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Attention Span 2009 – CE Putnam

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Peter Cully | The Age of Briggs & Stratton | New Star Books | 2008

Another set of walks around Hammertown with Mr. Cully. Nature and machine in conflict and decay & Smithsonian bird found-poems from 1910-1954.

& even when they make it over the line

the berm is not permanent

and the fuckraking leafblowers

papercut the air into orange froth.

Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge Books | 2009

Fragmented lyric float bubbles: Day Poems. Step carefully.

“do the fish know they are not drowning but in dream photograph with dense knowing”

Takashi Hiraide, trans. Sawako Nakayasu | For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut | New Directions | 2008

111 prose poems (many in a commuter/subway context). I love living in its strange beautiful world. I couldn’t help but think of Yoshida Kenko’s “Essays in Idleness.”

“The soap that transforms in the hand of silence into a living thing. The railway where the claw marks of those approaching death lather fragrantly upon our skin”

Ruth S. Freed & Stanley A. Freed | Ghosts: Life and Death in North India | Anthropological Paper of The American Museum of Natural History | 1993

This anthropological study utilizes an unusual method for naming project informants, resulting in lines like:

“Curmudgeon, who, like all men in the village was much concerned about the perpetuation of the male line of descent, blamed the death of Little Boy on his levirate spouse, Scapegoat.”

Carlos Reygada, dir. | Stellet licht | Mantarraya Producciones | 2007

A big screen is a must for this one. I had the chance to see it at the NW Film Forum earlier this year. This film tells the story of a love-triangle in a secluded Mennonite community in Chihuahua, Mexico. The film is gorgeous to look at and it moves at a very very slow & quiet pace (watching a sunrise/sunset speed), but it builds and builds and storms. The lack of a musical soundtrack & great sound editing/effects (crunching snow, an unnerving ticking of a kitchen clock, etc.) add tension / agitation. Unforgettable ending. Dialogue in German and Spanish w/ English Subtitles.

Endless Boogie | Focus Level | No Quarter Records | 2008

I STILL can’t stop listening to these NYC 50-somethings as they punch me out with “Safe as Milk” era Captain Beefheart vocals (a low-key growllllllly mumble rather than annoying) riding atop an “endless boogie” of psychedelic blues jams. Tough, rough and raw. Fire up the grill. We are “Smoking Figs In The Yard.”

Joshua Beckman | Take It | Wave Books | 2009

Starts like this:

Dear Angry Mob,

Oak Wood Trail is closed to you. We

feel it unnecessary to defend our position,

for we have always thought of ourselves

(and rightly, I venture) as a haven for

those seeking a quiet and solitary

contemplation. We are truly sorry

for the inconvenience.

Signed,

Ranger Lil

Portable Shrines Shows | Seattle, WA | Various Locations (Funhouse/Comet Tavern)

Portable Shrines is a new “psychedelic music” collective that has just started putting on shows and experimental sound events in the Seattle Area. It’s a homegrown thing, sheets on the walls for projections, etc. (really enjoyed “Yoko Ono’s Fly flim during the Oko Yono set the other week—and Treetarantula and AFCGT were pretty good too). Anyway, haven’t been as excited about a Seattle scene since pre-Nevermind Nirvana. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Aram Saroyan | Complete Minimal Poems | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2007

“typewriter kittens”

Kenneth Patchen | Hallelujah Anyway | New Directions | 1966

Maybe it’s the effect of living with a two-year-old, but I’m especially enjoying the curly words and crazy critters in these “picture poems.” A nice old edition. The kind that you can still find (sometimes) in U-District used bookshops.

A Geo-Bibliography of Anomalies: Primary Access to Observations of UFOs, Ghosts, and Other Mysterious Phenomena Compiled by George M. Eberhart | Greenwood Press | 1980

My selection for reference book of the year (1980). Organized by geographic regions of North America it documents over 22,000 separate events in 10,500 geographic locations with a Subject AND an Observer Index.

