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Attention Span 2011 | Robert Stanton

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Rae Armantrout | Money Shot | Wesleyan | 2011

“Just” another incredible book from Armantrout, maybe even her greatest to date. Her best poems—personal favourites here include “Across,” “Fuel” “Soft Money,” “Exact” & “This Is”—are the best poems being written in America (& in American) right now.

Larry Eigner, ed. Curtis Faville & Robert Grenier | The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner | Stanford | 2010

A whole new way of seeing—& of thinking/feeling/recording what is seen. What more can one ask of a poet? I’m still ploughing through the four volume set, but this already feels like a major event in my reading life. . . .

Graham Foust | To Anacreon in Heaven | Minus A | 2010

Just when Foust’s more usual gallows-humour-driven expressionistic-minimalist style was in danger of edging into shtick, he diversifies—in this & in To Graham Foust on the Morning of His Fortieth Birthday (The Song Cave, 2010)—into sentence-by-sentence prose meditation, retaining his virtues in concision & upset but presenting them on a much bigger canvas. Like a colder Spicer, a more fucked-up Stevens, he rejuvenates the serial-poem-about-poetry-that’s-really-about-life for a more cynical age. Where will he go next?

Mark Ford | Six Children | Faber | 2011

What a strange, troubling & strangely moving volume this is. Ford’s poetry has been described as a cross between Ashbery’s & Larkin’s—fairly accurately, it must be said, although in itself this doesn’t prepare for the absolute oddness of such an amalgam. A deep student of the New York School, & of Ashbery in particular, Ford can’t summon the playfulness, optimism or confidence of his American forebears, replacing them with chilly despair, repressed anxiety & mortal dread. Death pervades—elegies to the poet’s father, a memorial to a friend & fellow poet—along with a new, for Ford, post-colonial nostalgia-slash-guilt. Like the title poem, which thrillingly instills an ambivalent Whitman with appropriate Miltonic splendor, this book works, & is curiously uplifting in its dejection. Also recommended, on a similarly morbid note: Paul Muldoon’s new volume, Maggot (Faber, 2011).

Barbara Guest | Forces of Imagination | Kelsey St. | 2003

Alongside Eigner & Zanzotto (see below), my third big, belated discovery of the year was, courtesy of John Wilkinson’s critical advocacy, Barbara Guest. I’m still working (wandering) through her Collected Poems, but this collection of “essays” and assorted reflections really caught my attention: a more convincing, fluid meeting of “theory” & “poetry” than any “Language” text I’ve ever encountered. True & precious abstraction. . . .

Geoffrey Hill | Clavics | Enitharmon | 2011

Fun to see—in this & in Oraclau | Oracles (Clutag, 2010)—Hill try to shoehorn his late-won, new-found wilder style back into strict forms (and formalists don’t come much stricter than George Herbert, the obvious model here). Clunky in places, outright bad in others, full of infelicities the younger Hill would never have countenanced, this volume is nevertheless full of a poetic liveliness a 79-year old High Anglican Oxford Professor of Poetry has no earthly right to access. Hills’ Oxford lectures have been enjoyable so far too, especially when he called for a crazier “Mad Meg” spirit he felt was lacking from contemporary British poetry. Maybe he should read more Keston Sutherland (see below).

Joseph Massey | At the Point | Shearsman | 2011

Massey’s sophomore effort proves more of less can sometimes be more. In this case, a more structured, leaner, meaner & altogether poised survey of the same Californian territory already addressed in his impressive debut, Areas of Fog. The obvious byproduct & overflow of a long-sustained & concentrated observation, this new book nevertheless seems to be forever gesturing off at something larger, something just out of view. . . .

Jennifer Moxley | Coastal | The Song Cave | 2011

This should be insufferable: a “9/11” poem long on art & artistic survival techniques, short on political comment & commentary. Moxley, however, pulls it off (again). By tackling self-absorption head on, she somehow embodies, ennobles & transcends it all at once, producing a poem both diagnostic & exemplary in the process, something her less explicitly but more intrinsically narcissistic peers would struggle with. (Between this, the Foust text mentioned above & Peter Gizzi’s wonderfully titled Pinocchio’s Gnosis, The Song Cave gets my vote as press-of-the-year.)

J. H. Prynne | Sub Songs | Barque | 2010

After the bleak To Pollen and the (pleasingly) rebarbative Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage ARTESIAN, these nine lyrics seem, presented in an elegant and generous outsize folio as they are, positively relaxed by recent Prynne standards. It’s all relative, of course:

……………………………………………….The place-work of
willed repeats gains a familiar tremor in jointure, we say
sustainable our mouth assents slave dental unbroken torrid reason
will commute previous and lie down. None more credible, mirror
make up flat sat batch pinup gruesome genome. Now get out.

