Archive for the ‘Commented List’ Category
Bhanu Kapil | (a poem-essay, or precursor: NOTES: for a novel: Ban en Banlieues) | Belladonna* | 2011
Because lying in the street for a long time is beautiful and necessary and also violent.
Matthew Goulish | 39 Microlectures | Routledge | 2000
“Do whatever you need to with this book, and, if possible, do not let it damage your thoughts.”
Pamela Lu | Pamela: A Novel | Atelos | 1998
It took me a long time to get to this, and now I need to get to the next one, but I loved its intimacy and searching.
Octavia Butler | Kindred | Doubleday | 1979
This novel is amazing in its movement through time and in its narrative voice, which is crystalline.
Amanda Ackerman | The Seasons Cemented | Hex Presse | 2010
Like paying attention to a single line in a highly ornamental design, and then the next one, and then the next. Empty space is there too.
Violette Leduc, trans. Derek Coltman | The Lady and the Little Fox Fur | Peter Owen | 1967
There is pleasure in this short novel, for a character and for a reader, even when it seems as if a word like ‘pleasure’ should have gone missing.
Ronaldo Wilson | Poems of the Black Object | Futurepoem | 2009
Dreaming until it takes shape. And then achingly clear.
Marguerite Duras, trans. Eileen Ellenbogen | The Vice-Consul | Pantheon | 1968
A “sequel” of sorts to The Ravishing of Lol Stein, there’s a humor in this novel I haven’t found in other works by Duras.
Renee Gladman | TOAF | Atelos | 2008
The kind of book that makes one want to write; I would follow this narrative voice wherever it took me.
Danielle Dutton | Sprawl | Siglio | 2010
The accumulations become more and more addicting and so do the shining singularities.
Amina Cain is the author of I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues, 2009). She lives in Los Angeles.
Back to 2011 directory.
Susan Howe | Souls of the Labadie Track | New Directions | 2007
George Stanley | Vancouver | New Star | 2008
Rae Armantrout | Versed | Wesleyan | 2009
Emmanuel Hocquard | Une Grammaire de Tanger, vols. I-II | cipM | 2007 & 2009
This not altogether arbitrary constellation of texts occupied me so thoroughly in the summer and early fall of 2009 that I abandoned my usual custom of trying to “catch up” with the other books I’d missed during the academic year. Now, if I could only salvage the long essay that grew out of this reading—with excursions into social media, Viktor Shklovsky’s “red elephant,” Roland Barthes’s “neutral,” Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Course of a Particular,” and lots of other odds & ends—I’d feel less like a dope.
Thomas Pynchon | V. | Lippincott | 1961
Not sure why I was so slow in coming to Pynchon. Something about the reputation put me off—as did a certain species of (inevitably male) graduate student whose admiration for him awoke the opposite in me back in the nineties. I waited to tackle Gravity’s Rainbow until the summer and fall of 2006, and then had the good luck to join an Against the Day “deathmarch” that a friend of Rodney Koeneke’s organized in the winter and spring of 2007. Last summer I purchased Inherent Vice on its pub date and read it quickly and easily as August waned in a gesture of “contemporaneity”—I wanted to read a book of his while it was new. V. is, in a way, my “favorite”: lexically, it remains startlingly fresh; the syntax, sentence by sentence, is a little simpler than in Gravity’s Rainbow, but it crackles with ingenious combinations and doesn’t “blur” as often as in that masterpiece; and there’s a levity—not withstanding some very dark subject matter—that charms, even at a distance of nearly fifty years.
Bob Dylan | Chronicles, Volume One | Simon & Schuster | 2004
David Hadju | Positively 4th Street | Farrar | 2001
Martin Scorsese, dir. | No Direction Home | Spitfire Pictures | 2005
Because Richard Farina had been Pynchon’s roommate at Cornell, and because I remember Jennifer liking it back nearer to its release date, I decided to interleave Hadju’s Positively Fourth Street with my first pass through V. The Dylan therein portrayed is hard to like, which I confess suits my state of burn out, not so much with Dylan as with his worshipers, just fine, even if the account of the Farinas struck me as unbalanced in the other direction. Dave van Ronk in the present, the British boo-ers, and the historical footage were what I liked best Scorsese’s fan letter, though its recipient-subject’s spoken timbre was nice, too.
