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Attention Span 2011 | Tim Peterson (Trace)

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Samuel Ace & Maureen Seaton | Stealth | Chax | 2011

Part call-and-response song, part double-entendre submarine expedition, part utopian lyrical slippage dance-off, this marvelous book performs my favorite kind of collaboration, the kind where it becomes impossible to determine who wrote which lines. Although espionage is a major theme here (we see its pervasive influence in Stealth’s complex and sometimes confounding Rube Goldberg economy of vessels and tropes), it’s possible that the frequent melding of two voices that occurs in this book is equally a function of trust. Having been a fan of Samuel Ace’s work for many years, I think I recognize here his ongoing interest in non sequitur, in the leaps between perceptions and the way in which these leaps evoke the act of listing. I also think maybe I recognize Ace’s penchant for articulating in language queer, liminal, confounding, sometimes even portentious bodily experiences for which we don’t have an easy linguistic shorthand (who wrote “What happened to my legs? They seem so / rabid, furious, relentless”?). The playfulness of these lines can sneak up on you obliquely (“Hardly anyone / saw them coming”), and under their dialogue we can hear a range of emotions at work: sadness, bemusement, anger, exasperation, yearning, ambivalence, and love. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book: the notes section at the end, “Epilogue,” in which references are elucidated, is followed by a “Sources to Epilogue” section which contains notes to the notes.

Mina Pam Dick | Delinquent | Futurepoem | 2009

The incredible gender-busting writer of some of my favorite poems in the past few years, Mina Pam Dick brings a formidable knowledge of philosophy into play with prose riffing and with poetry’s penchant for non sequitur, employing both in a truly new mode that allows us to understand how gender and identification function from the boundary between inside and outside utterance. Pam and her alter egos Traver, Hildebrand, et al understand trans in the original liberatory sense of a blurry zone, and the philosophical stand up comedy here is necessarily also embodied, talking about real things, as it gracefully runs the full gamut of possible affects. On the one hand, Pam had me at “Robert Redford looked really sexy in Downhill Racer. I wanted to fuck him or be him,” but even this is counterbalanced by injunctions such as “Love the ones who might disdain you” or taking it further on a social level, “they say I squander equanimity. Yet much is left, although all is already written.” This poet who boasts of having debuted “as Don Giovanni or Faust or a split-second Antigone” also revises Whitman’s democratic promise of inhabiting all positions or embodying all possibilities in a kind of surprised, persnickety, exasperated running commentary that signifies on so many levels it makes your head spin: “Meanwhile, meanwhile! Can I finally momentarily contain everything? If so, why? If not, why not? Hey, why shouldn’t I?”

Elaine Equi | Click and Clone | Coffee House | 2011

Elaine Equi’s poems evoke two situations simultaneously: that of a good friend confiding in you (especially confiding something blunt or off-color), and that of a stand-up comic telling jokes on stage. The alchemy of these two overlapping scenarios produces a voice slightly estranged from its own speaker in advance, a kind of blurted archness that inspires everyone listening to new heights of explosive giddiness: “Warning: these poems may cause / Headaches, hives, hard-ons in women, / Vomiting, vagueness, / Feelings of camaraderie where none exists.” Equi’s improvisations on the theme of lipstick in one poem expand upon this speaker’s predicament “Yes, that’s my mouth. I recognize it, but I’m speaking a peculiar staccato dialect of roofs piled closely together along a river.” Whether she’s exploring the acts of projection involved in the usual techniques of lyric poetry (“The waitress murdered somebody. Even now, she looks guiltily / over her shoulder as she wipes the silverware clean”) or whether she’s having tea with a “lecherous troll” and admits “I hated the taste, but enjoyed playing chicken with the troll, / letting my eye sweep his dirty corner without grazing him,” Equi’s smart poems are entrancing, entertaining, and endlessly surprising. Sometimes she’s playing with paradoxes of avant-garde and progressive thinking and the exhaustion or bankruptcy of their tropes (“I try my / best to deplete / Our planet’s resources, / But even so, can’t gain the attention / Of higher-ups who spectacularly / And regularly waste whole cities”) and sometimes she’s just being memorably silly (“See you womorrow — / or maybe Satyrday?”), but there’s always a hair-trigger attention to how the poem is constructed, how it springs open and shut, and a willingness to be playful. Sure our desires may be a reproducible gesture, but life goes on, and it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.

