Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Summer Poetry Workshop

 
I will be teaching an 8-week online poetry workshop this summer (beginning June) through Duquesne University. It is open to anyone anywhere (for a reasonable fee). Please consider enrolling in this non-credit course.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Poetry Reading, April 13

This coming Sunday, April 13th, I will be reading some poetry at Amazing Books in downtown Pittsburgh.  Also reading are Kevin Finn, Renée Alberts, and if we’re lucky there will be a rare appearance by Che Elias.  It starts at 2pm, and it’s free.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Radio Tribute to Baraka

Shortly after Amiri Baraka’s death, the poet Keith Gaustad, who does a weekly radio show, had me call in to read a couple Baraka poems (on January 9th). The whole show is a nice tribute. I come on around the 33:30 minute mark and really get going around 38:30. There’s interesting distortion on the line, probably ’cause of my phone.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Alan Jude Moore at Poetry International

Alan Jude Moore
An interesting and almost encyclopedia-like poetry site is Poetry International (or Poetry International Rotterdam), reflecting its place of origin), which gathers the work of poets, by country, along with brief but serious introductory essays on each.  I was asked to write one on the contemporary Irish poet Alan Jude Moore, who I know (and who also publishes with Salmon Poetry who have published me), and it is now online here:


Some of Moore’s poems are linked on the right-hand side of the page.  As a teaser (hopefully), here is the ending of my piece on Moore:

“The cultural work that Moore has performed, and his four collections to date, testify to the diversity that now exists in Irish poetry and to Moore himself as one of the more original and exciting poets of twenty-first-century Ireland.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Blackbird #11

Text & postcard by Guy Beining in Blackbird 11

I have a few poems in the new issue 11 of Blackbird, the long-running journal of poetry, visual poetry, and mail art edited by David Stone at the Blackbird Institute in Baltimore. Other contributors include Eric Basso, Christine Tarantino, David-Baptiste Chirot, Cheryl Penn, Simon Perchik, Gloria del Vecchio, Guido Vermeulen, and many others. For information and purchases, one may contact David Stone at PO Box 16235, Baltimore, MD, 21210, USA.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: Jeffrey Hecker, Instructions for the Orgy

Jeffrey Hecker’s Instructions for the Orgy (Sunnyoutside, 2013) is a short chapbook of ten poems. [Spoiler alert:] They turn on a joke — with each succeeding arrival, the orgy is revealed as increasingly shambolic. The first to the orgy (the titles of the poems are “Instructions for the First to the Orgy,” “Instructions for the Second to the Orgy,” etc.) is advised to “Delouse the loving space,” for instance. To the sixth, it is remarked, “I can’t believe you’re the sixth male of six arrivals.” By the seventh, though, hopes are raised somewhat:
Separating spouses Reed and Pam
just walked in with a line of braided
Wiccan women who I think might all be
related. They brought their own maypole
to grind on, Whitsun-wedding style.
But satisfaction is quickly deferred. In the eighth, one couple has paired off together in the bathroom, while masturbation is suggested for the rest. By the ninth, the speaker is reduced to random thoughts about Google Maps, and the tenth and final arrival is merely asked to sign a ledger, which oddly dates back to the 1920s.

I’m not sure there is any “deeper” meaning to this, but Hecker’s conversational, satiric tone is engaging, and the desultory, sometimes slightly surreal elements of the series remind me a little bit of Samuel Beckett. The last poem ends, “Sign / who you are, 20XX, or why should anybody remember?” Perhaps the futility of ego and desire, then, is the theme, if meaning there must be. In any case, this is a worthwhile little volume, nicely printed and sewn by Sunnyoutside. Hecker is one to keep an eye out for, this a taster for further work perhaps.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review of Billy Ramsell

My review of The Architect’s Dream of Winter (Dedalus Press, 2013) by Billy Ramsell is up at the Burning Bush 2 site, here:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baraka lives!


Baraka (R) w/ John Coltrane (L)
Baraka lives.

On the occasion of his recent death—

He was in many ways the poet I most admired.  Not always agreed with, though at many times I did, but admired as a poet.  His form, his aesthetic, his numerous changes and new directions.  I mean the fact that he continued to change, to revise his views and his poetics as his life continued onward.

