Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Raworth

Attention Span 2010 – Kevin Killian

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Steven Farmer | Glowball | theenk | 2010

Farmer is one of those writers who just don’t get published enough, for often when I look at current events I long to find out what Steve Farmer’s take on it will be, and then ten years later, in a book like Glowball, it’s still the news that makes news.  He is always inventive, and his long poems have a shapely quality to them denied to some of his peers. Even in a traditional attraction such as the metaphor, his are exceedingly gorgeous: I like the “greater Los Angeles area” as a “manuscript in a parking lot.” You can tell he takes the long view: the cover is a Robert Fisk photo of US bomb activity in Iraq, and makes it seem like the “return to immensity” nasty old George Bataille was cheerleading for in his cold-war take on de Sade. Well, a sort of jewel box awaits you, courtesy of Palmyra New York and its mighty little theenk Books, and when you read Glowball, that it came from Palmyra will seem so apropos.

Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, eds. | Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque burlesque poetics | Saturnalia | 2010

Lost in the gritty and fabulous world of Gurlesque, it’s easy to forget the whole rest of the world that doesn’t have unicorns with green tails. So many talented writers, all of them working the same vein. Yet as Judith Halberstam assures us, it’s more of a sensibility than a similarity of content; well, that’s true but it seems like a genre too—can a genre and a sensibility equate to the same thing? After reading Gurlesque I have new thoughts about New Narrative of all things, for the two whatevers share more than a coincidental number of common concerns surely: the fixation on shame and embarrassment, the use of gossip to promote social upheaval, the deployment of kitsch, porn and pop to soak the very texture of the poem with discomfort. I’m just upset because Tina Brown Celona’s poem “Event History” shows me up as being sort of a dick. Apparently I snubbed her at a poetry reading, and what’s scary is, I might do so again having never met her and not realizing she’s a Madame Defarge with an elephant’s memory.

Natalie Knight | Archipelagos | Punch | 2009

I heard of her first in connection with her poets theater work and her collaboration with Rodrigo Toscano, but I have been lucky enough to see a fair amount of her poetry too. Richard Owens from Punch Press put out this lovely little book late last year. It ends with a preface—why don’t more books do this?—and begins with one too. In fact it’s a book that meets itself in the middle, or throws itself out like a boomerang and spins itself back in, an able angler. The poem, like a mirror, throws its light back and forth from subject to object. Images of thirst, inertia, desiccation suggest not only a crisis of nature, but an economic arrhythmia troubling the desert like the serpent monster in that Tremors movie with Kevin Bacon long ago. “We mastered weather while soldiers manned uranium rigs in the depths of this unconscious planet.”

Rachel Levitsky | Neighbor | Ugly Duckling | 2009

Neighbor has the feel of a book I will return to often over the next years, and it has also a back story that Levitsky outlines in her back matter that just floors me. I knew writing poetry was hard, but I never thought that I could get a village to help me through! What one comes away with in Neighbor is the sense of a sharply individuated voice, mediating all sorts of very charged political and emotional material, but also the sense, a comforting sense, of the power that a likeminded cohort of massed energies (“many in solitary”) can bequeath to a long project. The upshot is that Neighbor begins well and just gets better and better and better—well, there’s a poets theater type of piece which not everybody is going to love as much as I do—but I can’t picture anyone not swooning over—like bobbysoxers at the Paramount when Sinatra took the microphone—over the final section “The Desire of the Writer,” in which practically every line is great, for how often does that happen, really happen?

Sawako Nakayasu | Texture Notes | Letter Machine | 2010

With characteristic abandon, Sawako Nakayasu named her book after her long-ago blog, retaining that insouciant “notes” flavor that, when I see it in a book title, always makes me think, maybe I should wait for the real thing? “Notes” has a throwaway or at any rate provisional quality to it, though I suppose since Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” has attained more and more that feeling of terminal status that it was meant originally to deflect. Needless to say, Texture Notes is to texture as a Handbook to Surfing was to surfing, i.e., perhaps the last words on the subject. Oysters, she writes, to Paul Foster Johnson, embody the wet more than any other food or beverage, even water. You might wipe your eyes with one, “or rather, desperate for something that could act as a tonic, I would feed it to the next person who was in danger of drying out, yes you.” In other entries she considers the texture of danger, the texture of a raw red cow tongue in her mouth, the “physicality of intelligence” she detects in sumo. Left side right side of the brain: there’s nothing on the left side of each pair of pages, but a title and a dedication; on the right side is all the poetry. I had almost said “meat” because I’m getting so textural. Meat—the traffic of the internal plumbing.

