Nixon had just ordered the release of Lt. William Calley, recently convicted of murdering 22 civilians in Vietnam, from military detention:
“Any person knows deep down I’m right, he knows goddam well I’m right. . . . I know what it is – the doves are really, really . . . worried about Calley. They’re worried b/c they realize that what it is is an animal instinct in this country, coming up. And most of the people don’t give a shit whether he killed them or not.”
. . . both from Barbara Jane Reyes, from her fascinating book Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish).
This, from page 74:
Queen of fallen angels, pray for us. Queen of patriarchs, pray for us. Queen of dictators, pray for us. Queen of race riots, pray for us. Queen of heathens' torched flesh, pray for us.
Et cetera. Then, on the facing page, the poem "calles de los dolores y trastorno de tensión postraumática":
your methods are unacceptable :: beyond human restraint :: things get confused i know :: the heart's a white sepulcher and no man guards its doors :: against the growing dark :: incessant blades beat air :: incessant blades :: what means are available to terminate :: gook names :: with extreme prejudice :: you may use those :: blades beat :: easier than learning their gook names :: your boys don't know any better than :: gook names . . .
and it ends with "blades beat :: dead men hanging :: gook names :: no sin committeed :: no dead men :: to forgive."
The first poem is what I'd call a declamatory poem, both in the form (ironical litany, end-stopped lines) and content. But the second poem is more interesting to me, b/c it in effect gets inside the head of a veteran (of Vietnam? Korea? even Iraq?) with PTSD -- not to exculpate him, but to see what makes him tick -- and at the same time, comments upon that project. The "tick" of the "::" as a pacing device cuts off thoughts mid-stream - which often obsessively come back. Anyway, that was the one that grabbed me, of these two. Maybe that's my "modernist" training -- I gravitate to the dramatic monologue, the innovative form, the psychological and temporal subjectivity, the showing not telling. Would probably be different, were I Pilipina(American).
In any event, the book contains more of the latter type of poem than the former. Tho Reyes does make some very good use of litany - in English, Spanish, and Tagalog - as she shuttles between the Mission District of SFCA (her home town) and Manila (her birthplace). And the whole creates a quasi-narrative (a recurrent one, in the examples above) that is more than the sum of its parts. It expanded my attention span - wanted to read it - unlike this post . . .
Here’s what I mean (from Portable Altamont, Coach House Books):
"JESSICA SIMPSON’S GRANT APPLICATION
In This Skin is a series of songs that will explore our ongoing relationship to and notions of fate and mortality. Accompanying the aural elements will be still and video images of stagings and performance pieces that when viewed as a whole will – because of my choice of forms – have the appearance of a melodramatic narrative but, upon closer inspection, will reveal abstraction spreading like an oil slick . . . "
[which says more re: grant applicationese than it does re: Jessica Simpson] Or consider:
"Former Full House heartthrob John Stamos swears by the latest celebrity craze: working in textile sweatshops. ‘I was pretty messed up until I signed on at Allied Fabrics and Export. Silently performing the same motion for twelve hours taught me focus and how to have goals. . . . '"
Or take “The Hollow Men” (“a dramatic reading by the Swedish Chef,” that is):
Thees is zee vey zee vurld inds Nut veet a bung boot a wheemper
Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp!
As far as I know, Brian Joseph Davis is not a card-carrying Flarfista (he’s a Canadian), but some of the stuff he does has more of the pop-satiric edge than a lot of more recent flarfiana (which can be fun, but, truth be told, is verrrry serrrious fun).
Poets often personify abstractions, but rarely is the abstraction a series of mathematical formulae. But the protagonist of Sasha Steensen’s The Method is a cross between:
- Caliban - The 10,000-Year-Old Man - Frankenstein’s Monster - Henry.
[I felt vindicated in this last observation when I saw the poem “A Second Offence for John Berryman”]
But it’s not his fault (& he is male – Archimedes conjured him, after all). He’s the Mathematician’s golem, starting life as a founding document of rationalism, and ending up as scrap-parchment for a monk to write “a prayer book for sick and unclean spirits upon.” Now M. is a tattooed palimpsest (and a commodity, passing from hand to hand).
If you could give me the right place to stand, I could lift this book with a lever (not that it's big, just dense). If you can’t – well, I ain’t that smart. I can say what I like about this book, which is its incredibly inventive use of language (look – I’m referring to a book as a character!). Not to mention its variety of forms: closed form, open form, columns, prose discursus.
Now comes that moment that explains why I don’t write many real book reviews. How does one pick the one or two extra-special passages that truly exemplify the heart and soul of a book – the Ultimate Synechdoche?
