Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Alaskaphrenia by Christine Hume

New Issues Press, 2004

Reviewed by Britta Ameel

There are 39 poems in Christine Hume’s Alaskaphrenia, 72 words between “language” and “landscape” in the Oxford English Dictionary, and Alaska is the 49th state at a latitude of 54° 40' N to 71° 50' N and a longitude 130° W to 173° E. Hume counts, maps, mines, names, explores, lists, categorizes as the surveyor of her Alaska-of-the-mind landscape. She surveys not only the literal landscape replete with bears and moose and ice caves, ocean, mountains, planes. Hume surveys the “poetic” language meant to arrange our uncontrollable internal states, our Alaska on the inside, where we “will be a bellwether bomber, you dream-bomb the last place: a dogsled dream, campfire dream, pioneer dream, pioneer, lynx, lynx, lynx.”

This surveyed Alaskan consciousness is under-punctuated, grammatically wild, written on scraps of paper edged with fire and water, folded several hundred times to fit in a pocket. Hume has “adopted an Alaskan ear long before; with it, it’s not unusual to hear from inside the hammer: stampeded terrain, yea, avalanche.” The inside of this hammer sounds, indeed, like avalanche: words shape-shift and metaphors crumble under sound:

             “Under these circulations
             You could not wear cirrus the way cows do

             Always your mange meant to be smoke
                      molting, moonglow”

This associational, sound-driven logic (lynx, lynx, lynx) powers the surveyor’s 4x4, which explores the transformative nature of consciousness. This particular Alaskan consciousness is ultimately poetic, circular, fractured, though reliant on prosaic and instructional structures: documents like brochures, diagrams, comprehension questions; indices, instructions, explanations, translations, dialogues, do’s and don’ts. These are the maps pinned under otherwise confounding experience, and Hume instructs: “If you cannot work the Eskimo yo-yo, you must walk around and create a map inside your muscles. There, a secret heat makes air remember birds. In their flight, your absurd hands go to seed. Only the other day your pacing made something stop sleeping; it made nowhere a shook-out place.” And again: “Never let what you think fool you.”

The parallel Hume draws between the surveyor’s language and poetic language feels at every turn right for complicated consciousness. Yet, what startles most is the fact that both languages are essentially inaccurate, and indeed almost violate the very areas and emotions they are meant to represent. Hume’s act of surveying, though, exposes the rich veins of landscape and mind, which, though perhaps inaccurate, are made once again original and exquisite. This reader wouldn’t want it any other way, for Hume has

             “…outened the world
             to show you real barenness:
             a void a light
             warps into want and then wants
             until it warps all it glances.”

Warp away, Hume, we’re with you on this expedition, counting as we go.


CHRISTINE HUME is the author of Musca Domestica (Beacon Press, 2000), winner of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize, and Alaskaphrenia (New Issues, 2004), winner of the Green Rose Award. Her reviews and critical work has been published in American Women Poets in the 21st Century (Wesleyan UP, 2002), American Letters & Commentary, Chicago Review, Context, Verse, and online for Constant Critic/Fence, How2, and Slope. The Colorado Council on the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Fund for Poetry, and the Wurlitzer Foundation have awarded her fellowships and grants.


BRITTA AMEEL has lived most of her life west of the continental divide. Her current stint in Ann Arbor, where she teaches and writes at the University of Michigan, makes her miss the mountains and the ocean. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in em, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Fugue.

Fascicle 2, Winter 05/06

You are invited to check out the second issue of Fascicle, an online journal that focuses on a global and historical view of innovative poetry. Included in its 400+ pages:

* A portfolio of new poems from China edited by Zhang Er, from the forthcoming Talisman Anthology of Chinese poetry. Focusing on poets born since 1960, this portfolio also features some of the most interesting contemporary poets as contributing translators, including Charles Borkhuis, Caroline Crumpacker, Mark Wallace, Rachel Levitsky and Joseph Donahue.

* A supplement to Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery's Imagining Language (MIT Press 1998), one of the most fascinating and distinctive anthologies of recent memory. The supplement, compiled by Tony Tost, includes an interview with Jed Rasula, as well as poetry, prose and art by Ronald Johnson, Kurt Schwitters, Andre Breton, Edna Sarah Beardsley, Jacob Boehme, Eugene Jolas and others.