My own poetry is influenced by him in many ways: Ancestor Worship is partly my self-conscious “cultural nationalist” statement, even though I already knew that Baraka himself had long ago moved beyond cultural nationalism.  The fact that even before his cultural nationalist period he had a period called his “transitional” period, and after it yet another — that awareness allowed me that freedom in a way.  To see the good things in it and reject the bad.  And to know that I would eventually move beyond it even if I didn’t know what that would be.

But it is not just in theme or in stance, or the evolution of stance.  His form was and is also an integral part of it, for me too.  As Baraka said in an interview with another great poet, Kalamu ya Salaam, “What became clear to me is that if you adopt a certain form that form is going to push you into certain content because the form is not just the form, the form itself is content. There is content in form and in your choice of form . . . . the shaping itself is a choice and that choice is ideological. In other words, it’s not just form.”  I don’t know if this is always true, and it’s not even really original to Baraka, but it’s something I have thought about a lot. 

When the publisher of my latest collection (Future Blues, Salmon Poetry, 2012) asked me for some back-cover material for the book, what I sent was actually based on the blurb from Baraka’s (then Jones’s) The Dead Lecturer, which is probably my overall favorite single unitary collection by him.  At many times I have wanted to write an “Homage to Amiri Baraka,” but then I wondered how would that be significantly different from what I’ve already done in a number of poems I’ve written, called that or not.

A friend of mine, Allen Kirkpatrick, who moved to Manhattan in the early 1960s to become a poet, and later became an underground filmmaker, told me a story of his early days as a poet living in the Lower East Side (I being a kid who came later).  He said that one day or morning he woke up and looked out his window down onto the street — Ave. A or B, something like that — and below him by his doorstep were LeRoi Jones and Allen Ginsberg having a conversation.  “Boy,” he said, “that’s when I knew I was really in the right place. . .”

I have a print of an ink and marker drawing by Baraka that says, “Don’t ever / Be sad enough / Not to believe / in whatever / makes / you / Beautiful”.

I didn’t know Baraka, but I met him once after an AWP reading, February 2008 in New York.  I was just some random person to him.  But he shook my hand and signed a book for me: “For Michael / Unity + Struggle / Am- Baraka / 2/1/08”.  His hand was soft and warm.  But that could’ve been anybody.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Murray & McCardle, Smithereens chapbooks

Christine Murray’s Three Red Things (Smithereens Press, 2013), readable here:



is a 20-page chapbook lush in language. Its opening passage sets the tone:

Roadlake rushes to pours
its pools onto the pathways.
Mercury-mirrors dot them
imaging the trees’ dark sway.

This is not a simple scene. In fact, it is actually driven more by alliteration — r-r, p-p-p, m-m, d-d — than its imagistic aspects. The image itself is partially mirrored, and Murray is intently aware that she is indeed engaged in the act of “imaging” in the poem. Moreover, the verb form is deliberately skewed in the first line — shouldn’t it be “rushes to pour” instead of “rushes to pours”? Clearly, this is not merely about a leisurely drive on a country road, but also about poetry and modes of expression. Oh, and what about the portmanteau of “roadlake”? In eight letters we have the whole idea of a body of water flooding itself onto what humans had wished to be circumscribed as separate from nature. And what about “Mercury”? This too could be laden with meaning.

You can perform this kind of textual analysis all through Murray’s work with equally fruitful outcomes. One section I particularly like is “reed songs I-IV,” set at Trá an Dóilín in the Conamara town of An Cheathrú Rua. Trá an Dóilín is a coral beach that is often also covered in maerl (reddish seaweed/algae). A beautiful spot. Here, the colors of the beach in one section merge into the colors of a horse in another:
She had tumbled down the stone walls in flight
in frenzy
the men caught her

amongst the strife the orange flame

the yellow strife
the white

white grey and cream : her
mane and tail is against the wall
There are so many ways to read this; it suggests something about oppression, specifically in the gendering of those involved. Also running through it are themes relating to the muse in poetry, music (“your double-flute’s song”), the Famine, and the “noise” of mannered civilization.

