Saturday, May 3, 2014

For Poetry Month I Decided I Would Read as much Poetry as I Possibly Could and Keep a Kind of Haphazard Journal of It All: Part II

The poems work through sound, establishing a meaning quite apart from the literal/what the words say. Through sound a landscape is made that reflects the natural world. The poems are all, in a word, sensation. By this I mean of the senses. I feel them more than read them. Ears, visual simplicity on the page, even the tactile, heavy board of the letterpressed cover. Again, this book is an object, art in and of itself, nevermind the words inside. I mean, of course they work together.  

When the bees build themselves
   inside the hive
there is no exit—

they sting each
to survive


Though all the poems are of the natural world, I couldn’t help but see the human in many of them (this one, for example). But then, I’m always attributing human emotion to my dog as well and I’m told I shouldn’t do that. This little book made me want to read more Dan Beachy-Quick tout de suite, which is good because I bought another one of his books at AWP and will be reading it soon. (I am not filing the AWP stack away until I read them; the pile is slowly going down / the poetry section is slowly encroaching into the fiction section of my built-in (by me) bookshelves.)

Oh, also about Overtakelessness: play on the red wheelbarrow and a play on Liz Waldner’s A Point is that Which has No Part (“a point being that which has no heart” etc).

Oh, and how is this for a stutteringly stellar close:


What is it to be about something, what

is it to be          to be about          what is it
   to be something          to be about          something
what is it to be          to be about          what is
   it to be          about what is about          what


Eye Against Eye did not slay me the way Science & Steepleflower did, but I have decided I would follow Forrest Gander into whatever woods he wandered in. Fatherhood, 9/11, Mayan architecture, end of the world, fatherhood, and 10 Sally Mann photographs.

from “Present Tense”:

This is going to be a fast trip
alligator-cracks in the macadam and
fist-sized chunks of road torn out by wind
grey-black backs and bulbous snouts of northern right whales
cut the swell beyond Fire Island
each repeating sun a comet
world of physical event and mind’s world indissoluble
but who will thrust a hand in to fit the mo-lo
the veins and arteries of it
a sobering enthusiasm for the unmoored
no longer defining narrative

Also this:

pulls at grass and                         the treeline wavers
like something proposed              and forgotten

(from “Argosy for Rock and Grass”)

Hrm. I read most of it. Well, more than half (it’s 120 pages!), but I want it to count because it was very hard to get through. And because I left where I was staying and took a daylong hike and only brought two books: this and the Forrest Gander. I should never leave the house with less than three books. I don’t know when I will learn this conclusively.

At first I thought I wanted someone to explain the draw of this book to me, but I think I get it. It has all the right elements. It’s interested in human creativity / art, there are sections on music, visual art, gardening, theater, natural history. I did like all the animals in the book. And being on the beach was the right location to read the first poem—“The Great Deluge and Its Coming.” But there were so many adjectives and adverbs that I nearly lost my mind. From just the first poem:

roughly, vicious, cruelly, racing, bald, multiple, hairy, woolly, scaly, momentarily, hoary, weasel-like, grizzled, flooding, fear-whitened (said of the blue-faced mandrill—so I was totally okay and in fact pretty charmed with this one), harsh, mangy, long, hanging, numerous, wingless, constantly, white, really white, wide, silently, simply, deeper, moonlit, calm, ultimate, dependable, finally, slowly, growing, open

This I liked from the deluge poem: “Direction was destiny.” Actually, I think that could be the whole poem.

What I did take away from this book is that it really knows how to slow down a moment, something I could use at times. I am told by some I am a bit too paratactic.

I found this book quite funny, at times rather nonsensical, but plain speech & place names / peoples names & declarative syntax allows a looseness in its authority. Or rather: a looseness while maintaining authority. The highlight for me was “Flor Ars Hippocratica,” but that’s a long one. Also “Homage to Hat & Uncle Guido & Eliot”:

Also, I read this entire book over the phone, start to finish in one sitting. It was late, a Thursday night. I had been drinking whiskey.

