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The Mimic Sea
By Erica Bernheim
42 Miles Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0983074724’

I hope the Monarch butterfly I released this spring landed in Mexico tagged with
the ending line of the opening poem of Erica Bernheim’s Moonrats:

I’ve got rights and I should look into them.

This is the fewest of the “first books” I’ve read that feels completely self-interrogated and worked upon. It shines and it never presumes its own rescue. Dear Baby, I am held up/by anchors and antlers: one holds me down, the other/keeps me alone. There are statements all over this collection one could theoretically hear from NBC News’s Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel if he’d been released from captivity after five years instead of five days. Laid end to end, seven million hummingbird/eggs will take you to the bus stop and back. Ask the bodies I stand beside on any public transportation and they’ll tell you: I don’t toss about a term like interiority often.

Opening of The Superstition of the Clean Glass:

A cross-section of a tough person seems/touched in the middle of an island, and/we like it.

Bernheim’s is an interior lyric, on par with the elegiac verse of the late Larry Levis. Reading this book is not dissimilar to overhearing a soliloquy on intimacy pieced together by tape-looped recordings of “empty” residences visited and perturbed by The Atlantic Paranormal Society. I miss part-time investigator Donna, who also used to run the Ghost Hunters front office. Sometimes the Connecticut female accent is the only reason I remain in this country.

There’s a newer lyricism stirring around and around the Large Hadron Collider Chamber.
The newer lyricism is more about vibration and less about experience and feeling, experience and feeling having gotten humans squadoosh. This book continually reminds me buoyancy is better than tone, or being right. Bernheim challenges her reader to be intimate. She’s going to be intimate whether you choose to participate or not. I tried to impart to my Navy town how high on the courage-scale that ranks, but most of my neighbors care more about watching me fall off the fiscal cliff.

In the poem Fifteen Beautiful Colors, Bernheim examines light. I didn’t think that kind of magnification was possible anymore in poems.

XII. Two arms reaching make little sound grasps at smoke.
Nothing here will/bloom or rise, planetary faces.

Speaking of light, whenever sunlight is mentioned, something terrible has happened or something wonderful is about to happen. I love that. Prediction: Bernheim will win the third season of Spike TV’s Ink Master. Her championship tat will be whatever life form eventually emerges from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. She’ll pull on host Dave Navarro’s goatee and it will come off. As Ink Master, she’ll tattoo whoever she wants whenever she wants however she wants. As Ink Master client, my mother may desire three-dimensional Wedgwood buttons on her eyelids, or nipples? I’m praying for behind the calves, Mama.

I want the following gem from the poem Dialogue for Robots (pg. 67) tattooed on my pelvis:

In front of our eyes are too many ways to breathe.

It’ll be a cover-up for the botched Soul Train choo-choo.

There are poems addressed to a day-lily, a zookeeper, and a bellhop in here. They’re all provided the same equality of respect.

Let’s dig deeper into the Bernheim/Levis comparison. Here’s three lines. Pick which ones are Bernheim and which ones are Levis:

We go & there’s no one there, no one to meet us on the long drive lined with orange trees
You can recognize the words and not understand the sentence.
Put me in a scene and watch as nothing changes.

Try these:

It’s like your bones died two weeks before you did.
We was just two tents of flesh over bones.
Sex should be no more important than a glass of water.

Don’t worry, Good Will Hunting is still working all this out too.

Having appeared in the 2006 anthology Legitimate Dangers, Bernheim legitimately waited nearly two presidential terms to publish this full-length collection in 2012. She took her sweet time, I suspect, in order to release something rare, special, and dangerous — a finished book.

 

The Eggshell Parade brings you a The Noisy Reading Series reading and interview from poet Michael Homolka. Mike reads his poem “Family V,” which appears in the inaugural issue of Phoenix in the Jacuzzi Journal.

http://archive.org/download/TheEggshellParadesTheNoisyReadingSeriesMichaelHomolka/MichaelHomolkaTnrsFinal.mp3

jarrell

Mary Jarrell, left, with her husband, Flannery O Connor, Peter Taylor, & Robert Humphrey. Courtesy of UNC, Greensboro

 

Mary Jarrell’s late husband, Randall Jarrell, is well known to literary people for his wonderful satirical novel, Pictures from an Institution, for his ingenious criticism, for his translations of Rilke and Chekhov, for his endearing children’s books, and, of course, for his poetry.

In 2002, I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs Jarrell for a proposed documentary on the World War II air war, and the literature that had defined it. Though the project never came to fruition, the interview was, of course, invaluable in its own way, and took on a life of its own. Though in many ways Mrs Jarrell—from the POV of anecdotes alone— didn’t reveal anything that hadn’t already been exhaustively covered in various biographies (including her own memoir, Remembering Randall) being in her vibrant presence, and in the presence of her husband’s memorabilia, was a rich enough experience.

The following interview took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, in October of 2002, at Wellspring, Mrs Jarrell’s assisted living community.

***
Mary Jarrell has survived almost all of her scholarly contemporaries. In person, she is tall and slim, with a face (as was said of Zelda Fitzgerald’s) that is far more beautiful and enigmatic than one would gather from viewing her photographs. It’s apparent that she must have been quite something in her youth, but, as seems to be the phenomenon of old age, all that beauty has migrated to the eyes, and it is through them that one can see her as she must have looked at the time she shared her life with her husband. She lives alone in a retirement community, closely surrounded by neighbors, with a dachshund as devoted to her as a child.

Moments after Mrs. Jarrell (“Mary please”) welcomes me inside, we are joined by a tiny black and tan dachshund that is not a puppy, she says, “but a full grown mini who weighs seven pounds.” She lifts the creature in her arms.

“Meet Schatzi,” she says. “It’s the diminutive for Schatzel; means ‘little treasure.’ Half the dogs In Germany are called Schatzi.”

I’ve already noticed that she seems a little hard of hearing, and as I check the sound level on my recorder, she says, “I’ll just get closer to you…some people have a gentle voice that I don’t pick up very well.” By now I’m ready to start asking her questions, but something tells me not to lead off the discussion of her husband’s work with The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, and I remark instead on my liking for his treatment of the surrealism of the passing of time in his poem The Face.

“Oh yes…. ‘I haven’t changed/you haven’t looked.’ Randall dreaded it, getting old. He didn’t want it to happen; so the passing of time was very real to him…and he was sorry to have to live through it”, she says.

Though I’m glad my remark has stirred such easy and immediate candor, her response also sets off a tremor of alarm: it seems to steer us in a direction I’d resolved to avoid (or at least not to broach this early in the interview): the lingering speculation that Randall’s death in a traffic accident at age fifty-one had been semi-suicidal.

In her memoir, and in many interviews, she’d of course dealt summarily with this conjecture (it wasn’t so, according to the coroner’s report), and I reassure myself that by now any resentment she may once have felt toward those still perpetuating the rumor in literary circles might have settled into the almost dispassionate objectivity she’d consistently shown on the subject in her writings.

So I decide to start out with Ball Turret, after all.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
(“The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner”)

In Remembering Randall, Mary had elaborated on the fact that the poem was for Jarrell both a triumph and source of consternation, as it was the relentless public demand for the piece that inspired him to worry that he might become a one hit wonder.

“At present, you know, it goes for $250.00 a shot, and is in steady demand for TV as well as the printed page,” she says, gently touching the dachshund’s nose.

“Randall’s poem can be interpreted as being both anti-war and anti-state. But I presume he didn’t question the necessity of the second World War?”

Her answer is immediate and somewhat surprising. “He did …he really did. I was just dealing with that in one of his letters in which takes that up. He was very critical, especially of the Army, because to him in a way… it was an institution, sort of like Academia. And it had certain routines and inescapable requirements. Instead of looking at his past …you know, they knew he had been a teacher…they sent him to interviewing candidates and finally decided to train him to instruct cadets… and when they saw his teaching ability, they trained him for celestial navigation.”

I’m not sure I understand her answer, and rephrase the question. But she frames her reply in terms of her own feelings about the war (Hitler had to be stopped, etc), not Randall’s; and I drop the topic and remark that Jarrell’s brilliant criticism could eviscerate the loftiest reputations. (“Auden is like a man who keeps showing how well he can hold his liquor until he becomes a drunk.”)

“He finally moved away from that sort of thing”, Mary tells me, “He said, I’m not going to write any more severe criticism…it’s not worth it. It happened with his teaching, too. He only taught people that he really admired. Never mind the bad poetry. He didn’t teach bad poets.”

Abruptly, she laughs, relaxing. “You got this on tape?”

I tell her that I do, and ask her if she believes that Randall would have viewed the poetry of this day and age as being in a state of decline.

“Ohhhh, I’m afraid he would,” she answers quickly. “I have a friend that I often see… he’s retired, and divorced and teaches poetry at the Shepherd’s Center. And he likes poetry. But just this past weekend he told me that nobody, even the faculty over there, was interested in poetry. It’s always been a small minority, but it’s marvelous to see those who have lived on.”

Some modern poets (like Jarrell’s good friend Robert Lowell) who have done so, I observe, were surely helped by Randall’s honest praise.

“After some of his {Lowell’s) breakdowns… and after some time had elapsed…he wrote more and more of that ‘my life confessional’ sort of thing… Randall would’ve hated that. But the public liked it. Randall wanted it lyric and he wanted it visionary, and he wished that Cal had stayed with his marvelous historical poems like The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.”

“What about the Beats? In your book you discuss a visit by Kerouac and Gregory Corso to your home, but it would seem unlikely that Randall would embrace the Beats as a legitimate literary movement, judging from his tastes. Can you expand on this?”

She adjusts the dachshund on her lap. “Randall wrote about that better than I could, and he acknowledged that they did have a part in those years; but he never liked the fact that they wouldn’t revise. We met Corso out in San Francisco, and liked him a great deal. But again, he was constantly submitting poems to Randall, but he wouldn’t revise. He’d quit, and start another until he had ten half-written poems, and Randall couldn’t stand that.” We both laugh.

“There’s a quote you might like… just this morning, on the cover of… well, it’ll be on the cover of the book that’s coming out. It deals with Randall’s…high demand on others.” She rises quickly to look for the excerpt and is gone for several minutes, but returns empty handed. “Well…it’s somewhere. But it’s a quote by Robert Penn Warren, and he acknowledged Randall as a very great critic, said that he was generous with his criticism, but that he had such high standards for other poets, and himself; and of course the critic Helen Vendler said that ‘Jarrell put his talent into his poetry and his genius into his criticism.’ And I think he just thought people didn’t spend enough time; he knew how much time it took. He would use the Army phrase ‘wash out’ to describe something in a manuscript that needed to be removed. He’d tell somebody, ‘I think I’d just wash that out’ And he told Eleanor Taylor {poet and wife of writer Peter Taylor} that about her own poems a couple of times”

(Draft page from ‘The Woman at the Washington Zoo’, by Randall Jarrell)

 

My research in preparing for the meeting had given me the impression that for some literary historians, Randall Jarrell’s place in modern American letters had been secured as much through his criticism as his poetry; so if I had true journalistic instincts I’d try to keep Mary talking about that aspect of his career.

But I was afraid (perhaps groundlessly) that she was becoming tired, and I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t leave without asking about what, aside from his criticism and one novel, I personally liked best of all her husbands creations…his children’s books.

“Randall’s lovely poem The Lost Children deals not only, like Peter Pan, with the inevitable loss of childhood from itself, but with a parent’s loss of a vicarious childhood through the children that grow up and away from them into adulthood. I get the feeling from some other of his poems that romantic love, for Randall, was maybe also somewhat a vicarious childhood….and this certainly seems to be the case in The Gingerbread Rabbit. Do you feel that’s true?”

“Yes,” she smiles, and looks out into the garden for a bit.

“Two little girls, one fair, one dark

one alive, one dead,

are running hand in hand through
a sunny house…
They run away from me…

But I am happy…

When I wake I feel no sadness, only delight.

I’ve seen them again, and I am comforted

that, somewhere, they still are”

(“The Lost Children”)

Surely this is Mary’s voice, the voice of his beloved speaking through Jarrell (dubbed “Child Randall” by Robert Lowell in an elegy) and it is this that gives the poem its empathetic tenderness. When, in The Animal Family, the hunter brings a “baby” home, the family unit, so coveted by Randall Jarrell, comes full circle:

“In two days he was sitting on the floor
by the table when they ate, eating with them…

in a week it was as if he had lived with them always.”

