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Posts Tagged ‘Sharon Mesmer

Attention Span 2009 – James Wagner

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Art Davidson | Minus 148 Degrees: First Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley | Mountaineers | 1999

It turns out to be cold on Denali in the middle of the winter.

Laura Sims | Stranger | Fence | 2009

Mysterious, emotional, fragmentary arrangements. Not airy, incomplete friezes but freighted waves.

Rainier Werner Fassbinder | Berlin Alexanderplatz | Bavaria Film | 1980

Slowly watching all of his films. This one makes 30. The Fassbinder Foundation’s website is here.

Various authors and translators | Dichten = No. 10: 16 New (to American readers) German Poets | Burning Deck | 2008

Fantastic.

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo Books | 2007

Accumulative energy, often created by anaphora, strong sense of line/line-breaks, formal rhetorical argument embedded in meant-to-shock content, with tinless ear.

Dee Molenaar | The Challenge of Rainier: A Record of the Explorations and Ascents, Triumphs and Tragedies | Mountaineers | 1979

The classic text of everything having to do with climbing the mountain. (I’m planning on climbing Rainier in 2010.)

Mike Gauthier | Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide | Mountaineers | 1999

Among other things, exceptional notational photographs of 39 of the routes.

Michael Burkard | Envelope of Night: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1966-1990 | Nightboat Books | 2008

Where Ashbery, Vallejo, Kafka and Creeley meet.

Jerzy Pilch, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston | The Mighty Angel | Open Letter | 2009

Just beginning this.

Bree Loewen | Pickets and Dead Men: Seasons on Rainier | Mountaineers | 2009

Rare story of a female climbing ranger on Mt. Rainier, covering the harsh elemental life of hard climbing, rescuing live and dead bodies, and your typical serving of human insensitivity. Self-deprecating, dogged, engaging.

Eleni Sikelianos | Body Clock | Coffee House | 2008

The real deal keeps dealing.

More James Wagner here.

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.

Attention Span – Thomas Devaney

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Dan Machlin | Dear Body | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2007

A book I continue to read and recommend.

George Oppen, ed. Stephen Cope | George Oppen: Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers | California | 2007

“Lay it on the line—” (page 203).

Bill Berkson & Colter Jacobsen | Bill | Gallery 16 Editions | 2008

Bill feels like a lost classic. Jacobsen’s drawings are beautiful. The book reads like a dream. Berkson culled the text from a juvenile detective novel. From Bill: “War broke out the following day, as agreed.”

Prageeta Sharma | Infamous Landscapes | Fence | 2007

“And I still remain difficult when it is advantageous.” No doubt—Sharma has found her register: it’s daring, brutal, and always, a pleasure. Infamous Landscapes breaks new ground for Sharma and clears the air a bit.

Alan Filreis | Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-1960 |  North Carolina | 2008

Yes, it’s a serious historical book, a major book, but Filreis’s personal voice and deep connections to mid-century modernism show how many formal concerns of the work were linked to progressive politics; it is an untold history of the so-called language/nature problem (and the reactions to it) that continue into our moment.

Sharon Mesmer | The Virgin Formica | Hanging Loose | 2008

I read Francis Picabia’s I Am a Beautiful Monster (MIT Press, 2007) and Mesmer’s Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books, 2007) during the same one week period. It was an uncanny pairing. Now I’m reading Mesmer’s The Virgin Formica, which is relentless and fearless, and except for Picabia’s book, may be peerless.

Christina Davis | Forth A Raven | Alice James | 2006

These are spare and unsparing poems. Davis writes: “In the history of language/ the first obscenity was silence.” There is a God.

Brandon Downing |  Dark Brandon | Grievous Pictures | 2007

B. Downing’s prowling, humour noir DVD Dark Brandon is not an intervention, but more of a break-in. These deep cultural cullings are an unsettling reflection of Downing’s one way mirror. The mirror is our age’s “own face” as Clark Coolidge might say.

