Monday, June 26, 2006

Switchback Books Call for Entries for Gatewood Prize

We here at Switchback Books are excited to announce a call for entries for our Gatewood Prize.

The Gatewood Prize is Switchback Books' annual competition for a first full-length collection of poems by a woman writing in English between the ages of 18 and 39. It is named after Emma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

Switchback Books editors will select at least 10 finalists and a judge will select the prizewinner, who will be recognized with a cash prize of $1000 and publication by Switchback Books.

Manuscripts remain anonymous until a winner is selected.

Contest Deadline: September 1, 2006
2006 Judge: Arielle Greenberg

For complete contest guidelines, please visit our website at

We hope that you forward this on to anyone who may be interested!

Thanks much, and happy writing!

Kind regards,

Brandi Homan, Hanna Andrews, and Becca Klaver
Editors, Switchback Books

Friday, June 16, 2006

An Educated Heart by Mairéad Byrne

Palm Press, 2005

Reviewed by Erika Howsare

A heart is educated by what it encounters, absorbs, reflects, or is invaded by. Mairead Byrne’s An Educated Heart is full of readymade (as in found) evidence of the world at work, alongside crafted documentation of the author’s responses to that world. This may sound mechanical, or sophomoric; and indeed, Byrne often risks a kind of unapologetic simplicity of tone and form that, in less capable hands, would fall flat. Within Byrne’s work, though—which is often procedural in method—these two kinds of evidence blend much more seamlessly, sometimes masterfully, than that description would suggest.

For example, in “Almost,” the procedure calls for Byrne to insert the word “almost” into each of 14 Reuters headlines, always just before the words “Killed” or “Dies”: “Moscow Pool Roof Collapse Almost Kills 26, Search Goes On (REUTERS)”. The act of inserting this word becomes a kind of ritual or prayer, a sadly futile deployment of language as talisman. This recalls the use of Word as spiritual or magical instrument, as in Abracadabra or Om. And, of course, it is a commentary: If a poem cannot bring back the dead, perhaps it can through calling attention to its own innefficacy accomplish something less tangible, like conjuring hope within a matrix of sterilized, up-to-the-minute despair.

In another piece, with an even lighter touch, Byrne simply attaches the title “Long Distance Relationship” to a set of web-based driving directions from somewhere in Illinois to Providence, Rhode Island, where she lives. The directions are an evocation of our current obsession with geographical omniscience, as well as an utterly distanced (as in “objective”) representation of distance. And even as the poem suggests a personal condition of loneliness, it becomes a depersonalized function, like a spreadsheet or a satellite photo. “Relationship,” after all, can mean nothing more than finance.

Still, these poems are intensely of the heart; they map the human urge toward a bodily and soulful existence which, in Byrne’s view, strains against the grinding gears of our present condition. Everything is a dance between these opposing forces—the innermost self, wet and vulnerable, on the one hand; the machine, manifested as war or grocery-store receipt, on the other. In “The Day,” the repetitive demands of parenthood elegantly straddle these extremes; the poem consists entirely of the sentences “I step up to the mat” and “I step up to bat.” The very mechanization of the language, through repetition and simplistic rhyme, is the center in which the poem’s emotional impact resides. In “Crop,” there is a searing statement of personal loss (“I thought/ because you saw me/ sliced &/ torn open/ &/ the shining child/ dragged from me/ you would have/ stayed with us/ for life/ but not so”) embedded in lines of capital Xs. These are both visual shapes—anonymous detritus like the power lines we unconsciously delete from our vision—and textual problems that eat into (“crop”) the rightness of the lines, the integrity of their diction. Taken lyrically, they are a field of something negative that grows in rows—an agriculture of sickness.

Byrne displays not only a dadaist’s sense of the found, but a lyricist’s ear and an artist’s feel for timing. “Link,” for example, has the pared-down structure and tonal surety of a Robert Creeley jewelbox:

      “You hoist the pump of your rage
      in Minnesota 1968
      in Providence 2003
      tears gush out.”

In her procedural work and collage poems, Byrne manifests the intersection of reader and writer in a single, fragile body. She also focuses on the terrible crossroads of the political and erotic that is war, as in “Headlines:” “WOMAN BRINGS MAN TO BRINK AS MISSILES LAUNCH/ NO SEX SAYS PRESIDENT SINCE 1993.” We see the great global machine spinning its furious turbines, the techno-night where computer viruses grow, the unfathomable economic groupmind as constituted by billions of dreary and forgotten transactions (“Clio wants Kids Tropicana but this is cheaper 2 @ $1.99,” from “Eastside Market”).