***

We walk out into the sunshine toward the awning where we are to board the vehicle that’s to take us to the resident’s dining room (I had been expecting a minivan driven by a retirement home employee) and I get a kick out of the fact that Mary Jarrell, a woman of a certain age, not only drives, but drives a svelte, compact sports car, flaming red, bearing the personalized license plate, “POEMS”.

Since long before writing Remembering Randall, Mary von Schrader Jarrell has, emphatically, been herself. And her answer to my final question strikes me with the realization that maybe it’s her story that I’ve mostly missed.

It had been arranged that we part company after lunch, “not so much for a nap, but to rest my eyes and lie prone with one arm over Schatzi at my side and practice my yoga deep breathing.” As we wait for my cab outside, I apologize for tiring her.

“I’m tired, yes. But happy,” she replies. “It links me to once again quote Benjamin Franklin’s observation to the signers of the Constitution, ‘I’m so old I am intruding in posterity’.” She smiles, and her remarkable eyes are as bright as a child’s in the sun.

“How do you think Randall would have felt about 9/11?” I ask her impulsively.

“Oh, he’d feel it”, she says, “but I can’t presume to say what his feelings would be. I mean, one’s opinions do change, and he didn’t live to see that. He died at fifty-one. But I didn’t.”

Voices of Haiti was published in July 2012 by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. The contributors to the book are the poet Kwame Dawes, the journalist Lisa Armstrong, the photographer Andre Lambertson, and the composer and writer Kevin Simmonds.

Voices of Haiti takes place in Port-au-Prince less than a month after the fatal quake; in Tombs, the first chapter, the authors illustrate their initial impressions of the loss of life and security, and reflect on the ways in which the earthquake deepened existing fissures in Haitian society. The next two chapters, Mother of Mothers and Storm, delve deeper into local life in Haiti; authors interview aid workers and local doctors and spend time in squatter camps, churches, and houses of local informants. The final four chapters—Ganthier, Job, Boy in Blue, and Bebe’s Wish—focus on the stories of particular individuals and the ways in which they exercise agency through improvisation.

This book has two stated aims. The first is to draw “intimate portraits of individual Haitians;” the second is to “explore critical issues affecting Haiti’s future [such as] development, poverty, displacement, [and] HIV/AIDS”. While both of these aims are admirable, I initially wondered if they might be at cross-purposes. Art as activism is always tricky business; when a text simultaneously seeks to produce both formal merit and social advocacy, it typically achieves neither.

On the whole, however, Voices of Haiti does an admirable job. It is aided in its dually aesthetic and ethical goals by two primary strengths. The first is the intimacy between author and subject. In Voices of Haiti, informants bring the writers into their homes, share meals with them, and introduce them to their children; they confess their most shameful secrets and reveal their hopes about the future. These are not the sorts of details outsiders are typically privy to. Perhaps Haitians are simply very open; maybe artists just make the best ethnographers. Whatever the reason, the trust between participant and observer in Voices of Haiti is palpable, and adds much to the project.

Another strength of the book is its format. Voices of Haiti is a multimedia document that brings together text, sound, and image in a carefully organized way. Each section begins with a poetry reading that is accompanied by a slide show of photographs and a short musical score. Every chapter ends with an article or story. Interspersed throughout the book are additional clips of personal interviews and 1-2 minute musical performances. While each individual photo or poem might be assessed on its own independent artistic merits, this is hardly the point; the document is meant to be understood holistically, and its parts are knitted together in a fashion uncharacteristic of most cross-disciplinary collaborative artistic endeavors.

The cooperative spirit of the project and its successful integration of many divergent types of media makes Voices of Haiti a fine read (or should I say, experience) for anyone seeking a humanistic portrayal of the post-earthquake Haitian world and the people who inhabit it. That is not to say, however, that this document is an easy read. The book raises some difficult issues and asks important questions about development, cultural history, and especially agency in Haiti.

AGENCY AND VICTIMHOOD:

At its core, Voices of Haiti is an exploration of what agency is (from both a philosophical/historical standpoint and a more practical, localized one) how it is expressed, and how it is achieved.

There is a conflict between the world’s perception of Haiti and Haitians perception of themselves. The authors assert that Haitians do not think of themselves as helpless, and actively fight against the status of victimhood that is constantly imposed on them by foreign governments and even well meaning aid workers.

Some of the informants seem to acknowledge that it is difficult not to internalize expectations of helplessness; in Chapter 4, a frustrated informant named Andre (responding to a Christian sermon on the power of suffering) states the following: “So we must just accept this suffering and not do a thing about it? I can’t accept that. We have become passive; we have let the feeling that we must be cursed like this take a hold of us.”

At the same time, however, few of the Haitians interviewed or portrayed in the book describe themselves as victims or dwell on their personal misfortune. One woman in Chapter 3 states resolutely: “Crying cannot make us better. Crying cannot help us rebuild.” Similarly, Dr. Jean William Pape of GHESIKO and Dr. D’ Meza of PIH, for example, stress that it is “solidarity not charity” that builds relationships between doctors and patients and leads to sustainable solutions.

Where, then, does the myth of Haiti’s perpetual victimhood come from? The authors suggest that the myth is derived not from Haitians themselves, but from the seemingly impossible situations into which they are placed; they acknowledge in the first chapter that part of the reason the earthquake was so bad is that it exacerbates pre-existing fissures in Haitian society, and that Haitians are “as puzzled by the vicious irony of their circumstances as we are.”

I would contend, however, that any Haitian person who knows the history of Haiti is not quite as puzzled as the authors might suggest. If we want to know where Haiti’s problems come from , we need only to look at history to understand the answer. Since its inception as the first democracy founded by a slave rebellion in 1804, Haiti has been punished by regional powers for beating the odds. Case in point: Haiti’s liberation debt to France, it’s U.S. backed dictators, and it’s occupation by the U.S. military between 1915 and 1935.

While the authors of the book never directly connect Haitian defiance of Western powers to the country’s subsequent economic and political marginalization, they do allude to it indirectly, particularly in their discussion of the statue of Neg Mawon, a Haitian Freedom Fighter. They note that Dr. Joia Mukherjee rejoiced when, in the post-quake rubble, she saw the statue still erect because it reminded her: “the free man can never be destroyed.”

So, what do the free people of Haiti do in cataclysmic circumstances like these? The book abounds with examples. In Sou Piste, a group of 40,000 displaced people have constructed improvised housing on an old airstrip. Here, many Haitians are doing what they have always done; fetching water, bartering for food, and flying kites. In Ganthier, a woman named Malia Jean (upon the discovery of her positive HIV status) started her own activist group for women. Similarly, in Carrefour, the preacher Joel Sainton, ousted from his congregation for refusing to reject his HIV-positive wife, makes home visits to others affected with HIV/AIDS. In his community

Finally, in Petionville there is the indomitable Bebe, an assertive sex worker/beer brewer/hair stylist “who moves through the world as if she owns it.” Bebe of the contagious smile and the confidence that borders on defiance is a promise incarnate; the poem at the beginning of her chapter teasingly asks “How much do you think I am worth? How much for a piece of me.” While this questions is quite serious (after all, Bebe must provide for her young sons, and her business has taken a hit since the quake) it is also playful and hopeful—“Her view is for tomorrow; calmer days, no more riots, streets filled with expats, money in her pockets, a chance to make a go at something else.”

PERFORMANCE, TRAUMA, AND MEMORY:

While reading Voices of Haiti, I could not help but think of a very different book written several years ago by the theater historian Joseph Roach. Called Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic performance, the book proposes an interesting concept: that in societies that experience great hardship, where the voices of the many (and the suffering) have been silenced by official record-keeping and where both bodily and cultural oppression are widespread, the rituals of daily life, which are themselves a kind of performance, can serve as the site of new identity formation through a process he calls surrogation. In other words, the bodies of the living elegize the passage of the dead not only by sustaining particular rituals (burial, dance, familial structures, religion) but also by improvising new ones. The restored body, performing a new task, is a substitution for what is lost. Roach argues that this is why performance and trauma are inextricably related:

In the life of a community, surrogation does not begin or end, but continues as actual or perceived vacancies occur in the network of relations that constitute the social fabric. Into the cavities created by loss through death or other forms of departure…survivors attempt to fit satisfactory alternatives.

Roach understands “community” as a rhizomatic entity; vibrant but center-less, it is in a continual process of substitution and restitution. Arguing that performance is “restored behavior, twice-behaved, and always subject to revision.” Roach suggests that all definitions of performance offer it as a substitute for something that pre-exists it.

Performance stands in for an elusive entity that it is not, but must vainly aspire both to embody and replace. Hence flourish the abiding yet vexed identities between performance and memory, out of which blossom the most florid nostalgias for authenticity and origin.

Performance, which Roach defines as both “remembered motions… [and] imaginary movements dreamed in minds” is what the authors of Voices of Haiti are documenting in their book. They examine practical formulas of daily living, death and burials, laws and disobedience, commodification and violence. They explore moments of celebration and activity that go “beyond survival” and seem to recognize a cohesive, connecting force that transcends the finite problems of weak human bodies: “When I sing, I know how to fly, and how to reach where the water eases the spinning in my stomach/ this blood is not my enemy when I sing.”

In Voices of Haiti, moreover, it is certain individuals (frequently women) that act as keepers of culture, oral historians, caregivers, and community philosophers. It is their efforts that sustain and reshape the Haitian cultural identity; “Mother of mothers, in your bandana and with your holy testament, you must draw a line of defense around beleaguered souls/and speak a torrent of curses/ on the beasts lurking in the shadows.” By performing daily acts of kindness and stabilizing rituals, Haitians emerge from the tragedy as a reimagined people. Their persistent commitment to life is an elegy to the dead and an act of defiance against those forces (real or abstracted) than conspire to break apart and destroy bodies and lives.

CONCLUSION

Voices of Haiti is a book about the experience of freedom and trauma, and the complex ways people process both, weaving them into narratives and identities. This book, which is quite literally embedded with voices, is only an artifact of many performances; it documents the authors experiences in Haiti, but also their subsequent poetry and musical performances of the piece in Miami and Washington D.C., among other places.

Thus, the book effectively analogizes the Haitian experience, in not only content but also form; Voices of Haiti encapsulates the interplay between text and orality that is so essential to understanding the cultural development of all contemporary societies—in particular those societies in which the voices of the suffering, the poor, and the abused, are so often silenced by official histories.

At times, this multiplicity of voices and formats makes the piece seem incomplete; however, the book is a peace with its fragmentary nature and acknowledges the snapshot-like quality of its endeavor. Voices of Haiti is a synchronic document, the proverbial Bermuda grass of sensory experiences; it has no fixed center, no predominate bassline, and no resounding agenda, other than that of presenting the shimmering diversity of lives in the post-earthquake world of Haiti. This is somewhat of an accomplishment for a book that delicately straddles the line between activism and art.

Truck Books
ISBN: 9780984885749
$15.00

Weapons catalog descriptions: cyberpunk, academic prose, fables, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex stopping a suicide bomber.  From these disparate sources Josef Kaplan creates Democracy is not for the People, his newest volume of poetry. Divided into four parts, the book confronts the unholy terrors of globalization, globalized terror, and mass-market homogeneity.  These confrontations utilize high and low culture, genre imitation, and the political broadside.

It is easy to see this as agitprop or a gimmick.  At first blush, Democracy would appear as more preaching to the converted for the ranks of the Occupy movement.  Kaplan’s politicized confrontations, constructed with a cunning ferocity, aspire to become more, since the lifespan of literature outlives flash-in-the-pan political movements, nation-states, and entire civilizations.

The cunning comes from the technique of pastiche.  Democracy’s first section, entitled Tilt-Shift, is an extended pastiche culled from numerous sources.  Varieties of prose styles come one after another.  Along with these samplings, there are stream-of-consciousness style riffs on religious practice, assassination, and capitalism.  In its own way, Democracy uses the raw materials of recklessly deregulated capitalism and extremist ideology against itself.

Kaplan’s leftism seems pretty obvious, but in one instance, a piece called The President, he inhabits the voice of the ideologically unhinged, a rant that begins as an anti-Bush tirade and ends with the narrator gloating about posting on Yahoo! message boards calling for President Obama’s assassination.  An earlier piece, Gifts of Cloaks, begins with the story of Kenji Urada, who, in 1944, was the first person killed by a robot.  It continues with the history of SWORDS (“Special Weapons Observation Detection System”) and the development of unmanned drones.  In the middle of this prose poem, we read an extended excerpt from a weapons catalog, listing several kinds of drones.  The robotic technology has been weaponized and then commodified, unmanned drones the cutting edge of late capitalism’s commodity-fetishism.  Like the Transformers toy line, there is something intrinsically cool about an unmanned weapon.  Are Michael Bay’s Transformers movies and the trend of using drones for assassination part of the same moral sickness?  Or are we too distracted by the technology’s futuristic awesomeness to actually care in the first place?

