31 January 2012

Two Pieces of Good New for Shawn Kemp


Jeff Alessandrelli drops truth bombs all over the great state of Nebraska with a hard-hitting and edgy interview in the Daily Nebraskan. By hard-hitting and edgy, I mean sexy and tangential.

In other news, Slope Editions announced today that Trey Moody and Joshua Ware's hard-hitting and edgy collection How We Remake the World: A Concise History of Everything won their First Annual Chapbook Prize. By hard-hitting and edgy, I mean bipolar and absurd.

26 January 2012

Your Moment of Zen

What's even better than Ben Mirov's first inclination that "Trey," perhaps, might be Trey Moody is the fact that "Trey" wishes he was Trey Moody. Of course, this should come as no surprise, as I too wish I was Trey Moody. Click on the image for bigness and enjoy:

25 January 2012

Biovac

Ten years ago, Slope Editions published Biovac, Laura Solomon's first collection of poems; since then, Ugly Duckling Presse has released two more books by her.

Many of the poems within Biovac contain abstract images and an elevated diction that produce a poetic density necessitating the audience slow down their reading and hone their focus so as to access these poems. The opening lines of the incipient poem "Gallows Holus-Bolus" provide a perfect example:
The noose is smug and to the point
that it pretties and offers succor. It shines
up to the point where I leave you, roadside
off again to bandy the bounty beneath your tongue. (1)
That a "noose is smug and to the point" is clear enough, at least in the sense that, through personification, we understand it to be prideful and exacting in its duties; likewise, that fact "that it pretties and offers succor" informs us that it provides both assistance and glamor to the act of killing oneself (or execution). But, afterward, we find that it "shines / up to the point where I leave you, roadisde /off again." Certainly, one could make assumptions about how a noose "shines," but given the previous personified context, the work of unpacking the second sentence is a bit more difficult.

While readers could take exception to the trajectory of the poem, the conclusion of the the second sentence offers two distinct elements that both save the poem from frivolous lexical wanderings and provide us with an example of the poetic maneuvers found throughout the collection. First, we encounter the alliterative "bandy the bounty beneath"; such phonemic repetitions infuse the poem with a musicality that enables us to enjoy it on an affective level through an immersion in its auditory characteristics. Second, all this occurs (both in the poem and within the reader) "beneath your tongue"; to this extent, the poem employs the body as a trope, as well as offering a meta-poetic statement.

Even when one considers these postive traits, the speakers of Solomon's poems acknowledge that language, both in this book and in general, is problematic. The poem "Its Hologram Emergin from the Stainless Steel Spout" tells us that "A sleep-talker in an alien language, / these think Germanic words never fully express our desire" (7); we find a sentiment similar to this, albeit more violent, in the poem "Letter":
Afterward, when they hack off my head and my tongue lies slack,
my body will dash at the pointing, stupified crowd.
For now, this is all I can vow.
This is the way our body will persist in its bend toward sunlight
despite the slimness (10)
In this latter case, a mutitlated body with a "tongue [that] lies slack" can no longer speak and now only has the ability to stupify its audience. But even in this stupification that is a "slimness" of understanding, the tongue, the body, and, yes, the poem "will persist in its bend toward sunglight" and its yearning for, if not understanding, at least desire and pleasure.

There several exceptional poems in Biovac, particularly "So Hums the Muted Bugle," "Meet Me in the Mess Hall," "Coup d'√Čtat," and "To Continents," but I want to close by quoting "Good Evening My Friends (and you are my friends)" in its entirety because it encompasses the aforementioned abstractness and elevated diction, as well as the trope of the body, musical elements, and meta-poetic commentary all within a relatively compact thirteen lines in a deft and beautiful manner:
Runtish miscreant, do not be mistaken.
No one is as solipsistic as I.
Not even Pappy Hugh with his poor diction,
Misdirected knocks and thuds. The sunsets,
Indeed, were all prop, and the grizzly occurrencies
Closet other fictions too terrible to mention—
Even this quick synopsis is a dead giveaway.
Decrepit shall dub what may be set astrum
Until, at last, you blabbermouth the lyrics you thought you knew,
Though by all accounts receivable, the radiowaves
Eclipsed your body long ago and the platitudes now
Clank at your skull. Suffer the chump change they offer,
The awful thump of your two feet left. (54)

