Monday, December 19, 2011

CALIFORNIA by Jennifer Denrow

Preface: Jennifer Denrow’s California is one of the most underrated books of 2011.

These poems are an ethereal mapping of how our selves, our voices, our thoughts, and our desires are embodied, or, as it is, disembodied in the act of being. To exist is both a sorrow and joy, but what do we mean when we say something exists? How does place exist? How, through the act of thinking and speaking, do we transform ourselves, our own being? What does it mean to have a mouth? What does it mean to use it? And what does it mean to use someone else’s mouth? Denrow reaches inside and manipulates these questions into poems that are mirrors as much as they are their own breathing bodies, challenging the boundaries between the real, the artificial, and the imagined, and pointing to the place, the California, where they meet.

When I’m in California I’ll go to the beach
and cry. All of the seagulls will crowd

around me and force my mouth open
with their wings.

The book is appropriately ordered into three acts which, rather than sections, speak to Denrow's interest in the theatricality of being; how we act and are acted upon, how our selves become other. The first act, the long poem “California,” follows a speaker through her yearning to leave her life for a California that is more fiction than reality. “I should drive away from my life,” she states, and that is only the beginning. California becomes myth, utopia, and salvation until, ultimately, the rest of the world becomes an imitation of California.

I buy California style pizza and beer. I drop my ID when the woman
asks to see it.

No one in the store looks like they could be from California.

A baby eats some keys.

But what’s frightening here is that the speaker’s California is imagined, an end of America that is a means to forgetting her own inability to be other than herself. “If California didn’t exist, I’d still want to go there,” and that’s the terror of a heaven, that it could also be a hell, that it could be right now, that it could be nothing.

The third act, “A Knee for a Life,” is an ingenious series of epistolary poems between ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, which is as sorrowful and funny as it is disturbing and tender. Again, these poems raise issues of agency, theatrics, and the continual cross-pollination of the real and imagined.

Dear Edgar,

Even in the stage light
your birds are not quiet.

Your hand is a little colder today. Are you feeling well?

Has anyone ever told you your hands are like soft, skyless

The question here, what or who animates us and what does it mean to feel or sense that animation, is at the root of what it means to speak, think, and create in this world. The answer is a dive into the spiritual grace and frenzied mystery that compels us to imagine beyond ourselves, and that Denrow is such a master of. From “California”:

…He said, Why do you want to go there?

Because I have to.

Monday, November 28, 2011

PANIC ATTACK, USA by Nate Slawson

YesYes Books, 2011. To say too much about Nate Slawson’s PANIC ATTACK, USA is to fail at matching its beauty and energy. I will be brief and trust you, to read this awesome book.

This book punched me in my face-heart (you have one too) and I liked it. In love indiscriminately with joy and hurt, these poems feel deeply—Slawson’s speaker (Slawson himself, or otherwise) knows that sometimes beauty is a sledgehammer to the knees, but still can’t seem to look away:

“call me Ponyboy and I’ll bleed all my blood for you
I am committed to that & fucking amen.”

And from one of my favorites, O SHOTGUN:

“In my chest are coalveins.
You have the blackest eyes
I have ever seen & your flowers
smell devastating. Like one
hundred rabbits in love
with magnolia blossoms.”

Just when it begins to feel like love isn’t enough, this book keeps believing in “all the ways a slow song / could undress you,” no matter the terror that nakedness and solitude brings. 

PANIC ATTACK, USA makes me believe in believing. Being alive is important, and these poems chronicle a very amazing part of how it is equal parts pain, and sheer ecstasy. I am trying to be as emphatic as possible here on the internet in text. You'll love this book!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Disinformation Phase by Chris Toll

Publishing Genius, 2011. Chris Toll has built a book of machines called The Disinformation Phase. By Chris Toll I mean an alien who filters his dreams through vampire movies and writes encrypted letters about his own past and future hearts. By machines I mean that these poems are always eating their own parts, reinventing their own uses. This is because Toll uses words like they’re little piñatas, beating them with a metaphysical wiffle bat until praying mantises and algebra fall out. “I made my head and now I’ll weep into it,” Toll writes in “The Third Station of the Double-Crossed,” foregrounding emotional confetti over the dull armchair of coherence, putting semantics in the cathedral and letting it light the fuse. “Why is dent in resplendent?” he asks, and “Who pays the rent / in incoherent?” and it is good that Chris Toll is asking these questions because words are keeping all kinds of secrets. Like, when “a cheetah sleeps on an adverb,” (from “I Can’t Stand Along the Watchtower”) I totally understand because there is a modification taking place, which is part of the rule (an adverb is a word that modifies a verb), and I am also feeling partially rewired, epistemologically thawed, because few poems are willing to dive off their own cliffs into the accumulative, spaceship-colored, mysterious soup that builds our souls, or what’s left of them.

