Wednesday, December 20, 2006

67 Mixed Messages by Ed Allen

Ahsahta Press, 2006

Reviewed by Steven D. Schroeder

Credit Ed Allen for adherence to a very specific form. Each poem in his first poetry book, 67 Mixed Messages, is a sonnet. Each one addresses a character named Suzi, for whom the narrator has an illicit love. Each is an acrostic, with the first letter of each consecutive line spelling “I love Suzi Grace.” And the sestet of each begins with the phrase “I love you, Suzi.”

That Allen has produced not one but 67 functional poems out of such a stylistic straitjacket is a testament both to ingenuity and sheer hardheadedness. It also may be a project that impresses more through volume than consistent quality—the acknowledgements list a scant four of the poems as previously published in journals, and the inconsistency of the book corresponds to the snap judgment.

Allen’s narrator (a stand-in for the poet, at least in superficial biographical details) is a middle-aged professor in South Dakota who describes himself as “half gay.” Suzi is a much younger student he knows (not in the biblical sense) and pines for, both from a distance and up close, though he doesn’t explain the exact nature of their relationship.

Whatever the sexual orientation of the narrator, several of the better pieces in the collection are witty mixtures of sex and literature. One example is poem 47, “Some Linguistic Theories” (a few more than half the poems in the book have titles beyond their numbers):

          In S. I. Hayakawa’s book, he states:
          Language is why our mouths evolved this way.
          Once I had felt how soft a wet tongue skates,
          Velvet on skin—that’s not what I would say.

Some of the sonnets also successfully convey the narrator’s outward repression of his feelings (or at least their expression). From number 5, “When Did I Last Touch Suzi?”:

          Each time we’ve had a drink there’s been someone
          Sitting there with us, so I couldn’t speak
          Until I had to make a bathroom run.

Not as effective are the poems that focus on the mundane details of the narrator’s teaching career. Three consecutive examples referencing a conference on Robert Frost come across as literary namedropping because the poems don’t make the conference in any way essential to the theme. The formal straitjacket bursts at the seams when these same poems also try to squeeze in Suzi and an unnamed friend dealing with cancer, who recurs over a longer sequence.

As the book progresses, the occasional unbecoming self-pity of the narrator and some of the attempts at humor fall flat, because both of them seem to deflect attention from the real issues (and vague creepiness) of a teacher having this sort of fixation on a student—it makes sense for the narrator to deflect, but not for the poet. It’s equivalent to telling jokes as a defense mechanism. To borrow from Ralph Wiggum: they’re funny, but they’re not “ha ha” funny.

A series of sonnets addressed to a woman invites comparisons to Shakespeare whether it wants to or not. 67 Mixed Messages definitely wants to. The back-cover copy refers to Suzi as “the dark lady,” and three of the poems are direct responses to Shakespeare sonnets. The first of these, probably best termed an affectionate restatement, begins “If Suzi’s eyes could look more like the sun,” and ends “Call me extreme, but Suzi in the sun / Exceeds all spreads that Hefner’s ever run.” Apparently airbrushing is the new “false compare.” The other responses to Shakespeare aren’t as fresh or interesting.

Anyone who has read contemporary metrical/rhyming poetry probably knows of one of its chief pitfalls: diction that avoids the contemporary in an ill-fated attempt at timelessness, instead sounding stilted or even antiquated. The best current sonneteers, from Olena Kalytiak Davis to R. S. Gwynn (the latter represented here by an enthusiastic blurb), consistently avoid such poor choices of words. Allen’s poems are also admirable in this regard. From the micro (phrases such as “fuck boots,” “Verdana Bold,” and “a riptooth of acetylene”) to the macro (poems set in college bars, cancer clinics, and a beauty pageant at a Radisson in Pierre), these sonnets are very much in the present without being confined to it.

Another problem common to many weak sonnets that does pop up here is overly rhyme/meter-driven phrasing. Is there really any reason to describe John Mellencamp as a “rich baboon” except for a rhyme with “cartoon”? Additionally, forcing the form is to blame for wrenched language such as this (Vermillion is a town in South Dakota):

          Leaves give off a final heat
          Of yellow-shifted sun, and nearly all
          Vermillion rustles through them with their feet.

Nor would Allen, who is primarily a fiction writer with two published novels and one short story collection, be likely to put implausible dialogue like “’Under the covers, Suzi’s nice to boys, / Zero restraint’” and “’Or else I’ll have to live on Wonder Bread, / Vanilla squares, or rice and beans alone’” in the mouths of his prose characters.

Overall, a collection of this sort only goes as far as its conceit takes it, and the acrostic/”I love you, Suzi” combination doesn’t demonstrate a full book worth of staying power here. Beginning every sestet “I love you, Suzi” frequently creates problems because Allen is speaking of Suzi in the third person, throws that phrase in almost as an afterthought, and goes right back to the third person. The “Z” of the acrostic is even more problematic. It produces fun words (“Zippos,” “Zoster,” and “Zappa”) but more often results in silly choices (“Zen-like” and “Zoology-controlled”) and serious overuse (multiple instances of “Zigzagging,” “Zinc,” and “Zephyrs”).

These issues underscore my ultimate judgment of 67 Mixed Messages: though there are strong poems and good writing in evidence, the book would have been better served either with less stringent formal guidelines or with the best few poems as a short portion of a more diverse manuscript.


Ed Allen is the author of two novels, andwas awarded the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction for his collection Ate It Anyway. The Showtime TV version of his novel Mustang Sally (titled Easy Six) aired during the summer of 2005. A former three-day contestant on Jeopardy!, he teaches at University of South Dakota.


Steven D. Schroeder edits The Eleventh Muse literary journal for Poetry West and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer. His poetry has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from The National Poetry Review (where he won the Laureate Prize), Verse, 32 Poems, and Verse Daily. His reviews have been published by three candles and The New Hampshire Review.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Winchester Monologues by Rachel Moritz

New Michigan Press, 2005

Reviewed by J'Lyn Chapman

The story of Sarah Lockwood Pardee is almost too fantastic to write about in such a way that the subject doesn’t overwhelm the poetry. Or, perhaps, the subject—the “Winchester Mystery Mansion,” the blighted dynasty of William Winchester, a woman in communication with the supernatural—is too easily accessed. It lends itself to meandering, gesticulation, and sentimentalism. Yet, her careful negotiation of American mythology, especially the archetypal gun, marks the beauty of Rachel Moritz’s chapbook, The Winchester Monologues.

 The poetry locates the story inward, focusing on subjectivity rather than on popular myth. Eros and Thanatos are side-by-side in these poems, located in the exchange  between compulsion and destruction. The poems begin as Sarah’s monologues to the still-living William Winchester

        I       have        visited        the
        photographer     in     Fairhaven
        who   passes   a    box  for  his
        torso   when   he  steps   inside
        but  William I know  he  misses
        middle  there  where  the  black
        box recedes

        William  you  must   know    he
        makes us missing even among
        the living

The lines demonstrate the way Moritz does not so much foreshadow William’s death as build absorption and sadness by emphasizing the “anterior future” of the photograph, where death is always present. Moritz’s Sarah craquelures out from herself. Her exclamation emphasizes her urgency to communicate to the loved other who is always and already absent. The alliteration in, “misses/middle there where the black/box recedes” and then the abrupt direct address to William in the next stanza dramatizes Sarah’s reach toward a listener.

