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Bianca Stone

Reading Goat In The Snow

emilypetit

Emily Pettit’s lush lines unfold and unfold and unfold. She’s a master of the short line, gorgeously complex in her use of dark themes (strongest being a version of intense human anxiety) and poignantly reveals these themes in an unselfconscious, direct voice. The distinctive “leaping” I find in so much great poetry of our generation (the feeling of non-sequitur logic and negative space between lines), is conquered by Pettit. But what’s so powerful about her poems is that she never loses the initial thread which allows each poem to remain entirely distinctive and unique, rather then forgoing sense. Each individual poem, like a planet in a solar system, orbits; sometimes harkening back to others nearby. Her poems are introverted planets, with extroverted survival skills, in a chaotic universe.

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No one, I think, is quite as masterful at titles as Emily Pettit. In her book Goat in the Snow (Birds, LLC 2012) they’re like poems above poems. Thus, the relationship between the poem and the title on the page is powerful. Take the poem “HOW TO APPEAR NORMAL IN FRONT OF YOUR ENEMY OR COMPETITOR.” The first line is “Damn icebox and my fist, I didn’t hit it.” The humor and seriousness of the juxtaposing lines are brilliant. It’s dramatic irony at its best in poetry. There’s so much authority and wisdom in the voice, mixed with a kind of vulnerability that resists the didactic. Similarly, the clerical precision—or Pettit’s statements—resist any hint of melodrama. But she’s not afraid of beauty:

All over town footprints are flying. When walking
on tiptoes we ignite suspicious minds. Hovering,
hanging out nowhere near the ground.
I’m on my way to the end of the world again.

(from HOW TO HIDE AN ELEPHANT)

Within the controlled leaping are these moments of lyrical explosions.  “When I blow everything up / I promise I won’t put everything back / together in the old comfortable ways.” Pettit wants the sentiments, the conceits, to be precise. But she also knows that precision is absolute, fixed. So we’re shown one problem and how to fix it, and then why it shouldn’t be fixed but celebrated. Goat in the Snow is, in a sense, is a celebration of art and expression. It invites the reader to embrace a kind of chaos. Emily Pettit is one of the most promising, gifted poets of our generation because she can ask questions without an answer. Because she can fluctuate in humor, as well as complex, important themes. What I find most clandestine about the book is that the speaker is deceptively coy. When she tells us to put an elephant in our pocket so “it can be the elephant in the room / that no one ever talks about” it’s not simply endearing: she’s calling us out. She wants us to pay attention. And that’s just what I’m going to do. Something intense is happening. And Emily Pettit knows it.

Emily Card

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Things Warren loves:

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Warren Craghead III lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA with his wife and two daughters. See more at www.craghead.com.

Related Linkage

Waking Up
Tea Time
Before Bed
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Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), winner the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010), winner of the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. A former Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she’s currently a doctoral candidate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow at Western Michigan University.

Eryn Cruft lives in Bloomington, IN but will soon be leaving for London to study for a Master’s degree in Language and Cognition at King’s College. Previous collaborations with Traci Brimhall have appeared in Guernica and Nashville Review. Eryn has also contributed work to the Undergraduate Journal of Cognitive Science.

(an excerpt from ‘Comics Poetry: Beyond Sequential Boundaries’)

Can one see, indeed, that a painter or a poet never starts a painting or a poem before they have been carried to see it more or less by their spirit, in its simultaneity of principle elements…? ~ Rodolphe Töpffer, Réflexions et menus propos d’un peintre genevois

Finding connections between comics and poetry has been my focus for a few years now. It’s an interest shared with a field of talented creators including Matt Madden, Warren Craghead, Bianca Stone, Paul K. Tunis, Alexander Rothman, Derik Badman, Summer Browning, Michael Farrell, Eryon Franklin, Franklin Einspruch and Julie Delporte, to name too few. Given this growing commitment to comics and poetry, (evident in recent articles, exhibitions, and symposiums), this article discusses comics theory, its relevance to experimental forms and possibilities for the future of comics poetry.

