Same Diff by Donato Mancini (Released by Talonbooks in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Causal peripheries: Magnetic Fields, Wolf Eyes, Caetano Veloso
we'll hafta be aware of nature and the environment
whales, candlelight, and stuff like that
acid rain, radioactive waste, oil spills
some real problems
(borrowed and original text from “whales, candlelight, and stuff like that”)
On the trail of the captivating and ultra-contemporary (if only semi-recent) titles Buffet World, Fact ‘n’ Value, and Loitersack arrives the slim-cum-girth, taut-cum-trodden Same Diff, 2017’s answer to the politico-conceptuati of poetry, brothers and sisters of the line and the sequences of literary space. Lines are only the beginning of those objects drawn together in this book of splices and merges, convergences and recourses, findings and collectings, smatterings and casual smotherings. Same Diff is beyond itself, and beyond its inverse, the diff as the same as we move toward the greater ends of late humanity in positivity and negativity, absolutely and humbly.
Author, poet, scholar, researcher, etc’er Donato Mancini has brought in this book (see: physical tome; bound paper with assorted thematic scrawling) equal proclivities of the marvelous, breathtaking, and calm. As with his previous works, Mancini is performing the creator here, a book of concepts put into place again blending the most profound echoes of form. Here we have form a la vispo, performance score, and collage, and beyond of course, together reaching, dipping, into, to new horizons tackling civic society, civil society, the plausible and despicable in quality, equality, and inequality. Here: the many uncanny dystopian revelations continuing to persist in the restful and unrested societies surrounding us. Here: a nod towards Time and the unerratic beauty of recorded history as Mancini the historian dives in, and pulls up, reigns toward us the uttered, the screamed, and, through exception or regulation, the normalized.
A book of 35 works that stands on top of itself, looking down upon itself, belly bulging, self-awareness, reconstructivism, both respectful of these realities and respectful of the reader. In fact, have I read such a polite and inviting work in all the other realms and moments of my life? In fact, this book is challenging in its formalities and crispness. A millennial, I silently, secretly secretly dreamed that my hand was better held to understand. My heart pumped: I wanted didactic in this book. I wanted retroactive poet lecture in this book. I wanted introduction and thorough, explicit discovery. I wanted the work done for me. But no, and no, and no.
In the age of 2017, pure content is demagogue. In the age of 2017, Mancini has called the dogs on “the epitome” and ruffles the feathers of the contemporary in contemporary poetry. Same Diff is all about probability. It is the regurgitation in postmodern complacency. It is mirroring, reflective, and dangerous. The poems here are, as mentioned, subtle. And yet they are jumbled. And yet they maintain agency. They demonstrate the craft of work that can reach heights without reliance upon spotlight, or even stage. As works to be performed, I found myself recording myself reading these poems by myself, alone in a room that can be called a home, watching the network expand, watching the portal emerge.
"More of less I was holding on, although I always felt hungry."
(found/borrowed text from “Bottom of the Pot”)
Following the book’s cordial opening, which lists the word “welcome” in numerous languages, mostly indigenous (North American First Nation) languages, the book becomes a scatter or weave of poetry in two general taxonomic sets: the brief concept and the extended concept. Mancini’s brief concepts often last 1-8 pages (exceptions exist), including short phrases of text in large font on a single page. Sometimes the text of these phrases is entirely bolded and it appears to be fried—as in, put into a microwave until thoroughly burnt; otherwise, significant words or morphemes are bolded and the text as a whole, giant and staring directly back at you, unassuming, appears to be bleeding—as in, an exaggerated wound over time, that has been thoroughly ignored and is most likely fatal. In “Trigger Warning,” for example, we readers encounter across the page in a beautiful, commanding presence: "TRIGGER / WARNING / SPOILER / ALERT” and so it sits.