Erratic Starfish, 261

Moving lamp fixture, 611

Mystery balls of fiber, 34

Phantom cabin, 574

Pink squirrel, 839

Water forecasting rock, 498

Weeping mounted deer’s head, 497, 865

More CE Putnam here.

Attention Span 2009 – Rachel Blau DuPlessis

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I recently had the pleasure of blurbing (to say it more politely, offering a back jacket comment for) a book about varieties of spiritual experience presented in contemporary US poetries, all people writing long poems. And they are all poets working “on the dark side of the force”—am I getting tired of the debates among experimental, post-avant, avant-garde, innovative—or what? Norman Finkelstein’s book, to come out from Iowa in 2010, is called On Mt. Vision: Forms of the Sacred in Contemporary American Poetry, and it talks quite lucidly about Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Michael Palmer, Ronald Johnson, Nathaniel Mackey, Armand Schwerner, and Susan Howe.  The list made me start wondering—were there more women writing long poems who were spiritual or who were variously interested in the sacred?  I started thinking who some of them could be.

Turns out That Anne Waldman has just published (Penguin, 2009) a rather rousing and moving book, one long work, called Manatee/Humanity, with quite a striking cover by Kiki Smith. It is spiritual in the sense of being drawn from and mimetic of a ritual, and it is a haunting, incantatory book. Among its features is the articulation of human evolution in the voice of (probably) our foremother “Lucy.”  Another is the pooling of thoughts and feelings within the poet’s consciousness in her identifying with—being spoken to and through– a manatee (a large water mammal, very gentle and playful, whose habitats are—whose existence is–endangered). Actually, the piece (hybrid and total) is pierced with voices from all sectors of the universe, from under water, from outside the galaxy, from our evolutionary past and our present. It seriously considers the question of human survival, and in a sense is one outcry, direly mixed between a scream and a hope. Waldman’s commitments to a transformational poetics as spiritual would make her and her books part of my (imagined) “next volume” of a book about long poems by writers invested in the sacred.

United States writers are not the only ones who have recently articulated an interest in the spiritual. Turns out that Anne Blonstein has just published her tenth book of poetry, The Butterflies and the Burnings (Dusie Press, 2009). Blonstein is a British national, living for the past years in Switzerland where Dusie is also based. This is another book length work approaching the question of the spiritual, quite differently, although, like Waldman’s poem it is similarly research based. This is a book of vocation—I mean this both as poetic vocation, but also as an investigation of the vocation of religious figures. In a wonderful pun (the scintillation of poetic surface is one feature of Blonstein’s work), she is “unfolding the vulvate” (108). She tracks mainly Catholic women saints—most of them from the long medieval period, but some across the ages. Along with—and this is important, as Holocaust materials figure strongly for Blonstein—the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was one of the few German clergymen who resisted Hitler publicly and tried to help overthrow him, and he was executed by the Nazis just before the end of the war. Blonstein’s poem sequence to and through him is one of the high points of this unusual book, which dazzlingly animates a variety of spiritual figures and saints, from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to Mary the Egyptian. Among the most striking works are dialogues or closet dramas—they would make really interesting radio plays (the Gertrude-gertrude-gertrude text is notable). The works are as if monologues from the surreal or post-real parts of their consciousnesses. All were sorely tested, all were visionaries, and the construction by Blonstein of a sense of a shimmering field of possibility amid their pain is remarkable.

We could also move to Canada for another spiritual long poem work. And this one is not a new book. In fact, it startled me to see that this year is its tenth anniversary. But the point about poetry is that sometimes one actually returns (gasp!) to something loved and admired so that it may strike you again. In this case, it’s Erin Mouré’s double titled work A Frame of the Book (shadowed by the title The Frame of A Book), published way back in 1999 by House of Anansi Press. This is a work, which, like Robin Blaser’s oeuvre, speaks of the erotic as an infusing power that is, by definition, spiritual. Not leading to the spiritual, but in itself spiritual, in the sense of self-transcending, and transformative. The frame of the book is love, sexual love, desire, physical longing, emotional yearning, amor loin and amour fulfilled. Jouissance is, here, an intellectual fulfillment too. In fact, body, mind and spirit are not riven, but made as one. That is a remarkable fact about the impact of Mouré’s language and book-construction (she both breaks the book open and rebuilds it, realigning its components, including typography, page-space, part-whole relations like top and bottom of the page, norms of where things go). This book is filled with diagrams, footnotes, different (from English) languages, “theory,” and in a way is an experiment with (noting an important statement from Lyotard that Mouré cites) inventing idioms that don’t yet exist for feelings of passionate suffusion. It is a remarkable book of the Book, almost a midrash on desire.