Existing comics research often borrows concepts from narrative theory, film and cultural studies as well as visual communication. But such comparisons have been criticised by various comics creators, like Gregory Gallant (a.k.a Seth), as increasingly inadequate. Seth argues

Comics are often referred to in reference to film and prose — neither seems that appropriate to me. The poetry connection is more appropriate because of both the condensing of words and the emphasis on rhythm. Film and prose use these methods as well, but not in such a condensed and controlled manner. Comic book artists have for a long time connected themselves to film, but in doing so have reduced their art to being merely a ‘storyboard’ approach (Seth, 2006, 19).

Storyboard approaches can be useful but they don’t reflect the potential for comics to communicate beyond sequential narrative boundaries. Scott McCloud, arguably the most influential comics scholar to date, tells us that possibilities for comics are seemingly endless, so too are attempts to define them (1993, 23). Yet by focusing on the notion of ‘closure’ and image interactions within closed grid structures, McCloud, like many comics critics, hasn’t encouraged comics concepts to expand very far past linear panel sequencing and narrative assumptions. Beyond McCloud’s definition of ‘images in deliberate sequence’ it’s possible to think of comics in terms of presenting simultaneous image-texts or web comics that feature hyperlinked content which takes readers in multiple directions rather than straight lines, or as a series of moments not bound by sequential panels and linear time constraints.

Interested in alternatives to linear, narrative analysis, (and wanting to talk to comics poets about their process), I started studying the ways poetry could be integrated in the creation and critique of comics. Speaking with several comics poetry creators, Matt Madden, Warren Craghead, Bianca Stone, Paul K. Tunis, Alexander Rothman, Derik Badman, Summer Browning, Michael Farrell, Eryon Franklin, Franklin Einspruch and Julie Delporte, it became apparent that the works they wanted to produce were those combining visual and verbal elements in ways that experimented with linear and narrative definitions of comics. Despite these attempts, and the growing field of alternative comics, the vocabulary of comics creation and criticism was largely limited to sequential definitions, narrative assumptions and linear modes of analysis. Comics critics like McCloud, Charles Hatfield, David Kunzle, David Beronä and Douglas Wolk, among others, view comics as narrative constructs, preferencing images in sequence over all other elements in the visual-verbal comics vocabulary. This narrative assumption is evidenced in Wolk’s review of Abstract Comics: The Anthology (ed. Molotiu, Andrei, 2009) in which he states, ‘anyone who’s used to reading more conventional sorts of comics is likely to reflexively impose narrative on these abstractions, to figure out just what each panel has to do with the next’. This statement is symptomatic of the narrative assumptions that limit aspects of comics criticism and creation.

While narrative assumptions have formulated useful ways of creating and understanding comics in sequential linear order, they give little insight into non-linear, non-narrative works. There are gaps in existing narrative approaches when it comes to discussing the spatial arrangement and simultaneity of works like Warren Craghead’s HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE, Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA, Michael Farrell’s BREAK ME OUCH or many comics collected in Kramer’s Ergot editions or Andrei Molotiu’s Abstract Comics. Thinking sequentially can limit ways of interacting with comics like those by Kenneth Koch or Chris Ware in which text and image are presented simultaneously, or comics poetry by Alexander Rothman, Bianca Stone and Richard Hahn that linger in liminal spaces, or comics poems created entirely without panels. Instead, it is possible to understand how comics can be created and read in multiple directions, to enter the poetic experience instead of imposing narrative on it, to examine the liminal spaces and new associations between non-sequential components rather than skimming panels for linear associations.

The need for alternatives to narrative analysis is also noted by Jan Baetens in the article ‘Abstraction in Comics’ (2011) where he argues ‘[t]his a priori approach to narrative in comics as a mere instantiation of narrative in general is now under pressure’ (2011, 94). According to Baetens, the ‘phenomenon of abstraction in comics’ is cause for critical rethinking of narrative assumptions and more formal, medium specific approaches, especially in analysis of non-narrative comics (2011). Baetens suggests

[a]bstraction seems to be what resists narrativization, and conversely narrativization seems to be what dissolves abstraction. Abstract comics melt in the air when narrative walks in—and vice versa. That said, the imposition of narrative, as Wolk calls it, is far from being a simple or self-evident affair: much of the material gathered under the flag of abstract comics does resist in a very active way any attempt at immediate recognition and narrative translation (2011, 95-96).

