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LangstonHughes2

This is essay is divided into three parts. Part two will post on Wednesday, and part three on Friday.

 

          While many critics have noted the influence of blues and jazz on Langston Hughes’s poetry, little has been written about Hughes from a sound studies standpoint. His sonic landscapes not only chronicle Harlem from the 1920s to 1950s, but  also challenge the sonic color-line, specifically ideas from the Enlightenment Period about sound and logic, ideas that still persisted in the first half of the 20th Century, evident through early criticism of ragtime and jazz. In defending black music forms and using specific sounds in his work, including blues, jazz, and laughter, sounds of interwar and post-war Harlem, Hughes challenges 19th Century notions that only white speech is clear and reasoned and sounds unable to be pinned down, particularly sounds of the racialized Other, are purely emotional and non-logical; Hughes’s sonic landscapes also serve as a protest against racial segregation and a critique of American capitalism.

           Before addressing Hughes’s poetry and his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” it is important to give definition to the sonic color-line and understand some of the key ideas regarding sound from the Enlightenment Period that Hughes’s work reacts against, especially since such ideas still persisted just as Hughes’s career was beginning. The idea of the sonic color-line can be attributed to Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman’s work on sound studies, specifically her essays “The word and the sound: listening to the sonic colour-line in Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative” and “Splicing the Sonic Color-Line: Tony Schwartz Remixes Postwar Nueva York.” In her first essay, she notes that the sonic colour-line describes race through “aural signifiers as well as visual ones” (21). The racial etiquette of the 19th Century distinguished between white sounds and black sounds, and included aural behavior, such as musical tastes, public displays of emotion, vocal tones, and accents in speech (22). Furthermore, the dominant cultural of the time labeled black sounds as non-logical. Because the sounds did not conform to white European standards, they were considered non-logical, overly emotional, and wild.

           In her other essay, “Splicing the Sonic Color-Line,” Stoever-Ackerman notes that the idea of the sonic color-line stems from W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of the visual color-line in the Souls of Black Folks and his re-imagining of the color-line in Dusk of Dawn (65). She adds that we see race as well as hear it, and “sonic phenomena like vocal timbre, accents, and musical tones are racially coded, like skin color, hair texture, and clothing choices” (65).

           Stoever-Ackerman’s work points to several examples of the sonic color-line existing in the 19th Century, but it was also evident in early criticism of jazz and ragtime music, specifically the way critics linked the black music forms to wildness and nervousness. In Anne Shaw Faulkner’s 1921 essay “Does Jazz Put Sin in Syncopation?”, published in Ladies’ Home Journal, the author writes, “In almost every big industry where music has been instituted, it has been found necessary to discontinue jazz because of its demoralizing effect” (qtd. in Halliday 144-145). She adds that after the workers indulged in such music, there was an unsteadiness and unevenness to their work product.

          Other critics and record companies saw a distinction between jazz for a white audience and jazz for a black audience. Greg Goodale notes in his book Sonic Persuasion that record companies tried to manipulate Americans into categorizing music based on race and forced black bands to play “hot jazz” to cater to what they perceived to be the black sound (82-83). Hot jazz often had poor connotations and was frequently associated with drunkenness and sexual frenzy. These negative depictions of jazz, constructs of race, and ideas left over from the Enlightenment Period drew strong reactions from Hughes not only in his poetry, but also his manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” First published in 1926, the essay is critical of black poets that try to be white and avoid using black music forms. Hughes writes:

Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing ‘Water Boy,’ and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too (151).

The essay was published shortly after critic George S. Schuyler criticized Hughes in The Nation for his reliance on black music forms. Schuyler’s criticism echoes Counte Cullen’s review of Hughes’s debut poetry collection, The Weary Blues, for Opportunity in 1926. Though the review was generally favorable, Cullen was critical of Hughes for relying so much on jazz and blues.

Taken as a group the selections in this book seem one-sided to me. They tend to hurl the poet into the gaping pit that lies before all Negro writers, in the confines of which they become racial artists instead of artists pure and simple. There is too much emphasis here on strictly Negro themes; and this is probably an added reason for my coldness toward the jazz poems—they seem to set a too definite limit upon an already limited field (39).

To Hughes, however, jazz was a fundamental part of black life and essential to Harlem, what he labeled in the “Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain as “the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world” (150).

Hughes’s defense of jazz may have come because he realized jazz was a way for whites to transcend their racial identity and subvert negative constructs of black sound, thus realizing the music does not lead to hysteria or drunkenness. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, black jazz musicians played with white musicians in recording studios and in bars. In 1931, Louis Armstrong was arrested outside of a club in Los Angeles for smoking marijuana with white drummer Vic Berton (Goodale 83). It became more and more common to see integration on stage, even if major record companies tried to construct sound in terms of race and market to white and black audiences.

This integration is represented in Hughes’ 1926 poem “Harlem Night Club,” and like a lot of his other 1920s poems, it represents the optimism of the Harlem Renaissance that black art forms could be a way to transcend racial barriers, or more specifically a way for whites to enjoy black music forms and overcome racial constructs and identity.

Sleek black boys in a cabaret.

Jazz-band, jazz-band, ––

Play, play, PLAY!

Tomorrow…who knows?

Dance today!

White girls’ eyes

Call gay black boys.

Black boys’ lips

Grin jungle joys.

Dark brown girls

In blond men’s arms.

Jazz-band, jazz-band—

Sing Eve’s charms!

White ones, brown ones,

What do you know

About tomorrow

Where all paths go?

Jazz boys, jazz boys—

Play, PlAY , PLAY!

Tomorrow…. Is darkness.

Joy today!

