Monday, June 20, 2016

Poem in Yellow Chair Review

I have a poem in the new issue of Yellow Chair Review (#7).  The poem is titled “Dusk Hit” and is from a series.

It can be read here.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Poet’s Quest for God anthology

I’m quite pleased to have a poem in the new Eyewear Publishing anthology, The Poet’s Quest for God.  Eyewear is an excellent poetry press based in London, founded by Todd Swift.  This anthology includes a stellar and wide-ranging list of contributors (see below).

My poem is titled “The Ewes at Imbolc” and takes up conceptions of the pre-Christian Gaelic goddess Brighid, or, in the wider sense, ritual or at least calendrical celebration, or. . .you decide.  It is a section of a longer, multi-part poem series on the filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s 23rd Psalm Branch (1967).  In his film, Brakhage at various points riffs on the Biblical psalms (or the 23rd one).  I thought to myself, if I’m not just going to copy him (even though it’s an homage to him), what religious counterpoint should be part of this poem?  And I thought of a poem to Brighid (“Brigit bé bithmaith”) as a starting point and went from there.

Please consider purchasing this book.  Here is the description from the publisher:

This major anthology, the first of its kind, gathers work from renowned contemporary poets from around the world.  Representative of poets from a wide variety of faiths – as well as agnostics and atheists – and introduced by renowned religious scholar Professor Ewan Fernie, the anthology includes work by the following poets:

M.J. ABELL •  SHANTA ACHARYA •  PAUL ADRIAN • NEIL AITKEN •   PATIENCE AGBABI •  ANTONIA ALEXANDRA • KAZIM ALI •  RICHARD ALI •  MAUREEN ALSOP • FRED ANDRLE •  MARIA APICHELLA •  ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU •  RAE ARMANTROUT •  DAVID BAKER •   JENNIFER BARBER •  RACHEL BARENBLAT • SEBASTIAN BARKER • BENNO BARNARD • MICHAEL BARTHOLOMEW-BIGGS • MICAH BATEMAN • SHAINDEL BEERS • MICHAEL S. BEGNAL • MARGO BERDESHEVSKY • CHARLES BERNSTEIN • ASHOK BERY • JOAN BIDDLE • MALACHI BLACK • JANE BLANCHARD • YVONNE BLOMER • MURRAY BODO • MICHELLE BOISSEAU • STEPHANIE BOLSTER • JEMMA BORG • TODD BOSS • PENNY BOXALL • ASA BOXER •  DAVID BRIGGS • TRACI BRIMHALL • JAMES BROOKES • JERICHO BROWN • N M BROWNE • DIANA FITZGERALD BRYDEN •  JACCI BULMAN • APRIL BULMER • STEPHEN BURT • CARMEN CALATAYUD •  JASON CAMLOT •  MELANIE CHALLENGER • KIMBERLY CAMPANELLO • JOHN CHALLIS • PATRICK CHAPMAN • SAMPURNA CHATTARJI • AYESHA CHATTERJEE • MAXINE CHERNOFF • CAROLINE CLARK • PATRICIA CLARK • GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE • GERALDINE CLARKSON • AIDAN COLEMAN • NANCY COOK • ALFRED CORN • RACHEL COVENTRY • CLAIRE CROWTHER • TONY CURTIS • PÁDRAIG J. DALY • CYRIL DABYDEEN • PETER DANIELS • COLIN DARDIS • GRAHAME DAVIES • HILARY DAVIES • JAN DEAN • NICHOLA DEANE • JOHN F. DEANE •  NATASHA DENNERSTEIN • DHARMAVADANA • U.S. DHUGA • JOSEPHINE DICKINSON •  EDWARD DOEGAR • SHARON DOLIN • TIMOTHY DONNELLY • MAURA DOOLEY • TIM DOOLEY • CAL DOYLE • IAN DUHIG • FRANK DULLAGHAN • SUSAN MILLAR DUMARS • JOE DUNTHORNE • ANNA DWYER • MICHAEL EGAN • SAM EISENSTEIN • ALISON ENGLEFIELD • FLORA DE FALBE • MICHAEL FARRY • JANETTE FERNANDO • ANNIE FINCH • ADAM D. FISHER • NORMAN FISCHER • CHARLENE FIX • SARAH FLETCHER • PIOTR FLORCZYK • JAMES FLYNN • JOHN FORBIS • CAL FREEMAN • PHILIP FRIED • OWEN GALLAGHER • GARY GEDES • DAI GEORGE • ANDRAS GEREVICH • CLARE GIBBONS • JOHN GLENDAY • SUSAN GLICKMAN • KIM GOLDBERG • KEIRAN GODDARD • JOHN GOSSLEE • CATHERINE GRAHAM • JOHN GREENING • NICKI GRIFFIN • VONA GROARKE • JAMES GRINWIS • PHILLIP GROSS • DAVID GRUBB • EVE GRUBIN • KATIA GRUBISIC • KATHRYN HAMANN •  TOM HAMILL • LUKE HANKINS • MORGAN HARLOW • ALEX HARTLEY • TERRANCE HAYES • KEVIN HIGGINS • NORBERT HIRSCHHORN • LINDSEY HOLLAND • ANNETTE HOLLANDER • PAUL HOOVER •  SHERRY HOROWITZ • FANNY HOWE • ANTHONY HOWELL • SUSAN IOANNOU • SALLY ITO • CHRISTOPHER JACKSON • MARK JARMAN • TROY JOLLIMORE • TESS JOLLY •  JILL JONES • LOIS P. JONES • MARY JONES • OLIVER JONES • FADY JOUDAH • ILYA KAMINSKY •  BRIGIT KELLY • ROISÍN KELLY • LUKE KENNARD • VICTORIA KENNEFICK • MIMI KHALVATI • JANET R. KIRCHHEIMER • CALEB KLACES • ANJA KONIG • YAHIA LABABIDI • ANDREW LANSDOWN • SHARON LARKIN • SARAH LAW • SYDNEY LEA • JASON LEE • JOHN B. LEE • MARY LEE • WES LEE • MELISSA LEE-HOUGHTON • DOROTHY LEHANE • PHILLIS LEVIN • JACK LITTLE • PIPPA LITTLE • MIKE LOVEDAY • HELEN LOVELOCK-BURKE • ROB A. MACKENZIE •  JEFFREY MACKIE • DZEKASHU MACVIBAN • MARY MADEC •  D.H. MAITREYABANDHU • ALICE MAJOR • CHRIS MANN • KIRYA MARCHAND • KATHRYN MARIS • JAKE MARMER • ALWYN MARRIAGE • BARBARA MARSH • TOBY MARTINEZ DE LAS RIVAS • NANCY MATTSON •  NYLA MATUK • BEN MAZER • ERICA McALPINE • SUSAN McCASLIN • MARION McCREADY • COLIN McDONALD • RYK McINTYRE • DORA E. McQUAID • LEONA MEDLIN • SIGHLE MEEHAN • DANTE MICHEAUX • ALICE MILLER • CAMERON MILLER • PATRICIA MONAGHAN • MILES DAVID MOORE • STEPHEN MORRISSEY • ANDREW MOTION • DAVID MUSGRAVE • KARTHIKA NAÏR • MADELEINE NATTRASS • STEPHEN NELSON • MICHAEL NEWMAN • C P NIELD • KATE NOAKES • DAN O’BRIEN •  NESSA O’MAHONY • HELEN OVERELL • JAN OWEN • WILLIAM OXLEY • RUTH PADEL • MANDY PANNETT • NOLA PASSMORE • MOLLY PEACOCK • PAUL PERRY • TONY PEYSER • JAMES POLLOCK • BETHANY POPE •  PHOEBE POWER •  ROBERT PRIEST •  CONCETTA PRINCIPE • MEL PRYOR • LIZ QUIRKE •  SUDHA RAO • SUSAN RICH • ROBIN RICHARDSON • JAMES RICHARDSON • CLEA ROBERTS •  JOHN ROE • ANTOINETTE VOÛTE ROEDER • JANET ROGERSON • PÁDRAIG ROONEY • BOB ROSENTHAL • JEROME ROTHENBERG • SARAH ROWLAND JONES • THADDEUS RUTKOWSKI • OMAR SABBAGH • EVA SALZMAN •  FIONA SAMPSON •  ROBYN SARAH • DENISE SAUL • LESLEY SAUNDERS • RONNIE SCHARFMAN • JACOB SCHEIER • MICHAEL SCHMIDT • MYRA SCHNEIDER • DAVID SCOTT • RICHARD SCOTT • REBECCA SEIFERLE • SUDEEP SEN • DON SHARE • SANDY SHREVE • MARTHA SILANO • KATHRYN SIMMONDS •  FLOYD SKLOOT • TARA SKURTU • JESSICA SLENTZ • EDWIN SMET • BARBARA SMITH • V.A. SOLA SMITH • ROSE SOLARI • ELIZABETH SPIRES • FRANCES SPURRIER • JOHN STILES • CHLOE STOPA-HUNT • LIANE STRAUSS • SEÁN STREET • MELISSA STUDDARD • COLE SWENSEN • MARGO SWISS • MICHAEL SYMMONS ROBERTS • MARIA TAYLOR • N S THOMPSON • RÓISÍN TIERNEY • RACHEL TOBIN • SAMUEL TONGUE • HELEN TOOKEY • ANGELA TOPPING • ALAN PATRICK TRAYNOR • ROBERT VAS DIAS • JANET VICKERS • VAL VINOKUR • G C WALDREP • RORY WATERMAN • LAURA GRACE WELDON • NAOMI WELLS • ANNE WELSH • SARAH WESTCOTT • ROWAN WILLIAMS • CLIVE WILMER • CHRISTIAN WIMAN • KAREN WINTERBURN • CAROLYNE WRIGHT • RODNEY WOOD • ATTALIA YACHOV-HAI • JEFFREY YANG • TAMAR YOSELOFF • C. DALE YOUNG • DAVID ZIEROTH