* A selection of new collaborative work by Lyn Hejinian & Anne Tardos, Aaron McCollough & Kent Johnson, Geraldine Monk & John Donne, Hank Lazer & Pak, Brian Howe & Marcus Slease, among others.

* Critical essays and prose, including Lisa Jarnot on Robert Duncan; Tom Orange on Clark Coolidge; Dodie Bellamy on Narrative & Body Language; Laura Moriarty on A Tonalist Thinking; Clayton Eshleman on Hart Crane, Andrew Joron & Jeff Clark; Stan Mir on Brian Kim Stefans; Nate Pritts on Robert Penn Warren; Graham Foust on Poetry's Neighborly Enemy Mind; Morgan Lucas Schuldt on Harryette Mullen; and more.

* Peter Cole interviewed by Leonard Schwartz.

* Visual work by Anne Tardos, Buck Downs, Cathy Eisenhower, and Michael Winkler.

* Plays by Chris Vitiello and Andrew Schelling.

* Translations of Francis Ponge (tr. Serge Gavronsky), Laura Solórzano (tr. Jen Hofer), Ernst Herbeck (tr. Gary Sullivan), Bertolt Brecht (tr. Pauline Fan), Andrea Zanzotto (tr. Wayne Chambliss), Hans Thill (tr. Tony Frazer), among others.

* Poetry and prose by Andrew Joron, Laura Moriarty, Lee Ann Brown, Stephanie Young, Rodrigo Toscano, Brenda Coultas, JL Jacobs, Mary Burger, Carl Martin, Matthew Henriksen, Brenda Iijima, Mairead Byrne, Lance Phillips, and many others.

Hope you'll enjoy!


Tony Tost, editor
Chris Vitiello, Ken Rumble, Brent Cunningham, contributing editors

GutCult Winter 2006

The new issue of GutCult is up, containing work by:

Donald Revell, Isaac Sullivan, Catherine Theis, Janet Holmes, Jared Stanley, Kent Johnson, Kathleen Peterson, Robert Strong, Lauren Levin, Broc Rossell, Jim Goar, Martin Corless-Smith, Nathan Parker, John Mercuri Dooley, Brandon Shimoda (a review of Stan Apps' Soft Hands), and Randall Williams (a review of Anna Eyre's Metaplastic)

This may well be the last issue based on zones of the calendar. In the future, look for a more open-ended set of "thematically"-based issues.

Aaron McCollough, editor

Monday, February 13, 2006

The First Composer: On Merwin's Migration: New and Selected Poems and Present Company

Copper Canyon Press, 2005

A review by Chris Dombrowski

“don’t lose your arrogance yet…/” Berryman famously tells a young Merwin, “you can do that when you’re older / lose it too soon and you may / merely replace it with vanity” (“Berryman”). Author of a stiflingly huge body of work - 24 books of poems, 22 translations, 7 prose books - and recipient of countless prizes including the Pulitzer and National Book Award, Merwin asserts with Migration that he has lost over the last half-century none of Berryman’s requisite boldness, and has found no room in his lines for vanity.

Although a practitioner of formal verse in his early years (Auden selected A Mask for Janus — only one poem from the volume is included in Migration — for the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1952) and linked with the Deep Image poets of the 70’s, Merwin, who said in a 1998 Paris Review interview that “writing is something I know little about,” is our indisputably campless master. Here are the first stanzas of two poems written fifty years apart:

             TO THE SOUL

             Is anyone there
             if so
             are you real
             either way are you
             one or several
             if the latter
             are you all at once
             or do you
             take turns not answering



             There will be the cough before the silence, then
             Expectation; and the hush of portent
             Must be welcomed by a diffident music
             Lisping and dividing its renewals;
             Shadows will lengthen and sway, and, casually
             As in a latitude of diversion
             Where growth is topiary, and the relaxed horizons
             Are accustomed to the trespass of surprise,
             One with the mask of Ignorance will appear
             Musing on the wind’s strange pregnancy.