One of the most electric things about The Disinformation Phase are the “translations” of canonical poets spread throughout the collection. Each translation is paired with a short paragraph explaining the imagined discovery and history of the particular poem. Trying to summarize these narratives doesn’t do them justice: just know that Edgar Allen Poe’s step-mother goes skiing in Colorado and that John Keats believes in the force, like The Force. Here’s a stanza from one of Toll’s translations of an Emily Dickinson poem, “My Ruby Hat,” written in French and then hidden in a cupboard:

"I have the Gift of Second Sight –
Despair guzzles Gin’s Alphabet.
A Spider kneads a throne on the Moon.
The snoozing Singer writhes."

Indeed, Chris Toll’s irreverent imagination is a weird holy light in these poems. This is one of those books that you leave out on your desk, a thing you keep in reach, not only because its incredible cover (one of Toll’s own collages) refuses to be hidden on a bookshelf, but because these poems are irreducible, subversive fun. “You can see / as well with the heart / as with the eyes,” he writes in “Why Is Try in Poetry?” and that’s what’s at the riotous heart of this book, a rare, illimitable faith in internal wonder.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina

Mudluscious Press, 2011. This book is at once hilarious, heartbreaking, and decidedly important in our very real, very odd (sometimes terrible) world of consumer madness. It is according to my definition, very amazing. I AM A VERY PRODUCTIVE ENTREPENEUR contains short chapters / poems (however you like best, to think of them) each detailing a different business started by the speaker. But nobody here is selling t-shirts or coffee. These businesses sell the fantastic, the almost-unimaginable, and the before now un-commoditized things to a hungry capitalist world:

“I started this one business that
employed generous looking, kind-hearted looking
people to walk by you & smile warmly at the exact
moment when all you can think about when you see a
building is how tall it would have to be to ensure that
the fall would kill you.”

The products in this book are the things we want but can’t have—the “solutions” to our very human problems and feelings that an exploded entrepreneurial culture has tricked us into believing we need, and can buy:

“I started this one business that gave
the parents of deceased children a glassful of sugar-
water each morning as they left their houses.

We could never make the sugar-water sweet enough.”

As a means of commenting on it, this book uses a razor-sharp and beautiful imagination to participate in our problematic capitalist detachedness. It will make you think about things you know, in a way you didn’t know to think about them.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Speak Low by Carl Phillips

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. The highest compliment to a book you love might be not being able to articulate why you love it. I can tell you that I love Phillips' use of recursive as he tries again and again to pin down how to say what he's saying, as well as whether or not what he says is valid. I can tell you that I love how Philips uses sex, and particularly the dynamics of power within rough sex, to ground these  cerebral and philosophical poems. I can tell you these poems are hot. I can tell you they are intellectually demanding. None of this really gets to the heart of why I like this book, why I keep picking it up and reading poems at random, reading them out loud to anyone who will listen, holding up the book and saying, "You must read this." You're one of those people now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Heavy Petting by Gregory Sherl

YesYes Books, 2011. Let’s just put this out there: while reading this book, you will want to put it down and go nuzzle something that can nuzzle back. You will probably get a little hot and bothered. You’ll want to brush your teeth and then dip a finger in frosting. You will most certainly want to be kind.

Our generation is often called “The Selfish Generation” by older people who believe they are less selfish than we are. In a lot of ways, I agree that a fair few of us might as well bop around singing “Here I am, me me me me me!” while simultaneously updating our iPhones, iPads and personal Facebook profiles. And yet, while the speaker of Heavy Petting may be self-loving at times, this is only because he doesn’t have any other choice. Because when we turn ourselves inside-out from selfish to selfless for another selfish person, what happens? We’ve all gone from “I love you like waterfalls love shampoo commercials,” “touch you like a showerhead,” “fuck like a clothesline on a Saturday afternoon” to feeling like “every rejected Snapple fact,” “stuck inside your Easy Bake Oven” and “so/ far apart from each other it’s like we’re not even connected by stars. The stars said/ fuck it and gave up.” At some point we’ve all said: “Like: even when I love you I get lonely.” Maybe the older generation has it all wrong about us.

