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!