Samuel Beckett, ed. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck | The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 | Cambridge | 2009
In addition to affording me an unexpected apprenticeship to Beckett’s acute eye for visual art— I took advantage of the meticulous footnotes to track down digital images of many of the paintings he mentions—this volume also taught me a lot about cysts, understatement, and friendship. The last chance trip through Hitler’s Germany is a highlight, as are the letters mentioning Beckett’s fateful psychoanalysis with Bion, about whom I’d like to know more. Along the way, I couldn’t help dipping into More Pricks Than Kicks, Gontaski’s edition of The Complete Short Prose, and the relevant chapters in Knowlson’s Damned to Fame, and I now look forward to rereading Murphy for the first time since 1987, though I cringe in handling the battered and slightly smelly paperback that I evidently paid three dollars for used in some Hillcrest bookshop—may be time to invest in a fresh copy (and anyway, I always underline the same passages, no matter how much time has passed between readings).
Handel, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner | Acis & Galatea (1718) | Deutsche Grammophon | 1979
The exquisite symmetry and line-by-line brilliance of the libretto by Alexander Pope and John Gay combine with Handel’s Stein-like mania for repetition (“da capo”!) to produce the best account of desire’s circuitry to reach my ears of late. Saw the Boston Early Music Festival’s production in the fall & have been wearing out the CD, whose Polyphemus (of the “capacious mouth”) I find more convincing, since.
Jacques Lacan | Le Séminaire, Livre XVII: L’envers de la psychanalyse, 1969-1970 | Seuil | 1991
Jacques Lacan, trans. Russell Grigg | The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis | Norton 2007
Weaving between Grigg’s English and the original text as established by J-A Miller, with plenty of swerves back into Freud (esp. the dream of the butcher’s witty wife and the paper “A Child Is Being Beaten”), and out into the archive of historical unrest just following 1968, I slowly—it took most of a year—made it through this perhaps liveliest and timeliest of Lacan’s many seminars. I adore the seminar form (Barthes on The Neutral, Kojève on Hegel, etc.), and am always astonished by Lacan’s perverse inhabitation of its conventions, which he systematically deranges with all the cunning condensations, displacements, and half-sayings of Freud’s “dreamwork,” supplemented by a humor that is dry and Duchampian one moment, hot and “hysterical” the next.
For a while, I enjoyed the ghostly company of some “slacker Lacanians” who joined a Facebook group (called “Selon Lacan” in homage to the Vancouver-based “Lacan Salon”) with the intention of reading Seminar XVII together. Nearly none of us carried through, but it was an interesting experiment in dispersed intellectual community using a platform otherwise devoted mostly to channel-flooding triviality.
Brian Eno | Another Green World | EG | 1975
David Sheppard’s 2008 biography, On Some Faraway Beach, abused the adjective “bespoke,” the verb “essay,” and several synonyms for premature baldness in the course of 450 dutiful, enthusiastic, and well-informed pages. Geeta Dayal’s contribution to Continuum’s 33 1/3 project— which, judging from several posts to the series’ blog, didn’t come easy—is more modest in scope, and though it mutes the note of “idiot glee” without which Eno comes off as just a pretentious ass, it did lead me into a round of close and repeated listens (to Here Come the Warm Jets, too) that solved nicely the problem of what to do with my ears while driving for more than a month.
Denis Diderot, trans. Jacques Barzun | Rameau’s Nephew | Doubleday | 1956
Myself: Gently, dear fellow. Look and tell me—I shan’t take your uncle as an example. He is a hard man, brutal, inhuman, miserly, a bad father, bad husband, and bad uncle. And it is by no means sure that he is a genius who has advanced his art to such a point that ten years from now we shall still discuss his works. Take Racine instead—there was a genius, and his reputation as a man was none too good. Take Voltaire—
He: Don’t press the point too far: I am a man to argue with you.
Myself: Well, which would you prefer—that he should have been a good soul, at one with his ledger, like Briasson, or with his yardstick, like Barbier; legitimately getting his wife with child annually—a good husband, good father, good uncle, good neighbor, fair trader and nothing more; or that he should have been deceitful, disloyal, ambitious, envious, and mean, but also the creator of Andromaque, Britannicus, Iphigénie, Phèdre, and Athalie?
