An Act of Love from the Dream to Hamilton: Diana Hamilton’s “The Awful Truth”

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I have dreams, and when I do, I don’t really recognize myself in them. Or rather, I don’t recognize selfness. The self, I think, is abstracted in dream. The dream is the self exercised simply as a kind of form, a kind of play. I want to pose this to you directly. I’ll tell you that I am trapped in a building and the only way out is composition, my composing the world until it matches a verisimilitude, the sorts of things we remember reading and watching and walking around in. Familiarity is a kind of mastery, and it is at this point we must raise the question of being free.

Freedom is a small point distant but otherwise distinctly in sight in Diana Hamilton’s The Awful Truth, an odd, if you will, text by an exacting poet and writer and published in a handsome, unassuming volume from Golias Books. In it the beginning of freedom is dream. The very, very beginning. . . .

Read the review at Michigan Quarterly Review

Sweetmeats to Cure: Lionel Ziprin’s “Songs for Schizoid Siblings”

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Written in 1958 but given due packaging in a new book from Song Cave, Lionel Ziprin’s Songs for Schizoid Siblings are, at the simplest assessment, a historical oddity. They were even at the time of their composition. But their rhythms and psychological shape should be deeply familiar to most of us. Here is one example:

i had a friend.
i had a friend.
his name was pembrooke pete.

i had a friend.
i had a friend.
till he moved down the street.

Limericks! And songs, nursery rhymes, funny little catalogs, most of which roll out in the meters and rhyme schemes of our childhood. We might think the conceit is ironic, that these are excruciatingly hip — and hip they certainly are — but indulging oneself in these for more than a few minutes and one begins to perceive two distinct qualities to the poems of this three hundred page volume that bring them beyond mere curiosity. First, for as whimsical and wry as these pieces can be, they are also extraordinarily genuine. Second, they evince — both across and within the poems — a sophisticated layering of mystical pursuit, existential inquiry, and historical anxiety. These are, in short, real poems — more real than many.

Read the review at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “Violet Energy Ingots,” by Hoa Nguyen

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These are deeply personal, domestic poems, caught up in household activities, the nuances of partnership and parenthood, changing weather, and the day-to-day turbulences that make up the real terrain of our emotional lives: frustration with loved ones, appreciation for our children, fond but sometimes ambivalent remembrances of the past, and bitterness toward the entrenched injustices of our larger society.

Nguyen does not approach these subjects directly, however. Her poems seem to communicate outward from a subconscious that is organized by quantum probabilitiesof resonance and reference. They are messy, haphazard, and playful. They accrue obsessions—sonic and thematic tics—that come together with livewire resonance like the hum of an electric fence. . .

Read the review at The Boston Review

Book Review: “Come In Alone,” by Anslem Berrigan

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I hate to focus so much on form, but in this review of Anselm Berrigan’s Come In Alone, form will take center stage. Or more accurately: form will frame the way we encounter Berrigan’s electric and vocally driven sensibilities. Because the very first thing you will notice when you open this book is the simple but profoundly innovative design, which runs all of the text as a border around an otherwise empty page. (You can look at sample pages here at the publisher’s website.)

This format might initially strike readers as gimmicky, but for as much as we talk about the space between the lines, about emptiness as a conditioning feature of poetics, I’m surprised I’ve never really encountered (even in the worlds of concrete or visual poetry) this simply conceived but radically reorienting layout, which does so much to give emptiness its primacy. Berrigan’s poems immediately force the reader to confront this emptiness as a powerful aesthetic force, and that alone is worth attention.

What the poems do after that, though, is even richer. . .

Read the review at NewPages

Book Review: “Some Versions of the Ice”

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Reading the surrealist essays in Adam Tipps Weinstein’s Some Versions of the Ice, one is quick to make comparisons. The most obvious is to magical realist writers such as Jorge Luis Borges or Italo Calvino, but there are many other resonances. His essay “The False Pigeon: A History”—a fictional account of a natural history museum—reads like it dropped straight from the pages of George Saunders’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and the deceptively straightforward expositional tone that he employs throughout—which Michael Martone mentions in his wonderful blurb as a “hyper-rational empiricism [running] stoically and joyfully amok”—often echoes Lydia Davis.