Paolo Javier | The Feeling is Actual | Marsh Hawk | October 2011

How many different writers can you be in one book; how many different modes can you explore? Tour-de-force The Feeling is Actual sets a new renaissance man record. But no dilettantishness here; Javier pulls it all off with the touch of a virtuoso: poetry comics, plays, film narration, ambivalent dramatic monologues, signage translation bloopers, and erotically ambient vispo here all explore a consistent set of thematic concerns. This post-post-post book goes beyond discourses of appropriation, beyond empathy, the constitutive stereotypes of filipino or caucasian identity, postcolonial aporias, or even Brechtian alienation. In the process it creates a kind of affective experience that I understand as urgent, cognitively provocative sensation but don’t have the language for yet; in other words…(yes, the title—you guessed it!). Of course, the book has its recognizable set of revolving tropes, the selection of which signifies certain associations: the knife-edge complexity of Bill Murray’s affect, the hunters chasing after the elusive wild Bigfoot, Batman (as hero and epithet), and a whole other set of connections hovering around conmen who potentially cruise the streets of Florida looking for an angry google. But you gotta grow new serotonin receptors and read it yourself to see what I’m talking about.

Vincent Katz & Yasmil Raymond, curators | Dia Readings in Contemporary Poetry | Dia: Chelsea | Fall 2010-present

One of the most vital reading series in New York during the past year. Not only was there a sense of freshness and energy about every pairing (young and old, established and upcoming, and unexpected); there was also a combination of sensitivity and incisiveness in Vincent’s very perceptive introductions that almost always taught me something new. Readers in the past year’s series included: Eileen Myles & Stacy Szymaszek, John Giorno & Taylor Brady, Charles Bernstein & myself, John Ashbery & Paolo Javier, Ann Lauterbach & Paul Foster Johnson, Michael Lally & Brenda Iijima. The upcoming series in fall of 2011 features Anselm Berrigan & John Godfrey, Rae Armantrout & Lisa Jarnot, Alice Notley & Brenda Coultas, Jennifer Moxley & Tony Towle.

Wayne Koestenbaum | Humiliation | Picador | 2011

Koestenbaum’s latest is profoundly unsettling in all the best ways. It discovers, light years ahead of any available it’s-good-to-be-bad posturing, a way to speak about a “monstrous” topic that typically “erodes the voice that tries to lay siege to its complexities.” A series of meditations on humiliation as an “engine,” this book explores what it means to be humiliated, to humiliate, and to observe humiliation, navigating that troubled triad from the perspective of an observer who is fatigued, “tired, as any human must be, after a life spent avoiding humiliation and yet standing near its flame, enjoying the sparks, the heat, the paradoxical illumination.” Something about the way he positions his witnessing continually makes us aware of the act of writing, not just as material but as something which disturbingly doubles back upon the writer, a scene of humiliation in itself: “Writing, I occupy a humiliated position: the voice on trial. When someone speaks, or writes, that person’s voice is held captive by the laws of language, and by the demands of its listener.” Koestenbaum’s speaker this time around is consequently a fort-da lurker, sometimes affable sometimes pretty sinister, expertly splicing together any number of rhetorical positions which might include Virgil leading us through Dante’s Hell, Blake’s furtive wandering through each chartered street, Baudelaire’s pungent disgust, Barthes’ conversational gusto, or Sontag’s shocked imperiousness. But he is also an expert at putting the reader on the spot, inviting us to join him in the voyeurism, sometimes teasingly scolding us as “virtuous reader.” Also constantly implicating us is Koestenbaum’s masterful sense of comic timing: “The Buddha’s first noble truth was humiliation. (I haven’t yet met the Buddha, though I’ve sent out an invitation.” He combines a Frankfurt School gravitas with a penchant for gossip and dishiness about the lurid details: eating feces, imagining Jeffrey Dahmer and the Marquis de Sade on Craigslist, small penis ridicule, bathroom solicitations, concentration camps, being hit with a cream pie, Michael Jackson, and many other topics too difficult and disturbing to talk about here; you need to read this book to experience them for yourself. Perhaps most moving is the way Koestenbaum reports the visceral bodily effects of the emotion: “a shivering, nearly physiological sensation of inner reversal. The mind becomes Siberia and Hades, simultaneously: hot, cold. And the body, too, suddenly must host climactic opposites. Turned into naught, I feel all the blood drain from my body; I burn and freeze at the same time.” One of this book’s stunning accomplishments is the way that it subverts available vocabularies of zero-sum or binary thinking (high/low, hot/cold, great/humble) as a way of getting at something more inchoate, terrifying, and immediate, something central to our experience but something we are too embarrassed to talk about: “the apprehension of a singular prey: the detection of a whimpering beast inside each of us, a beast whose cries are micropitches, too faint for regular notation.” But rather than providing an escape, Koestenbaum gives us endless hovering, the stuckness of eternal return, in a predicament simultaneously painful, pleasurable, and fraught with difficulties. Once we start reading, we can’t look away.