This reach continues after William and her infant daughter die. Sarah compulsively returns to the dead in séances. Yet, Sarah forgoes mediated séances when she directly addresses the dead this time: these poems read like epistles and, in the absence of punctuation, suggest the familiarity and immediacy of the living to the living

        In the morning I  resign  from
        the different bed William

        In the evening I try calling her
        once more

        I  call the  wooden planchette
        my interior for the way it finds
        her again and again

Form compliments content: Sarah speaks to spirits, and they tell her to build a mansion to stave off evil. In theory, the monologue emphasizes the subjective voice, the interiority of a speaker, yet, it also moves out from the interiority of the lyric mode, emphasizing the speech act and anticipating reciprocity between speaker and audience. It demonstrates the irony of speaking, for speaking is a performance directed toward a constructed listener. Sarah’s utterance to the dead enables the lyric; her expectation for response drives her address to the dead. Yet, the lines above also demonstrate that the boundary between Sarah’s interiority and exteriority has little to do with the discursive elements of a séance. Rather than a boundary between the self and other, the planchette acts like an appendage instead of an object, and the reader only knows this because of Sarah’s meta-discourse, her explanation that occurs about the planchette rather than because of it.

Moritz’s chapbook draws attention to the permeable borders of inside and outside, self and other. The first section punctuates subjectivity while the second half focuses on collective myth-making. This section of the chapbook is called and takes the form of “Tour Notes.” It acknowledges the construction of the Pardee persona and the way the tourism industry concretizes it. Moritz shows the distinction between the mysticism in which Sarah harbors herself and the capitalist-driven lore that constructs her. In “Palm Drive,” these disparate tendencies abut at the literal space outside the mansion

        Do you believe that something advances? Do you believe
        in fate? This feels it—someone you wanted without knowing,
        then one life or two of you carted away.

        Propelling mouths, motors, coffee shops…Flame Bakery
        across from the house where a manager salts her Mexican
        cheese sandwiches and washes each pill with a Diet Coke.
        Is it better—or could you—to stay at that spot

        before something gets discarded—how could you—bark
        at the missing—

        [They moved her iron gates after the palm left]

The voice in the second part of the chapbook oscillates between Sarah’s voice and what resembles the poet’s voice as she seeks Sarah in the architecture of her mansion. From “Deep-seated Grief,”

                                                                    Sarah’s funny
        ivory face, furled pinprick of light made eternal
        etch, how could I even conceive of her?

and “Architecture,”

        All these appurtances, turrets, towers, cornices
        Overhanging pendentives and all manner of gables.
        How oppressive they feel.

There is an assumed conversation between poet and subject here, but it is slant. In other words, it never occurs directly, just as the monologue form can never occur directly. The second part of the book maintains the themes of the first section; Sarah’s interiority is one with the architecture of her house as in “Almond Courtyard”

        One structure of me was never finished, but a fine
        example of the me [me] style. And fidelity might be
        a series of beams placed upside-down
        to attract good intention.

The house’s instability is a counterpart to Sarah’s instability. As the story goes, Sarah begets rooms until their fecundity begins to fold in on itself, until Sarah is literally captive in one of the rooms after an earthquake.

As if responding to Sarah’s urgency (an urgency Moritz produces in sound and rhythm), Moritz builds a poem, in which stanzas are rooms. Signification in writing and the construction of the house are parallel. The building of the house is conflated with the building of a self, of a poem, of a sentence. Architectural diction might be replaced with “self” or “poetry” in “Architecture”

        This room feels loose—no progression in the house—
        only narrow halls and windows allowing
        elements of lights to meet.

        Removal may be one form of covering, but removing
        progression is a permanent form of being. Adding, as time does,
        as opposed to penetrating. And you see it’s not possible
        once the break is made—she kept building—not forward
        but removed from break or boarding.

Destruction appears in the allusion to the rifle and in the beautiful woodcut details of a rifle on the front and back covers of the chapbook but also in how these allusions occur in the language of the poem, used to express death, not of Indians, bears, and buffalos as the epigraph would suggest, but of the family and of the self

        [A house removed of its human anchor, her face
        removed of bodily function]

While Sarah’s compulsions become death drives, and she is subsumed in the physicality of her house, the poem reaches out in the speaker’s self-reflection. We might ask how poems about Sarah Lockwood Pardee are any different from the myths about her, or what poetry’s exploration of history as event and subjective experience might offer. In some ways, Sarah is an inconsequential figure, barely “historical” in the way the word privileges events of consequence. Sarah’s personal turmoil becomes cultural because of the spectacle it produces, yet Moritz’s poetic treatment pulls person and event away from the historical and cultural objects they might be otherwise.


Rachel Moritz's poetry chapbook, The Winchester Monologues, won the 2005 New Michigan Press Competition. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals including Colorado Review, Court Green, Denver Quarterly, HOW2, Indiana Review, typo, and 26. She edits WinteRed Press, a micropress publisher of poetry chaplets and broadsides. She also edits poetry for Konundrum Literary Engine.


J'Lyn Chapman is a Literary Studies PhD student at the University of Denver. She is currently at work on a dissertation on photography and text in the works of W.G. Sebald and a book of poetry about bears.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

obedience by kari edwards

Factory School, 2006

Reviewed by Erica Kaufman

To open a book called obedience, the reader is immediately faced with the question of obedience to what. Though to open kari edwards’ fourth collection is to discover that there is nothing “obedient” about this text. Even the epigraph by Judith Butler that begins the book, “Possibility is not a luxury; it is crucial as bread,” indicates an emphasis on variance, rather than stagnancy. In other words, here is a book that is interested in the opening up of language and situations, as opposed to the typical and easier obeyance, or subordination.

The book opens with the word “let’s,” the conjunction for “let us.” This phrase indicates not only a certain permission or opportunity, but also foreshadows a “release,” in this case that of “a body covered in leaves/not the imagined/here to cure this language plague” (38). Right from the start, edwards sets the stage for the unpredictable, she mixes familiar words with jargon, beginning a litany that circles and undoes itself, as if to literally deconstruct the climate one lives in.

          this is your base (a square hole)
          this is your weapon (a condition)
          I am you
          a fill-in-the-blank (perception)
          which is nothing more than masturbation
          part memory
          part blood soaked sheets
          part remastered destiny (7)

The parenthetic asides act as commentary or snipes at words preceding them. What further empowers this opening verse is the direct phrasing of the lines themselves. This text is assertive, and through this wise use of the imperative, it is virtually impossible to turn a page without reading every single word. And, this carries even more meaning because there is little truth in so much of what surrounds us (meaning the general public).

          sometimes there’s qualities in schema
          sometimes things like things, cut matter (8)


In “The Author as Producer,” Walter Benjamin writes, “[The writer] directs his activity towards what will be useful to the proletariat in the class struggle. This is usually called pursuing a tendency, or ‘commitment.’” In the exploration of “naming” alongside a multi-genre book-length work, edwards succeeds in grounding the reader in an alternative society,

          depending on the country
          and proper name
          given by the institute that names names
          names the damned (13)

This is a space where the non-verbal, overlooked problems in society are verbalized as a litany, an intense, short-lined, 39-page invocation that itemizes what one is afraid to face, “the we/who have not been murdered” (29). In this crystalline language, edwards takes on cultural nomenclature or the lack thereof. She masterfully melds the vocabulary of commodity and capitalism with an exposition and deconstruction of the singular, pronouns, and the often impossibility of a stable public identity.

          pronouns are lost and then found
          or never invented or intended
          and we all play safe
          with stick familiar (9)

Returning to the idea of “tendency,” edwards questions the very notion of parts of speech so embedded in cultural expression that one barely stops to think about their usage. But the point is that we need to stop, to think in detail about the words we use or allow ourselves to use as labels, as blanket phrases. No terminology is safe, nor should it be safe.

          a vital impression
          that accepts plastic
          what do i know?
          everyone doubts doubt
          doubts bodies
          criticized at inception (20)

In Masculine/Feminine or Human? Janet Saltzman Chafetz writes, “Human beings try to make sense out of their own world by lumping together a variety of individual cases, labeling them, and then reacting to categories of phenomena.” What edwards accomplishes is the recognition of the individual, the necessary acknowledgement of biological and political restraints that keep human hands tied, minds frozen. she is a writer I endlessly admire, increasingly so with each volume I read. What is accomplished in the first half of obedience is a large-scale mediation between questioning and assertions of perhaps a majority of societal claims and problems that have never really been addressed before.

          i have been deprived of a name
          kept quiet in a place
          called eventually (30)


“because,” (40) appears alone on a page, signifying a foreshadowing of a shift in form, or perhaps an entrance into another movement or body of words. “Because” is a conjunction, meaning that we are accustomed to seeing it as the center part of a sentence, a word that indicates an explanation will follow. The effect of placing this word alone on a page, accompanied only by a comma, is one of both space and tension. It gives the reader a break from the intensity of the litany of the first 39 pages of the book, but at the same time leaves the mind anticipating what will come next. It is, essentially, the perfect transitional tactic.

