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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Metres

Attention Span 2010 – Philip Metres

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What drives my list this year is a tug between poetic durability and the need for a picture of the contemporary moment; in rare occasions, these two aspects dovetail beautifully.

Pablo Neruda | The Poetry of Pablo Neruda | FSG | 2003

What is there to say, except that I was a little embarrassed to have taken so long to read one of the modern masters, and much relieved to find his voluminous work worth the long haul.

Robert Hass | The Apple Trees at Olema: Selected Poems | Ecco | 2010

Hass remains one of my favorite contemporary poets, partly because his poems are at once approachable and resistant to singular readings. His concerns frequently overlap with the tough thinking of avant-gardists, but his poems have a luxuriousness to them that suggest an epicure with a slightly-guilty conscience. I re-read “Museum,” a prose poem that describes a couple with a sleeping baby sitting in a museum café, surrounded by pictures of suffering by Kathe Kollwitz, in which a kind of symphony of everyday bourgeois life comes into being. Many years ago, the poem inflamed my imagination. Then, years later, when I returned to it, I didn’t feel that it earned its ending. This time, a parent now, I found the poem open itself again to me. His poems have that kind of strange irreducible endurance about them.

VA | Split This Rock Festival | Washington, DC | 2010

Props to Sarah Browning and her Split This Rock crew (of which there are numerous others!) for hosting this conference, which brought together poets involved in social change. Their mission is “to celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today, and to call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.”  I felt very much at home among these poets, who included: Chris Abani, Lillian Allen, Sinan Antoon, Francisco Aragón, Jan Beatty, Martha Collins, Cornelius Eady, Martín Espada, Andrea Gibson, Allison Hedge Coke, Natalie Illum, Fady Joudah, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Richard McCann, Jeffrey McDaniel, Lenelle Moïse, Nancy Morejón, Mark Nowak, Wang Ping, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Quincy Troupe, and the Busboys and Poets Poets-in-Residence: Holly Bass, Beny Blaq, and Derrick Weston Brown. A pretty big tent.

The Book of Isaiah | Isaiah | various translations | various publication dates

He shall strike the ruthless
With the rod of his mouth
And with the breath of his lips
He shall slay the wicked.

I keep finding myself going back to the Bible as a resource; there’s something about the authority and vision of the prophets, Isaiah in particular, that I miss in contemporary poetry and modern life.

Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House | 2010

This intriguingly rendered, philosophically challenging book brings investigative poetics to bear on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I first learned of Rachel Zolf from her XCP essay, “A Tenuous We: Writing As Not Knowing,” about learning Arabic and Hebrew—in order to look for convergences in the languages and to speak the Arabic names that comprise one of the pieces of this book. The first section is about the occupation, enacting a grieving over the other, and attacking Zionist privilege and blindness. The title poem is stunning, bringing to bear different voices who play roles in a “neighbour procedure”—that name for the IDF’s use of a neighbor as a human shield or their house to enter another. Later sections show points of contact between Arabic and Hebrew, employ variant translations of Quranic verses, collage various news sources around a target X.

VA | RAWI Conference | University of Michigan | 2010

The Radius of Arab American Writers conference brought together people from around the country and world to Ann Arbor to present and read and dance over the texts that we write and read and write about; my conference began when I carpooled from Ohio with Kazim Ali, the first of a long series of conversations that reminded me how many good writers face the same dilemmas that I face, but each in their own way.

Mark Doty | Fire to Fire: Selected Poems | HarperPerennial | 2008

“What did you think, that joy / was some slight thing?”

Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues | 2009

A brilliant book that situates itself on the fault lines of empire, the most experimental of this lyrical poet’s oeuvre; the title poem is a tour de force of collage and testimony.

Tony Barnstone | Tongue of War | BkMk Press | 2009

A strange but compelling book, which attempts to answer in the affirmative: can one write a series of sonnets that illuminates various voices—from p.o.w’s to Hiroshima survivors—in the unspeakable Pacific part of the Second World War?