Stan Persky & Brian Fawcett | Robin Blaser | New Star | 2010

I’m a sucker for any book called Robin Blaser, but this one is especially tasty, being that it was written by two of the former protégés of Robin Blaser, the American-born Canadian poet who left us last year. It’s not a collaboration per se, but rather a canny editor’s linking of two lengthy articles; however I find the conjunction very intriguing. Persky met Blaser in North Beach in the late 1950s, during his immersion in the Duncan/Spicer circle that proved an in-depth education for the young seaman. Fawcett’s encounter with Blaser was rather different, he was a young student right off the farm when he wound up in one of the first classes polymath Blaser taught in a formal setup (at Simon Fraser University in B.C. Funny thing is neither man writes poetry nowadays. In fact, Fawcett turns his half of the book into a blistering J’Accuse against the follies of the New American Poetry. I’m like, oh really? And yet the book has, of course, a depth of philosophical inquiry that will help many unravel the mysteries of Blaser.

Tom Raworth, trans. and ed. Gabriela Jauregui | El Tiempo Se Volvio Cuero | Sur +/avra ediciones | 2009

Gabriela Jauregui of Mexico City, who wrote one of my favorite books of poetry of 2008 (Controlled Decay) told me of her long immersion in the work of Tom Raworth and got me all excited when she said she had been translating his work into Spanish. And now here the book is, in a bilingual edition that, as I read through it, may I realize be the best selection of Raworth’s writing that we have. What comes to mind is the speed with which Raworth plows through his readings, so fast he’s huffing and puffing through the end, and the speed of Spanish, the multiple vowels and syllables so that there’s even more to hear and more to experience. Maybe a year back I went down to Glendale to hear Raworth and Juaregui read together for this book’s launch at the Poetics Research Bureau; sometimes he’d read, sometimes she would, but when they stood side by side and erased simultaneously it was better than the Kentucky Derby or Seabiscuit! I should also say that Juaregui’s notes (footnotes) in El Tiempo deserve their own five stars.

Sarah Rosenthal | A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area | Dalkey Archive | 2010

Sarah Rosenthal’s idea of the Bay Area writing community is hardly mine, but how I envy the poets who got to sit down and glory in all those sharply focussed, attentive and ultimately liberating questions she asks. She seems to have read everything each of her subjects has written, and to have it all at the tip of her tongue. It must be heaven to be so understood! At times such depth of knowledge leads to comic effects: Barbara Guest, faced with a multipart reading of her difficult work, seems so pleased that all she responds with is, “Yes,” or “What you’re saying is true.” I’m happy to see the New Narrative ably represented by Bob Glück and Camille Roy, but after a promising appearance in Rosenthal’s introduction, the Language poets seem to be disappeared from the bulk of the book, save by Bob explaining that life here in SF has become less bellicose in recent years, now that Tom Mandel, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten and Bob Perelman have all moved along.

Nathaniel Siegel | Tony | Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs | 2009

In short, sharp little lines that resemble the bursts of memory and shame of a young man’s journey towards gay self-acceptance, Nathaniel Siegel’s psychological acuity and his skill prevent him from ever getting too sappy about it. It is the sort of poem I wish I could have written, a montage of scenes appearing quickly, then flash, you’re in another awkward, sexy place with a musical soundtrack, and even sweeter, the names of boys and men like a litany of broken promises. He gets everything right, even the moment of steeling up your courage to come out to your brother, like he didn’t already know years ago. Each stanza I would have worked up into a touching short story, but here it’s the speed and the accuracy of the notation that matter, like what’s his name, like listening to an old Art Tatum session and shaking your head in wonder and envy. By the end, you have lived a stranger’s life so intensely he’s become your comrade, your rabbi, your favorite boyfriend.