Perhaps reminiscent in theme (not form) of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Standing Female Nude,” “The Zeiss” reiterates Murray’s feminist stance in its turning of the tables on “the male gaze,” the Zeiss being a brand of medical lenses:
the primitive Zeiss dilated
with the mathematical implements of your pornographies : meters,
lenses

[. . .]

all these rotated in your skull-disc, and I
spread wide as cut-fruit onto a plate-fallen

dilated
and captured you.
I wondered which of your screens I was playing on?
“Playing on” as in being screened, but more so in the way that the poet “plays on” the features of language, wordplay. It is the speaker who accordingly seizes power in this scenario.

The title poem, “Three Red Things,” is noteworthy for its employment of crisp imagist details as a platform over which to assert a more personal, subjective position in the world. The speaker is located up against a tree: “its roots are moving beneath my feet / I am afraid it will tear up from the / soil’s hungry drinking as” — and that’s it. As what? Do we need to know? No, we don’t. Murray’s poetry doesn’t owe us tidy answers. We’ve got the “soil’s hungry drinking as” and it’s a great phrase and a great ending just as it is.

Another recent Smithereens Press chapbook is Aodán McCardle’s LllOovVee (2013), readable here:




McCardle’s bio note explains that he “practices improvisational Performance Writing, making particular use of the physical body of writing,” and this work is indeed emphasized as a kind of performance. I can see it. I like that McCardle has actually incorporated a number of his notebook pages, reproduced photographically, that play alongside and against the typeset sections. His handwriting sometimes spells out readable words and other times devolves into a kind of scribble, but with the trace of the physical movement of the pen paramount. It is a record, a graphing of instantaneity never to be repeated.

Having thus preserved it through the wonders of technology, McCardle adds other layers. For example, a handwritten column of the repeated word “now” is juxtaposed with a column of the repeated typeset word “then.” Simple, that, yes. But it is only one small part of a process of repetition with variation and stripping down of words in order to reveal something about the ways in which and the reasons why we utilize language. The chapbook begins with a long typeset passage that wrangles with questions such as

the disgust of egotism
the nothing of writing
the something of writing
the alternative of writing
[. . .]
writing as other than
to make a line
Given the nature of the form LllOovVee takes, it is something that should really be engaged with on its own terms, as the full effect is not captured in this review. But I will say that one possible answer to the questions set out above seems to be located in the title itself, a transcription of a common English-language word that McCardle has sloppily scribbled and strewn across several notebook pages with increasingly emphatic flourishes. It demands to be experienced as much as analyzed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jennifer Tamayo’s Poems Are the Only Real Bodies

Jennifer Tamayo’s Poems Are the Only Real Bodies (Bloof Books, 2013) is a chapbook-length long poem framed as a series of paratactic letters (“e-pistols”) addressed to Harriet Tubman. I’ve read it about three times now and I really like it. It takes a couple readings, though, for its internal logic, or anti-logic, to begin to take hold. On first reading, the overarching metaphor — the poem/body equivalence — seemed heavy-handed: can poetry, language, really be so corporal; isn’t this something of a conceit? But with further readings, I started to feel that in many ways, yes it can, and that what initially seemed heavy-handed was exactly the point. The metaphor is exaggerated, reiterated in numerous different forms, almost to the point of baroqueness (in the dictionary sense of the baroque as “characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance”). As Tamayo writes at the very start of the poem, “Please know that when I place these arms on you, dear reader, we both corrupt with pleasure. The guttural guh guh guh guh! of // what it means to experience the letter”.

Tamayo’s poetry is sensual, happily overwrought and “corrupt”; her poetry involves a connection between people (writer and reader, or poet and subject); and in its sometimes orgiastic intensity, it can paradoxically reduce expression to an almost wordless, guttural “guh.” She writes, “One of my poem’s fingers creeps in to my asshole. / & everything is there.”  And later:

Harriet,

my clit perks and waves to the sun!

it thinks it to be its own reflection

and it looks up the word ENTITLED

At your memorial, I dangle from your big hand like a metaphor: I’m the slobbery noodle.