Elena Fanailova | The Russian Version | Ugly Duckling | 2009

What Sergey Gandlevsky did for Russian poetry in the late 1970s and 1980s, Fanailova does for the 1990s and 2000s; a vigorous, richly allusive, and often raw exploration of Russian life.

More Philip Metres here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Philip Metres

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At the end of a long summer of reading, listening, and watching, I found myself wondering whether I actually like poetry; I felt as if I luxuriated in the mythic capaciousness of novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude or Don Quixote, the vivid strangeness of films like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” the documentary power of “When the Levees Broke,” the magical low comedy and strange frames within frames of Arabian Nights, the surreal collage soundscapes of Guided by Voices, the martial punk radicalism of the Minutemen, the sultry ache of Cat Power.

Perhaps the “90% Rule” is in effect, even for poetry—that 90% of anything is bound to be forgettable. Perhaps, too, I find myself dissatisfied with the boundaries we have placed upon our art, its odd professionalisms and its professional oddnesses. But it’s probably also true that the 10% are worth living for. Here are a few books that I’m glad to have read, and have been compelled to re-read, review (excerpted here and there herein), and reiterate.

Mark Nowak | Coal Mountain Elementary | Coffee House | 2009

Whitman’s notion, in his Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, that “poems distilled from other poems will likely pass away,” feels salient to Nowak’s vital anti-poetic stance. Coal Mountain Elementary draws upon and extends resources, voices, and narratives of the Sago mining disaster (and ongoing disasters in Chinese mines) that are—in the hothouse of contemporary poetry—richly unusual, and feel more akin to the projects of the field recordings of the WPA in the 1930s, the interviews of Studs Terkel, the history of Eric Foner and Howard Zinn, etc. It’s also not afraid to learn us something. Coal Mountain Elementary, even in its title, foregrounds strongly the pedagogical/didactic—the “elementary” refers to the project as a primer on the experience of coal miners and their families, at the same time that it interrogates the use and manipulation of education and mass media journalism—in particular, through the sampling of the exercises generated by the U.S. coal industry and the Xinhua wire stories (a numbing catalogue of Chinese mining accidents). Historian Howard Zinn calls the book “a stunning educational tool.”  A beautiful book, with haunting photographs to boot.

Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand | Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space | Palm Press | 2008

Landscapes of Dissent provides a forceful reminder of the critical need to reclaim public space as a site of political action, symbolic exchange, and collective being. In the words of geographer Don Mitchell, “public spaces are decisive, for it is here the desires and needs of individuals can be seen, and therefore recognized, resisted, or… wiped out.” (7). Drawing upon the theories and practices of poets engaged in articulating and building a poetics in and of public space, Landscapes of Dissent offers itself both as a microsurvey of guerrilla poetry in the avant-garde tradition, and a how-to manual for future deployments of such locational verse. Accompanied by photos documenting guerrilla poetics in action, the book makes participating in such homespun actions seem more than possible — it makes them seem inviting and necessary.

Peter Cole | Things on Which I’ve Stumbled | New Directions | 2008

The cover image of poet, translator and publisher Peter Cole’s third volume of verse, Things On Which I’ve Stumbled, a woodcut by Joel Shapiro entitled “5748,” anticipates the central poetic concerns of this erudite, politically charged, and often dazzling collection. “5748,” of course, refers to the Jewish calendar year (September 1987-1988) which commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, as well as the advent of the First Palestinian Intifada—the popular uprising against military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The woodcut itself, in its concatenation of blocky rectangles, evokes (at least to these eyes) both a broken swastika and a person mid-stumble. Such is the bifocality of Cole’s project—it is at once a dilatory celebration of the rich mystical and sensual traditions of Jewish life—which has survived despite a history of oppression and marginalization—and an unsparing look at the politics of Israel/Palestine. In this way, Cole’s work offers us nothing less than a poetics of coexistence, in a time when a future of coexistence seems more distant than ever, and never more necessary.

