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Attention Span 2011 | Patrick Pritchett

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Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Pitch: Drafts 77-95 | Salt | 2010

The penultimate volume to the now rapidly concluding Drafts. The angel of history (AKA midrash) is alive and kicking in these fantastically sculpted and minutely attentive poem-narratives. DuPlessis may have been all along creating a whole new genre here. This angel is the principle of continual poetic revision as intervention. It reads and writes the past not as it was, but as it is found: deeply fractured by contingency, open to an ongoing process of revision. The midrashic angel takes up its task not merely by bearing witness to what it sees, but through actively constructing new alignments of meaning from the scattered wreckage of the debris field. The highlights, for me, are “Draft 87-Trace Element,” and the already legendary “Draft 85-Hard Copy.” For more, see the feature on RBD in Jacket2.

 William Corbett | The Whalen Poem | Hanging Loose | 2010

The maestro at the top of his game, swinging loose and easy—nothing to it. There’s a luxurious liberation coursing through this poem that abounds with grace notes and is overflowing with his customary generosity toward memory and experience, the sweet, raspy pellicles of detail, that is, finally, the history of a life, and of writing a life, inner and outer, moment by moment, and is deeply moving.

Forrest Gander | Core Samples from the World | New Directions | 2011

An itinerary of otherness, strewn with uncanny moments of tenderness and glancing blows that crack the fragility of conscience. The earth’s alien powder is sifted through, poured out, regathered in rich pulses of telluric current from the far side of everywhere. Poem, photo, and prose fold into and out of each other, remapping their own contours. The overlap and feedback amplifies into a kind of 21st Century global witness that is porous and humbling and weird. I can’t think of another book like it. Utterly extraordinary.

Christian Hawkey | Ventrakl | Ugly Duckling | 2011

Officially a tour de force, this is a magnificent accomplishment, one that completely mesmerized me. Hawkey has reinvented the gorgeous and tortured weirdness of Trakl for the 21st Century. More than that, he has carried the logic of the translator’s task forward into a region that is all “interpass, penetrate.” The cumulative effect, when read straight through (and it’s that rare book of poetry, almost impossible to put down), is—how to say this without sounding absurd?—one of the most precisely calibrated vulnerability. Reader, I was carried away.

Fanny Howe | Come and See | Greywolf | 2011

These poems are like messages from a skeptical clairvoyant. The sense of recognition here is humbling and amazing, like the call for justice contained in the simple gesture of saying “you are here.” Everything superfluous is stripped away and what’s left is haunting. “A Hymn” seems to sum up all her concerns and convictions. (Harry Lime as a mix of Paul Celan and Oscar Levant?) These poems insist on an order of seeing that is miraculous, like the movies, and where forgiveness is all about how we do the work of looking. Like a form of levitation, they will break your heart with clarity.

Sharon Howell | Girl in Everytime | Pressed Wafer | 2011

There’s a freshness and insouciance to these lyrical forays that balance the prosaic and the ordinary against the privileged and the secret. The effect overall is one of constant surprise and delight. Spicer, a presence here surely, as has been noted. But behind Spicer, Wordsworth—not the bloated, complacent Will.I.Am of the Preludes, but the swift, sharp gleaner of chthonic music and the joyous spookiness of being alive.

Andrew Joron | Trance Archive: Selected and New Poems | City Lights | 2010

Lines decrypted from a dark book, pitched to an arcane thrum, a holy thread of labyrinthine sound that interweaves the soul’s salt with the sugar of the tongue. In this divinatory praxis, Joron capitalizes on the generative slippages which govern the chance combinatory properties of language. Following the logic of paronomasia, the poems here teeter, at times, on the brink of decay, yet what rescues them is the commitment to the sublime yield of phonemic constellation and all the spaces, and nodes, of micrological difference that open up between each slip-gap, each meld-slide, within a horizon of negation and wonder. The gravity well of logos is mitigated only by the poem’s own negentropic counter-thrust.

Peter O’Leary | Luminous Epinoia | Cultural Society | 2010

A book of impossible risk and endless doxology: in the end, they are the same thing. Liturgical datastreams downloaded and uploaded continually, like the angels in Jacob’s Dream. Fervent and unabashedly naked in its declaration of poetic vision. It reduces to so much kitsch the weak ironies of slacker emo-whimsy emanating from Brooklyn or the timid affirmations of bourgeois pathos praised in the Sunday Times, both of which somehow pass for “spirit” in the late imperium. This is a poetics that dares and ratifies the visionary ratios of song. Written out of what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “spiritual audacity,” Luminous Epinoia is a hymn to the theophanic. This is poetry of vatic kerygma—pure proclamation.