These tricky (though consequential and dialectical) bursts of energy are like the seams of the book. They are fun (in that they are fresh), and spirited (in that they are raw—almost feeling such as to the point of incompleteness), but also solid (representing dependability), sturdy (able to take impact—engagement or negligence), and tightly definitive of Mancini’s style of voice defined and redefined and supported and resupported through each of his publications many times over.
Extended concepts are the meat and sinew of the book-as-body. These include poems and poetic works which have been quoted above, and are often as difficult in their core energies as they are in the lengths and endurances of the text within the works themselves. “Self-Sufficient” reminds me of an exhibit I encountered in Singapore’s National Library Board main building years ago, a documentation of a propaganda machine, but in Mancini’s collection of common phrases of explanation and rationale in societal behavior, the world feels dirtied, mutant-like, inescapable, and irrationally normalized. Horrific, the language used in this piece feels as boring as possible, and yet is cutthroat, common, and every day:
We have free speech in this country.
No one should be told how to think or what to think.
Telling people which words they can or cannot use is censorship.
The irony of this work, like other works Mancini and Same Diff portrays, is in the undistinguishable tones and subtexts. The words are bound, but by what cause? To know Mancini’s own feet (and where they have walked) allows such insight; yet we do not have his feet, we have his book’s explanatory notes, which serve as the open-door-brightness, epilogue-reassurance needed from the get-go. I find Mancini’s extended concepts to be significant in the context of disparity, telling in terms of fake realities and true news, and an elongation of what surrealism I believe we all encounter in our haze and daze of days, though perhaps not all of us encounter every image Mancini delves into.
For example, “Bottom of the Pot” is a long collection of found text from documented struggles of imprisonment during times of war, surrounding “soup narratives” (my term) prevalent and, apparently, a major experiential motif of those suffering in the interments and destitute intermittent circumstances of major conflict. To know what is at the bottom of the pot is an ache of privilege that many see but do not attain, many write of but do not overcome. To experience it through Mancini’s ability to collect is similar to one character described in this work as “greying” as they approach the very bottom. I was reminded of how I felt through reading Bolaño’s 2666 and the part about the women, and it was painful.
One of the chilling effects of reading Mancini is in how much exposure one gets to truth. While not all truth is found within extremes, like the acidic broth of a concentration camp’s darkest days, or the bland language common of an adolescent society, there is a truth that is persistent, empathetic, and engorged on the neutral disruptions that keep us feeling alive. Amidst the blanket of experimentation and lite academic transgressions in literary tradition, we have (again) blunt cascades of exactly who we are. We are everyone: we as people that have positive and negative and the means to describe such but not necessarily cure, solve, overcome.
For example: “Where do you feel?” is a concept reeling and exacting. The language is crowdsourced through contemporary communication platforms, and this work puts the words of where anxiety, grief, or depression is felt in the human body into a sequence nothing short of humanism. What begins in this work of progressive line-building, simple and straightforward though also vague and obscure locations of the body (e.g. “in my throat”), continues to descriptions of full surprise and analogy that is gouging and erupting in the minute and the unnerving in description:
in my throat and heart but it’s everywhere, perhaps my heart is broken, my whole chest feels like it’s being crushed, it’s hard to breathe
(from "Where do you feel?")
Getting to the end of Same Diff is not difficult, and making sense of it is not either. In these tasks, which I believe most authors hope for their readers to accomplish, Mancini should have little issue. And yet, how this book evolves out of itself is the better, more rewarding question. In what way, shape, form, concept can this collection of ways, shapes, forms, concepts blossom from both the author and the readers? How does the book inspire, provoke, unsettle, disturb, charm, delight, and otherwise manifest between the engagement of such engaging, prolific works? If we are to follow the brief and extended concepts within, perhaps we look toward the model of “the continuum.” A mobius strip, perhaps, or, a slightly inquisitive echo, or at least a logical shadow. Or perhaps a new concept is needed to help us make more sense and inspire further evolution altogether.