Despite the narrative resistance of many comics, narrative ‘upgrades’ are continually imposed by sequential modes of analysis (Baetens, 2011, 106). Baetens contends, however, that ‘it is no less possible to gradually “downgrade” the narrative strength of apparently very narrative panels, pages, or sequences by becoming sensitive to the power of abstractive mechanisms’ (2011, 106). By re-focusing attention on individual segments, abstraction can be apprehended, narrative collapses, giving way to other modes of reading and seeing within the work.

Besides Baetens, Brian McHale is another to illustrate that ‘the illusion that prose is a continuous medium, unsegmented, is a powerful one, with almost ideological force; nevertheless, it is demonstrably untrue’ (2009:23). Not only are there identifiable gaps between words, lines and pages, segmentation also occurs through seriality. This can be seen in comic series, where strips and episodes are released over months or years and characters passed from one creator to another. To address these gaps in narrative assumptions and the neglect of non-linear comics possibilities, ‘segmentivity’ presented a means to analysing both sequential and non-sequential comics. The concept of ‘segmentivity’ stems from Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ attempt to distinguish the components of poetry. According to DuPlessis, the underlying characteristic of poetry as a genre is its ‘ability to articulate and make meaning by selecting, deploying, and combining segments’(DuPlessis, 2006, 199). Segmentivity involves identifying and implementing ‘bounded units’ such as words, sentences, stanzas and spaces. Poetry, like all literary forms, is constructed of segments. Applied within comics, segmentivity can be used to examine the mechanics of panels, captions, speech balloons, gutters, typography, page layouts, countermeasure and the ways in which these elements can be used in both narrative and non-narrative, linear and non-linear contexts. Assessing where and how each visual or verbal segment is used can enable a richer understanding of spatial and syntactical experimentation.

Prior to captions and panels being placed in sequence, they are first ‘segmented’ as letters, words and images. These visual and verbal segments can then be accumulated and arranged in multiple ways. Not all of these components are inherently narrative, especially in the case of comics poetry and abstract comics. Accordingly, it can be argued that segmentation, not sequence, is the primary characteristic of comics. Sequence is a secondary element with narrative following behind. Narrative disclosure is dependent on the cognition and negotiation of gutters by the audience. This navigational process is what McCloud terms ‘closure’, where readers fill in gaps between panels, unifying visible and invisible moments to create ‘meaning’. Yet this process is not without issue as Dylan Horrocks and Neil Cohn contend. The practice of closure is also heavily reliant on panel structures and the narrative premise that gutters and spaces are to be leapt over, instead of explored as encouraged by many examples of comics poetry.

Traditionally, comics feature rectangular frames and nine-panel page grid structures with linear plot progressions. In poetry, meter and rhyme were once staple elements too, but modern techniques and technologies in both these forms have expanded possibilities through experimental spatial, syntactical and sound arrangements. Using segmentivity, creators and critics can understand that comics can present different perspectives of the same moment or image or idea, and that these moments can be equal to each other rather than sequential. Multi-linear and hyper-textual associations can also provide profitable alternatives that ‘overrun’ traditional image-text meanings. When one remains open to the ‘gaps’ and possibilities of both linear and non-linear readings in comics, as in poetry, profitable directions for navigating and creating new works appear.

Segmentivity moves towards an inclusive comics theory. This mosaic approach encompasses many modes of creation and criticism by focusing on the fundamental segments of visual and verbal language employed across all comics forms. Despite inclusive intentions, a question I’m often asked is whether such an approach is anti-narrative or anti-linear. In short, the answer is no. The process of identifying and applying segmentivity doesn’t dismiss narrative or linear forms, rather it enables visual and verbal components to be understood as pieces of a work that can contain both narrative and non-narrative elements depending on cognitive inclinations.