Keston Sutherland | Stress Position | Barque | 2009

Slow on the uptake here, probably because Sutherland’s previous volume, 2007’s Hot White Andy, scared the hell out of me (blazing as it was). Stress Position is intense too, but in a more diffused manner, making room for a cast of thousands (Ali whoever, Black Beauty, Dot, etc.), a bouncy elastic form (seven line stanzas, roughly seven beat lines, the odd extended prose footnote) & numerous scenic shifts (public toilet-set sexual assault, yacht-based cooking contest, etc.). Like David Cronenberg rewriting The Rape of the Lock, Stress Position evades any pat analogy you can throw at it. My vote for it as poem of the year (2009) elects it king of something or other. The same terrain is roundly abused again in The Stats on Infinity (Crater, 2010) & his prose study Stupefaction (Seagull, forthcoming 2011) looks promising too. Best English-language poet of his generation? Quite possibly.

Christian Wiman | Every Riven Thing | Farrar | 2010

This year’s mainstream-book-I-liked-much-more-than-I-expected-to. A new formalist previously overly interested in narrative (with very mixed results: see the sequence “Being Serious” for serious overwrought bathetic wallowing of the first water), Wiman is here thrown back onto his own story by a cancer diagnosis & its subsequent aftermath, becoming an intense, driven, forceful & skilful religious poet as a result. Everyday epiphanies meet convincingly apocalyptic tinges in a volume that, thankfully, rises above the merely confessional.

“Bubbling Under” (couldn’t resist a second eleven): works by Stephen Collis; Emily Critchley; Roy Fisher; Susan Howe; Paul Muldoon; Wendy Mulford (the Howe & Mulford texts here—That This & The Land Between—are properly, powerfully “adult” responses to grief and morality: an interesting contrast to the sometimes gleeful outlook of Ford & Muldoon); Ezra Pound (ed. Richard Sieburth); Tom Raworth; Rimbaud (trans. John Ashbery); David Foster Wallace (a pure joy—too funny to be the work of a suicide, surely?); Andrea Zanzotto (& Antonio Porta & Franco Buffoni & Milo de Angelis & Valerio Magrelli & Mario Luzi & Patrizia Cavalli—it’s been a very Italian year for me, all-told, reading-wise).

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Rob Stanton was born in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, UK in 1977, raised outside Birmingham, educated in Cardiff and Leeds and currently lives in Savannah, Georgia, USA with wife, daughter and cats. His first book of poetry, The Method, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2011.

Stanton’s Attention Span for 2010. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2011 | Philip Metres

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Going through my notebooks over the past year, I was stunned to see how few poetry books I read. 2010 was my year of unremitting pain, in which I spent far too many hours in physical pain and psychic suffering, thinking about pain and reading about pain and how to free myself from its grip. I wonder if poetry—that intensest of genres—simply evaded my pain-flooded brain, or if something else was at work. (I also noticed that I may have read more unpublished manuscripts than poetry, and the increasing digitization of my reading has meant that I’ve spent a lot more time reading poetry online—something that, just a couple years ago, would have seemed impossible.) Still, here were a few books that I found myself returning to, or rooting around for months, in the following categories, roughly related to obsessions from the past year: Irelandiana and Questions of Travel, Strange Gods, The Wars, and Anthologies.

Irelandiana and Questions of Travel:

W.B. Yeats | Selected Poetry | Scribner’s | 1996
Seamus Heaney | Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 | FSG | 1998

Teaching Northern Irish history and literature, then spending two weeks in Belfast, I wanted to revisit some of the giants of Irish poetry. I found Yeats crazier and more beautiful than I remembered (he’s far more interesting than the patrician and aristocrat that occasionally butts into the poem). Heaney’s charms, on the other hand, which had largely evaded me over the years, became more evident. In the past, I found him, by turns, boring, quaint, or quotidian; in the context of Northern Irish history, I now see his work as fiercely loyal but not clannish, honoring the local but addressing the global. Decidedly unsexy poetry, but faithful and lovely all the same.

Kazim Ali | Bright Felon | Wesleyan | 2009

To date, my favorite book by a voluminously productive and intriguing poet still at the beginning of a great career.

Jennifer Karmin| Aaaaaaaaaaalice | flim forum | 2010

A kind of secret travelogue by way of Alice in Wonderland and Japanese language text books, Karmin’s first book casts herself as a perceptive and naïf traveling through the dreamscape of the Far East, searching for what home might mean.