  The poem presents a mixing of races, brought together by the jazz music, a scene that would have been common in the larger cities in the 1920s and 1930s. The “white girls’  eyes/Call gay black boys” while “Dark brown girls” dance “in blond men’s arms.” The speaker of the poem implores the jazz band to keep playing so racial barriers can be overcome and young whites can transcend racial identities, particularly the ideas that whites should not like this type of music, but the poem also poses the question “Tomorrow…who knows?”.  That question can be read two ways. Either the speaker believes that the jazz movement could lead to the erosion of racial barriers, or the speaker understands that once the music stops and once the listeners step outside, they will be re-introduced to racial constructs.  The later idea is more likely since the speaker admits in the final stanza, “Tomorrow…Is darkness/Joy today!.” For at least the moment, however, while the band keeps playing, racial barriers are non-existent and the whites realize that listening to this music has no negative effects.

Furthermore, the poem mirrors the syncopation of ragtime music and early jazz, employing syncopation so no regular meter or rhyme scheme is established. The opening stanza has a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-c-a. Two out of the lines in the stanza rhyme with nothing else, thus disrupting the pattern. Hughes does this throughout the rest of the poem as well, establishing what appears to be a rhyme scheme, before breaking it with one or two lines that do not adhere to the structure. In addition, Hughes changes the capitalization of the words “play” in the first and last stanza, also disrupting the rhythm. Like a lot of Hughes’s poems that employ music, his form mirrors the content.

Visit TheThe again on Wednesday for part two.

mordarling

 

mordarling

EXCESS AND ASCESIS: TWO FEMINIST VISIONARY POETS

VOW, BY KRISTINA MARIE DARLING

THE BLUE RENTAL, BY BARBARA MOR

____________________________________________________________

-“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

 Timothy 11 -12, The Bible, King James Version

-“Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque revenit.”

(“You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back”)”

 -Horace (65-8 BC), Epistles I.X.24

Kristina Marie Darling created a domestic drama that unfolds in white space, an emptiness surrounded by a commentary in the footnotes.  It is a text without text, a Beckett-ian “texts for nothing” literalized.  Barbara Mor created a panorama, a historico-politico-paleontological rant against collective and individual injustices.  It is written with chthonic excess, with Whitman-esque long poetic lines set amidst the painted landscapes of the American Southwest.  Both Mor and Darling represent visionary feminist poetics; one spare and skeletal; the other a surrealist logorrhea.

Vow is about a marriage.  Rendered in short lines and esoteric marginalia, the bride faces the slow reduction and negation of her identity.  Unlike Mor’s work, The Blue Rental, Kristina Marie Darling’s work isn’t a frontal assault on violent male idiocy and its institutional tentacles (the state, the military, the corporation, etc.).  Darling works through small meditations on relics and debris.  At the bottom of the page she writes,

“Our house burns with light.  He is a shattered window overlooking a desert.  I am smoldering in a field of dead poppies.”

The images are distinct but unrelated, images of light and “a shattered window” (fragmentation), followed by an image of fire and desensitization (“dead poppies” – even the poppies, the flower that yields opium and heroin, body-deadening intoxicants, are dead).

Another recurring image is a “scorched altar.”  Reading through the book, one has to piece together the narrative from the fragments and clues.  Could arson be a cause?  Who set it?  Is the fire a cleansing act like a forest fire?  Or was it set alight to cover-up criminal activities?  The white space creates narrative silence.  It refuses self-incrimination, but also self-expression.  In The Blue Rental, Mor reduces the entire patriarchal enterprise of marriage and reproduction to a dismissive biological assessment:

Sin at the Origin of Earthly Life my desire that

shapes Evolution becomes His Curse,& when did

they respect sex breeding females like cattle who

thinks his little 20 second squirt of sperm gives him

the right to own Humanity

(from Hypatia)

Mor catalogs crimes against women with brutal and explicit descriptions.  The repetition of rape and murder made commonplace.  In her poem Hypatia, she traces this back to the atrocities committed by Saint Cyril and his Parabolans, hired thugs reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s black-clad enforcers of religious morality.

Luckily The Blue Rental isn’t all horror and solemn rage.  Tiny flashes of humor leaven the otherwise dour proceedings.  In one poem she traces the history of a mining town in the Southwest.  The denizens desperately cling to a vision of middle-class propriety while a deep pit spews out various and sundry minerals, machines, and liquids.  While Mor’s intent is to give a David Lynch-ian nightmare patina to ecocidal damage, the poem reads like an episode of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale (itself owing much to David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, and Area 51).  If Thomas Pynchon has taught us anything, it’s that paranoia can be funny.  In another poem, three Mesoamerican goddesses end up working at Wal-Mart.  The unintentional humor make them no less profound or beautiful as poetic works.

“Once the bride enters, there’s no way out.” (Vow, “Appendix C: Misc. Fragments”).  Where Darling offers the reader bon mots and koans, verbal fragments suspended on the page surrounded by white space, Mor buries the reader in an avalanche of text, a chthonic mudslide of information, images, history, politics, broken bodies, and crime.  She gives us the American Southwest that negates the dominant patriarchal mythos of John Wayne, John Ford, and Western tropes.  This is the Southwest as overbearing capitalist force, seen by the female workers in the maquiladoras, the unending litany of murder victims that Roberto Bolaño writes about in 2666 (The Part about the Crimes).  Mor folds these crimes into a larger history of violence, rewinding the clock beyond the Conquistadors to the Hobbesian all-against-all of dinosaurs and trilobites.  While violence and consumption is an eternal verity, it is something all organisms do all the time, we humans have, in our short-sided attempt to rectify the ecocidal rape of the planet, erected artificial ideologies like vegetarianism and veganism.  While these puritanical dietary regimes offer the individual some modicum of moral superiority, it was John Maynard Keynes who said, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  The sad truth is that veganism is nothing but a prop to hold up one’s self worth.  And vegans being offended by the term “meatspace” comes across like an act of heroic self-delusion, akin to Christian Identity adherents who deny the Jewishness of Jeshua bin Miriam.

