in Owens’s notes and accumulations that make up the six sections of Delaware Memoranda, a poem of the river that pours through the eponymous Water Gap, there is the insistence: “to strike an appropriate key.” Or: “the dire need / to repurpose the trash so rightfully ours.” There’s something supple, all-including, and, most rare, highly moral about Owens’s work here in Delaware Memoranda: unhesitant witness he is, turning up the river’s sluice and item with measure and respect, all the while refusing to make a bright something where there is nothing: “Not to fetishize the fucking river / but to think through the transformation / —how we come—to be to mean / encountering others along the banks.”
Forrest Gander | As a Friend | New Directions | 2008
A kind of skinny roman à clef, a version (with all the fat skimmed off) of some part of Arkansas poet Frank Stanford’s short life. Which is, admittedly, probably the “wrong” way to read anything. And, I admit, it made me itch a little—even in my admiration for the way Gander so deftly turn’d that life into art. . . . I read it in a gulp, one sitting. It is prose pump’d up to a high pitch with no release—a gusto-prose.
C. S. Giscombe | Prairie Style | Dalkey Archive | 2008
Giscombe is entirely capable of shuffling the terms, reassigning the scores, mocking the tune, all in a disturbing sleight-of-hand way that leaves one pop-eyed and shiftless and itchy, wondering if the train’s pull’d out or the stationmaster’s slipped one a mickey, and what about the music?
“Trim paragraphs of uninflected speech hung over the prairie, sound’s origin. Eros came up out of its den in the embankment—came out tawny, came out swarthy, came out more ‘dusky’ than ‘sienna.’ The sky was a glass of water. White men say cock and black men say dick. One gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest. Eros was a common barnyard pest, now coming to be seen in suburban settings as well, a song with lyrics, clarified and ‘refined’ both . . .”
Distill’d into that signifyin’ fox, “Eros” and “pest” and “song”—“Mistah Fox” elsewhere—is a hugely rich—complicated—history of racial and sexual and geographical attitudes; what’s astonishing is how deftly Giscombe sounds—utters and penetrates—that history.) . . . There’s a kind of ferocious need in Giscombe’s work to annotate, to record the details, a need that struggles against meaning’s lazy splay ravaging of the discernible. I love how—since Here (1994), Giscombe’s books’ve carried notes detailing the precise addresses where composition occurred.
Out of a terrific essay call’d “Why I Wrote Stretchers,” some “rules” and constraints glean’d: “Each stretcher is nominally a 33-line unit,” a decision made for reasons “ultimately banal, based on [Hilton’s] age at the time of writing the first set.” “The poems incorporate a lot of found material . . . much of it (though by no means all of it) verbal detritus heard or seen on journeys through this city.” “Pillaging cheap secondhand texts for material enforced another kind of reading which was partial, discontinuous and manic.” “Page 33 of texts became for a time a focus.” “The opening is a measure for the rest of the stretcher not necessarily in terms of content, but certainly in terms of (line) length. This is what gives stretchers their shape. If stretchers have a constraint it is that they can’t be too wide.” “All spelling mistakes are deliberate.” “Each stretcher tells a story and each story contains many other stories.” Hilson calls the stretchers “ruins, constructed ruins,” and he “tried whenever possible to avoid the ‘effects” which line ending can produce . . . They are tatters, ragged flags.”
Jeffrey Yang | An Aquarium | Graywolf | 2008
A bestiary of the sea, alphabetical (“Abalone” to “Google” to “Rexroth” to “Zooxanthellae”) and wayward, comic and modest. What I find enthralling: Yang’s restraint (a form of caring, of respect), the near absence of the usual clamoring self, I-identify’d or not. (In “White Whale” one reads “Round and round we wheel / . . . / till self’s freed from ego.”) In its place: taut arrays of (predominantly) fact (“Nature describes its own design.”) intertwined with myth and (mostly point’d) human history, “a felicity of association.” Sense of no padding, the lovely leanness of the notational. . . . Yang is a fierce cultural internationalist in the tradition of Rexroth and Pound (a guideway nigh-completely abandon’d by the presumed inheritors of the lineage, the mostly myopic and homegrown Language writers), capable of drawing on Chinese, Arabic, Mexican, Hawai’ian (see the poem about “Hawaii’s native triggerfish,” the humuhumunukunukuapua’a), Indian, and Old Norse, beyond the usual European and “Classical” sources.