Invisible Wife by Sarah Fox (Released by above/ground press in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Reviewed while listening to The Awakening
The end of poetry and the beginning of practice. How the lyric cracks off the flag, chips like dried wax onto the poisoned lawns of perpetual money perpetual war. Capitalists in bulletproof vests out walking priestesses on leashes. Which window to choose. An imaginal inventory gathered like rose petals in a blue skirt.
(from “The End”)
Sarah Fox’s Invisible Wife is a tremendous range of poetry compiled within a relatively small document. The book includes 16 individual poems of startling lengths of voice and energies. Fox’s poetic spectrum is like a pendulum rocking between core states of being, utterly individual to Fox, yet reminiscent of the profoundly stunning states we are all capable of attaining. The extreme stillness and the utterly confessional emerges from one corner, while the fiery, almost choked level of spontaneity spouts up from the other. The convergence is as forced as the world is forced: the tensions of existence revving up dualities and polarities.
Soulful and cosmically bound, the book is an inspiring collection of writings rooted in (and routed through) magic and dreams, a personal pinnacle of the feminine (inclusive of matriarchy, inclusive of feminism), a challenge to history and a confrontation with loss (of romance and partners, living and death, comfort and stability, pain and horror). These poems scream, weep, and bitterly laugh at once; and yet the edge of each work here is gilt-lined with an optimism and empowering of Fox’s self.
He was a stone snake
that touched without touching,
kept burning his touch into
my mind until my mind
could not hold form. He
was a stone rising from the pit
of a fire, never not rising up.
(from “Invisible Wife”)
There is a balance in the emotional spine of these poems. With a sense of the uplifting there is a sense of the battering. Joy is no foreign word here. Trauma is no foreign word. Neither is blood. Or tradition. Or patriarchy. Or vaguer, rougher, more obscure levels of dominance and abuse, and transcendence and victory.
The materials in Invisible Wife with which Fox moves, often blending moments of history with admiration towards other women, artists, maintain a dynamic successful through the book’s inclusion of kaleidoscopic poetic forms. From the opening inspection-cum-homage of Frida Kahlo, written sparsely, in couplets, to the book’s title poem, a longer sequence imbued with symbolism in its long, vast landscape of lines, there is expansion and contraction. The sense of the body and the bodily is very present in these forms, as it is through the visceral core of the language kept within, peeking out.
Radically human, the speaker of the poems in Invisible Wife, undoubtedly mostly Fox herself going through autobiographic processes, moves back and forth, dance-like, between moments of death, moments of history, moments of ending, and engages them with a sense of the rebirth, the rekindling, the future birth of energies and life. Though not distinctly drawing on the maternal, directly or through subtext, an agency erupts from these poems that carries Fox’s wavering and complex introspection into the problems of life, happiness, and the fragile American society of recent years.
I know the union of Heaven and Earth is the origin
of the whole nature. I know a DJ who holds an egg
in his hand that never cracks, spinning
spinning his hand on rad wheels of fire.
(from “Save Me”)
In reading Fox, I could not help but think of Debrah Morkun, Anne Waldman, and Brenda Iijima as contemporaries who spin their own globes through similar methodology. And yet Fox has an acutely unique way of weaving language in her own bright and magical, wondrous way. This book, following Fox’s other publications, is inspiring and hopefully just the beginning in a lineage of similar works.
Duration Knows No Law by Steven Seidenberg (Released by ypolita press in June 2016)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Reviewed while listening to Blanck Mass and Midori Takada
“Of everything that concerns you, and all the shreds and clippings of the rest, of pitiful misadventures and star-crossed agonies delayed, . . . “
Density of textuality meets a precise level of aural acrobatics in Steven Seidenberg’s Duration Knows No Law, a chapbook/pamphlet publication of 50 sections. Here we have prose poems converging with philosophical treatises, or, at the most basic definition, explorations through language. The poetic is strong here, in the same way the poetic is strong within the most ethereal, philosophical ponderings of the French, and often that mentioned density of text clouds the meaning of language from itself. And yet at the same time, it is a small but powerful book questioning authority, artistic privilege, and the journey in the life (the duration) of the artist.