20 January 2012

Another Republic

So I'm teaching this book to my poetry writing class this semester:


So far it's going well. The Follain poem I posted a few days ago is in this book. We're discussing these two poets today:


THE TENANTS OF THE LITTLE BOX by Vasko Popa

Throw into the little box
A stone
You'll take out a bird

Throw in your shadow
You'll take out the shirt of happiness

Throw in your father's root
You'll take out t he axle of the universe

The little box works for you

Throw into the little box
A mouse
You'll take out a shaking hill

Throw in your mother pearl
You'll take out the chalice of eternal life

Throw in your head
You'll take out two

The little box works for you



And here's my boy, Frankie Ponge, looking all dapper:


THE PLEASURES OF THE DOOR

Kings do not touch doors.
They know nothing of this pleasure: pushing before one gently or brusquely one of those large familiar panels, then turning back to replace it--holding a door in one's arms.
. . . The pleasure of grabbing the midriff of one of these tall obstacles to a room by its porcelain node; that short clinch during which movement stops, the eye widens, and the whole body adjusts to its new surrounding.
With a friendly hand one still holds on to it, before closing it decisively and shutting oneself in--which the click of the tight but well-oiled spring pleasantly confirms.

18 January 2012

The French Exit

I recently read Elisa Gabbert's The French Exit and what initially struck we was how the poems therein were filled with the speaker's dreams or dreamlike landscapes. Whether "We both dream about wild animals" (21), find ourselves in a "sex-dream-cum-anxiety-dream" (24), or dream about the end of love via a tennis match (i.e. "The person I'm playing tennis with keeps changing" (27)), these poems linger in a half-waking space in which the writing employs dream worlds as a conduit for the ideas and emotional register of the poem, the speaker, and/or the poet. Of course, given the nature of dreams, the emotions and ideas are never that clear cut. To wit, in the opening poem "Commissioned," the speaker tell us: "You must know it says. / But in the dream you can't read it. // In dreams there's no quality to the weather" (9). A text we can't read, in weather with no characteristics: we know something is there, but it will remain unknown.

After thinking through the collection a bit more, the body also seemed to be a central trope of the book. Sure "the body wakes up" (13), perhaps from the aforementioned dreams, but this does not make the body anymore clear to the speaker or the audience than the confused emotions and thoughts produced by and within dreams. Take, for example, the beginning lines from the poem "X":
Mindless, the body is perfect,

an outline—form without
content, absent of tone, lying

in the street. (14)
The focus on dreams and bodies is all the more enjoyable in the poems where Gabbert infuses these subjects with a healthy does of humor that also exhibits an impressive intellect. A great example of this confluence of elements occurs in "Blogpoem After Walter Benjamin," which to my mind is the best of the collection; here is the poem in its entirety, which riffs on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":
Every time you reproduce a piece of art
you remove some of its aura and that's why
your mix tape didn't impress me much,
it was so fucking aura-less
                                                        but in the film
version of the novelization of this poem
I play myself but have fantastic breasts
and there are probably some blood baths

and also when my fangy tooth catches
on my lip men everywhere crumple
w/ the ecstasy and agony of it and really

who needs aura in your movie when
you're so hot it breaks people's knees. (44)

14 January 2012

Sky Harbor

In the opening poem of Miles Waggener's Sky Harbor (Pinyon Publishing, 2011), the final lines offer readers an image of "Two sparrows / ...trapped in the crowded terminal" (4); in many ways, one can understand this to be a metaphor for the entire collection: the natural world unwittingly "trapped" within a man-made creation, unable to escape its complex labyrinths.