“I dream another me exists in the burning house, reading aloud from what I have written.  Broken glass.  A sad film.  The awkward silence.” (from Vow)

When they brought the horses i knew them   a crack in the

universe a fissure in mind look up the Milky Way divides the

sky into 2 hemispheres a brain 100,000,000,000 stars in

this brain a mythos in the sky  with a brain as mirrors  slow

transit of codes in the particulars of their eyes  they will say

they are not entertained by such discourse a memory where

they do not live or think they live  but the horse burst from rock

crevice in a sidewalk  all from Time returned little eohippus

dawn horse Dawn of mammals 53 million years Eocene in the

West   as their hands on cave walls opened mineral flesh and

it was there(30,000bce Aurignacian)evolutions later  and

all the beasts emergent from a stony hole or cavernous mind

dark and shining like night (from The Blue Rental)

Vow and The Blue Rental both act as visionary texts, railing against the nothingness that surrounds us and will eventually consume us.  Darling’s fragmentary meditation on marriage and domesticity literalizes St. Paul’s palaver for women to be silent and obedient.  Like a complementary text, Mor elucidates what St. Paul’s injunction has wrought upon women, civilization, and the planet.  Women treated like property or livestock or simply violated by men acting like predatory beasts.  Civilization turned into a free market capitalist frenzy to consume more and more, but with a belligerent ignorance at what constant growth and increased consumption mean in terms of limited resources and environmental damage.  And crunchy granola hippies chastising us to be simplistic and go off the grid (usually with unintentionally ironic Facebook updates) equally ignorant that a Noble Savage co-existing happily with Nature is just another myth White Patriarchy has erected.  While it may seem futile, at least Mor has the cojones to explicitly inventory the wrongs done by man against man, woman, and planet.  But it would be equally ignorant to chide Mor for not giving us solutions to the problems she points out.  The Blue Rental is a visionary collection of poetry, not a policy white paper.  Vow is visionary in its compactness and fragmentary distillation of marriage and domesticity, not an amicus brief on behalf of marriage equality.

These visionary poets need to be read, since their poetry needs to be experienced.  Both illustrate how words on a page can be a transformative experience.

whale of desire

 

 

WHALE OF DESIRE
BY MICAH TOWERY
REDUX CONSORTIUM, 2013
ISBN 978-0991152315

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’ve worked and corresponded with Micah Towery as a contributor to thethepoetry.com. It’s a cozy website that’s been kind enough to publish my rambling reviews, though I’ve only spoken with Micah through email or gchat. This wasn’t enough to preempt my reading of his debut collection Whale of Desire, and, since I am a poor follower of journals, I hadn’t come across any of his poetic work before this.

That said, I tore through this book, finishing it within a couple of hours despite the many re-readings and moments of reflection. Debuts are often meticulously crafted over a long time, but Towery’s is more than the best of a life lived until publication. It’s elegant, sharp, and balanced, a slim volume with no fear and no agenda. And in many ways the title, Whale of Desire, automatically encapsulates this, though it requires perusal beyond first blush.

This is a book of many desires and loves, affinities so vast that perhaps it can seem unwieldy. This title and the tribute to Melville are no accident: desire is a leviathan and easily obsessed over. Around desire so many other emotions eddy, but Towery doesn’t offer merely a swirling glut of emotion. His lines dance and crackle, his subjects both revered held accountable to magnification, his tone surreal but never disingenuous:

You leviathan—

laughing at the children who are laughing at you.

You’re taking out my brain and smoking it again

                like the cheap, cherry-flavored cigar it is.

My hairs are splitting you—

 (from Tribute to Herman Melville)

Surrealism and Christianity are siblings in their appreciation for symbology, though Towery never overloads. He investigates and we follow along, from Christian theology to the theology of jazz, through the canon and those unfamiliar with such things. The balance lies in Towery’s openness to life and its poles, not interested in lessons so much as associations. God above, the union below, “while Miles and John / play together upstairs.”

Philip Levine lurks around On the Closing of the Coca-Cola Plant…, though for a book full of God there is a distinct lack of blind subordination. Instead Towery transmits, journals, and observes with an open heart the decay of a type of certainty.

Praise you, laid off workers, part timers,

injured and summer laborers like me

who got out.

 

Goddamn the rest of you—

 

I know you had no place to go…

 

(from On the Closing…, I. Invocation)

Not quite ballads, maybe epigraphs of a sort. The narrator is only a “kid” at the bottom of the corporate flowchart, so we get a fly’s eye on the crumbling beauty of American industry.

The hottest mornings of summer

we get here early. It’s

still. Summer dark

fogs the windshields

 

and these men, left behind—

only a matter of time

until Binghamton plant closes

and we all become Crowley

 

Milk men, who have the same

but better union, who taunt me

in the backs of supermarkets:

You Coke guys eat more shit

 

than my dog.

 

I put product on the shelf

and declare, I am only

here for summer.

Though of course what new hire doesn’t believe that they are exempt, excluded from the politics of a life on the line. The curse of youth in general, flittered away without appreciation. The same could be said for belief, but Towery neither proselytizes nor anguishes. Binghamton deserves its songs, and the poet shifts his lines and injects enough jazz to keep the tune shifting and engaging. Where Levine was always an old man a grumbler, Towery blows a mean horn.

Not that there isn’t space for softness, but it never cloys. Love poems are a dangerous proposition in much current poetry. Even in verse many couch and armor themselves, or dial up the sweetness towards tooth decay. With the same deftness that he sings of labor and faith, T0wery approaches his love poems with the right combination of open-heart surgery and honest deprecation.

