A product of Third Factory


Rae Armantrout | Next Life | Wesleyan | 2007

Opting to neither reinvent nor repeat herself, Armantrout forges an almost mystical third path in Next Life, inoculating her new poems with homeopathic doses of pop culture, current events (i.e., despair), and a stronger sense that time’s wingéd chariot is always hurrying near. Like much of Armantrout’s work, however, these poems seem both familiar and foreign and have a knack for coming back to mind at the oddest times—music to live by.

Paul Celan | Lightduress | Green Integer | 2005

Even the title of this work, the final one Celan prepared for publication, seems more strained and fraught than those of the previous two volumes of his post-Wende work (Breathturn and Threadsuns). While hope, at times, put up some kind of a fight in those earlier volumes, in Lightduress it’s all but overwhelmed by the poet’s and Europe’s history and illness. Which is to say, in Joris’ amazing translations, some of these poems are painful to read, as they should be.

Linh Dinh | American Tatts | Chax | 2005

Dinh’s put out two more full-length collections fairly recently, but I’m still reeling from this one. Veering between brutal surrealism, relatively straightforward depictions of American seediness, and flarfy sex romps, this book is held together by a single common denominator: it’s all really freaking good. “Vertigo/Vertigo”—all 13 lines of it—is easily the most stunning and stinging 9/11 poem I’ve read. In a just world, this poem would be an anthology staple.

Joe Elliot | Opposable Thumb | Subpress | 2006

Charmingly off-kilter and occasionally wry, this extensive collection is anchored by several brilliant serial pieces. Elliot’s rigorous attention to the absurdities inherent in language and daily life is offset by the understated delight he takes in examining them, and the results are luminous.

Bernadette Mayer | Ceremony Latin (1964) | Shark | 2005

From its opening presentation of Ovid as if cribbed by a 14-year-old through its disturbing and funny dream sequences, this book betrays a tremendous sophistication by seeming utterly casual—as if it must have been as much fun to write then as it is to read now.

Catherine Meng | Tonight’s the Night | Apostrophe | 2007

Fearlessly fugal, Meng’s work resists its own impulses by ceaselessly playing them off one another: discrete lyric and book project, intellect and emotion, past and present, Neil Young and Johann Sebastian. A keen sense of line refines the tensions inherent in the work and helps Meng forge a fantastic book, one that keeps on rockin’ in the feudal world.

Erin Mouré | Little Theatres | Anansi | 2005

Earthy and airy, these evocative little theatres are more capacious than they let on; speaking in several tongues, they form a bulwark against the imperium of English and stake out autonomous zones of sanity in which soldiers’ boots make “the leaves clam up” and song disappears into the earth, “where it lies / forever.”

Kristin Prevallet | Shadow Evidence Intelligence | Factory School | 2006

In this distressingly necessary book, Prevallet levels tremendous intelligence against “intelligence,” cycling masterfully through a variety of forms and media without flinching or falling back on irony. Highlights include the nursery-rhymish “Jack” and the future subway inscriptions—part Armand Schwerner, part Sarah Connor—of “Pop Prop Agit,” which present a fractured resistance re-parsed among the ruins of greed, hatred, and homeland.

Steven Rodefer | Four Lectures | The Figures/Eclipse | 1982/2007

Now I can read and tremble in the privacy of my own apartment, with no kindly reference librarian standing directly behind me.

Alli Warren | Cousins | Lame House | 2006

This fantastic chapbook starts and ends with tours-de-force and doesn’t really let up in the middle. “My Factless Autobiography” would seem to nod to Ashbery’s “one-size-fits-all” approach, but the results are much edgier, grapevining through the mediated desires and battered bodies that mark this phase of the “pax Americana.”

John Weiners | A Book of Prophesies | Bootstrap | 2007

First a new Sappho poem, now this? If only the Fourth Eclogue-like good vibrations of “2007” had proved Weiners as talented a prophet as a poet. Many thanks to Michael Carr and the people at Bootstrap for making this book happen.

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Kristy Bowen and Lauren Levato | at the hotel andromeda | dancing girl | 2007

An homage to Joseph Cornell, this mixture of texts, objects, and pictures is a refreshing outgrowth of the last generation’s parataxis craze.

Jessica Bozek and Eli Queen | co•re•spon•dence | dusie | 2007

Dictionary meets concrete meets index. The possibilities of unfolding this short text are limited in the most satisfying way—the way that means the authors are actually controlling the possibilities, the way that indicates artistry. A micro Infinite Jest.