Christopher Wagstaff, ed. | Paul Alexander: On Black Mountain College and the San Francisco Scene | Rose Books | 2010

I know that I promised Brian Fawcett I would have no more truck with the evil New American Poetry, and yet this beautiful transcription of three mid-1980s interviews with the painter Paul Alexander broke my vow right away. (This book is #3 in a Rose Books series called “Painters of the San Francisco Renaissance.”) Paul Alexander, happily still alive and working in northern California, was a student in the late, decadent flowering of Black Mountain and came west with the others once the college closed in 1956. He worked closely with Olson, Duncan, Keilty, Borregaard, Jess, Adam, maybe not so much with Jack Spicer, though his younger brother Jim was one of the key figures in Spicer’s artistic development. Alexander, Tom Field and a few others found themselves at odds with the artistic trends of their time, ignored both by New York and by the SFAI/”6” Gallery artists like Deborah Remington and Wally Hedrick, but they persevered despite it all. Their uncanny work is ripe for full rediscovery.

David Wolach | Occultations | Black Radish | 2010

I come to this work thinking of the meetings I’ve attended of the Nonsites Collective here in San Francisco, a movement that has certainly inflected Bay Area writing practice over the past couple years. Wolach seems one of the most talented of a phalanx of talented participants, but I will have to read Occultations many more times to tell you how I really feel about it. He must have given his designers hell, as do many performance artists-turned-book poets, for nearly every page has some visual stunt going on to amplify or complicate the already dense and Halpernian movement of the words. This is a writing attuned gingerly to a certain amount of pain, proposing itself in a world where it’s always 3:30 in the morning.  I admire what he does with his body, and the advocacy with which Occultations speaks for (or to, perhaps) the victims of brutality, government indifference or policy, the heteronormative dictatorship, and disease. It’s a long book, but it’s been a long war.

More Kevin Killian here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 . Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Benjamin Friedlander

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Lawrence Rosenwald | Selected Journals 1820-1842 and 1841-1877 | Library of America | 2010

Memory is the ultimate power, it “holds together past and present, beholding both, existing in both, abides in the flowing, and gives continuity and dignity to human life.” The slackening of that power tells the story—or rather, withholds the story—of Emerson’s final years, in which he suffered from dementia, and which he passed, in part, by rereading these journals.

Herman Melville, ed. Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma MacDougall Reising, G. Thomas Tanselle; historical note by Hershel Parker | Published Poems: Battle-Pieces, John Marr, Timoleon | Northwestern UP | 2009

Though you wouldn’t think so from their prose, Emerson is the more sensational poet; Melville, the more metaphysical. Even in Battle-Pieces, he attempts to worry the essence of a truth. Which isn’t quite right: his poetry is too adept, too carefully worked, to be a mere attempt; it’s we who do the worrying. Assured as a sailor’s knot. And just as unlovely—unless you love knots.

K. Silem Mohammad | Sonnagrams | Slack Buddha | 2009

From one point of view—mine increasingly—craft is the ability to shape a meaningful context for interesting words. And it’s in this sense that Mohammad lives up to his model. The Bard he takes apart letter by letter, leaving everything changed except the form, had a mammoth vocabulary, and little fear (at least on stage) of the vulgar. But Mohammad has less fear. And more laughs.

Aífe Murray | Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language | U of New Hampshire P | 2009

For a hundred years biographers have overturned stones looking for Emily’s lovers while the ones who knew all the secrets stood invisibly in the shadows. This lovingly researched book helps to part those shadows. A story worthy of James: the hiring of Margaret Maher, fought over by two rich families. Worthy of Tillie Olsen: the poet’s funeral, her white casket hefted by Irish servants. Out the back door and across the fields, a final concession to visibility.