Chris Nealon | Plummet | Edge | 2009
Plummet is nigh-terrific. Nealon works a supple long line (“I know prose is a mighty instrument but still I feel that plein-air lyric need to capture horses moving” he writes in “Poem (I know prose . . .)”) and, in a world seemingly divided between the jaunty and the raunchy, chooses both (“Your job? Just keep cracking Demeter up” slides uneasily into “At the gates of Arabic I enter, illiterately // Actually I know two words // shaheed / habibi // I watch depictions of electrocution under bright fluorescent lighting with a slightly elevated heartbeat” into “Do I have an astral body or a tapeworm?”), Verve and wit is what regulates (without throttling) the underlying political rage of the book.
we’re here to puke in many colors—
elf-puke, witch-puke, giant-puke
disco puke and punk puke
vomit on the apron of the government
vomit on the boots of the police
it’s January 17, 1991
it’s March 20, 2003
Puke and sing
(Out of longer poem call’d “Sunrise.” The dates, obviously, of the beginnings of “our” two illegal and preemptive incursions—wars—against the sovereign state of Iraq.)
The revels and joys of utter excess. Thumbing through: “prose poems,” though too raggedly untidy (odd long or variably short paragraph indentations, queer titular sprawl erratics, stuff that looks, not squared off blocky, something like verse with midriff-bulge). Studious (or not) “can’t be bother’d”-ismus. The titles blare infidelity to any serious “pose” (or “poise”) whilst generally avoiding the crime of the “merely zany.” . . . I love the spastic anarchy of it, the ga-ga gawkinesses, the insouciant (possibly “intentional”) “errors” (“bells . . . peel”), the odd conjunct of the various alluded-to’s (Hemingway, Gene Stratton-Porter, The Waste Land, one hit wonder Gary Wright). I like its push against the tidy, the finely-wrought, I like its ramp’d up rampant all-over energy with broken off threads (or sunken under-juttings) of random narrative.
Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey Press | 2009
Nguyen’s work is sparse (sprawl’d), notational, constellatory, measured. Too, it is uncensoring, all-encompassing, both domestic (“Wipe poop,” “Grackles in the hackberry” “Bendy vegetables in the drawer”) and liable to jut off anywhere (“Levittown goes ‘green’ / Oil at $100 a barrel,” “Cupid rides a goddam dolphin / at the hand of Venus”). I think it’s easy to mistake Nguyen’s seemingly casual jottings—and the quick variousness of the turns there, quotidian detritus, news reports, stray conversational gambits, syntactical goofs, myth-hints East and West—for “mere” verbal manifestations of dailiness, its root unstructuredness. Too, though, there’s a push toward myth and ritual that seems always on the verge of intervening / disrupting the quotidian notational. The stunning Kiss a Bomb Tattoo (Effing, 2009) arrived nigh-simultaneously.
Out of the “Postface”: “Beginning with the exchange of free-verse lines that (some 300 mailings later) became Sunflower (originally published by The Figures in 2000), we gradually multiplied and diversified our projects. Soon, a typical exchange would include ten or so formally different works.
Only one of these works, called ‘Interview,’ is not included in this volume; we anticipate that it will appear as an independent book, a companion (though not a necessary companion) to this one.
Apart from ‘Interview,’ all the poems we’ve composed together to date are collected here. There are eleven of them.”
More John Latta here.
Paul Blackburn | The Cities | Grove Press | 1967
I didn’t gain a full appreciation for Blackburn’s woefully out-of-print work until I put together his PennSound author page. Recently, I tried to sum up what I loved most about his work, and came up with this list: “his sharp urban observations, his unbridled (and unabashed) lusts, his ability to discern providence and wisdom in the everyday, his deadpan humor and accurate ear for speech, sound and music.” Here it all is in one generous and welcoming collection.