Tilt-Shift is a mélange of discourses, commingling highbrow and lowbrow. The next section plays on the same societal critique, but from a different angle.  Ex Machina is a list of suicide bomber attacks, but something foils all the attacks at the last moment.  They include, but are not limited to, the following: Athena, daughter of Zeus, terrestrial bacteria, a spontaneously appearing field of poppies, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the sun chariot of Helios, the S.S. Heart of Gold, and the janitor from The Hudsucker Proxy.

When one reads these prose poems, one reacts with a kind of cognitive dissonance.  The tragic intermingles with the comic in perverse contamination of fact and fiction.  Each begins with a documentary description of the suicide attack and ends with intervention, divine or otherwise.  After a while, the long list of attacks numbs the reader, the pop culture interventions seeming like cutesy pop cultural references.  Then one realizes that these attacks did in fact happen, and there were no interventions.  Existential despair or laughter?

However, bad taste can operate as a means to illuminate the everyday, since the American news is now littered with random shootings.  With Aurora, the Sikh temple shooting, and other incidents, one realizes there is no Over There anymore.  Terrorism, like the Market, is omnipresent, seductive, and lethal. Democracy attempts to plumb the abyss created by deregulated markets and globalized violence.

Is Democracy the Howl for the Occupy generation?  The short answer is no. But should Democracy be the Howl for those Occupy protesters?  One hopes the reader will have a richer series of reference points than Allen Ginsberg’s verbally explicit indictment of Eisenhower-era conformity and nuclear paranoia.  Kaplan’s Democracy, in its self-conscious contamination of high and low culture, pop cultural references, and discursive pastiche, is a witty commentary on the present socioeconomic and political unpleasantness.  It’s also a well-written screed, parody, and ode to a world warped by failed states, failed economic systems, and failed theories.  This is not simple-minded agitprop, preaching to the converted, but a bracing slap in the face.

Whether as a gadfly to the bigger kids in communist Romania or as a teenager in Chicago, part of me always wanted to be hip, but another part always knew that it was too much work.

What does it mean to be hip? It means to be urban, wired, social, to occupy the latest spaces, to perform the most contemporary habits according to a precise code. If being hip means being urban, multinational, vanguard, does being unhip end up meaning that one has to be rural, nationalistic, or even parochial?

Speaking about downtown Los Angeles on BBC2 in the early 1990s, Dr. Edward Soja mentions how postmodern architecture can manifest as the feeling of de-centeredness quickly followed by a desire to submit to authority, any authority. How does this desire to find a center relate to the desire to lose a center? More precisely, as a first-generation immigrant American poet like myself who is interested in finding his place: how do the hardships of feeling lost play out in contemporary American poetry?

Recently, Swedish-American poet Johannes Goransson has suggested a link between the hipster and an excessive aesthetic on his popular blog called Montevidayo: “The hipster lets the art become excessive, lets art become “graffitiesque” (ie when art takes over the space of the everyday).” Perhaps hipster poets like Goransson, Ariana Reines, Sean Kilpatrick, and others, as practitioners of excessive aesthetics, offer useful responses to the moral-relativism articulated by postmodern urban spaces. Perhaps art is still that thing that helps us conceive of getting lost as an adventure.

What does it mean to take seriously the central lesson of the European avant-garde, via Tristan Tzara, that life is art? How can contemporary American hipster poets’ various understandings of excess help us understand the terrifying idea that life is an adventure and not a time-keeping instrument? What kind of self-expression or Romanticism is still possible after the death of the center?

Describing herself (and literature as such … since biography is written and, as well, it writes the self she describes), Ariana Reines writes in Coeur de Lion:

I don’t mean some internet-ready
self-reflexivity, self-irony, whatever
people call it, as if a self were so fixed
just ironizing “it” could constitute
a surge of consciousness. (7)

And here she is holding pop culture at a properly disdainful and therefore hip distance:

Apocalypto is a awesome title, we agree.
And Mel Gibson is like some kind of grotesque rendition
Of a stupid, stupid Georges Bataille
But his bloodlust, in its excess, is dull.
Its voracity runs too headlong
Into the carnage, or something, it doesn’t
Exploit the eros of violent possibility enough. (12)

Reflecting on the rather self-obsessed and confessional mode of the book, the same speaker writes:

When do you
decide you’re talking to
Literature too? It’s hard
To separate a body from
The words it lets fall.
And then the difference
Between what’s written
And what seems, outside
Of writing, almost just to be.
Writing has to do with
Time. It comes very close
After. Or
It can. This is very
Close after.
So close that it could
Scare me. I hope it
Will. I really hope it will. (50)

In his gothic and Google-age-surrealist book Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate, Johannes Goransson writes: “His dingle-dangle is a strange fruit. Get out of here if you don’t know how to raise a child, how to save a child, from this disease. It’s a disease of language. I suspect I have it already. Shit.” (6)

In 1922, Tzara said: “Dada is useless, like everything else in life … Dada is a virgin microbe which penetrates with the insistence of air into all those spaces that reason has failed to fill with words and conventions.”

Sean Kilpatrick’s sexual and aggressive book called fuckscapes offers a series of horrific images in a variety of textual shapes cutting up pith and anger and idiom and confession all with a syntax that implicates the reader in this apocalyptic mess. He writes:

Neat breaks of ammo stung the weather.
They played my father’s rigor mortis over the loudspeaker.
Doctors with poor eyesight wearing rubber boots
Through his carrion, with southern accents in his carrion,
On lunch break, the color of lotion, his carrion in tents,
Said, “toothbrush removes father.” They
Said, “he served us well, your daddy pile
Of Frogger super-genes gone splat. (24)

Americans like their personal space and the Internet would seem to offer the ultimate in disembodied connectedness with its main utopian offering of a self that promises to be everywhere, a ubiquitous self. However, because we conceive of the Internet as a kind of space-space continuum that is out of time, it performs Dr. Soja’s “spatial turn” in the Humanities as a modal default. Because of this aesthetic or modal default as a spatial trope, an uncensored Internet is the most powerful instrument in the Democracy 2.0 movement.

How does space relate to the cool poets? Contemporary American hipster poets comprise a network of agglomeration in urban centers and as a causal consequence of this proximity to one another they create the necessary buzz for the literary mutations we come to recognize as progress. Sure, progress is a myth in the service of colonial projects but it is also the way each generation understands the geography of the past.

If the hipster makes art that is everywhere, does the marginalized maker make art that is nowhere? If we are the ones who construct space in poems and in burnt out downtown districts, what is the role of the oligarch who sponsors building projects? When a city generates excess, this garbage or grotesque excess offers once again the primary lesson of the European avant-garde: life is art. Consider the terrain of mortality; consider performing life as a fellow traveler to death. After all: nihilism shows us the amorality of fashion, but only if that amorality is seen from a critical distance rather than just lived. How, then, do we exploit the eros of violent possibility so we may live our art to the fullest?

Animal Collection is a new book of stories by Colin Winnette (author of Revelation, discussed here at THEthe). Like his previous book, it is a subtle blend of experimentation and dramaturgy. The concept: each story contains some kind of animal behaving in unusual and, in some cases, very human ways. From being cuckolded by a beaver, to falling in love with a hummingbird, to being impregnated by an iguana, human characters interact with animals in intimate and occasionally visceral ways. The result is a commentary on the strangeness of our own behavior, and the collection is proof of the power of certain art forms to defamiliarize ourselves to ourselves. This, to me, is the potent achievement of Animal Collection.

Here is the interview:

Brian: When we spoke about Revelation, a major theme of the conversation was the happy constraints of a framing concept. Here we have a collection of stories, each of which revolves around the image of a certain animal. How did this concept occur to you?  How “happy” of a constraint was it?

Colin: The germ for this project was pure constraint…or, better, like a dare / challenge I gave to myself because I was afraid. I had been asked to participate in a reading put on by Publishing Genius and Beecher’s Magazine at AWP DC a few years ago. I was super excited about the reading, many writers I admire were participating, and so I kept googling the reading and looking for info. Then, like the day before the flight, I discovered a poster for the event that claimed all of the authors had chosen an animal to write about and would then read that story in front of said animal’s cage…I had not done that. So I was sort of terrified and convinced of my own failure. Then there was a blizzard in Chicago (where I was living). A major one. All flights were grounded, school was cancelled, six feet of snow fell in something like two or three hours, and people were buried in their cars on Lakeshore Drive. Hunkered down in my apartment, nervous I would never make it to AWP in all of that, I decided to write 26 stories, one for each letter of the alphabet, each of which would center around an animal they had in custody at the Washington D.C. Zoo. A lot of these stories were awful, but some I loved. That was how the whole thing started. I wrote a lot more, revised considerably, and worked out a larger, more considered structure for the collection itself over the next few years. So, in a way, it was the happiest of constraints…except for those poor folks on Lakeshore Drive.

Brian: We have stories of metamorphosis, anthropomorphism, and something in between. In your thinking about this project, did you envision a clear boundary between the animal and the human? Is there a scale or spectrum of humanness or animal-ness? It’s obviously more fluid than that, but how fluid was it in your mind when you conceived of these scenarios?

Colin: The overall project, initially, was extremely fluid. As it came together, I began to detect certain underlying structures, and I worked to tease those out or, sometimes, to counteract them. Every story operates on slightly different terms so the boundaries shift. They are specific to each piece, and to the function of the “animal” in that particular piece.

Brian: More than even metamorphosis, we have visceral images of the human merging with the animal – eating a tarantula, having sex with an octopus, aborting an iguana baby, having one’s private space completely overrun by insects and vermin (which include men, in one story). This to me was a very disturbing turn, which contrasted with the lighter and outright funny tone of some of the other pieces (but maybe that’s because I’m squeamish in general). I guess the question is – if a story collection is a recipe comprised of different flavors, how did you manage the balance of the various flavors we have here?

Colin: This was a topic of much conversation with a  friend of mine, actually. The poet Ben Clark read these stories over and over again while I was working on them. He read many of the stories I wound up deleting and drafts of the stories that wound up looking completely different. At one point, he sorted all of the stories into separate categories. Something like: animal as human, human as animal, animal into human, human into animal, and so on. The various functions of the animal figure, as he could best figure them. So that was a helpful guide. But, more than anything, I was guided by the associative qualities of whatever animal occurred to me at the time I was writing the piece. That was a way I secured a certain level of variation throughout the text. Whichever animal occurred to me when I was setting out to write one of the stories would come with a cluster of associations. Some fairly common or general, and others deeply personal. Those associations dictated the movement of the story, and what was possible. So the stories had a kind of emotional and intellectual logic to them from the get go, which I then refined during revision. For that reason, some of the variation I hoped for was pretty much there from the beginning, but Ben helped me to see the “recipe,” helped to point out the ingredients, so that I might balance the whole thing more purposefully.

Brian: One unifying component of pretty much all the stories is the breakdown of relationships – lovers, families, friends. How does envisioning people as certain animals aid this feeling of disconnection and dissolution? Could it be misconstrued as a distraction (i.e., why not just depict humans as humans, rather than as animals?), or is that part of the point?

Colin: Well, I grew up on Disney films, so who knows what kind of havoc that wreaked on my sense of what exactly is “human,” but…

It’s different in each story, but the function of each animal brings something to the equation that I feel wouldn’t be there otherwise. For example, the iguana. That story is terrifying to me. It’s a joke my friend Blake and I used to make, that we always thought our parents didn’t understand us, when the reality is, they just couldn’t sometimes. It wasn’t possible. It’s entirely possible that I know Blake better than his parents ever could, just because we’re about the same age. The terms of our era were so radically different from our parents’, the disconnect was so severe, there was just no real way to bridge the gap. Any parents who are willing to listen to their kids and genuinely accept what they think and feel and do, without question, without feeling complete alienation and bewilderment every once in awhile, those are some pretty amazing people…or they’re faking it. It’s the kind of parent I hope to be (the genuine article, the amazing kind, not the faker), but what terrifies me is the question of whether I will have the self-awareness to realize when I’m not. Anyway, the joke Blake and I used to make was that it was easy to say parents “just don’t understand,” up until the day your kid is suddenly dating a Tyrannosaurus, and all you can think to say is, “I just don’t want you hanging out with that dinosaur! It’s unnatural!” Of course there’s something about racism in there too, I suppose, but for me it’s more about feeling fundamentally alienated from your child’s life. Or that’s the hook of the story. That’s what complicates it. I mean, would you have allowed her to birth the iguana?