Well, I will circle round in this briefest comment on long poems and book-length works that show a variety of spiritual practices (as a case in point by contemporary Anglophone women)  to come to something odd, perhaps, but anyway, as in the majority of Finkelstein’s examples, something by a US male poet whose whole career has been devoted to the long poem. I’d call this one a walking meditation. Putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, with every step (strange metaphor!) as if a slightly different pebble, carefully crafted out of generally unadorned language, and placed in a long row, and reaching a long way into naming without ever arriving at a destination. It is the journey that is the spiritual practice. I am referring to Ron Silliman’s Ketjak (1974—this year being its thirty-fifth anniversary), a work recently republished within a grouping of four works (and “satellite texts”) called The Age of Huts (University of California Press, 2007). This work is the mother lode of Silliman’s practice, the discovery that “You could start almost anywhere and find anything” (45), which I would call not only “sociological” or “historical” (etc.) but also spiritual. That is because his writing denominates what is. What is, in language. Every sentence has been fabricated; most look at the world, a few look at language (puns, tricks of resemblances) or at his own writing process (physical and mental). It is an account of “this this this this” (89), and it thereby shows a remarkable patience and ambition at once, a patience with what is seen (sometimes felt or remembered) and an ambition to offer it up in words, one thing after another, without hierarchy or flurries of affect, but simply as a deictic meditation. To look at in language, as Creeley said. “Thinking of the practice” (65).

More Rachel Blau DuPlessis here and here.

Written by Steve Evans

October 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Attention Span 2009 – Tim Conley

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Lisa Jarnot | Night Scenes | Flood Editions | 2008

A twinkle, twinkle rhapsody.

Eliot Weinberger | Oranges and Peanuts for Sale | New Directions | 2009

What colour did women in the T’ang Dynasty prefer their eyebrows to be? What is the attitude among the Yoruba to twins? Weinberger knows, and Weinberger seems incapable of being boring. Here are collected essays on Vicente Huidobro, the politics of poetry, James Laughlin, “What I Heard About Iraq in 2005,” Beckett’s Mexican job, Susan Sontag, translation, translation, and more translation.

Christopher Priest | Inverted World | NYRB Classics | 2008

A sophisticated game of illusions by way of disillusions (again, by way of illusions), this book strangely acquires greater dimensions as one moves through it. The reader cannot help but look back in admiration.

Eugene Ostashevsky | The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2008

This is the closest I’ve ever seen poetry come to a video game. Avatars, knock your blocks off!

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, trans. R. J. Hollingdale | The Waste Books | NYRB Classics | 2000

Javier Marías, trans. Margaret Jull Costa | Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two: Dance and Dream | New Directions | 2005

The spy who came in from the recherche du temps perdu. Can’t wait for the translation of the third volume to appear.

Daniel Albright | Beckett and Aesthetics | Cambridge UP | 2003

Jordan Scott | Blert | Coach House Books | 2008

Complains Daffy Duck: “Thith ith the latht time I work with thomeone with a thpeech impediment.” Methinks the duck doth (doth!) protest too much. Jordan Scott hears the stutter –the stutter we all have, each in our own fashion– as poetry. The legion of troublesome phrases become opportunities for new sounds. You will read this book aloud and you will get it all wrong and all will be very well.

More Tim Conley here.

Attention Span 2009 – Josef Kaplan

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Kevin Killian | Action Kylie | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2008

They said they would never put any photos of cats in Artforum.