“Consciousness has three tombs—its body, its world, and its representations…”
This feeling of being alive, dead, buried, encased, entombed, protected, walled-in, is as Lautréamont as it is Camus, and yet we see the beautiful, the mysterious of poets like Char here as well, who create their works because of their process, their staring into the voids of the entire spectrum of time. Though Seidenberg avoids the use of setting and scene and the apparent, concrete image (his awareness being an abstracted, internalized one), the monologues and conversations of self and selves in Duration are quintessentially pastoral. They are arousing and introspective beyond the noise of the urban, globalized, digital existence erupting most contemporary poetries this decade, and this degree of elsewhere and meanwhile, this sit back and dig in, is refreshing.
The actuality of Seidenberg’s intentions are difficult to interpolate, though they are certainly something, decipherable through intense inspection and scrutiny; yet their power is driven by a maddeningly manic speaker whose methods consist of wrangling around the mind of the reader, moving almost ecstatically from one statement to the next. The speaker of these arrow-like statements, effigies of inspiration and progress that burn bright, dwindle, pass forward, is one who moves methodically, albeit somewhat mechanically, through lace-like motifs of time, history, beauty, purpose, intention, and on, and on. The vocabulary, like in Wolsak’s Of Beings Alone, is often discombobulating and derailing—it is challenging, though beautiful. The constraint of injecting what often appears endless lingual bar-raising and head-scratching for the sake of itself and of opening new doors, windows, is that breath of fresh air, and fresh light.
In the opening of the book, there is the definition of closure, which is balanced (or countered) with an emphasis of awareness, perception, and description. These qualities of a heightened state of artistry and intellect are the key to the door that must be opened. And there is that “must” sensibility throughout too: an urgency, a definitive stance, despite the lingering around and out of and for the language itself. Ironically, the book feels more about opening than closing, and yet the tone and statements of the speaker lean more toward the latter, toward finding some degree of stability, some essence of being set, established, understood—but perhaps that is the juxtaposed nature of the idea of awareness, the contradictory core of truth, that we begin to see unraveled through Seidenberg’s wit.
As with Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Seidenberg’s Duration Knows No Law is at its height, at its most practical and its most pronounced, when individual moments are most accessible. Such moments of access that do the pivoting have to be unique to each reader and their personal states and tastes, and their relationships to writing, and also such moments are quintessentially related to image, and identifiable sense of place. Similar to those contexts and situations throughout the recently-reviewed The Demotion of Pluto by Deborah Meadows, on an almost Bachelardean sense of space becomes the much-needed reprieve and salvational anchor:
“A room that resembles a dream—surfeited with angles. A stomach of a room, split up floor to transom. A room egressed by trapdoor, tripping into…over…into…”
Earlier in the book, Seidenberg speaks to avoid beauty, and yet throughout the work here, an ironic presence of the beautiful is impossible to avoid. Such an impossibility makes all the challenges of reading Duration, enduring it, so to speak, a pleasant journey. The journey for the reader becomes remarkably displacing of the surface qualities of the book—its language, its tone, its overall ambiguity—is disrupted by its own metacognitive core. And as such Duration Knows No Law could become a keystone for other poets and artists as one way to transcend and overcome, and be aware, of the general turmoil all must face when concerned with the creative act.
Old Washington is a sublane frontage tube to New Buren and 1004th.
Ozone, deplete of thought and intention sat with blanket over a lap of wiring. He’d found the Cart of Dreams being pulled into one of the great compactors out in Warrendale: “Can hold two-hundred pounds,” says.
Ozone could hear fast-moving passerbies deify the words they walked on, clinking bottles. He scratched, sipped from his canteen, and busied at what remained of his face.