Pierre Reverdy, trans. Ron Padgett | Pierre Reverdy: Prose Poems | Black Square / Brooklyn Rail | 2007

Both Reverdy and Padgett adorn the unadorned. Here is a masterful and open-hearted poet translating a kindred soul. From the poem “Waiting Room” Reverdy writes: “And the trees, telegraph poles, and houses will take on the shape of our age.”

Kevin Killian | Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow | Belladonna 117 | 2008

“Read my lips, ‘I’m into you,’ the virus seems to wriggle / through plate glass.” Is Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow the first chapbook in the Belladonna series written by a man? Bravo to Rachel Levitsky and Erica Kaufman on the series overall, and bravo to Kevin Killian on Wow.

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Noteworthy, other books and poems from the hubbub include: Peter Gizzi’s The Outernationale, anything translated by Sawako Nakayasu; Serge Fauchereau’s Complete Fiction translated by John Ashbery & Ron Padgett; Joseph Massey’s Within Hours; Joel Lewis’s on-the-level every day Learning from New Jersey; Steve Dickinson’s up-tempo Disposed; Jennifer Moxley’s The Line; The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, edited by Michael Rothenberg; David Trinidad’s loving The Late Show. “Some of These Daze” from Charles Bernstein’s Girly Man. The Route, a capacious investigation by Jen Hofer and Patrick Durgin: “We want to say something in another language which is also ours” (page 120).

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More Tom Devaney here.

Attention Span – Rod Smith

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John Ashbery | Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems | Ecco

Robert Creeley | Selected Letters | manuscript

Mark Cunningham | 80 Beetles | Otilith

Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge

Peter Gizzi | The Outernationale | Wesleyan

Aerial 10: Lyn Hejinian Special Issue | manuscript

Joanne Kyger | About Now: Collected Poems | National Poetry Foundation

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo

Mel Nichols | Bicycle Day | Slack Buddha

Tom Raworth | Let Baby Fall | Critical Documents

plus one:

McKenzie Wark | 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International | Buell Center/Forum

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More Rod Smith here.

Attention Span – Benjamin Friedlander

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Anne Boyer | Art Is War | Mitzvah | 2008

I’m not a believer in the Holy Spirit, but the fact that some poets make every sentence flutter with life while others merely kill brain cells does give me pause.

Peter Cole, ed. and trans. | The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 | Princeton | 2007

A half-millennium of poetry sifted with patient labor from the sand of history, then weighed and melted and wrought anew. To appreciate the wonder of this labor, imagine the David Shields anthology listed below rewritten in contemporary idiom, with tonal differences flattened out, but with a corresponding gain of coherence. A book to set beside Pound’s Provencal, which is only fitting since the poets involved were writing at roughly the same time.

Peter Culley | The Age of Briggs & Stratton | New Star | 2008

Momentum, ease, and a gift for gab are never sufficient for a book to be as enjoyable as this one. But when the poet is also a collector and historian of minor experience, these qualities begin to seem pretty foolproof. “A walk / on gilded splinters / in terrycloth / slippers,” with birdsong loud and clear when the TV is turned off.

Tony Harrison | Collected Poems | Penguin | 2007

Modernism scarcely registers here, but in Harrison’s case that’s not a defensive posture. His poems are episodes from a class war in which language is the battlefield: those who know it best are best favored to strike with impunity, and deadly surprise, and live to strike again.

Susan Howe | Souls of the Labadie Tract | New Directions | 2007

She makes other poets sound forced who strive to say one-quarter as much. Her secret? If you work your material until it’s in tatters, until it stains your thoughts and permeates your dreams, any stray word can be Sibylline.

Andrea Lauterwein | Anselm Kiefer/Paul Celan: Myth, Mourning and Memory | Thames & Hudson | 2007

A handsomely illustrated book about Kiefer, whose encounter with Celan’s work triggered a profound change, but not, it seems, a profound reading. Which makes this a fascinating study of reception, surprisingly close to another book I admired last year—Christoph Irmscher’s Longfellow Redux (U of Illinois P, 2008).