This past week I attended a reading by a writer who’d published a memoir about growing up in South Africa. During the Q&A, a snarky undergrad from the back asked, “Does it ever bother you that it’s self-indulgent to write a memoir?” The writer chuckled and responded brilliantly, “Do I ever feel it’s self-indulgent? Yes. Does it bother me? No.” Everyone laughed, but then he turned back to the undergrad and said, “You know, I think that what’s most important to avoid being self-indulgent in our writing [because, I mean, seriously, how can you not write about yourself in some way?] is to always be curious about yourself.” That answer really stuck with me. After all, isn’t being curious about yourself being curious about humanity in general?

Heavy Petting is a collection that is at once luxurious and exuberant in its voice and wholly generous and empathetic in its heart. We can sling-shot from the aching image: “I have cried so many days there is a river under my bed. The monster has grown/ gills, webs between its toes,” to: “When we kiss, the audience sighs. Some asshole coughs” as well as literal drawings of “a firefly eating a bear” and “An anorexic banana.” It’s like we have been vaulted into a world that is both alien and yet unmistakingly familiar. I promise you: you won’t want to leave. And, you’ll most likely want to bring somebody along with you.

You have been warned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle

Octopus Books, 2011. A rivet is a mechanical fastener, and it is permanent, so when I tell you that The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle will rivet you, I mean forever, and even more so, I mean it will connect things that never expected to be connected, and it will connect them for good. What better way to unite A with B than in prose poems that have a cellular structure all their own? If not a cross-section of xylem, then a bright repurposing of the caesura, a series of hidden rooms, a brief pulsation of non-text.

This is a book of reversals and variations. Think back to when your mother told you not to get on that pirate ship ride at the carnival, the one where a metal bar was all that kept you from being flung onto the horizon, and no matter how cool you were, you just had to scream a little as the giant boat made its swing. It was natural. And that’s the swing Christle recreates again and again in these poems. I’m not talking about paddle boating along a traditional narrative arc or lunge, but something so new that we feel immediately at home in it. Each of the poems in The Trees The Trees is a thriller. Who knew so much was going on inside the world, and why?

Everyday objects inhabit Christle’s poems with such urgency that we may become more suspicious of our surroundings, or perhaps even enchanted by them. In “The Actual Future,” “I am a handbag ____I am the kind of handbag nobody weeps into____except for when I went to the ten-year reunion____then everyone wanted to weep into me.” (Dear reader, please note that the lines in these quotes are meant to be spaces, not lines). Or in “Condo,” “microwave doubles as a nightlight____this is that other song____the one that likes to sing itself.”

In a collection that marries death with rebirth, while maintaining simultaneous and separate preoccupations with both, it’s the helmets and scissors and owls and cats that remain steadfast. The Trees The Trees is a haunting, rapturous tribute to both the known and unknown, and what happens when the two collide.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me by Mark Leidner

Factory Hollow Press, 2011. Mark Leidner's BEAUTY WAS THE CASE THAT THEY GAVE ME has one of the sweetest cover designs I have ever seen, but that is not the point. The point is that the name of this blog and this book might as well be the same thing. I am going to skip over the part where I tell you Yes it's funny, Yes the language is fresh, Yes Mark Leidner is a very good poet etc etc, so I can get to the part where I tell you that this book will say "Hey I Love You" in ways sometimes unusual, sometimes "unpoetic," and sometimes bordering on totally indecent and uncomfortable. From "Mutually Assured Childhood Molestation" (what did I JUST say?):

"In which case, and my point is
I must have been molested by someone beautiful
because I'm attracted to you
and you are beautiful
and my attraction is strong
and of the beyond-my-control variety
precisely the kind of attraction brought on
by supersecret prepubescent abuse."