In testing the practical application of a theory of segmentivity I created the comics poetry series, ‘ANEKI’ in collaboration with five visual artists, Jackie Cavallaro, Skye O’Shea, Tamara Elkins, Anastasia McCloghry and Guillermo Batiz. The comics poems are symbolically and structurally based on the 78 cards of the tarot. These works can be read as narrative or non-narrative, in linear directions or in any formation of the cards. Through the lens of segmentivity, comics, like poems, have the potential to be understood in multiple directions. Combinations of visual and verbal segments are malleable and multi-linear. And although left to right reading and sequential ideology still dominate Western comics, there’s no absolute authority that forces readers to follow a set path, as Fawkes’ comic, One Soul, superbly demonstrates. This is one of many works to illustrate the phenomenon of non-linear, abstract and comics poetry that employ simultaneity over set sequence (Baetens, 2011). Examples of this poetic turn can also be found in comics by Koch, Craghead, Ware, Hankiewicz, Jas H. Duke and Rothman who experiment with rhymed images or freeing images from panels all together, circular page constructions and loops of text that reveal a myriad of reading possibility for comics. Overturning predictable sequencing of traditional comics, these works demonstrate the profitable potential of poetic ‘gaps’, silences and deliberate syntactical disjunction to incite meaning. In realising the potential of comics and comics poetry, segmentivity encourages creators and critics to become aware of the myriad of ways in which it is possible to write poetry in the language of comics, and for comics to employ the spectrum of poetic devices from caesura to rhymed couplets.

This is by is by no means an exhaustive account of comics criticism or comics poetry, rather a survey of selected perspectives that exposes some of the gaps and possibilities presented to date. A more comprehensive analysis of criticism and concentrated studies of comics poetry can be found in my research ‘Comics Poetry: Beyond Sequential Boundaries’.

www.tamrynbennett.com

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Tamryn Bennett is an Australian writer and visual artist living in Mexico. Since 2004 she has exhibited artists books, illustrations and comics poetry in Sydney, Melbourne and Mexico. Her projects are created in collaboration with artists, designers, photographers and musicians. Tamryn’s poetry and essays have appeared in Five Bells, Nth Degree, Mascara Literary Review and various academic publications. She has a PhD in Comics Poetry from The University of New South Wales and when in Sydney was Art & Publications Director for The Red Room Company.

 

Selected references

Baetens, Jan. (2011). Abstraction in Comics. Substance # 124, Vol.40, no.1, pp. 94-113.

DuPlessis, Blau Rachel. (2006). Blue studios: Poetry and its cultural work. United States: University of Alabama Press.

Hatfield, Charles. (2005). Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Horrocks, Dylan. (2001). Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud’s Definition of Comics. The Comics Journal #234, (www.hicksville.co.nz/Inventing%20Comics.htm).

McCloud, Scott. (1993). Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Perennial.

McHale, Brian. (2009). Beginning to Think about Narrative in Poetry. Narrative. Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.11-27.

Molotui, Andrei, Ed. (2009). Abstract Comics: The Anthology: 1967-2009. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books.

Wolk, Douglas. (2007). Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

The People of Distress

Going through a box of old ephemerae
I found a tiny notebook called The People of Distress.
The day I found the notebook
was the day I started reading up
on the gnostic gospels
late at night in Vermont, stoned,
the laundry rinsed
by the thunderstorm,
its slow musk
behind our ears
and inside our wrists.
I’m not sure, but I suspect
we have all been given the secret kingdom of God.
Taking VHS into the shadowy back bedroom;
Gesturing to blackflies and moths banging at the windows
that we are mighty
and merciless—
this is how I sit, a box of old papers
between my knees,
a warrior beyond death.
Nothing comes to us.
We work with what is already here.
We live at the garrison
tinfoiling over half-eaten peaches
while out in the world
there are those who believe
Jesus never kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth
with his great, red, pharmaceutical tongue;
and there are those whose bodies
are perfectly made for erotic positions
in the seamless electricity of stark apartments.

I’m down at the river
gnawing at a sugar maple.
I’m down at the local bar
sheathing famous drinks into myself—
and I see it all—
so give me the parables, natural graves,
the androgynous hallelujah national forestry
of mid-state; give me the lightening,
armament of antique hatpins;
and give back all the bad poems,
because one day you’ll have to answer for them,
all the things you didn’t say.
I am patiently waiting.
Reading my early manifesto
which merely explains that I will one day
write the People of Distress via words
but for now it is all pictures.
It ends magnificently: I am nine now.
And it’s never been judged. Never been typed.
I wish I could take the offspring
out of the gnarled nests of my life
and let them drop.
All the luck of the world would let me in.
And good people
would have me over
for endless bright bloodshot evenings.
The People of Distress would get smaller
and the essential classical masterpieces
would get bigger.
And they would come out—the great tutors,
into the cool night breeze,
perfect gentlemen, grand madams,
to look at the stars of our hemisphere. To recite,
and nod, knowingly,
that this is how we see things through.
This is how all things end.