Michael Palmer | Thread | New Directions | 2011

Simply put, his best work since At Passages. There’s a certain kind of reader who can’t get past Palmer’s apparent break from the heavily encrypted style of his earlier work. Narrow constructionists, they want every book to be Sun or Notes for Echo Lake. But the idiom he has been exactingly developing since 1988, a kind of theater of the neo-allegorical that juxtaposes the driest of satire with a messianic thirst for the impossible ur-sprach, continues what were always his deepest concerns. Here, they are brought to a vivid pitch in this delicate and powerful collection. Flashing with spiked barbs of humor, these poems still inhabit the melancholy landscape where language ratifies itself by signifying its own failure. Written under the sign of Saturn, they are harrowing in their humility and directness. Simplicity here is neither a reduction nor a retreat, but the earned complexity of a late style in a late hour. To call the title sequence a tour de force is to defame it. These “threads” are addresses, colloquies, homages, haunted questions that concentrate Palmer’s concerns for the art as a site for making counter-meanings, the micro-resistances that push back against the crushing sense of fatigue born of suffering and slaughter. This is elegy as crystalline paleography. Every word is merely on loan from the thief’s journal. They haunt the dream of memory with the hope for the Not-Yet.

Andrew Schelling | From the Arapaho Songbook | La Alameda | 2011

This may well be the best thing Schelling’s ever done. Superbly attentive to the discrete seams where language and geography ripple over and through each other, this is an initiation into another world—one that exists side by side with the everyday. These poems track pathways back and forth between the ancient and the contemporary, language and the natural, without ever sliding into the false a-historicism of the romantic. The care with words—guttural, elusive, probing, shamanic—and the handling of the line breaks—is deliciously deft and subtle. A beautifully wrought, intimate book.

Rosmarie Waldrop | Driven to Abstraction | New Directions | 2010

The title sequence is superb. Waldrop’s extraordinary constellation—beginning with “Zero or, the Opening Position”—reads like a history of the metaphysical comedy of negation, its failures and its hopes, as traced through everything from cosmology to monetary exchange. It is a poem about the manifold ways nothing is implicated in everything, whether the via negativa of Pseudo-Dionysus or the khora of Derrida. A recitation of zero and its history as a concept. Of its migration into the West from medieval Arabic mathematics and its subsequent role as a placeholder for the underlying, the foundational that is anti-foundational, “zero, the corrosive number,” as she calls it, without which nothing counts.

Elizabeth Willis | Address | Wesleyan | 2011

I heard Willis read “Blacklist” two years ago at MLA and it fairly took the top of my head off. In this poem, the legacy of the Salem witches is made over as a noble tradition of transgression, a powerful and ongoing voice of resistance to the state, the system, and the boss. Woody Guthrie was a witch! After the headiness of the dazzling Meteoric Flowers, the tune and turn of this collection digs deeper into the marrow of the word, refining down to nubs and particles, a process not to be confused with simplicity. To say the thing austerely turns out to be incredibly complicated.

Lissa Wolsak | Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 | Station Hill | 2010

The summa of an extraordinary ambition. If the stutter is the plot, then what to say of the hyphen, the line-break, the neologism reaching after a glimpse of fugitive cognition in a cascade of vowels? The fragment here becomes fragrant, imbued with a fragile knowing. The letter, atomized, becomes the law of spirit—darkened with matter, made radiant by it. It is by such carefully broken apart attentions that these poems stage extravagance as investigation. They generate a singing that both binds and unravels, spelling out a new form of orthography that makes the traces of the invisible not only legible, but achingly near to us.

Andrew Zawacki | Roche Limit | Tir Aux Pigeons | 2011

Laid out in four-line stanzas, each one marked by roughly four beats per line, this short, perfect poem surges forward in a compelling rhythm capable of surprising turns and reverberating with fractal resonances—the complex echo chamber of attractions and resistances as words slide through one another and into their own process of associative elision and repetition, a principle of rime, as Duncan might say, that recalls the innermost linguistic and ontological structures for mapping levels of relation.