Cindy Savert | Rachel (in the temporary midst of prayer) | Big Game | 2007

Savert’s halting lines and short gasps of space ... hurt. One of the more memorable tinyside chapbooks so far.

a.rawlings | wide slumber for lepidopterists | Coach House | 2006

A book I keep going back to—the perfect blend, the perfect product of the Canadian avant-garde as it strides sound and visual poetry. Also, it’s about butterflies. On the Canadian concrete side I’d also recommend derek beaulieu’s “Flatland,” but it’s not publicly available yet.

Jenny Boully | [one love affair}* | Tarpaulin Sky | 2006

As a Duras fan, I find this book immensly pleasurable. As a scholar, I mull over its blend of genres: fiction, autobiography, essay, prose poem. Like Juliana Spahr’s work it makes me question where art ends and criticism begins.

Stephen Crane, ed. by Donald J. and Ellen B. Greiner | The Notebook of Stephen Crane | Virginia | 1969

I’ve loved Stephen Crane for many years, but have been particularly fascinated with him since Susan Howe told our class that as a young man, Wallace Stevens attended Crane’s funeral. This kind of anonymous torch-passing in poetry fascinates me and sheds light on Stevens’s sense of humor. Additionally, I am interested in how the Greiners have chosen to format the notebook. Each page reproduces (in clear type) a page from the notebook, with marginalia describing the physical form of the original text (“written upside down in very light pencil with pencil line above and below”). Interesting play between the text and the ghostly but “scientific” description of it. Bootstrap Productions has put out two “poet’s journal” texts recently (“For the Time Being” and John Weiners’s notebook) and it’s interesting to compare how we look at a manuscript today vs. the formatting capabilities and editorial preferences of 1969.

Michelle Detorie | “a Hex Presse poetry puzzle inspired by Mina Loy” | He Presse | 2007

A 3-D collection of objects that signify or evoke images from “Lunar Baedecker.” Aesthetically pleasing to look at and fun to contemplate—the syntax of memory, the idea of translating a 2-D text into 3-D objects.

Matthew Klane | Sorrow Songs | self-published | 2007

Klane is a quiet, retiring young man, but his work always puts me through the sordid emotional paces of professional jealousy—a process that eventually resolves into admiration and inspiration. If you read this book you will become a better poet.

Juliet Fleming | Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England | Reaktion | 2001

A well-written and illustrated! history of wall decoration in the English Renaissance period and an exploration of what textuality might have meant to people then. Fascinating, informative, surprising, and, unlike most scholarly work, fairly well worked-out on the theoretical level.

Jen Bervin | Dickinson Fascicles (quilts: thread, fabric, batting) | link | 2004-2007

Another genre-defying work, these quilted translations of Emily Dickinson’s editorial marks from the Franklin fascimile blend the folk syntax of quilting with Dickinson’s lingo-syntactical marks. Combines my interest in sewing/quilted syntax/visual art with issues of translation and manuscript editing. Like Bervin’s book “Nets” (Ugly Duckling 2006) this is essentially an erasure poem, but it asks so many more questions than “Nets” AND can keep you warm at night.

Christopher Fritton, ed. | Ferrum Wheel No. 6 | 2007

Another collection of texts and objects (see a trend in my interests?), #6 is the best issue of FW in awhile.

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Mohammed Dib, ed. by Habib Tengour | Oeuvres completes: I, Poésies | Editions de la Différence | 2007

550 pages that gather the complete poetry of the great Algerian writer Mohammed Dib, who is probably better known as a novelist, but who is to my mind essentially a poet who also wrote excellent novels.

Kirkpatrick Sale | After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination | Duke | 2006

A superb investigation of why our species (sapiens sapiens as human hubrys says) is so hell-bent on destroying its environment.

Hohammed El Amraoui | Récits, Partitions et photographies | la passé du vent | 2007

The third collection of poems by a young Moroccan poet who has also just edited & translated (into French from Arabic) an excellent anthology of contemporary Moroccan poetry, as well as bringing out Tessons a CD (LAB ORAT, Lario 001) of his work with musicians Antoine ABirot (ney, doudouk, accordion, percussion) and Maurice Spitz (acoustic bass, electric bass, percussion).