So instead, I’ve become accustomed

to false visions and vibrations,

the struggle of every little thing

and come to believe this might be a sort of love song,

a careless moment

of truth, an aloofness in which

I hear a train whistle—

I hear a church bell.

 

I am so impulsive for you—

I write this in the cold for you.

 

(from Love Song in the Light of Gas Stations)

Gas stations are rarely the regularly associated stage setting for love (maybe lust?) but beyond an unexpected association Towery delivers genuine love in a genuine world. The almost tidal nature of impulse, push/pull of desire and even moment it yanks around within us:

Almost—as I view you

              from the kitchen—I almost

come behind to hold you. and later,

              after dinner, I am full of sadness that

I didn’t. and I’m sad the roast

              I labored over lies half-eaten,

leaking on the cutting board.

 (from Third Love Poem for Jill)

These poems are walks, sights, and musings. There isn’t an indulgent indentation to be found, nor poetic seriousness or elaborate fretting. Towery delivers a taught, thoughtful collection to be savored, simmering with thought and experience. The Whale of Desire is large enough for all loves, from belief to fidelity, and each poem rings out as a hymn.

peace

 

 

PEACE
BY GILLIAN CONOLEY
OMNIDAWN, 2014
978-1890650957

Gillian Conoley’s new book of poetry (Omnidawn, 2014) is appropriately entitled Peace because it seems to aim at a kind of reconciliation: with the self, with family, with lovers, with the digital world, and with larger abstractions such as death and the occasional “God” or Christ which she infrequently refers to—but which seems to harbor in the vast undercurrents of the text. Her book is contingent upon a very austere subjectivism, but not without a very oblique, if not unintentional sense of humor. The subjectivism threads through the trajectory of the book in a very meaningful way, and yet the manner in which the subject relates herself to the situations she narrates seems as if through an opaque lens. And the opacity that prevails in its surrealistic bent could make the reader feel like he or she is sleepwalking through a very interesting and memorable dream. It is this which binds the momentum of the book and allows ample room for the reader to imagine, and to perhaps free-associate the given text with numerous other stories, most especially if he or she is of a writerly audience.

I don’t know if Conoley is influenced by Gertrude Stein, but there are certainly echoes of Stein in her work. For instance, in her poem A Healing for Little Walter she succeeds in telling the story with brief, syntactically awkward and obscure sentences: “A blue peal bent so far back it’s red./ Little Walter, beasts looking solemn at you/from the other side./Tina still rising./Turn and run./Gold fill,/Gold leaf fill./Fishbone thereby shall we see the light.” Stein, of course inherited a subjectivism which was obscured and hidden beneath the trail of her glottal-stop disordering of sentences, and yet the reader must conjecture who the speaker is and what she might be aiming at. Later in Conoley’s poem: “Gold leaf, gold leaf fill./Crying and wailing with our toy harmonicas/in a space gone unbolt into/a blueness sucking in the sun…” Throughout the poem she repeats the line: “Gold leaf, gold leaf fill…” which if the reader meant to construe this she or he might consider the gold leaf and its fullness in autumn, both in relation to the world and the consciousness of the self.

One of the most beautiful poems in the book is Experiments in Patience II. It reads almost like a haiku: “Family more/than genetics/and laundry/sweep the earth/in your/cemetery slippers/one foot slipping out…” In other words, and if I were to translate this literally and fill in the blank space:

My family is more than simply the genetics I inherit.

Defined by more than the loads of laundry I do each Sunday,

The routine of it like the years I’ve spent growing up

And spinning stories for the sundry experiences.

Family, like laundry, is also the routine of death,

Softly walking upon the graves of relatives,

And never quite letting go…

The incomparable phrase, “sweep the earth in your cemetery slippers” is what allows the poem a very celestial, if not other-worldly sensibility. It is also as I said the essence of the book’s slow and euphoric sleep-walk. Of course, there is a sentiment here, as there is throughout the book, which is not tear-jerking, but rather skin-tingling and evocative of a yearning for a higher spiritual plane.

And Conoley’s book is certainly not without its spiritual element, if not defiantly Christian. For instance, in her poem I Am Writing an Article (Johnny Cash) she asserts “Christ newly staked and writhing/in the heart/in the door-wide chest/in the overall black tower of you…” Here, Christ is a conflicted image of torture, altruistic love, and within his own antithesis.

Conoley’s speaker travels through spiritual planes which exist and yet clash with the digital world she inhabits, such as in the poem “an oh a sky a fabric an undertow:” “The GPS navigational finding device/enhance search/the overly/Google mapped,/severe lack of frontier in the world…” And here, “in mass human’s estranging light” (The Patient) it is evident that the world she sees does not quite reconcile with the world she must envision. Technology has led a mass of humans to begin “exploring the sewers,/recording/sounds of manhole covers as cars…” (an oh a sky a fabric an undertow), perhaps attempting to excavate the inevitable deaths that come with the human condition. It is without doubt that the speaker in Conoley’s poems sees herself as wholly a part of the human condition, and yet the book attempts to reconcile the conflicts which are attached to this.

I would highly recommend reading Gillian Conoley’s book, especially if you’re concerned with the irreconcilable elements of the status quo, with the larger more universal concerns about family and the self, and with the instabilities with which we are faced in the world as it stands. Conoley’s book has the transcendent qualities that future generations will be reading and considering, even after this generation has “[swept] the earth in [its] cemetery slippers.” A must read, for this world, and beyond.