He: For himself I daresay it would have been better to be the former.
Myself: That is infinitely truer than you think.
He: There you go, you fellows! If we say anything good, it’s like lunatics or people possessed—by accident. It’s only people like you who really know what they’re saying. I tell you, Master Philosopher, I know what I say and know it as well as you know what you say. (13-14).
Another “swerve” out of Lacan’s Seminar XVII, with incentive added by the fascinating role this text—in Goethe’s translation—plays in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Highly recommended.
Matthew Weiner, creator and exec. producer | Mad Men | AMC | 2007-
Conjures the taste of the maraschino cherry from my father’s Manhattan on my childhood tongue and all that it intimated about the catastrophe of masculinity. The casting, costuming, scripting, and small-screen mise-en-scène are frequently faultless—pace, for example, “Guy Walks into an Ad Agency,” from season three—and the glance back at an “adult” world long since extinguished by a youth culture that squeezes even geezers into skinny jeans & hoodies is weirdly entrancing. As Noël Coward presciently asked in 1955, “What’s going to happen to the children / When there aren’t any more grown-ups?” Mad Men is a kind of an answer.
Alice Notley | Reason and Other Women | Chax | 2010
Andrew Joron | Trance Archive | City Lights | 2010
Aaron Kunin | The Sore Throat | Fence | 2010
My quick take on “trance” poetics is here. Even a squib can take months of reading!
Bob Perelman & Michael Golston, organizers | Rethinking Poetics | Columbia & University of Pennsylvania | 2010
Anne Waldman et al., organizers | Summer Writing Program | Naropa | 2010
I went directly from one (Columbia) to the other (Naropa) and so had more poetry-centric personal contact in a ten day stretch in June than I would normally experience in a year. Both spaces were fraught with anxiety, and even antagonism, but I found them exhilarating anyway, especially in the interstices, where kindness, curiosity, and a shared commitment to making language do unexpected things tended to dispel the negativity that the “official proceedings” (especially at Columbia) so often generated. Joanne Kyger’s ability to transform a drab hotel room in Boulder into an oasis of sociability through the deft placement of a very few but beautiful objects holds the place here for all the other pleasures I experienced during those ten days—that and her wonderful advice, frequently sung, “Don’t explain!”
Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge | 2009
The title of Nichols’s book, to my ear, indicates a kind of linguistic density that actually the poems inside don’t much have—instead you get poems of such emotional authority and seriousness of purpose that immediately I was ready to go anywhere with them. There’s lightness and levity as well, lots, but it’s in the refreshing context of feeling like the poet really, deeply knows what she’s doing, I mean really. Even the formal moves, the spacing, leaving phrases off in space, composition by field and the like, has a kind of rightness and intentionality to it that I don’t often accept so unquestionly. This is the kind of book I take around with me to remind me how to write as well as how to read. What else can I say? I know it came out last year and was mentioned often then, but I just love this book
Aaron Kunin | The Sore Throat & Other Poems | Fence | 2010
A lot of writers are influnced by philosophy, but Kunin is one of very few living poet I know where I feel like I’m reading someone with truly philosophical sensibilities and skills, i.e. who really lives in a Kantian or maybe in this case more a Spinozian reality. What his work shows, I think, is in part how much feeling there is in thinking, and also how much pleasure there is in the artistic distanciation of self-conciousness
Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues Poetry & Prose | 2010
I’m not entirely persuaded by all the elements of Mattawa’s work, but I like to mention him since I think he’s completely worthwhile yet almost completely off the radar of most self-identified experimental writers. This makes sense if you read his early, more conventional and overly-wringing writing, or if you look at those who blurb his books, etc., but this book is serious and thoughtful about its politics, courageous in its formal experimentation, and fervent in its contempt for false emotion. If you read one book blurbed by Yusef Komunyakaa this year, it should be this one, etc.
