Monday, July 31, 2006

Swallows by Martin Corless-Smith

Fence Books, 2006

Reviewed by Steffen Brown

In his ode, To Helena, the poet Horace writes “that when Prometheus was assigned/ the task of making each of us what we are,/ he put into each one of us something of/ each other creature that there is in nature.” Martin Corless-Smith, in his latest book, Swallows, constructs verse in a manner similar to Horaces’ Prometheus divining characteristics to man; the poems rise up from an historical patchwork of literary personae (Donne, Sir Thomas Brown, William Williamson, Sebald), establishing an individualized architecture of poetry that constantly pecks at the metaphysics and creation of poetry. At one point, Corless-Smith writes:

You might ask if human art (ars) is merely the monstrous—then/ why do I continue? Because I must confirm, and continue the monstrous. And/ I want to make it. Believing it to be nothing more than its own self—its own/ modest enterprise which may be the last growth on this branch or may prove/ a limb or a trunk.

For someone wanting to confirm the “monstrous,” Corless-Smith proceeds in an entirely anti-Frankensteinian manner, constructing a verse that, for the most part, is supple and resistant to the destruction of the world his words create. Without relying on gimmick or shtick, Corless-Smith manages to produce poetry that is singular and uniquely new, while at the same time respectfully entrenching his work in the complexity and conventions of many of the romantic poets. Yet, the poems in Swallows are anything but conventional. Throughout, the verse slips seamlessly from lyric to pastoral, refusing to concretize a boundary for the world in which they operate. The poems adopt different voices, some seemingly imagined and some historical, which produce a dreamlike poetic of impermanence and importance.

As a whole, Swallows is a portrait of place, self, and poetry, and it articulates these things in Donnian complexity and conceit. The work is at its best when place and self are most prevalent, as in “FROM PAPYRI,” where Corless-Smith writes, “Now I would go forth into the fields to listen to my own foolish heart/ Far from home my life was settled. Yet I turned and return as I must/ These things are done in secret: whom do you fear?” The stern consternation of such lines is redolent of Corless-Smith’s notion of “the act of poetry…” as “…the acknowledgement of separation.” Throughout the book, the acknowledgement of separation persists between audience and performer, points in time, and especially between self and place.

In the poem “IMITATIONS OF HORACE (KEATS),” Corless-Smith writes that, “the poem is just a patch/ of sunlight moving over grass/ over a breathing field.” The poems in Swallows seem to be born from such ephemerality. They are mysterious and diffuse. Like Horace’s Sabine Villa, these poems resist attachment to an actual place in the world, and instead they hover above the crossroads of history and imagination. In the beginning of the book, Corless-Smith writes that, “my idea—Poetry—kissed the hand/ for so long—waiting for someone to do/ something.” That “something” is what we get in Swallows: a complex and persuasive work that feels reminiscent of an older poetry, yet its trajectory is original, new, and perhaps, unlike anything being written today.


MARTIN CORLESS-SMITH is the author of Nota (Fence Books), Complete Travels (West House Books), and Of Piscator (University of Georgia Press). He is a native of Worcestershire, England, to which he returns each summer, though he currently lives and teaches in Boise, Idaho


STEFFEN BROWN lives and works in Missoula, Montana, where he preserves and re-binds old books for the University of Montana. In the Fall, he will be a student in the MFA program at Boise State University.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Announcing H_NGM_N #5

POEMS: Brad Liening • Brett Price • Christopher Mulrooney • Clay Matthews • Corey Mesler • Daniel Becker • Daniel Nester • Dorothea Lasky • Erica Bernheim • Erin Martin • Evan Commander • Gina Myers • Jason Bredle • JD Schraffenberger • Joshua Beckman • Julia Cohen • Matt Hart • Monica Fambrough • Pablo Peschiera • Peter Jay Shippy • Richard Fein • Samuel Amadon • Sheila Murphy • Steve Orlen • Thomas Hummel • Twilight Greenaway

FROM: Adam Clay • Bob Marcacci • Fred Schmalz • Jon Woodward • Lance Phillips • Tyler Carter

EP POETRY: Jake Adam York • Joyelle McSweeney • Richard Meier

FICTION: Dorothy and the Revolution by Vincent Masterson

ESSAYS: Doing It With the R’s - on William Carlos Williams’ To Elsie by Daniel Nester Reinscribing Event Truth and its Conditions in Robert Duncan, Alain Badiou, and Jean-Luc Nancy by Michael Cross