The reader now enters into a textual space where form becomes transitory and many of the direct statements listed in the first half of the book are now expanded upon.

     because there is no apparent singular
          couched in a connection between
          sensible and secret powers (41)

“Because” begins as a vessel to peer into the negative, as in “no apparent.” However, the word choices do not indicate this negative to be all-encompassing. A “singular” is displayed, as are words such as “sensible” and “secret.” This word transmutation is reminiscent of Acker’s statement in “Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body,” that “the physical or material, that which is, is constantly and unpredictably changing: it is chaotic.” And, there is chaos here, but an effective chaos, one that takes the reader (or viewer) on a journey through sprawling language that mediates back and forth between prose, projective verse, and the left-justified short-lined form of the first half of the book.

          no fixed logic
          no fixed conception
          no fixed bias
          neither female nor male (43)

Similar to the phrase “no fixed,” as this section progresses little is fixed, not even the situating of the words themselves. The effect of this is the feeling that the left justified statements of the early parts of the poems have morphed into a sort of answer that undoes the very form or appearance of the charges or questions previously defined. There truly is “no fixed logic,” especially in a social space where so much depends on forced or inherently learned societal stigmas. And, the text itself visually echoes this.

     may the day be speaking of speaking, the sanctuary, of humanity
          and illumination in the flower of clarity, speaking of the
          poor and hungry breath of the ocean, of the saliva, of saints
          in the dust at the end of the day, at the end of all bigotry (48)

Once edwards’ lines begin to sprawl, so does the scope of the relations of the text. The reader finds almost direct addresses (or “commitments”) to “the poor and hungry” or “at the end of all bigotry.” This is a writer whose head and heart is in all the right places. While activism and politics are at the forefront of many of our minds, it is hard to find the most effective angle when critiquing the perpetually disturbing hegemony we live under. But, edwards finds again and again the most successful ways of doing so. S/he elides the problem of hegemony with her syntactical revolutions, fluid prosaic lyricism, and perhaps most importantly, unabashed, semantically brilliant honesty.

          this could be a series of singulars busting forth, points of grand realignment, instantaneous realignment, bringing life to the mud and the slime, entertaining a continuum in something multiple, segments and singularities (53)

Here we see an empowering passage of “singulars,” of “realignment.” In contrast to words like “lost” and “deprived” (both found in the first half of the book), the word choice in these few lines alone indicates a sort of reconciliation, or a coming to terms with what needs to be done, “a dark unimpressed otherwise—stripped bare in a memory of a/memory, always waiting for someone to speak and being spoken to…” (55). As the text expands, so does the exposition of the “other.” And this exposition of the reality of the “other” turns to the memory of another.

          I keep listening for what they think
          but I can’t enter their lurid regime
          leaving me out and without
          saying writing, writing saying
          this other hand
           named and pointed to
          shown the invisible (58)

No matter what shape the words or lines take, no matter how hard one tries to hear, obedience is not an option (“I can’t enter their lurid regime”). This stance is one that radiates courage because it is easier to submit (or submerge) than to cope with the feeling of being “left out.”

          almost silence, but stranger still
          a pursuit of this or that
          such that the world will change (60)

What needs to happen to create change? This answer is not named; it has no name, no body, only pronouns and adverbs. No solution is offered, only strength in language. When one strips hegemonic oppression down, what is left but linguistic strength, the ability to verbalize what is wrong (“-watching a word watch itself-“ (62)).

In order to cement the circularity of continuous societal restraints, obedience ends where it begins, with “let’s begin again” (82). Every page leading up to this has presented language and assertions that undo themselves every step of the way, mostly as a means to present the reality of the scope of identity, body, and cultural problematizing that happens daily. And, this phrase appears on a page alone, indicating a pause, or a space to fill.

          if in fact
          it is a place in time
          turning back on itself
          holding both and merely in an intention (80)


Julia Kristeva refers to literature as “work at shedding light on the laws of this immemorable language, this unconscious algebra that traverses discourse, this basic logic that establishes relations.” edwards is a writer who expands this “immemorable language” to extraordinary lengths. s/he not only “traverses discourse,” but overcomes and reinvents it. Every time I read a book by edwards, I am not only awed by her command of form (cross-genre mastery), but also with the ground she covers in the rather short space of a poetry book (82 pages). obedience is certainly another edwards must read, simultaneously beautiful and alarming, hypnotic and awakening, bodily and true.


kari edwards, a poet, artist and gender activist, received one of Small Press Traffic's books of the year awards (2004), New Langton Art's Bay Area Award in literature (2002); and is author of obedience, Factory School (2005); iduna, O Books (2003), a day in the life of p., subpress collective (2002), a diary of lies - Belladonna #27 by Belladonna Books (2002), and ost/(pink) Scarlet Press (2000).


erica kaufman co-curates the belladonna* reading series and small press. she is the author of several chapbooks including a familiar album (which won the 2003 New School University Chapbook Contest). her work can be found or is forthcoming in jubilat, puppy flowers, CARVE, LIT, The Mississippi Review, Bombay Gin, among other places. erica lives in Brooklyn.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary by Karla Kelsey

Ahsahta Press, 2006

Reviewed by Mathias Svalina

Karla Kelsey takes the title of her first book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary, from a passage of Plato’s Theaetetus in which the philosopher explores the ways in which a person may be said to possess yet not contain/control knowledge, in the same way that the person has birds that he keeps in an aviary. With this launching pad Kelsey produces a project that both attends to the mechanics by which one may glean knowledge from language and lyric poetry while enacting a rhetorical process that forces the reader to constantly renegotiate whose knowledge the book creates.

In essence, Kelsey explores the workings of poetic epistemology, which is a process of awarenesses. Language accumulates information in relation to the forefronting of the words and artifice, thereby questioning the use value of language. Through the simultaneously denaturing and reifying effects of the line and form, her poetry arrives at meaning through a participatory process. In this book knowledge is not only unstable and fleeting it is more clearly situated in metaphor than in sense data. The epistemology of poetry obviously bears little resemblance to the attempts to analytical denote the world through the precision of true, justified beliefs, but neither does Plato’s metaphor of the birds. Poetic knowledge is always provisional, negotiated relationally in the aesthetic experience of the poem. It is experiential both in the presentation of information and imagery and experiential for the reader in the process of reading and making connection. Kelsey produces a kind of knowledge that develops multiplicities through matrices of meaning rather than a monument built on unshakable blocks.

But I don’t want to talk about this book as if it were only a philosophical text. Yes, this is the kind of book you have to wrangle with, both intellectually and aesthetically (and these two are coreferential in the book). It simultaneously envelops and ejects the reader. A big book, both its intellectual and experiential scope, I found it both difficult to read in one sitting and difficult to pick back up in the middle. But the wrangling is one that enriches the reading. And this book is an aesthetic pleasure to wrangle with. The beauty of the lines, the lusciousness of Kelsey’s language and the incredible ability of her fragments to strike resonant chords out of ideas that seem so dissonant all propel me to continue to mine the deep intellectual veins.