The reader less familiar with Merwin’s work (he dispensed with poetic punctuation in 1963 stating later that he “wanted…the movement and lightness of the spoken word”) might wonder which of the poems was published during the Korean War, and which during the current U.S invasion of Iraq. It’s curious, anyway, to note how much “Dictum,” (1952) with its density, dialogism, and formalistic leanings, resembles a good deal of what’s popular in poetry today. “To The Soul,” (2005) on the other hand, with its curious, short-lined directness, recalls Neruda’s 1954 Odas Elementales, many of which Merwin translated.

Appearing in the “New Poems” section of Migration, “To the Soul” also shows up in the 134-page volume Present Company, a collection of addresses to people (“The Surgeon Kevin Lin”), objects (“Zbigniew Herbert’s Bicycle”), places (“That Stretch of Canal”), abstractions (“Lingering Regrets”), and other nouns. Limpid, void sometimes of images, open in their form, many of these intimate pieces show Merwin at his visionary best. But as Louise Gluck has said of her own process, “What begins as vision degenerates into mannerism,” and the rhetoric of address, even when delivered by one of our finest poets, begins to age after eighty pages or so. What the reader will likely find most enduring and endearing in these poems is their infinitely generous central-consciousness; they are, like so many of Merwin’s poems, offerings: “…I do / not know that anyone / else is waiting for these / words that I hoped might seem / as though they had occurred / to you and you would take / them with you as your own” (“Cover Note”).

At the heart of Merwin’s work is a pervading sense of connectedness—to an other, be it the reader, a lark, the light in September—that links it undeniably to prayer. But not prayer in the conventional Western sense which, as Merwin has stated “is usually construed as making a connection. I don’t think that connection has to be made; it’s already there. Poetry probably has to do with recognizing that connection.” The ease with which the poet realizes this link, both perceptively and prosodically (“if you find you no longer believe/ enlarge the temple”; “every moment/ arrive somewhere”) will remain one of his work’s many major feats.

Logistically, Migration’s major feat is its length; at 529 pages, it could have been much longer — the seminal Second Four Books of Poems, for instance, totaled 300 pages when originally published. As with all such massive collections, the reader inevitably reaches a point where the poem he’s reading begins to sound much like one he read a dozen pages previous. There are many occasions in Migration where the poet “look(s) up to see” or is found “at a bright window” where “all at once” something happens, but just when the reader thinks she has the poems’ endings—with their often winged- or shadow dappled-hush—pinned, Merwin surprises with something stabbingly ironic like this from “Questions to Tourists Stopped by a Pineapple Field”: “do you think there is a future in pineapple”.

“What survives of the artist,” Renoir said, “is the feeling he gives by means of objects,” and while Mewin’s objects—birds, light, stone walls, leaves, water, hills—appear recurrently, his range of emotion is limitless. With all its fluidity, grace, and fleetingness, Merwin’s poetry reminds us that it is, like the world it bows to, “always beginning as it goes” (“To This May”). In the brief “Memory of Spring” (originally published in The Carrier of Ladders and not included in Migration), Merwin hints at the privacy and devotion such a poetry requires of its maker: “The first composer/ could hear only what he could write”.


W.S. MERWIN was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. He has written many books of poems, prose, and translations. He has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets (of which he is now a Chancellor), the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and the Bollingen Prize in Poetry; most recently he has received the Governor's Award for Literature of the state of Hawaii, the Tanning Prize for mastery in the art of poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Merwin was recently awarded the 2005 National Book Award for Poetry for his collection Migration: New & Selected Poems.


CHRIS DOMBROWSKI’S work appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, Mid-American Review, Neo, Seneca Review, and others. He lives with his family in Missoula, Montana.

field stone by Catherine Kasper

Winnow Press, 2005

Reviewed by Jen Tynes

The stones that Catherine Kasper references in her epigraph seem solid, though illuminated, straight-shooters. But the stones that I imagine, reading these poems, are the stones of land-art: stones arranged in spirals, waves, undulating lines. In the first section of this book, minimal use of end punctuation contrasts with mostly-conventional sentence structure to create poems like snakes, stones, like waves. From “Unearthing”:

             Both boxes could fit in your hand at the same time
             tiny—but I imagine—heavy
             snakes curving in eights or lifting a cobra head
             In a glass case, Kohl sticks turn turquoise with age
             as miniature patoikos figures, green and bald

These poems are ekphrastic, of observance — of foreign places, other people, ways of being. The general “you” at the beginning of “Unearthing” becomes more specific and mysterious later in the poem: “something you meant once / like migraine flashes—“ and “I though I had lost you.” In the first fourteen poems of “Blueprints of the City,” a you that flickers between general and specific turns suddenly into “we,” and the change is explosive. These poems say “from other places we could imagine ourselves anywhere” and “in line for a single hour we notice the white imperfections in our fingernails” and “there is a game of distance played between two people.”