The way out of this, Hurryet, is through language but I can’t stop narrating, guh, it feels so good.

There is so much here, much more than this review is able to take on. Tamayo’s work deserves further, article-length criticism/analysis than I can give at present. She engages with issues of race and gender, of course, but also of oppression and liberation more broadly, of history and subjectivity, of the role of art and language, and of how these issues might be centered on or expressed through the body. PATORB also seems to be kind of a manifesto in which Tamayo inserts herself, her own art, into these contexts. A page in the book is a photo of the poet literally “dangl[ing]” like a “slobbery noodle” from the right hand of the Harriet Tubman statue in Harlem — Tamayo’s own body has become the metaphor here. Superimposed on her hindquarters are the words “THE SENTENCE” (as I wrote earlier, the metaphor is exaggerated, blatant, reiterated in many different ways throughout the book, and this is just one of them). This technique of combining photograph and text is reminiscent of the visual artist Barbara Kruger, who the poet explicitly references, thus overtly tying her project to a particular comrade-in-arms (so to speak).

It further helps to see Tamayo’s work in the light of that of Harryette Mullen, another contemporary poet who is intensely enamored of wordplay and the materiality of language. Fittingly, Mullen comes in as a riff on the name Harriet, and the page that acts as the Mullen tribute is laden with double-entendre:

This is really hystorical

because when I said I was writing about guns everybody winced
because I forgot to mention they were just my metaphors.

I do believe the poet can act like a terrorist
with a guh guh guh guh!

Here the “guh” is transformed from an expression of the ecstatic inexpressible into the sound of gunshots. It is worth remembering that Harriet Tubman was no pacifist, having allied herself with the anti-slavery militant John Brown and later, during the Civil War, leading an armed raid into Confederate territory to free hundreds of slaves. Two pages later, Tamayo writes, “Moses [NB: a sobriquet for Tubman], // Language is a type-o-trash & I’m uncertain about the concept of nonviolence // as in, these letters are all arms”. Her epistles to Tubman are elsewhere rendered “e-pistols.” In case the NSA is looking in, however (“YOUR ART CONTROLS YOU BY DEFINING YOUR REALITY,” Tamayo writes, “THEY DISCOUNT YOUR EXPERIENCES AND REPLACE IT WITH THEIR TRUTH AND REALITY WHICH IS ACTUALLY A LIE”), she clearly is not advocating any kind of literal violence in this day and age; rather, she is interested in the capacity of language, poetry, and art to strenuously oppose the aforementioned forces of oppression that still face us all, their capacity to act as metaphorical “weapons.”

Tamayo foregrounds the contestedness of everything that her poem takes up, just as the Tubman statue itself is contested. Poems Are the Only Real Bodies is rich and (as they say in reviews) rewards repeated readings. It is heavy (in a good way) and almost goopy in its style (in a good way). The published chapbook is quite the material “body” itself, 7” x 7” square, machine-sewn at the edges with orange thread rather than having a fold-over spine, graphically appealing with bold orange and pink printed ink as a cover motif. It appears that it is now sold out (though available as a free ebook, here). Given the theme/s of this poem, it would be great if the hard copy version were to be made available again in the future.  In any case, Bloof Books is putting out some great work and is a press well worth supporting. PATORB is a remarkable example of what Bloof publishes and especially of what Tamayo is capable of. I look forward to more from her.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Scully & Mills, Smithereens chapbooks

Maurice Scully’s latest work is RAIN, a chapbook/pamphlet published by Smithereens Press earlier this year and readable for free in online form here:


A quick search of the blog in front of you will reveal that I have written quite a bit about Scully already, and what I like about this one is I suppose what I like about most of his work — its capacity for being both imagistic and kinetic at the same time, or, its simulacra of both.  By imagistic, I mean concise description and something more, Pound’s “intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,” like, “a small cracked / black & white / photo from / the 50s // popped out of / a book on / yr desk”.  By kinetic, I mean the way this poem traces the movement of thought with sudden leaps or jump cuts, to new and perhaps contrasting images.  After the photo, there is suddenly a series of visions of nature, possibly ranging through time.  A “quiet cell / in the woods / berries birdsong / rootlets” recalls the ascetic life of a mediaeval Irish monk in a beehive hut.  A short ways on there is this curious scene: “this must / be that / beautiful / little quick // feathered / animal / feeding by / the // wave-edge” — yeah, the reader might think, you mean a bird.  But what makes this passage is the off-kilter way it is rendered — it “must be” this thing that is denoted by its description rather than its name.