A swaying light and then more splashes of water.
Roland visored the eye and the two were just shadows.
—What are you doing out here?
—I’m perfectly happy. Ozone waved his hand about the rubbish. Can’t you see.
—I’m just fine.
A car skidded by. The frontage didn’t have tracks like the New tubes. The car’s tires splashed and rumbled through. He wobbled his lantern back and forth, Roland, sliding the visor. Insects had begun to crawl at its seam, eager for the false warmth.
Roland pushed Ozone out from underneath the bridge, towards the parade.
—You’ll end up scrap.
A thick-grey blue sky clung to the buildings. Fire blazoned from chapels and pyres around which danced a legion of chop-haired punks.
A float sat amidst the throng, shaking, seeming a nest. Faceless spoyders pumped their metallic claws to percussion.
—They’ve been reprogrammed, said Ozone idly.
Ozone looked back at Roland who was staring off. He noticed Ozone.
—The Kims—he gestured at something Ozone couldn’t see– a gaggle of men-women in the throes of a white-robed dance atop the next float. They’ve been rough with four or five passengers since you’ve left. Demanding rides, robbing.
Ozone stared down at the blanket on his lap.
They hung around the edges. The snake of the parade seemed headless. Robots ran oil on the backs of dog and fleshless birds were flung into pits to snap and thrash against each other.
Dancers bucked and cawed in cages atop one of the floats. Tiny men and women ran hollow between.
A gong sat, and the waves of sound toggled the tribe into a tentative silence. A wolf-hooded woman rose and from the windows paper and rags fired, the sky in a long fluttering.
—The seasons fade!
The gong, the parade thrashed in new fervor.
Someone stumbled into the Cart of Dreams and a man-woman sneered down onto Ozone before being told:
—Witch, by Roland.
A behemoth galley swung around the elbow of the parade’s main street, a weighted scimitar of steel suspended longly in the sky, twice as tall as any of the tenements. Tiny compartments at the main deck pulled inward, closing. But the fury of the city-lit masses split apart like dogs to their corners.
Roland pushed Ozone into a side street.
—Let’s go back. I want to watch those punks get stormed.
There was no consideration on Roland’s part. Whatever ship listed inside had made him queasy, turning corner after corner until an elevator.
A tiny swarm of nano spun in helix. Trapped behind a small laser wall at elevator side, serving as lift operator.
—You are out of oil, and without it those ruts in your circuits’ll dry and you’ll end up where I said you would.
Ozone fingered his sacral wire beneath the blanket.
Ozone pulled the smoke of one of his coils and set it to the plate. The steel doors rattled open.
Skyward through the branched cortex of the city, following track to track, the horizontal changes slight, the two registering quietly the small betrayal.
Ozone figured his face, remembered dragging himself off the elevators days prior.
Marianas was up to her knees in robotics, a soldering gun in left hand, a vid-screen forecasting some repair, remote ear buds in place.
The dockyard in silence.
—Driver 4 returned.
Her two metal legs; not smiling or gloating. She handled the Cart of Dreams roughly and pulled up the blanket on Ozone’s lap, exposing the alternate cords and fibers.
She got up close this face and dug a finger through the gap in his cheek, pulling at the cables running up his jaw, doing math visibly.
She scowled and gestured to Roland and they went through the machine shop to Taxi 4.