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo | 2008

It’s impossible to read these poems without wanting to share the lines out loud. Silence is helpless here: even when I’m alone with this book, I break the silence, laughing. Is there anything more poignantly utopian than that? If ideology is the presence of society in our heads, then laughing out loud when we’re alone is the very summoning of that society, an involuntary assertion of communion.

George Oppen | Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers | ed. Stephen Cope | California | 2008

The pensive poet at his vanity (where beautiful poems were so often made up), appealingly deshabille.

Mark Scroggins | The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofksy | Shoemaker & Hoard | 2007

Sometimes, all you need is a firm grip from a friend to make it across slippery ground. With Zukofsky, Scroggins is that friend.

Frank Sherlock and Brett Evans | Ready to Eat Individual | Lavender Ink | 2008

The black bars framing each page reproduce the characteristic look of an empty food pouch, of the sort distributed in New Orleans after Katrina—marking this poem as a kind of shared meal, each portion of which once filled the empty space between need and excrement. Sustenance temporarily, debris for posterity.

David S. Shields, ed. | American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries | Library of America | 2007

The new edition of the Oxford anthology of American verse gives a mere twenty-seven pages to poets born before Emerson—clearly, the earlier years are due for a reappraisal. Here, the editor’s particular interest lies in the emergence of literary culture, so popular culture is actually less evident than in John Hollander’s companion volume of the nineteenth century, which surprised me. Surprising too is the canon that slowly emerges. Measured in pages, the top five poets are all familiar names: Michael Wigglesworth, Edward Taylor, Philip Freneau, Anne Bradstreet, Timothy Dwight. But after Dwight the discoveries come fast and furious, pushing Ebenezer Cook (of “The Sot-Weed Factor”) down to ninth place, and Phillis Wheatley all the way down to fourteenth. Whether these new rankings create new reputations remains to be seen (the Scottish-born West Indian James Grainger is already gaining ground among scholars), but since the test of a book like this one rests ultimately on the poems, one reads more for choice moments than careers. And here I’ve found more than enough to justify a reapportionment of pages in the next Oxford. I’m especially fond of the following lines by Hannah Griffitts:

My Sense, or the Want of it—free you may jest
And censure, despise, or impeach,
But the Happiness center’d within my own Breast,
Is luckily out of your reach.

(From a short poem against marriage, written around the time of the Revolution—found in a commonplace book.)

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More Benjamin Friedlander here.

Attention Span – K. Silem Mohammad

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Jasper Bernes | Starsdown | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2007

A dazzling book of poetry that achieves the experiential inventiveness and elaborative density of a novel without sacrificing its lyric autonomy.

Joe Brainard | The Nancy Book | Siglio | 2008

A much-anticipated event, heightened even further for me by getting to see the exhibit at Colby College, Maine, at which many of these works were on display, earlier this summer.

Jack Collom | Red Car Goes By: Selected Poems 1955–2000 | Tuumba | 2001

I wrote about Collom’s wonderful collaboration with Lyn Hejinian, Situations, Sings (Adventures in Poetry 2008) earlier this year for The Constant Critic. That book could easily have gone on this list as well. But I want to draw attention to this indispensable collection, which I picked up in June at Naropa, where Collom performs poetic miracles on a regular basis.

Patrick Durgin and Jen Hofer | The Route | Atelos | 2008

We’ve had a windfall of engrossing poetic memoirs and epistolary exchanges lately by Jennifer Moxley, Juliana Spahr, Bernadette Mayer and Bill Berkson, and others. Here’s another vibrant chronicle of the contemporary, in which two razor-sharp poets’ minds use each other as theoretical, political, and aesthetic sounding boards, and in so doing reveal the moving, living mechanisms that sustain a deep friendship.

Jennifer Knox | Drunk By Noon | Bloof | 2007

Knox is one of the few poets I can think of who still writes with great success in the familiar mode of the “dramatic monologue”: she makes it work partly by inhabiting its conventions like a kind of squatter and vandalizing them from the inside out, rendering the form unfit for occupancy by anyone else thereafter. Alternately and/or simultaneously sensitive, mean, elegant, smart, stoopid, and most of all, funny.