Andrew Joron | The Cry at Zero: Selected Prose | Counterpath | 2007

“What good is poetry at a time like this?” Hölderlin’s old question is also the opening sentence of this book. From Robert Duncan to Will Alexander, from Clark Coolidge to Margaret Sloan, and with an assured sense of the epistemological beauties and quandaries of today’s science, these essays (that have the Poundian “condensare” and absolute accurate elegance of poems) try to think through that question. He writes: “American poetry is a marginal genre whose existence is irrelevant to the course of empire. Yet here, only here, at this very juncture between language and power, can the refused word come bnack to itself as the word of refusal, as the sign of that which cannot be assimilated to the system.” Here another of Joron’s happy formulations: “To paraphrase Gödel: No system of rules can produce a poem unless that system also allows words to relate in ways that exceed guidance by the system.” An essential book.

T.J. Clark | The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing | Yale | 2006

A book that shows what writing about art should and can be. A subtle meditation over time (as “journal” entries from 2000 to 2003) of two Poussin landscapes, the book should be read in tandem (as it was written) with Tim Clark’s 2005 collaboration (with Iain Boal, Joseph Matthews, and Michael Watts under the collective name “Retort”) Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War.

Bernat Manciet | Lo Brèc / La Blanche Nef | editions reclaims | 2006

The epic poem in the original Occitan and (facing-page) French translation of what must be the major Occitan poet since the Troubadours. Am still in the middle of it, but hope to eventually translate parts of it into English. Talk of a neglectorino literature!

Pierre Guyotat | Carnets de Bord, volume 1 (1962-1969) | Lignes Manifeste | 2005

For the last forty years Guyotat has been the most experimental, breath-taking and explosive writer in France. This 640 page journal entries offer a totally fascinating look into the processes of his mind, body, and writing.

Jerome Rothenberg | Triptych | New Directions | 2007

This volume gathers Rothenberg’s three major long serial poems (Poland/1931, Khurbn, The Burning Babe). To quote Bernstein from his introduction: “Triptych is both testimony to, and proof of, the necessity of imaginative acts over, and indeed against, fixed memorials. Its three-part structure works as a counter to a binary thinking of good/bad, us/them, here/there, light/dark, theism/disbelief. In these poems Rothenberg swerves away from binary thinking toward the dialogic, toward, that is, a third term that is always on the horizon but never grasped. In this way, Rothenberg forces lyric poetry to splinter into songs, like sparks escaping from fire. With the full force of lyric enunciation, Triptych articulates the otherness of the known and the familiarity of that which is foreign.”

Durs Grünbein | Gedicht und Geheimnis | Suhrkamp | 2007

A selection of the core essays on poetry and poetics from between 1990 and 2006 by probably the major German poet of his generation. I have not seen the 2005 English translation of a Selected Poems by Grünbein—Ashes for Breakfast translated by Michael Hoffman, FSG—so cannot speak to that, though that book may be the best point to jump in for those who do not yet know Grünbein’s work & can’t read German.

Hannah Wiener, ed. by Patrick Durgin | Hannah Weiner’s Open House | Kenning | 2007

Haunting, hilarious, Hannah.

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Ange Mlinko | The Children’s Museum | Prefontaine | 2007

A Hike Is the First Abstraction

A hike is the first abstraction. It stirs the land
and brings a blush to the timber.

Listing like Quimper and Coimbra and Grenada
adenoidal lemons amid suaveness of leaves.

A cypress and its sidecar
carve stature out of the turbulence of the air.

Harder than anything on the scale of hardness, air:
irritant of scrimshaw, ironist of Appalachias.

Between pine fringe and palm coxcomb, sky
kayaks. Their silhouettes like mirror mitts

catch what they discard at the same time,
metonymy of the cone and prototype of the fledged.

So when my son asks where we’re going,
ingénu of predestination—I’ll hedge.

That emphatic declarative—”A hike is the first abstraction”—somewhat mysterious, though utterly convincing in its brusquerie, seems a happy legacy of Stevens to me. (I think of the implications of the sentence, work’d out in the course of the poem, kin to something like the phenomenological perceptions of Merleau-Ponty: the mind’s uncanny ability both to replenish itself sequentially—object by object—hurtling through time and space, and to contain it all, the smear of time itself. “Past and future exist only too unmistakably in the world, they exit in the present.” Or, “catch what they discard at the same time.”) Against the abstract, the leverage point of the phenomenological where presence is deploy’d by a kind of interpenetration, “stir” and “blush” in the moving, against that: particulars. The other meeting point for Stevens and Mlinko. Well I can picture a content’d Mlinko note regarding the pursuit of hyacinthine. It’s a preference (an adhesion) for the delectable (root’d in delight) object, what stills the ongoing story, is exactly a “hedge” against the wearing airy continuousness. “The eye’s plain version is a thing apart, / The vulgate of experience. Of this, / A few words, an and yet, and yet, and yet—” So, Quimper (the word), so Coimbra (the word), moving m by adenoidal m. So, in a terribly Stevensesque phrase, the air is “ironist of Appalachias”—moving to wear, to flatten (iron), ironically hard. So, that final “hedge” plugs itself snug against “fledged” in the only rhyme present for a reason (form having its say): to reiterate a preference, a choice made for the particular (son-shared) now, closing it up, stopping the lyric moment. Finally, seeing what—too—the poem knows, it’s a heartbreaking moment.