Hmm – esp. hard to do, with such a multiform book with a multiform absent center. So I’ll revert to the list, one of my favorite forms:
From “The Complete Sentence for My Father”
This is a complete sentence. Does not frighten me. The story of the dwarf, confined forever, to a complete sentence, for his robbery, robby. . . . He’ll be left behind. behead. ed. When we watch the dwarf take a page. Completely for the Method. If we say, Stop! That is a complete sentence . . .
[And what poet doesn’t have a father who’s said “So whattaya, afraid of writing complete sentences or something”?]
From “The Future of an Illusion”:
“In the distance, I hear America swimming. It is a hot day, and we are circling the island. They find his inflatable crocodile humorous, and they point and chuckle among themselves. Method began to keep track of such embarrassments by writing a Souda, a compilation of compilations. In it he includes etymological ponderings, such as the relationship between ‘moor,’ to secure a ship, and the Moors. A ship is moored when she rides by two anchors. Mooring chains and Morning chains, he chants softly as he floats.”
Like the future (and the present of much US poetry), this poem is floating away.
No? OK, try “Me Thee Odes”:
He is his own he. He is. His is dead and gone, and his comes along very scary. Boo hoo.
His is one too many.
He is an object that looks like an object. I love an object that looks like an object. He is an object that looks like an object. He is not.
See? Those excerpts give a completely distorted idea of this book. OK, that’s enough. But I’m not going to tell you how many poppyseeds it takes to fill the known universe.
So, I have no idea how one would “review” a periodical as eclectic as Cricket Online Review, so I’m just going to provide one-line descriptions of the poetry (and some concrete/vizpo). I will identify each piece by title, sans author, so you’ll have to look at the issue to see who wrote it (except in cases where there is more than one piece by a single author, in which case I’ve used the author’s name).
- Taut – implied narrative (scary), lyricized. - One-Letter – a month-long abecederian romp! - Somera – scrambled nature poems for the hip-hop gen. - The Mole – scrambled nature poem for surredadists - Human/Nature – that’s precisely the point. And theory etc. keeps spoiling the view - Sanders – wish these were programmable to produce randomly generated animated syntax - Simplicity – Yes - $0.What – an able contribution to the poesie du skrilla - Animate/in/animate – IT’S ALIVE! (and partially upside-down) - That Desk – plain English, unfinished - Things Come On – a sad symptom of the degeneration of a once-booming genre - Gridpattern – Zoom and zoom again – it’s worth it. Docupoem surrounding that which will never disambiguate (by design). - Huth – NOT Longfellow. Really visual fun. - Topel – true cut-ups - Mother-Infant Room – Too close to home, these days - Tarantino – light! color! action! - Chirot – indeed. - Brunet – never mind the bullocks, here’s some collagepo to finish you off.
Interesting factoid from NPR: Only one in five people living today were born when the first moon landing happened. I'm one of the elite; I was putting together a model of the LM while the LM landed on the moon.
I'm sure the figure for just the US would be much higher - that stat has more to do with population growth in southern countries than anything.
We can put a man on the moon, but we can't pay for education and health care! That has more to do with tax rates on the upper income brackets and corporations than with space exploration.
If you’ve perused these pages before, you probably know I have “issues” with the notion of Genre (and those who Police its boundaries). So I’m always on the lookout for stuff that ignores it (them). Last SPD catalog was light on such material. This one is not. (Oh and I go in for twisted nature poetry and whacky satirical verse, too.)
Anyway, help me out here. If there are any titles on the following list that you would *definitely* get – or definitely NOT get – please let me know. I mean, this is getting out of hand . . .
Baude, Dawn-Michelle. The Flying House. (Parlor) Beachy-Quick, Dan. This Nest, Swift Passerine (Tupelo) Bellamy, Dodie. Barf Manifesto (Ugly Duckling) Blevins, Richard. Captivity Narratives (Meeting Eyes Bindery) Boykoff, Jules. Hegemonic Love Potion. (Factory School) de la Perriere, Donna. True Crime (Talisman House) Farber, Thomas. Brief Nudity (Manoa Books/El Leon Literary Press) Hamill, Meg. Trillions & Trillions of Heartbeats (Resonant Books) Lin, Tan. Heath (Plagiarism/Outsource) (Zasterle) Mara-Ann, M. Containment Scenario: Dislointer Medtextid Entcation: Horse Medicine (O Books) Nguyen, Hoa. Hecate Lochia (Hot Whiskey) Nowak, Mark. Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House) Oliver, Akilah. A Toast in the House of Friends (Coffee House) Rosenfield, Kim. Re:Evolution (Les Figues) Scappettone, Jennifer. From Dame Quickly. (Litmus) Schickling, Jared. Submissions. (BlazeVox) Sims, Laura. Stranger. (Fence) Zawacki, Andrew. Petals of Zero Petals of One (Talisman House) Zolf, Rachel. Masque (Mercury Press).