These poems propose over and over that there is no better or worse way to be delivered into the arms of other people--they build into themselves a ridiculous, laughable conceit, but it's the poems' die-hard commitment to these absurdities that ultimately illuminates the ephemeral nature of love and language. Everything is interchangeable, as perhaps best seen in the poem "What's Cool Changes," which so ridiculously discusses the slippery nature of "cool" for close to a page, but ends with "Now, those and only those who ... are willing to alter their entire / belief structures to keep pace with what's cool as it changes, are, in the end, and / all alone, completely cool." Leidner praises adaptability, fluidity, and knowing that sometimes the best way to pin-down "the point," is not to try at all. Humor and a gracious love of playfulness are abundant in this book. When the poems do touch upon the decidedly UN-hilarious (and they do, upon war, upon death) there is a feeling of organic, genuine awakening to their consciousness:

"And at what age
do normal men mature?
I wonder this and get a boner...
and yet there are some things
that do not give me a boner:
the level of tranquility
a Jeep of body bags achieves
jostling off along a twisting gravel
path, bound for home;
the bracing red and white of flags
crisply creased,
handed over."

The precision with which Leidner's poems turn from the ordinary to face the underlying horror of American living is tremendous. It will make your head spin in a way that you want. Read this awesome book and then sue me if it doesn't become your new favorite thing ever. I'm not worried.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beautiful in the Mouth by Keetje Kuipers

BOA, 2010. Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Whooo, I’m on a plane! (This explains why the book in the photo is upside down—I had a very limited time to take this picture before being labeled as a freak.) Ok first off, I was sort of conflicted about reviewing Beautiful in the Mouth for the very selfish reason that I love this book so much I kind of just wanted to keep it all to myself. It’s like when I was a kid and made my sister check out Betsy-Tacy from the library because I refused to share my own copy, despite how my mom always said “she’s not gonna read the words off the page!”

False. If you are a human being—if you have maybe loved someone or lost someone or perhaps moved somewhere at some point in your life—the poetry of Keetje Kuipers is going to lodge itself inside of you and cling on. This book Sumo-wrestles with that whole mythical Julia Roberts-esque notion that if you up and run off somewhere new it will become a fresh start and you’ll leave all that aching and thoroughly un-sexy crap behind.

Here, Keetje (I feel like this chick and I are on that kind of first-name basis) explores how the raw presence of loss can morph, echo and take shape in very different landscapes. She treks us somewhere west of the Rockies (“The salt shaker heart wants to make all the lies come true, wants to make/ the horses throwing sparks with their shoes on the scree slope/ into deer, wants to make the deer into wolves”) and through the cosmopolitan loneliness of New York City (“I have tried to forget your light, the way it breaks/ me open, even now, and makes me speak,/ how it glitters up and down Eighth Avenue,/ swirling in pools of snowmelt”). And, in perhaps one of her most powerful poems, “Across a Great Wilderness Without You,” she confesses:

But I carry a gun now. I’ve cut down
a tree. You wouldn’t recognize me in town—
my hands in my pockets, two disabused tools
I’ve retired from my life of touching you.

Throughout her wandering she speaks this very human truth: there are the ways we change, and then, there are the ways—no matter how much it breaks us—we stay the same. Keetje’s next book, The Keys to the Jail, is forthcoming also from BOA in Spring 2012, and I for one can't wait to hear from her again soon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fables by Sarah Goldstein

Tarpaulin Sky 2011

My friend Zachary and I were talking about monsters a few months ago in relation to a research project I'm putting together and he said, "A day doesn't go by when people don't think of monsters.  The threat is always present."  In particular, the threat of harm is always lingering in edges of what we can't know.  The ambiguity lacquered into shadows, the dripping voices around the corner; at the very least we must be weary of the unknown.

Sarah Goldstein's collection Fables, completes the aforementioned criteria, and then becomes fucking menacing.  As with an fable or fairy tale, we choose to believe in the niceties of what Disney has provided us with; however, almost all of these stories were horrifically grim (or Grimm).  Goldstein does not allow us to afford any hope that we will not be harmed.  For instance, the second poem from her Fables section creeps into our viscera and won't let us breathe:

The girl comes clambering up the hill from the meadow to the house, whispering the message into her hands. Now the sheep in the field, the holes in the ground; and she stops, having entered the kitchen.  Her mother is on the floor in the corner, curled with her fingers in her mouth.  The rabbit her father tossed on the counter for stew has awakened, and they watch as it lurches towards the window.  Outside, the dogs begin to howl and their father comes into the kitchen.  He holds his shovel like a sword, breathing heavily.  In the barn, the cats are stalking the mice they killed that morning, mice that now stagger across the rough-hewn floors. (8)

Something in these poems is twisting necks of chickens behind you.  Something in these poems has a frightening smile.  Then, you enter the poems and see what is menacing behind you.