Brenda Iijima, ed. | eco language reader | Nightboat | 2010
To the properly sceptical this book probably won’t, and probably shouldn’t, prove there’s a new movement or even a new sensibility afoot, but whatever Iijima’s anthology is or isn’t claiming in those terms it is certainly very well edited, filled with a great group of contributors, and embarrasingly rich with new ideas and new passions.
Laura Moriarty | A Tonalist | Nightboat | 2010
I should perhaps recuse myself here since I’m one of Laura’s “A Tonalists,” but whether the pseudo-movement/anti-movement/non-movement of the title has any reality or not, Moriarty has used the idea of groups and groupings to make a fierce, delicate, layered text that stands as a work, and an art, of its own.
Douglas Rothschild | Theogony | Subpress | 2009
Rothschild has, basically, a classical sensibility (where “classical” is considered as running the gamut from the unadornedness of certain ancient greek writers to the unadornedness of Ted Berrigan), which is then shot through with a whole lot of eccentric, baroque intelligence. I may have been a little less taken with the long middle section about NYC than some: it’s what seem to be framed as the more “minor” poems that really have stayed with me. And in a way that makes perfect sense because the significance of the minor is what Rothschild himself is so productively interested in.
Tan Lin | Heath (Plagiarism/Outsource) | Zasterle | 2009
There’s something fascinating about limit cases, and Lin has been exploring those frontiers for a few books now, but this is the first time I really & completely got it. I like to carry around what I’ll call Heath (the title is a subject of debate by the way) just to show aspiring conceptualists how tepid and obvious their plans often are, by comparison. Really I can’t think of another book that seems to have gone farther off the grid of our presumptions about “the book” and “poetry” than this pleasantly transgressive text. It’s a further mystery that it remains, inexplicably, rather readable (with the right kind of approach). Everything in it—images, computer code, emails, texts—have the feeling of being placed, not overly systematically, but such that they beg for your own thinking to complete them.
Michael Cross, Thom Donovan, Kyle Schlesinger, eds. | ON: Contemporary Practice, Issue #2 | Cuneiform | 2010
Some will say the structure of this magazine, where poets talk about the work of poets, will only add to the feeling that experimental poetry is a small coterie with a secret knock to get in. Others, including me, find ON to be just what was lacking, and will find it far less about in-group backslapping than one might presume (very much like the Attention Span project, which has a lot in common with ON). Coterie is a sword of the two-edged variety, and ON is a much needed venue for poets to not only talk about works by their contemporaries but to fashion a renewed sense of basic, shared critical values.
Yedda Morrison | Girl Scout Nation | Displaced Press | 2008
This is the oldest book on my list but I only just got to read it. I had the pleasure of hearing a lot of the poems in this book for a few years at various readings, but the effect of reading them all together is fierce and splendid and at an entirely other level. Anger and love seem to be Morrison’s twin obsessions here and in other works—the love that both lies and lies in every anger, maybe. These concerns dovetail into her starkly eco/feminist/activist/understandably-pissed-off approach in ways that I find enviously original. She’s doing some great work and to me this book is both sweeping and, despite or because of the intensity, suprisingly personal.
Tyrone Williams | The Hero Project of the Century | The Backwaters Press | 2010
Unlike a decade ago Williams is not a secret anymore, but he’s still one of those poets I always read no matter what. I’d say I liked this book just a sliver less than On Spec, but it’s still terrific. Compared to On Spec it’s driven a bit more by content than form, but regardless TW is always, to me, most compelling in the way he works with linguistic density, counterpunctuating it with sudden moments of simple anger and direct content. I never thought enjambed aesthetic complexity could come across as so persuasive and natural, but it is here.
aRb (ar)/ARB (Rb) | joy as Tiresome Vandalism | if p then q then others | 2008
Definitely acquired from James Davies up in Manchester. I have had these two beautifully wax-sealed documents. I didn’t want to open them, that is a shame because I finally broke the seal of one today to find a wondrously spineless collaboration with public spaces both poetic and photographic. As chance would have it I opened them incorrectly (2nd first, etc) This has the feeling of poetic grab-bag, especially in the confusion of my opening them wrong. This is a wonderful response project.