Benjamin Friedlander | The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes | Subpress | 2007

About two hundred pages of poems “written between 1984 and 1994,” in four sections—”Emerald City,” “Time Rations,” “Covenant Algebraic Melody,” and “Adventures in the Vernacular.” Complete with an index of titles and an index of first lines. In a perfect smallish format, something like four-and-a-half by seven inches—hand-sized, portable, for use. That first bug-interrupt’d poem:

Emerald City

She bought the boot that kicked the shit
of every blasted empty littered can. Then George
called to say he gave the wrong address for Allston
Way and didn’t make bail. A lay-awake dragweight
rulebound and clock known / compressed of a step
          back through
the tantrum. Chartered roads go there
empty handed and speak through glass
where State of Grace v. Wrecked & Abandoned
Sailing Vessel would be authority. Argued before the
this eventual day of January, 1988.
Forty minutes away by car
“money’s only good if you don’t die tomorrow”

All kinds of lingo. There’s “The House That Jack Built” echoing in that first line—a kind of childish glee temper’d with almost blasé despair—that gets interrupted by “Then George . . .” (a smidge less abrupt than “And then went down to the ship”). There’s a kind of long-a keening to “lay-awake dragweight” that slips into spondaic perimeter markers “rulebound and clock known” (wherein one hears, too, lockdown, clipped jail talk). Beginning with “Chartered” the language goes legal, lawyerly, mocks the airs of “would be authority” (with higher authority getting its poke in the ribs—”Grace” and “Vessel”). The doggedness of justice “this eventual day” and street legal demotic proverbial wisdom in the final line—akin to kid-rhyme, circling back to the beginning. There’s a remarkable ear putting that together—too, a condensing intelligence. Encompassing realms and washes in a few lines.


Friedlander’s tendency—even in the tiniest pieces—is to complicate and combine, to put things into relation by inextricable (taut, knotty) means, rather than by “mere” juxtaposition of perceived details, or by the decontextualization / recontextualization of sampled speech. The results go beyond the simple ironic gulp / snicker of recognition, and ask a little readerly (or “writerly,” if one’s using Barthes’s nomenclature) exertion. A kind of “value-added” poetry, one’d say in a fiscal fit, rarely “spent” in one brief look.

Dale Smith | Black Stone | Effing | 2007

“I began Black Stone on the first day of the Christian observance of Lent. My second son, Waylon, was born during that period, and I wanted to explore the narrative of days around his birth. The poem ends on Easter, the end of Lent, the day Christ is said to have come back to life on earth. Christ is beautiful, but he cast an extraordinary shadow. I think of that shadow as a kind of stone, and I find it more useful and scary than the sweet piety of the crucified god.”


The weightiness of that stone (I love the unspoken connection between “casting a shadow” and “casting a stone” that evidence of passivity become activity, “useful,” fraught, dangerous) is essential: Smith pointedly refuses any manner of Christian high skippiness, any possibility not root’d fiercely and lovingly in the tangible earth. The first piece begins: “Here swims the earth-bound babe, moving day and night.” To dispel any doubt, there’s the D. H. Lawrence provided epigraph: “All that we have, while we live, is life; / and if you don’t live during your life, you are a piece of dung.” What Smith details, with canny accuracy, cleanly, without unnecessary jawing and outburst, is as precise a texture of life in these States in these citizenry-wallop’d ‘thousands as I’ve seen. There’s a whole sense of citizens living within fragile self-made tenuous communities, tending one another, trying to comprehend and quell forces larger than themselves. Against a plutocracy pursuant of its own (nefarious, brutal) ends, here is an extraordinary sense of interconnectedness, of “right simplicity,” and of human-scaled needs and possibilities.