Sueyeun Juliette Lee | Underground National | Factory School | 2010

The title of Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s electric, luminous, ominously lyrical book Underground National is two adjectives which alter one another and which correspondingly act as preface to a noun that is yet to arrive. This expectant stance or act of imagining has something to do with an idea of Korea and what it might be, neither divided between punditry stances of north and south and nor pledging allegiance to “the origins of a national boundary—a stain.” For Lee in this book, the frame of “the nation” contributes to a kind of undiagnosed illness that afflicts its citizens, and the book diagnoses the symptoms or effects of this. On the one hand Lee shows how our documentary attempts to access the reality of Korea and understand it are interrupted by the static and white noise of discursive frameworks, here figured by assemblages of extraneous language from the internet: “Your request is being processed… / Roh Moo-hyu, Former South Korean President, Kills Himself / dig Share this on Facebook Huffpost – Rob Moo-hyun, Former / South Korean President, Kills Himself stumble reddit / ShareThis RSS / KWANG-TAE KIM | May 22, 2009 11:59 PM EST | AP / Compare other versions.” On the other hand, there is also an attempt to understand from a interior perspective how the effects of ideology are part of the body, internally felt yet extending beyond the body’s bounds: “A cross. Kite. My link to the sky, pinned up into wafting blueness there. Grafted together, folded like a paper coat, a hidden oath like a never worn, golden ring. Wait—I thought this was the beginning of my skin.” As these two quotes demonstrate, the book uses a number of very different writing strategies, with some sections composed mostly of appropriated texts and other sections featuring Lee’s amazingly microtonal, stunned, expansive prose poetry. The poems in this book continually leap across the gap between national ideology and social interactions, as well as the gaps between people: “I love you when I slap your hand. / You love me when I reach and fail.” Such gaps are also momentarily bridged by asking provocative questions such as “would they fight if there were an unforeseen rebellion?” and “Should I emigrate if the opportunity arises.” Not a call for unification per se (the author or one of her sources reports with a diffident, dry irony how “There has also been a ‘united Korean anthem’ created by blending the melodies of the two nations’ anthems seamlessly, used by some to promote Korean re-unification”), the book’s more valuable function seems to be straining to hear other (more disturbing or more hopeful) unwritten anthems, a potentially holistic understanding of alternate structures, a study that can’t be pursued in the light of day.

Filip Marinovich | And if You Don’t Go Crazy I’ll Meet You Here Tomorrow | Ugly Duckling | 2011

The title of Filip Marinovich’s new book makes a cameo appearance within the text as the second half of something spoken to him by a teacher of Zen Buddhism: “Who am I now Who am I now Who am I now / keep asking yourself that / and if you don’t go crazy / see you again here tomorrow.” It is an Emersonian question, and Marinovich’s struggle to be accurate to and aware of himself at each moment of writing, as a way of paradoxically transcending himself, usefully figures the Time-Being of Dogen’s Uji as a kind of homespun pragmatist generosity. Marinovich’s address to the reader doubles and subverts this relationship between teacher and student as he generously teaches us what he knows by modeling what he doesn’t know, through playfulness, spontaneous improvisatory energy, and at times unabashed goofiness. His refrains have a kind of gleeful, mad chutzpa, evoking alternately the innocence of a children’s rhyme, the pathos of stuckness, and short attention span theatre: “you thought you dissolved / the Soviet Union / the Soviet Union is dissolving in you / a time-release pill / washed down with a white and black Russian / Prince Washington / China is Fortinbras / Curtain / asbestos / Trotsky wakes and signs the Capitol hull with an icepick / plucked from his inkwell skull / was he killed in his sleep / who murders sleep / what do you grip in your sleep / a throw pillow / on a wake-up pill / the bill comes I can’t pay it.” We feel the direct energy of mark-marking here, as in drawing. But the messiness and speed also display tremendous knowledge of technique as well as wide and broad reading: this is writing with an abundance of structure. The rubik’s cube permutations, the personal grammar of nicknames, and the mannerist flourishes suggest either that catechresis is the name of the game or that Marinovich’s brilliant mind could be two steps ahead of his pen. His talent for precision comes through in “Self-portrait at Storm King Art Center,” a poem which consists entirely of the following: “This map / makes an ineffective / and / fabulously flapping / sun hat.” The WCW-like attention and the preposterous and wonderful uselessness of this image gets at a central theme of the poems in this book: they are something which has been ridiculously repurposed for something else, a poem derived from a life for example, or suffering transmuted into joy, or a living metaphor resurrected from the dead tissue of Nietzsche’s coins that have lost their value. This inventiveness produces too many memorable lines to count, as when he asks “Why raise panic when / so much is steak” or finds hilarious gratitude in the circular logic of alienation: “Thank you for losing me in the crowd like that / otherwise I never would have taken a crowd bath.” Filip Marinovich wakes us up.