 

 

LAMENT

 After Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii

There was a time when giants ruled the earth

and women were gods, too. But here in this moment

of mortality who, woman, will hold back your heart

from the imminent cliffs of grief? You cry out instead

of speaking, and if you were allowed you’d take the oath

and follow your husband, guard him against the wretched

spell of death like a shadow of black silk unraveling,

like a permanent shadow forged onto the ground

after an atomic blast, your arms outstretched;

in the background a curtain surrenders in the wind.

Beloved woman, twisted with torment

your spinning head cries like a god out of control:

Be brief! Let the weight of your serrated edges

cut this sorrow out of me.

_____________________________________________________________________

Ruben Quesada is the author of Next Extinct Mammal (2011) and Luis
Cernuda: Exiled from the Throne of Night (2008). He is Poetry Editor
for Cobalt Review, Codex Journal and The Cossack Review. His writing
has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, The
Rumpus, and Superstition Review. He teaches English and creative
writing for the performing arts at Eastern Illinois University.

 

 

Body, Out 

(From Voicemail Poems)

There is a freshly-made bed next to mine,
that I don’t touch. There is a hum in the room, a hymn

in the sky. That evening two animal gods stood mountaintop,
and I sat below in the sunset, my body rooted, theirs extended,

all precision and color; hoof on mountaintop, bone and rock,
fur and mane; curve and wish, the desert

is nothing but curve and wish, the shhhh of air, the hush
of morning, of waking, of speaking to a silent room,

to an unbearable angel, to a movement not unlike birth,
legs open, body out

 

A Sad, Private Place

(From The Way Home)

 

This is how I imagine it would go if I did not prick my finger, if I did not stop growing while asleep; if it did not matter that, in these years, you lived and grew beautifully, independently. This is how I imagine it would go:

I sweep my fingers across your shoulder, following the curve of your collarbone to the place your skin dips.  Here, there is no bone to catch skin. We are in a sad, private place. It is not dark, it is not light. It was never a question of dark or light. Instead it is a question of sound, waves of noise thinner than needles. Here, in my imaginings, you cup your hands onto my shoulders, square my bare body toward yours. You say we will never find the way home. I say we are already there, even at times like these, times when death cannot see that she is birth, that she is animal, that she is flower. I lift my chin, tilt my head to the left, stretching my neck. Inside, we are screaming one great wall. Inside, there are mouths full of clean teeth, ready to tear it down.

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Ashley Inguanta is the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly. She is the
author of The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press/The Writing Disorder) and
For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books).

 

 

 

 

 

EPITHALAMION FOR OUTLAWS: ACE HIPORST

for Sara Nicholson & C. Violet Eaton

THE STORY

X & B buy ug gun. X & B full n luv.

 

 

ACE WATCHES THE DAY THEY MEET

X yullz, Buy um muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz fuv yud mum—mummy luv, B’z mummy luv luv luv muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz. bud nug gun—nuw gunz fuddu luk fug gud luk—luky luky mulx-n-juzz—zummy bulby bums wud nud wun buk bud bugz uf muddy-muddy mulx-n-juzz. Fuxy vuyz yu gud.

Fuk my vuyz yu zummy kud. Juz mud ud dum nd buy mu zum nuw guns.

 

 

ACE WARNS X: B IS TROUBLE

X buzzd, Buddy flubbd. muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz! wud Buddy buy my guwn? U n flux. flux-fluxed bu dubbd—wuf? X uz lux blud. Wud Buddy buy my gun? Buddy uz “muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz.” jud wuk duwn. buy un gun. wuf? X gunny buy my bulb. fun, fun.

X—wud ug guy, wud ug guy, X buy ug bud, buy ug bud. wud u? funny guy, funny guy. Buddy buy ug gun. un buk! un buk? X & Y buy ug jug—jug uf muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz! u wud. Y, u gunny mulb my bulb. kull duwn: luv uf muddy muddy mulx-n-juzz!

 

 

ACE ASKS BUDDY

Buddy dudn’d zud bud Buddy luvd B. B fud Bunny—Bunny & X. X & Bunny.

Buddy dun mud yuf. Buddy nud lux. Wy X gud Bunny-wuf? Wy nud Buddy gud luky? Wy nud Buddy & Bunny? Buddy um dummy.

Buddy luk duk.
Buddy buy ug gun.

 

 

BUDDY TELLS ACE

X & B fund guld. Lufd wud ull du gunz & du guld.
Dummy dumn yung kud. Zummy dum lufd wud ull my bulbs.

 

 

BUNNY SAYS HI

Wu Bunny & X. Wu dub blunkz.
Wud zum muddy-muddy mulx-n-juzz?

 

 


______________________________________
Meg Ronan is the author of the obligatory garnish argument (SpringGun Press 2014). Her poems have appeared in 1913: a journal of formsAPARTMENT PoetryRobot MelonWest Wind Review, & other lovely journals. She works as a shop girl at Bridge Street Books in Washington, DC and tries to be like a good party.

 

 

Pool: 5 Choruses
By Endi Bogue Hartigan
Omnidawn, 2014
ISBN 978-1890650926

It troubles me when readers and writers of poetry insist that “postmodernist” poetry doesn’t make any sense, inherits no concept of consequence, and ultimately leaves all sense of meaning uncertain and equivocated. The fact is that good postmodernist poetry simply succeeds at depicting certain ideas in a way that demands the reader to twist (as the phrases do) his or her own imagination so that they might only skirt the meaning enough to get a hint of the overarching intent. And no, the reader may never succeed in harnessing exactly what the poet meant. But good postmodernist poetry at least allows the reader more agency in determining the meaning. As Derrida insists, it allows the reader “free-play.”