§

Patrick Pritchett is the author of several books of poems, including Burn, Antiphonal, and Salt, My Love. Recent projects include editing a feature on Rachel Blau DuPlessis for Jacket 2, a talk for MSA on Pound, Sobin, and the ruins of modernism, and a book project on the messianic turn in postwar poetry. He is currently a Lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and Visiting Lecturer in Poetry at Amherst College. Pritchett’s Attention Span for 2010, 2009, 2008. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Pam Brown

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Fanny Howe | Emergence | Reality Street | 2010

Poems from the 1970s to the 90s, out of print, now republished in this graceful, quiet (or ‘hushed’ as Ashbery says on the cover), yet tough-minded collection.

James Schuyler | Other Flowers : Uncollected Poems | Farrar | 2010

More James Schuyler, found by the editors James Meetze and Simon Pettet. These poems are often uncannily intimate, casual, campy, funny, sweet and, as usual, exact and intense.

Brian Henry | Wings without Birds | Salt | 2010

The long poem ‘Where We Stand Now’ written over a period of six months as the year turned in 2002-03 is the centerpiece of this wonderful collection about the complex beauties and restrictions of domestic life—fatherhood, sex, cleaning, work, neighbours. Living and writing poetry variously, Brian Henry is diversifying.

Laurie Duggan | The Epigrams of Martial | Pressed Wafer | 2010

Marcus Valerius Martialis and Laurie Duggan know a lot about the things that detract from the vocation of poetry writing. This conveniently pocket-sized book is witty, funny, droll, wry, incisive. “As a writer of epigrams/ my royalties are minimal/ though I keep Arts Bureaucrats/ in well-paid positions./ But remember this:/ I’ll be on open access/when they’re buried in the stacks.” And “Why do you call me an old fucker?/ Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

Simon Leys | With Stendhal | Black Inc | 2010

Simon Leys introduces and translates into English for the first time three linked pieces: the recollections of Stendhal’s famous friend Prosper Mérimée, the impressions of novelist George Sand and a recently discovered whimsical list of the supernatural powers he wished he possessed, by Stendhal himself.

Lisa Samuels | Tomorrowland | Shearsman | 2009

A book-length poem. Lisa Samuels sustains a conceptual post-colonial premise. The poem is political, intense, serious and gives a great sense of a gradual building of mixed ideas and images as the new arrivals explore ‘Tomorrowland’. Impressive.

Justin Clemens | Villain | Hunter Contemporary Australian Poets | 2009

The book’s title is a homonym for “Villon”—François Villon, the fifteenth century French poet, thief, and vagabond who died young at 32. Whirling around many forms—villanelle, couplet, free, sonnet, experimental—the poems are melodramatic, atmospheric, sometimes hallucinatory. There are some villainous and violent thoughts and scenes—dreams and acts that include everything from a hangover to a very funny art critique. Clemens has an affinity with the mythical underworld and its darknesses and here he writes his sonnets to Orpheus.There is a kind of antic energy in Justin Clemens’ poems as they leap from the risky edge of his intellect. He dares to push boundaries. There is little elegy here – anxiety and an often ludic tone dominate sweeter thoughts.

Ken Bolton | A Whistled Bit Of Bop | Vagabond | 2010

Embracing the abstract via collage. Here are Bolton’s usual concerns—art, time, friendships, family, books, blues and jazz. And there is also ‘Australian Suburban Garden’ a meandering poem that easily extrapolates out from the view of the garden from a front porch into art, Europe and, philosophically, time.

Havi Carel | Illness : the cry of the flesh | Acumen | 2010

Philosophers have paid a lot of attention to death but rather less to illness. Yet illness is an almost universal human experience and can make us think deeply about who we are and what our relationship is to our bodies and to the world we live in.

What is illness? Is it a physiological dysfunction, a social label, or a way of experiencing the world? How do the physical, social and emotional worlds of a person change when they become ill? And can there be well-being within illness? Philosopher Havi Carel draws on the French phenomenological philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between the biological body and the lived body, as well as the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger’s ideas about existence, in order to challenge the way we understand illness

Carrie Etter, ed. | Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by U.K. Women Poets | Shearsman | 2010

Twenty-five experimental women poets. Includes brief poetic statements. An exciting collection of what could be called the ‘non-Mainstream’ in contemporary U.K. poetry.

Christine Wertheim, ed. | Feminaissance | Les Figues | 2010

Identity is dead. The 21st-century subject is an unstable fiction with no identifiable features or group affiliations. He’s a man without inherent qualities, a post-human ideal. But those who have long been hailed as Other exist in a different relation to this ideal. Unlike those traditionally self-possessed I’s, these Others may find themselves split between a yearning to be contemporary and unqualified, and longing for a continued allegiance to their qualitative, albeit constructed, group identity.