And, just for the record, humans are totally animals.

Brian: Speaking of – the other major “human” theme is one that I’ve already briefly mentioned – the invasion of one’s space and privacy. To what extent is this a comment on the fact that the spaces and zones we build around ourselves are arbitrary and fragile? Am I putting words in your mouth here? Better than a tarantula, I guess. Stylistically, though, one way to convey this invasion of privacy (beyond various really creepy scenes) is the use of the second person. You open the collection in the second person, and one entire story consists simply of “You are here.” Who is you in Animal Collection? How many you’s are there?

Colin: Arbitrary and fragile, yes. Those are words I would use…and even have used when answering earlier questions. Each You, as with each animal, and each story, is very different. It is a way of incorporating the reader at times, or of generating an extra-textual character who is being addressed. For example, the Beaver story does not ask that the reader occupy the space of the You, any more than he/she would any other character. But the You story, that’s all about you, Brian, or me, or whoever is holding the book, really. On the one hand, it’s extremely literal. It’s also a joke. A bit of fun. But one that I felt was essential. It’s one of the last ones I wrote. I was pretty proud of it.

Brian: We have lots of animals, but also lots of voices and perspectives. As many as there are stories, really. This builds on that multivocal component of Revelation. I tell my students that writing is less akin to directing a film as it is to acting in one. How do you get your mind around the different voices and personae from story to story, especially when they’ll only live and breathe for a short time? To what extent do you “become” the voices you depict?

Colin: I abandon a story pretty quickly if I can’t embody the characters I’m writing. For me, it’s literally a physical sensation. I can feel it. I move in certain weird ways sometimes when I’m writing. You’re completely right that it’s like acting in a film, rather than directing it. Although, sometimes, once you know your characters well enough, and if you want to create a kind of stiffness or something, you can move them around like a director, like set pieces. I didn’t do that much here in AC, but I did do that a little in Revelation. They’re different projects, but they do overlap in certain areas. With AC, I was very invested in the voice of each character, or each story. It comes out when I read them, which is something I really love to do. (As a side note, whenever I read the “Tarantula” story, someone inevitably asks, “did you really…?”). I can’t say exactly what caused it, it likely has to do with the associative qualities each animal brings to the story, and what those associations allowed me to access. I was also able to play around a lot with these pieces, so I wasn’t stuck in one voice for any particular length of time. I could start writing and ride the wave of a particular voice until it stopped. Until it was done, and I could just end right there. I didn’t have to keep coming back to it and dragging more out of it. What I loved about writing this book is that I felt so free to make each piece be exactly the length it needed to be. I felt no pressure to extend a piece to make it more like a “short story” or to cut the longer pieces down so they better fit with the flash pieces. The book needed range. It required a variety of approaches to telling a story—and these are all stories, even if they’re poems. It’s a bestiary, an abecedarium, a zoo. It’s an animal collection.

It was late in the smoke-painted bar, a quarter past the blue hour, when The Interviewer pulled The Poet into an even darker room. And in the dark of that darkness, came the first question. Tell me, said the Interviewer, where do your poems live?

Maybe where all poems live: in doubt, shame, fear, prayer and ecstasy. Maybe they live in the part of me that still sees the Rickey, pubescent, gap-toothed, shy to smile, shy to speak, not man-enough, not black-enough, desiring, but who thought to be desired was outside him. Or that they live in this Rickey, older, who smiles, speaks, is man-enough, whatever “man” means, is black-enough, whatever “black” means, desires, apparently is desired, is desired.

Wherever the overlap is is where Rickey (his poems) lives. But poems also move.

The dark room was the color of closed eyelids now. Music reached in through a window deprived of its pane. With his eyes on the music, The Interviewer asked What was the last sin your poems committed?

Oh, they think too much. Worse, they feel too much. Still worse, they attempt this at the same moment, inside the same word. It’s what governs their lines, each line, their special meter. Could they be called Un-American for this or not contemporary or not of my generation? Many times they aren’t interested in performance or games.

A blade of moonlight cut The Poet’s body in half. The Interview liked this. The Interviewer wondered which half wanted most to be taken. Drinks appeared at the table without explanation.  I want to know, said The Interviewer, pausing to take a sip of his drink, what your poems dream about?

I want to know, too.

Minutes were hours in that shut eyelid-colored room. The moon turned into the sun without apology. Music that had been reaching through the window pulled its hand away. The Interview looked less himself. Tell me, please tell me, what have your poems come here to do?

Over drinks, I was recently describing my process to a new friend who, utilizing silence, then said, “So you’re a philosopher first.” My back straightened, and I may have reached for my nearly empty glass of whiskey. I can’t claim the title, of course, though I know this much is true: that I don’t find satisfaction in my poems—regardless if they’re doing the sonic, imagistic or rhetorical work I want of them and enjoy—until the poems themselves satisfy (“solve” doesn’t seem right) the question, the argument, that I’m at work to figure out.

So what is betrayal? Or heartbreak? Was Stevens right about the Imagination? What is meant when we say “boy”—when Stevens says it, when I do? Is violence serviceable? Is love?

I have questions. My poems come here to persuade me the childish belief that I might answer them.

________________________________________
Rickey Laurentiis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. The recipient of a 2012 Ruth Lily Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, Rickey has also been honored with fellowships or scholarships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as well as the Chancellor’s fellowship from Washington University in St Louis, where he is completing his MFA. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including jubilat, Callaloo, Indiana Review, Poetry and Feminist Studies.

Kiely Sweatt’s Origin Of
Patasola Press, June 2012, 68 p.

“It’s all about electric sockets” in Kiely Sweatt’s debut collection Origin Of, whose speaker will wrestle boredom for just “five minutes […] full of hot,” and searches for escape routes from domestic moments that merely “crackle and then burn.” Published this year by Patasola Press, Sweatt’s book ticks forward “our lives in five second intervals” with a few, sweeping backward glances (“Remember when we lived in Spain and everything seemed celebratory?”). At its height, Origin Of‘s uneasy domesticity recalls the insomniac pacing, after-dark décor, and restless four a.m. walking in Deborah Landau’s The Last Usable Hour; I imagine Sweatt’s speaker, as Landau writes in All Else Fails, “Strutting around / for awhile until poof.”

Sweatt’s poems also reveal the desperation in daylight and the struggle of a dynamic speaker (“I go under the name Utah, Manitoba, Albania, Pakistan and Bella / Coola”) to make her own space.

They often have a sculptural quality, both in form and in their detailed, haiku-like precision. This is a book that can begin in wide-framed fantasy:

Maybe we’re in Italy on the water. The car door jams.
Betty and her drug squad come. Go baby, Go!
It’s guns and Jimmy Jazz, guns and Sammy Masters.
“To Virginia!” he says, “There’s no other way to get what you get.

…But end in a close-up of fine china. The most “electric” poems of the collection, remarkably, are the ones that inhabit the intimacies of a household space. Sweatt turns a recognizable disquiet, such as a day full of “signs pointing to the non-alignment,” into a series of escalations:

I break plates.
The neighbors close their curtains.
I feel like throwing up sleep
And all I can say is, “thank you.”

The details mount: “a faint smell of growing houseplants,” “a pot of rice and leftovers,” or “The overdose of patterned carpets.” “I’m grey and bored and endlessly squeezing melons,” Sweatt says in approximation of her future. And, in frustration: “I seem more interested in wonder-working / like the power of my foot / bursting into this wall.” “No one else is annoyed by this?” the speaker asks loudly at the playground as she watches the “over enthusiastic mothers […] with their children looking for appraisal / in their little mirrored reflections”. (In anticipation of this moment, Sweatt also tells us What a Mirror Says: “My life seemed long”). Rote moments become reckless ones. Yet, when the present reality is tedious (“Listening to that voice down the hall / stirring milk in a wine glass is like paint drying a reminder note”) or somehow moves forward too effortlessly, the speaker devises alternatives:

My car is working nicely
and I’m inventing the need for you.

I hope you’re a Frenchman with a thick accent
in a floor length fur coat.

The fantasy gets louder, even as it grows more unremarkable: “I’m on the bedpost screaming / for morning sex and burnt toast.” In a collection that can swing from interior spaces to Paris sunsets, tangos, and black lakes, these “small” yet emotionally noisy moments are the most vivid:

Maybe it’s something small like
I don’t feel the same anymore.

But I do
I do.
I do.

But, Sweatt also tell us: “The word ‘vivid’ contains / a warning.” To further combat her sense of dislocation (“non-alignment”) or her homesickness for the past, the speaker comforts (and provokes) herself by writing origin stories, looking for patterns for why her life is “chipping”; why a relationship has collapsed (“Living alone is freeing, / but lately I find the lonely side more”). She’s looking for an “autopsy” perhaps, or “a profound understanding.” (“I want to know more about your other parts, parts / I felt pieces of. / I eventually thought you’d settle so we could consider our options,” she writes to her former love).

What is “the origin of restricted breathing?” Is the origin of restlessness also the origin of invention? The past only squirms under Sweatt’s scrutiny. “Seems so everyday / to look back towards a city […] I can only imagine my city / turning behind itself.” Gradually, the speaker comes to understand her impatience a part of a sequence; herself as both reader and writer of her own origin story:

You describe a person first,
by describing her body,
then speak from the point of view like
you lost something who lost someone.

There may be clarity in collecting and rearranging details, in outlining anger, in fantasizing about screaming and kicking through walls. “Defining this may seem strange,” Sweatt writes. “[…] like repeating words too many times.” Yet: “The overdose of patterned carpets / suddenly makes sense.”

 

They Used to Dance On Saturday Nights
By Gillian Devereux
Aforementioned Productions, 2012, 34 p.
ISBN 978-0-9823741-4-6

The carnival performers in Gillian Devereux’s They Used to Dance on Saturday Nights (Aforementioned Productions) are always, like Robert Lowell’s prostitutes, “freelancing out along the razor’s edge”, always subject to the fatalities of their trades—knife throwing,  tightrope walking,  sword or fire swallowing. Entertainers are only as lucrative as the opacity of their parlor tricks and/or the chance genetic mutations of their tragedies. Freaks may “share a stomach or a torso”; may “frolic”, frighten” or “fold their bodies flat as farmland”, or an armless girl may have a beauty in [her] strangeness that could ruin a man”. Images may be unexpectedly lovely, or transcendental: a dancing bear “soft as snow piled on pine boughs”, the salmon it’s tossed in its captivity leaping up into freedom and the constellations. Spectator and performer are a working system powered by the promise of newness, the momentary triumph of the illusory exotic.

There are also no dearth of “mutilated souls in cold morgues of obligation”, in Roethke’s phrase, variations of the quintessentially cruel ringmasters or mistress, whose

Children float in dingy beakers
Filled with blue-green bile: the dead stars
Of the dime museum, two-headed fetuses,
Stillborn monsters I carried like a thief…
To pay my way, I populated this carnival
Like Cronus, filled my belly with my own
Offspring, fed on small, disfigured bodies
Until, at last, I birthed my own meal ticket

Devereux’s text is most admirable as a metaphor for illness and survival. Many of her characters are examinations of Plath’s “magician’s girl who does not flinch”, professionals geared to stoicism and efficiency that is nothing like the seemingly effortless magic perceived by their audience. Performers themselves become spectators, housed in their own corporeality, captive audiences to the breakdowns of their own physical existences. But they are anything but passive observers. In The Act of Ignition, a girl whom “The sun hangs over [like] a tumor”

Stands
Alone in a field…
Then a flicker of light
Cuts through her, spills down
He arms and legs, chars her hair,
Crumbles her clothes to ash…
Her power developed
Suddenly: one morning she awoke,
Felt all her organs shift and spark
Like flint inside her…
She learned
To control this in time.
She learned
A single cell can incite a riot…

In Under the Big Top the limitations of the body—momentarily transcended by aerialism and dazzling feats of physical skill—are contrasted against the somehow-less-impressively powered (to the onlooker) accomplishments of nature and the cosmos:

No one notices the night sky…

No one sees
the backdrop, the shadow that shapes
_____and guards each delicate constellation.

Each star spins on invisible wire, falls
_____effortlessly into its assigned position
and not one person applauds….