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Bianca Stone is the author of several chapbooks, including Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Argos Books), and the poetry-comic I Want To Open The Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant (Factory Hollow Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2011, Conduit, and Tin House. Bianca Stone is also a visual artist and her collaboration with Anne Carson, Antigonick, a new kind of comic book and translation, was published in spring of 2012 by New Directions.

from [Practicing Vigilance] 

I’m looting the altars of my former forgiveness
like a cacophony of snow blowers
I’m between making dinner plans
and opening a can of sunshine onto the supernal room
standing in a very quiet desert
forcing the mean soliloquies out
with their un-simulated volcanic ash
hardening my exact replica.
I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.
I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes, my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:
we shall perceive our own pain in others.
And we shall know if we are capable of loving them.

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Bianca Stone is the author of several chapbooks, including Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Argos Books), and the poetry-comic I Want To Open The Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant (Factory Hollow Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2011, Conduit, and Tin House. Bianca Stone is also a visual artist and her collaboration with Anne Carson, Antigonick, a new kind of comic book and translation, was published in spring of 2012 by New Directions.

Resources?:

1. Sharon Lampert: THE SEXIEST CREATIVE GENIUS IN HUMAN HISTORY
2. Internet Archaeology: an academically rigourous archive of curated .gifs&such from the 90s.
3. Prime Time TV: Julia Panek’s TV-poetry-for-an-internet-age.
4. aaaaarg.org: a technically limitless archive of free, rare, university-press-and-such .pdfs.
5. Reanimation Library: an amazing resource for strange high-res scans of “found” images–with a hub in Southern Brooklyn, run by Andrew Beccone+.
6. Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts’s entire run.
7. gmail.com

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Paul Legault is the co-founder of the translation press Telephone Books and the author of three books of poetry: The Madeleine Poems (Omnidawn, 2010), The Other Poems (Fence, 2011), and The Emily Dickinson Reader (McSweeney’s, 2012). He’s here.

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Michael Rae’s suggested links
1. A FREAK WEEK music video for the song “Any Little Game.”
2. The website of Michael’s BFF since kindergarten. Michael has served as his tattoo guinea pig for a decade.
3. Andrew Rae’s excellent collage work.
4. Contemporary American folk art: Jesse Malmed.
5. Elvis in his prime rehearsing with an absolute crackshot band.
6. The coolest dancing you are liable to see.
7. Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.
8. She’s not there!
9. Now My Empty Cup is as Sweet as the Punch

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“People Thoughts” is an ongoing drawing/writing series by Michael Rae that began in 2009 and now features over four hundred pieces. In addition to illustration and writing, Michael produces pop music under the moniker “Freak Week.” He is from New Mexico and lives in Brooklyn. He loves sports. You can find many more of his creations here.

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Jono Tosch is a poet, artist, non-fiction writer and fermentation enthusiast who lives in Northampton, MA. Last summer he took his blog, Oilchanges: the anti food blog food blog, to New Mexico on a reader-supported X-Country road trip. You can find his poems and whatnot by googling his name.

Utah

Did you fathom the distractions
it takes to wash down grass when rain
becomes solid and wasteful? Here you are
the insistence of an object when that object
takes me to your ocean. I want to know
the 1912 about the way you dress your socks
on winter nights when pigeons dare to roam
the streets. I want to recite the loveboat sermon
with you, wielding through corridors,
finding objects to place in picture frames.
You said, “Let’s defy gravity over there.”
I sailed to Utah that day. Throwing cups
at the circumference of your name.

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Alina Gregorian’s poems have been published in Boston Review, GlitterPony, H_NGM_N, and other journals. She co-edits the collaboration journal Bridge.

Words to Oneself

What I have heard here
among endless shifting sights
the air invisibly bright
blinds recognition
words carried silently
by the will of it
caught in colorful petals.
Their scent is a thousand
years, appearing and disappearing
without a present.
I have never really
seen anything.
Eyes bathed
within a massive song,
overtaken, submerged,
deepening away,
less than a dream’s weight.
The body without horizon,
and exhaustion pouring out
into space
deflated of purpose.
You hold the watcher
in your arms
speak the tongue
of patient endings.
Singing, in a way, to your separated
dreaming
brother
here listening in the dark.
Holding his net into the air.