The Charles Olson Research Collection | Thomas J. Dodd Research Center | University of Connecticut Libraries | Storrs

Free with visitors and unimaginably wealthy in unpublished material, the Olson Archive, like the Rembrandt Museum, or Stonehenge I suppose, is well worth a trip across the world. Even with a finding aid, there are plenty of surprises—the papers are organized in service to their editing, which is to say their own logic is subordinated to hierarchies of genre. Which are often arbitrary, even whimsical: notebooks are scattered all through the collection, sometimes marked as notebooks, sometimes as prose, sometimes as poetry. I even found a heavily annotated copy of a John Wieners book marked as poetry, because of a few lines of verse on the inside cover. All of which makes reading into a kind of archaeology. Do you like digging? You will dig it.

Tom Raworth | Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems | Carcanet | 2010

I wish I could be satisfied with a poem, but what I really seek to know is the mind that made it. And minds I like as little as poems when there’s no body to hold them, no world for the body, no history for the world. Some poets give you their world, or give you their response to it, and some call you into the world, or from it, with a voice that has as much meaning or matter as any discourse. Raworth is the former, but in a manner so unique as to seem the latter. Almost a sonar, sending you back minute-by-minute information, his narration is almost never enough, but has to be heard, a ping-ping-pinging … a sounding that gives you an object and its motion, with little time to react.

Tom Raworth | Earn Your Milk: Collected Prose | Salt | 2009

Turning to Raworth’s prose from his poetry is a little like clicking on the plus sign on Google maps, watching the world grow larger within a shrinking horizon, ever more knowable. At one point, there are even street names. Hell, there are even directions available. It’s the same world, but close up. I’d call it comfy, but that’s going way too far.

T. D. Rice, ed. W. T. Lhamon Jr. | Jim Crow, American: Selected Songs and Plays | Harvard UP | 2009

Blackface minstrelsy has always been disreputable, but before it became synonymous with racial domination it formed the cutting edge of popular culture—and Rice, if anyone, held the blade. Hard to believe this is the first collection of writings to bear his name on the cover.

Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | U of California P | 2010

Robertson’s poetry is tactile; and dense, but pliable. Reading it is a little like pressing one’s way through a spongy medium, like a fly in marmalade. Alive in a substance that nourishes, or suffocates; that has to be escaped. Except that this is language, not jam, so Robertson abets our escape, guiding our senses beyond the medium, toward a world of imagination, possibility, desire.

Gianni Vattimo with Piergiorgio Paterlini, , trans. William McCuaig | Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography | Columbia UP | 2009

The story of a professor’s life, which is to say: a life of the mind lived as something other than the spirit of history. “Although a decent knowledge of languages has helped me along in life, I confess that vis-à-vis Gadamer I felt like a worm. As far as I could tell, the only one who understood less than me was a beautiful prince from some African tribe, whom I tried to seduce. Unsuccessfully, because of the language barrier.” A bit of a feint, since Vattimo understood well enough—he was the first to translate Truth and Method. Thus: “Gadamer in the end is a watered down Hegelian, like me.” Which is only deprecatory if you want to be God—modesty is Vattimo’s own truth and method. Making him a good seducer; and this, a thoroughly likeable book.

Albery Allson Whitman, ed. Ivy G. Wilson | At the Dusk of Dawn: Selected Poetry and Prose | Northeastern UP | 2009

The most ambitious African American poet of the nineteenth century, formally speaking, and the most prolific up until Dunbar (with whom he shared a stage at the Chicago World’s Fair), A. A. Whitman is hardly known, even to experts. Born a slave in Kentucky, he became a pastor in the A.M.E. church, publishing six volumes of verse between 1871 and 1901, the first of which is no longer extant. But despite his church affiliation, there is little religion in his poetry. For the most part, he’s a cultural nationalist, a little like Tolson, who shares Whitman’s narrative scale and sense of form. Not to give any false impression of Modernism: this is a poetry indebted to Bryant’s neoclassical side. It’s a shame that all four long poems appear in extract—that this could not be a Collected (especially since the book is already too expensive for casual purchase)—but what a gift to have any edition at all, especially one so scrupulously researched. Opening this book makes the nineteenth century a little larger.