The man-made creation—in the case of Waggener's most recent collection—is the poem, and the complex labyrinths are the sinuous and expansive syntactical structures that comprise the sentences within the text. Poems like "Ampersand in Mind," "Bird in a Box," and "Too Easy Questions on Lonely Roads," in fact, are all one sentence in length and unfold in various directions throughout the course of the individual pieces. But, even in the poems that contain multiple sentences, the syntax therein is still circuitous. Take, for instance, the opening sentence of the poem "Horse":
Among sixteen horses on the western slope
weathering sleet and sunshine, reflecting field-lit
contours, there is a first horse, one where I might
bring my face to its cheek, feel the eyelash of its thought,
see myself reflected there, hand extended—how it had seen
an early flash upon a winter clarity restaged on the iris
of its companion, and they whitened together in the comet's return. (9)
The digressions that the sentence makes necessarily "restage" "clarity" in such a manner that the "field-lit / contours" of the poem are illuminated just enough for the "iris" to discern the way, but not without having to carefully trace and retrace the intricate paths of its construction. To this extent, one can easily lose themselves within the poem if attention to its nuances are not minded; of course, if a reader moves through the passageways of these poems, then they are justly rewarded. When the speaker of the poem "Sky Harbor" asks "How else to bring what won't / come to us on its own / a bit closer" (3), it would appear that we know have an answer: trap it in a maze that is an ornate poem.

1/14/12


13 January 2012

Jean Follain

SIGNS

Sometimes when a customer in a shadowy restaurant
is shelling an almond
a hand comes to rest on his narrow shoulder
he hesitates to finish his glass
the forest in the distance is resting under its snows
the sturdy waitress has turned pale
he will have to let the winter night fall
has she not often seen
on the last page
of a book of modest learning
the word end printed
in ornate capitals?

(tr. W.S. Merwin)

10 January 2012

Classic Kemp

Found this SKC-appropriate image over at gotemcoach.com:


09 January 2012

The Black Mariah

The Black Mariah by Jen Tynes, which will be released by DoubleCross Press at the 2012 AWP, is a longish poem that alternates between sections of standard lineation and sections containing scattered lines that employ the page as an open field. Moreover, the poem focuses on the body and a series of strange transformations it undergoes. Take, for instance, this excerpt from the incipient section:
Where her eyelashes should
be: rattlesnakes on
full alarm. Her breasts a couple
mushroom clouds, vitals
full of holes where the red-
headed gunslingers missed her
apple. It looks like both a woman
and a vase inside her
pupils.
Rattlesnake eyelashes, mushroom cloud breasts, and pupil vases: the poem creates a new being that is neither one nor the other, but indissolubly both. While some may find such fantastic displacements off-putting, the speaker of these poems (and, by extension, anyone calling themselves a poet) thinks otherwise, saying as much when she states: "My head will not turn / against all the body's forms." In some respects, embracing "all the body's forms," including those of that cross species lines, hearkens back to Horace's The Art of Poetry. In his treatise on verse, the ancient wrote:
Suppose you'd been asked to come for a private view
Of a painting wherein the artist had chosen to join
To a human head the neck of a horse, and gone on
To collect some odds and ends of arms and legs
And plaster the surface with feathers of differing colors,
So that what began as a lovely woman at the top
Tapered off into a slimy, discolored fish—
Could you keep from laughing, my friends? Believe me, dear Pisos,
Paintings like these look a lot like the book of a writer
Whose weird conceptions are just like a sick man's dreams,
So neither the head not the foot can be made to apply
To a single uniform shape. "But painter and poets
Have always been equally free to try anything."
We writers know that, and insist that such license be ours.
Indeed, poets must take "license" to develop in their writing a disparate beast (to develop their writing as a disparate beast) that does not conform to "a single uniform shape," and to do so freely and without fear of the spectators "laughing."