As always with Scully, the way/s in which we use language are under question, or if not that, are at least foregrounded in the construction of the poem.  Much could be made of Scully’s line breaks and use of enjambment, for example.  And after the sequence above, suddenly he cuts to an image of a “book / opened / on a / table”, which is a scene perhaps of the very writer’s desk.  This breaks the frame of the poem, as does the gesture toward concrete poetry (where the vertical-bar keyboard characters placed along a right margin mimic the falling of raindrops).  Scully also discusses the genesis of the poem in a series of notes, further allowing the reader behind the veil.  As he himself points out, though, this may be “subjective & unnecessary to know in the first place other than to give the reader some idea of how the thing was put together.”  RAIN is successful on its own as a poem that is engaged in celebrating life, perception, and the creation of the self through art.

Another recent Smithereens chapbook is Billy Mills’s from Pensato: More Words for Voices, readable here:


(I should disclose that Mills recently reviewed a book of mine, but I have been reading and enjoying his work long before that ever happened.)

In a way similarly to Scully, from Pensato is closely tuned to the small sensory moments and images that make up a life as it is lived and the world as it is in the process of continual change.  These are a series of snippets segueing into each other over the course of 22 pages, sometimes just a handful of lines each, crisp and at times haiku-like.  Here is one: “a snatch of air / freezes / on the lip // crisp & almost / sweet”.  Where an autobiographical presence clearly inhabits Scully’s work, this is less apparent in Mills’s, where there the strategy is to deemphasise the personality of the poet as much as possible, in favor of the natural world.  Yet, subtly, we see the speaker here in the evaluative adjective “sweet.”  Further, the following poem, though grounded in flower imagery, could be read as a personal metaphor of human relationships in the face of ephemerality: “petals fold / against / each other // held delicate / tension / & weave // a fragile durability / that holds”.  What also “weaves” us together here is poetry itself — beyond the metaphor, the astute reader is drawn to the slant or near-rhyme of “fold,” “held,” “holds,” the soft-‘e’ assonance of “held,” delicate,” “tension,” and the hard-‘e’ assonance of “each,” and “weave.”

It is also interesting to me how Mills connects nature and the human subconsciousness (dream) through poetry.  On page 13: “persist & sing / the least need / most // an image is / that leads / sleep goes // first then this / who dreams would / keep so” — yes! for the poet we persist through our art (“sing”) and, through images (in poetry) and dreams, also, live; in other words the inner life is connected both to the way we position ourselves in the outside, natural world and to the production of our art.  Here is a slight reworking of the same idea, on page 19: “& sleep once / & dream / easily // & let the light / erase / the edge of things // drift / purposeful & / clear”.  The consciousness, the clarity, that is provided by an artistic perception of reality allows us to live life in a particular way.  For Mills (and for myself) it is to “drift purposeful and clear” — the seeming contradiction between drifting and purpose being obviously resolved in this particular aesthetic stance.  As Mills writes a couple of pages on, this stance allows the world to be both “explicable & strange”.  His from Pensato is, in this regard, it seems to me, a kind of personal manifesto despite its impersonal framing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Master Tape, Vol. 2

In the early 1980s I was in a hardcore punk band called Wasted Talent. I was the drummer. Three of our songs appeared on a compilation album called The Master Tape, Vol. 2 (Affirmation Records, 1983). The vinyl double album can be heard in its entirety as a series of MP3s at the site of Killed By Death Records, here:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

For Lou Reed

Lou Reed died today (October 27, 2013). His art — his music and writing — has meant a great deal to me and influenced me as a person and a poet in innumerable ways. He was possibly the greatest songwriter of our time, at least in a certain vein, and his influence cannot even be fully measured yet — it goes on.