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Walter Stone is a poet and musician. He lives in Portland, OR.

What I love about Paul K. Tunis’s work is how brilliantly he melds traditional comic-book style with the experimental. “Toddlers & Tiaras & Vermin” uses three elements I find very interesting when creating a poetry comic: the poem itself, dialogue, and interpretive image (the latter as it differs slightly from the literal text of the poem). It works so well as a poetry comic because we see an absurd, strange elucidation of the poem through the images. However, Tunis never forces too much on the reader; there is always the sense that the images are only part of the story, and it creates a separate component. There’s mysteriousness in the image/text information given, allowing the reader space to create meaning on their own–what great poetry does. The poetry comic is straight forward, the arc, as seen through the images, eloquently executed, with the elements of the humorously (tragically) grotesque. Be sure to keep an eye out for more of Paul K. Tunis’s wonderful work!


 

LINKS
Paul’s Website
OuBaPo
Putty Eating Magnets
Raccoon Thief

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Paul K. Tunis is a graphic-poet. His work has been featured in BateauDrunken BoatThe Daily CrosshatchPaper Darts, and elsewhere. A fan of both OuLiPo and OuBaPo, much of his work employs writing/drawing constraints and experiments. His collaboration with Matthea Harvey is included in Loaded Bicycle. He’s from the desert and has floppy, red hair.

The second line of Ben Fama’s chapbook New Waves, (Minutes Books 2011), is  “All I want is my life/ to matter somehow.” And it seems that this book sets out to execute that statement despite the line’s futility. I say this with sincerity since it’s an important aspect of the human condition (especially for writers) but remains an ungraspable, continuous pursuit. In short, this is a book composed with clear-minded longing. The cultural awareness is unpretentious, the feeling is real, and the structures are solid.

There’s been a post about Ben Fama’s poetry brooding in me since his last chapbook, Aquarius Rising, came out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2010, and that’s because his poetry sticks with me. The word “hipster” has been thrown around a bit in reviews, but I find the term superfluous and dismissing. The difference between Ben Fama’s poems and many of his so-called hipster contemporaries is palpably clear. Some think it taboo to talk about things like texting and internet in poetry, but this calls to mind Ezra Pound who wrote “The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth. The very name Troubadour means a ‘finder,’ one who discovers.” Using off-limit terminology indicates the poet bending expectations, respecting the readers’ ability to move forward in thought. It is authentic ventures unto the brink of expectation I find most engaging in new poetry. Most importantly, the poet remains unequivocally loyal to the poem that wants to be written. Certainly that is the case with Ben Fama. How can we live in a culture so deeply entrenched in electronics and digital communication without interacting with it emotionally? Being “timeless” isn’t about removing the contemporary but about writing a good poem. Period. In this new collection, the poems feel they are exactly as they should be, even with their flaws. But flaws are imperative, essential to development, and are what make the poems here stunning.

Deeply entrenched in the occult, Fama explores known and unknown realms of human life. The speaker is concerned with prophecy, but in his impatience or frustration, he himself begins prophesying. He’s looking into a crystal ball, asking why the hell things happen this way, then taking on the roll of soothsayer himself: “Ivan the Inconsolable, / don’t forget how good things are. / You know you can always / sleep in the grass.” With all his questioning and yearning the speaker is still thwarted—with love (lots with love) with family, even with divination itself. But this yearning is what drives the poetry. To pause for a moment over the ending of [This world repeats a soft etc.]

Once I was a teen king
thundering over the peasants.
I was born in the image of Steve.
Once I was a farm boy
on the level of clouds.
Float me back to those heights.
I remember yellow heat
in my yellow clothes and
an idea like a campfire
telling me it wasn’t sure
I’ve ever done the right thing.
Now when it asks for cures
I retrieve an amulet from a secret
altar of things that make me calm
to look upon, and when it asks
Fama, where is your love now?
I think about eating poutine
from the small of her back.