The book is split up into 3 parts, and a prelude and epilogue (or at least I'd like to think it is that way).  And all the while, the you and I slowly creep from the sweating pours of these poems and as a reader they become too close for comfort.  The best comparison to this book, for me, is the German film White Ribbon.  Suffice to say, this is a horrific and threatening film that never relents in its promise of violence:
Through the filter of this film, these poems have an all too real probability of menacing from under your tongue.  There is an unsettling viscera being manipulated and probed; Goldstein's ambiguity does not judge what has or is about to happen: "If the ghost of your true love appears at your window, cover your eyes with cotton and stay still until dawn.  But if the ghost comes again the next night, you must lead her back to her jagged body in the cellar where she lies." (48)

These poems beg the read to consider possibility, which is the most frightening after-gloaming our imaginations are able to task.  This book is monstrous.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

American Busboy by Matthew Guenette

The University of Akron Press, 2011. So, to begin this review, I must first disclaim. I know Matt Guenette. I heard him do a reading and was knocked out by his delivery and bravado, and, in a rare act of bravery, approached him at the after-party, and we've been friends ever since. But. But, I say. I still want you to read these poems. Here's my case.

1) I liked the poems before I met the man.
2) These poems are funny, sad, and angry. There aren't enough angry poems.
3) There aren't enough poems concerned with class in America, which these are, or enough poems concerned with work. These poems force the reader to acknowledge the people who are regularly ignored every day. Part of the experience of restaurant dining is contracting out the nitty gritty labor , and this book brings busboys, dishwashers, and fry cooks to the fore.
5) Look at that cover. When's the last time a book of poetry made you want to wipe your hands? (If you have an answer to that question, I don't want to know.)

There. My totally biased and yet 100% true review.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

At the Point by Joseph Massey

Shearsman, 2011. Joseph Massey’s second book of poetry, At the Point is my favorite of the summer. You can read it on a plane, at the beach, between two mountains, in your room, at a summer poetry workshop, or in a car that is on the plains. (I have done all of these things and looked impossibly cool doing them.) The collection, which came out in May, is dedicated to Humboldt County, California where Massey has lived for the last ten years and pays close attention to the area’s imaginatively fertile landscape.

The subjects of the poems, often natural and northern California specific (a mock orange tree, beach grass, driftwood, hydrangeas, nasturtiums, lots o’ lichen) are so carefully described that the poem becomes invested in the act of perception itself, “Attached to blackberry thorns / a plastic bag balloons,” and what is more, how the poet finds the words to observe, “Insects click / in brick and wood— // a kind of metronome / my mind stumbles to.” As the book’s title suggests, each moment of the work is at the brink of poetic revelation, or perhaps of exactitude itself. A poet cannot do what a photographer does, but Massey comes close. It is in this closeness that the imagination must catch its breath, click back, wind the film— “The landscape / overwhelms an impulse / to speak. Sky clouded // by cloudlessness.”

The lines are short, often two and three words; the poet gives us white space to process. The minimalist form and imagist/meditative style of the poems pay tribute to contemporary poets. I’m reminded of Rae Armantrout, Pam Rehm, Ron Silliman but also, of course, we get the poetic tradition of Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Robert Creeley and William Carlos Williams (“No ideas but in things”) to whom a series of poems (also published separately by The University of Iowa Press— go find it) is dedicated. “Black moth / wrecked / against glass. // Cactus aglow / on a narrow ledge.” If a project were to be found it might be in the poem “Prescription,” “To think through / each word’s / particular weather. // To stand / just far enough / outside of the page.” I left the book wanting to take that medicine. Massey’s adherence to and articulation of the particulars of the “thing” will blow your socks off. It will make you go berserk. READ THIS AWESOME BOOK!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Lost Fire Brigade by Spike Hawkins

Fulcrum Press London/Horizon Press USA, 1968. I know, 1968... But if I am allowed to suggest books, especially poetry books, this one is always going to be on the list. This is an Awesome Book. And it allows me to use the word curio, because it is also an out of print and very strange book (I don't feel too guilty listing it, though, because there seem to always be a few used copies hanging around Amazon, and these books need homes). Spike Hawkins is a very funny, very poignant, very odd British poet who came out of the late 60's hippy movement in Liverpool and he released this book, and then another collection of mostly the same poems in 2001 which came with a recording of him reading the poems aloud (250 Grams of Poetry), but really you don't need to hear him. He is quite loud enough in this work.