It was covered in dried ichor, dented heavily from the outside. Marianas sparked the passlock and the door swung open, the spill of wires spreading up from the hole.
interview with god
darth: let's get right into it. thanks for being here...thanks for being everywhere...today.
god: happy to share time with you. it's an honor to be here.
darth: so, there are conflicting views, as to whether you exist. does this bother-- I'll rephrase that--does this conflict as to your origin, or validity as a being, affect you at all?
god: people are entitled to their opinions. animals, too. carbon-based, life-forms are entitled....
darth: you're becoming bright-- woah, really blinding visage, suddenly. and I wear a helmet. jesus!
god: do you have a paper bag?
darth: to wear? wow-- I feel like I'm being incinerated--
god: sometimes if I, put a paper bag over my face, it helps promote the social exchanges...
darth- of course. you would wear the paper bag. I wear a helmet, I get you. nope, ain't got a paper bag. i have a dog-cone, though! would that work? It keeps dogs from biting themselves, after surgery. I'm sure you know that.
god: yes, it could help to re-direct the brilliance upward. sure. I'll try it.
darth: it looks so provocative, on you. like you're making a statement...about existence. you know. god in a dog-cone.
god: you should have seen me wearing a dunce-cap.
darth: I reckon you're always making a statement. when you're famous like you are. so, whether or not you tend to read other people's interviews, I did interview The Virgin Mary, a couple of months ago. will you talk to our listeners a bit, about her impregnation by you, as it is being treated an an edified date-rape, which supports an orthodoxy of date-rape culture?
god: dude, why are you up in my face about date-rape? i just put on a dog-cone for you. I'm showing up, here.
darth: the brilliance is abating some. thanks. Mary was not allowed to look at your face, the story goes. she was just told, by Gabriel, I guess, that she was carrying your child. does that seem equitable, to you?
god: I think your scope is narrow, if you're treating the annunciation issue as a gender issue. clearly, you're suggesting I'm a man--
darth: I don't know much about you, honestly. none of us do. how old you are, for example. whether you date-raped Mary, or not. these types pf questions float, in the air.
god: you want to know if I'm good, or bad. is that it?
darth: sure. and what you did to Mary. gotta know that.
god: Mary carried hope inside of her, because she was open to receiving it, and it took the form of Jesus. I was a part of that hope, in that I advocate for hope whenever possible.
darth: that sounds like such bullshit to me. did you have sex with her while she was sleeping, and then refuse to let her confront you, by hiding your face from her eyes? I'm asking you a direct question.
god: it wasn't sex.
darth: sex is what impregnates women...
god: I don't know who had sex with Mary.
god: I'm speaking the truth to you. I don't know. in a way, it doesn't matter.
darth: are you saying Mary's role was incidental?
god: Mary's role was delegated to her by those who saw in her a catalyst for change.
darth: do you mean that Mary was delegated her role by predators, with a political agenda?
god: if you like. yes. my influence didn't lie there. I walked with her down the path of light, once she was with child, and I walked with her son.
darth. you mean, like a step-dad...to Jesus?
god: well, a mentor. yeah.
darth: okay. so you're all good, with Mary.
god: well I wouldn't say that. I was kind of like a freak who showed up in her life, after she went through a hard time, and I'm not sure she really decided, to trust me, in the end. I guess to earn someone's trust one has to be trustworthy.
darth: are you trustworthy?
god: do you feel like you can trust me?
darth: what--to avert disaster? to stop the oil pipelines from fucking up our planet?
god: do you get the sense that I'm aiming in that direction?
darth: well, are you?
god: as much as you are.
darth: listen, just do the best you fucking can right now, will you? this planet is all we have.
god: okay. I'll do my best.
darth: we are out of time. will you say hello to Kurt Cobain for me?
god: if I can keep the dog-cone.www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zYwjhJuNAE
REDACTED IN HOLY UNION - GB
The Demotion of Pluto: Poems and Plays by Deborah Meadows (Released by BlazeVOX Books, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Poetry capable of elevating the reader into new ways of thinking about language often runs the risk of isolating and ostracizing the reader through challenge and difficulty in the breakage of paradigms. At the same time, buffering the reader and easing them into a difficult work often requires a diffusion of ideas through an accessibility of experimentation and transparent conceptualization. Doing so often risks compromising works that are intellectually evolved and wall themselves up. In Deborah Meadows’s latest collection of writing, The Demotion of Pluto: Poems and Plays, these fine lines are approached and often transcended through the poet’s consistent use of external influences and forces. Her book here, like many of her previous works, erupts through lineages, borrowing tokens from other authors and thinkers contemporary, historical, and ancient. This meshing and mixing produces positive results that transform The Demotion into far more than a “difficult book,” allowing for rewards simply for sitting through the turbulence of the reading experience.