Jackson Mac Low | Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works | California | 2008

The title says it all.

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo Books | 2007

This book is like cherry-flavored anthrax in a Pixie Stix straw. Mesmer breaks all the rules of decorum, craft, and form—she even invents some new rules just to break them. I would like to see her and Jennifer Knox have a poetic slapdown in a big hockey arena somewhere. My guess is that it would end in a tie with the audience dead from hemorrhaging.

Sianne Ngai | Ugly Feelings | Harvard UP | 2005

Incisive takes on Melville, Stein, Hitchcock, Bruce Andrews, Nella Larsen, and much more. A key text for entering into many of the most lively and controversial discussions in poetics over the last few years.

Alice Notley | In the Pines | Penguin |2007

Dark, uncomfortable, haunting dream-speech. Recalls for me Spicer’s medium-like approach in works like Heads of the Town Up to the Ether.

Ara Shirinyan | Your Country Is Great: Afghanistan–Guyana | Futurepoem | 2008

Not Flarf, but that more “conceptual” vein of Google-collage practiced very interestingly in various ways by writers like Linh Dinh, Juliana Spahr, and Rob Fitterman. Shirinyan’s text does court flarfiness, however, with its inclusion of many of the unedited, offensive, and sometimes just silly things that turn up in searches for web text containing the phrase “[name of country] is great” (“Guam is great. really it is / shit, this is the place where i / found myself”). The minimal amount of shaping Shirinyan performs (mostly adding line and stanza breaks, I think) is just enough to induce that uncanny “subjectivity effect” which is one of the things that makes reading the book so compelling.

Various Authors | DRUNK |  ongoing

A lot of the poetry these days that I find the freshest and most full of expressive innovation happens on this blog and its outlying zones. The all-caps convention is really just a surface device that (along with the alcohol, one imagines) enables invention—although the monotone “shouting” effect does convey a sort of defamiliarized emotive urgency.

Attention Span – Rodney Koeneke

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K. Silem Mohammad & Anne Boyer, eds. | Abraham Lincoln issues 1-3 | NA | 2007-2008

Nascent American sensibility change in easy-to-staple trading card form.

Hannah Weiner | Hannah Weiner’s Open House, ed. Patrick Durgin | Kenning | 2006

Each room has many mansions. More doors, please, soon.

Gary Sullivan | PPL in a Depot | Roof | 2008

Brecht shutting cell phone to mustachio Mozart with Caucasian circle chalk. “Between the dark and the thyme soufflé … mmmm …”

Philip Whalen | The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, ed. Michael Rothenberg | Wesleyan | 2007

New eyes for old wineskin yclept “Beat.”

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo | 2008

Dear Poetry: Please can you be like this sometimes always?

Kevin Killian | Selected Amazon Reviews, ed. Brent Cunningham | Hooke | 2006

The nation speaks through its stars—Reviewer #80 is America’s Most Wanted detourniste.

Maryrose Larkin | The Book of Ocean | i.e. | 2007

Newton’s apple fallen and washed to Eve’s, sent into re-orbit: poems for a world like that.

Benjamin Friedlander | The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes | subpress | 2007

Transatlantic two-step for treated Bösendorfer. My feet slip over at ends of lines, like when you trip in dreams. Your catching yourself’s the poem.

Alicia Cohen | Debt and Obligations | ms | forthcoming, 2008

To make Temecula and connected earth systems versus all reason sweet and green. “Actual people breathe the ghost.”

K. Silem Mohammad | Breathalyzer | Edge | 2008

That thing Greil Marcus said about buying an album of Dylan breathing hard? That. Esp. when breath moves like this. “There’s no way we’re not going to start a ruckus in a country town.”

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

Field manual for the practice of not sitting on hands, pitched against “the almost imperceptible social octave known as normality.”

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More Koeneke here.