Pattie McCarthy | Table Alphabetical of Hard Words | Apogee | 2010

Never before have I been so entranced with the mechanics of grammar and etymology as when reading Pattie McCarthy’s ingenious Table Alphabetical of Hard Words. This riveting book uses the dictionary as governing trope and discourse, unfolding from there a multitude of structures and writing processes. Each of the ten sections is an individual “project” inspired by (and partially appropriated from) its own group of texts. So for example, the first section “askew” borrows from The Examinations of Anne Askew and Andrzej Szcypiorski’s Self-Portrait with Woman, proceeding to fill in the spaces between with a kind of improvised mortar made of stuff mixed together from etymological handbooks, dictionaries, and McCarthy’s own incisive, highly aware writing (“the sinews and the strings and the spaces between”). One thing McCarthy accomplishes here is to discover new ways of relating Jackson Mac Low’s old dance partners “source text” and “seed text.” This would ordinarily lead us to think about the trope of being written or being spoken (as opposed to speaking or writing). What McCarthy brings to fore is the ways in which we are spoken and written by etymology. But the form of these poems highlights something else too, the idea that the Dictionary itself has a rhetoric, and a set of implied speech acts that go along with that rhetoric. When McCarthy writes the following, we can hear in these lines a kind of attenuation that gives these utterances the urgency of a manifesto: “joint & several, mine / an askew— / as nauger begat auger    thus endeth / the first examynacyon / askey looking aside / asuint or awry / assay proofe or a triall.” When manifesto language posits things, it performs an action halfway between two states: a present state of describing things as they are, and a conjuring of a future thing that has not yet materialized. These poems are enacting a note-taking of possibilities. When McCarthy evokes narratives of people or experiences, they grab us with their immediacy but they are quickly turned inside-out, as when she writes “the boy was badly bronzed. He fell / into the sea, badly. Bronzed he. / (see bell metal— also fig. applied to a loud / ringing voice) & in this way one / learns not how to fly heavy but to swim, / also heavy. [that if gold ruste, what shall / iren do?]” Here the etymological digressions keep becoming the main point, and narrative keeps flipping back and forth, rabbit-duck style, between something that tugs at your heart strings and merely another instance of the rhetoric of the dictionary, a function of etymology. McCarthy gives us textuality superimposed upon textuality—the dictionary as writing practice, connective tissue, and urgent call all at once. It’s really something to think about.

tc tolbert | Territories of Folding | kore | 2011

Smart, sensitive, enthusiastic trans poet tc tolbert’s brilliant debut is without doubt the widest book of poetry I have ever encountered. Once you open it, it’s triple-wide, designed to unfold in two halves from a center portion that acts as a kind of “bridge” between the two halves (do you see an allegory coming your way?). I’m unsure whether the book was designed to fit the long serial poem or the poem designed to fit the book, but I suspect the former is the case because tolbert’s text has such a unusual, utopian, and at times difficult, body. The incredibly long lines that stretch across the pages, sometimes in stanza form, productively and creatively distort grammar to make language capable of saying new things. They tease us with the possibility of syntactic subordination that one ordinarily hears in “voiced” poetry, but they smuggle in a kind of disruptive, delightfully surprising parataxis through interruption and erasure: “In a body no longer possible still a when. Please, still a when, please gently. Least lately, double saunter, through the rest.” The way tc uses commas and punctuation as musical notation, it’s possible to hear Gertrude Stein and Beverly Dahlen among the influences peeking through the blinds. But unlike either of those writers, this is very much an open field poetics, a kind of dance in which nothing about the spacing of the poem or the way it proceeds can be taken for granted; you need to order yourself a copy of the book to see these acrobatics in action. One thing I can get across in this brief review format though (Tolbert is making me aware of my own body as a critic now) is his ability to inhabit sensitively different affective modes while being alert to the different possible layers of metaphor produced by, and producing, intimacy that might arise at any given moment: “When I wash dishes, I fill up the largest bowl with water,, soap, and silverware. I place this large bowl in the chest of the sink. Notice the rule of nonrecollection. It is paramount to the myth of the sink.” Tolbert’s wisdom here lies in being aware of what’s happening on five levels at once, and of how linguistic form generates content, an exploration which also involves not accepting the myth or the narrative from an outside source. In tolbert’s conception, one can be trans and have a past, one’s poem can have a simultaneously material and morphing body, and one’s generous address to a “you” can make that direct connection as it takes you by surprise with its candor: “You will never believe I am eating edamame.” Tolbert’s poetry helps us to grow, to question, and to embrace, all at the same open time.