The first of the three sections that make up the book, “flood/fold,” consists of long poems entitled “Aperture One” through “Aperture Four.” The poems in this section are fragments of moments, ideas and events, separated by asterisks and often series of asterisks. The book even opens with a series of three asterisks, a formal convention usually used to denote the movement between sections; this opening gambit implies that not only are we entering the poetry in medias res, but that we will never, as readers, be able to enter into the full lyric experience. We are phenomenologically thrown into a world in which we immediately have to negotiate ourselves into a kind of sense. And yet the moments are, for the most part, presentations of experience. The first poetry in the book presents characters in action:

          into the street making
          this the movement. What
          we call home comprised
          into lake-ripple
          and pictured. Sold
          unto a title of time, of
          into the back of the chair
          a waiting within
          the network: a visor
          and a mask

Elusive, but well within the current lyric style of personal experience. The photographic metaphor of the poem titles invites a reading of these moments as brief snapshots, splices of a film disjunctively pieced together. At turns intellectually abstract, and at others immediately experiential, through the whole there is a consistent voice and a consistent imagistic concern for birds (always the universal “bird” rather than specific species), gardens and people either in action or watching things move. I can tell as a reader I’m participating in the work of a unified, authorial voice, but the poetry refuses to allow a consistency that can result in my containment and control of this voice. Kelsey responds directly to the Platonic question of what it is to possess knowledge: “I must ask you why/ this should be spoken of in terms/ of possession: the I go or I went of the face/ the call fo the bird, of grace.” The individual speaker, the object of lyric attention and the concept behind them are all available to reader but beyond the cage-like grasp of possessive comprehension.

Its stunning really, how the books twirls the reader between lyric identity, textual plasticity and reader response. This twirling works so well because of the sharp ear and eye of the poet. Though for the most part the individuality of the fragments blur after reading them the immediate moment of reading is consistently dazzling, for instance “The blue paper crane/ hangs in the tree,/ arc of thrust and drag”; “coined visible, invisible, or an alternate scraping of rust”; or “Into the loom, call it season, call it personal bent.” It’s the kind of book that distorts the room you are in when you look up from reading. The room becomes alien, the color of the paint is somehow a part of the poem rather than your drab office walls.

After the asterisk-laden fragments of the first section the second section, “Containment and Fracture,” which begins 52 pages into the book, slams the reader up against the brick walls of prose poems. And yet these prose poems are more abstracted than the gusty lilt of the fragments. As the section moves between the I and we of the opening section’s actions it seems to attempt the creation of a recreatable experience: “It was on the road from here that it happened, one and one and nothing left on the shelves to pilfer// and light leaking from under doorways to know we are home by…” But, as the section title implies, the more a speaker attempts to use language to contain experience the more it reveals the epistemological fractures. The poetry seems to spiral inward as it tries to make sense of how we are to make sense of the relationship between language, experience and knowledge. There is a new focus on colors both as sensual experience and as universal and disconnected properties. It is as if the attempt to create and contain experience in language causes the intellectual assumption to arise through the fracture, frustrating the speaker:

I was working the free radicals, the delay, looking for a method in this desire of constituting the whole. As if to reconstruct an imagined world in shades of red seen through light particles of varying density. Red, darker red, orange-red, air—as in being given an audience and so the ability to perform the whole, the parts thereof, the keening. Allowing a “her” into the abstraction arrests it for a moment. This abstraction has been arrested as a form of grace, light in ash-dense air gilds trees. We are not satisfied.

And we are not satisfied. As this intellectually obsessive voice reduces the attempt to create cohesion into a rubble of epistemic problems, it rejects the kind of cohesion that I feel as a reader through the fragments of the first section. This is similar to the idealist curse of never being able to truly interact with any other thing, and here she has to please the reading audience. But the intellectual dazzle and Kelsey’s consistently sharp ear and eye keep this from being merely a philosophical exercise.

This second section continues the project set up in the first, of attempting to understand the workings of knowledge-making in poetry, but through a self awareness that seeks to balance the construction and deconstruction rather through the creative performance of the epistemological fissures. The third section sends this project out into the world, asking how we can participate in a world in which there are such epistemological fissures. Recognizable, ordinary objects such as baseball bats and umbrellas enter in the first poem, but these poems continue to develop the epistemological question of how we construct the world through our relationship with it: “Dragonflies hover/ and we topple // to the sound of purity given up/ to our making. We can call it what we must, the leaves in, canopy/ shaking.” Kelsey has returned to the world that we participate in, but only after the skeptical agenda of the first two sections, and therefore it is a new world of self-awareness, of conscious makings. The question has changed from how we construct the world to how do we negotiate ourselves in relation to a construct:

                    Charted outward, are we beholden

          to love the world our words made? The images
          on the flat surface fold into our story
          of the unique idea constituting the country bathes
          in heralded light and betrayed by its people’s decision.

The original image sets of birds and gardens remain, but are changed. The birds in the aviary are now bothered by such technological things as headlights and “atomic despair.” The poetry does not provide an answer to the question of how we negotiate the social with disrupted foundations, instead focusing on the quest of the question, but the development of the prosody and the referential focus through the third section does suggest why the quest is essential.

The prosody of this third section grounds the book in a more familiar free verse style, moving the book as a whole into what is visually recognizable as conventional contemporary verse. The cinematic metaphor also returns in the third section but to different effect, The poems are entitled “Sound and Image Accordance One” through “Three,” but rather than the disjunctive set of moments of the first section these poems situate the individual speaker in relation to the world as both an objective reality and, as seen above, a political reality. The creation of the polis becomes significant in this section, as the individual experience becomes networked with the many. But the city is also overlaid with the individual, such as when she writes

          this city of grid and artery mapped
          and charted, no longer the same
          after blast and drill—
          for the medium of the mountain
          has disintegrated, and the blue sky cover, sooted

          in this sequence of buildings, air
          and repetition disappearing, and then, I am I,
          magnetite in the mind,

And this reestablishment in the natural world, particularly the mountains is where the book leaves the reader. This is not a Romantic turn to the sublime, however, but more of a way of recognizing what is not epistemologically negotiable—the mountains are under your feet regardless of how you construct the experience of the mountain beneath your feet. In the end there are limits to the problems of epistemology.

          Makes me feel I’m up in the eastern mountains
          released over knots of valley-light, disintegrated
          into the many made of smoke plumes, flares billowing

          as if we were an array of dawns or another kind
          of knowing, interiors blowing toward muscle
          and thigh.

It is this feeling of assured solidity that ultimately is a part of our experience. And this is where Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary leaves us, back in the real world, but with the questions still fundamental—the birds still rustle in their aviary as knowledge twitches and flutters. The journey of the book begins in questioning the formation of knowledge and returns the reader to the public world, but it is a world fundamentally altered by the journey.


KARLA KELSEY is a graduate of the University of Denver (PhD) & the Iowa Writer's Workshop (MFA). Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary, her first book of poems, won the 2005 Sawtooth Poetry prize judged by Carolyn Forche & is out from Ahsahta Press. She has recently finished a book-length manuscript based on the sonnet called Iteration Nets; poems from this book can be found in recent issues of the Denver Quarterly, Bird Dog, & the New Review of Literature. Along with her husband Peter & dog Jessa-Belle she lives on the Susquehanna River.


MATHIAS SVALINA lives in Lincoln, Nebraska where he co-curates The Clean Part Reading Series & co-edits Octopus Magazine & Books. Poems of his have been published or are forthcoming in Fence, jubilat, Typo, Pindeldyboz and Denver Quarterly, among other journals. His first chapbook, Why I Am White, is forthcoming from Kitchen Press in 2007.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Stupefying Flashbulbs by Daniel Brenner

Fence Books, 2006

Reviewed by Jared Stanley

This is a difficult book, partially because it demonstrates neither political posturing, an obvious theoretical stance, or prose poems, and partially because the work has quite a bit of energy around it, that kind of energy that Fanny Howe called “The line’s ecstatic lash.” There’s a sense that the creation of these poems was intoxicating, and that this intoxication (or whatever) is the point, but there’s also a refreshing lack (most of the time) of self-consciousness in the making. Saying that, however, doesn’t make the poems any less mysterious. For all of their excitement, there are pleasurable obstacles all over the place in this work. The poems in The Stupefying Flashbulbs don’t mean so much; they whirl and flash instead, neglecting punctuation in favor of a dependence on the line. On top of all that, they occasionally manage to be narrative. What’s at stake in the narrative, I’m not so sure. What the Phoenicians mean, or who McLight is in the grand scheme of Part 1 here, I just don’t know. Sometimes this book is so exact, and sometimes really stupid, but it does delight.