Michael Scharf | For Kid Rock/Total Freedom | Spectacular Books | 2007

Re-read this after the post-’08 election euphoria (and my money) had been plowed into corporate handouts. Scharf refracts the claustrophobic political atmosphere of 2002/2003 through an equally stringent pyramid of de rigueur poetics to show that “total freedom” is, of course, totally not. The book’s appulsion of liberal aesthetics and furtive atrocity reads both cogent and anxiously sympathetic, a “bourgeois panic” that is mordant, lucid, the relentlessness of its critique entirely correct.

Gordon Faylor | 5 6 | Self-Published | 2009

The Mechanical Turk meets Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk.

Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter, eds. | Issue 1 | For Godot | 2008

The fall of the house of usher.

Roberto Bolaño | 2666 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 2008

It’s nice how this post-modern novel is almost totally unconcerned with the meta, how it instead just ruthlessly tails the fractal, internal details that spin off from stuff like… ordering a coffee, or a city’s (sub)conscious conspiracy to murder every woman living in it. The Baudelaire epigraph: “an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”; Sonora stretching out its infinite ends.

Anne Boyer | odali$qued | Blogspot | ongoing

Poetry’s Battlestar Galactica: humans create little machines which create other little machines and they all blow each other to pieces, over and over again. Also a response, doing Kafka one better by cutting out the Max Brod-style middleman. An anti-bureaucratic literature that inverts and immolates against pretty much every authoritarian context in sight.

Tan Lin | HEATH (PLAGIARISM/OUTSOURCE) | Zasterle | 2009

Poetry’s The Blob. Less a “book” than an open source platform for critical reimagining. Strikingly handsome for being that, too—like the titular man himself? Or the shrub?

Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Ahsahta Press | 2009

“This machine” / you know / “kills hypocrites”

Marie Buck | Life & Style | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2009

“People! Cool personalities!” These burrowings into consumerism, vanity, gender cultures, celebritydom (both literary and pop-culture-y), social networking, social damage, flagellism and futurity are often as gentle as they are disturbing. Not a small feat. The absence of irony doesn’t come off as pedantic, but instead gives everything a tragic, keen(ing) sheen.

Brad Flis | Peasants | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2009

The Lottery-esque scratch-and-win cover reveals a severed head, which is kind of how the whole book works. Also worth noting that the severed head looks like a combination CNN image capture/Chuck Close portrait, which, again, is kind of how the whole book works.

David Lau | Virgil and the Mountain Cat | University of California Press | 2009

Stately state mash-ups. Lau redistributes allusion across a field of junked discourses, declares a new decadence based in the reification of history. The tone of this book is just so oddly, wonderfully grandiloquent, like wigs worn to the King’s beheading: “a domed frieze phrased in freedom, / extra moiety signum // as time’s / dipterous nonextension / deemphasized dispatches to come– // incurable, its miserable son.”

More about Josef Kaplan here.

Attention Span 2009 – James Wagner

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Art Davidson | Minus 148 Degrees: First Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley | Mountaineers | 1999

It turns out to be cold on Denali in the middle of the winter.

Laura Sims | Stranger | Fence | 2009

Mysterious, emotional, fragmentary arrangements. Not airy, incomplete friezes but freighted waves.

Rainier Werner Fassbinder | Berlin Alexanderplatz | Bavaria Film | 1980

Slowly watching all of his films. This one makes 30. The Fassbinder Foundation’s website is here.

Various authors and translators | Dichten = No. 10: 16 New (to American readers) German Poets | Burning Deck | 2008

Fantastic.

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo Books | 2007

Accumulative energy, often created by anaphora, strong sense of line/line-breaks, formal rhetorical argument embedded in meant-to-shock content, with tinless ear.

Dee Molenaar | The Challenge of Rainier: A Record of the Explorations and Ascents, Triumphs and Tragedies | Mountaineers | 1979

The classic text of everything having to do with climbing the mountain. (I’m planning on climbing Rainier in 2010.)

Mike Gauthier | Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide | Mountaineers | 1999

Among other things, exceptional notational photographs of 39 of the routes.