Elizabeth Bryant | (nevertheless enjoyment | Quale | 2010
Fantastic book—an inquisition of what if or what were in that space of nevertheless? Where it not this, were it not what it is in this temporal state. Clever in what is not said as it is in what is. The title, (nevertheless enjoyment crafts the book and utilizes the itself to its utmost possibility, denoted by space itself, the reader must remind themselves of the title again and again—with each new page and poem. Deliberate wanton poetic spaces, hapless and wondrous, with numerous possibility toward further want and understanding.
Harry Gilonis | North Hill | Free Poetry | December 2009
A syntactic consequence or take on two classical Chinese Poets, Tu mu and Yu Hsüan-chi —Gilonis makes the ancients new again. Each poem begins, or quite a way after Tu Mu (c. 803-852 AD) (or Yu Hsüan-chi 844-869 AD)
open window winds in snow
embrace embrasure open wine
yawning like a yawl in the rain
unreefed asleep solitude a star
for Peter Manson bis Mallarmé
Danielle Pafunda | iatrogenic: their tesitmonies | noemi | 2010
Wicked. Pafunda is at her best. Even had you dared to get iatrogenic with her, well it’s no surprise she beat us all in her craft and cunning. Though I do wonder if their is a poetic possibility of iatrogenic disorder we as poets could, say inherit or intuit from our poet forbears? Perhaps this is what Pafunda is trying to get at, versus owning the role of palpitating patient? Hypnotically hip and positively derisive!
Kaia Sand | Remember to Wave | Tinfish | 2010
Here, the poet (Sand) crosses into new genre or territory of poet toward that of poet-journalist. Remember to Wave should be read as testimony, a position of witness in a time the world we live in simply want to forget. Tracing the city on foot, Sand unveils the lost story, a story that is told more through the landscape of archives as it is through the contemporary retelling of the Japanese-American POW camp experiences, and subsequent devastation of a people and culture. An incredible beauty is also unveiled in the city’s foot-journey and Sand’s mapped coordinates, and it is this: Every city needs a poet like Sand. In her own way, Sand challenges every poet to take on the city in which they live and perhaps bear the witness or voice of those that can no longer tell the story.
David Wolach | OCCULTATIONS | Black Radish | 2010
Wolach’s Occultations is at once bawdy, beautiful and electrifying. No stops are missed, whether it be textural vispo imagery sidling other occultations and palimpsestic frameworks of a new body-poetic taxonomy. If ever a book needed to stand for a poet as they are daily as much as they are poetic, Occultations meets that challenge as it speaks plainly as well as being concurrently laden with contradictory fire and in your face farce— ‘in the forest in the dilated pores of firenight/ I dare you to devour me’.
Jeff Hilson, ed. | The Reality Street Book of Sonnets | Reality Street | 2008
This is an amazing, must have collection of sonnets. I am a bit embarrassed that I did not have a copy until now. The amazing breadth and inclusion even of very anti-sonnet sonnets is fantastic. Notably for me, Sean Bonney’s, Astrophil and Stella, Bern Porter’s Sonnet for An Elizabethan Virgin (imagine oA oA oA oA oA in a sonnet), or Mary Ellen Solt’s Moon Shot Sonnet, Paul Duton’s sonic so’net (s), Alan Halsey’s Discomposed Sonnets, John Gibbens’ leaf matter sonnets, from Underscore, or Philip Nikoayev’s Letters from Aldenderry, for which I must add I once asked, what is the opposite of an erasure…I think Nikolayev has given me the answer here. Props to Hilson and Reality Street for getting this beauty into the world.
Recently acquired goodies which I am very excited about reading…
Cara Benson | (made) | book thug | 2010
Francesca Lisette |As the Rushes Were (chapbook) | Grasp | 2010
Tom Jenks | * | if p then q | 2010
Tom Jenks | a priori | if p then q | 2008
Brenda Iijima | If Not Metaphoric | Ashanta | 2010
Zoe Skoulding |You will have your own Cathedral (with cd) | Seren | 2008
Scott Thurston | Internal Rhyme | Shearsman | 2010
Scott Thurston, ed. | The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk | Salt | 007
I got to see Byrne, Myles and Wagner read this summer, sadly did not get my hands on their books (yet). But all gave amazing readings and I will get their books before the new year.