In writing about this book, I have a distinct sense that I might be either a) seriously misleading you b) totally misunderstanding the book, and/or c) imposing a sense of tradition on a book that strives to exist on its own terms. So, let us proceed. The first poem, “Liquified,” has traces of Slinger’s kookiness, and Prince’s shorthand:

          I went to the whirlpool and asked it
          N it looked at me & said child of the sea
          Listen as I tell U of the child of the earth

What I enjoy so much about this passage is that it speaks in these sort of reverent poetic tropes (addressing a whirlpool, “child of the sea”) in a way that’s lighter than air, unburdened of punctuation and poetic diction. Indeed, the whole first section of this book, with the aforementioned characters McLight and Whirlpool, is similarly unburdened. It’s a cycle of poems that are utterly mysterious, but they’re frothy, not, uh, fraught. The characters are allegorical effigies, I think. They stand for qualities that are brought forth in their names, to some degree. The whirlpool is constantly being questioned by the speaker, and in this sense is some kind of oracle or guide (maybe a kind of Virgil). But the whirlpool is also a stand-in for the forms of the poems themselves, which take disparate elements into its vortex and jumble them up, for example:

          Fraud the whirlpool is a fraud
          We are in the weeds about it
          Lurking around in thickets
          Through which we have cut
          Great swaths and made them
          Roads with chemicals and buried
          The chemicals in alcohol
          That we poured out on the road.


The sections that follow in the book (there are three) are formally similar, but drop the repeated characters. These poems have a whiff of Berrigan, or maybe a less-blighted Spicer. For example, “Calls For More Soda” begins “It’s boring more orange soda.” Immediacy and insouciance are the order of the day here. Look at the beginning of “Anthem Bag:”

          Outside the mall the wind howled
          The air was that purple feel
          The wind did what
          It was almost evening

The poem ends, “Because it means nothing / Isn’t that what we think” in which the speaker speaks simultaneously of the whirling tableau which S/he has detailed in the poem, while at the same time ventriloquizing the reader’s bewilderment, slyly showing us that a mall in a poem can be a very disorienting place for everyone involved. I’m reminded of Stevens critique of surrealism: “the essential fault of surrealism is that it invents without discovering.” This poem could be mistaken for inventing, but I think it’s really involved in discovery. That is, the mall in its mall-ness demands from this speaker a statement like “the air was that purple feel.”

There are other weird-ass lines like “gesture magnetize what we do.” This one’s frighteningly exact, and that gives it a surface texture of oddity. That line is also a good example of the earlier assertion that the book really is most successful on the level of the line. This makes the book seem occasionally messy, but I like it, because the reader can feel that Brenner isn’t the decider in this writing, which makes this a pretty different first book than so many we’ve seen as of late. The style is strong, and yet there’s little sense of the individual voice here. One feels that this writer has fewer designs on the reader than many other writers, and I like that. I feel as though I’m running around in a field. What I mean is, this book finds the writer working toward something, not having found a ready style, perfected it, and finished it, all in the same book, but looking around, discovering. It’s the kind of messiness that one loves seeing in photographs of painter’s studios, the messiness of work finding itself being found; in that case, by a photographer, but in the case of this book, by the words that appear in the whirlpool of the situation at hand.

I was first attracted to his work via some fantastic poems published in web journals, and that work was quite different than that work here in The Stupefying Flashbulbs. This suggests that Brenner’s work is finding itself as he writes it, and one can’t help but be swept up in the energy of the work. There’s no theoretical reason for the attentions of the poems to flit about the way they do, and that’s nice:

          Then the people who mess with you write a song about it
          We all make mistakes
          I’m afraid of looking back from the perspective of being chased
          & doing whatever it is that the perspective of being chased urges
          (“Savage Comfort”)

It’s not a perfect book, but it’s an exciting book.


DANIEL BRENNER was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1976. He currently lives in New Jersey and works as an independent contractor.


JARED STANLEY lives and works in Northern California. He is a co-author of a chapbook, In Fortune (dusie e/chaps), with Lauren Levin and Catherine Theis. Recently, poems have appeared in Conduit, Gutcult, and Shampoo.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Twenty-One After Days by Lisa Lubasch

Avec Books, 2006

Reviewed by Lauren Levin

Lisa Lubasch’s Twenty-One After Days offers a new way to interrogate experience; Lubasch orchestrates the changeable relationships of subject, object, and language into a drama of perceptual shifts. The examining consciousness and what it examines interweave kaleidoscopically. As part of the interchange between inside and out, landscapes also find themselves in motion: states, geographies, emotions realizing themselves as independent forms of life.

the rivers snatch up all our true developments – making them square, as methodically day would – gather up its lineaments – one promontory competes (couples) with the inventory – for confidence – will we meet? to the right of it? – that depends – as migratory gulls would spark – retrieve their careful rims – making them truthful –

The registers here run from physical (square, to the right); to emotional (confidence); to ethical (truthful). Just one selected word, ‘promontory’, hooks many potential meanings: a particular lineament of the day; a shape that holds the day in; an event that draws attention to itself within time; the actual literal coast. A promontory links a thought and a place to meet.

the morning is condensed – but it grows stale – its rigor becomes a subject – tearing – meaning flows out – birds fly up and grow to skip within – a mountain – one part of it – the breezy section, augmented –

“The morning’s rigor becomes a subject” – another moment that knots divergent paths. Rigor can be a subject – so, a field for study. When that field rips, concealed meaning flows out. Or, rigor is seen as a subject – so, a character – who tears up, begins to cry, so that the emotion-meaning masked by a decorous rigor ‘flows out’. Rigor is experienced as subject and object, character and state. (Lubasch shows particular interest in the passages between subject and object, or a character and its expression. Through tears, a body becomes fluid: a ‘river’ between inside and out that integrates physical substance, emotion, and literary convention.)

On my first reading of Twenty-One After Days, I looked for externalized inward states, moods coaxed into impersonating rivers and mountains. Reading further into the book, I discovered it to be much more complex than that first take. Part of the pleasure I found in re-reading was the lack of easy equivalences. You don’t have to look far in poetry to find examples of an inner self that seeks its match in the outer world. The difference in Lubasch’s work is that the terms used to organize such comparisons are unstable. The central consciousness doesn’t remain intact in these poems, and the way it’s disassembled is again complex and strange. Rather than simply excising the speaker, the book presents thought as a “maggoty walk-up”, the breezy part of a mountain, or a state that “melt(s) into guessing”: uncertainty cuts holes in being. When each state or emotion has the potential to become metaphor and engender its own lists, comparisons, and trajectories, it means a vertiginous freedom for the multitudes inside the individual. Each speck of perception on its own road – the result is a self that is dispersed through its language, and as susceptible to change in state as a word or a wave.