More Benjamin Friedlander here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Keith Tuma

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Tom Leonard | Outside the Narrative | Etruscan | 2009

Outside the Narrative includes all that Tom Leonard wants to keep of his poems written between 1965 and 2009. Readers wanting to know what he left out will also need his earlier volumes of selected poems, Intimate Voices and access to the silence; this is the most beautifully designed of the three books, its fonts especially. The other week on the UKPoetry listserv Keston Sutherland wondered if “Tom Leonard’s work [is] one of the only great contributions to the European realist tradition that we have in British poetry of the past 50 years.” Robin Purves chimed in with a word on behalf of the influence of William Carlos Williams, praising the poetry’s “patient, accurate notation of phonetic detail” and Leonard’s “meticulous placing of phrases on the page” as these combine to “give each voice a presence with a quality I can only describe as unarguable.” Malcolm Phillips remembered his mother reading Leonard’s poems aloud at dinner and laughing, which led me to wonder how much poetry gets read at the dinner table these days. I have been practicing this one, a section from Leonard’s “Ghostie Men” sequence, in case I get a chance somewhere:

baa baa black sheep
have you any wool
yes sir yes sir
three bags full

one for thi master
n anuthir wan fur thi master
n wan fur thi fuckin church

Clark Coolidge | The Act of Providence | Combo | 2010

If you were the manager of the World League of Poetry, would you trade J. H. Prynne for Clark Coolidge and a Webster’s to be named later? This latest book by Coolidge is tremendous fun, a book of American prosodies, beginning in its first several sections with variations on Whitmanian sprung anaphora as bebopped by Ginsberg and others, here spritzed with a Coolidge twist—the phrasal echoes heavy, the nouns changed. That’s before the poem practically explodes in section 11, “A Chronology.” Suddenly, and only for a moment, you’re in some strange chronicle thinking maybe this is an epic poem after all, like Paterson or something, except that they haven’t made epic poems like this until now. Then you see that Coolidge has still more hat to chinchilla: Professor Providence has not yet begun his dialogues with Providence. All of which is to say—duh—this poem keeps on surprising. On the evidence of one remark in Coolidge’s Jacket interview with Tom Orange, Coolidge seems to have been working on it since 1996. Would it make a difference if I knew his hometown better or more about King Philip’s War (1675-1676) and that kind of history? Probably, but this is Providence “intuited,” as the poem says at one point. Photographs are included, one of a book or magazine open to a chapter called “Poetry,” where at the bottom of the page on the left I can make out “I wish poets could be clearer, shouted my wife angrily from the next room.” A few lines from the first section, where the poet is warming up:

Providence is missing a lad
Providence is short a load
Providence sloshes tacks like the cogs melt in rootbeer
I have a livid fear of lights by the end of Westminster Road

. . .

I celebrate the something out of too much tobacco
Providence stands and wins then slips and deuterium
Here comes the sun, it’s its duty

In section six Coolidge pauses to say—”Providence silliness taking over the poem”—which is just right at that moment in the poem. I steamed on, as I hadn’t had such a good time since On the Nameways. Two lines for dinner recitation: “Poets are lost in the cold but keep yacking / yadda yadda and fry the rest.”

Bill Griffiths | Collected Earlier Poems (1966-80) | Reality Street | 2010

Alan Halsey and Ken Edwards have done us all a big favor by assembling the early poems of the late, great Bill Griffiths. By all accounts this task was not easy, given the poet’s habit of revisiting material and the sheer size of his work—think Hugh MacDiarmid maybe, though Griffiths has a richer sense of humor. It made sense some years ago when etruscan books put poems by Griffiths beside poems by Tom Leonard and Tom Raworth. Of the three poets, Griffiths is likely to make for the most challenging reading for Americans. Anarchist and classical pianist, publisher, translator of Old English, scholar of North East dialects, a legendary figure among the British avant-garde, Griffiths created “a body of work second to none in its formal enterprise and necessary aggression against what this country has become, a deteriorated tyranny, both economically and culturally.” That’s Eric Mottram writing in 1983, as reprinted in The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths, a useful volume for glossing a few of the poet’s many concerns, first among which might be the law, as a friend said to me some years ago. The volume’s highlights include the sequences Cycles and War W / Windsor, but it is consistently mind-boggling from first to last, not even close to any writing I know for its idioms and frames of reference. Peter Middleton has written about the first poem in the Cycles sequence, which opens “Ictus! / as I ain’t like ever to be still but / kaleidoscope, / lock and knock my sleeping.” And here’s the opening of “Mandrake Song”:

who, obscene hey?

you’re in my fairground yep

I bawl
about
about about by my navel

I oped
Both Eyes

it groweth in the greas
ov dangled men

There’s a good review of the book by Tony Baker at Jacket.

Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey | 2009

There are a couple of thoughtful reviews of this book up on the web, too, one by John Latta, who might be the best close reader of the poetry bloggers I read. I don’t have more to say about Nguyen’s “sparse (sprawl’d), notational, constellatory, measured” writing as it is grounded in domestic and daily life and “liable to jut off anywhere,” or about her work’s precursors (Mayer, Notley, Whalen, others), or the care with which what appears as “notational” is composed, the eclectic “myth-hints” of her poems, or anything else, unless it’s to say that Nguyen can also be funny, as she is toward the end of this book’s final poem: “Make afterlife banknotes / for your ancestors and burn them / in an impressive wad.” She’s not afraid of statement, of offering practical wisdom, so the light touch helps. I found reading the book immensely reassuring—calming, as if Nguyen sees the same horrible news we all see and wants to write about it but won’t always, won’t obsess and let it altogether dominate her life. She has found a way to carry on because she must, which might mean there’s hope for the rest of us. Here’s a poem with a final couplet that underscores Latta’s point about the precision of this writing—its last word is perfectly placed:

Washington

Washington (George) is not in
This poem         powdered wig powdery
And anyway who chops down a fruit
Tree       (idiots)
My sense of
History lies        We buy things
::::chicken wings:::::butter::::

Yesterday Dave took away
My office            my boss         Saturday

Tom Raworth | Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems | Carcanet | 2010

The old poems are poems lost or forgotten when the Carcanet collected poems was assembled in 2003, mostly poems from Pleasant Butter (1972). And the old couldn’t be newer, “Breeding the Arsenic-Proof Baby” about hearing about China, “Into the Wild Blue Yonder” opening with two lines—”prisoner / christmas”—that might have been occasioned by news about—what prisoner swap would have it been? The new poems are from Caller and Let Baby Fall with a few more added. Excerpts for the reader’s guide to blinking mind: “sometimes a fragment of language / illuminates a world not consistently round / breathing its air” [from “Baggage Claim (a slugging welterweight natural)”] and “where do they go / these things we know we know” [“Title Forgotten”]. Also an errata list for the collected poems. “Nothing wasted” here, as usual.

Francis Crot (aka Jow Lindsay) | Pressure in Cheshire | Veer | 2009

On the evidence of the poems I’ve seen, Jow Lindsay has pushed about as near to Renaissance lyric as any of the younger poets in England: Thomas Wyatt, here’s your trousers. He’s a love poet in the first of three texts included in this little book, though the text is not poetry but prose fiction, with a plot even. It concerns Arthur House trying to get across a police line to the 7-Eleven while hoping he won’t be killed—crushed—by a woman jumping off the bridge. That’s part of it anyway. Arthur works little at his corporate job. He’s been offered a promotion he doesn’t want and regularly pongs insults with co-workers, one of them apparently the lover of the officer holding back the crowd. The story is more or less told by Arthur (with what is likely treated found material cut in) and addressed to his recently estranged lover—he’s said something stupid. The story moves fast without really moving, “unfolding certain diverse speeches in the canting tongue” as the prefatory note has it. It contains some of the best prose I read all year. The second piece in the book crashes poetry and poetry gossip into language about the disbursement of foreign aid (conditional aid). I was briefly reminded of Prynne’s Plant Time Manifold transcripts, which Lindsay has written about in Quid 17. The third text is out of Sir Thomas Pope Blount, with bits cut in from elsewhere, “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross” and other sources: I haven’t parsed it sufficiently to see what’s worked up and how. It’s Blount on the spewing of volcanoes, words, and thoughts; the word “bowels” recurs: “The truth is, its cities are built upon ruins, and its fields and countries stand upon broken arches and vaults, and so does the greatest part of the outward part of the globe, and therefore it is no wonder if it be often shaken.” I think this was written before the top blew off Iceland.

