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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 | Stephen Collis

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Louis Cabri | Poetryworld | Cue | 2010

A book that, manoeuvring in very tight spaces, manages to exhaust the possibilities and potentialities of inflection and pronunciation. Minimal and maximal at once. There are texts here you have to sing to hear. In others, the pleasure is really in hearing Cabri himself read them. This is conceptual/procedural work, but Cabri is no purist—he mucks with what he comes up with—as the final arbiter is always going to be the sound of spoken language, tuned to its minutest variations.

Garry Thomas Morse | Discovery Passages | Talonbooks | 2011

Morse has for some time (and over a number of books) been exploring the possibilities of a kind of Poundian arch poetry-speak (where iconic cultural rubble is at once celebrated and mocked—oh how tired it all is, operatic and unwilling to leave us alone). In his new book Morse turns that learned, lurid, and laconic eye on local history (George Vancouver’s “discovery” of the Canadian west coast) and his own Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations heritage. Morse is a poet where to hear it is to believe it. And he wants his frog back, Smithsonian.

Mark Truscott | Nature | Bookthug | 2010

I wonder how many words are in this book—maybe 200? 250? Scattered like a few pheromones on the wind of 80 pages. Constrained to the utmost degree, language here still reaches out to deictically indicate a world present and immediate beyond the page, as it simultaneously produces a phatic echolocation of the “here” and “now” of its almost pristinely empty but nevertheless “textual” pages. Truscott is a minimalist’s minimalist, a slow poet so slow you pull out your field glasses and wait and watch, breathlessly, for the slightest movement.

Donato Mancini | Buffet World | New Star | 2011

Mancini’s books have to me read something like primers or textbooks (I mean this in a good way): here’s everything you can do with the alphabet (Ligatures); here’s all the ways you can twist transform and torque the letter form into visual arrays (Aethel). Maybe those books were the necessary “exercises” for this new book, which puts a masterly stamp on what Mancini’s been up to. Yes, there are visual pieces here; yes, there are procedures and fun and games, lists and statistics. But there are also long probing poems about what how and why we eat—a biting, sharp, hilarious and disturbing critique of the industrialization and commodification of the simple process of primary reproduction.

Rob Stanton | The Method | Penned in the Margins | 2011

This is what I wrote for Rob’s blurb: “In Rob Stanton’s excellent new collection, ‘the method’ is clear: ‘that something so complete … does not need witness.’ The problem to be solved here, however, is what to do when that ‘complete’ ‘something’ is not actually present on the page. Through translation, through omission, through compression and the minimalist precision of ‘canny wee things,’ Stanton creates a marvelous texture of voices and references which offers us a glimpse of the just-barely-thereness of a world thought into being by language. At the centre of the book is a vital sequence of sonnets, written in response to Luk Tuymans’ paintings, that pushes the boundaries of the sonnet form, offering an array of approaches to the ekphrastic moment. As Rilke comes in and out of view as muse and phantom, The Method shows that, while ‘completeness’ might not need our ‘witness,’ we, however, nearly wither under its impenetrable gaze.”

Amy De’Ath | Erec & Enide | Salt | 2010 

I have to admit to limited familiarity with contemporary British poetry: Some Prynne, some Keston Sutherland, Andrea Brady (not really a Brit I guess), Tony Lopez, Caroline Bergvall (now there’s someone to trouble national boundaries!), Peter Larkin, Allen Fisher. But if Amy De’Ath’s work is any indication of where young British poets are/are heading, then it’s a pretty good place to be/going. De’Ath is a poet with such a smart ear, fuelled by a rhetoric at once cocksure and in doubt, drunk with poetry’s past but fully engaged with the present post-spectacular moment. This book is “a little ferocity in bloom,” and I can’t wait to see more from De’Ath.

Cecily Nicholson | Triage | Talonbooks | 2011

This is Nicholson’s first book, but it comes growling and howling out of years of community service, social struggle, and an intense and long-term investment in language and the land. From the disasters of open pit mines, the suffering and loss of precarious communities, and the solidarity found in collaborative resistance, Nicholson weaves a dense linguistic surface where we cannot escape the complicity of capital C “Culture” in the endless wars we wage against the earth and each other. I flat out love this book, and find it a clarion call I simply cannot ignore. All the same, it leaves no one off the hook, nothing outside its critical-poetical gaze. Triage is rough, but someone has to sift through the damage to find what can still be saved. Nicholson is a “good” but honest “doctor.”

Brenda Iijima | If Not Metamorphic | Ahsahta | 2010

If not metamorphic, then what? Iijima’s answer is a book of transformations, a book that says—there’s no alternative to alteration (a kind of “what does not change…” sort of formation). That constant metamorphosis keeps Iijima’s readers on their toes. Not unlike two other (however different) poets whose work I love—Robert Duncan and Lissa Wolsak—Iijima manages to ERASE the line between discourses that we might mark as distinctly “spiritual” or “political” (adding the somatic and ecological into the metamorphing mix). The human here is entirely repositioned within flux—which is, I think, where it belongs—”biome / with no exception.” There is a headlong plunge to this text (as with other Iijima books), so that “a sentence can’t handle this fall,” first page to the last. Whenever I read Brenda Iijima I find, sooner rather than later, I stop reading, and start writing. I think that says a lot about what she’s doing. This is fecundating work, to the extreme, steadily eroding the boundary between reading and writing.

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Stephen Collis’s most recent book, On the Material (Talonbooks 2010), was awarded the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Forthcoming books include Lever (Nomados), To the Barricades (Talonbooks), and a book-length essay on “change.”

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