Mairéad Byrne | The Best of (what’s left of) Heaven (first edition) | Publishing Genius | na
Eileen Myles | Inferno: ( a Poet’s Novel | OR Press | 2010
Catherine Wagner | My New Job | Fence | 2009
Mark Weiss, ed. | The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry | California | 2009
Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker | The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic | Beacon | 2000
Robin D. G. Kelley | Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original | Free Press | 2009
Hugh Kennedy | The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In | Da Capo | 2007
Ned Sublette | The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans | Lawrence Hill | 2009
Rodger Kamenetz | The History of Last Night’s Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul | Harper One | 2007
Norman Fischer | Questions/Places/Voices/Seasons | Singing Horse | 2009
cris cheek | part: short life housing | The Gig | 2009
Barbara Henning | Aerial View India; Cities & Memory; An Arc Falling into the Bougainvillea; Twirling, the Spirit Flies Off Like a Falcon | Long News | 2004; 2007; 2008; 2010
George Tysh | The Imperfect | United Artists | 2010
Ted Greenwald | In Your Dreams | Blazevox | 2008
Patti Smith | Just Kids | Ecco | 2010
I read this as the sun went down during a three hour layover at the Philadelphia airport turning what looked to be three of life’s most tedious hours into three of its most magical.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi | The Soul at Work | Semitotext(e) | 2010
“The mobile phone makes possible the connection between the needs of semio-capital and the mobilization of the living labor of cyber-space. The ringtone of the mobile phone calls the workers to reconnect their abstract time to the reticular flows”
Word to Bifo.
David Brazil | Spy Wednesday | TAXT | 2010
David Brazil | 1-18-09 | @ A Voicebox | 2009
“One is not permitted to forget that/this world is ordered as it is/according to protocols of violence/& exploitation. On which we/batten.” (from Spy Wednesday)
Anne Boyer | The 2000s: A History of the Future in Advance of Itself
“I wrote yet another revolutionary email. The revolutionary email said: ‘Culture is a barbarism against the soul’ & ‘because I have loved so many others the stakes are not myself.’”
Laura Moriarty, ed. | A Tonalist Poetry Feature | Jacket #40 | 2010
Laura Moriarty, ed. | A Tonalist Poetry Feature | Aufgabe #8 | 2010
“Some people write lyric poetry because they just want to and think it’s great. Some write it though they think it’s impossible. The latter are A Tonalists.”
So much incredible writing in these two sections that I can’t even begin to name favorites. Both sections have been inexhaustible resources of pleasure & inspiration this year.
Thom Donovan | Wild Horses of Fire | whof.blogspot.com | ongoing
Thom’s blog is an incredible ever evolving constellation of art writing, poems (his own & others), proposals, calls for action, & always, more generally, a call for re-thinking. Astonishing intelligence is mated here to astonishing warmth.
Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | California | 2010
Lisa Robertson | The Lisa Robertson Issue; ed. Dan Thomas Glass | With+Stand #4 | 2010
Glass’ great editorial work in the Lisa Robertson issue of With + Stand made for a beautiful & diverse companion while reading through R’s Boat this spring in one long extended sigh of happy envy.
Lisa Howe | Sensible Sensations | unpublished manuscript | 2010
This long poem of Lisa’s is a work of ekphrasis (written after a show by Cincinnati artist Matt Morris), & also a celebration of community, written with a special consideration for the artists & writers & musicians in Cincinnati’s Brighton neighborhood. I had the pleasure to hear Lisa read it twice this spring, & each time the dynamism & loveliness of the writing linked me up to the loveliness & dynamism of our local experience together.
Lauren Dolgen, concept | Teen Mom | MTV | 2010
Too powerful, complex & problematic to say a lot about here, but this is the first reality series I’ve ever loved, if that’s what I should say about how this show makes me feel.
Mark Fisher | Capitalist Realism | Zero Books | 2010
“So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange.”
Helene Cixous | Three Steps of the Ladder of Writing | Columbia | 1993
Brandon Brown | The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catallus | Unpublished ms | 2010
A friend sent me the Cixous thinking I’d like it & boy oh boy was he right! With the Patti Smith thing this book has been the calibrating writing of my summer. I’ve read it twice & keep going back, & every time I end up exhilarated, dying to read all the books she’s attending, & dying to write more books of my own. Outstanding! As to Brown’s translation of Catallus I’ve been reading this book off and on through out the year& it’s as big, as stupefying & wondrous as the universe itself. Don’t sleep.