REVIEWS: Clay Matthews on Jake Adam YorkGina Myers on 5 chapbooks • Jen Tynes on 3 chapbooks • Marci Nelligan on Tim Earley Matt Hart on Jason Schneiderman Michael Broder on Ada Limon Michael Broder on Matt Hart Nate Pritts on 5 chapbooks • Pablo Peschiera on Sam Taylor Richard Scheiwe on CD Wright Matt Dube on fiction chapbooks



ALSO: Click over to H_NGM_N B_ _KS for information on our chapbooks including some new releases – CHANCE by Daniel Becker : FLIP/CHAP #2 Brad Liening / Gina Myers : SONNET by Matt Hart : BETWEEN THE ROOM AND THE CITY by Erica Bernheim.


Nate Pritts, Editor

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

[one love affair]* by Jenny Boully

Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2006, 2006

Reviewed by Michael Rerick

Labeled a work of fiction/poetry/essay, Jenny Boully’s [one love affair]* speaks to the experiences of love, love lost, and memory. Boully navigates these themes, respective to genre classification, using fragmented linearity, lyric repetition, and end and footnotes. Yet the genres are only a shell containing the complex layering and craft within the text of the book.

Initially, [one love affair]* opens with a lucid chaos of syntax and repetition:

She remembers the story he told her, about taking a walk with his former lover during one of the very first days of spring, a spring which soured then ripened then soured then ripened before beginning again, a spring which kept swelling out of winter in a way that Chaucer’s spring would never do. During this walk, which her present lover took with his former lover, her present lover reached up into a tree and broke off a flowering branch, of which he did not know the name, but which the former lover accepted as the grandest of all romantic gestures. (3)

Reminiscent of Beckett’s Not I, as well as Gertrude Stein’s poetry and prose, Boully’s heavy repetition can be understood through the lens of Marjorie Perloff (via a reading of Stein): “Verbal and phrasal repetition … is neither ornamental nor … a form of intensification. Rather, repetition generates meaning” (152), “meanings [that] are multiple” (153). In the passage from [one love affair]* above, repetition leads to a confusion of time placement, which in turn puts the reader in a position to experience all forms of the “affair” in a condensed time frame. Also, repetition emphasizes the cyclical nature of love affairs with the repetition of spring “soured then ripened then soured then ripened before beginning again.”

If repetition is a way of meaning making, it is also a method of memorization, or memory making. As the asterisk tacked to the title of the book explains:

*A million wallowing anemones, a thousand eyes peeping through, a thousand spies shivering, unnamable endless flowerings, countless empty bottles, twelve flowers, eleven trees, eight fruits, four vegetables, four peppers, two enemas, two kidnappings, one accident, one suicide, one soothsayer, one drowning, one nightclub called Juicy.

This list is shorthand, a summation for what unfolds throughout the book. Treating the title as summation, the “one” of the “one love affair” can act almost as the singular determiner “a,” which implies the personal, and can also act as memory, a book, a compilation, and become the plural/singular for the general, or society. In essence, Boully has not only written the speaker’s one love affair, she has written our collective love affair. The collective asterisked referent of the title lists large numbers to singular things; yet, all “anemones,” “peppers,” and the “drowning” are equal through the very act of enumeration. It takes the text, the book, to attach meaning. Hence, the transference of one’s love affair through the act of reading returns the love affair to us, and here a collective memory emerges. For instance, each section of the book, “[one love affair],” “He wrote in Code,” and “There Is Scarcely More Than There Is,” is presented from different points of view, employing the third person singular “she” in the first section, the first person singular “I” in the second, and the pronouns “we,” “she,” “he,” and “I” in the last section. The effect is a speaker that roves through this love affair in any way but “one,” or a singular way. This multiplicity of perspective butts against repetition and how repetition works as memory.

Memory and repetition not only function as a reexamination of the past, but the present, as well. Repetition, as the book progresses, becomes less and less pronounced (though, certainly doesn’t disappear), as though examination and reexamination of the past has dulled memory. The decrease in repetition draws the speaker to the present, though the past haunts and saturates the present and shifts the speaker constantly to the past while in the present, blending the two. Like repetition, then, the speaker’s love affairs are cyclical, unending. And the speaker concludes, as the past and present haunt each other, there is no happy ending:

After all, I don’t really love you; I love what I dreamt of you. The missing journal will show itself again. The joke will be that it will reveal, will explain nothing; the joke will be that it was always and continued to remain empty. (62)

That the book ends with the conclusion that love is empty, and deals with “love” and an “affair” throughout, points towards what might be considered a play of pathos.

