Monday, December 15, 2008
The mass email correspondence of cross-country cyclists Meryl Estes, Nicole Grohoski, Caitlin Prentice and Jonathan Stuart-Moore, illustrated by Charles Mahal. New York: Graphic Union Press, 2008. 55 pp.
O, open road, (almost) endless and winding.
Here is the bicycle bell (mini-clarion) of a new generation, out to discover the U.S. of Awesomeness unburdened by cars, gasoline, or that gritty taste kicked up by long miles of high speed driving. This book is a pleasant, present, joyous record of the travels of four young bicyclists who, in the summer of 2005, pedaled their way from Maine to Oregon. It was planned as a project for a Geography course at Middlebury College in Vermont that spring, and then carried out and documented nearly every week for the 100s of people who received their emails. As a travel narrative, it is full of simple pleasures and perplexing frustrations met with wit and humor that speak of a kind of Thoreauean deliberateness. Not exactly a philosophical meditation, it is instead a collectively-authored account (written in the third-person singular) comprising the landmarks, landscapes, and local flavors encountered on the road. The path itself is traced by illustrator Mahal across a large map that spans the final five pages of the book.
As a document, it provides lots of factual detail: a "bikers' index" lists the amount of peanut butter eaten; the cyclists' regimen of diet and daily progress; the aid and comfort given by strangers who unexpectedly encounter the voyagers along the way; and praise for the community of family, friends and supporters.
While this account of a +4000-mile trek is rather brief--so brief as to leave a desire to know more--the combined array of illustrations, introduction, excerpts from the original "guidebook", emails from the relieved and celebratory cyclists' parents and the index provide a diversity of ways to read through what is truly a one-of-a-kind, and awesome, expedition.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Rikki Ducornet, illustrated by T. Motley. Clean. (an excerpt from The One Marvelous Thing, Dalkey Archive Press, 2008). A small, 5.5"X2", 12-page "freebie" booklet done after the style of Jack Chick's proselytizing, fear-inducing pamphlets. Drives the notion of "cleanliness" to absurd heights: "And Jesus says: 'Do you smell good and are you the color of roast veal?' And the old folks answer 'O yes, Lord, we are clean and Our thoughts are like white sauce and our blood is like water and we are ready, O sweet Jesus." Funny and gross, quite a combo.
d.a. levy. "What can I say?" (poem one-fold excerpt from RANDOM SIGHTINGS WITH NO ONE AROUND, Kirpan Press, 2007). 4 pp. 6"X4". This poem is subtitled "for r.j.s May 10, 1967/imprisoned for making a moral decision to help other young people even if it meant endangering himself". levy's friend was hounded, censored, jailed, etc., in Cleveland, OH. It takes the attitude of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and crafts an angry portrait of a loss of identity amidst a culture of fear and suspicion.
this poem is wired
they are listening
they are in the audience
they are in the poem
they are in the words
they are waiting for something obscene
for something un-american
for something about drugs
they dont know
i am as frightened as
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Jessica Smith. Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002-2004.
This is an incredibly well-made book. An impeccable book, even, if such a word doesn’t sound archaic. From the lush tapestry of green on the cover, the thick black endpapers, the erudite Foreword sparkling with serious insight into the art of poetry, architecture, music and painting, all the way to the poems themselves, each moment of a reader’s looking and touching encounters a new thing of verbal and visual beauty. Jessica Smith has composed a work with a dynamic range rarely seen—a book as a performance, a score for reading which permits wild permutations for each poem, and a poetry of scholarship with continuous insistence on considering the distances from the spoken to the seen, the eye and the ear, the eye as a means of reading language, and the ear as an organ of spatialities. If this book of diverse poems—54 in 6 sections, divided into 2 halves—can be described in a single sentence, it might be: we learn more about the degree to which our senses are cooperative functions of a synthetic relation from their strict separation in a work of art, in a single aesthetic encounter, than we do when they are submerged in a thematic, conventional work in an established genre. We are more lastingly challenged to consider our ways of making meaning to the degree that more of our senses are engaged in simultaneity and succession (terms she defines in her Foreword). This is a book of many places, an artography (drop the see), yet she has assiduously followed Creeley’s advice: keep looking. This is splendid artifice, a painterly architecture, a making, and the site of her έποίησε.
Here, to the best of my skill in transcribing it, is one of her poems. To set a work like this in a blog takes careful composition, and must be built line by line. This is the poem “Locations along the Rust Belt” from the section “Canal Series” in the division “Chronography” from the book Organic Furniture Cellar:
[i spent an hour trying to format this--couldn't do it. I am not "web ready" as they say. This isn't the poem, these are all the words in the poem, but they bear no relation to what this poem is, or how it should be enacted.]
if you want to remember
glasses with limes at the a loved one, sloss furnace
bottom turn up around the
comfort lose it .let
cities everyday activities.
remembering is suffocating,mementos
7. g dying under
drink recover its name. If someone has diedeveryone
may be red.
It has taken me three years to give Jessica Smith’s poetry a composed response. We went to school together. I consider her a friend. We’ve shared, at some remove in age and space, similar experiences in the attempt to compose distinct careers as writers. We’ve studied many of the same texts, and were trained in the same, distinct tradition of aesthetics, one recognizable by its differences from a more conventional approach to writing, the page, and the poem. One major component of OFC is the way she is able to acknowledge that tradition and take it into the future, deepen it, expand it, fulfill it by exceeding its limitations, by expanding the ground & source from which it emerges.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
see those amazing-looking books?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The Gesso Apprentice.