Endi Bogue Hartigan’s latest collection “Pool: 5 Choruses” is not only what I would refer to as an opportunity for free-play, it also presents a complexity of motifs which weave together obscure yet compelling ideas. Her poetry does not demand a singular meaning that everyone can extrapolate and then calmly feel at peace with the incontrovertible ending. For some readers of poetry, this would be a source of discomfort. Some of my introductory students insist “I don’t get poetry.” This is likely because they are anticipating a text which requires less intellectual participation and simply presents an image or concept with very little debate or pliability. Hartigan’s collection succeeds in allowing its readers a commodious room to in which to play and explore, and moves through its five choruses as if like movements in a symphony. The subjects she employs (poppies, cherries, swans, windows, and certain anonymous characters) inherit actual lives of their own—which as Dickinson would say “dwell in possibility.”

The word which recurs throughout the choruses is “slippage”—which perhaps implies that nothing is for certain, and “slips” like the meaning that is aimed at, but never insists that the reader make any determination where it is going. Like Yeats said “the center cannot hold…things fall apart.” And the “slippage” of Hartigan’s text makes for a slow and beautiful dismantling, as if a flower that dies and slowly drops off its petals. It moves like a dance, where the immediate proposals for beauty are the only aspect that matters. Hartigan’s book is an actual story—but an obdurate reader may miss it because the narrative is fragmental, and drifts like movements which possess their own immediate merits. The symphonic quality is evident. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is not a piece which moves in a deft pattern, and neither is Hartigan’s collection.

A poem which clearly presents the idea of slippage is “Discontinued Chorus:” Do you remember Gumby?/Where did it come from?/Do you remember yourself?/Do you remember the chorus?…/who is erased? This passage suggests slippage even insofar as the human identity, such that no identity is for certain, such that the human mind and understanding of itself is not easily explained, such that we are “bendable” like the Gumby doll and vehicles which do not remain upright and easily determined. We are subjects of free-play. Even the self and its meaning are not closed off to numerous possibilities and interpretations.

“Experiment With Seven Hearts” also begins with invitation to play: Try your heaven in the attic/your taxidermic static cloud/Let in starlings, let in publics/see what they do…and in “Lola, America:” Lola imagines non-Lola by the lake/over herself, over herself/skipping reflection or/some kind of ant that doesn’t care/other ants or soil. Here, not only does she present the problem of Lola’s existential verisimilitude, but she also presents the problem of the ant’s existence.

Everything in Hartigan’s collection is weaving of questions which she insists that the reader ask him or herself, and she doesn’t necessarily insist that an answer be arrived at. In the first poem in the book, “Slippage and the Red Poppies” she asserts We have to begin at the slippage of alertness into fear. And in that sense she is suggesting that we must be a little bit afraid of determining or ascertaining an incontrovertible meaning. We must be made slightly uncomfortable by endless possibilities before we can begin to discover them and accept the invitation to play, among the poppies and the slippage, where meanings are found, erased, revised, disintegrated, and elucidated once again not in their layering, but rather between the layers. Hartigan’s collection is a must read, if not only for its portrayals of beauty, then for its success in satisfying the thirst of the intellect.

erik

love on the windswept Cartesian plane

 

— 1.

Forth from the intersecting origin

each number is newly born

and ages as it goes

 

this is the realm of the rich

and the shallow, an empty quadrant

where they think they exist

 

but to imagine you and all you love

can be positive pushes you out of

the plane, into imaginary numbers.

 

— 2 and 4.

If negative multiplies with positive

their creation is incomplete

a kind of un-being

 

negative numbers have empty hearts,

must reach out to others alike

else we are bound to fall

 

into shadow quadrants that measure

loss like childhood fears, doubts

trapped in closets

 

— 3.

While hopes lie hidden in the un-space

behind mirrors and old bookshelves

waiting for backwards and down

 

to see all the others are empty like them

then (and only) creation is positive

and all finally find balance.

 

___________________________________________________

???????????????????????????????

Erik Richardson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his family and assorted pets. In addition to teaching, he attends grad school in psychology, coaches several award-winning robotics teams, and runs a small communications firm. He is a three-time winner of the Gahagan Prize at the world’s largest Irish festival, in Milwaukee, received honorable mention for the Hixson Award, and is a regular contributor to Centrifugal Eye. His work has appeared in Nerve Cowboy, Verse Wisconsin, and Chiron Review, among others.

 

 

 

 

the birthbone’s connected to the deathbone

I am setting a place for each person I love, so they will be comfortable when they set down and start to talk. The morning comes, the morning lates. The lake around which people gather claps its light applause.

The people who I love are growing infections. They florally reconstitute. I am wishing their stamens. I am unconscious. What lips these flowers will vaunt.

The content is set neutrally. We wonder how to marble each audible shift in tone. For instance, when addressing the child you were, I am a foreign stance; but when addressing the adult you were, I am dancing.

The lake stills. Going out to take pictures of these different versions of ourselves, we shade without corollary, we color and color without any line meaning less.

 

 

The things that feed us

the justice of the megaphone

in a tube or glass-like cylinder

beneath the want of a young century

or centaur, maybe, yes, this centaur

gloating over her half horsed future

with one cone of noise and another

cone of ice cream, nice ice cream

nice fantasy melting into toddle-dum and tweedle

 

the brick of the backbone

the slope of the normally seated office-drones

once they rise and stretch their morning coffee

breath a fog of spreadsheets and search engine

optimization cubed into the menu, no salt or

sanguinary attachments, the able-bodied

mongering their courses, their copses, their

closing-time fertility and all the dashes that

have been forgotten within their names

run together strings of letters – constant press

of vowels on the order of the day.