Barbara Claire Freeman | Incivilities | Counterpath | 2010

One of the two blurbs is by Judith Butler, which caught my eye: I’m not sure I’ve seen Butler blurb poetry previously. She says the poems “range in form and style” and “participate in an austerity, a political edge, and what one poem calls ‘abbreviated violence.’” Four of the poems are called “georgics.” There’s a welcome earnestness throughout, even a hint of “solemnity”—to borrow a word from the first poem, titled “The Second Inaugural.” Freeman samples political rhetoric (of Washington and Lincoln) and her writing in places takes on some of its characteristics. Butler is right that her forms are various, and her line, but this is writing that knows about the prose virtues Pound wrote about long ago. The three-poem sequence “Incivilities” especially held my attention. It might have been written as the stock market was crashing in October 2008: “Then shall they be cut: the sovereign debt, the wailer, // the whistler, the sloped yield curve, the rearing traveler. . . .”

Elizabeth Arnold | Effacement | Flood | 2010

One of the poems in this book-length sequence describes summer-long radiation treatments for breast cancer and does so matter-of-factly, in seven short lines. Emotions attending mastectomy and reconstructive surgery are on view throughout the sequence, but what impresses is the way Arnold looks outward to situate her experience. The book is charged with compact, unpretentious, smart reflection on body and mind, and not only on varieties of damage and “effacement” but also on surgical and emotional repair. The poem uses diverse materials to think with—Phillip Johnson’s glass house, passages from David Jones and Dante, case studies of surgery, studies of the fish of the hadal depths, the war drawings and letters of Henry Tonks, more. In some ways I was reminded of the longer poems of Frank Bidart, without the theater.

Frederick Farryl Goodwin | Buber’s Bag Man | The Gig | 2010

This is a chapbook containing eighteen poems and a final fragment (“To light up posthumously, / leeke a word”). Three texts are prose, or poetry and prose—imagine Rimbaud with a sense of humor. A few lines from “The Bouncer”: “I was caught up in a maze of Oscar Kokochkas. The Ger man s / w/ their potato mashers to the head. I swooned in small barbaric rooms.” Words fall apart, or rather their letters migrate, attaching to and forming other words, or simply mangling them. The self is much the same, on the edge of disintegration but also somehow spirited and genuine and funny. I take it that Goodwin must have worked as a bouncer at some point: “I felt like a cuckoo clock with its cuckoo guts cut out.”

K. Silem Mohammad | Sonnagrams 1-20 | Slack Buddha | 2009

The compositional process is explained by a note in the back: “I feed Shakespeare’s sonnets one line at a time into an anagram engine, thus generating a new group of words from each line, which I then paste into a Microsoft Word document. This initial textual output gives me a bank of raw material that is quantitatively equivalent to Shakespeare’s poem at the most basic linguistic level: the letter. At the same time, it sufficiently alters the lexical structure of the original poem so that I am not overtly influenced by Shakespeare’s semantic content. I click and drag the text generated by the anagram engine by letter until I am able to rework it into a new sonnet in iambic pentameter, with the English rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The letters that are inevitably left over are used to make a title.” The resulting pentameter thumps a bit at times, the syntax bending for it, but it’s an interesting experiment to be sure, given the source material. Leftover letters being allowed for the title makes for a lot of wiggle room. Some of the poems are funny in the way light verse can be funny: we could use more of that. I laughed when I heard Mohammad read them aloud; his timing and deep bass tones had the whole room in stitches.

Lisa Samuels | Throe | Oystercatcher | 2009

Samuels’ Tomorrowland, a book-length poem about New Zealand and “bodily transit and colonial forgetting” (to quote from the publisher’s description) also appeared (from Shearsman) in 2009, and it’s in a stack of poetry books and chapbooks I read with interest this year and thought I might include among my eleven, but now I’ve run out of room. I thought I’d list this one and Mohammad’s book above to support chapbook publishers, Oystercatcher one of the best of these in the UK as Slack Buddha is in the USA. Not to forget a-bend press and Tinfish, Wild Honey active again, Punch Press, Ugly Duckling, Critical Documents, and many others. Throe is twelve shorter poems. I won’t try to characterize them except to say that the first poem has some very funny lines (“I have heard that story before. She lifts her leg and / it’s a social occasion”). Funny is obviously one thing I’ve been looking for this year. You can read the whole poem at Jacket.