Michael Burkard | Envelope of Night: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1966-1990 | Nightboat Books | 2008

Where Ashbery, Vallejo, Kafka and Creeley meet.

Jerzy Pilch, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston | The Mighty Angel | Open Letter | 2009

Just beginning this.

Bree Loewen | Pickets and Dead Men: Seasons on Rainier | Mountaineers | 2009

Rare story of a female climbing ranger on Mt. Rainier, covering the harsh elemental life of hard climbing, rescuing live and dead bodies, and your typical serving of human insensitivity. Self-deprecating, dogged, engaging.

Eleni Sikelianos | Body Clock | Coffee House | 2008

The real deal keeps dealing.

More James Wagner here.

Attention Span 2009 – Melanie Neilson

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Stacy Doris | Cheerleader’s Guide to the World | Roof Books | 2006

Classic texts over the top Mayan, Tibetan, New Jerseyan for the reader-gamer. Also enjoyed re-reading Doris’ Knot, Conference, and Paramour recently.

Manny Farber | Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies | Da Capo Press | 1998

“this exciting shake-up movie is made up in progressive segments, each one having a different stylistic format, from fixed camera close-up of a comic-porno episode (‘…and then she sat in a saucer of milk…’) through the very Hawkslike eye-level dollying past a bumper- to-bumper tie-up on the highway…”

Rob Fitterman | Rob the Plagiarist | Roof Books | 2009

Brilliant. Conceptual Mardi Gras and the big hijack extraordinaire.

Benjamin Friedlander | American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson | Blog |  2009

Ben’s findings, archiving and overflow “on their way to a book” give immense reading pleasure. I’m staying tuned to read what BF has to say on how keyword searching has changed our relationship to literature, redefining “canonicity.”

Nada Gordon | Folly | Roof | 2007

I laughed, I cried, I came, I went, I like it, I like it, I like it.

Jane Grigson | Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book | Antheneum | 1982

Apple strudel to watermelon sherbet, recipes plain and fancy for forty-six different fruits. Rediscovered and reunioned with this book in June, on blueberry stained pages is a favorite berry pie recipe (adapted from Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz’s Mango Pie), poetry of lowbush and highbush blueberries.

Jessica Grim | Vexed | Online from ubu editions since 2002; recently published in print by BlazeVox | 2009

Brian Kim Stefans: “sensual reverie with documentary relevance. The musicality of Grim’s poems is understated, the words delicately gathered, such that the poems occasionally seem given over to indeterminacy and chance, but in fact each one has a formal perfection that illustrates an underlying lyrical integrity.” Amen.

Todd MacCarthy | Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood | Grove Press | 1997

The engineer as poet. Started reading this after weeks of watching HH pictures with my sons in our family Movie Club. McCarthy focuses with great and admirable detail on the films. Fresh discussions of overlapping dialogue in the romantic comedies though ultimately I enjoyed Joseph McBride’s Hawks on Hawks more.

John Ruskin | The Poetry of Architecture | Wily and Sons | 1873

“Shelley has caught the feeling finely the house is penetrated to its corners by the insolence of the day”. More reading about “negative space” this time in the chapter about Giotto and his works in Padua.

Kim Rosenfield | re: evolution, with an introduction by Sianne Ngai | Les Figues | 2008

There will be repercussions after reading this book. I really like the noirish spawning and smooth switcherooing in technique and style. Tabula rasa/Population cage/Withstanding the wear and tear of modern “tempos”/Natural heredity of the body/Inheriting the wisdom/Of people who’ve never met in the first place.

More Melanie Neilson here.