Plain language. More story/prose than poem (not sure what it’s categorized as, but I found it on the poetry shelves in the house I was staying in), but quiet, lyrical, stunning. Two sisters (one young? without language? developmentally delayed?) run away from home into the woods to avoid sexual abuse by their mother’s boyfriend.

Dark hard. — And quiet, I say. Not a word to Mother, not to anyone.

Get it.

Otherwise you are dead dead.

25. O New York – Trey Sager (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Another find on the chapbook shelf. I picked this one up because I was planning on going to New York at the end of April (and then didn’t end up going).

late for the box
we are thought
inside of


the city
back peddling

& cc’ing me
yr huddled
massive hands

This is what happens when Emma Lazarus,  John Dos Passos, and a hipster barista get together and birth a letterpressed baby. That is to say I both loved it and wanted more from it. I discovered you can actually read the whole thing here:

“Cross-Country” was the first poem in the book to make me go: “whoa.” Like, literally, out loud, I said whoa to an empty room. All of the book feels urgent, as though the speaker is grabbing onto your sleeve and looking intently at you while telling you things. Urgency and an just-barely-controlled energy that propels the poems line to line and the book poem to poem. I did not once put this book down until I’d finished it. There is variation to the poems, but always this intensity and motion.

Many of these poems also made me think about how often poems, some of mine included, just seem to get tired and so go into the dismount rather than fully work toward, discover, and ratchet up the kernel of knowledge or experience the poem has set up for the poet to use. In this I am privileging the intelligence of the poem over that of the poet. And yes, I believe this to be a true thing, regardless of poem, regardless of poet. The great poets are those who have poems that move in brilliance along some higher plane and they climb up to meet them there. I felt this way about so many of Reeves's poems. And even the ones that didn’t have this sense of perfect completion, were still incredible poems.

There was much in asylum & blindness recurring, weird things from the sea animal world; “Thinking of Anne Frank in the Middle of Winter” was another favorite moment.

Conceptually the book weakens for me slightly with the turn towards travel, though poems like “Brazil” and “Exit Interview” do much to unify this complication of place from site of America to site of the body (which is arguably where we have been all along). In any case, King Me is a brilliant debut.

A few lines that won’t leave me: “More than once I’ve been a bell broken / Against its own ringing” and “How else / Shall ruin announce itself if not in one body touching another?”


The Mike Tyson in me sings like a narwhal
minus the nasally twang of sleeping in a cold ocean,
the unsightly barnacles latched to the mattress
of skin just below my eye, the white horn
jutting out from the top of my head--
oh god bless us mutts—the basset-blood-
hound mulattoes, the pug-mixed puppies
left behind the dog pound’s cinder-block walls
as German Shepherds, Labradoodles,
and Portuguese Water-Dogs turn their inbred behinds
and narrow backs at our small-mouthed blues.
It’s hard to smile with an ear in your mouth,
two names, and a daughter hanging by a thread
from the railing of a treadmill. Oh neck
and North Carolina and a white coat of paint
for all the faces of my negro friends
hanging from trees in Salisbury.
Greensboro. And Guilford County.
The hummingbirds inside my chest,
with their needle-nosed pliers for tongues
and hammer-heavy wings, have left a mess
of ticks in my lungs and a punctured lullaby
in my throat. Little boy blue come blow
your horn. The cow’s in the meadow.
And Dorothy’s alone in the corn with Jack,
his black fingers, the brass of his lips,
the half-moons of his fingernails clicking
along her legs until she howls--
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.
Oz is a man with a mute body
on an HBO original show that I am too afraid to watch
for fear of finding my uncle,
or a man that looks like my uncle,
which means finding a man that looks like me
in another man’s embrace or slumped over a shiv
made from a mattress coil and a bar of Ivory soap.
Most young kings return home without their heads.
It’s 1941, and Jack Johnson still loves white women,
and my mother won’t forgive him.
If she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home,
my mother says in 1998. It’s 2009,
and I still love white women.
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.
Often, I click the heels of my Nikes together
when talking to the police, I am a cricket
crushed beneath a car’s balding black tires.
Most young kings return home without their heads.