I fall night after night,
_____netless and alone. I trained for this

my whole life, spent years in the air
_____learning to dive through the white
blare of spotlight; the physics of flight

_____swinging me over the bar
and farther, a solitary wheeling circle…

But nobody ever sees me…

It’s interesting to imagine copies of Devereux’s chapbook being handed out at the gate as carnival programmes; like Diane Arbus’ photographs, they tell us more than any mere propaganda ever could. Certainly this slim volume has something to teach us about magic and control, how indistinguishable the two often are from each other.

Leah Umansky: In your second book, Swoon, you have a sequence of poems around “Women.” Now, in Woman Without Umbrella, you have a similar sequence at work. Did you know when you finished Swoon, that you would have a similar sequence in your next collection?

Victoria Redel: The sequence in Swoon I saw in the way a visual artist might consider a sequence of gesture drawings—which seemed to me an extension of the overall notion I had for Swoon to try and render the many faceted and simultaneous aspects of a woman–mother/lover/thinker/daughter. In contrast I see Woman Without Umbrella as having a kind of narrative arc and so the thread of poems using the same titles is a consideration of time. And though “Woman” in the title is singular I think of this as a book inhabited by many women both contemporary and historical.

To answer the second part of your question—the sequence in this book was not anything I knew when I finished Swoon. It wasn’t anything I actually knew until I was well into working on this book of poems.

LU: This collection is full of intimate and tender moments in love and in loss. How would you say you avoided sentimentality in this collection? Do you ever consider it a risk? I think all love poems risk something of the writer. I’m thinking specifically of poems like, “Kissing” and “Almost Fifty.”

VR: Risking is central to poem making I’d wager for every poet. If the tightrope I walk in making these poems is that of sentimentality, I’m okay with that challenge–mostly because I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. These were the poems I needed to make here in the middle of my life. Death, illness, love, divorce, hilarity, hope, foolish hope–none of these are sentimental. The courage to get up everyday is not sentimental. Living is not for sissies. Or avoiders. If I “avoid sentimentality” that’s good–but it won’t be because of “avoidance”. I’d rather run headlong toward that difficult possibility.

LU: How do you feel about the state of poetry in the digital age of 2012? Are you a fan?

VR: Years ago when I was first asked to publish a poem on-line, I thought, who would ever read a poem on a computer? Well obviously, that question was pretty foolish. I’ve come to love the free flow of poetry across the world—the opportunity for poets in other countries to connect with readers here (and vice versa). In that sense a larger audience is wonderful. On the other hand, I hold books in my hand. It is what I like to do. I also like to make poems with pencil and paper. I kind of miss my typewriter. I’m such a lousy typist that I always had to retype to correct typos and when I did, I always found myself fixing, changing, and revising. I’m not exactly sure I let my hands off a poem quicker now—its just different.

LU: What advice would you offer someone who is just starting to find his or her footing in the poetry world?

VR: It would be to think as little as possible about the “poetry world” and to think and live as much as possible with great poems and great books and the vision and mind of other artists and thinkers. I’d tell someone starting out to think more about bugs and flowers and weather and the tributaries of rivers than about the “poetry world”. That’s the world to find footing in, that’s what will yield.

LU: I love your novel, Loverboy, because of its lyricism, its honesty, its directness and its heart. I always recommend it to friends. You’re one of the few poets I know who also write fiction. Where do you see the distinction between fiction and poetry?

VR: Thank you for that reading of Loverboy. Of course there are distinctions between the two but for the sake of brevity (in this question) I’ll assert that there are essential similarities—at least for me. I’m a poet more driven by the sentence than by the line, and I’m a fiction writer driven more by language than plot. In fiction I tend toward compression—sometimes that works to provide a lyric intensity but often I have to work hard to open a paragraph, a page, a scene. In Woman Without Umbrella I was very interested in having a many-charactered narrative and shifting points of view.

LU: Thank you so much, Victoria.

____________________________________________
Victoria Redel is the author two previous collections of poetry, Swoon and Already the World as well as, three books of fiction, most recently The Border of Truth. Her short story collection, Make Me Do Things, is forthcoming in 2013 from Four Way Books. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for The Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center. Redel is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Fence Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1934200490. 80 p.

Today I write; I wait for
the form around which
I was formed.

Laura Wetherington, “My poitrine made of clouds”

Is order inherent or created? Does form come first or does the form-giver? Laura Wetherington explores structure – the visual, the functional, and the physical – in A Map Predetermined and Chance, published by Fence Books as C.S. Giscombe’s selection for the 2010 National Poetry Series.  Visually, the map is her key.  One poem is plotted like notes on staff paper. Others use typography to create meaning; words and phrases surface from the text as if two poems are unfolding at once.  Thematically, Wetherington circles around the dictum “The map is not the territory” (Alfred Korzybski) or “The description is not the described” (Jiddu Krishnamurti). For A Map Predetermined and Chance lacks a standard cartographer. In this collection, “there is no narrator, no barrier.” No overarching speaker or form-giver. Instead, Wetherington tells her reader: “Figure yourself […].”  Draw your own form. “Your vagina is a country. / Your orgasm takes over agriculture.”

Like a map, grammar is functional, orderly, and descriptive, just another structure on Wetherington’s page. Readers of Craig Dworkin’s conceptual project Parse (Atelos, 2008) know that something transformative happens between the moving parts of a sentence and its fully-formed self. Dworkin parsed the 1874 textbook How to Parse: an Attempt to Apply the Principles of Scholarship of English Grammar by using the book’s strict grammatical code as his guide. Language is translated into its role (“Singular Noun genitive pronoun Proper Place Name intransitive passive voice indicative mood incomplete passive voice…”). Wetherington, too, is interested in functionality, and tests language at the seams: “Of course I won’t lose you / because I never had you to begin with.”   She pulls apart punctuation, questioning “how [one can have] a question with a period” with a period, and syntax (“What is the verb to have? […] What is the verb to have to?”). In You slip from my fingers, she investigates the grammar of sexual desire, creating order even as she splits newly created sentences apart. Form is slippery; tactile:

This is a verb: your fingers.
This is a noun: my
desire. They make
a sentence: you finger
my desire.

A Map Predetermined and Chance ends with the remarkable series Visiting Normandy, which weaves accounts of D-Day from an oral history transcript by Lt. Carl H Cartledge into present-day accounts of a speaker’s extended stay in the same region.   Directly following a poem that references poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje’s hybrid work The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, the series seems to follow Ondaatje’s impulse to blend forms.  (“Even now I am not sure if it is the poems that anchor the book in a mental reality or the prose that does so with its physical actuality,” Ondaatje explains in the afterword to his book). For her part, Wetherington lends the poems set in the present-day a more physical actuality by enclosing the text in a black box while the poems that derive from the Lt. Cartledge oral accounts are free from such a barrier.  The speaker’s visit to Normandy becomes a series of fleeting moments frozen, as if in a snapshot. (“It’s not about the moment. / It’s about a fleet of moments,” Wetherington writes elsewhere in the collection). Past and present events are linked by a shared place or a shared history, yet, there are strange tangents.  A seemingly offhand remark, the very last line of the series, casts a new shadow over Visiting Normandy and hints at another version of events, another perspective.  With this possibility of a rewriting – a reordering – the collection loops around to Wetherington’s initial warning from the opening poem:  “the present is a pasture […] it points to itself.”

* * *

Wetherington is most interested in self-created form.  It is the atlas of her desire that she wants to study (“I want to explore your deep / structure. / Map it out on paper) just as she wants to be studied (“my primer / is a desire: see my desire get / fingered”). The imagery in her poems often stretches like a coastline or the orientation lines on a map. “I am a river long and unknotted […] the same ocean of elbows for rivers and not longer,” she writes; and: “I wasn’t long”[…] which is to say I take a long time to fall into gold light.”  When Wetherington says “I am longing,” in All I want is universe, we sense that what she’s really doing is elongating, creating new physical terrain with every articulated desire. There is always the universe, after all: “Any possible somewhere.  Any / possible long. And plus and plus and plus.”

The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard. Edited by Ron Padgett, with an introduction by Paul Auster. Library of America. 535 pp. $35.

In the first volume of her diaries, Susan Sontag, on an off day in 1957, begins listing, in no particular order and with no reason stated, an odd assortment of memories from her childhood and early youth. It may be that the desire to write down (and ransom from oblivion) moments on the face of it trivial but somehow still persistent in memory comes occasionally to all reflective people.  Certainly it does to many writers. Four or five years after Sontag’s journal entry, the painter and poet Joe Brainard began a work composed of several hundred disparate vignettes drawn from his past, each recorded in a thumbnail paragraph, each beginning with the incantatory phrase, “I remember.”  Not billed as either poetry or prose, the book can be classed as a prose work simply because it’s not composed in lines; yet its directness and foregrounding of autobiographical experience remind us of Song of Myself , as well as the conversational poems of Frank O’Hara. Haikus of recollection, we might call these brief notations; but Brainard’s minimalist title is, simply, I Remember.  Two of them should give the general flavor:

I remember butter and sugar sandwiches.

I remember Pat Boone and “Love Letters in the Sand.”

Part of the work’s appeal resides in its evocation of the 1950s, the twentieth century’s most unironic and blithely American decade, the decade of I Love Lucy, Elvis, and Sputnik. Unironic, that is, until revived by an artist alert to the camp aspect of phenomena like Fifties movies, advertising, and pop music. Brainard’s best known work, it occupies the place of honor in this new edition of his writings even though putting it first violates authorial chronology.  Included along with it are a number of short poems, lineated and sometimes fanciful; a dozen or so drawings; a few short prose works; two journals that were published during his lifetime; substantial excerpts from diaries never before published; and two interviews.  I also want to mention “Self-Portrait on Christmas Night,” a prose piece written shortly before Brainard’s twentieth birthday, appearing for the first time in this volume.  It’s probably the most passionate and painful text he produed, touching on nearly all the themes he would, in more considered pieces, return to later on. What themes?  His dissatisfaction with himself as a visual artist and writer; his poet friends, in particular, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman; the importance of generosity; honesty, imperfectly attained; money; and love.

His reflections on these topics pour out in no particular order, according to the “free writing” method, and when he runs out of steam he stops without reaching any concrete conclusion except the stated desire to get on with his life as well as he can. He briefly comments on the topic of “pills,” which he began taking regularly when he moved from Tulsa to New York.  Noting his own growing dependency, he says, “But I nevertheless think they are basically evil; the effect they have on us is not ‘the way things are’ but ‘the way we’d like them to be.’  It would be so easy if I always took them and don’t know why I don’t want an escape. I don’t owe myself or the world an honest memento of life. God only knows most people don’t give it. In fact those of us who occasionally do are resented.  We know too much.” Brainard believed that truth and beauty were the same thing, so in order to create beauty, he had to be truthful.  His commitment to honesty sounds admirable, but it made life difficult for him, not just because he didn’t like hurting his friends’ feelings, and not just because pills distort the “way things are,” along with the way we report them. He fairly soon caught on that, however resolutely sought, honesty can only be a goal; it isn’t a mode of discourse ever fully realized.  Though words may intend to reveal the truth, in fact, they also inevitably conceal it.  To state is always, if only slightly, to falsify.  All social actions are, in varying degrees, compromised by deception; and language is social.  A decade later he commented on the question in a diary entry dated February 8th, 1971 (from Diary 1970-1971):

Brigid Polk said to me last night that I was the most honest person she knew. I wanted to say, “No,” but somehow more than just “No.” I don’t remember what I said, but this morning I was thinking about it and it came to me what I should have said. That honest is only something you can try to be. (If you want to be.) And I do. But I don’t want to have to take the credit for being honest. Because, even if it were possible, it would be too much to have to live up to. Another impossible weight.

Full disclosure: I knew Joe, admired him and liked him.  At some point in the mid-1970s I read I Remember, not expecting much. It finessed most of the aesthetic criteria I knew and cared about. It avoided metaphor and memorable images. The rhythms were unremarkable, the syntax overall flat and declarative.  I couldn’t discover any significance in the ordering of his memories; they arrived randomly, flickered, burned out, to be followed by a jumpcut to the next memory.  Yet this slyly humorous and sexually candid work was gripping and left me with a strange, triumphant glow hard to account for.  Until that reading I’d thought of Joe as a visual artist only, but the estimate clearly had to be revised.  Reading him was a pleasure not like any other, and his honesty was part of the reason for that.