I Read Julie Agoos’ Property (Ausable) this week. Fairly representational narrative poems about New England, written in loose blank verse: hmm . . . who does this remind me of . . .
Actually, the book diverges from Frost in some important ways, and that has made all the difference. First, the narratives end rather abruptly – almost in media res, just as the story gets going. I like that, b/c stories ought to make you think about why they end – and begin – where and as they do. Not only does one have to piece together a narrative from the shorter poems, one also has to think beyond the ending.
In addition, these poems actually deal with history. With actual history, I mean – tho sometimes quotes are transported into totally different historical contexts. As I’ve said in these pages before, it’s hard to write about the Pequot War, for instance, without some readers’ thinking of Susan Howe, and these are definitely not Howe poems: for one thing, they really do tell stories, albeit slant (the “Reading of the Pequot War,” for instance, fast-forwards to later anti-immigrant sentiment at the end).
The best thing in the book is the long poem “Deposition,” composed of 21 “transcripts” – really snippets of imagined cross-examination in a trial. Not only does Agoos maintain her more-or-less consistent blank-verse template, she also (at the same time) presents an Altman-esque rendering of people talking over one another and at cross purposes:
Q: I mean, where had they emigrated from?
Q: Where were they from?
- place? – Or did you mean –
Q: Where had they come from?
Attorney for the Defense: Let the witness answer.
-- what the last place was?
And that’s the entirety of “Transcript II”; some of these exchanges are worthy of Howard Baker and John Dean’s during the Watergate hearings. “Deposition” is not a Reznikoff deposition – indeed, it reads more like a mystery novel.
At other points in Property, the verse sounds a little (little) like North of Boston:
[they] should have foreseen, the signs all in as they always are after the fact, when the story becomes like the story again of the universe starting: never before was there something like this, at no time, no sir, ask anyone.
There are worse things to sound like. The transcript poems are worth the price of admission.
Read an interesting book recently – Mastering the Dream, by Kelly Lydick. It’s published by Mary Burger and Second Story Press, which you should become acquainted with, if you’re interested in innovative narrative forms. Lydick’s book, for instance, alternates between first person (journal entries and dream narratives), second person (letters to self), and (in the second half of the book), third-person narration. All in prose (except for some poems in the letters), interspersed with single quotes from rabbis on otherwise blank pages. Taken together, it forms a story of the protagonist, “Marie,” who seems to be recovering from a suicide attempt, a failed love, but, more importantly, a generalized desire to connect the metaphysical dots (“technically, it is a fallacy to try to look for constellations on my body [freckles], because the mirror shows only the reverse image. // Shin. Mem. Aleph.”). Those last (reversed), “[a]ccording to some mystics . . . comprise what are known as the three ‘mother letters’” – analogous to A-U-M, one gathers. Thesis-antithesis-synthesis, solid-liquid-gas.
In any case, Aleph-Mem-Shin spells “yesternight,” a word that haunts the book. Thankfully, there’s no final word or how-to mysticism here. In fact, you the reader are asked to connect the dots of the story and the reflections (if I may) that punctuate the story. I’m finding it hard to quote anything – I didn’t underline, as is my wont – and many of the sentences describe the sort of routine thoughts that make up one’s day – if one thinks about things like being and non-being. I’d call the writing “simply good.”
If the universe is 99.9% empty space, then “[m]y identity is part of the 0.1% of matter.” Worth bearing in mind. Try tracing the space occupied by your body, for instance: “I try to meditate, Aleph, Mem, Shin, but it’s difficult to do looking only at the ink on the mirror instead of my body.”
If this were a real review (or universe), there would be an ending somewhere.
What if someone thought they were booking a reading with Laura Moriarity the novelist, and got Laura Moriarity the poet? Or vice versa?
I was talking about this possiblity with a student today, who suggested we invite the poet LM and have a joint reading with the novelist LM. Big Tent indeed!
Off to Busch Stadium for the Cards v. Giants game tomorrow. Hopefully they'll split the series, in spite of my being there to jinx them (with the "luck of the Irish" - an ironical phrase if there ever was one).
Author of Things Come On: (an amneoir) (Wesleyan University Press’ poetry series, 2011), earth day suite (Beard of Bees Press, Dec. 2010), Of Some Sky (Bedouin, forthcoming), and Poetry and the Public (Wesleyan 2002).