Below I give a section of my poem “Homage to Allen Kirkpatrick” (published in last year’s Future Blues) which responds to the work of underground New York filmmaker Kirkpatrick. The latter’s Adrenalin Devours the Blood includes footage of Lou from the 1974 or ’75 era, and so references to these make their way into the poem.

It’s all I can offer at present.

*

[1975]

Adrenalin Devours the Blood:
the filmmaker holds up (again) the mirror to himself
reads yesterday’s paper
and the news may not be good
(a drinking contest left two friends dead),
            Manhattan approached
            with dread along the surface of the river

Kill Yr Sons/
Lou Reed iconic footage his poetry, gestures,
jerking motions like the the sound is dis-juncted,
a hand-held camera observes
gay pride parade black balloon leather boys
cops guns and the American flag,
boxing bout KO in the ring
and sleeping bums head on curb
under the belly of New York
secret filming of junkyards

O sadness of
first-thing-in-the-morning bars
old men’s whiskey and water shot glasses
dolorous light through translucent curtains,
bathroom urinals—

silhouetted against the color cathode test signal
the filmmaker examines strips of his film,
x-rays of the salacious/
            the blind beggar solicits change

the black hooker beautiful mounds of flesh
to strains of “Angel Baby” breasts hang
projected in shadow then lumined and brown
“it’s just like heaven, being here with you”
Allen visible in the hotel room mirror
just as I am visible in the writing of the poem
combs her hair in the mirror angel baby
as he films holding camera 16mm,
yes let us see the mechanics,
“ooh-hoo I love you” coarse black pubic hair

graffiti subway train cars
running up the screen 3-D style
SCAT   CODE   THE DR. J   JET   CHEF   FAT
have got up too in spray-paint

the transsexual classic American
70s housewife style heavy eye makeup & hair

(Allen again visible in the mirror,
a heavy hand)
street scene pimps, wigs in shop windows
XXX cinema Playmate Studio 25¢ booths
            vicious
O sweet Lou in double exposure
light glints on guitar like flickering neon
gay parade glamour queen floats of America,

and the universe


                        MSB
*

Here is Reed’s “Kill Your Sons,” referenced in the poem:



 And here is another of Reed’s greatest works:


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Josef Kaplan's Kill List

Doesn't feel good, does it?
Josef Kaplan’s Kill List, which has recently sparked a bit of controversy, is designed to make a point. Because a list of names coupled with economic statuses (limited to “rich” or “comfortable”) certainly isn’t a stylistic masterpiece. Joyelle McSweeney gives a reading that is appreciative of the poem’s formal strategies, and I can go along with it it, but on the other hand, once you come up with the concept, it’s a matter of copying and pasting, and there you go. It’s a conceptual poem — it is what it is in that regard.

But on the level of meaning, such as that is, is the notion that poets too are imbricated in the capitalist system in which we all live really so shocking? This should be obvious. Given the perplexed reaction to this book from some quarters, however, maybe it isn’t obvious for everybody. So, point taken; it’s a good reminder.

What defines “rich” or “comfortable,” though?  Clearly, Kaplan’s judgments are arbitrary. And what about the poets who truly are “poor” or “struggling”? — because they certainly exist too.  They are not on a kill list; only the relatively well-off are — the author thus positions himself as anti-bourgeois. So it’s not about poets per se so much as it is about class. Kaplan seems on one level to suggest that the middle and upper classes deserve to be offed. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek — he doesn’t literally believe this — and so there is a degree of parody of class warfare being iterated here, and probably a comment on “kill lists” in general, with reference to covert government operations in a time of war (something McSweeney also notes).