Attention Span 2009 – Kevin Killian

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David Buuck | The Shunt | Palm Press | 2009

David Buuck’s first book is relatively slim—well it’s normal size, not one of the 110 page behemoths that pass as regulation fare nowadays—but it is exquisitely focused and honed in on the torment of being alive in the world we live in, a citizen of the evil state of America. And a vulnerable human cell heavily implicated in capitalism. As a summary of the different formal experiments Buuck has tried out in the past ten years this book is marvelously effective, for he is the most impatient of poets and the one most disgusted with his own efforts. “Stanzas in Mediation 15-20” (“The Suck”) is my favorite of these dramatizations of self loathing. “Sure–I am/ a poet—against/ the war & a poet/ against “poets”/ “against the war” & I’m a poet against the post-/ war & well/ I’m not really/ much of a poet/ either, but & yet/ I’m just trying to do my part/ by Iraqifying/ my CD collection ]…]”–it just goes on like this taking strips of his flesh with it. When I first met him his Hamlet nature fascinated me, his mercurial balance of air and water, and now years later he steps forth, a Hamlet with balls.

Garrett Caples | Complications | Meritage Press | 2007

Garrett’s my editor—at City Lights, where we will publish my new book Impossible Princess in the fall—so by rights I should leave him off this list, but if I couldn’t write about my friends’ books my list would be tiny indeed, and Steve Evans, if you enforced that rule on “Attention Span” then you could show all the books reviewed on one screen. As I cast my gaze on the books I’m writing about this time around I see to my shame that indeed they are practically all by my friends, except for one girl whom I have never met, and one guy whom I only met once and yet was captivated by his dark intense Nijinsky grace. Does that count? Garrett Caples wrote Complications during a time of worldwide grief and mourning, and during a time when the culture figures he admired were too slipping away, as though they knew—and the elegiac factor in Complications is high. Thom Gunn, Barbara Guest, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, all ghosts now, are invoked without sentiment and with plenty of wry humor. Caples’ experiments with sound and the slipping image are well known, and here they really get a workout: those of you who have read “Dub Song of Prufrock Shakur” know what I’m talking about. And there are also lovely straight essays here (if I could apply for a second the dubious adjective straight to this writing) which I always enjoy in a book of poetry.

Norma Cole | Natural Light | Libellum Press | 2009

Norma also has a new book from City Lights, a book of selected poems called Where Shadows Will, 1988-2008, which makes my mouth gape, as though to remember that I met her before she had written any books and was just starting to publish after a career as a painter. Well, I don’t have the space here to do more than recommend this one wholeheartedly— though I wonder why there’s nothing in Where Shadows Will from Norma’s greatest work, the epic verse drama Art Colony Survivor (2002), the play I wrote with her over months and months of laughter and tears? In the meantime I have thought often about another new book by her, Natural Light. Cole strikes out as she has in all of her books in a new direction, and several at once— her mind is like a weathervane that spins in a hurricane, unerringly finding the rough underlining to any solace. “Where Shadows Will” does a decent job of excerpting from Natural Light, but it leaves out the majestic centerpiece, the final serial piece Collective Memory. Collective Memory is a book of mnemonic that lavishes attention on the smallest elements of our tongue— on the individual alphabetic character. Like bp nichol her countryman, Cole understands why petulant pixies clamor for Frosted Flakes. Who is JJ? What happens when a little inverted c is placed over the actual c in the proper name Bavčar? Well, she is a wonder and I’ve anagrammed her own name endless times, clear moon, name color, coral omen, elm corona, need I say more.

Kate Greenstreet | Case Sensitive | Ahsahta Press | 2006

Kate Greenstreet’s first book came as a surprise to me, having been burned by a few other Ahsahta publications in earlier years. Now I see thanks to a handy list in the back of the book, that there have been just as many Ahsahta titles I’ve enjoyed as the ones I remembered dismissing. Just goes to show me how easily stereotype draws me in. I wonder how many folks think of Krupskaya in the same way. Tried one, didn’t care for it, the rest are probably all shit as well. In Kate Greenstreet’s case, the book itself is physically lovely with that thick lustrous yellowy paper that’s like a cross between buttermilk and cheesecloth. Above all else her book reminded me of the classic work from Kathleen Fraser I first learned to love in the early 80s, and it even comes with Fraser’s own [brackets] and signs of domestic life made fraught by a highly tuned consciousness, and her overheard scrap[s of enigmatic Antonioniesque fragments of conversation— and with a blurb by Fraser on top of it all. But she is more than— I mean other than—a poet in the How/ever mode, she has her own prosody (seen at its best in a small poem like “phone tap,” so perfect it must have been written with a diamond on glass—and her own trips to take and dare.