Susan Schultz | Dementia Blog | 2009

Susan Schultz’s moving Dementia Blog, a book of poetic prose chronicling the personal crisis of her mother’s rapid descent into dementia and increasing need for full-time care, is a remarkable and exemplary chapter in that struggle. But simultaneously, it is a reminder of why we still need an avant-garde practice, and how avant-garde procedures can be as homely and unheimlich as the process of grieving a mother’s decline, set against the backdrop of a nation’s decline.

The 1970s: NPF Conference | authors various | Orono | 2008

Hands down, the best poetry conferences are in Orono, Maine. 2008 merely continued the streak of greatness. Intellectually and artistically stimulating to the point of circuit-overload, but without the smarmy self-promotional aspect of some other well-known literary conferences.

Armand Schwerner | The Tablets | NPF | 1999

A winning, at times hilarious pastiche of scholarly translation of ancient and indigenous texts (fabricated, of course, by Schwerner himself). “The Waste Land” if Eliot had a bawdy sense of humor. Every time “pig” is mentioned, the translator notes it can also mean “god.”

Kazim Ali | “Orange Alert” | U Michigan Press | forthcoming, 2010

Though I sometimes sour on the rhetoric of mysticism, though I sometimes find the rhetoric of political engagement obvious or stultifying, though I roll my eyes at the bathos of identity investigation, Ali’s ability in these essays to bob and weave through these ways of being and writing in the world so effectively quite simply blew my circuits. It helped me not only understand Ali’s poetry in a new way, but also all the work that surrounds his work, and to have a greater feeling for his final reach, that reach toward the ineffable—that which great poetry marks by its limits.

Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Ahsahta | 2009

Rachel Loden’s new collection, Dick of the Dead (Ahsahta, 2009), vibrates with the same parodic music that so energizes her previous collections; I consider her among the pantheon of contemporary poets working the vein of parody (along with Kent Johnson, the flarf collective, conceptualism, etc.), though hers is closest to Johnson’s in its acid take on our imperial politics and our complicity as citizen-poets. I love the music of her poetry, their sheer joie de vivre, their secret rhymes, their snarl and snap.

Kent Johnson | Homage to the Last Avant-Garde | Shearsman 2008

Kent Johnson’s Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, a full-length poetry collection that gathers work from previous chapbooks such as the excoriating Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, extends Johnson’s ongoing parodic provocation of (and through) poetry. Organized in packets of “submissions” to various journals with experimental reputations, beginning with the experimental Evergreen Review (where Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” first appeared in the 1950s) to The World, the book is a subversive talkback to various generations of the avant-garde, and moves in ways that feel both admiring and admonitory. It’s that ambivalence toward the self-appointed avant-garde–and the ways it seems to fall short of its admirable aims to narrow the gap between art and life, to engage in art as social change, to innovate in ways that make revolution possible–that drives Johnson’s project.

Fady Joudah | The Earth in the Attic | Yale | 2008

Joudah’s The Earth in the Attic is the sort of book that shows its textures and layers after re-reading—I’m tempted to say (so I will) the way in which a seemingly wild landscape comes to reveal evidence of human habitation only after careful attention. Joudah, who expertly translated the inimitable Mahmoud Darwish in The Butterfly’s Burden, composes a narrative poetry that defies the linearity of dull narration; instead, his is a braided technique, full of returns, fragments, and veerings-off before inevitable conclusions. This is a kind of story-telling that seems most suited to poetry—where image, texture, and intimation infuse the forms rather than get locked into the inevitabilities of character and plot.

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo / Zasterle | 2007

There’s something to be said for a book that makes a teacher feel like hurling before having to teach it. Annoying Diabetic Bitch is by turns offensive and hilarious, and instigated some interesting conversation about the definitions and limits of poetry. For a workshop full of undergraduate poets charmed by the dry urbanity of Billy Collins and confused by everything else, Mesmer’s flarf was a necessarily messy hurricane. I’m not even sure I “like” this book, but I like that it exists.

Philip Metres’ recent books include To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008) and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007). He’s working on “Sand Opera” and “Imperial Eye: A Petersburg Album.” More here.