CA Conrad | The Book of Frank | Chax Press | 2009
I like to think of The Book of Frank as one of the best novels I’ve read this year— while the title character’s story is told through dozens of poetic vignettes, rather than straight prose, it’s a clear, complex and compelling narrative that draws us in instantly. As a general rule, I adore anything Conrad writes, but here (and also in this year’s Advanced Elvis Course) a malleable singular concept and generous length allows him to indulge every facet of the story, yielding a marvelous work that’s simultaneously hilarious and absurd, campy and macabre, sympathetic and shocking.
Tracy Daugherty | Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme | St. Martin’s Press | 2009
A fitting and long-overdue homage to the postmodern master, right down to the dozens of short attention span chapters, which beg readers to dip in at any point and keep going. Daugherty deconstructs Barthelme’s dense metafictional collages, providing valuable insights into his work process, while never diminishing the original stories’ magic for readers. Moreover, he provides a shockingly candid portrait of the man behind the pen.
Stanley Donwood & Dr. Tchock (Thom Yorke) | Dead Children Playing | Verso | 2007
The visual aesthetic surrounding Radiohead (the work of Stanley Donwood and frequent collaborator, and frontman, Thom Yorke) is almost as formidable as their musical genius. In this slim but powerful portfolio, we finally get a chance to see the larger series of paintings from which those iconic album covers were selected (thankfully reproduced larger than the five inch squares we usually see them in) and hear the artist discuss his diverse inspirations (the Kosovo war, media saturation in the U.S., Viking king Canute). If, in a digitized society, we’re continually moving away from the record album as physical artifact, it’s heartening to see these images treated not as ancillary decorations, but rather as worthy objects of our attention.
Lawrence Lessig | Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy | Penguin | 2008
Lessig’s groundbreaking work on the overlap between creativity and legality in the internet age (along with Siva Vaidhyanathan’s) has greatly shaped my approach to the work we do at PennSound, as well as my own aesthetic sense. This volume (his swan song on the topic) offers his most hopeful vision yet for a potential future of unbridled culture, along with a chilling portrait of the alternatives we face if we don’t wise up.
Bernadette Mayer | Poetry State Forest | New Directions | 2008
While Mayer’s voice has been consistently strong throughout her long writing life, I find myself increasingly fond of her most recent work, both this volume and her last, Scarlet Tanager. As vast as its title image, this collection can ably accommodate a wide array of modes—personal, political, elegiac, experimental—further blurring the boundaries between writing and everyday life. As always, Mayer ambitiously explores poetry’s rich potential and invites us to do the same.
Ted Morgan | Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs | Henry Holt & Company | 1988
My guilty-pleasure “beach reading” on a long cross-country trip this summer—I picked it up almost without thinking and couldn’t put it down. Morgan’s done his research, takes fruitful detours and has insider’s info, but it’s the sharp and mildly catty tone that makes this illuminating bio so addictive.
Tim Peterson | Since I Moved In | Chax Press | 2007
Throughout this startling debut, but particularly in its longer suites (“Trans Figures,” “Sites of Likeness,” “Spontaneous Generation”), I’m reminded of Barthes’ privileging of habitability as a fundamental aesthetic goal in Camera Lucida. Here, I continually discover places, emotions, personae, that I want to climb inside and stay with for a while.
Frank Sherlock | Over Here | Factory School | 2009
I’ve loved many of these poems since they originally appeared in chapbook form, but it’s wonderful to have them collected under one cover, with some strong new material added to the mix. Sherlock’s work often reminds me of Jean-Michel Basquiat (invoked in “Daybook of Perversities and Main Events”), in that both share a sharp ear for street language, and know how a few perfectly placed words or phrases can set off a vivid image, though here, the sights are all conjured in our heads.
Hannah Weiner, ed. Patrick Durgin | Hannah Weiner’s Open House | Kenning | 2006
Was this book disqualified from further praise after last year’s survey? Durgin’s empathetic understanding of Weiner’s work makes this a wonderful standalone volume, as well as an eye-opening introduction to her broader body of work. I can’t quite quantify the effects this book has had upon my own work, the doors it’s opened.
More Michael Hennessey here.