‘It is with an awareness of this more ambiguous and refined notion of self that ‘Feminaissance’ approaches questions of femininity and its relation to writing. Topics include: collectivity; feminine écriture; the politics of writing; text and voice; the body as a site of contestation, insurgence and pleasure; race and writing; gender as performance; writing about other women writers; economic inequities; Hélène Cixous; monstrosity; madness; and aesthetics.’—from the blurb.

More Pam Brown here. Her Attention Span for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Daniel Bouchard

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Charles Baudelaire, trans. Keith Waldrop | The Flowers of Evil | Wesleyan | 2006

Daniel DeFoe | Memoirs of a Cavalier | Shakespeare Head Press | 1928

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

Eric Hobsbawm | The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848 | Vintage | 1989

Fanny Howe | The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation |Graywolf | 2009

Devin Johnston | Sources | Turtle Point Press | 2008

Flann O’Brien | The Hard Life | Dalkey Archive | 1994

Tom Pickard | The Dark Month of May | Flood | 2004

Winfield Townley Scott | New and Selected Poems | Doubleday | 1967

Genevieve Taggard | Travelling Standing Still | Knopf | 1928

More Daniel Bouchard here.

Attention Span 2009 – Patrick Pritchett

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George Bowering | Kerrisdale Elegies | Talonbooks | 2008

Joseph Ceravolo | Spring in This World of Poor Mutts | Columbia UP | 1968

William Corbett | Opening Day | Hanging Loose | 2009

Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Drafts | various websites

Ted Enslin | Nine | NPF | 2004

Barbara Guest | Collected Poems | Wesleyan | 2008

Michael Heller | Eschaton | Talisman | 2009

Fanny Howe | The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation | Grey Wolf | 2009

Andrew Joron | The Sound Mirror | Flood | 2009

Ann Lauterbach | Or To Begin Again | Penguin | 2009

David Mutschlecner | Sign | Ahsahta | 2007

Gustaf Sobin | The Earth as Air | 1982 | New Directions

More Patrick Pritchett here.

Attention Span 2009 – John Palattella

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C.P. Cavafy, trans. Daniel Mendelsohn  | Collected Poems | Knopf | 2009

Edmund and Jules de Goncourt, trans. Robert Baldick | Pages from the Goncourt Journals | New York Review | 2006

Fanny Howe | The Winter Sun | Graywolf | 2009

Devin Johnston | Creaturely and Other Essays | Turtle Hill | 2009

Devin Johnston | Sources | Turtle Hill | 2009

Jim Linderman | Take Me to the Water | Dust-to-Digital | 2009

Jennifer Moxley | Clampdown | Flood | 2009

Marilynne Robinson | The Death of Adam | Houghton Mifflin | 1998

Andrew Rice | The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget | Metropolitan | 2009

Ned Sublette | The Year Before the Flood | Lawrence Hill | 2009

Jefffrey Yang | An Aquarium | Graywolf | 2008

More John Palattella here.

Attention Span 2009 – G.C. Waldrep

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Alice Notley | Alma, or The Dead Women | Granary Books | 2006

Geoffrey Hill | Selected Poems | Yale University Press | 2009

Jack Spicer | My Vocabulary Did This to Me | Wesleyan University Press | 2008

Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer | 2666 | Farrar, Straus & Giroux | 2008

Wallace Stevens | Collected Poetry & Prose | Library of America | 1997

Fanny Howe | The Winter Sun | Graywolf Press | 2009

Asher Ghaffar | Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music | ECW Press | 2009

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

Carla Harryman | Adorno’s Noise | Essay Press | 2008

Alice Oswald | A Sleepwalk on the Severn | Faber | 2009

Ismail Kadare, trans. David Bellos | The Siege | Canongate | 2008

Some other titles I’ve spent time thinking about this past year, in no particular order and for many different reasons: Ulf Stolterfoht, Lingos I-IX (trans. Rosmarie Waldrop); Emily Wilson, Micrographia; Cal Bedient, Days of Unwilling; Michael Dickman, The End of the West; Katy Lederer, The Heaven-Sent Leaf; Cole Swensen, Ours; Susan Stewart, Red Rover; Kevin Prufer, National Anthem; Lyn Hejinian, Saga/Circus; Robyn Schiff, Revolver; Laynie Browne, Daily Sonnets; Jacqueline Risset, Sleep’s Powers (trans. Jennifer Moxley); Eric Baus, Tuned Droves; Dan Beachy-Quick, This Nest, Swift Passerine; Mark Cunningham, Body Language; Brian Teare, Sight Map; Sandy Florian, The Tree of No; Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection; J. Robert Lennon, Castle & Pieces for the Left Hand; John Felstiner, Can Poetry Save the Earth?