So, poets are part of the system, just like everybody is. And in the bigger picture, our conceptions of class and empire need to be continually questioned. Got it. Here’s the thing, though. You would think that anybody on this “list,” as affable and accepting and willing to take a joke as he or she may be, or as willing to be fodder for a valid rhetorical point, etc. — you would think that any person is going to resent being on a “kill list,” no matter how conceptual or satiric it’s supposed to be. I’m not on it of course, as I’m not on Kaplan’s radar, which is fine with me. But speaking as a living human being, I think anyone on anybody’s kill list, real or fake, is probably going to think, Fuck You.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

How/Why/What to Read Finnegans Wake

The Japanese James Joyce scholar Tatsuo Hamada has published a book on Finnegans Wake, titled How/Why/What to Read Finnegans Wake? (Abiko Literary Press, 2013, ISBN 9784900763098), partly based on selections from his now-defunct journal The Abiko Annual. The book includes a short interview with myself and work by many other, much more substantial Joyceans. An idiosyncratic but quite worthwhile book. Track it down if you can. Here is Abiko Literary Presss website: http://www7.ocn.ne.jp/~hce/

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review of Sarah Hayden's Exteroceptive


My review of Sarah Hayden's chapbook Exteroceptive (Wild Honey Press, 2013) is now up at the Burning Bush 2 site:

http://burningbush2.com/2013/08/29/2029/

I really liked this poem series, and Wild Honey is a small press well worth your while.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: DJ Dolack, No Ser No

Greying Ghost is a really great chapbook press that uses real, old-school print techniques, and thus looks amazing. Nice paper on which you can sometimes feels the indentation of the type. There is texture in this kind of production. For DJ Dolack’s No Ser No, there is also black ink on black end-papers and a mysterious clipping from an early twentieth-century boating magazine stapled into the pages of this volume.

All well and good, you say, but does the poetry itself live up to that yellowed clipping? Yes indeed, and more. I ordered No Ser No kind of randomly — I wanted to support this press, and the Dolack chapbook looked the best to me of what was in print at the time (these are short runs and seem to go quickly — this one is numbered 150 copies). I’m glad I did. Dolack’s work is both surrealist and contemporary, both engaging and allusive, both New York and new mind.

This is not the kind of work whose meaning immediately jumps out at you, but it puts forward moods, works on the memory (even if the memories aren’t yours exactly), gives an idiosyncratic take on the modern world. The first poem, “Industries for the Blind of New York State,” opens, “Come from above / Are all in the trees” — an intriguing couplet. Syntactically, “come from above” is the subject of the sentence, which the verb “are” implies is plural somehow. “In the trees” sounds like the “industries” of the poem’s title, but perhaps that is coincidence. It is a conundrum, but the fact that it opens the collection seems to give it some weight. Clearly, Dolack expects the reader to do some work, or at least to proceed in a kind of Keatsian negative capability where rational meaning is not always a major concern.

“Where Our Data Live” segues into childhood memory with a speaker who this time draws some clear conclusions:

. . . people are no good.

Even as a child I had the feeling.
My grandfather tossing

a fresh nail gun cartridge
into the fire. Even then

I knew I wasn’t ready.

This is one of the more straightforward passages, including an arresting image. Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, however, is “NYC Postcards (In Dollhouse Leather Jackets),” with its pleasant, O’Hara-esque evocation of Manhattan scenes and affirmation of life:

When You Are
In Love With The World

it fucking hangs out

The two of you
fucking
hang out And slowly. . .

I really like that idea, that you and the city can “fucking” hang out together, the city as an entity in itself, a friend. There is also something interesting about Dolack’s idiom and tone here — the voice sounds natural, similar perhaps to the way a certain American of the early twenty-first century, who is cool (of course I have my own definitions of what is cool now too), thinks and speaks. Refreshing to see it in poetry. And dig the capitalized words, providing emphasis: “When You Are In Love With The World.”

I’m not covering this whole collection (don’t want to ruin it all for you), even though it’s just 13 pages not including the old magazine clipping. But I also really liked the closer, “You Are the Most Difficult Kind of Happiness,” which plays around with space and typography. It is also in a sense the title poem, as it includes the lines “No serial number // no ser no.” This is a highly paratactic piece, so the relation of these lines to the rest is hard to get, at least initially. But there are associations to be had with the phrase “no serial number” — a kick against the cataloging and controlling of data in our world today, a rejection of the conformity and big-brother-type surveillance it implies? Maybe. In any case, Dolack’s poetry requires that the reader think critically and pay attention. “What’s worse?” he asks as the chapbook come to an end, “Bad eyes. // Now open them.” That is poetic advice good as any right now.