Hélène Bessette | Suite suisse | Léo Scheer | 2008 (1st edition Gallimard 1965)
Hélène Bessette (1918-2000), who invented the GRP (Gang du Roman Poétique!), was much admired by the likes of Raymond Queneau, Marguerite Duras, Jean Dubuffet, Dominique Aury. A couple of years ago she was almost completely forgotten and her 13 extraordinary novels, published by Gallimard between 1953 and 1973, utterly un-findable, even in libraries. Thanks to a few admirers’ efforts, Hélène Bessette is slowly being republished and rediscovered. No English translations available, except for 4 pages translated by Keith Waldrop for the journal Avec in 1990.
Edgardo Cozarinsky | Museo del chisme | Emecé editores | 2005
The title translates as The Gossip Museum. After a theoretical introduction on “indefensible narratives”, and following Karl Kraus’ precept that most things are insignificant but everything signifies, the book presents 69 anecdotes, mainly about writers and artists from various countries and generations, culled from books or from oral sources. Absolute hilarious gems.
Mark Z. Danielewski | Only Revolutions | Doubleday | 2006
Very impressive semantic, syntactic, typographic, poetic and narrative tour de force. Beautiful to look at, intriguing and often exhilarating to read. This “Democracy of Two, set out and chronologically arranged” has two teenagers in love, perpetually 16, on a road trip, with US and world history flashing by the side of the road (i.e. the margin of the book), over a period of 200 years (and 360 pages, with 360 words on each, to be read from the beginning and from the end –upside down).
Dominique Fourcade | Citizen Do | P.O.L | 2009
In this book Merce Cunningham meets Nicolas Poussin, and René Char meets Saskia, the author’s grand-daughter. Fourcade meets Welles, and language meets the world, hence citizen-ship (“à ce point, réel de la langue et réel du monde ne font qu’un”). In such “écriture-contact”, verse meets prose, songs are systems and lyricism is ethical. “Poésie est identification et séparation et dislocation systémiques”.
Michel Gauthier | Les promesses du zéro | les presses du réel | 2009
Brilliant art criticism. Six essays, on Robert Smithson, Carsten Höller, Ed Ruscha, Martin Creed, John Armleder, Tino Sehgal and how their work can help us not look for meaning or an ultimate essence, but rather develop our inability to see and/or our capacity to get lost.
Also recommended, Michel Gauthier’s previous book, L’Anarchème (anarcheme, as in, unit of anarchy), about artworks that sabotage their own authority by de-focalizing the viewer’s gaze away from themselves (Peter Downsbrough, Claude Rutault, Steven Parrino, Jessica Stockholder, Cécile Bart…)
Daniel Heller-Roazen | Echolalias | Zone Books | 2005
This is a book « on the Forgetting of Language », which reads the history of language as multiple stories of oblivion and loss and recovery (of sounds, letters, texts, idioms). With multilingual sources ranging from the Zohar to Chomsky and from medieval Arabic texts to Proust, a feat of extraordinary erudition that is also an immensely pleasurable read.
François Noudelmann | Hors de moi | Léo Scheer | 2006
This is a book angry, if polite, against genealogy, or rather, against conservative contemporary uses of (the concept of) genealogy that stray away from the genius and method of Nietzsche and, after him, say Foucault. Everyone seems to be endeavoring to find their family origins, psychogenealogists are on the rise as the transmission of values is rumored to be dysfunctional. This echoes a general form of thinking that strives to restore linearity and causality and to reestablish ‘lost’ continuities and analogies. Noudelmann, on the contrary, vigorously calls for alternative, radical, non-pure modes of kinship, in thought and in life.
Avital Ronell | Crack Wars | U. of Nebraska Press | 1992
Already a classic. Still über-exciting. A work of resistance written at a time when chasing crack users boiled down to a sheer ethnocide. Taking her cue from Nietzsche, Avital Ronell sets out to show that “the history of narcotica is almost the history of ‘culture’, of our so-called high culture”. She does so by exploring not the expected canonical texts (Burroughs, Baudelaire, Benjamin…) but rather Emma Bovary as addicted body (“EB on ice”). Flaubert as you’ve never read her.