Our circles of friends differed, so I didn’t get to know him well until 1981, and then by accident.  I happened to end up with a country place in Vermont about an hour’s drive from the house near Calais where he and Kenward Elmslie spent every summer.  My partner and I used to go there once a month for dinner, after which we went on to some card-playing, contract bridge, to be specific.  (In an interview he says that he learned to play bridge with Frank O’Hara, who was devoted to the game.) We, on the other hand, were anything but bridge whizzes, yet surprisingly enough came out more often than not with a higher score than Joe and Kenward.  I’d forgotten the I-remember that reports Joe’s habit of letting opponents win when he played.  In any case, the game provided an occasion for low-key, amusing conversation.

What I don’t understand now is why, once back in New York, we never made any effort to see each other.  As said, our social sets there were very different, and I’d always felt that the (as they are called) New York School of poets had a rather exclusive code about who belonged and who didn’t.  Being a poet in New York indifferent to middle-class values wasn’t enough to qualify. Admiration for Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler, and Koch wasn’t enough. Being gay wasn’t enough. It seemed to require something like pledging Nu Gamma Sigma fraternity, where you agreed to get to know, admire and uphold all the other brothers (some of them pretty obscure) and to regard the NYS as superior to all other literary coteries and their approaches to writing. Further, to constantly mention the names of the other members in and outside your poems. From the first, the New York School (much like the Beats) exhibited enthusiastic team spirit, a reflex that has served them well. Not much of a joiner, I never made the effort to pledge and, if I had, would probably have been blackballed. That said, I liked Joe, his paintings and his writings, and the same goes for several of the others—not on the basis of their being members in good standing, but because of what they wrote.  Is it necessary to point out that, when Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler and Koch were starting out in the 1950s, nobody referred to them as the “New York School”? The term had been used by art critics for the Abstract Expressionists, but its application to poets was the invention of John Bernard Myers, a gallerist and small-press publisher of that era who produced the first anthology of their poetry in the late 1960s.  This was followed up in short order by one that Ron Padgett edited, its cover designed by Joe Brainard.

Joe, Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, David Shapiro, Kenward Elmslie, Eileen Myles, and several others made up the “second generation” of the School, and their work (with the exception of Shapiro) tended to resemble O’Hara’s and Schuyler’s more than Ashbery’s and Koch’s.  Joe sometimes wrote lineated poems, but his works much more often were cast in prose format—not only the I-remembers, but also his mini-essays, diaries, and travel journals.  Influenced by his writer friends and by the rise of Pop Art, he moved away from the emo intensity of his “Self-Portrait on Christmas Night” towards something dryer and funnier, reminsicent of the “Oh wow” flatness of Pop.  It was the era of deadpan minimalism; a favorite restaurant in SoHo was called FOOD.  American commercial brands, cartoons, and advertising were suddenly the stuff of “high” art.  Andy Warhol had put a big cardboard Brillo box in one of his shows and painted Campbell Soup cans. Susan Sontag’s influential “Notes on Camp” appeared and was singled out for special praise in her successful first collection of essays.  One of the reigning artistic modes of the time was the “faux naïf,” a wide-eyed cluelessness adopted as an enabling mask by artists of considerable sophistication.  Of course American naivety is real enough, fostered by hit-or-miss education, provinciality, and the rigorous conformity imposed on our middle-class, at its most oppressive during the high-school years. But the 1960s artists taking the faux naïf approach were hardly Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday or the eponymous Forrest Gump.  They were savvy urbanites who saw the humorous potential in dumbing down and saying things that could easily have been jobbed into cartoons or TV soaps, this time surrounded by invisible quotation marks.

Humor aside, the pose of naivety plays out as a peculiarly American feature in the arts, an anxious reaction, I speculate, to a never fully resolved doubt in our consciousness: Can American civilization stand comparison with the complex achievements of the cultures that preceded it, and of Europe in particular?  It’s as though many artists have decided it doesn’t, and therefore have beefed up our supposed cluelessness, as a way of turning it into a virtue.  At this point in history, the notion of American cultural deficiency is strange given our extraordinary achievements in government, industry, science, technology, scholarship, and the arts. The USA, considering how new a nation it is, has accomplished incredible things. Yet the intimation of inferiority has been persistent for nearly two centuries, surfacing in bizarre ways—for example, the 19th-century fad for American heiresses going to Europe to marry themselves a title, rubber barons building French châteaux in Newport or the Hudson Valley,  or the way natives still gush when a visitor speaks with a British accent. The insecurity can also take the aggressive form of dismissing anything transatlantic as a toxin produced by “dead white European males.” The hard-shell American attitude is: “I may be a rube, but I’m a good person—anyway, a lot better than y’all sophisticates.”  The idea is that if you’ve very clever, you’re not going to be as straightforwardly goodhearted as your blank-slate counterpart.  It takes a Mammy Yokum to come up with formulas like, “Yep, good is better than evil—because it’s nicer.”

Strangely enough, American naivety has been welcomed by Europe as a possible escape from the quintessential European dilemma. Which can be summed up this way: “If my culture of origin gave to the world a Homer, a Sappho, a Dante, a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare, a Velasquez, a Bach, a Goethe, a Tolstoy, a Proust (add names here), what could I possible produce that might deserve the admiration those figures command?”  It’s a crushing legacy to have inherited, so no wonder if many European artists have snubbed it. Granted, the USA has itself originated a few sophisticates fully conversant with the European tradition—Henry James, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Moore, to name only the best known. But these don’t, in contemporary Europe, generate the same enthusiasm as our so-called primitives—Whitman, Mark Twain, William Carlos Williams, Raymond Chandler, the Beats, Bukowski, et al.  How the rating game will play out in the 21st century, though, is anybody’s guess.

A provocative feature of Brainard’s writing is its dialogic character, composed always with a cautious awareness of possible future readers. In journal writing, when he mentions a friend’s name in a third-person sentence, he often then switches to “you” and addresses the friend directly, as though absolutely certain that his remarks were going to be read by the person commented on. Sometimes he anticipates a reaction from his subject and responds to it as though it were actual. It’s a curious rhetorical strategy and certainly dispels any notion that Brainard’s journals are private, spontaneous utterances. They are designed to be read by friends and eventually by people he doesn’t know.  Unless you conclude that otherness, in the form of the internalized personalities of his friends or some abstracted General Reader, a nonspecific “you,” was a permanent fixture in the diarist’s mind. I sense that it was. Brainard’s other-mindedness peopled his solitude  just as it prevented him from ever being entirely offstage. The following entry from Diary 1970-1971 (dated December 28, 1970) shows that mental configuration in action:

If I have anything to “say” tonight (a bit drunk) it is probably just this: to like all you can when you can.

Or, don’t think about things too much.

I don’t know who I think I am, giving you this advice. Actually, when I “talk” to you I am really talking to myself  (mostly) but I guess I wouldn’t be writing it down if I didn’t think that—you might want to know what is going through my head too.

No, the truth of the matter is, that I want you to know.

Yes, Brainard did want us to know. He honestly did. That included exploring the topic of his good luck in having a rich patron in the person of Kenward Elmslie, heir to the Pulitzer fortune. They were sexual partners for a while and loving friends thereafter. Brainard tries on a couple of occasions to go into this subject and admits he likes the freedom from fear, indeed, the luxuries that Elmslie’s sponsorship afforded. But it seems clear he also felt some guilt about having an advantage over others equally deserving.  Not that he wasn’t generous. I remember once being invited to dinner by Joe and not being allowed to pay.  In an almost theatrical gesture, he slapped down a couple of bills with Grant’s portrait on them, smiled, and stood to go.

Why did Joe stop producing artworks at the end of the 1970s?  The explanation often given is that he swore off amphetamines and couldn’t then recapture the intensity they gave him for the making of art.  But there seems to be more to it.  His dissatisfaction with his painting, oil painting in particular, grew steadily.  He decided that he could never do as well as the Old Masters, and, if not, then he should just pack up his brushes.  Yet I don’t find any record of his saying the same thing about writing.  It’s possible, though provocative, to say that his I Remember is an American’s faux-naïf answer to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the great European epic of heroic recollection.  Since Brainard didn’t have to earn an income, and he had pretty much stopped painting, there was the problem of how to use his time.  He spent a couple of hours every day at the gym, maintaining his washboard abs, and the rest of his leisure hours absorbed in Victorian novels.  The choice of reading matter seems telling: not poetry and not the avant-garde novels of, say, The Fiction Collective or the Dalkey Archive, but instead Mrs. Gaskell and Anthony Trollope.  (His pronounced preference for the Victorians may explain a couple of British locutions in his own writing, for example, “at any rate” for “anyway.”)  I sense that he wanted to equal not only the Old Masters of oil painting but also the equivalent for literature.  I wish he hadn’t regarded his own work as unworthy of the tradition. His writing is an achievement of a different sort, not earthshaking, but real and compelling, one than can count admirers as disparate as Paul Auster (who provides the introduction to this edition), John Ashbery, Georges Perec, Edmund White, Craig Raine, Frank Bidart, and obviously the members of the NYS, who all seemed to have learned from him.  He is the second of their number (after Ashbery), to have received the Library of America treatment. Well, not quite. Instead of that series’s standard cloth binding, the book has a pasteboard cover and instead of Bible paper, a less delicate stock.  For the series’s uniform black dust-jacket with red-white-and-blue stripes, this edition substitutes a pale blue cover ornamented with gold stars drawn by the author.  You could say it was less pretentious than the routine Library of America format, more amusing, more down to earth. But if Joe had lived to see it, I think the difference would have disappointed him: for him it was Old Master or nothing.  On the other hand, the text is there and perfectly readable, with all its drollery, honesty, and surprise, which is the main thing.  His pages speak to you; and they will be remembered.

Mayakovsky’s Revolver
By Matthew Dickman
WW Norton
Forthcoming October 2012
ISBN 978-0-393-08119-0
112 pages

Matthew Dickman received the second fan letter I’ve ever written. The first was written in 1989, when I was ten years old, and it was addressed to Howard Johnson, an infielder for the New York Mets. Johnson—or “HoJo,” to baseball cognoscenti—wore a mustache, was a streaky but potentially game-changing offensive player, and served as a modest liability in the field. He received zero votes in his lone appearance on a Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2001.

In 2008, after I’d all but forgotten my letter to HoJo, I came across Matthew Dickman’s first book, All-American Poem, at Portland’s great independent bookstore, Powell’s. I learned from a shelf display that Dickman was just a couple years older than I, and that we’d both grown up in Southeast Portland. I bought the book and wrote to him at an email address I found online. He wrote back promptly and warmly—it turns out he’s a really nice guy, in addition to being a fine young poet.

The latter characteristic in mind, I very much admired Dickman’s debut collection. It was refreshing to read poetry so largely disinterested in lyrical artifice, and to find poems where movement trumped shape and form. And what I’m referring to when I say “lyrical artifice” are poets’ mechanisms for making the familiar strange, reifying everyday cognition into compressed, independent language-objects. Un-All-American Poem-esque poems carry us away from everyday language use in their very shaping—they feature musical and lineation patterns, disjunction, and collage, among other meaning-related strategies. In doing so, they highlight language practices we take for granted, or reveal new linguistic possibilities. To me, contemporary lyric can be thrillingly challenging at its best and annoyingly esoteric at its worst; Dickman’s twin brother, Michael, is a fine poet who writes with what I’d describe as a kind of careful, vatic lyricism, in fact. But Matthew’s first book feels liberated from self-consciousness about form, devoid of desire to play with syntax or to deviate from conventional speech rhythms. The voice in All-American Poem feels earnest, occasionally a bit lonesome, often kind, and charmingly funny.

Now, as I reread this characterization of that book’s poetics—“liberated from self-consciousness about form”—I realize that others, especially poets I know who are partial to exacting lyric, may be turned off by this description. I’m making Dickman’s work sound too straight and prosy, I think. The truth is, there are poetic preoccupations beyond the shape of the work worth paying attention to in Mayakovsky’s Revolver. These preoccupations are evident in the writing of Dickman’s contemporaries, as well: Ben Lerner, Ariana Reines, Tao Lin, and a host of others are writing in different forms with one commonality—they offer a new take on confessional poetics. Dickman’s poetics are largely unmoored from the trappings of the identity politics that in part guided previous generations’ work. Consciously or subconsciously, like the poets mentioned above, Dickman is influenced by reality TV (because aren’t we all, really?) and he shares the banal, sweet, ugly, and idiosyncratic details of his life with his readers, curating and modulating them with a conflicted internal monologue. This dance between an ostensibly unfiltered revelation of Self with a not-so-behind-the-scenes, self-conscious Poet/Director makes for interesting drama about what it means to be human.