I turn to Hawkins every year. Literally every year. Every time I get annoyed by poetry, or feel like it's too pretentious or too ivory colored or too whatever, Hawkins saves me. He's my poetic-antiseptic, something that cleans everything away and steadies me to get back to it. In fact, I tend to open any reading I give with a poem of his; it... cleans the air. I would say more about his actual poems... but they are rather tough to talk about, so I'll quote two. I guess to say something at all, Hawkins poems are the truest of poems, because they simply can't be anything else. I guess that's enough. But first, here is the logic test that one of the book's reviewers created, so you can see if this is for you:
  1. Most of the people who most love the work of Spike Hawkins are poets.
  2. You are mostly a poet.
  3. You should mostly love most of the work of Spike Hawkins most.
And now for two poems.

It is friday
I clean my rifle
and wait for the bean train
This last one is spectacularly good, and reminds me that poets can write jokes sometimes.
small spell for turning people inside out

My back!
I'm back!
Please read this awesome, awesome book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Beginning of the Fields by Angela Shaw

Tupelo Press, 2009. Dang! This book knows how to make an entrance. Last AWP I was browsing the Tupelo Press table and asked if they had one book in particular that they would recommend. Without hesitation the entire group exploded like “OMG!!! This one!!!” Given both their reaction and Terrance Hayes’ description of Angela Shaw as “magical” on the back cover, I figured I should go ahead and shell out the dough.

I’m so, so glad I did. The Beginning of the Fields is simply glorious. Like, it glows. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a poet who experiences the world in Angela Shaw’s sexy, generous, and even hilarious flavors and hues. Take, for instance, these bon-bons: “A tree full of pink/ wishes, each bud clenched/ in its private/ tantrum,” “fishes suck at the rough/ creek bottom, muttering/ leftovers, leftovers,” “a haunting of clocks crowds/ his walls, each one holding its stale breath,” “The land an animal they broke, rode bareback.” This book may take place in fields, forests and old homes, but it belongs on the red carpet of poetry.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wait by Alison Stine

“I am a bird
in the field and I want you to find me.
I want you to find me. Tell me wait.”

The University of Wisconsin Press, 2011. Whenever I get to that point where I just want to line up my poems and punch them in the face, I turn to Ali Stine. Maybe it’s because she’s a friend of mine, she’s from where I’m from, or the fact that we both enjoy a good Neko Case song and a pint of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, but there’s something about her writing that always nudges me along when I’d rather throw a temper tantrum.

Her first book, Ohio Violence (2008 Winner, Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry) is a heart-stopping, grisly Midwestern sweep, but I have to admit that this second collection, Wait (2011 Brittingham Prize in Poetry) is really where it’s at. The narrator in Wait announces herself as anything but a damsel in distress; she rides motorbikes, gossips, meets boys, runs away in fields. Her waiting is never an angelic prayer of patience but rather a restless urgency that grips us from the first poem to last. In “Rabbit of the World” she pleads: “Imagine what it is like for me/ to want you, to wait. Harbinger, rabbit/ of the world, red eye flashing as if to warn:/ the power that is coming will make no sound,” and in “Canary,” when the waiting seems endless: “My canary shutters against the man I thought/ I knew, the one who promised to love me./ What I want is a stranger’s arms. What/ I want is no story[…] Before he knows my name,/ no history, no apology, when I can trust/ him, when my body blows up in his mouth.”

Wait, like this stranger, makes no apologies. It is a book that I will return to again and again to remind myself, oh yeah, this is why poetry is important: when we don’t have any other choice but to write when there is nothing else to say.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sore Throat & Other Poems by Aaron Kunin

Fence Books 2010

She is a 
word I always,
without knowing,
had in my mind.
(The Sore Throat 42-43)

To underscore the habit and obsession of this book is to miss the point.  Drawing from a pool of about 170 words from a translation of Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" and about 200 from Maurice Maeterlinck's play Pelleas et Melisande, Kunin creates a rift of speakers fraught with disassembling a world's wanderings.  Ideas become questionings and gestures out of questionings become rat gods.  Sore throats hide words that we cannot say or don't know how to articulate.