Despite the sentimental and pathos-ridden themes of love and love lost, Boully renders something experiential and livable, more ambivalent than what the book’s themes imply. This is evident with a quick look at the title. The words “love” and “affair,” when put in close proximity, are loaded with connotations of infidelity, passion, or some passing and sultry encounter. Or, the two words could be used as one would to describe a “love affair” with an inanimate object: a lake or flower, for example. So, [one love affair]* has embedded in it layering that leads to multiple readings, not simply a surface for pathos to play out on. What also saves the reader from pathos is the concise craft of repetition, a mix of pastoral and rural images, syntax constantly shape-shifting, lyric semi-linearity, assertion and doubt, history, and a display of the desire to understand pain. As this list implies, there is much, very much, this book has packed into it, layer after layer.

As the repetition of words and ideas reverberate throughout [one love affair]*, much could be said of how it affects the reader, in what ways empathy is created from despair and loss. As complex as the book is, there is a looseness that allows for an enjoyable read. One can take [one love affair]* as both an academic project, or for a summer read at the park. And both would bear fruit.


Works Cited

Boully, Jenny. [one love affair]*. Brooklyn, NY: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2006.

Perloff, Marjorie. Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodern Lyric. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1990.


JENNY BOULLY is the author of The Body (Slope Editions, 2002). Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2002, Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, and The Next American Essay and has appeared in Boston Review, Seneca Review, Tarpaulin Sky, and Conjunctions. Her Book of Beginnings and Endings is forthcoming from Sarabande. Born in Thailand and reared in Texas, she has studied at Hollins University and the University of Notre Dame and is pursuing a Ph.D. at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She divides her time between Brooklyn and a small town in Texas.


MICHAEL RERICK will begin PhD study at the University of Cincinnati in Fall 2006. Hopefully this means reading, eventually, Beowulf in the original. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Bathhouse, Caketrain, Court Green, Cue, Diagram, Fence, Nidus, Shampoo, Tarpaulin Sky, Word For/Word and Words on Walls.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Hot off the palms, a brand new Coconut! Coconut Five features exciting new poetry by Lyn Hejinian, Mong-Lan, Ashley VanDoorn, Ada Limon, Scott Glassman, John Cotter, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Katie Degentesh, Gina Myers & Dustin Williamson, Johannes Goransson, Noah Eli Gordon, Kristen Hanlon, Matt Hart, Kirsten Kaschock, Jennifer Moxley, Sarah Mangold, Carly Sachs, Joshua Edwards, Michael Rerick, Jen Tynes, Albert Flynn DeSilver, Maureen Seaton & Neil de la Flor, Hal Sirowitz, and Robyn Art.

Check it out:

Bruce Covey, Coconut

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This Connection of Everyone With Lungs by Juliana Spahr

University of California Press, 2005

Reviewed by Monica Fambrough

We begin with cells, and in beginning with cells, already we are taking on a fundamental contradiction.

      There are these things:

      cells, the movement of cells and the division of cells

Cells connect with each other—they combine to form living organisms, but they are also autonomous. They function as individual units of a whole: separate yet connected. Cells divide to become larger entities, hands and feet and lungs. Millions of cells connect and form a larger organism. As humans, we are individuals, but we contain multitudes. This kind of contradiction, which we might consider to be a paradox, can also be observed in the geographical and political make-up of the United States. Fifty individual units combine to make a nation: separate yet connected.

In This Connection of Everyone With Lungs, Juliana Spahr takes advantage of one of poetry’s great capacities: the capacity to transport contradictions from the realm of abstraction to the realm of the concrete and vice versa. Poetry can recognize a contradiction without taking sides. And as this work shows, in a complex political climate, taking sides offers dangerous comfort.

Writing as a resident of Hawaii, the state that perhaps most exemplifies the U.S.’s geographical and political paradox, Spahr explores the concept of complicity. If we are all like Hawaii, apart yet connected, in what ways are we complicit in the activities of our various contiguous parts? How responsible are the cells for the behavior of the larger organism, however far removed?

      I speak of those moments when we do not understand why we
      must be joined or separated in the most mundane ways.

      I speak of why our skin is our largest organ and how it keeps us

As the book moves on from the abstraction and biology of these earlier statements, into more politically explicit territory, it becomes clear that our sense of separation is what renders us incapable of seeing our own complicity in the behaviors of larger systems. It makes us feel simultaneously blameless and inert. The mundane ways we often feel connected to each other make us dull to the actual potential and consequences of our actions. The warehouse and the distributor and the mall and the salesclerk separate us from the Indonesian laborer who makes our blouse, but they also connect us to her.