Jalal Toufic | Two or Three Things I’m Dying to Tell You | The Post-Apollo Press | 2005
Jalal Toufic is always surprising. He keeps arresting my interior monologue (see his first book, Distracted). Here Spielberg, Rilke and Lewis Carroll are read together in the light of Lebanese politics, and Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy in the light of The Thousand and One Nights as well as other, mystical, Arabic texts. Toufic also invents a fascinating double feature titled Rear Window Vertigo (1954-1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock where, from the first part to the second, James Stewart aka L.B. Jefferies/John (Scottie) Ferguson had a psychogenic fugue leading him west, to San Francisco.
Bénédicte Vilgrain | Ngà | Héros-Limite | 2009
For a few years now, Bénédicte Vilgrain has been making poetry out of tales and proverbs culled from old Tibetan grammar treatises. Her own version of a Tibetan grammar has been coming out, chapter after chapter, in various forms of publication. Ngà is chapter 8, the longest so far, a little book of its own with Geneva-based éditions Héros-Limite. I don’t always get it but i love to read it. Beautiful, mysterious and unflinching.
Marina Warner | Managing Monsters | Vintage | 1994
“Queen Victoria opened the first dinosaur theme park at Sydenham in South London in 1852”. Thus begins Managing Monsters – Six myths of our time. These are 6 essays that Marina Warner gave as the Reith lectures on the BBC in 1994. She packs in, with radio-lightness, a lot of ideas about gender and myth and contemporary society that get more substantial development in her other, heftier, books (From the Beast to the Blonde, Monuments and Maidens, etc.). She looks at the origins of six modern myths: monstrous mothers, warrior heroes, diabolical innocents, wild beasts, savage strangers and the myth of origin, or of home. The book ends “without sentimentality, without rancour, always resisting the sweet seduction of despair”.
More Omar Berrada here.
Nathan Austin | Survey Says! | Black Maze Books | 2009
All of the answers from a two month stretch of Family Feud game shows, alphabetized by the second letter of each phrase. Survey Says! is the literary version of those vernacular works of obsessive fan collage made popular on YouTube (every curse on the Sopranos; every “what?” from Lost; every “Buffy” from the first season of the eponymous show; et cetera). The next task would be to match Austin’s answers to the appropriate questions in Ron Silliman’s Sunset Debris….
Derek Beaulieu | Local Color | ntamo | 2008
A visual translation of Paul Auster’s 1986 novella Ghosts, in which the characters are named—Reservoir Dog style—by primary colors. Beaulieu has removed Auster’s text, but left a rectangle of the eponymous color wherever the names appear. Each page thus looks like a manic, rigid version of a Hans Hoffmann abstraction, with overlapping monochromes floating on a narrative field. To be read alongside Alison Turnbull’s Spring Snow (London: Bookworks, 2002) and All the Names of In Search of Lost Time (Toronto: Parasitic Ventures, 2007).
Clark Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer | The Cave | Adventures in Poetry | 2008
Long awaited, this publication is like finding an old home movie from the ’70s. Or maybe one of Stan Brakhage’s home movies from the ’70s (well, at least one of Ed Bowes’ films from the period, though they seem to be irretrievably lost). A Rashomon-like account of a trip to Edlon’s Cave near West Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the Fall of 1972, the book is a banter you want to press your ear to: a paratactic battery of deliciously opaque (but always ultimately referential) phrases featuring that prime ’70s mode of dense internal rhymes, hard saxon consonant clusters, and bopped akimbo rhythms. Lots of geology, lots of Wittgenstein, and an unaccountable obsession on everyone’s part with breasts (which may explain the lines “bearer/ dome milks,” from Coolidge’s contemporaneous Space). The work was at one time tentatively titled Clark’s Nipples.
Robert Fitterman and Nayland Blake | The Sun Also Also Rises; My Sun Also Rises; Also Also Also Rises the Sun | No Press | 2009
The first of these three pamphlets extracts all the sentences beginning with the first person singular pronoun from The Sun Also Rises in a grammatical analysis of Hemingway’s masterpiece. The second booklet rewrites those sentences to account for Fitterman’s move to New York in the early 1980s. And Blake’s contribution rounds out the trilogy by reducing Hemingway’s prose to truncated intransitives and catalogues of definite nouns, rewriting the novel in the mode of John Ashbery and Joe Brainard’s Vermont Notebook.