I’m reading a book called The Gesso Apprentice. This book is anonymously written. It is composed of 25 poems. It is a book some people here in this town may own. But other than that, I don’t know if it’s for sale anywhere. Court poets used to circulate their poems in manuscript within a tightly delimited circle of readers. Yet, because of their proximity to royalty, they could expect some degree of legacy for their poems despite their scant readership. At the same time that Marvell and Sidney were writing their poems for the gentry, in
I have twice been told who the author of this book is. But I don’t want to break the anonymity of its authorship, even though I feel that, in its deliberate effacing of an “author” attribute it makes an overwrought gesture towards authenticity. I think this anonymity is certainly meant to be taken as a gesture of humility (or so I guess, though these poems are not at all a questioning of poetry’s ability to speak, enact, or designate), but it could be mistaken for an attempt at deliberate obscurity or the manufacture of mystique. The only reason I say this is because these poems are amazing. There is a long sequence of prose poems that make up the bulk of the book, and they are, too, a kind of enactment of fragility the likes of which I haven’t read before. Perhaps the removal of the author’s name helps keep the gender of the author in suspension, so that we aren’t concerned whether these poems were written by a woman or a man.
The poems before this sequence, while important for their own reasons, seem simply a kind of warm up for the extended portraiture provided in the main section of the book, entitled “The Tyst Poems”. The Tyst Poems describe a character with wings who goes through a startling series of transformations and self-mutilations while engaged in a rather tragic struggle between life and art, flight and flightlessness, waking and dreaming, and strength and weakness. While it seems somewhat akin to the late romantic conceits of the Rosetti circle and their imitators (especially in Swinbourne’s penchant for ekphrastic poems, or poems about a work of art), there is a grittier side to these poems that save them from preciousness or the merely illustrative.
I’ll provide one example from the book, and then leave it at that. I think there is more to say, a lot more, about this book, but I’ve run out of time.
Molten glass at breath’s end. Inside its wobbly swelling Tyst masturbates. When the shop closes, she rides the nose of the mute home to his sister’s house. The saliva that bubbles at his lips while he sleeps she shapes into flightless likenesses of endangered moons.
Okay, one last point: the anonymity here makes of my response a kind of well-defined and specific address—a response to a set of poems that becomes so hard to extend beyond anything more than a personal letter writ large onto the intimate/public screen of a blog. It makes the simplest description of the work seem like a failure of the art itself (the art of criticism, and the art of essay). I feel somewhat compelled to respond in a like form—to compose a letter say, or construct an intact dramatic form in which to stage an overheard discussion between two actors discussing the book’s themes by way of a particular, delimited crisis they are both engaged in, and must figure out together or dissolve away from the stage, let the stage dissolve, and stand there looking at each other as the theater goes black.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Eli Drabman. Daylight on the wires. Buffalo (?): Vigilance Society 1917, (2007?) 20 pp.
In fact, I think younger people, younger adults, in their teens, should read lots of books like Drabman’s. And this doesn’t mean that this book is only suitable for readers in their teens. It simply means that it can, at the right time, get you ready for things that will be coming along in your life that you’d be better off thinking more about. At least, for a teen like the teen I was, and maybe at that particular time I was a teen (in the 1980s). It would be cool if the hundred or so chapbook publishers I know of could pool their resources and create an outreach subscription service for readers in early adulthood. Sure, as a young man I needed lots of good solid information, but I also need the stuff of imagination way beyond, and more realistic by way of its surrealistic fabulation, anything I had at that age.
I’m not even sure what transpires, in any realistic narrative sense, in Drabman’s book. But there is a lot of hunger involved, a good deal of anger, or at least bewilderment, and a strenuous desire for an escape from boring, dead predicaments. Beyond these mere hulls of my interpretation, picked up from a less-than-rigorous reading of the book, there is an amazing degree of intricately woven imagery that unfolds in long curling waves from these pages.
…she blames me for
not putting needles in my eyes, for holding a mouse head
as if it were a diamond’s relentless consistency, or angels
posing as grandmothers scrawled their wings across a sky
making sundown shudder like a dawn in camera jaws, hold
furious screaming against the hollow in your chest to see if
you vibrate at that frequency, climb inside a tree, write one
name with a knife and put an arrow through it before the tourists
light you on fire…
Friday, December 5, 2008
Designed by Logan Ryan Smith, the poems in this book continue from the end flyleaf onto the back cover of the book. I'd never seen a book do that before. I've never read poems like these before. Here is a returning book, half of it published the year before, but now bigger, wider, ever & even more generous.
Lowinger doesn't waste a single word, or even a syllable. That I would do likewise in acknowledging his art. This chapbook contains 50 poems, all of them entitled "open night". It suggests "opening night," the big introduction of a new work--art, musical, a play, or the first day of baseball in the spring. Or a request: "open, night". Open all night, like a 24hr store.
Open Night has the recipe, gives you a blend of the finest choicest meters. Creeley's tight syncopation, hip-hop's matter-of-fact skips, samples, and scratches, and watershed meditations nourish every single time scale sermon in smoke of night. My series, "The Table," is a cheap knockoff propped on spindly legs. The Buffalo News should give him $1000.
Yes, Virginia, this book is a tuxedo.
Your mouth opens
like the movies do
your clock continues
you make me feel like sleeping
in different places
speaking many tongues
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
And ambitious. Because there are about 50 pieces of poetry sitting on my desk--little objects, broadsides, chapbooks, entire books, unexplainable concatenations of verbal intention and dispersion--and I want to acknowledge each and every one. So, if I'm not being too florid in my thinking, I will try to acknowledge, note, gush and analyze 1 (one) new work every day for the next 1068 days. But I need a three-day safety buffer. That means if I go three days, then I will post about three works. And I dedicate the Frisky Ambitious Project to Promote Poetic Living to Miriam. For Miriam.