Saturday, November 1, 2008

Poetry, yo

i go to poetry readings, but not usually to the drinks after. i intend no disrespect to the readers or organizers, but i have learned that what would seem community is really something needing definition by way of a social scene more than the ostensive occasion to hear an art form enacted. besides, i get tired from walking or bicycling to readings, and just want to get back to home in order to eat and then sleep and get ready for the day job. but sometimes i do go for drinks, because i got my fuzzy on.

Here are some recent readings i attended:

October 19.
Yellow Edenwald Field. Launch reading hosted by edric mesmer. i heard Lisa Forrest, Martin Clibbens and Kristianne Meal read. The magazine could be had for $2, so i bought one. nicely done book of buffalo poets. i also bought a mysterious book of poems, anonymously written, with a painted cover, entitled The Gesso Apprentice.

October 23. i went to Medaille College to hear Christopher Schmidt at the Huber Library.

October 26. This was my own reading to inaugurate the Sundays at Central reading series. Paul White read as well.

October 29. Michael Ondaatje read in Ashbury Hall at Babeville downtown to a packed house.

October 30. Geraldine Monk read eerie poems and sonnets at the Hallwalls Cinema.

i've also been receiving a lot of books in the mail recently. i'm puzzling over ways to respond. One thing i had hoped to do was publish my reviews in Celery Flute, which as yet, has about 20 different notices that will have to wait until that magazine can be printed. On the other hand, i'm wavering over what to say here, as i have written lots of responses to books before, and the circumstances of web reviewing still leads me to have reservations.

All of the readings in the past two weeks were in different places--a used bookstore/theater space, a remodeled church sanctuary, a small college library, a big public library, a small dark cinema/stage. Each of these spaces lent a different character to the readings, and, typically, the audiences were strikingly different in size and character, class and community. Each author presented a distinct style--just as the books i am given, now piled around me, traverse vastly different ground.

Because of its brevity, i was able to read through all of issue 15 of 6X6, a well-crafted literary object in its own right, from Ugly Duckling Presse. The poems did maintain a kind of character, as of a time, if not slightly tilted by the inclusion of newly translated poems by the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841).

[Oh, i don't know if i can stand it, there's just too much here on my desk!--a weight of compiled intentions, forms of intensity in conjunction, disjunction, and that, that. . .what is the word for the unsewn hem? Scurf? Beyond a fringe. i can't even take a running leap towards all of these books!]

Okay, i'll try. Here is 6X6: Anne Heide--a poem called "The Gold Planet" in six sections. The form reminds me of a sequence called "Cinnabar Verses" in another recent book, Rhrubarb, by Robert Kocik (Bowdoinham, Maine: Field Books, 2007), in its use of short, enigmatic lines. Gold and Cinnabar also seem to go together, as the use of cinnabar in the old alchemists' art was to lead eventually to the production of gold. Here is a line from Heide: "Planet renames the mine a possible clot like a lucky horse wouldn't step on it." And here is one from Kocik: "Load unicorn with broken horn sidewise into back of battered station wagon". Mere coincidence? i don't think so. Will Hubbard gives us a six-poem cycle called "Ordines". Now, i don't even know what this word means. Instead, i will talk about Hubbard's chapbook The God Is Quiet That Would Have You, from Brooklyn's CapGunPress (2007). This is a top-stapled book not unlike a restaurant server's order pad. It contains 26 poems. i like the title, because it has the word "God", which can mean anything, and the word "You" which can also mean anything, including "God". It's a cool title because it has a kind of smirk about it, like it knows something that the reader doesn't. In his introduction, Jaye Bartell calls this poetry "vulnerability enacted." With his reference to Henry Miller, i think of a kind of poetry of the heroic as found in bohemian life. The shortened lines disguise the fact that some of these poems are modified iambic quatrains. There are many references to French films, like those of Catherine Breillat, famous for her near-porn film Romance X. The influence of Hubbard's onetime teacher, Robert Creeley, also appears rather frequently, especially in a reference to Bresson's film about Sir Lancelot, which was the source of Creeley's great poem "Bresson's Movies". This chapbook is instead a kind of chiseled notebook, aimed as it is to achieve an interrelation, abounding with hyper-minimal, fractured line endings. The highpoint for me names a condition based on the drowning, treacherous, transgressive ground of love called "Walk the Plank". Vulnerable, and yet, not. The rest of 6X6 #15 is tidy and oblique, confessional, but yet witholding. Poems by David Goldstein, Lawrence Giffin, and Emma Rossi (my favorite of the issue--a poetry of discouraged attempts to articulate something foundering into a bliss of potential statements, never accepted, but let loose into their own pinball ricochets.) (If we get to soi disant nth-gen newyawk school as a label, can we finally talk about something else?)

i keep wanting to put another two books in dialogue with each other: Kim Chinquee's first book Oh Baby (Spokane: Ravenna Press, 2008) and Jason Irwin's first book Watering the Dead (Montpelier, Ohio: Pavement Saw, 2008). They couldn't be more unlike each other, though, in terms of voicing, the line, description. And yet, each is an attempt to reconstruct narrative form. Chinquee's book contains around 80 flash fictions and prose poems, while Irwin's book collects 45 poems into three sections. i guess the clearest intersection of content in these books is the prevalence of references to alcohol. There are very pertinent differences: Chinquee's prose-poems range wide and far, yet keep bringing me back to a sense of the subaltern, the way serious human situations can only find us by way of consumables and products, and in this way i am impressed with Chinquee's ability to hone plain language (Great Plains language?) into resonant descriptions. Here are emotional realities trapped in the transgressions of things: eating, drinking, and loving mean Denny's, vodka, and fucking. Here is the detritus of a world all wrapped up in a menacing Walmart happyface. Kill your emoticon. This work is closer to Brenda Coultas' than George Saunders'. But the real background I keep thinking of is Charles Reznikoff's Testimony: The United States. In a way, i want to scream and throw the book at something, if only to protest the world as i find it there. But that is its effectiveness--you can not not want what this book discloses. Which makes it function on that fine line between irony and ridicule, what we most recognize brought close to an edge of near illiteracy, between a deep sympathy for what cannot be articulated except by way of a consumer society's detritus of consumption and the dismissal of a satire that furthers the burn. All of these poems are pre-consumed or about the pre-consumed, and the work it takes to find the art is almost the same as the work we are asked to accept as our actual enjoyment, which, in reality, is a preconsumed happiness. A kind of poetry working backwards, but not as far afield as Acker's "writing stupid". In contrast, Irwin works from a more familiar space: remembrance. Here, the goal is to build a set of portraits, mostly self-portraits, that will stand as confirmation of the facts of one's place, family, and activity. This impulse overwhelms the fact of the lineated text. The question of its poetry hinges mostly on the very fact that the author chooses when the line must end, rather than accepting as default the frame provided. While this is something in itself, and shouldn't be discounted, i tended to ignore line endings completely while reading the book, and instead read it as a set of prose elegies.

now i must take a walk. please read books. write books. eat well. vote for Obama. It ain't gonna be paradise if he wins, but it ain't gonna be a bridge to nowhere, either.


  1. wait, why don't you go to the drinks after? i skip the readings, go to the drinks after (b/c i work from 5-9p). you should come to the drinks, that's usually the best part.

  2. Thanks for the close reading, and for the words. I appreciate this.