These are, of course, imperfect comparisons, and any reader might have his or her own. If there is one comparison I would be steadfast to make, it’s to Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project for the way that it anchors itself in a sprawling and impressively synthesizing collection of quotes. In Weinstein’s case, these range from Aristotle to Agamben, a choice that Weinstein explains in his afterword with yet further quotations, notably from William Gass: that citation “is an attempt to use a phrase, a line, a paragraph, like a word, and lend it further uses, another identity, apart from the hometown it hails from.” He goes on to explain that his quotes can be “borrowed, quoted, misquoted, or appropriated.”

I belabor these side-points because they really cast the book’s central quality in stark relief: these are essays of extraordinarily convincing exposition and erudition—nearly rapturous in their historical, material, or textual analysis—yet we can never be fully certain what exactly is true and what is false. Weinstein slips so effortlessly between the real and the fantastic that we often don’t realize how mired in confabulation we are until it’s too late, until we have accepted his version of the world and really, in some ways, can’t mentally go back. . . .

Read the review at NewPages

Book Review: “The Animal Too Big to Kill,” by Shane McCrae

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A new era of civil rights protest is here. #BlackLivesMatter announces a new racial consciousness locked on highly public injustices, police violence caught on dash cam videos and decried on Twitter, weeks-long street demonstrations helicoptered over and fed into living rooms via live streams. With the muscular momentum of wider discord, It stomps a foot in the dirt, showing us the hard truth that racism in America is as strong as ever, a brutally systemic force, at once blunt and complex.

It is into this outraged public consciousness that Shane McCrae’s prodigious output of poems (four collections in the past five years) occurs and must be received. Read some of the titles of the present collection, The Animal Too Big to Kill, and this protest is confirmed — titles such as “What it Takes to Get the Attention of White Liberals” and “I Know It’s Hard For You to Believe You Still Benefit from Slavery,” which evidence a deep awareness of the context in which these poems will be read and gesture a distinct stance — one of provocation and protest — toward that context.

So it is surprising that such a collection would begin like this:

I haven’t Lord I haven’t You I have-
n’t praised enough You Lord although I with or would
With every poem praise you

Read the review at Bookslut

Small Press Snapshot: Timeless, Infinite Light

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Timeless, Infinite Light is a small poetry publisher based in Oakland, but to put it that way is to sap the force out of their astonishing vigor. They are a press of the dark matter of consciousness as a nexus between heritage and the glitter of possibility, of otherness as a radical force of nature blowing tenderly but insistently against the contemporary structures of power. Their “books are spells for unraveling capitalism,” as they put it themselves, and they “believe in the radical potential of collaborative, hybrid, and embodied writing.”

I have been in love with what has grown out of these ideas. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review: “Of Things,” by Michael Donhauser

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Michael Donhauser is an accomplished Austrian poet, essayist, and critic whose books date back nearly thirty years, but he is not widely known to English readers. It makes him a great candidate for Dichten—Burning Deck’s translation series, which brings this rich and varied collection, Of Things (first published in German nearly twenty years ago), to a needed new audience. It’s a dizzyingly varied work, finely translated by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron. It is philosophically poised but historically informed, personal, scientific, whimsical, and serious—showcasing a real rucksack of literary tools that Donhauser brings into the field with him to sketch, like the plein air painter, his subjects.

Read the review at NewPages.

 

Book Review: “The Father of the Arrow is the Thought,” by Christopher Deweese

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Don’t be confused by the title of Christopher Deweese’s The Father of the Arrow is the Thought—taken from a line by Paul Klee, it suggests poems that might be characterized by a singular trajectory, a martial swiftness that lands us with a wobbling after-strike in our target. And a cursory glance at the poems pretty much supports this—all of them take the form of relatively skinny columns that shoot with a severe straightness down the page. Indeed, we are going somewhere, and pretty fast. But a look at the rest of that Paul Klee quote gives us something which complicates this sense of motion: “How do I expand my reach? Over this river? This lake? That mountain?”

Read the review at NewPages

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