Nguyen Trai, trans. from Han and Nom by Paul Hoover and Nguyen Do | Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai | Counterpath | 2010
Nguyen Trai lived in Vietnam from 1380-1422. The poems are direct depictions of daily life—intimate, immediate, funny, speaking of political turmoil, exile, competition, fear, desire, writing. “To a Friend”: “Your poverty and infirmity make me feel pity / Like me, you must be crazy. / Like me you’re exiled from your motherland / And have read only a few sentences out of books.” Trai is revered in Vietnam as one of the two greatest poets in the country’s history and is also known as a national hero for his role in helping to overthrow the Minh Dynasty, which had controlled Vietnam for centuries. That story is told in the shift from writing in Han to Nom.
Inger Christensen, trans. from the Danish by Susanna Nied | Alphabet | New Directions | 2001
A book-length abecedarian, structured according to the Fibonacci numerical sequence, the poem is a hymn to what is, to what “exists.” “Apricot trees exist. Apricot trees exist.” Or, for “c”: “Cicadas exist, chicory, chromium / citrus trees; cicadas exist / cicadas, citrus, cypresses, the cerebellum.” Deep engagement with the natural world does not preclude acknowledgment of (fear of) things human: loneliness exists, and “Icarus-children white as lambs / in greylight.” This is an incredible translation, which keeps the abecedarian always in view without allowing it to destroy meaning or music. The book was originally published in 1981 in Danish. It has a permanent home on my desk when it’s not in my bag or my hand.
Emily Dickinson, ed. R.W. Franklin | The Poems of Emily Dickinson | Belknap | 1999
Reading all the poems in the fascicles, in order, with a group of approximately fifteen other poets, writers, and scholars. Reading very slowly, very carefully. It should take at least a year and half.
Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | California | 2010
Alongside The Weather this is my favorite of Robinsons’ books. I especially return to “Utopia”: “The crows are still cutting the sky in half with their freckling eastward wake.” Long lines work the sentence through a deeply lyrical intelligence. Aphoristic, enigmatic, musical, charged with a kind of desire that is never far from critique. “Money is ordinary and truly vernal.”
Matthew Cooperman | Still of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move | Counterpath | forthcoming
Language from everywhere: books, television, news, movies, web, songs, memory pulled together, thrown together, over-the-top mash-up, but with a serious reason to be. This is political work, personal work, a cultural encyclopedia driven by doubt and passion, barely under control. An amazing reading experience, feels visceral.
Anne Carson and Rashaun Mitchell | Nox (the dance) | Performed at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art | July 20, 2010
Carson read her text (or some of it) while dancer/choreographer Mitchell and the incredible Silas Riener performed an outrageously varied, spacious, and intense duet (both men dance for the Cunningham company, but the piece has none of the coolness or cerebral quality of Cunningham.) This dance allowed Carson’s text to become much more immediate and powerful than it is in the book itself, which is fascinating, but somewhat removed. Not so the dance.
Joseph Lease | Testify | Coffee House | forthcoming
Gorgeous book driven by a particular blend of disgust and compassion that only Lease can pull off. Repetition, direct statement, directed through a careful musical composition: “in my body, 4 a.m. in my body, breading and olives and cherries. Wait, it’s all rotten.” This book feels necessary, precise, demanding.
Tomaz Salamun, ed. Thomas Kane, trans. Thomas Kane et al. | There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair | Counterpath | 2009
Reading Salumun is a very particular pleasure. Hearing him read is a revelation. Publishing this book meant that I read it many times over, and it still remains a mystery (or a series of mysteries), but one that is lodged permanently in my mind.
Apollinaire | Alcools
Re-Reading by translating with Jennifer Pap. In this sense, reading for the first time.
C.D. Wright | Rising, Falling, Hovering | Copper Canyon | 2008
For me Wright is central. This work in particular has a complexity (multiple voices, narratives, positions, locales) that nonetheless stays grounded and urgent. Again, the work’s rhythms support, drive and motivate its concerns.