Out of the book:

Bright yellow blossoms float on a primrose jasmine’s tangle of foliage. Grey mist turns to light rain. Ground coffee beans and poured hot but not boiling water into a glass canister for good, strong coffee. Suddenly I’m reminded of Hemingway’s relish for sensual details. The taste of food and drink, or the complex social rituals of consumption. He possessed a vivid appetite. And now Hoa says she feels something, surges coming every ten minutes or so. The linea negra separates her belly into two spheres. She inspires me with her lovely, fierce determination. K cries in protest and fear. Outside power lines criss-cross a silver sky. Or perhaps it’s a gunmetal sky there behind a thick range of pecan and hackberry branches. A friend wants to know the names of the tools of our utility grid, much as an amateur ornithologist desires knowledge of birds. She wants the name of each individual wire and bolt. What rocks mix into the asphalt or concrete? Where is metal smelted for our cars, or the screws and nails that keep our houses and furniture together? Do people still even smelt? Smelters the OED calls them. What plastic makes this pen? Which chemicals blacken its ink? And the surges continue. A strong cramping force brings out this earth-bound creature.

Graham Foust | Necessary Stranger | Flood | 2007

Foust’s a master of pump and pivot, cutting a jagged edge with most every turn of line. A verser. Here’s “In the Space Provided”:

On a near-
suicidally clear
day of wind—

a day like
a day like

I wake to find
that a season
has been detonated.

Planet’s automatic.
That tree’s a gust
of blood.

Now, a whole shebang of things occur here. First: impeccable pacing, how the sweet vocable “clear” coming after the hyphen hanging “near-” and the way suicidally demands specific slow mouth contort forces a slow beginning, a savoring of the little rhyme. Next, “day of wind” (not splendid in itself, though wind provides a balancing eye-rhyme with the incipient find) gets its comeuppance in reiteration, the repeated “a day like / a day like” demanding examination for sense, the mind going into a momentary stutter as if the vertical hold on the television were on the fritz—how is a day like television? And how’s a day like that day? Something about ease and repetition, or automaton and automata, the rehearsals of time filling all available space. That season-detonating boom, nigh-concurrent with waking (“Planet’s automatic”), provides just enough violence to turn the autumnal tree’s foliage into “a gust / of blood” with no danger of gratuity. (“Earned,” as one used to say in workshop.) Consider the poem exemplary.

Jay Wright | Music’s Mask and Measure | Flood | 2007

I like how—in Jay Wright’s biographical note in Music’s Mask and Measure—he writes that, just after high-school, he “played for two minor-league ball clubs—Mexicali and Fresno—and spent a minute in spring training with the San Diego Padres of the old Pacific Coast League.” It’s that “minute” that thrills me (though the mention of Mexicali, that border town, twinned with Calexico, where I first enter’d Mexico, aimlessly driving the dry hills adds a pleasant memory-smudge). “Minute” is precise with a knowing imprecision, it’s calculatedly inexact in order to draw down the imaginary into it (here, all the lost baseball possibilities—in retrospect, rather laughable, or accept’d—gone in a “minute”)—the word fills up with information a more serviceably “precise” “lexical substitution” (“a few days,” say, or, “one afternoon”) would not allow. My reading of Music’s Mask and Measure is that it is (partially) “about” exactly that kind of substitution.

All song is bent
by a silent measure;
a dancer’s foot
is a luminous disk in flight.
This song is an open field,
and a fibrous exploration
                where the voice feels braced
by its own fluidity.
We will hope
that this dancer’s body flows
with the expansive ambiguity,
all substance safe, all passion tempered.


Walking on East Palace,
those who sing find themselves oppressed
by juniper’s shadow.
That sentence is logically true,
if, and only if,
the inoffensive crocodile remains
                a lexical substitution.
The answer lies in carbon-rich clay
and the thin significance
                of the insignificant body.
Say that this relational apprehension
has nothing to do with the world,
or the molecular complexity
of juniper’s shadow,
and that the inoffensive crocodile swims
toward its lexical disaster.

Rife the ambiguities: it’s a poetry that proceeds by churning up possibilities, working the ear for material, or clothing things differently—making stabs at a “relational apprehension” of the world, all the whilst fully acknowledging the impossibility of any complete apprehending. I love the “bent” song “where the voice feels braced / by its own fluidity”—”braced” meaning strengthened, held in, girded up, buttressed, embracing, exhortatory, made brash, all of that—and all of that by “fluidity.” The range of semantic flowering in the relational positing of the three words, voice, braced, and fluidity, is extraordinary, as if the tiniest monocotyledonous grass flower suddenly blowz’d up big as a peony. One is in a world of immeasurable dimensions, with shifts of scale apt to occur with the mere substitution of a word: out of the molecular handiwork of a shadow, all the way out to the “disastrous” stars.

