Rumi: A Love List of Lines

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It is an unusual experience to read the mystical poems of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi. I am — sitting in this park in Chicago, June 2016, a presidential election woefully underway, the sound of a siren and a boombox in the background, advertisements for technical athletic shoes flashing on my phone — a profoundly modern, Western reader. My knowledge of Sufism is cursory at best — I’m more inclined to know Madonna’s reading of Rumi (complete with El Cristo Redentor in the background, sure, why not), to have blasted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from my dorm room windows, or to have seen the Whirling Dervishes in a five minute segment — mixed in with scenes from Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Wailing Wall, and other holy sites — from Baraka, which came free with my DVD player (to be fair, I’ve also seen Whirling Dervishes live, and it is a sublime experience). . . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.

Book Review, “Because,” by Nina Lindsay

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There is an easy-going quality to the poems in Nina Lindsay’s Because that make this one of the friendliest books this reviewer has read in some time. Lush but clean, emotional but evenly wrought, engaging a diversity of styles over its five sections but with a voice that feels continuous and familiar, these are the sorts of poems one can fall into a deep absorption with. That is not to say that these are intellectually easy—indeed, it is the subtle peculiarities and soft surprises we find throughout that really propel us forward through these pages, and I can’t help but think that this would be an interesting book to teach in advanced courses, precisely because it is so unassuming.

Read the review at NewPages.

 

The Riches of Erasure: An Interview with Jenni B. Baker

When David Foster Wallace died in the fall of 2008, I was halfway through Infinite Jest. It was the Monday after — I walked into a coffee shop in the Loop in Chicago, about 7 AM, and I set my copy of the book down on the counter. The barista grimaced and said, “It’s so sad.” I didn’t know. That’s how I found out.

And I remember finishing the novel then. I remember the sense of urgency, as though it were evaporating there in my very hands, this three pound trade paperback with two bookmarks in it–one for the footnotes.

So when I happened upon Jenni B. Baker’s extraordinary erasure project–Erasing Infinitememories of that extremely unique and acute reading experience came flooding back. Crafting poems from each page of Infinite Jest–one at a time–this monumental project captures this sense of evaporation with remarkable force, giving us a profoundly new way of approaching the beloved text and, of course, of remembering its author.

But Erasing Infinite is but one of Baker’s many projects, which range from erasures of the Boy Scout Handbook to her OuLiPo chapbook to the journal she runs, The Found Poetry Review, all of which have secured her at the center of one of the most thriving communities of experimental poets. Looking at her work–which so often exquisitely balances play with serious inquiry–we can see just what sorts of possibilities erasure and other found forms have opened up. I recently had the chance to talk with her about these possibilities, about her different projects and the range they have helped lay out, and about how erasure sits in contemporary poetics. . . .

Read the interview and see some of Baker’s pieces at Michigan Quarterly 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

An interview about my book with Allison Peters

I was so thrilled to have this deep conversation with Allison Peters over at one my stomping grounds, Michigan Quarterly Review, about my book, The Refusal of Suitors. We talked about the book, the nature of the city, anxiety, lifecourse, and what it means to work and love. She chose wonderful lines and asked astonishing questions. Read the entire interview here. Here’s a quick clip of her introduction:

The lyric ruminations Ryo Yamaguchi offers in his debut book of poetry, The Refusal of Suitors (Noemi Press, 2015), sink deeper than the ink on the page—and they rise up higher than the oxygen masks in the overhead compartment of the plane I was on as I read this impressive first book for the first time.

The Refusal of Suitors is a collection of poems that speaks to the you who’s on a level you’re hardly aware of—to the you who’s under there, somewhere, wondering what it’s all for and how. Ryo’s words unfold like music, his language both sharp and soft, his poems altogether dreamy in their fleeting effervescence, like city lights blinking through city smoke. (“Ode #1” ends: “This is the boulevard smudged with vacancies.”)

Reading Ryo’s poetry, it’s as if trapdoors open to hidden heart-caves between the lines, each poem glowing like an intangible peach. The words summer, flowers,and memory echo throughout the collection, melodically painting “the anxiety of landscape” with a brush of precious promiselessness.

These poems take a chance at impermanent transcendence, and it’s worth it. “What we call the beginning,” Ryo writes in “Post,” “is really just / the first thing we have recorded.” The Refusal of Suitors exists now as its own kind of record, presenting an exciting debut for the poet.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ryo about his book. (Editor’s note: you may have already met Ryo via his essays for MQR.) We discussed poetry, philosophy, anxiety, cities, love, and dreams—and about his hopes for the future.

 

Sound and Light: A Quick Tour of Recorded Poetry Archives

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I’ve always found the idea of the archive startling. This is to distinguish the archive from the library in a crucial way—the archive being a preservation of ephemera: letters, ledgers, and other bureaucratic documents; marginalia, fragments, and chit-chat. This is in contrast to the library’s ordered rows of lovingly bound volumes, objects materially and commercially deemed memorable, whose memory is automated by the machinery that distributed it in the first place. The archive is memory compelled, memory deliberated, held onto, preserved like a kind of wildlife—memory forced into being.

There is a politics to this, but there is also an aesthetics—the after-effect of the force of the archive is a kind of ghosting: it hints too uncannily at history reified, at history returned to the present. The voice is physically indexed, it leaves a residue in a way it simply can’t in the ordination of the library. Nowhere can one feel this than in the archives of poetry read aloud, that most ephemeral event. In this short post, I wanted to share some of the marvelous archives of poetry readings that are available. Perhaps many of these places will be familiar to you, but here they are gathered in one place, in a brief recognition of the important work put toward the preservation of the reading. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.

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.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Winter in Wallace Stevens’s “Farewell to Florida”

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Having consoled myself in damp pubs in London, creaked across frozen lakes in the deep freeze of Minnesota, and coughed my way through Philadelphian afternoons that could never decide between rain or sleet, I can tell you: there are many different kinds of cold. It’s something Wallace Stevens knew well. His poem, “The Snow Man,” is probably the most famous winter poem in modern poetry, laying before us a “distant glitter” and, within it, the full presence of winter’s unique nothingness. It’s a philosophically acute poem, five even tercets laid on the “same bare place” of Stevens’s singular thought. Many believe it captures winter in its absolute essence.

But Stevens wrote about winter in many exceptional poems. Today I want to talk about a quite different winter piece (really a seasonal/climate comparison), the opening poem of Ideas of Order, “Farewell to Florida.” It is far more expansive; it eschews austerity for something richer. It’s Stevens in a more playful mode, five sections of ten-line stanzas with a relatively straightforward conceit: leaving Key West and heading back to a wintry north. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review