The accumulation of small connections, the way they make a body, a country, and a universe, comes to life in the first section of Spahr’s book: a series of repeated and accumulating phrases that form a three-page introduction to the larger second section.

      as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and
      the space around the hands in and out

      as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and
      the space around the hands and the space of the room in and out

      as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and
      the space around the hands and the space of the room and the
      space of the building that surrounds the room in and out

The tediousness of the accumulation building to large paragraphs lends the poem an “Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly” sense of irresistible inevitability. We know where we are headed (“Perhaps she’ll die…”) but we become attached to the steps necessary to getting there. And we become aware of the significance of even minute variation. From a post-structural standpoint, at least, variation within repetition is a powerful form of resistance, linguistically or socially, because it demonstrates that change is possible even in hegemonic structures.

And resistance is called for, as the second section of This Connection of Everyone With Lungs artfully announces. But it is an unexpected kind of resistance. The long piece, “Poem Written from November 30, 2002, to March 27, 2003” stretches like an enormous skin across the remaining 64 pages of the book, which are appropriately divided by separate yet connected dated sections.

What the skin contains is a different sort of accumulation. Repetition occurs but is less restrained, erratic. The content ambitiously reaches from nature towards politics, and from geography towards pop culture. Page after page, the tone remains flat—masterfully and relentlessly consistent—emphasizing the level to which beauty and atrocity can become mundane information. The even tone helps to unite disparate elements and emotions, forcing the reader to consider how separation and connection, difference and sameness, work together to make meaning.

      While we turned sleeping uneasily Liam Gallagher brawled and
      irate fans complained that “Popstars: The Rivals” was fixed.

      While we turned sleeping uneasily the Supreme Court agreed to
      hear the case of whether university admissions may favor racial

      While we turned sleeping uneasily poachers caught sturgeon in the
      reed-fringed Caspian, which shelters boar and wolves, and some of
      the residents on the space shuttle planned a return flight to the US.

Reading the poems is like getting your news from the Internet. Internet news is the great equalizer. It gives us Iraq and Angelina simultaneously without taking sides. What Spahr reminds us is that Iraq and Angelina are connected. While she is occupied with Brad, and we are occupied with their exclusive Us Weekly photo spread, Iraq is occupied by the U.S.

      But the beach on which we reclined is occupied by the US military
      so every word we said was shaped by other words, every moment
      of beauty occupied.

As the book concludes, language and poetry become occupied. Everyday speech is pre-empted:

      When we talk about how the Florida nurse died of smallpox
      vaccination and how sperm may sniff their way to eggs we talk also
      of M109A6 Paladin Howitzers and the M270 multiple-launch
      rocket system.

Finally, the violence occupies the bodies of beloveds in lines that draw the seeming contradictions together, in bed with each other:

      When I wrap around yours bodies, I wrap around the USS Abraham
      Lincoln, unmanned aerial vehicles, and surveillance.

The mistrust implied by surveillance is appropriate, because the intimacy with machines of war is not entirely abstract. No matter who we are, no matter where we are from, we are connected with these things. As are the lovers who lay beside us. The end of Spahr’s book is a fantastic nightmare in which our complicity in the atrocity of war is made manifest in our bodies and language. We do not actually control what we say, and words we didn’t know we knew pour from our mouths. Involuntarily, we confess.

This Connection of Everyone With Lungs refuses to be comfortable with the expected messages and means of political expression. It knows organic language and forms, as opposed to catch phrases and direct attacks, make the most convincing arguments. It aims concerns not only at the warmongers, but also at the peacemakers. What is ultimately implied by Spahr’s poetry is that by thinking of ourselves as blamelessly on the side against the war, we prevent ourselves from acknowledging our connection to it, as well as to its victims.


JULIANA SPAHR as born in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1966. Her books also include Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You (Wesleyan, 2001), Everybody's Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (University of Alabama, 2001), and Response (Sun & Moon, 1996). She co-edits the journal Chain with Jena Osman, and frequently self-publishes her work.


MONICA FAMBROUGH was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Baffling Combustions, Art New England, Octopus Magazine, Weird Deer and American Weddings, among others. A chapbook, Black Beauty, is forthcoming from Katalanche Press.


This review previously appeared in CutBank Poetry 65, 2006.