Oh the mixed emotions of The Pedestrians. It’s really two books. The (more than) first half “the fables” is a prose work divided into separate “fables,” which are really all of one story. It rains. There is distance. A lonely marriage. Children. A brief running away to the “house that was not her house.” A return. The quiet sadness of the everyday domestic is palpable here. For every bit that I loved it however, I disliked “the pedestrians” (poems) almost as much. The title (and the title poem) makes me wonder if Zucker is being tongue-in-cheek. Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009) tells me her poetry is capable of so much more. I plan to buy The Pedestrians for the first half though, which was really, really incredible work. And is also an excellent example of how to build a complete narrative from flash fiction or nonfiction pieces. A book I look forward to teaching one day.

I had only ever seen/read Copper Canyon’s 2007 edition of the book, without the images. It was given to me more than two years ago by Linda Bierds who thought (rightly so) that I would find it useful to my own work. And thus began my love affair with C.D. Wright's work. I was on the couch at the house where I was housesitting, reading Rachel Zucker when I noticed the Twin Palms edition on the art bookshelf across the room. And would spend the next several hours slowly paging through it.

The experience of reading Wright’s words while images of the prisoners hovered at the periphery of my vision gave the work a distinctly different and real feeling. There is no abstract anymore, no imagined faces, when one is faced with the actual portraits. There is a greater immediacy, which made me immediately seek out more examples of text operating in conjunction with image (as evidenced by the next few books I read).

Beneath each portrait was some information on the prisoner, which varied depending on how much information the prisoner had been willing to provide: date of birth, place of birth, where located (which prison), when incarcerated, length of sentence, and how many children they had. Included nowhere was any explanation of what crime had been committed.

I found myself trying to guess the sentence by the eyes. The LIFErs I could almost always tell. The ones with short sentences too, except for a few.

Dear night dear shade dear executioner

Fears:     snakes        madness        falling

Dear Errant Kid,
Remember the almighty
finger on the wrong
answer button.


Sophie Calle finds an address book and calls up / meets with / interviews as many of the people in the address book as she can to gain an understanding of the owner of the address book in that way.

Not life-changing, but definitely interesting. Some of the photographs were fantastic, though there was little surprise to their fantasticness since I’m already pretty familiar with Calle’s work.

The most exciting part to me was the mention of the Big Chief pinball machine, as that was the one B and I had in our living room, and which I fixed the cord and plug of, and which I have played so very many times.

“I turn to collage to get away from words.”

This is the house I did not build.

This is the room at the top of the stairs in a house I didn’t build.

This is the desk—from a different generation—wedged in the window-nook of an upstairs room in a house someone else built.

This is the mess I’ve made. Under it all is a fire I did not set.

In the noise the world makes there is no window and here I lay my words in the loud, in the burning, the built. This is a fire from before ever fire came down.

This is my mess, over the noise of fire, window, desk, stair, house.


It was a Saturday morning. I’d been at the house on the peninsula for a week at this point. Had just listened to an upsetting voicemail about my mother’s condition. Did not call the caller back. Went back to sleep. Woke up an hour later. Did not call the caller back. Rolled over and spied Marilyn Hacker on the bookshelf and thought, “I’ve never read Marilyn Hacker before. Why?” I knew she was gay. [Though she was once married to Samuel Delany!] I knew it was pretty narrative stuff (maybe why I hadn’t read her before). But the stories! Oh my goodness! While there were great lines like: “What changes nothing changes everything” and “Does anybody not die uncomforted?” what I was drawn to most in Going Back to the River actually was the narrative. 

The stories were fascinating, like someone I’d love to hang out with, and the intimacy with which she told them, I kind of did feel like she was in the room talking to me, and then on the beach talking to me, and then downtown PT talking to me. Downtown sitting on a bench where I was reading the last few poems after spending a sad and overly sunny and warm Saturday afternoon walking around PT and then to reach the last page and understand why it had called to me from the shelf next to the bed:

…I am at a loss
for words to name what my loss of you is,
what it will be, or even what it was.

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