The underlying question of these poems as artistic products is: Why should one make these details public? At times, Dickman himself almost seems on the verge of wrestling explicitly with this question in Mayakovsky’s Revolver, further dramatizing something about our particular moment of ubiquitous information, the total-life-disclosure aspects of contemporary media, and what all this means to us as people.

Opening Mayakovsky to any given page and turning the book on its side, one finds unruly, short and long lines staring back like a yard grown feral, or a silhouette of a city skyline with no regard for zoning. The poet deploys All-American Poem’s laissez-faire, unruly stichic form again in his second collection. Occasionally, however, his work is more formally daring than feels familiar, while always the narrative feels intriguingly like a kind of memoir with no clear plot sequence or payoff. We need only look at the opening of the poem The Madness of King George to see Dickman’s breezy-feeling but cumulatively sophisticated confessional poetics at work in this larger structure:

It’s time for me to go. I drink
a beer and whiskey, although I should be sipping
Italian sodas, should be home
watching an old movie
or reading a crime novel but I decided to feed my limitations
instead…

We note that the lines are random lengths, meander with the music of plain speech, and are enjambed with effective intuition vis-à-vis dynamic ambiguities in meaning. Additionally, we find the narrative convention of setting, and that the setting here is generic—a bar. We also find some tension created with another narrative convention that works well for authors and/or characters to share information with their auditors—internal monologue, i.e., “…I decided to feed my limitations…” Yet Dickman is merely easing us in by staging the scene familiarly: the trope of the guilty bar experience. His speaker continues:

The woman sitting next to me
calls herself Summer and keeps touching her lips
and scratching her thigh
and ordering a martini
and talking about history. George Washington
and the madness of King George. He would walk around
the palace garden wearing nothing
but his crown, crying, holding his gaudy scepter in his hands
like an infant….

Reading thoughtfully, we see Dickman lace this seemingly straight narrative poem with allegorical and allusive meanings. The woman next to the speaker is conflated with our hot season—which for a lot of youngish people who live basically Everywhere-in-the-World is booze-filled and at least a little erotic. Summer is notably separated from the speaker, however, although she’s close. Further, she isn’t offering up cliché bar banter. Her performance—because that’s what it is, Dickman suggests in the dramatic, paratactic litany of blocking that precedes her dialogue—includes holding forth about historically contemporary Georges: Washington, an emblem of American independence, and King George III of the United Kingdom, who is remembered for his mental illness as well as for being the “King who lost America.” Dickman doesn’t miss a beat in this seamless-feeling narrative lyric poem (to borrow a phrase from his friend, Major Jackson); however, he begins to complicate things further by investing more agency in his narrator. Upon witnessing this quotidian yet strange performance, the narrator shifts position from passive auditor to conflicted actor in both physical and internal confessional space:

…I am like him, I thought,
and ask for my bill
while this other person, this other
life puts her hand on my knee. Do you ever think
what would have happened if Germany won the war?
she says….

This “this other / life” bit is not incidental melodrama as the poet both feeds and seeks to collapse the question that contemporary art (including reality TV) often begs: Are these actors working from a script, with some other, unspoken agenda, or are they earnest people, communicating authentically in order to fulfill a human need? Dickman subtly and successfully dramatizes that concern here—and he seldom spares himself from critical scrutiny in the whole collection, as practically all of the narrators share a common voice, or are clearly Dickman self-consciously emerging from the cutting room with choice bits of friends’ and family members’ dialogue.

Packed economically into the above little scene are a man’s own sense of alienation, or conscious failure to engage directly with reality as it is; the threat of a loss of “America” (in this case, a big messy symbol from which the poem moves on quickly); and the horror of an imaginable past in which the Nazis conquered not only Europe, but the whole world. This isn’t really a straight narrative—it’s a confession of feeling absolute and utter resourcelessness in the face of reality and its possibilities and impossibilities. It shares a present that has the past as its kind of palimpsest—present happenings are written over a history that has been erased, but remembered by the impressions in the medium, and the new result is a document layered with meanings. While all this is happening, the poem is rendered with both conversational fluidity and keen, instinctive poetic intellect. We barely feel it happening, yet we know that whatever is happening is in some sense a big deal.

Speaking of importance, readers will note the first line of the blurb on the back cover: “At the center of Mayakovsky’s Revolver is the suicide of Matthew Dickman’s older brother.” The book’s second section is entitled Notes Passed to my Brother on the Occasion of his Funeral; the prologue is a poem entitled, In Heaven, the epilogue a poem entitled On Earth.

In Heaven begins with a litany of negated details from Dickman’s youth in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood: “No dog chained to a spike in a yard of dying / grass like the dogs… / no milk in the fridge / no more walking through the street / to the little store / that sold butterfly knives, no more knives, no more honey…” Moving through this negation of basic life details (breathlessly paced in its lack of any road signs but commas until the second page), the poem pivots toward a universalizing blank setting and unnamed cast that includes only the first person plural pronoun, “we,” as it closes:

…No more looking toward the west, no east, no north
or south, just us standing here together, asking each other
if we remember anything, what we loved, what loved us, who yelled our names
_____first?

This is a bit of either an obvious or bewildering way to begin the book for a couple of reasons. First, it starts the reader with a section consisting of a single poem—an increasingly common structural device, but one that puts a lot of pressure on the opening piece. Second, the word “Heaven” without any description or discussion or context, comes with a lot of baggage—all Dickman gives us in the way of explanation is a “no more Lord / my God” embedded in his hurried list. Lastly, the gesture of concluding the opening with questions—as if this were an essay and we could hope to find answers somewhere in what follows—seems to promise a lot. It’s a bold move to start this way, really. I will leave it for other readers to decide whether or not it pays off in the end.

The poem that follows, Akhmatova, opens the first major section, which is called Dear Space. The piece begins at Cannon Beach, Oregon’s tide pools. Right away, Dickman takes up the final questions of In Heaven, about ‘what we remember,’ and drops us into scenes from the past in the first line of the poem: “That’s right!…I was on the beach / looking at Haystack Rock, / putting my finger into the mouths of sea anemones…” For the first time in the book (a few pages in), setting and narrator’s activity are established in Dickman’s major mode, and there’s a Dickman-esque vaguely sexual or dangerous suggestion (putting a finger in mouths, plural). There’s a new desire in the work, though, to link one section or episode to the next, to make a big picture of all the smaller fragments. What emerges, however, is a resistance to allow fragments or distinct narratives to resolve into a comprehensive story. In this seemingly jumbled structure, Dickman subtly bares his own ambivalence about the narrative impulse—picking it up and setting it aside time and again.

And in Akhmatova, as he often does, Dickman uses the parallel narratives his own life and family and a deftly edited piece of history—a few pointed morsels from the aforementioned Ukrainian poet’s life. Ultimately, the past-tenseness of the work and the choice of analogy leave an astringent sadness on the palate. And it’s worth saying that throughout this collection Dickman offers up both his loves and griefs in what would describe as a “melancholic” register, which, in Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, Giorgio Agamben describes as “the humor whose disorders are most likely to produce the most destructive consequences…one who keeps his or her own desire fixed to the inaccessible.”

The voice in Mayakovsky’s Revolver is that of a nostalgic presence—a voice fixed on a past that is no longer accessible. Dickman’s is a particularly painful nostalgia, because some of the characters and places that made up his past are irrevocably changed or lost (and this is ultimately true for us all, which lends universality to his work). This can be sweet and charming; at the same time, of course, it’s also a little painful. The Greek origins of “nostalgia” are nostos, or ‘return home,’ and algia, ‘pain.’ Another early poem in the collection, Weird Science, is a great example of how absence and nostalgia spur Dickman’s poetic impulse. The conceit of Weird Science is that in a woman’s absence, the narrator makes her shape out of clothes in his room, and the poet apostrophizes to his absent paramour.

In the end, I could go on all day about the multitude of admirable pieces in Mayakovsky’s Revolver. What other readers will discover is a maturing poet, fashioning a poetics that bares his whole life in its making, shifting at times dizzyingly between present and past—as we see in The Madness of King George, if we read closely and pay attention to verb tenses—in a way that underscores how alive the past is within our present; and how lonely and absent it is, paradoxically, at the same time.

It was late in the smoke-painted bar, a quarter past the blue hour, when The Interviewer pulled The Poet into an even darker room. And in the dark of that darkness, came the first question. Tell me, said the Interviewer, where do your poems live?

You’re asking so you must have them and have them alive in the hand you hope will one day hold me.

The dark room was the color of closed eyelids now. Music reached in through a window deprived of its pane. With his eyes on the music, The Interviewer asked What was the last sin your poems committed?

My friend, my friend, I was born
to a father who didn’t want what I am. I am
doing reference work in sin, and born
to fuck married men with no shame in
confessing it. This is what poems are:
willing to burn in public
with mercy
and liberty and justice for not but
for the greedy,
and the six other sinners who say
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the hair follicle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star
playing the chitlin circuit I call home.

A blade of moonlight cut The Poet’s body in half. The Interview liked this. The Interviewer wondered which half wanted most to be taken. Drinks appeared at the table without explanation. I want to know, said The Interviewer, pausing to take a sip of his drink,what your poems dream about?

They dream they are dreaming, and in that dream they never have to wake again.

Minutes were hours in that shut eyelid-colored room. The moon turned into the sun without apology. Music that had been reaching through the window pulled its hand away. The Interview looked less himself. Tell me, please tell me, what have your poems come here to do?

No big thing really—jus wanna fuk wit yr I’s til u c yrslf well enuf to admit that u 1 evil bitch.

CAConrad glasses
LMB:You talk about the body as a representation of the world around us – it is. Everything we are is everything there is. But the body may not be the only way we exist. If our hair is the war, as you explained in your WAR HAIR, and the war is our body, does writing keep us from falling apart? Does our writing become extraphysical?

CA: Thank you so much for this opportunity to be interviewed. I’m punchy. Last night I woke to smoke and fire engines. The building next to mine was on fire, the building I SHARE A WALL WITH, and I had to crawl down three flights of steps because the smoke was thick. It’s SO NICE to be alive and writing to you!! But I want to say to your question that while I was standing on the street watching firemen chop a hole into my neighbor’s roof and pour hundreds of gallons of water into their living room, that I was creating a (Soma)tic poetry exercise. I have already created one for writing poems after being mugged. That one’s in my new book A BEAUTIFUL MARSUPIAL AFTERNOON (Wave Books). Last night I started this new (Soma)tic for surviving fire. Part of it involves meditating on your STUFF, your THINGS that survived. I’m FULL of adrenaline, which is now a secretion for the poems. To be honest, it wasn’t clear right away if the fire was in my building, and the smoke was so thick that I had to press my nose into the hallway carpet to inhale deeply and get my ass moving! What a relief when I made it outside! But then after making it outside comes the part of being alive where you FEEL literally FEEL so awake, watching your home be rescued, hopefully you’re watching it be rescued. And the smoke in your hair and clothes, what is this awful smell from? Plastics, wood, vinyl, what, what, WHAT?

I agree that the body is not the only way we exist, which is why I separate – or EXPOSE – the word SOMA living inside SOMATIC. (Soma)tic. Soma is the spirit, and adding a tic makes it somatic, or, a body surrounding a spirit. Hmm, but does writing keep us from falling apart? I want my blood, my vomit, my piss and semen IN my poems. Poetry permitted me my physicality; it piloted me away from believing all the pricks in my fucking high school that wanted me to kill myself because they didn’t like faggots. But one day we WILL fall apart, our cells will be destroyed by disease, or guns, or strangulation, and we will be unhappy. I know I will be unhappy. I’m NOT one of those people who struts around claiming to have made peace with Death. I will be at war with Death for as long as I can stand it, and I have (Soma)tics prepared for writing poems under the influence of chemotherapy and other horrific ways we survive. I love living. I LOVE LIVING. I am one of Poetry’s brides. My white gown sweeps the ground now as I pace back and forth while typing these answers to you.

LMB: I have a ghost in my house. You live with a ghost too. All of my friends look down my long corridor and find heaviness there. No one believes it is harmful or negative, and some of them can’t even explain why they feel the way they do. I had a fervent solipsist walk in and say “I feel something right there.” I decided to write a set of poems to the ghost, who, as it turned out, was found to be a female child who could not pass on. You’ve said poetry is a religion. If poetry is a religion, can we speak to these spirits, can we be guided by them in our writing?

