Review Essay: Thomas Hummel’s “Letters & Buildings” and the Pleasures of Difficult Poetry

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I love difficult poetry. It challenges reading itself as an endeavor and, thereby, meaning-making, imagination, voice, mood, psyche, even politics. And it can do so in an astonishing diversity of ways. One might, in fact, offer a typology of difficult poetry. Maybe a poem sends you over and over to the library, like Pound’s Cantos. Maybe it evades with an arrhythmia of syntax, like Berryman’s Dream Songs. Maybe it sloughs its lines off with seemingly little regard for a coherent sentiment, a voice of impulse and erasure, something like what John Ashbery does. Or maybe it simply overwhelms with language, with sound and light, like the poems of the wonderful contemporary poet, Joyelle McSweeney. The point is, difficult poems aren’t simply difficult; they are difficult in different kinds of ways.

And I’d like to argue that the poems in Thomas Hummel’s Letters & Buildings are difficult in one of the best kinds of ways, one that can elucidate why we ought ever to twist our faces over challenging lines.

Read the review essay at The Hairsplitter

What is Inside?: An Interview with Carrie Olivia Adams

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Carrie Olivia Adams is a poet as much of the line as what’s in-between them, and her newest book, Operating Theater, is no exception. A haunting drama of the liminality of the body, this dialogue-driven play-poem asks over and over one profound question:what is inside? Steeped in Victorian surgical manuals and medical X-rays, the voices here explore the tension between the mind and the body, between subject and other, asking how we can know, and from knowing, live together, in a house, or in a city.

I had a chance to ask Carrie a few questions about this book (and film her reading from a brief section). . .

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “Testament,” by G. C. Waldrep

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“The body as sculpture,” Testament—G. C. Waldrep’s book-length poem—begins, and with it we feel the steadying gesture that prefaces any great feat—fingers at one’s temples, eyes closed, the breath held. He goes on:

The body as sculpture. (Pageant, labyrinth.)
Wrapped like Central Park or Marin
in Christo’s silk, wiving into a future
of minerals and taffeta, hypocausts and gorse.
We have computers to calculate the rocket’s
rate of descent, its pure metaphor.

And we see right away what sort of virtuosity—one hundred and thirty pages of it—lies before us. . .

Read the review at NewPages

A review of my book! At Cleaver Magazine, by Johnny Payne

“This chaste book could be titled The Story of O. Ryo Yamaguchi rhapsodizes, if more quietly, in the mood of Keats when he exclaims “O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!”:

O machine, O accord, I no longer ask the things I need
not ask . . .

the slow atmosphere of story has refused too long

to seat my rhythms, and I
have refused to elaborate myself through its lines.

His drama of sensate consciousness is based on the refusal (ergo the title) to follow the suit of narrative poetry, in favor of the mind’s free play. Yet one may legitimately ask, as we sometimes do of historical novels, whether the writer courts anachronism or rather renews the proposition. In the case of Yamaguchi, the answer is complex. . .

Read the review at Cleaver Magazine.

Book Review, “Poems (1962–1997),” by Robert Lax

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These poems certainly elicit skepticism, but they are more than simple conceptual or design exercises. They have an oddly effective way of opening up. This is the sort of art you think you could easily make, but when you sit down to it, you make something of horribly poorer quality. Artful elimination requires a deeply tuned dedication, a kind of mental conditioning. This is how John Beer—former assistant to Lax and editor of this collection—roughly describes it in his wonderful introduction: during the writing of these poems, Lax led a spare, if not ascetic life on the Greek islands, handwriting notebooks worth of work—several poems a day—from which he would later select and typeset only the very best “worthy of preservation.”

Read the review at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review: “a/0,” by Laura Bylenok

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Hemmed in by questions, suspended over days that mete out incremental evidence, with an investigative protagonist alternating between the archive and the street, this little chapbook—a/0—is an exemplar of the detective genre. But it is so much stranger than most. One wants to say Pynchon or Murakami. No usual suspects here, and the universe is not what you think.

Read the review at NewPages.

On Riding SideSaddle*: An Interview with Eric Suzanne

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Riding SideSaddle* is not like most things you’ve read. On the surface it startles with its three-dimensionality—it’s not a spinebound book but a deck of cards, and you shuffle it before each reading. It’s a new, and wonderful, adventure each time, a story of outcasts, their caretaker, and the friendship and love they find with each other. It’s a story about the body and hybridity—based on the myth of Hermaphroditus—and it’s a story about magic and the slipperiness of categories.

Available in physical format from Springgun Press, it’s also available for free online at OddBooks, a reading platform written specifically around the novel and its randomizability. It’s also open-source—free to use, adapt, remix, and incorporate into other pieces. I talked with Eric Suzanne, the polymath visionary behind this project, about innovations with literary form as well as some of the issues—body, gender, friendship, memory—at work in the novel.

Read the entire interview at Michigan Quarterly Review.