Lubasch refers to the ‘immense flexibility of objects’. Her search is to create a subject just as flexible – a subject atomized into language can pursue perception to its darkest corners. If we’ve grown accustomed in poetry to looking for the “rhyme” between a speaker examining the world and a world looking back, Lubasch investigates moments without rhyme or overt resonance. The individual personality – with its powerful habits and expectations – insists on finding its own pattern everywhere it travels. When character is diffused into its surroundings, its imprint is reduced, and the field of vision grows.

strife will produce accomplishments – inadvertently – like sleep or mildness – will reduce the course of feeling –

The exploration of thought also becomes an ethical inquiry. (Paradoxically, deliberation over how to live becomes more and more crucial, even as the particular character is broken down.) On the one hand, an intense seeking desire probes and rolls through objects, wanting to explore everywhere, to become every change of state. On the other, the poems project an equally strong desire for absolute stillness and peace. “Like ideas and elements would vie”, this conflict is figured as an aphoristic play of opposites: sills/locks, sun/cloud, entrances/barriers, attention/inattention, waking/sleeping – or a day fighting with the events it contains. An ethics lab, the poems experiment with endless permutation, testing proportions of shadow to sun, drift to wariness, hide to seek.

When one extreme is reached, dissatisfaction with the new status quo begins an oscillation back. Often, identity wants to extract itself from the play of differences. Consciousness hides in darkness, seeking density and heavy, weighted being: “with our attempts at understanding, whose monotony is scarring, graying itself up, with an inward, an outward, heaviness, of identity, of stillness”. But locking into one pattern eventually brings about suspicion and restlessness, limiting the flow from inside to out – fear of trapped inwardness seems to be one of the governing anxieties in Twenty-One After Days.

There may be no resting place or final victory, but, as the book progresses, a tonal shift does change the movement between states. Alternatives are seen differently: a vision developed that transforms a dreaded lassitude to calm, and an equally feared aggression to forward movement.

            “revealing in the trees, where light has splintered –
            enclosure, sun, or vein –“

Light can hide, radiate, or flow – all its changes of state become present to vision. The whole passage is a key moment for this perspective:

                                        “as identity fastens – loosely –

            onto those we love and whom we echo – in absence –

                                loneliness settles –

                    revealing in the trees, where light has splintered –

                            enclosure, sun, or vein –

                    severance of each thing –

                                    or “A LIFE, and nothing else” –

Identity is displaced, but into a secure zone. It takes identity brought outside, fastened onto “those we love and whom we echo,” to quiet the demands of personality and settle loneliness. Such a viewpoint equalizes calm and flux. They become twinned aspects of a single theory: flux in motion, sweeping traits along; calm as a balanced equation, a creature’s exchange with its environment.

The contradictions in this work sum up, through the language of paradox, a desired state of equilibrium – “unloosened”, fixed yet mobile. But this equilibrium cannot be found within the self. Breathing space must be opened up “within another’s chamber”:

            “The space could be protective,
            perceived in steps,

            and never-ending.
            Or with an end
            that nonetheless will spill

            in the direction
            of a cloud
            and a river.”

There’s no triumphant, sewn-up ending for Twenty-One After Days:

“Where is the excitement? All enveloping. Albeit in a field, with the dreariness of rain. A call flutters by, like waking.”

The pleasures of this book can encompass dreariness, as part of a consciousness willing to forego customary thrills in order to push beyond its own boundaries. It’s exciting to follow this voice into its contingent, mutable life – an emissary ranging far out of the first person.


LISA LUBASCH'S collections of poetry are Twenty-One After Days (Avec Books, 2006), To Tell the Lamp (Avec, 2004), Vicinities (Avec, 2001), and How Many More of Them Are You? (Avec, 1999), which received the Norma Farber First Book Award. She is the translator of Paul Éluard's A Moral Lesson (Green Integer Books) and with Olivier Brossard, works by Fabienne Courtade and Jean-Michel Espitallier, among others. Selections from How Many More of Them Are You? were translated into French in 2002 and appear as a chapbook in Un bureau sur l'Atlantique's Format Américain series. She lives in New York City.


LAUREN LEVIN grew up in New Orleans and now lives in Oakland, CA. Her poems appear in GutCult, Shampoo, dusie, Word/For Word, and MiPOesias, and are forthcoming in the tiny and Mrs. Maybe. Your Beeswax Press published her chapbook Adventures in spring of 2004.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

NEW ARRIVALS: CutBank 66: Prose & CutBank 63/64

We are pleased to announce the simultaneous arrival of two issues of CutBank Literary Magazine: CutBank 66: Prose and CutBank 63/64, from the University of Montana, here in Missoula.

CutBank 66: Prose, edited by Sarah Aswell and Elisabeth Benjamin, features

the fiction of Steve Almond, Jenny Dunning, Josh Emmons, W. Tsung-Yan Kwong, Shena McAuliffe, VIncent Precht, Joe B. Sills, and Kellie Wells; the nonfiction of William J. Cobb; an interview with Jim Shephard; and portraits by Joel Sager

CutBank 63/64, long-belated, and originally scheduled for a Summer 2005 release, features

the poetry of Carl Adamshick, Britta Ameel, Adam Clay, Lisa Fishman, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Erika Howsare & Jen Tynes, Quinn Latimer, Mark Levine, Cate Marvin, Orlando Richardo Menes, Jonathan Minton, Sawako Nakayasu, Kathleen Peirce, and Zachary Schomburg; the prose of Donald Anderson, Jacob Appel, Michael FitzGerald, and Matthew Scott Healey; interviews with Diana Abu-Jaber and Emily Wilson; and artwork by Eben Goff

Copies are available for USD $10.00, or both for USD $18.00. Checks can be made payable to “CutBank” and sent to: CutBank, Attn: Orders, Department of English, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812.

Copies of CutBank Poetry 65 are still available. Please follow the link to the right for additional info.

For more information, please email

Thanks very much. We hope you will all have a look.


The Editors
CutBank Literary Magazine
Missoula, Montana

Friday, September 22, 2006

HOUNDS by Alli Warren

Reviewed by Adam Golaski

Loathe to claim to know another author’s influence(s) only by reading a small crowd of their poems—influence is peculiar and greasy—I opened Alli Warren’s HOUNDS and saw Oppen. George Oppen’s second book of poems, written after a self-imposed exile from poetry (and other things) is The Materials, and “The Materials” is the in-bold title of the first (definite) poem in HOUNDS. Then there’s the subtitle—“A Face Suggests” (italic)—and I thought of the Oppen lines “The face of art// Carpenter, plunge and drip in the sea      Art’s face/ We know that face” from “Some San Francisco Poems” (#7). Warren’s “The Matarials” begins:

      At the doors parted
      toward the shore
            “both oceans vied
      for my heart and the Pacific
            one won”

The lines she encloses in quotes “both oceans…”—she does not attribute her quotes, a familiar device that I quite like, and so we are asked to wonder: a quote from another text?; an overheard and so found line?; or a spoken/pronounced statement made by Warren? All possibilities. The line could be from Oppen—certainly it describes Oppen’s route from one ocean (Atlantic) to another. Alli Warren lives in San Francisco—born there, raised there, I don’t know. But she lives there now, and even if she doesn’t like San Francisco, the city informs her work and HOUNDS specifically (and I think she likes SF).

Uh, let me page back, before we get to the second poem in Hounds, the first of the RIPCORD series.

Before “The Materials,” which I automatically treated as the first poem of HOUNDS, and instead of or as a dedication, Warren wrote: “To be/ tongue sung/ at the forks.” What is this bit of text, this preface?: instructions on how to read the book (these poems are to be sung. At a fork in the road. With a forked tongue. These poems lie. You must lie as you sing these poems. Etc.)? Or, these lines are a warning: Warren traffics in the inscrutable, she enjoys making phrases for the fun of how they sound and look, and she wants you to pleasure in speaking them aloud (make your mouth move). Also: Warren has a sense of book.