Jeff Clark and Geoffrey G. O’Brien | 2A | Quemadura | 2006

Deux hommes parurent.
L’un venait de la Bastille, l’autre du Jardin des Plantes.

That’s what the Anglo-French critic Miles Baisers wrote about Jeff Clark and Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s 2A in its earlier (French) edition, a sumptuous work of never-tawdry plangency and mollish instability. To evoke Flaubert! how apt! For what is here is various and demanding, ferociously serio-comic, messy and severe toute à la fois.


What there is. Photographs: scratched, spilt with unidentifiable liquids, poorly cropped, Ben-Day dotted into near obfuscatory spleenishness, over-exposed, ill-focus’d, random, murky, unsettlingly aquatic, dated, forlorn, and lovely. There are men in uniforms, boys in ducktails, a girl standing in stovepipe bells in sheer innocent glory on a grand piano, and waves and purses and beach umbrellas and leaves and unidentifiables. A kind of nostalgia seeps out of the photographs, a vaguely “cute” nostalgia one’d like to throttle just to deny the innocence of its call.


What there is. Poems and a longer prose piece titled “Beausoleil.” There are four poems called “Leaves on Sunday” and three poems with the perfectly snarling title of “You and All Your Friends.” One of the “Leaves on Sunday” begins

This close where waste is
changed somewhat my affections
all the same. Nothing believed
nor motionless this day again
where you remember time
as demonstration, halts to check
who develops, someone taken to
wherever inquiries begin why what
and the stances between, who sentences,
eyes changed from a distance as on
a beach attention is abandoned . . .

A dirge undertow, stuttery (like grief?), incredibly moving without a speck of mawkishness, exploratory and tentative: I say all that without knowing precisely what is “going on” here, just extremely willing to fit myself out (or in) (or to) the pace, meticulous and trustworthy, wheresoever it goes. I cannot say it any other way. If the piece reaches a point where it says “The kindness of sure knowledge / edited to make morning plain”—I think of the way language stands in for (I want to say “is a hired dick for”) knowledge, pistol whips it into some semblance of “plain”-ness.


The prose piece weaves together the story of “Greg Topper, the once and always king of Orange County rock & roll,” whose act apparently routinely culminated with the torching of both piano and crotch (using Bacardi 151) whilst he bang’d out Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire”—and the story / mutterings of Charles Manson: “Are you so white and pure? You put me on Life Magazine and had me convicted before I walked into the courtroom.” (Manson shows up in a later (long) “Leaves on Sunday” piece, too: “Well, Charlie told us to go into the kitchen, get a sponge”—a sense that, re-reading, the reverberations multiply.)


A few textual indications point to 2002 for composition date for some of the poems. There is no indication of who wrote what, or even, where the fault-lines lie—swapping lines, or words, or poems. Everywhere though: bravado and surety—”A word is fucking empty until I use it / Why it’s so easy to invent”—wager’d and won.

Jennifer Moxley | The Line | Post-Apollo | 2007

A little joke it is, calling a book of prose poems The Line. Though Jennifer Moxley’s referring to something less prosodic: “You will find the line. It extends backwards eternally into the past and forward into the future. The utterance cup, the gentle metric, old words new mind lost time and loves. You sensed it all along, but gaining the knowledge was hopelessly muddled by the inherent drive to author new life. Now cut the spittle line spun into reason and enter the grave alone.” That seems to move precisely out of the “fit” of lineage, out of the inheritances and expectancies of one’s (constant, “muddled”) battle to find one’s place in a writerly line, and into the littler, ordinary (or bigger, “common and extraordinary”) world of offspring, that grave-denying futile push. It’s a complicated tangle of emotional work, and deftly sketched. The poem ends: “In other words, write. Find time in words. Replace yourself cell by letter, let being be the alphabetic equation, immortality stay the name.”

Run Through

Here’s to a rhythm that follows the ear. Or rather, here’s to you, heavy genealogy, you’ve been making me hungry for years. Mimesis was your meal ticket. The bounty went right through you when it should have become a door. A door to where? To some place beyond these endless deserts of shoddy salvation.

The legacy of your discomfort with loss and retention has made me the victim of my digestion. It’s all a matter of perspective, and I am, as the vehicle of these violent processes, completely ignorant of how they work. I must guess based on non-mechanical evidence and a total integration of the senses. They shall become one and none. Then the line inside my belly will show itself to my mind as it passes the boundary of my body’s calendar into an infinity of days. Though this hook-up may pain me, I suspect it necessary.