Strange Gods:

Franz Wright | God’s Silence | Knopf | 2008
Christian Wiman | Every Riven Thing | Farrar | 2010

Wright and Wiman are two of the best contemporary spiritual poets at a time when matters of the spirit tend to take second place to matters of the flesh; these poets wrestle with what God might mean, in light of the problem of suffering and silence.

Arseny Tarkovsky | Selected Poems | Various Russian Editions

In an interview toward the end of her life, Anna Akhmatova called Arseny Tarkovsky the one “real poet” in the Soviet Union. In her words, in 1965, “of all contemporary poets Tarkovsky alone is completely his own self, completely independent. He possesses the most important feature of a poet which I’d call the birthright.” In his spiritual and poetic independence, he outlasted the dross of totalitarianism. If Whitman’s spirit of embodied pantheism were harnessed to Russian forms and weighed down by Russian history and politics, it might sound a bit like Tarkovsky.

Two Young Poets:

Dave Lucas | Weather | Georgia | 2011
Nick Demske | Nick Demske | Fence | 2011

Shout out to two young poets as different as one might imagine. Dave Lucas has the same devotion to doomed places (his place: Cleveland) as Heaney or Levine, and sounds often like a prophet beyond his green years. Nick Demske, who insists on signing his emails “nicky poo,” writes fractured sonnets that would make John Berryman eat his own beard. I was moved by his description of how his mother’s dying had everything to do with the fracture of his forms. The body, he said, was bad form for our souls. Amen to that, brother Nick.

The Wars:

Susan Tichy | Gallowglass | Ahsahta | 2010
C.D. Wright | Rising, Falling, Hovering | Copper Canyon | 2008
Jehanne Dubrow | Stateside | Triquarterly | 2010

Tichy’s taut collages, Wright’s meditative jumpcuts, and Dubrow’s formalist explorations of a wife with a husband at war combine to create a picture of what it feels like to live on the homefront of empire.

Anthologies:

Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris, eds. | The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry | Ecco | 2010
Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam, eds. | Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian Poetry | Arkansas | 2010

These anthologies dilated my sense of the world’s poetry, and the world of poetry.

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Philip Metres’s recent books include abu ghraib arias (2011), To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008) and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007).

Metres’s Attention Span for 201020092008. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span – Elizabeth Treadwell

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Sarah Vap | Dummy Fire | Saturnalia | 2007

“Sitting around in paper gowns, in deep study.”

This book twirls faithfully its own slippy vernac.

Veronica Forrest-Thomson | Collected Poems | Shearsman | 2008

“Folded & re/folded the/map of the/town is pass/ed through/our lives/& hands ac/ross the table.”

A conjure board for the recent nearby.

Kim Hyesoon, trans. Don Mee Choi | Mommy Must Be A Fountain of Feathers | Action | 2008

“she hammers away till the keyboard is bloodied”

“I want to shove a finger into the silence and make it vomit.”

Etel Adnan | In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country | City Lights | 2005

“There should be only one school, the one where you learn the future…without even any students. Located in the guts of the species.”

Ines Hernandez-Avila, ed. | Reading Native American Women: Critical/Creative Representations | Altamira | 2005

“This is not a treaty!”

Myung Mi Kim | Under Flag | Kelsey St | 1991

“These men these women chant and chant”

Rereading in anticipation of her new book Penury. As Sarah Anne Cox said to me recently, “it’s hard to find something that truly moves you.”

Diane Glancy | Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears | Harcourt Brace | 1996

Rereading. A recent article in the New Yorker, mired per usual in the vast inaccuracy of the ruling class, jokingly compared a boycott of the Beijing Olympics on account of Tibet to a boycott of those in Salt Lake City on account of the Cherokee. I wish more people would read this luminous, frightening, deeply informative book, which to me has an affinity with Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Christian Wiman, ed. | Poetry: the Translation Issue | Poetry Foundation | April 2008

The first issue I’d read. I liked it.

Alice Notley | In the Pines | Penguin | 2007

Sarah Anne Cox | Truancy | Dusie | 2007

VA | board books, picture books, & chapter books | various | various

I could live without some of the tropes, others I probably could not.

Caroline Bergvall & C.S. Giscombe | Reading at Small Press Traffic | November 2008

I am eagerly awaiting this event.

Yedda Morrison | girl scout nation| Displaced | 2008

“and yet/a doe”

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More Elizabeth Treadwell here.