Yet the book is not only an account of the leading edge of angst, where trouble slices into our awareness. It is a human, maternal, sexual, responsible document of living and, the reader suspects, also supplies evidence of managing trouble, whether individual or world crises—in other words, it’s cathartic. The humor of “Reminiscence,” in which the speaker recounts a lover’s baffling renomenclature of things the speaker loves (“Well, you have beautiful hair, I said. You little ninny—that’s not hair, that’s persillis”), balances and heals the plain injury behind it. And the librarian’s project of amassing synonyms for “Broken,” “Split,” “Crushed” and so on—in a series of seemingly found poems that make up the book’s only underedited section—is an act of almost pitiful carefulness in the face of the destruction Byrne tackles: the war in Iraq and a divorce involving children, among other topics.

The fact that Byrne maintains a connection to raw emotion—again, the word “unapologetic” seems appropriate—allows her to succeed in taking on subjects that, because of their potential for overstated failure, many poets avoid. In the same way, her fondness for self-conscious form and obvious experimentation gives her license to write and imply clear narratives. When Byrne reads to an audience, her presence is large and artificial in the old-fashioned, theatrical sense. She adopts the persona of “reader” rather than pretending to reject it as so many post-language poets do; she uses her body, voice, and gestures as actors do. Similarly, in this book, she willingly dons the mantel of “storyteller,” “protestor,” “human voice.” In both cases, the risk pays off as the bravado of the performance illuminates the material. And the concepts are compelling enough so that the poems, though appreciable at a glance, continue to work long after the first encounter.


MAIRÉAD BYRNE immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1994 for reasons of poetry. Her collection Nelson & The Huruburu Bird was published in 2003 by Wild Honey Press. She lives with her two daughters in Providence, Rhode Island, where she teaches poetry at Rhode Island School of Design.


ERIKA HOWSARE lives in Virginia. Her work has been published in Fence, Chain and Denver Quarterly, among others. Recent projects include a multi-genre, multimedia project based on walking across Rhode Island, and an ongoing online collaboration with the formidable Jen Tynes. She teaches at Longwood University.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

60 lv bo(e)mbs by Paolo Javier

O Books, 2005

Reviewed by Geraldine Kim

60 lv bo(e)mbs is a contemporary epic/net of experience that snags everything from Tagalog to Murakami to Derrida to Aaliyah to Allah to Horace—leaving the reader in a space beyond words, perhaps something of the pre-lingual/pre-conceptual—operating/exploding via the fragment, and in doing so, reinvents the fragment itself.

In “The Id Markings” section, for example, the fragment gives voice to the subconscious/pre-lingual, as suggested in the poem, “Paolo’s Silence:”

      islands blanket the sea          dulcinea coma caters to fresh cadavers

      tremble a notch          humid          invested          bases
      local mental kargador electric suggestion
      the heroic mode divided into swings
      why umbrage          adore roses          practice in doses on me

      August arrival          in medias res the last of my          Infinity
      two parallels          coo where, po?          pose to my enemy brasses

The unsaid/pre-conceived is exposed by “divid[ing it] into swings” or “brass”-knuckled fists that are hurtled at the reader, in the midst of a found rhythm, “in medias res.” The reader is left in a timeless “[i]nfinity,” caught in the “two parallels” of reading the text both sequentially/consecutively and visually/immediately.

There are also “swings” within the fragments themselves. In the line, “dulcinea coma caters to fresh cadavers,” “coma” could be the English word for a state of prolonged unconsciousness and/or the Spanish imperative, “eat.” “[D]ulcinea” or “sweetness” is like the melody of the line and “coma” splits the line into a bass tremor of unconsciousness and a soprano scream of cannibalistic horror. “[H]ear me waltz, note all kindness” is a line from “37” that also shares this musically fragmented fragment idea—where the rhythm of the three-syllable waltz is broken by the “-ness” of “kindness.”

The fragments, when repeated, also act as a computer algorithm and/or mantra/refrain. The repetition of “corzine,” “Trysteaser,” “my Alma,” “coo, where po?,” “vent Kai,” “crepuscular,” and “why hyenas” (among others) are positioned in different contexts/syntax, similar to the way Aaron Kunin’s “Sore Throat” poems work within a limited vocabulary. There seems to be some unspoken/internal/unconscious logic, some program or pattern that dictates when/where these words manifest themselves.