More G.C. Waldrep here.

Attention Span 2009 – Stephen Cope

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Joseph Donohue | Terra Lucida | Talisman House | 2009

Donohue’s singular economy of reticence and revelation is in evidence here throughout. Why is he not more widely read and celebrated?

Kenneth Goldsmith, ed. | Poetry Magazine: July/August 2009 | Poetry Foundation | 2009

Still trying to find the right acronym for Flarf: Faux Libertines Against Real Feeling, perhaps? Feminists, Libertarians, Antinomians, Revolutionaries, and Fakes? False Lyricists Appropriating Real Fascism?  Finally Liberated Artists. Recouping… etc. These are not the most interesting Flarf poems I’ve encountered, but still remain more interesting than the vast majority of poems published in this esteemed organ over the last, say, two decades. As for conceptual poetry: I recently ran across a copy of Goldsmith’s “Baseball” in the “sports” section of a used bookstore. Nuff said.

Fanny Howe | The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation | Greywolf | 2009

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I received in graduate school was the simple exhortation: “you should listen to Fanny.”

Adonis | Sufism & Surrealism | Saqi | 2005

Been a concern of mine for awhile – seems time may be ripe to explore Sufic modernisms (and explode thereby the oft exclusively Eurocentric – even when colonial or postcolonial – narratives of modernism still so prevalent). Plus, I’ve needed a lucid discussion of ‘ibn Arabi since I first went through Corbin’s book a decade ago.

Carl Rakosi | The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi | NPF | 1986

The least critically acclaimed—or critically attended-to anyway—of the Objectivists. Having had occasion to revisit this collection for a seminar, I found myself by turns delighted, enlightened, bedazzled, bewildered, inspired—and at every turn engaged. Rakosi still awaits his full share of critical reception and recognition: I wonder why?

Lytle Shaw | Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie | Iowa | 2006

Someone had to write this book, and I suspect Shaw’s discussion of “coterie” will have applications beyond this particular poet—beyond, perhaps, the New York School—for some time to come.

Ariana Reines | The Cow | Flood Editions | 2006

This one floored me. Visceral, vital, clinical, conceptual—it strikes a dissonant chord in the nerves. Precisely, I think, what I’ve been needing.

C. T. Funkhouser | Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archeology of Forms | Alabama | 2007

Best book on the subject, bar none.

Mark Scroggins | Louis Zukofsky: The Poem of a Life | Counterpoint | 2007

Scroggins’s approach is novel, as he mixes narrative with criticism in alternating chapters. Biographies rarely capture my attention the way that this one did, and I found myself repeatedly returning to the poems to find resonance and resource where before I encountered only the opacity of technique. An absolutely necessary book.

Ming-Qian Ma | Poetry as Re-Reading: American Avant-Garde Poetry and the Poetics of Counter-Method | Northwestern | 2008

A dense and pleasurably complex book. Following on Bruce Andrews’s theory of “re-reading,” Ma suggests that “poetry, to the extent that it is a critical-analytical reengagement with method as a problem, is the “rereading [of] the reading that a social status quo puts us through.” But this is no mere rehashing of stock-in-trade Lang Po theory; Ma’s trajectory is unique in engaging philosophical (and not just literary or aesthetic) modernism (and not just that of the trendy sort), At this point, I’m content to have my mind in the book, if not fully wrapped around it.

Wildcard selection: I’ve been known to add music to my lists before—this time I’ll offer relevant text instead. Liner notes to the following recording:

Balla et Ses Balldins |  The Syliphone Years | Stern’s | 2008

In this era of iTunes digital downloads, the inclusion of such booklets as this may become more and more necessary. It’s nothing new, of course, and I could name dozens of other collections with equally impressive notes—this is only the most recent. But as cds go the way of lps before them, one can only hope that the paratext doesn’t vanish with them…(a note on this: I recently downloaded my first two albums in MP3 format. Great sound, easier storage, certainly—but the lack of detailed information on instrumentation, composition, context, etc. has me leaning towards purchasing the actual cd at some later date (i.e. when I can afford the $50 or so…)).

More Stephen Cope here and here.