Friday, June 10, 2016

Michael McAloran’s ‘In Absentia’

Michael McAloran’s In Absentia is a short chapbook (25 pages or so) from Black Editions Press.  There is little preparation given to the reader for what is a dense but exhilarating work.  The press’s website describes the book as “An experimental prose poetry chapbook which deals with the body vocal, the none & the dissipated voice”; no more is in fact needed, as McAloran’s textured writing, on surface “nonlinear” and “avant-garde,” builds up layers of feeling and meaning in the experience of reading it (and, no doubt, writing it).

There is much sound- and word-play, even goopy texture of language, in the manner of Harryette Mullen.  A more obvious forerunner to McAloran, though, is certainly Samuel Beckett.  I’m thinking in particular of Rockaby or Not I, each play (or monologue) with its disembodied voice and similar disjointedness of words.


McAloran’s In Absentia too is about similar questions — the possibility of speech or utterance in a destroyed world, by a destroyed self (thus the title).  For example, a line in section iii. reads, “vocal adrift unvocal clarify till dredge what matter done/ collapse. . .” while in section iv. we have, “vocal crossed up in silence speech devoured by silence ever was. . .”  In contemporary Irish poetry, this is a rare stance; there is little to none of the common tropes, such as the landscape (except an exaggerated sort of devastated, post-apocalyptic one), little of overt politics (except the personal, rendered obliquely), little of an identifiable Irish history.

While the deliberate erasure of the oft-constructed poetic self (e.g. there is no author bio or photo, nor “I”-based speaker) could perhaps be suggestive of some sort of trauma (“recoil in absence unto self-mutilation within to parry in-isolate in-reek in turn. . .”) that itself ties into a wider history, it is not specified here.  Rather, McAloran puts forward an utter rejection of society, almost a kind of nihilism.

Yet even the rhetorical strategy of subverting the self is in a way an assertion of it, and for all the anxiety about whether speech is even possible, the poet has produced a quite sustained and compelling text, “ex-nihilo.”  Though the author may feel himself “in absentia,” through the writing comes a kind of presence.  There is even in part vii. a gesture toward an audience: “scarred unto point bled out vacuous murmurs beneath breath absent audience. . .”  Though characteristically rendered via the negative approach (the audience is supposedly “absent”), by naming it (i.e. giving it its word) the idea of audience too becomes present.

Ultimately, like Beckett, McAloran here seeks some way forward out of nihilism, or at least a coexistence with(in) it.  As the collection builds toward its close, he gives the line, “seeks sustenance in absence not a blinded by dark long shadow blight expel. . .”  The “blight” perhaps can never fully be expelled, but in this powerful poetry are, to use one of McAloran’s favourite words, “echoes,” echoes of something, a kind of sustenance, however fleeting?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Witter Bynner, The New World (1915)

In many ways, I can’t help but read Witter Bynner as against Ezra Pound, who Bynner saw as a rival (most likely, Pound didn’t see Bynner in such reciprocal light at all, though the two knew each other and maintained a correspondence).  When we think of innovation in modernist poetry, Pound is inevitably at or near the top of the list, and there is the typical narrative of his Imagism and related poetics breaking open the staid conventions of fin de siècle verse, etc.  It is true in many ways, but recent scholarship, especially that of John Timberman Newcomb and that of Suzanne W. Churchill (to mention two critics offhand), has done much to complicate this picture.