Kenneth Goldsmith | Sports | Make Now | 2008
The final installment in Goldsmith’s New York trilogy, inevitably following Traffic (2007) and Weather (2004) with the logic of an AM news station. Like those other books, the interest here is generated from the distance between the deodorized and totalizing paratexts (a year’s worth of weather reports; a day’s worth of traffic reports; the transcript of the longest baseball game ever broadcast) and the messy specifics of the texts themselves, riddled with inexplicable gaps, lacunae, and aporia. Like the photograph of a Mexico City traffic jam on the cover of Traffic. Or the photo of a basketball game on a book about baseball.
Lawrence Giffin | Get the Fuck Back into That Burning Plane | Ugly Ducking Presse | 2009
Heir apparent to Kevin Davies’s pitch-perfect spin of idiomatic vernacular, critical theory, and a range of references spun between stunned horror and laugh-out-loud humor. “Is this thing on [?]” Giffin asks at the end of the second section. Absofuckinlutely YES.
James Hoff | TOP TEN | No Input Books |2008
Hoff compiled a decade of “Top Ten” columns from Artforum, in full facsimile but with the illustrating images blacked out like funereal Mondrians. The frustrated indexicality recalls Robert Smithson’s nonsites, but the images were never representative to begin with and always pointed more to the magazine’s decorative turn toward a frivolous hatue fashion, obsessed with runway models on aircraft carriers and the design of Prada boutiques. The prose, however, remains some of the decade’s essayistic best. Perfect bathroom reading.
P. Inman | ad finitum | if p then q | 2008
Absolute hardcore. After two decades of carefully reading Inman’s work I still have no idea what he’s doing. But whatever’s going on, it involves a thrilling frisson of microphonemic densities, a radical torque of grammar, and an obdurate materiality whose unassimilability is the test of its politics. I hope I never really figure it out so I can keep re-reading ad (in)finitum.
Dana Teen Lomax | Disclosure | Ubu Editions | 2009
Ihre Papieren, bitte! It has been a long time since poets were expected to be authentic, and the government doesn’t much care either, so long as your papers are genuine. Under the regime of the modern bureaucratic police state, identity is less an essence than a manner of presentation—not self-fashioning, but self-documenting. Here is the documentation, in the most radically confessional work of poetry ever published: parking tickets, loan statements, rejection letters, report cards, lab results, a drivers license, et cetera. Identity, we learn in Disclosure, is always nostalgic: these documents freeze a moment in time—when Lomax was 145lbs, or in sixth period study hall, or placing fourth in the Junior Golf Program or delinquent on her payments—but while those papers remain a fixed part of her permanent record she will continue to change, unstable, mutable, unpredictable. Full disclosure: I know less about my girlfriend of ten years than I do about Dana Teen Lomax, and I’ve never even met her.
Yedda Morrison | Darkness | Little Red Leaves | 2009
The first chapter from an edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with everything but references to the natural world whited out. Like most works of conceptual writing, the premise at first sounds mechanical, but what counts as “the natural world” is far from self-evident, and opens onto a range of philosophical and ethical questions. A lesser writer would have been paralyzed by indecision, their bottle of correction fluid drying to a brittle pallid skin before the little brush could set to paper (or the photoshop tool mouse to screen, as the case may be).
Vanessa Place | Statement of Fact | unpublished MS | 2009
Just the facts, Ma’am. The only way to be more clever than Kathy Acker, it turns out, is to be less clever. Charles Reznikoff sampled the National Reporter System of appellate decisions for his verse in Testimony; Acker incorporated legal documents from In re van Geldern as part of her modified plagiarism; but Place recognizes that such documents are far more powerful left unedited. And they read, frequently, like the reticent syllogistic prose of Hemingway short stories. Reframed from the public record as literature, the results are emotionally unbearable.
More Craig Dworkin here.