CA: I’d love to read your ghost poems!! I’ve had several ghosts in my life. I’m someone who didn’t believe in them until I finally saw one. When I lived with my friend Elizabeth Kirwin we had a ghost show herself in 1994. What an incredible experience!! It’s the sort of thing that happens and you’re so glad that someone else was there because you feel like you’re losing your mind. But this ghost was a definite “intelligent haunting,” as opposed to what occultists and mediums refer to as a “residual haunting.” In other words, she was not stuck in replaying an event, she was aware and desiring contact. Elizabeth and I talk about this online at PARANORMAL POETICS.

But the ghost I live with now was my neighbor Owen who killed himself in 1999, a very sad young man. He was only 21, he’s such a sad ghost to have around. He whispered in my ear in 2006 to use my hair MY WAR HAIR to remind me that we are at war. Americans, we who are the plural of war, our disgusting American plurality of war, and I want to never forget it. Owen’s ghost is responsible for me writing this poem about war every morning since spring of 2006. I hate the poem, I hate Owen’s ghost, I hate my fucking hair SO MUCH! I wish that I had never listened to him, and I wish that he had not been such an idiot and killed himself.

In the 1980s my neighbor and friend Jim McCormick lived below me. In 1988 he found out that he was HIV positive and killed himself. It was so terrible, and I could smell him through the floor, much like the smell of Owen’s dead body years later when I moved across town. But the maintenance man Willie opened Jim’s apartment door, and we saw him. Poor Jim, he didn’t do it right and had to take drastic measures, most likely leading to an excruciating death. I miss him, he was such a good man. He was one of those old-school queers, very effeminate, gentle, witty, collected lots of antiques. Jim had a print of a painting that I fell in love with. While we were waiting for the police to come I covered my mouth and nose from the stench and stared for a long time at that painting because I thought I might never see it again, and I couldn’t figure out who painted it. Jim’s ghost PUSHED me last week after all these years when I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my friend Michelle Taransky. I had no intention of seeing the special exhibit “Visions of Arcadia,” but I felt DRIVEN to see it at the very last minute. I didn’t like most of the show because they FUCKING LIED saying it was work by Matisse, Cezanne, and Gauguin. 95 percent of the paintings were other artists. But THEN, THEN, OH MY GOD, THEN at the end of the exhibit, THERE WAS THE PAINTING, the very one Jim had hanging in his apartment!! Only this time it was not a print, but the actual painting from Spain. It’s called THE DREAM, painted in 1912 by Franz Marc, so it’s 100 years old THIS YEAR!! I’m so excited to have it back in my life, and now I have a beautiful card of it that I carry around with me.

Maybe you and I could collaborate on a (Soma)tic poetry exercise about how ghosts have made us brave? My friend Jim whom I just mentioned was also a huge fan of the artist Thomas Eakins. In the 1970s Jim had a brass plaque made and hung at Eakins’s Philadelphia studio at the corner of Juniper and Chestnut streets. In 1986 when I first met Jim he walked me over to the plaque, something that he was very proud of. A few years ago Blick Art Supply renovated part of the building and moved in. But the plaque suddenly vanished!! My friend Frank Sherlock (do you know his poetry? He’s such a fucking genius poet!!) and I would show the plaque to anyone we were with when walking by the location. And it appears in our collaborative book of poems THE CITY REAL & IMAGINED (Factory School Books). BUT IT VANISHED, the plaque. Maybe construction workers took it and sold it? I don’t know, but it was gone. And when I went into the store to talk to the manager I was told that they didn’t know anything about it. That was it. A shrug. I mean, YOUR art supply store for ARTISTS is right in the fucking bottom floor of the building where one of America’s greatest artists had his studio, and you don’t care.

Jim’s ghost was on my side!! I started writing about this situation online and the local newspapers picked up on it started quoting me. An outrage started to churn in Philadelphia about this, and my phone started ringing off the hook. THEN the threatening emails started to arrive from Blick headquarters. And I kept saying, “PUT THE PLAQUE BACK AND ALL WILL BE WELL!!” But they’re a corporation and think that they don’t need to give a shit what one fat-assed faggot in Philadelphia thinks. FINALLY they threatened me with a lawsuit, and I said GREAT!! PHILADELPHIA WILL LOVE THIS!! AND NO ONE WILL BUY YOUR FUCKING PAINT BRUSHES AND EASELS AND TURPENTINE!

Then I received a very nice email and phone call from the granddaughter of the owner of the company. She apologized for all of the flack I was getting. It turns out that she had scouted out that very location in Philadelphia and THAT PLAQUE my old friend Jim McCormick had made and hung decades ago was THE REASON she wanted to put one of their stores there. She even had a photograph of the plaque. She had a team of designers make another plaque, one that looked exactly like the one Jim had hung, and now it’s back on the corner of Juniper and Chestnut in Philadelphia, where it belongs. Jim’s ghost was with me the whole time. The threatening legal letters only infuriated me instead of frightening me like they were designed to do. I feel like Jim KNEW this reasonable, intelligent, caring person was there at the company, and that if I just HUNG IN THERE and kept FIGHTING that she would eventually hear about it. I miss Jim. It irritates me that we die. Every single day it annoys me.

LMB: As you write in Preternatural Conversations, when I read your work I feel an “I.V. drip of/sphinx’s blood.” Sometimes when I first read the book I felt lost, like I’ve dreamt, woken up, tried to recapture the image, failed, tried again — and when I did, it’s right there, shimmering. Poetry should hit you in the face with shimmer. What do you think about the poetry being written from today’s new poets?

CA: “Preternatural Conversations” is a newer piece written soon after the manuscript was finalized for Wave. But yes, it’s in jubilat, I’m very excited, the amazing poet and editor Emily Pettit published it, and I enjoyed making the little film for it. I’m so happy with this piece, mostly because it’s about using psychic tools to communicate with people and dogs. But another reason it makes me happy is because I FINALLY figured out a way to tell Ed Dorn off without being mean. I was finally able to make light of his grotesque bigotry against faggots, and say “I want to dress special for this.” HAHA!! When I FINALLY got it out of me in this way I was thrilled. Making fun of someone’s bigoted, small-minded views of the world can take some of the power back. And when I taught at Naropa this summer I read the poem. It was one of those marvelous opportunities with hundreds of people listening and a fantastic stage and I had LOTS AND LOTS of red and purple glitter COVERING me that night. Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman started Naropa as we know, and Ginsberg was one of Dorn’s prime targets for his homophobic rages. So JUST BEFORE reading the Dorn piece I said “This poem is for our fairy godfather Allen Ginsberg who helped build this queer stage!” This made my year, doing that!!

What do I think about today’s poets? Anyone who says they would rather go back to another time for poetry is an idiot!! NOW is the time for poetry!! NOW!! There are so many brilliant poets writing RIGHT NOW!! I mean they are OUT THERE at this VERY MINUTE writing poems that are going to blow my mind and break my heart!! When I was a teenager writing poems I had no idea that my favorite poets were going to actually be my friends. This is something I’ve had to get used to, being a great admirer of poems written by friends. Shimmering, yes, as you say. But also an awakening, because I feel startled so often by the poetry of my friends!

LMB: So you were at the Radar Writer’s Retreat in Mexico. Once in Mexico I threw copal, tobacco and chocolate into a fire for the Abuelo of the mountains in Tepoztlan. We made wishes, and I admit that mine came true, which was both painful and necessary. For me, there is something about Mexico that has influenced nearly all of my writing. Location, politics and culture clearly affects your work, in that you are deeply impacted by the world itself, and its goings-on, but how did Mexico treat you? Do the countries you go to speak to you?

CA: Oh I loved Mexico!! And I love the RADAR Lab!! I’m grateful to Michelle Tea and Ali Liebegott for their incredible dedication, making this possible!! It was one of the best weeks of my life getting to make poems in the middle of this paradise, and it truly is a paradise along this jungle ocean shoreline!! Here is the outline of what I did down there, the (Soma)tic Poetry Exercise:

For 9 consecutive nights I prepared my crystal-infused water dream therapy. Each morning I would implement the final stage of the dream therapy, then I would listen to a different PRINCE album in its entirety: DIRTY MIND, CONTROVERSY, PURPLE RAIN, etc. Lying still with eyes closed, allowing the dream to braid and dissolve inside the musical landscapes of my beautiful, androgynous muse. As soon as the album finished I would write for fifteen minutes, which was not so much a dream-journal as it was a dream-lost-inside-PRINCE-journal.

After breakfast I went down to the beach. Each morning from 9 am to noon I would sit in the same place, one foot closer to the tide each morning. On the last day I sat directly in the tidal break with sturdy paper and a pen whose ink embeds into paper, a pen invented to prevent check fraud. PRINCE may wash my dreams away, but the ocean would not take my poems.

For a few minutes I would close my eyes and listen to the tide. Then I would suddenly open my umbrella and stare at one of its polka dots, each one a different color of the spectrum. After staring at one polka dot for five minutes I would suddenly look out at the beach, coral reef and ocean. The polka dot’s color would show itself in the hue of a broken shell, or be found in the bow of a distant ship. One morning my eyes landed on the white of the umbrella, which is all the space surrounding the polka dots. I decided to go with it. When I tore the umbrella aside I noticed FOR THE FIRST TIME tiny white crabs who made their homes at the wettest part the sand, continuously washed by the tide. The study of the crabs consumed my morning. One day I looked up from writing to see a hundred yellow butterflies fluttering in a line down the beach above the surf a few feet from my face. The parade of beauty kept me in awe: giant sea turtles, iguanas, and magnificent sea birds. One day I placed my large Lemurian crystal in the sand under the surf. RADAR Lab’s amazing chef Christina Frank sat with me to witness the little silver fish surround the crystal. They LOVED IT! They would ride the surf to the crystal, surround it and KISS IT, ride the tide out, then ride it back in and KISS IT AGAIN!

From 3 pm to 6 pm I would sit in the bathtub to write. My favorite childhood liquid was FRESCA! I thought it went out of business, but it just moved to Mexico! I drank FRESCA all day long at the residency, and used it for the bathtub meditation, drinking mouthfuls, letting the grapefruit bubbles roil in my mouth while turning the shower on. I would touch the falling water with the tips of my fingers then I would swallow the FRESCA and turn the water off. I would meditate on arguments from the archive of my unforgiving brain. Arguments I had, and arguments by others. Once I heard my mother and sister shouting in another room. My mother yelled, “I SHOULD HAVE ABORTED YOU!” My sister yelled back, “GRANDMOM SHOULD HAVE ABORTED YOU AND WE WOULD ALL BE FREE FROM THIS GODDAMNED MESS!” My mother BURST into tears, my sister left the room with a smile. She saw me and said, “I TOLD HER!” I returned her smile and hugged her, saying, “YES you did, my dear!” The MOMENT we embraced THE RELIEF of our grandmom’s imaginary abortion WASHED OVER US BOTH! We laughed from so much pain and nonsense for a rolling tide. The brain holds all of our disasters in little, decrepit files marked and mismarked and repeating their vomitus sick, and sometimes a little too quiet from too much damage. These notes became nine poems, my homage to my mother who was not aborted, and to her children, who were also not aborted.

LMB: I find it interesting that you say our mothers (and the others we sentimentalize) are usually drawn up as sacred texts. One of the reasons I’m drawn to your work is because I can relate to having a fucked-up childhood, whether we view it now as fucked up or simply different. A euphemism or no. You escaped a lot of what you experienced by reading. So you learn to grow and move through history through your work, instead of being haunted inside of your work. That’s brave. How hard is that to pull off?

CA: It’s not possible for me to take for granted that I come from poor, mostly illiterate, country people, and yet have somehow found this endurable, rich existence of poetry. And I don’t say I BELIEVE poetry can save our lives, I say I KNOW it can!! And I don’t mean it redirects emotions, or conciliates in the sense of pacification, no, I mean poetry can actualize an entirely, wholly new pattern of awareness. My boyfriend Earth (aka Mark) was murdered in Tennessee about a decade ago. In my new book A BEAUTIFUL MARSUPIAL AFTERNOON there is a (Soma)tic exercise I created for us to investigate trauma. I used the music of Philip Glass, which is PERFECT as a trance vehicle, in fact his music makes it almost easy to enter a trance state. But I used these (Soma)tic techniques I’ve developed for the “DOUBLE-SHELTER” piece in the new book, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I am changed.

The word “escape” isn’t right for me. I escape nothing because poetry for me is about plunging into everything despite how much it might wind up jeopardizing my happiness. Poetry is worth my fear being resolved. Thank you for this interview.