Certainly an echo of Rimbaud (lightly mocking the mocker) in “a total integration of the senses.” Too, in the deliberate tone, that weighing, testing tone that Rimbaud adopts (“Reprenons l’étude au bruit de l’oeuvre dévorante qui se rassemble et remonte dans les masses.” “Back to our studies to the noise of the devouring work that gathers itself and rises up in the masses.”) against the (highly visible) faux-lyrical outbursts (“Fanfare atroce où je ne trébuche point!” “Terrible fanfare where I never stumble!”) that more regularly mark him. If the syntax is straightforward (it is), and the language is “flat, prosaic, spoken” (it’s not), what makes the piece one to return to—enamour’d—is precisely what makes Illuminations a thing to marvel at, and pore over: shifting markers deliver’d with total commitment, total control and confidence. “Mimesis was your meal ticket.” It’s as if—rhythm points to how the ear commands the writing, something “old hat” about that—the burdens of the obvious, “heavy genealogy,” can’t one get beyond Olson—”making me hungry,” genealogy pointing to mimesis, the “next in line”—one way to eat, even if rather unsatisfyingly, “meal ticket.”

Kent Johnson | I Once Met | Longhouse | 2007

A marvelously shaped book, long and thin, sewn in wraps the color of the wheatfields of the Isle-de-France, the color of sunlight hammering tobacco leaves in the tiny terraced wedges one sees descending—by foot, like a smuggler—into Spain out of the Pyrénées. And I Once Met comes with a rough-paper band, imprint’d with title and author, slipped over it, and blue endpapers—blue the color of the sky above the Atacama desert in Chile where Raúl Zurita, one “part” of Roberto Bolaño’s “Carlos Wieder” in Distant Star, wrote poems with bulldozers, blue the color of the azulejo of Lisboa. One slips off the slim band and begins to read the book just as one’d slide the label-ring off a Havana and’d thrust it between teeth: imagine a shimmering gold cigar made of words and sky!


I maintain that Kent Johnson writes with a rare grace and nonchalance—without any too audible “straining” after effect and with plenty of humor, mostly of the gently sad kind. Here, I am reminded of Joe Brainard’s terrific I Remember works—those miniature, wholly American sagas—and of some of John Cage’s wonderfully deadpan Zen anecdotes. Cage and Brainard with a generous helping of something like the particular Hispanic and Lusophone unblinking surreal, say, that of the Comte de Lautréamont, né Isidore Lucien Ducasse, in Montevideo, Uruguary, there where the bande à Baader (Fraction armée rouge) were, they say, executed.


Johnson: “I once met Dale Smith. We put our heads against the side of Lorine Niedecker’s old house on an island in Fort Atkinson and we rested them there for a long time, and I looked at Dale and he looked at me, and we cried for a little while, it was quite something. Then we went to the bar down the road where a small dog walked in circles on its hind quarters.”


If Joe Brainard’s I Remember explores (largely) cultural artifacts and debris of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties through a singular (painterly, gay) perspective, Johnson’s I Once Met concentrates on a Bourdieuvian habitus, a literary field (“post-avant,” poetic, largely norteamericano, though—with Johnson’s work translating—of the Bolivian Jaime Saenz, among others—there comes a noticeable aggrandissement of that field). It’s a stirring performance, and one that manages to prick at the pretensions of many, including Kent Johnson himself, whose service and necessity to that field should never be doubt’d, he it is who continually reminds us of our human meagerness, our abysmal hurry toward le Néant.

Laynie Browne | Daily Sonnets | Counterpath | 2007

I like Daily Sonnets immensely. It’s got heft, and variety, and no dishonesty. As such, it is probably the friendliest book of these wearing-down ‘thousands. It also sports (the word is wrong, it is tuck’d discretely into the back, just before the notes) one of the finest statements of—not “theory”—the work is too audaciously pragmatic for that—”practice” ever: “The Permeable ‘I,’ A Practice.” Some excerpts:

This is a collaborative experiment in time. Consider ways to rearrange your time and space tendencies as a method (write yourself out of whatever existing parameters you fall into) and see what happens.
. . .
And finally after many years of controlled circumstances, the allowing in of all voices, all time. Deep and scattered fragments of time. Loud and physical time.
. . .
I have collaborated with the daily news, with other poets, with the bumpiness of days passing in real time and with children’s voices, books, and sense of time. . . . When time is unhinged anyone or thing can speak: the dead, the imagined, the dictionary, he found. There is an openness I attempt to enter as an experiment, as a salute to, or recognition of time passing.
. . .
All mental states, traps, games, and assemblages are welcome here. My sonnets are an approachable unruly gathering. What the poems have in common is that they practice permeability.