There are collections in these poems — museums, objects from nature, colors of paint and the further objects they resemble. The collections, like collections of stones, become guides, pathways along the “distance...between two people.” These pathways are bridges, they are equally uniting and dividing: they hold a tension between them. When, in the third section of the book, the speaker of “Number 1: Another Sunday” says “I wanted something/ more monastic” it’s the want that resonates, the outside that crackles.


CATHERINE KASPER is the author of Optical Projections, a chapbook of short stories (Obscure Publications, 2004). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in numerous journals and anthologies including The Ohio Review, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, Leviathan and Is This Forever or What? (Greenwillow/Harper Collins, 2004). Her awards include a PEN Texas Award and AWP Intro Award, and a Writer's League of Texas fellowship. She is presently an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


lives in Providence, Rhode Island and edits Horse Less Press. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, No Tell Motel, DIAGRAM and H_NGM_N. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The End of Rude Handles, will be available from Red Morning Press in early 2006.

Monday, February 06, 2006


After many months of sweat and tears, TYPO 7 is alive.

Curated by Johannes Göransson, this issue highlights Modern Swedish Poetry and features the work of:


We hope you enjoy.

--TYPO eds.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Introducing WAVE BOOKS

Dear Friends of Verse Press and Wave Books,

As you may know, in 2005 Verse Press joined forces with Wave Books, taking on a new name and additional staff and resources. Continuing the mission of Verse Press, Wave Books will publish the best in contemporary poetry and bring that work to audiences across the country. Read more about our upcoming titles and current books, find author events, and much more at our new website:


In lieu of the Verse Prize, Wave Books will hold a yearly reading period each February. Please see complete submission guidelines on wavepoetry.com.

Read more about these Fall titles from Verse Press and purchase them at wavepoetry.com:


Joe Wenderoth's first book since Letters to Wendy's is now here!

The Holy Spirit of Life: Essays Written for John Ashcroft's Secret Self by Joe Wenderoth

Joe's outrageous premises and piercing insights are again put to work on subjects including poetry, pornography, politics, drinking games, religion, and various other forms of transcendence . . . Publishers Weekly calls it "disorientingly smart and funny."


leadbelly: poems by Tyehimba Jess

Winner of the National Poetry Series (selected by Brigit Pegeen Kelly)


Water’s Leaves and Other Poems by Geoffrey Nutter

Winner of the 2004 Verse Prize


Wave Books will release its debut season of books in Spring 2006, including new work by Joshua Beckman, Noelle Kocot, Anthony McCann, and Mary Ruefle. Look for our upcoming announcement of these titles as soon as they’re released.

Friday, February 03, 2006

APOSTROPHE BOOKS: Call for Manuscripts

We are interested in writing that expands the potential definitions of poetry. With this in mind, we actively seek work that investigates language, and consciousness in language, in innovative and/or subversive ways. APOSTROPHE strives to publish work that complicates and challenges the idea of a "well-crafted" poem by disclosing its own operations and undermining presumptions about what actually constitutes a poem. This means we are pursuing writing that challenges the categories and generic distinctions most often associated with poetry. The editors find poetic writing that intersects theory, philosophy, cultural studies, and/or pataphysics to be especially compelling.

We are currently accepting manuscripts. Please send ONE book length manuscript (48 pages or more) to each address below:

Richard Greenfield
104 Poplar Hill Ext.
Johnson City, TN 37604

Mark Tursi
66 Lenox Ave.
East Stroudsburg, PA 18301

DEADLINE to submit: April 1st, 2006

Manuscripts will be chosen by mid-June and you will be notified shortly after. Please include an SASE, an email address and/or a phone number. Manuscripts will not be returned, so please do not send your only copy. Electronic submissions will not be accepted.

For more information, visit the website at: apostrophebooks.org