Kate Greenstreet | This Is Why I Hurt You | Lame House | 2008

In five sections, This Is Why I Hurt You acts as a severe corrective to the pingings of consciousness featured in Case Sensitive, Greenstreet’s previous book. The flatness and foundness of the material here allows for all sorts of interpretation, but it beats a path away from the numinous, into a celebration of the reflexivity of ordinary USA syntax. “He had these big sharp claws on his hooves, and sometimes he’d put one u[p on me.” Didn’t I read this, in Little House in the Big Woods? “I understood it as the part of our mind where art comes from.”  That’s from William James via Gertrude Stein. “And I hoped he wouldn’t scratch me with them, because that would really hurt.”  I don’t know, Bastard Out of Carolina? American sigils fill this little book to the point of bursting, like fifteen sweeps down my chimney. That’s the fairy tale of the US—it will leave a mark.

Kreg Hasegawa | The New Crustacean | Green Zone | 2008

This young man is writing flash fiction that sits right on the chasm between the prose poem and the traditional short story. Is it parody? Not quite, though Hasegawa delights in his puns and his wordplay, enough to allow it to direct the action from the inside out. “What poetry,” he asks, “can you quote from that can’t possibly poison you back?”  So there’s an awareness of the risk involved in writing, a picnic phenomenology. One long story—I use the word “long: in quotes because most of these stories could be written on the surface of an aspirin with a laser beam—one long story is the title piece, “The New Crustacean,” in which a traveler, meeting with a terrible accident (or other trauma?) becomes the victim of a pair of bad Samaritans in khaki. I’m still scratching my head about how beautiful it is. On another front he uses his close watch over words as a strategy for characterization, or the sensuality that leads from it. “Her life was something I had glazed myself with, or poured myself over, slowly, like gravy. I was something to make meat moist.”  You don’t often hear people reveal so much of themselves, not even in fiction, and definitely not in poetry. Grosbeaks fly in and out of the stories like the moths in Robin Blaser’s Moth Poem. This guy Hasegawa has it, as my little nephew says, going on.

Donato Mancini | Æthel | New Star Books | 2007

At Naropa, Allen Ginsberg spoke of Gertrude Stein’s project as “building little sculptures out of words.” I thought of his, well perhaps rather patronizing description when trying to describe to a former student just what Donato Mancini’s book Wilcox Æthel is all about. It’s a little difficult to show you what he’s doing without illustrations, but luckily Johanna Drucker has written it up on the back of the book and I can crib from her. She avers that Æthel is based on Mancini’s “appropriation of typefaces” and that he uses type we’re used to in other contexts to stand on its head our conventional wisdom on them. In practice even I can see that Mancini twists, stretches, reverses and entwines these fonts into garlands and blobs to satirize our preoccupation with reading itself, for one can barely make out a single word, though each poem has suggestions of words in it. Rather like birds building nests from particles that top scientists might be able to identify individually. Dodie and I printed some selections of Æthel in our zine, Mirage #4/Period[ical]. We’re baby boomers so we recognized the font Jim Morrison and the Doors used again and again as their logo, but what Mancini did with it is provocation in the highest.

Filip Marinovich | Zero Readership| Ugly Duckling | 2008

I had this book and couldn’t remember how I had it, even though the inscription was a warm one. Then it came to me like a flashback in a Resnais film—me, like Emmanuelle Riva, distracted, at Canessa Park the city’s most unreliable art gallery, at a poetry reading. Him, Filip Marinovich, perfectly pleasant and gamin offering me his book in good faith I imagine, but me preoccupied by professional problems hardly gave him the time of day. A curtain of shame falls across Emmanuelle Riva’s piquant features. She lies to friends, pretends she doesn’t care. In the meantime the book grows bigger every day in her hands. Well it is, as he had told her, “an epic,” a massive, oversized account of poetic activity in Montenegro, Belgrade, New York, the savage capitals of torn and bruised faith. Marinovich’s soulful, notebooky lyrics etch out the struggle of the artist in hard times and the refugee making his way from palace to soup kitchen with an élan invincible. You can feel the slushy snow, you can smell the smoke, you can certainly take or leave the hardboiled Serbian refugee family with their sage advice and their magic realism and Grammas Nada and Mercy. The epic is structured in roughly the same proportions as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, as an accumulation of mass leading to apocalyptic takeoff, but in Marinovich’s hands this progression turns into a “new tune in the oxygen mix.” Well done дечко!