 

the abstract of the plinth

in the court of modern pining

with a toothsome sweetness in your

abalone jesus – how we form attachment

with the things that feed us, with the hands,

intestines, and the instruments, the steel and flour,

the bed of the bet with the bed and with honor to lay

down heavy each setting, each pace stepped back

toward repetition among seasons – they change me

from pallid to downy, they change you from

languid to delicate and each of our descriptions

pin us here to our fronted and shameful bodies

the lead of the forehead of the mechanical shoe

stuck out and we are all tongues and soles. empty

mouths to be shit out and tied shut.


 

________________________________________________

Tony Mancus is the author of four chapbooks – most recently Bye Sea from Tree Light Books and Again(st) Membering, out this fall from Horse Less Press. In 2008, he co-founded Flying Guillotine Press with Sommer Browning. They make small chapbooks. He currently works as a technical writer and lives with his wife Shannon and two yappy cats in Arlington, VA.

 

 

 

 

 

Am Ha’aretz*

In the gardens of givat ram

We never saw

Solomon’s turtledoves

For seven years the winter

And the rain               she and I

Strangers in the midrahov   she and I

Cracked cobblestone

Once a market road

Deserted on a sabbath evening

All the jackals are gone

And every day in july

Tempting that last stretch of sky     she and I

The end so close                   we lied

Beyond reach                        somewhere the mountains in the mountains

Among lotus shrubs in the Galilee              she and I never saw

Wild goats rising up

In contest                   the grackles

Picking off their parasites

And what of those nights

In the snow in the snow

Sweeping the midrahov

Those nights when I was repossessed

By am ha’aretz

After I lost her

In ammei ha’aretz

These roads I do not know I do not know

her arms anymore her arms

those child’s songs

in arabic         when I was a summer day

falling

into the tongue of a woman             she and I

those lost gardens of the desert

that die each night

in ammei ha’aretz

 

* In the Hebrew canon, “the people of the land” (the singular am ha’aretz) refers to the Jews. The plural ammei ha’aretz refers to foreigners, or non-Jews living within Eretz Yisrael.

 

 Gods Our Ancestors Did Not Fear

after Joseph

You say we don’t name our children

after the living

and if I tattoo my body

I won’t be buried

in this house of eternity

 

As if I ever said let me in

I’m not the right one

I’m breaking night

in a palace where the roof the roof

I let that motherfucker burn

 

I’ve dreamt my way out of prison

and I’ve still got a bone to pick

with what went down in canaan

 

Blood is not blood

like it was before

I’m more than this body

you spared and sold

 

I saved a great house

while you a famine bore

 

As if I’d let my own grave grow cold

 

As if I couldn’t send you into the wilderness

 

for spilt blood on my coat

for twenty pieces of silver

for twisting my name

in our native tongue

 

beware the dreamers

you leave for dead in the cistern

we run our branches over the walls

 

we never stay in the ground long

 

and you will come when we call

 

only we come back wrong

 

only we come back

with the foreign gods hanging on

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a CantoMundo Fellow and the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013). Her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol,  and other publications. In Fall 2014, she will be a visiting writer at the University of Texas at Brownsville’s Writers Live Series. Rosebud is an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (vidaweb.org). Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org

 

AND SO IT IS BECAUSE OF THE LICHEN
Gathering the facts like so many
bones. They make a good tool
for telling you I am in love. With
the flint, I tear one open, climb in,
and speak: hold me close like a crucifix
above the river. I cannot cross it the way
I would my heart. In certain chambers,
the water pooled and stood. Day by day,
you recount your disillusions. You drink
from one spring & then the next. I have
remarked in women a curious ability
to embroider the facts. To get at the truth
I have been compelled to treat them as
pathological. What are her threats
but testimonies of love? That sincerity
she strewed about her as seed is
strewn and up grew a trampled flower.
Gathering the facts like so many flowers,
I just don’t like the water in the air
anymore. Stay on the ground. Let
your feet touch the bottom of the
spring, gaze longingly. These are
your instructions. It’s all you have
to do. He will love you too. You
will have a home. But I am scared
to descend. What if I hate it there?
So many birds in the air, pictures
in the rocks. It is vertiginous. Why
do they make it here, rather than
there? Because of the lichen, it is
impossible to see the footprints of
a child with the natural eye. His
life can be impenetrable because
of the footprints of his children
beneath the lichen. The sun is out &
water falls upon my head. My heart
takes leaps because of the lichen.
_______________________________________________________________________________
Stephanie Berger is the Executive Director of The Poetry Society of New York, co-founder of the New York City Poetry Festival, and Creator/Madame of The Poetry Brothel.  Stephanie’s poetry has appeared in Fence, Interim, La Fovea, H_NGM_N, and Coconut, among other publications, and she published a chapbook, In The Madame’s Hat Box, on Dancing Girl Press. Stephanie is also an editor for #wtfislongsdrugspress and sings in the all girl electrofolk band, The London Skül of Economics. 

From Crawlspace

Sonnet (3)

I look through the blind slats at work.
Everyone has a spiral ham fetish.
What is the difference between
A house and a mall really?
Then there’s the classic photo
Of the bride leaning down
To give her attention to
The young flower girl at her wedding,
And there’s the door my grandma
Would open and I would have
To hide my chillum pipe,
Lighting a stick of purple rain incense

You and your family can live here
Pay rent and/or mortgage

Sonnet (10)

I smell myself
In order to start over
Since everybody is so

Terribly clean these days.
At the baby shop
The cribs have names
Hampton, Worthington,
& the Shenandoah,
cooling in around 800 ducats.
Everything is loud all the time now.