Kunin toys with inventions out of what seems like madness, "everything, system, system/ you say is, kind of, everything/ a kind of, like a, you say is/ a god, the day is/ kind of, a god/ like, a god" but the this madness seems like a searching and wandering out of madness—Kunin shows how habits make monsters of us all.

This book is frenetically paced, but invites the reader to think along with the writer—this union between god and you and you and you is a spectacular fusion of desire; "You are/ a choice my mind seems to desire naturally/ as a word would desire a thing."  The relentless searching to find answers questions what we want and how we perceive it.  A perserverating ecclection of what we know and how we can rearrange our mouths in our throats.  Newness like wholeness, a recollection of memory and how we enact our missive eyes.

Don't miss out on this book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Northerners by Seth Abramson

New Issues 2011. Yes, someday I will figure out how to take decent webcam photos, but for now: THIS BOOK. How did it end up on this blog? Oh, you know, because it's awesome. It has so much heart, and the language is goddamm exquisite. But most of all, I love these poems so much because they're conflicted, yet bold, yet beautiful, yet interested in everything and in knowing of everything, endlessly groping for the invisible perimeter which divides the self from others. The "Northerner" self sometimes seeks to examine this solitude, other times to shrink from it, or to escape into a more courageous, mythological-self when the knowledge becomes too heavy: "He was sorry for how he'd sat / a massacre in the guise of a man / at a party for a boy he didn't know, / oldest there / by forty years ... where the majestic tail of his life should have been, / was just a boy / asking whether he'd agree to play horse / in a game of Knights. / He would." These poems are in love with the world despite all its traumas and cruelties--they feel, comment, and even advise, and in doing so are involved in the kind of world-building I find most commendable: "At the base of the lift / a man waits / to go up. He has courage and nothing / to have courage / for"
Not all books of poetry leave you with an overwhelming confidence that your life is better for having read it. This book makes me feel like I can do better and be better. It makes me feel like everything is important, though everything might hurt a bit, and that everything is a marvel to be treated as such.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Union! by Ish Klein

Canarium Books, 2009. You know why this book is awesome? Because I don't always like it. Let me explain. I have strong reactions to the poems in this book. Sometimes that reaction is, "Ish Klein, you're adorable and smart and funny and I feel like I would like to embark on an ocean voyage with you where we eat hardtack and speak in inverted syntax to our respective parrot familiars, Mizzy and TopBottom." Sometimes that reaction is, "Stop it, stop it, stop it." The poems are individual, full of personality, sometimes winning, sometimes too precious. Sort of like my reviews. Point is, these poems are doing something, which isn't always the case in a lot of poetry that plays it safe. I mean, the woman uses exclamation points. Everywhere. Exclamation points! Yes, like that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pinnochio's Gnosis by Peter Gizzi

The Song Cave 2011. Ok so it's a chapbook, but rules were made to be broken my loves, and this chapbook is fracking (I've been watching Battlestar Galactica, for those of you in the know) incredible. Also, I am in Montana and have gotten very tan this past week. ANYWAY. I've always thought it was rather wonderful how The Song Cave standardizes its chapbook covers, with the exception of switching up the 2 colors sometimes, to give these beautiful little collections a sort of freedom from anything that might take away from the text itself. I certainly can't verify this intention, given that I don't work for TSC, but I think it's very nice. This chapbook is a collection of little prose chunks, situated delicately on the page, which begins "The season folds into itself, cuts a notch in me." And from there it begins its work, this folding in upon itself, which accumulates with each recurrence of word, image, and thought. "This body only lasts for so many days. It's got a / shelf-life," "It wasn't mean to be this way, the wind leaning, / the trees sway, the stars there." These tiny, precisely coiled lines meditate on the body, the earth, and inevitably what it means to be terrifyingly aware that one will eventually be put into the other. But in the middle, there is music, even if it is difficult to understand: "It / wasn't exactly pretty when the song, the green and / blue, went into our heads."