The following "weird conception," originally published in an issue of Anti-, is my favorite of The Black Mariah and brings to bear the transformative capabilities of the poet:
We perform best when
we listen to the bird
inside the bird, dark bellied
ugly augur song that
likes to measure us out
of space. For demonstrative
purposes the body can affix
to any orphan line. My eyes are bulls’
eyes, my calves are wet,
pliable, the roped-in death
of me. My mother is
a fertility trick. We perform
best when we admonish
our animals for
the gaminess they visit
upon our routine. We are not two
of everything in
a line, following the color
spectrum. My father is a shadow
on the image. I look for a bird
inside a bird because it slips
bones out of
everything I touch.
I break the character and look
for hours like a body
no one knew to recover.
The "character" embodied within the poem's "I," literally, "breaks" into pieces and is reconfigured in ways that allow the reader to "look [at it] / for hours": constant permutations providing enjoyment for an audience who reveals in displacement and the collage of shapes into new forms.

08 January 2012

Leaves and Light by Yves Bonnefoy




II.

The voice was of pure irony in the trees,
Of distance, of death,
Of the unloosening of dawns far away from us

In a forbidden place. And our harbor
Was all black clay. No ship
Had ever shown a sign of light there,
Everything began with this song of the cruel dawn,
A liberating hope, a poverty.

It was a naked moment, torn, as when
Working difficult soil
One feels the blade sink into the earth’s dark heart
And invents death under the changing sky.

04 January 2012

Places Apart by William Bronk


Beyond the daylight, all day long, the stars are
shining still unseen by us who make
our lives apart from them though they are there.

Old News

Philadelphia-based writer Ryan Eckes's second book of poems, Old News, which Furniture Press Books released late in 2011, alternates between narrative pieces concerning the speaker's life in contemporary Philadelphia and appropriated text from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Evening Bulletin printed during the early twentieth-century. After the collection's first two poems, the poet, in a brief paragraph, explains to some extent how the project came to fruition:
we tore up the rotten carpets and the mats underneath, which were stapled to the old pine floor from the days before carpets, and found newspapers from 1923 spread across the room...some 1923 in some 2007. (8)
From these newspapers-as-flooring, Eckes's travels through time to create a space within his book wherein he constructs an alternate, trans-temporal Philadelphia. A life-long resident of the city, the place, the author, and the speakers of these texts seem inextricably linked. In the poem "news is the old old," we begin to understand why:
alice notley said "more important than having
been born is your city, the scale upon which
your heart when you die will be weighed"
and then she said "i don't know if that's true
or not, i think about it a lot." me too. the
scale can hardly be trusted. it rusts out. (42)
For Eckes, Philadelphia becomes a "scale upon which / [his] heart...will be weighed"; but, given the fact that the "scale," his city, "rusts out," it "can hardly be trusted" to accurately measure the parameters of his "heart." This is not to say that it doesn't accurately measure his "heart," there is just no way of being sure one way or the other.

Such indeterminacy could be a source of anxiety, though, due to the fact that the rusted city is filled with racism:
                                                                                                              ah, the
subway, he says, well the subway's a little too dark for me if you
know what i mean. (14)
Poverty:
we wait and wait
he goes picking through garbage
along the curb and comes up with
a large rubber flashlight (39)
And heartache: "money's why we broke up, more or less" (53).

Could the collaged, newspaper material from 1923 be a way for Eckes and his poems to connect to a past Philadelphia so as to remember "a rich history"; to look back on a city that "fostered the birth of a nation, and through the years established an extraordinary record for political, cultural, and scientific firsts" (41), as as inset from the American Geographical Society's 1951 pamphlet series "Know Your America Program: Philadelphia" states?

Hardly. In fact, the newspaper material that the poet weaves into his collection contains stories of "a suicide attempt" (43), the mysterious disappearance of a mailman, "the sioux indian tribe" suing the United States for "practically three-quarters of a billion dollars / for lands and property taken / by the white man" (45), and a write-up of a "BRIDGE HERMIT STRANGELY KILLED" (30) just to name a few. The collages, indeed, allow the poet to time-travel, but time-travel for the sake of demonstrating the city-scale isn't just rusting out now, but rusted out long-ago. Far from a history rich with a tradition of political, economic, and cultural accomplishments, Old News presents Philadelphia as a "narrow street" filled with "a deep sadness" (55).