They growl happily at rollerbladers
Wearing “Fight the Power” cotton tees

Somebody has a new idea
about 21st century slum clearance

________________________________________________
Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured in DecomP, Word Riot, Spork, Likewise Folio, Horse Less Review, Storyscape Journal, Coconut ,The Account, & others. She is also the author of the chapbook The Frogs at Night ( Shirt Pocket Press) and the chapbook I Would Be the Happiest Bird(Horseless Press). Her first full-length book of poems, HOUSES, is forthcoming from Horseless Press in 2015. She’s also an Assistant Poetry Editor at Coconut Poetry. She lives in Milwaukee, WI and you can reach her at www.nikkiwallschlaeger.com
Screenshot 2014-06-03 at 10.10.25 AM

INTRO: In what we hope will be a regular feature, THEthe Poetry will be showcasing presses–of all backgrounds, ambitions, and oeuvres. Each feature will include some questions about the press and a sampler of the published work. The first featured press is Called Back Books.

Screenshot 2014-06-03 at 10.10.25 AM

 

CALLED BACK BOOKS —a new press run out of Oakland, CA and crafted by the poets Sharon Zetter and Lucas M. Rivera—stresses the import of THE BOOK and will be focusing on small volumes from emerging writers, highlighting the discourse of POETRY and a range of mediums germane to the question of ART, METAPHYSICS, LANGUAGE, ETHICS, ETC. CALLED BACK BOOKS will also make exacting efforts to generate dialogue within a narrow sense of the poetry community and will not stray from polemical, argumentative, and outright adversarial discourses (while avoiding ad hominem, cliché, and juvenile antics). CALLED BACK BOOKS deemphasizes the temporary for the temporal and aligns itself with like minded people who are involved in dialogical endeavors. Axiomatically:

 

“THIS WORD CANNOT BE SHARED. ONLY SACRIFICED.”

-Edmond Jabès

 

What was the impetus for/genesis of your press?

Metaphysical perpetuity from a source of esthetic concern.

Where do you stand on print vs (or in harmony with) digital, and how do you think presses can help see to it that the former doesn’t continue to devolve?

“… we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it.”

What role do you think your press has played, or aspires to play, in taking on unknown or controversial work?

Neither for “the unknown” nor for the “controversial” but, rather, for Poetry.

If you still see your press as evolving, what kind of new mediums/projects do you hope to eventually incorporate into it?

Potentiality/possibility is all.

Comment a little on the poet/s featured in your sampler, and on their role in establishing and perpetuating the vision of the press.

They are poets & artists–we can ask for little more.
Click here to download the  Called Back Books – THEthesampler

 

 

PastedGraphic-1-page-0

Usage

else makeup without pretty retweeted
without personal notes
retweeted without notes without
personnel retweeting personal doubt
is else bulling me typing retweeted.
I can’t speak for myself i can’t tweet.

I cannot speak of an illness
I cannot speak a chance dogging
the title unwoken else used i make
Bully negated retweeted.

 

He slows things down, catches the vulture

Circling above our clearing in the woods. He

Focuses on lichen, close up to mimic
Coral. His body dances on the rusting can.

I built a garden in the game
And spent my labor
In that garden, to make it
dissimilar.

_________________________________
cris cheek
is a transdisciplinary poet. He is currently Director of Creative Writing at Miami University in southwest Ohio, where he was the Altman Fellow in the Humanities Center 2011-12, co-initiating and co-organizing the Network Archaeology conference with Nicole Starosielski. cris  is an affiliate both of the Armstrong Interactive Media Studies and Comparative Media Studies programs at Miami. He has a herstory of collaborative and collective practice; as co-founder of Chisenhale Dance Space, in London’s east end,  he worked alongside Ghislaine Boddington, with whom he started Shinkansen and co-curated the Voice Over festival. For 17 years he worked in various text-sound combinations with Sianed Jones, including Slant (with sound artist Phillip Jeck). Following a field trip spent researching  forms of song poetry in southwest Magdagascar, he won a 1995 Sony Academy Gold Award for his radio program The Music of  Madagascar. He taught performance writing at Dartington College of Arts, during which time he made a substantive body of networked practice with Kirsten Lavers under the moniker TNWK (things not worth keeping, 1998-2007). He was research fellow in Interdisciplinary Text from 2000-02 there. Since then he has been making and showing works in spoken and projected text-sound, such as LimnImpluperfections, and the crowd-sourced piece b a c k l i t. His most recent books are the church, the school, the beer (Critical Documents, 2007), and part : short life housing (The Gig, 2009). 

butcher knife

KING JAMES SUTRA

A special transmission / from outside of scripture / pointed directly / up inside / the heart of man / I twist mine / the part most red / skyward / toward my lord / or whatever holy something / might want / even me / a teenage symphony / a pure system of spasms / wrecked with sex / I stretch what’s left / along the distance / as real as my skull / the skeleton sang / and so I pray / catch for us the foxes / I sing / catch for us / the little foxes / what fuck up the vines / my southern brain / my southern spine / gone black / but bright / laid straight / made new / next to a northern soul / she was a girl / cast as the girl / in my movie / my god / I touched her / to touch you / to allow the day / to save itself / to become a scene / in full flower / inside the city / of the dead / I escape / unlit / yet afloat / the ferry takes me / to where they wait / for me / the useless trees / of some distant shore

PINK FLAG SUTRA

Damage is not why / we come to damage / it’s the same as my stranger / is not always your stranger / an accident in nature / is an accident / in every automatic day / even here we are / an awesome silence / in the black out beauty hour / he’s a happy slaughter / the man made of anger / and light and / the angel’s slang / I am spitting on something / I love / an image / the way a ray of skin / attacks a girl / is how I am ready to go / a flesh toned surrender / the worst joke ever / is the real question / I am asking you / not to return

______________________________________

Ben Kopel is the author of VICTORY, released by H_NGM_N Books in 2012. He’s currently at work on a new collection of poems, possibly titled Sutras of Love & Hate.