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Firestorm by Zach Savich

Cleveland State University Poetry Center 2011. Why am I so shiny? It was painfully difficult to figure out someone else's webcam, as you can tell from the backwards text. Memorial day weekend trips! But I wanted to make sure I got to this. This book is awesome. I finished it a while ago, but I keep coming back and rereading it. The leaps of association and imagery are far yet elegant in this book, sometimes philosophical, sometimes from literal landscape to another. At one point Zach writes "Dear. Rejected for the brain study, / I surveyed a portfolio of blossoms. / Went then near donkeys. They could / teach me little but bray.  Come closer now / (meet me on the once-crossed plain). / Here is a little bit of innocence. " The poems are cerebrial and meditative, often obsessing over a single idea for pages. But through this, we see the many angles of longing, distance, and the self. These are love poems for the almost-could-be-easily-missed-experiences. A speaker on a bus, or meeting a man at a crosswalk who drops an orange. The firestorm here is in language, and the way association and connectivity explode even the smallest moments. I love this book like crazy.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

13 ways of happily by Emily Carr

PARLOR PRESS 2011.  I came across Emily Carr's work editing for a certain literary journal cough, cough and was immediately smitten with her poetry.

"13 ways of happily" is easily one of my favorite books this year.  The brevity in which she accomplishes so much is astounding.  For instance (I'm not even going to try to get the spacing correct, for which I apologise) "you are of three minds: like elegant grasshoppers/tearing each other to pieces in the unleavened/dandelions dreaming/of someone not born/yet someone who will  change/your life—"  Each stanza journeys into a world where every line ripples through the world's membrane like the horizon after an atomic blast.  And each ripple is a new simulacrum shed out an eye of what a colour throbs and could mirror.

In Carr's world, there is so much shifting and inventionthis book bleeds pleasurable aurality and surprise.  I think Breton would have a hard-on of jealousy toward the intellectualisation of Carr's surrealism—the unexpected can shape such difficult moments of profound beauty.  "on a rainspun afternoon when bombs/fall a continent away the season//flimmers like a watery jewel on the dream's/cobweb & the sparrow of what you are wakes, this/slaphappy derelict—" So many times I had to pause and acknowledge how amazingly Carr has shaped her poetry.  This is truly a book to behold and praise.  Then read again to make sure your face is still intact.

To say I have poem envy is understated like an egg—Emily Carr is writing the poems I want and am trying to write.  For this, thank you Emily Carr.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In lieu of having lent out With Deer—Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg translated by Johannes Göransson

ACTION BOOKS 2005.  There is no point of dallying—Swedish poet Aase Berg's poems are the best possible weird.  Covering 4 books, Göransson provides eloquent translations that still convey the corporeality glistening like fat in every line.  I cannot reiterate enough how amazing this book is—from the opening poem "Shard" (from With Deer): 

His fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein.  Still breathes the love beast.  Still he suckles the fox-sore on my weak wrist.  In the distance the wind is slowly dying: the night of nights is coming.  But still the fetus lily rests untouched.  And still his fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein.

to the penultimate stanza "we want to be remains here."  This book is adrenal dripping out ears when reality is too frightening to confront.  To say these poems are visceral understates Berg's poetry—if you told me these poems were written with seal blood or the insides of dragonflies, I wouldn't be surprised.  These poems will grab you with their tentacles.  They will put deer in your eyeballs.  If you want sleep, you will sleep in whale fat.  If you allow the Swedish landscape to hum in, "A glass deer here/branches break, thigh bones".

The Stranger Manual by Catie Rosemurgy

Graywolf Press, 2010. This book does a trick I love -- it's both funny and sad. Lines like "I agree with the central conclusion of all pop song: you're gorgeous/and I'm angry"and "Everyone looks at me as if I'm a rainbow/drawn by a slow child." Some of the poems are about Miss Peach, a sort of lyric Courtney Love hot mess nymphette stalking through small towns and various hearts. A lot of it is about beauty, and violence, also my favorites. One of the poems is about dating a werewolf. This happens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam

Canarium Books, 2010. I've been all about Suzanne Buffam since reading a few short poems of hers in the first issue of Canarium One, an occasional literary anthology I hope gets its sequel soon. That was in 2008, and the poems printed in Canarium One appear in her second book, The Irrationalist, which I am longingly looking at above. The book is in three sections, the first and third moving inspiringly between poems in an extended sequence (the Interior poems), a few prose poems, a winning revision of the sonnet form with "mixed media," and a good number of just fantastic lyrics that run her seriousness of thought through her almost whimsical tone. Enough there for a strong book of poetry, but Buffam amps everything up with section II, Little Commentaries, a section of short verses on anything from possibility, to St. Augustine, to "last lines," to "ghosts vs. zombies." Give them a shot, and I promise you'll be memorizing a different commentary every week, will see them popping up all around you in their wit and pith, and perhaps most of all, their surreal wisdom.