Lisa Robertson | Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip | Coach House Books | 2009

Alana Wilcox has again designed what seems like a perfect book, and it’s not magenta but rather a yellowish greenish chartreuse halfway between pear and olive—thus the suggestion of the magenta fairly pops out like one of those old Jasper Johns’ paintings of the Canadian flag. Robertson’s seventh book of poetry works differently than some of her others, and it mostly nearly approaches the way other people make up books of poetry, by accretion, a drifting into the harbor of the book the isolated moments of a lifetime of work. But hers are not like yours or mine, instead this is the work of one who can say with some pride, “My fidelity is my own disaster.”  Its a heraldic book, but as its title suggests, a sassy, almost a Debbie Allen sort of book too. It might be her best book!  If not, I predict that it will vie with a few others as many people’s favorite book by her. Robertson is coming from a place in which a tormented silence insists, “When women are exiled it seems normal,” and these poems are the tufts of marsh grass on which, like Eliza, the exile finds her footing in the rush of the restaurant/river.

Jared Stanley | Book Made of Forest | Salt Cambridge | 2009

If I ever publish another book I want Graham Foust and Bhanu Kapil to write blurbs for it!  Jared Stanley, on top of winning the Crashaw prize that resulted in the publication of this book, Foust and Kapil wrote these great blurbs on top of it. Now as for Crashaw, I’m looking and looking and it took me nearly a week of re-reading the entertaining and exciting poems of Book Made of Forest, and I just wasn’t feeling the “Crashaw” reference, but then it came to me… The historical Crashaw, who lived nearly 400 years ago, wrote as many poems after turning Roman Catholic as he did before it—poems of objects joked together in the metaphysical style, poems in which a simple comparison balloons out concentrically into a dirigible capable of lifting the planet off its hinges. Thus the play Foust makes out of Stanley’s title, the book made of forest which Foust examines in the Crashevian style, relinquishing his hold on the metaphor to Arshile Gorky’s notorious boast of destruction. “I love it,” reads one of Stanley’s poems, in its entirety, “it’s so dead/ it’s straightforward.”  I admire this continual stretching for it, and for the most part Stanley succeeds in the form of his creation. The only thing he can’t do, or hardly ever, is finish a poem as resoundingly as it begins. Maybe that’s the point, in which case, OK.

Suzanne Stein | Hole in Space | OMG! | 2009

“You went to the conference speculating on the expanded field of writing, and I went to work.” The truth is, some of us have to go to work, but Suzanne Stein’s little chapbook, produced by Brandon Brown’s ingenious OMG! press, punches a hole in space and into the formulation. You might call this a conceptual piece of writing, certainly it winds up with a  eerie J B Priestley hole in time, for Stein takes us to a November 2008 event at the Poetry Project in New York, where she is delivering a talk in cold Manhattan, while in southern California fires are burning down whole coastal regions. The talk apes ordinary human speech, but it has an aspect of prophecy to it, Edgar Cayce the Sleeping prophet, for Stein announces that in four months time she will repeat every word of the talk a Manhattan tech is now recording, in an art gallery space in San Francisco. The second half of the book gives us the text of her San Francisco talk, and for those of us who were there at Canessa Park, the book presents an eerie souvenir of one occasion when the past completely predicated the present. We all know there are scripts we are doomed to repeat, but Hole in Space makes it all come real, the tangle at the end of the mind. And yes, that was the gallery space in which young Filip Marinovich and I shared one stolen moment of brief encounter.

More Kevin Killian here.