In his interview with Ben Pease on Scattered Rhymes, I learned Poutine is a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy or sauce and sometimes additional ingredients. What’s so arresting in this poem is the speaker’s concern with the enigmatic “idea,” something carried over from childhood maybe—something organic—perhaps even those first moments of real self-doubt. Indeed, the speaker is deeply concerned with the self (more universal than egotistical) exploring complex, layers of self-identity and self-assessment. The “idea” tells the speaker “it wasn’t sure / I’ve ever done the right thing.” The “idea” is purposefully vague, but seems as if it is the voice of the universe or the mystical, shrouded in the speaker’s consciousness. The voice of the universe is in some ways, indifferent, even cruel in this poem. I feel that the poem teeters on a concern with mortality. The occult, the “altar” of items that calm the speak down from these thoughts, again drive him to another question: “where is your love now?” To counteract the gravity of that epiphanic statement, the speaker reverts to a kind of ridiculous eroticism. In a way it’s a defense mechanism that appears (lightly) throughout the book—but somehow Fama manages to make the line both beautiful and absurd, just like poutine.

None of the poems have titles, and while the chapbook is a mere fourteen pages, it’s probably best. There’s a sense of long operatic movement in which each line functions for the whole pulse of a song. The first line of the book situates you in its realm: “The only colors in this world / are yellow and orange.” He doesn’t see things in black and white, but rather two vivid colors—as if this is a new perspective on old traditions. With all their contemporary airs, the poems have a classic feel. This hybridism is a strength Fama wields with finesse, and one I hope he sticks to. Adding to this traditional feel, the settings are, at times, deeply pastoral. It’s another element of yearning, as is his obsession with the mystical (a motif also explored by such poets as W.B. Yeats). However binary the world in Fama’s poems is, everything is turned backward, questioned yet paced at such a speed that we’re lulled out of absolutism. We’re in a place of melancholy, but it’s lit-up like a sun, and the wisdom in the voice helps the reader find it more relatable: “I wake heavy, I don’t know why.” The musical calm is perhaps one of the most striking elements; calm that resists the sometimes overt anxiety (“People want / me to do certain things but I won’t if it’s boring”). The book is wrought with a tone that adds fluidity to the dualistic system, keeping it interesting. The opening poems pull you in and carry you weightlessly throughout, the first lines burning in your mind until the last moment. New Waves is elegant, quietly devastating, but with an aura of hopefulness and clarity. He’s talking about gchats while wrapping the reader into the earnest futility of desire. The speaker seems young, but not naïve.  He’s lost, he’s looking, he’s examining.

The poems are intimate, but there are gaps of information. They aren’t necessarily confessional, as they give much space for the reader to do work. Delicate if not obscure references to the speaker’s past (“I was born in the image of Steve”) are mixed with flourishes of the surreal, and again there’re vague illusions to the speaker’s concern with mortality (“If I leave / leave a lock on my tomb.”) The poems are concrete, and still there is always a question of reality:

My therapist says
I use writing as
a perceptive model
that allows me to
interpret reality—

This passage seems almost a wry reference to the confessional poets, but we are quickly brought back into Fama’s unique landscape: “though my paradigm / remains immature and / I bring toxic energy / to new relations.” The humor and intimacy in the language allows for the reader to enter in completely, but without the feeling that we’re being told what to feel or how, nor does it employ the opposite effect of leaving us cold.

Ultimately, when I leave Fama’s chapbook, I think what is most important is that there’s passion. It seems such a simple thing, but it’s so often an elusive asset. In New Waves, healing and destruction are simultaneously experienced; ecstasy and pain are the same beast, yet the work is never overwrought. New Waves is a homage to love lost, to the mystical, to immaturity stained with experience.

The last lines of William Shakespeare’s King Lear have just come to mind. This collection feels like the wisdom realized after a long, insane escapade of emotional thwarting and general human grievances. Somehow, comingled within youth and folly and agedness, is the need to be (in its many forms) passionate and open. I don’t mean open as in confessional, nor do I mean that one has to write like Ben Fama does—rather the opposite: that what is sometimes lacking in new poetry is a patience and honesty with one’s inner workings. What is happening is Fama is interacting with his own surroundings and experiences with an astounding clarity. He doesn’t shut out what he experiences intellectually and casually. What is important to him becomes important to us. He doesn’t care about what he “ought to say” in pleasing an audience, he says what he feels. As writers, we needn’t stifle that unique element of how we each interpret reality. We can bring forth, with all its faults and strangeness, how we exclusively relate with the world. And this is the direction Ben Fama is going in with stunning, mottled vigor. As Albany says:

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, not live so long
King Lear Act V, Scene III