I think of the modern sonnet as an increment of time within a frame. Something that often physically fits into a little rectangle (but not in thought). Something you can utter in one long convulsive breath or hold in your palm. When my hand covers the page, it disappears. It’s a controlled measure of sound and space within which one can do anything.


Coalescing here is O’Hara’s “you go on your nerve,” Williams’s typewriter attached to the desk, swung up at a moment’s lull or notice, Apollinaire and “Lucky” Pierre Albert-Birot’s insistence on immediacy and coterie, Dada’s disclosing enclosures of silliness and goof. And, with that “breath” and the hand-sized page, Olson’s bodily poetics, Duncan’s open field. All that ladled over the one of the commonest of forms of the European tradition. And some of the pieces are nigh inexplicably perfect, or as perfect as anybody’d want—nobody wants a thing without a burr or two. I’d put forth number 108 as one amongst many:

So as not to wake you I undress on the stairs
Bulb extinguished as I write like a bee
upon the controversial table
My absence is something
I cannot explain by white space
and yet your look misunderstands
what the children resemble as they sleep
Remembering the charm of responsibility
is as inexplicable as human form
Further than habits gathered or dropped
There is no permanence in
devotion of that kind which does
not require a guardian even in rest
Your may undo or walk away from anything else

Stunning, the range and trajectory of intelligently-limned feeling between that “undress” and “undo.”

Peter O’Leary | Depth Theology | Georgia | 2006

O’Leary’s got a poem call’d “Fear of the Innermost Body within the Body That We Call the Heart.” First line: “is fear of God.” Raised up to club back with the empirical, the rational, and the pragmatic any inner ravenings or other-worldly beckonings, I resist. It is—though—in the encounters with the outward physical world (“Nuzzling the duff” it says somewhere), particularly O’Leary’s knowledgeable and precise ornithological rhapsodies, that I finally enter into the work. See something like (in “Three Scepters”): “Our largest larus—the black-backed gull / —opens its wings like an umbrella designed by a bookbinder—: joints / of feathers on ribs of bone that feel the air as / curvature.” It’s writing out of attending, percipient, quiet, exact. Elsewhere (“Spiritual Giants”) there’s “the cedar waxwing, maneuvering in summer / leafage, feathers greased with vasoline.” And the “Black-crowned night heron, master of an / elusive attention, extracting / alewives from algae with evolutionary tongs.”


O’Leary’s (secular) tradition is Thoreau, is Louis Agassiz, is Guy Davenport and Ronald Johnson—clarity of mind coupled with a willingness to go afield for the decisively right word (“vasoline”). (See something so wonderful as Agassiz’s description of a turtle egg, wherein cells—”golden pebbles”—”dance about their confined sphere in a zigzag quiver” before a boundary wall “bursts suddenly on one side and extrudes at a single contractive effort nearly the whole horde of its vivacious motes, assuming itself by this loss a wrinkled, unsymmetrical, much diminished shape, but still holding a few oscillating corpuscles.”) If the physical world be so uncongestedly and fondly limned, the lingo and ease carries straight into the godly reports. “With More Passionate Flying” begins:

What would the Throne that held me clasp with, or utter?
Nothing. He’s bodiless, voiceless. Same with the salamandrine
Cherub, fire-breather whose cry is more fumarole than noise. Awe
at the unconsuming source, drawn there, adhered to in a quantum motion,
electron spun from a proton of light. Imagine
letters suddenly speaking caught up in a flame on the threshold of speech.

Is there a giddiness, a dizziness at acceptance of mystery, at exploring mystery’s savor? That, yes, and a nonchalance. O’Leary: “Hail, meaning; / converse with thyself. A god’s privacy is massive.” And a refusal to go hidebound high-horse: “What fool takes comfort in prayer? You / suffer it, learn it like a foreign / language. Its tedious lexicons.” A distillate ferocity, political, here:

On the New Sacrificial Platforms


Sun, a foil of seizures, rolls outside tallgrass seas. It is
a spasmic behemoth. Convection lags buzzards overhead.
You scornful testamentarians have flecked this mythical beast with
error & despondence. An air of bovine simpletude. A sacrifice
fit for the butcher & smoke-pit tender. Who venerates
an epileptic god anymore? The sun throbs
with bloodletting. Will you shove your wallet in its mouth to save it
from swallowing its tongue?

Thomas Pynchon | Against the Day | Penguin | 2006

“Think, bloviators, think!”

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