HOUNDS is a book not in that accidental way some books are made, i.e. a poet makes a gang out of whatever poems they’ve written lately. The HOUNDS poems are better connected. The first and most obvious connection is that established by the title “RIPCORD.” The second poem in the book is “RIPCORD/ Half-Life” (the slash is not part of the title; the title is RIPCORD, new line, Half-Life, in italics). Then, six poems later, is “RIPCORD/ Nightstick,” “RIPCORD,” and finally “RIPCORD/ Advice for Foreigners.” The last three RIPCORD pieces run one after another/into one another. The first three “RIPCORD” poems end with the suggestion of something more to come: “Half-Life” ends, “Sincerely yours,” without a signature; “Nightstick” and “RIPCORD” end with a dash—. And then the last RIPCORD poem, “Advice for Foreigners,” finishes hard:

      the arena around a face
      Impale them on a fence

No period, but who needs one after “they” have been impaled on a fence? Tho this may be only a happy accident, a result of pagination, those two lines appear on their own page, adding to their impact. I hope that when Warren’s chapbooks are collected into her first book (ala Laura Sims’ Practice, Restraint), her editors will give those two lines similar space.

Warren connects her poems in less immediately apparent ways. She threads two of her poems together by using a similar phrase in both. In the poem, “To Those That Would Deny Poetry” is the line, “Or, Go You Graphs of Trade” and in “Area Handbook for Peripheral Support” is the line, “O Go You Graphs of Trade.” Another, similar device for drawing a line from one poem to another is Warren’s use of the trademark™—she writes, in “Requiem for United States of Undead,” “Roots are the new steel™” and then in “RIPCORD/ Nightstick” she writes, “This Poem’s For You™.” Yes, the joke that is “This Poem’s For You™” isn’t brilliant, at least not when I tug it out of context, but “Roots are the new steel™” is interesting, and that’s tugged out of context, AND, “This Poem’s For You™” appears in a poem I particularly like:

“RIPCORD/Nightstick” is broken into several parts, but not with heavy numbers or dancing stars, rather with dots, dots no larger than bolded periods, dots so small that if you’re reading under early morning natural light you’ll try to brush them from the page, dots so small that if you’re reading under a dirty yellow lamp you’ll try to squish them quickly before they move to your pillow. I like this anti-ostentatious way of breaking sections—these are not just stanzas, but they’re like stanzas. The poem begins:

      “Into her quick weak heat”
      up the escape (fire) in rain
      soaked thus I arrive you
      arrive It’s spring, we fuck
      stanzas from “propagate” to
      “vein,” stanzas afoot
      noted Walking around talking
      I check into the Ranch to see
      what poets in Iraq are up to these days
      —“liminal space”—no doubt
      unsure I was scared you were
      scared, those that sear skin
      good morning skin being done to
      This Poem’s For You™

and then beneath the word This appears that little dot. In this opening Warren is crude and funny. I couldn’t help but remember some very earnest poets saying to me that they were interested in “liminal space” which is to say “that which is barely perceptible” or “a sensory threshold” or borders. Coupled with the previous line, liminal space becomes an even more hilarious phrase than it was when those earnest poets used it to describe their work. Hilarious why? Because it’s saying I like to write about twilight, the seashore, the moment before I’m fully awake and in the context Warren gives us, i.e. Iraq, it sounds a bit like saying: “let them eat cake.” And then, “This Poem’s For You™,” dismisses the opening part of “RIPCORD/Nightstick” simply, swiftly, and lets us move into the next part of the poem fresh and maybe a little (a little) but more seriously:

      To be included or taken
      aback—violent maps
      of sad sound—“getting a grasp on”
      just blew me off
      “a frustrating” collective
      biding sense of time

and then beneath the word biding appears another little dot.

There is nothing obvious (like a poet’s interest in liminal space) about HOUNDS.

Pleasing, in HOUNDS, are the passages that are simply lovely violent maps of sad sound.

The poem, “Unitarian,” dedicated “for Robert Creeley,” does not look like a Creeley poem (which was a relief. When I saw, “for Robert Creeley,” I fearfully wondered if a writing exercise had been plunked into the middle of HOUNDS, but… No). However, “Unitarian” does conclude with a stanza that might have been Creeley’s, and it is Warren being direct: “There was/ an ant/ on the table/ I put out/ the light with/ a small finger.” HOUNDS is so often obfuscating, when Warren does write directly it is more significant than if she were always (desperately) clinging to sincerity.

There’s only one poem in HOUNDS I don’t like, “Body of Work,” which looks like—is meant to, I’m sure—a table of contents or a list of book titles. And even this poem that I don’t like ends pretty well:

      And The Brambles
      Are All About
      The Back
      And The Neck
      And The Knees

And, of course, “Body of Work” doesn’t hurt HOUNDS; I’ve even read it as a transition into the end of the book, a false section head, of sorts.

Alli Warren maintains a blog, The Ingredient, which is a blend of text that reads like fragments of Alli Warren poems, fragments of a diary belonging not necessarily to Alli Warren, and miscellany, junk Alli Warren finds amusing, such as a link to a “Free Poetry Contest… (Your poem must fit entirely in the box below to be eligible for the contest).” Also on her blog are links, some which reveal a little bit about Alli Warren, such as the link to; some to pubs that’ve published Alli Warren, such as How2 and Shampoo (Issue 23); some to presses; many to other blogs; a link some of her photos; and finally a link to a PDF of a 2004 chapbook, Yoke. Go ahead and read Yoke, there’s much to like, but Yoke is much more conventional than HOUNDS. Yoke isn’t as good.

Published the same year as Yoke, by the way, was SCHEMA, by a HousePress (not the HousePress located in Buffalo, but a mysterious other HousePress, possibly located in Oakland). So, by the way, because I haven’t read it.

You know, I’ll also mention: Alli Warren signed my copy of HOUNDS, I dunno, she likely signs every copy, or signed, in an orgy of signing, every copy, but what she wrote is mysterious (and therefore interesting) to me: “yrs ADub.” (the period is hers). (Let me note the yrs, so Creeley, another influence, probably, but, you know.) This, “yrs ADub.” appears below her printed name: “Alli Warren” and above a publication date: “Spring 2005.” It’s almost as if she signed a letter, but signed it with my name, “yrs ADub” = Yours, Adam.

Let me tie my review up neatly: any trigger for rereading George Oppen is fine by me. I reread Oppen’s The Materials and Seascape: Needle’s Eye because of HOUNDS.

But that is not the only reason why HOUNDS is good.


ALLI WARREN grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She is the author of the chapbooks Schema, Yoke, and, most recently, Hounds.


ADAM GOLASKI is co-editor of Flim Forum, a new poetry press, and co-editor of New Genre, a literary journal devoted to horror and science fiction. Most recently, he's had work in McSweeney's and Conjunctions (Web). Two essays, one about the Canadian radio series Nightfall, the other about the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, will appear in upcoming issues of All Hallows.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Susceptible of Measurement: Sawako Nakayasu's nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she

Quale Press, 2006

Reviewed by Paul Klinger

Sawako Nakayasu’s second book, nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she, raises questions about the subtler ways that language manages the problems of sizing our perceptions. Proportion, scale, scope, distance are all peripheral concerns that radiate from the book’s central concept of geography:

takes a good look at food as the marker of geography, time a
geography, weight a geography, the color of her own voice even
further tied to geography—dislocates in order to make color, to
skew time, to let things sink in

It’s an expansive concept; even the physical circumstances of articulating words fall under its banner as Nakayasu writes: “delivers words according to geography—long letters with more / distance, short bursts to an ear, distance of a turn of the head.” The idea of dislocated geographies shows up repeatedly, as the narrator often speaks through her shoulder. This interest in the utterance of words, the shape of the mouth, and the original site of sound make certain that geography, as it pertains to voice, covers much more than the regionally measured premise of dialect.