Mark Weiss | As Landscape | Chax | 2010

 As Landscape, the long-awaited new book of poems from noted translator and publisher Mark Weiss, is full of memorable details and mysterious pleasures. Alternately mischievous and majestic, serene and disorienting, these poems make observations of details that each last for just a moment, following rapidly upon one another. The unit of thought is the stanza, which Weiss builds in chains reminiscent of renga, though he has a certain fondness for the individual line as stanza: “…Salty flower // The poor at the gates. // On the empty canal a gull. / a snake. // Holds up her veil. // Pried / like a clam / from its solitude. // Even the process invisible.” Yet the leaps here are larger and more disjunctive than renga, and there is something else going on as the lines fade in and out: the stanzas seem attached behind the scenes by mysterious threads, and the poems beckon us to project, participate, and share in the spaces between observations, which never quite resolve themselves. Another available influence for the way these gaps function is Weiss’ experience as a filmmaker; take one of his films such as “They’ve All Gone Away,” in the collection at MoMA, as an example. It’s not exactly jump-cutting, but Weiss’ own version of organic form seems indebted to an awareness of the associations that develop when one scene fades into the next, under the influence of a particular emotion or theme. In the last section of the book, Weiss provides a “provisional poetics” statement emphasizing the importance to his work of the processual, noting that for him writing is a bit like being possessed. In this statement he explains the gaps in the poems as in one sense the result of partial seizures he suffered at a certain point in his life and the antispasmodics he took to treat them, after which he found himself only able to write in short bursts. This experience made him aware of the extent to which the physiology of the writer influences the resulting poem. Yet I think there’s also a very eloquent and careful, and very conscious, examination of grace and gracefulness in these poems, and a cultivation of the quality as well, as in one short untitled poem the entirety of which reads “A gull / shakes one foot / then the other / scratches its neck / and resumes its dignity.” At other moments, his distinctive sense of humor comes through in the juxtaposition of such imagery with sardonic cultural observations: “All you can eat. // In the midst of great happiness / listen to the voice inside you crying / ‘desist, desist.’ // Swan-luminous night.” The surprising, complex, and heartbreaking rhyme here says it all.


More Tim Peterson (Trace) here.

Peterson (Trace)’s Attention Span for 2009. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Tim Peterson

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Filip Marinovich | Zero Readership | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2008

Paolo Javier | Megton Gasgan Krakooom | manuscript

Evelyn Reilly | Styrofoam | Roof Books | 2009

Sueyeun Juliette Lee | Mental Commitment Robots | Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs | 2007

Andrew Levy | Memories of My Father | Self-published | 2008

Brenda Iijima |’ll—ution | Displaced Books | forthcoming 2009

Eileen Myles | The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art | Semiotext(e) | 2009

Charles Borkhuis | Disappearing Acts | manuscript

Julian T. Brolaski | Gowanus Atropolis | Ugly Duckling Presse | forthcoming 2010

Tenney Nathanson | Ghost Snow Falls Through the Void (Globalization) | manuscript

Charles Alexander | Pushing Water | manuscript

More Tim Peterson 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.

Attention Span 2009 – Cedar Sigo

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John Wieners | The Lanterns Along The Wall | Other Publications | 1972

Suzanne Stein | Hole In Space | OMG | 2009

Sara Larsen and David Brazil, eds. | Try! Magazine (A first year subscription) | 2008-9

Joanne Kyger | Lo & Behold | Voices From The American Land | 2009

Tom Raworth | A Serial Biography | Fulcrum Press | 1969

Kimberly Lyons | Phototherapique | Katalanche and Portable Press At Yo-Yo Labs | 2008

Micah Ballard | Parish Krewes | Bootstrap Press | 2009

Dodie Bellamy | Barf Manifesto | Ugly Duckling | 2008

Rene Daumal, trans. Roger Shattuck | Mount Analogue | Pantheon | 1960

Bill Berkson | Goods and Services | Blue Press | 2008

Filip Marinovich | Zero Readership | Ugly Duckling | 2008

More Cedar Sigo here.