One reason I have sought out the work of people like Bynner, Haniel Long, Marjorie Allen Seiffert, Orrick Johns, and others is that they were doing extremely interesting things during the early American modernist period (1910s) contemporaneously with Pound, et al. (Long active at this time, but really coming on in the 1930s); yet they are mostly not tainted with Pound’s elitism, fascism, and anti-Semitism.  There were so many original poets in this period who have been virtually written out of history until recently — it was not all Pound, Lowell, Eliot, and the New Critics.  WCW, Mina Loy, and others have justly been posited in the last few decades or so as counterpoints, but whither Bynner and the rest?

Bynner’s The New World (published by Mitchell Kennerley in 1915) is a now-obscure long poem, but well worth reading.  Though Bynner also wrote in free verse, this work (like Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”) is rhymed (irregularly, along the lines of abbbaaba. . .).  Unlike most of Pound, it limns a Whitmanesque, democratic vision of America that welcomes immigrants and aspires to equality of all people:

What is this might, this mystery,
Moving and singing through democracy,
This music of the masses
And of you and me —
But purging and dynamic poetry! — (page 25)
Here the rhyme is a bit heavy-handed, but the passage sums up Bynner’s perspective (and his repetition of rhyme is often meant to work as emphasis).  Though he does not articulate a codified system (aside from the broad strokes), he does intend to take a political stance, having asserted at the start of this section, “‘Beauty,’ they ask, ‘in politics?’ / ‘If you put it there,’ say I” (23).

Bynner’s political stance also includes gender equality (Bynner was an early supporter of women’s suffrage):

To stop the wound and heal the scar
Of time, with sudden glorious aptitude
Woman assumes her part.  Her pity in a flood
Flings down the gate.
She has been made to wait
Too long. . . . (37)
Here, the rhyme is more subtle, with enjambment and the near-rhyme of “aptitude / flood,” even as the message remains stridently egalitarian.  Bynner makes similarly strident statements about wealth inequality and war, while avoiding the ideological approach we sometimes later see especially in the poets of the 1930s — Bynner was not a Marxist, but more a radical progressive, albeit when the term still had something of a party-political connotation.

At times, The New World verges into mysticism, something like Whitman’s deism (or perhaps unconsciously Taoist) — but, depending on your point of view, of the clear-eyed, refreshing sort (and who’s to say mysticism is inherently bad, anyway?), often bound up in visions of earthly unity (however idealistic they may have been).  For example:

Let me receive communion with all men,
Acknowledging our one and only soul!
   For not till then
Can God be God, till we ourselves are whole. (39)
There are some weaknesses here, though; sometimes Bynner’s frequent talk of the “soul” or “joy” becomes a bit too indistinct or clichéd.  Pound, with his Imagist principles, had a point in this regard, the better strategy often being to avoid or at least critique such abstractions.

There is also the larger question, which attaches to Whitman as well: doesn’t this celebration of America as “the new world” bring with it a host of colonialist assumptions?  That is, while Bynner on one level welcomes immigrants (good), he still sees America as a place for all where travelers from distant countries should “Go find the new world, win the shores / Of which the old books tell!” (11).  Where does that leave the Native people, then?  Certainly not “win[ning] the shores”. . .

Bynner would later move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he would engage with American Indian (and Mexican) culture on a deeper level.  This is not to say that he ever fully shed the biases that had been inculcated in him, but here we find a poet who was at least trying to propound a genuine democratic vision to the extent that he was capable, at a time when many of his (now-canonical) contemporaries were putting forward elitist, nativist, and/or jingoist positions.  Soon after publication of The New World, Bynner produced (with Arthur Davison Ficke) the pseudonymous anthology Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (1916, as Emanuel Morgan and Anne Knish respectively), which led to a rethinking not only of his poetic style, but seemingly of his own artistic and personal identity.