Continually, Nakayasu challenges the assumption of measurement as a fixed unit. If you treat the poem as a flipbook, you will see that no spatial arrangement carries through the whole poem. This motion arrested, Nakayasu finds “liberty to stay, put.” Ultimately, the book frames “staying” as an act that runs counter to sizing language, which could be interpreted as transgressive in its scaling (up/down) motivations:

stays, and stay persistently—regardless of which solution, solutions,
or lack thereof—finds the solution not in any solution or
some lovely overrated bout of clarity, but in the fact and the
unmistakable act of her staying—questions of sustainability aside

The idea is striking but exceeded by Nakayasu’s observations of the geographical problems themselves. Notice how the following meditation opens by slipping:

shies away from insects, forgetting all politics and ideology—the
smaller the more insidious the faster the more fearsome—a fifty-
gallon garbage can for a milligram of sect

Here, Nakayasu translates a psychological reaction into a problem of size (containment). It happens elsewhere in the book, particularly noticeable in a passage that follows Steinian techniques of observation: “asks a question in the form of a city—as a preface to a serious / question, as if trying to be convincing.” This same passage ends with the apposition, “recoil of geography,” linking the motive behind this disguised interrogation to the reaction that shows up in the “sects” paragraph and in an interesting coffee exchange: “asks for the wrong kind of coffee in not that kind of place—layers / of explanation simply to get to the real questions.” In this last scenario, the site becomes inadequate because it is not large enough to offer the right kind of coffee, another form of “recoil” that unsettles the poet’s idea of language’s measure.

Incongruities and retrofittings provide Nakayasu with her comic material. The book’s keen social observations seem a natural extension of its own balance and ratio, qualities which grow out of the book’s catalogue form and the rhythm that structure affords. It’s a rhythm easily tilted when Nakayasu breaks habit and doubles something, such as adverbs in the line “desperately inhaling deeply via a cigarette.” The adverbs push for notice, but sitting the preposition “via” next to cigarette demonstrates how finely attuned Nakayasu is to the determinative role size assumes in our daily communications. Here, the improbability of this usage reminds us of several assumptions surrounding the scope of “via” and provides a pretty sharp jab at the cycling rhythm of the poem, a moment of self-consciousness that feels like the poet coming up for air.
Similar attention is devoted to what could be called underdeveloped language. Nakayasu leaves the insufficiency of certain descriptions to whip up awkward moments that fold under questioning, such as when the poet offers this little puzzler: “follows a bird until she is too short.” The clause reveals something central to writing’s efforts to grapple with motion, in this case, transforming the subject’s height to accommodate a change in perspective as well as the spatial relationship to the object. The willingness, on the part of the writer, to recede into this kind of under-statement presents itself delicately, without flourish.

The same proves true when Nakayasu writes: “asking for intimacy now / please really, barking in the wrong forest,” although this time, idiom is the target. The pluralized form of “barking up the wrong tree” demonstrates how rigid jargon can be, as recognition of the original saying threatens to disappear after the slightest transformation to its grammar. The wonderful irony underlying Nakayasu’s gesture is that “intimacy” sought for is nullified by an attempt to resize a stylized expression into something more idiosyncratic.

After reading the book’s back cover, you might be surprised to find it labeled as Prose Poetry (its own fifty-gallon garbage can for sect). Such a label seems at odds with the book’s success as a “moving target of timing and geography.” The contradiction apparent in Nakayasu’s espousal of both moving and staying sharpens through multiple readings as a self-confrontation set against a geography that’s encouragingly wide.


SAWAKO NAKAYASU was born in Yokohama, Japan, and has lived mostly in the United States since the age of six. An excerpt from nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she was first published as an e-Faux chapbook. Other publications include So we have been given time Or, (Verse, 2004) and Clutch (Tinfish chapbook, 2004). She edits Factorial, as well as the translation section for How2. Check her website for more info.


PAUL KLINGER was born in Baytown, Texas. He is a member of Tucson's POG Collective. Some of his poems can be read at Dusie, hutt, and Snorkel. He is now at work on a website called White Buildings and an erasure of P.J. Bailey's "Festus." Check out his blog, Sea Quills, here.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Body of the World by Sam Taylor

Ausable Press, 2006

Reviewed by D. Antwan Stewart

Within the past two years alone I have encountered a number of first-book collections that suggest a flourishing talent of younger American poets: namely Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa, Randall Mann’s Complaint in the Garden, and Richard Siken’s Crush are collections that caught my attention. Of this emerging talent, Sam Taylor’s Body of the World is the latest in this boy’s club list of new American poetry. Taylor writes in the poem “Walking”:

          Perhaps because I ordered the vegetarian meal, or
      because I didn’t
          bring my seat all the way to the upright position,

          the plane drops me off on a landscape of clouds,
      white kneaded
            mountains full of yeast and sunlight . . . (70)

These lines suggest that the desire to reconcile the human condition with the mechanics of the natural world is, indeed, a quandary we all face. Taylor’s collection is brimming with such speculations. As reader, one inhabits the speaker’s skin, and, what is best, one arrives from such experiences better informed of the world (s) revolving around us because Taylor reuses to undermine the human condition within the matrices of the physical world. It is the opposite that is true. There are no pretentious contexts or subtexts for the ways in which the physical body interacts with the physical world, but there is the understanding that one must recognize each are inextricably bound, one to the other. This makes for marvelous verse because, also, Taylor does not posture as a poet of discursive rhetoric, philosophizing in the existentialist vein in order to extrapolate what so much philosophical verse has told us already. “I am past all that,” Taylor writes.

Taylor’s project in these verses is to consider: “Where is the doorway into this impure world?” (72). It is not a world that is impure due to some grudge Taylor is carrying, but impure in the sense that nothing of this world is easily comprehensible. More importantly, Taylor desires access to this world. He will not consider becoming a vain seeker of glory (“The Gospel of J”). Of course, to seek such a place where one is pitted against the undesirable is another of those quandaries that Taylor suggests is inevitably human. “The Undressing Room,” for example, gives one access to one of the many doorways to the impure world:

      . . . And maybe there never really is
      a reason
      to sing

      even in the arms of our beloved, wife or husband,
      even when we’re licking
      a coconut sno-cone or chocolate torte,
      walking into a movie with our popcorn
            or driving, window-sealed, through the poor
            side of town, where a black girl turns

      and slaps us with a look (57)

The quotidian experience of watching a movie is juxtaposed with the stark reality of a world fraught with racist tension because these are examples of two of the varying degrees of difference we, at once, suffer through and delight in everyday. Taylor does not convey a world such as this through rose-colored lenses because what would be the point? Again his assertion, “I am past all that,” becomes critical to our negotiating between the worlds of delight and despair that Taylor focuses our attentions.

In another poem, the final moments of “Human Geography,” Taylor writes:

      If we walk on from here, it will be without words
      that are meanings, only movements and pictures.
      Like a village that has taken what is essential.

      The hands that built those ovens are gone now
      which means they are in our hands now.
      Dig, build, pray. Do. Whatever you can with them (39).

Taylor’s collection is indeed a village where we must take what is essential. That is to say we take what is essential to circumnavigating around the inevitabilities of the physical world while maintaining the dignity of our naturally human inclinations. Taylor may have grimly prophesied a world in which words will lose their meanings, he has, fortunately for us, suggested that there are tools we may find to rebuild this world. There is hope that whatever it is we must do to rebuild (digging or praying) the body of the world, it will be a reconstruction that will both enlighten and exact a more formidable body.


SAM TAYLOR currently lives in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, where he teaches at UNM-Taos and caretakes a wilderness refuge. A graduate of Swarthmore College and a former Michener Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, he has published poems in numerous magazines, including Many Mountains Moving, AGNI, Midwest Quarterly, and Mid-American Review. He also writes non-fiction.


D. ANTWAN STEWART is a James A. Michener Fellow in poetry at the Michener Center for Writers. Also, he is the author of a chapbook, The Terribly Beautiful (Main Street Rag Press, 2006). Other poems appear or are forthcoming in Bloom Magazine, can we have our ball back?, Poet Lore, the Seattle Review, Pebble Lake Review, Lodestar Quarterly, New Millennium Writings, and others. He serves as poetry editor for Bat City Review.

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.