More Keith Tuma here. His Attention Span for 2009. Back to directory.

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.

Raymond Roussel’s Living Room

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lipstickTom Raworth – Dormitory Life (1’04”). Recorded on October 16, 2008 in the UMaine New Writing Series. Previously on Lipstick of Noise: Catacoustics and Nothing. More Raworth on PennSound and MeshWorks. • “Certains (Olivier Cadiot, Tom Raworth), en précipitant le tempo de leur lecture à voix haut, parviennent aussi à déstabiliser le discours indirect continu” (Emmanuel Hocquard, Les Babouches Vertes). • Tracklist here. Mirrored here.

Written by Steve Evans

June 25, 2009 at 10:20 am

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

*

More Rod Smith here.

Attention Span – Keith Tuma

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Trevor Joyce | What’s in Store | The Gig and New Writers’ Press | 2007

If verse is a turning, the short poems here have some of the tightest corners on the road.  New poems as if carved in stone; old folksongs from Ireland, Hungary and all over the map made new; birdsong collaged. A big book of lyric poetry plus: “not all / plants / are alike // some are / astringent / some are / salty // some sour / some sweet // some men / are short / -lived / some long // some ugly / others fortunate // weak strong / stupid clever / poor rich // was it / brevity / you wanted?”

Linh Dinh | Jam Alerts | Chax | 2007

Imagine Catullus in a tiki bar having a drink with an unemployed rodeo clown, contemplating the end of empire.  Or don’t: “Bombs / scared them away? Hell no, / We ate them all.”

Marjorie Welish | Isle of the Signatories | Coffee | 2008

Modernism as bricks in a wall you think you can tag: “WITH INDETERMINANCY WE SHALL BURY YOU.” Blue and white: are they true?

Keston Sutherland | Hot White Andy | Barque | 2007

No fire extinguisher left, they’ll be sorting stage directions for this at mid-century, looking for the way out: “He always does this. You get used to it. It is / what brains means.”

Norma Cole | Do the Monkey | Zasterle | 2006

Thinner than Spinoza in Her Youth and every bit as smart.  Here and there more flip, e.g. a waka is a 31 syllable poem: “My dog Stoutie is a stout little pal, kind of sugary, damp little nose, especially when he wants to go for a waka.” Check out “Heavy Lifting,” “The Olympics Is All in Your Mind,” and the rest: a “full sea / outside the self.”

Tyrone Williams | On Spec | Omnidawn | 2008

Cornucopia of hybrid texts. Jimmy Webb and Jacques Derrida tango on one page: “Pop ain’t s’posed to drawl and corn in the bright can’s just plain wrong.” “Derrida clarifies and develops this difference between the Platonic and Christian concepts of the soul in Chapter Three.”

Catherine Wagner | everyone in the room is a representative of the world at large | Bonfire | 2007

As if Plath read Wittgenstein aloud in the town square: “God knows the question arises from its own background / like a bas-relief, so that if one located it / one could chisel the whole thing off the wall and throw it away.”

Tom Raworth | Let Baby Fall | Critical Documents | 2008

When hungry, eat fast: “what are the chances? / what do they want with the bowl?”

Devin Johnston | Sources | Turtle Point | 2008

Not least for translations of Sappho and Propertius, and for more poise and balance than I’ve seen since Thom Gunn left these peeling shores: “Wake and sleep / sleep and wake.”

Rod Smith | Deed | Iowa | 2007

Something about the house is probably a metaphor, Mr. Jones: “Then the house / is popping.”

Frances Kruk | A Discourse on Vegetation & Motion | Critical Documents | 2008

There are other books, there are larger books, maybe you do and maybe you don’t need them: “today the Penalty is Self.”