This algorithm idea is further amplified in “Paolo’s Lust” where, similar to “Corpse & Skull” and “My Alma,” “Paolo” is repeated, in the context of the relationship with “Alma” or “spirit.” The author becomes a character through repetition of the subject: “toddle Paolo’s verse... algorithm…si Paolo as a rule?” The word “Paolo” becomes an “algorithm[ic]” “rule” that asserts its presence through repetition.

In “English Is An Occupation,” the repeated word of choice “Paolo” “occupies” in the sense of military occupation, mental space, and/or a job/commodified labor: “today Paolo occupies you, today Paolo occupies you.” Though one would think the repetition of “Paolo” as the author’s subjective thoughts are what occupies the reader, it seems that here, English or language, is what frames our conception/perception.

These repeated fragments also signify possible censorship, as the poem, “Corpse & Skull,” seems to show:

      Interest host plebian lost Hamas tell corpse & skull
      Missile the taste of us ardent lust corpse & skull

      He must persuade Trysteaser’s corpse & skull
      Kal-El liberates all semper fi symptoms in all corpse & skull

Here, the fragment seems to point to the existence of the unsaid through the repetition of “corpse & skull” at the end of each line. Though censorship blots words out, by constantly reproducing the censored term (in this case, “corpse & skull”), the unsaid is made apparent through what covers it. In “A Tale by the Trysteaser” this trope is made completely apparent: “YOU WILL CATER TO DELETE / EXPLETIVE.” The words that are censoring are in bold and centered to promote the existence of what is deleted or censored.

For “My Alma,” a similar mechanism is used. With the repetition of the phrase “my Alma,” like a prayer, the phrase cannibalistically “access[es its] own zombies.” One must “access” one’s own spirituality; the relationship with one’s spirit is distant and electronic; the line, “emailing my Alma,” suggests that the transcendental is parallel with earthly experience, like email.

In another section, “Combat Lap,” where “lap” could be another circuit or an action of the tongue, the poem, “Gulp Air,” uses the fragment in a performative sense:

      “Honey, do we list to star a schooner’s mysterious disarray?”
      (Highest marquees act to convolute or shun hicks.

      Lusty pair knocks boots auspiciously, unless primness harasses
            their stray asses.

      Kiss n’ telling on homey Alma squanders their m.o.

      Gulp air.)

The fragments caught in the parentheses are used almost like stage directions in a play. The use of the fragment in “A Play, A Play” is also performative. Paolo, Love, Villa, and Nietzsche respond to each other:

      LOVE: Do you remember when we used to roar?
      PAOLO: I do. I remember going to church every week.
      LOVE: (in a dancehall reggae voice)
            Hey mister mentioned, ask yourself this question:
            Have you ever stopped to think what makes a girl cheat?
            Have you ever asked her if she likes only whole wheat?
            You need to check yourself before you start kicking teeth…
      VILLA, & * NIETZSCHE: (ibid)
            …cuz you’re not ready for this yet, boy!

Each speaker embodies each fragment, literalizing the polyvocal quality of the text itself. The off-handed quality of the stage direction “in a dancehall reggae voice” adds to the spontaneity of the lines, suggesting the musicality of the fragment as well.

60 lv bo(e)mbs explores the fragment and its uses by contextualizing it in different surroundings, performing it, repeating it, having it fragment itself, making music out of it, and having it expose the unsaid through censorship and through the “two parallel” readings of the visual and the sequential. This book challenges our approach to text and suggests that which is beyond our language’s conception is what we should be conscious, a paradox that is frightening and complex and open to multiple interpretations.


PAOLO JAVIER is the author of 60 lv bo(e)mbs (O Books), and the time at the end of this writing (Ahadada), which received a Small Press Traffic Award. He lives in New York.


GERALDINE KIM was born in 1983 in West Boylston, Massachusetts. A graduate of New York University, she is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction and Poetry at San Francisco State University. Her work has been published in Dicey Brown and Fourteen Hills and her play, Donning Cheadle, was chosen to be produced for the SFSU One-Act Festival and SPT Poet's Theater. Her first book, Povel, was the winner of Fence Books' 2005 Modern Poets Series and was named as one of the top 25 favorite books of 2005 by the Village Voice.