Buck Euro: Some of that ugly, the stink, that trauma: it really makes me sick. That’s why we need a story. We get involved, forget our woes, feel transport.
(from “The Demotion of Pluto” on page 54)
As identified and fortified in her previous book of 2013, Translation—the bass accompaniment: Selected Poems, Meadows harkens on an explosive set of influences to inform her work, similar to the recent “handholding” work of Tracie Morris, to name one example. Rather than list all of her previous influencers and collaborators here, I will simply list the cast of characters in the 47-page title play of The Demotion: Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Ghost of Fox, Anonymous Endangered Fisher, Cosmonaut Sergei Rikalev, HAM operator Margaret Laquinto, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Buck Euro, Dark Imagebase, and Leo and Hercules (two chimpanzees). As one might assume through the literary nature of these characters, Meadows pulls direct allusions and greater, loftier symbolic meaning through contemporary interpretations. Like the best drama, characters represent more than themselves, and Meadows sufficiently explores representation as both denotation (historical) and connotation (adaptive) in her own context. Bordering on themes of entertainment, absurdity, and critical inquiry, Meadows’s play, like her other dramatic works, is not quite content in any single space of poetic intention.
The play is like the book, as a whole, which demonstrates the blending and breaking of particularities and satisfactions. In the context of the artist and the artist’s creations there is a defying of genre. In “The Demotion” there is often verse, most likely functioning with an element of grandiose subtext, embedded into otherwise cryptic but casual, prosaic dialogue and monologue—think Shakespeare, to name the biggest example. As a connector to the reader, moments like this, moments of creeping beauty, are what Meadows’s does best—that is, the works in this book are filled with surprise and delight amidst sometimes-confusing narrative and context that goes beyond the borders of reader expectation and normalcy.
Keeping the story from appearing straightforward and the context from becoming identified is what arouses a degree of mystery within The Demotion. In a later dramatic piece, the very-much-meta “The Obstacle Plays,” Meadows provides a sequence of scenes of two sisters, Kinsan-G and Fetch, along with an otherly old man named Clamp. Philosophical and situational, each scene is like a new experiment or proposed idea framed in exclusive dialogue. Clamp as the other allows for subtle and direct levels of feminism to be cast outward with his sense of existing as a target, and while the exact commentary in these situations remains humble or covert, Meadows’s at the least provides a platform for inquiry. Reading “The Obstacle Plays” resulted in me thinking of Meadows working through her own mind as she wrote the play out—there was a breakage from complete immersion here, as with most of her works.
The book contains one additional play, “Nothing to Do,” which reads like a sitcom or a sketch—two characters, Jay and Adelaine, speak over the course of several pages in a setting “neither domestic nor institutional,” and though not canon-shattering, the work is potent and pronounced, memorable yet unexaggerated. I am reminded of American Splendor, or Coffee and Cigarettes. One might wonder how such a piece would translate into a stage performance, or a video form. And of course, it would be in error to not mention Meadows’s previously-established commitments to collaboration, adaptation, and evolution of her works into other spaces with other artists, thus representing a dynamic multidirectional trail of influence.
all of us are here: same space, same decay
(from “when body is earth yet to cover” on page 58)
In some of the poems that Meadows’s provides in The Demotion, the larger philosophies and part of that grandiose subtext previously mentioned, which I can’t help but describe as a humanistic drive, leak out like secrets being exposed. As I made note again and again, the poems here are very inquisitive, and give off tones of active, not reactive, searching. The larger motifs that cross works here, binding them together a la “the book,” include the meaning behind authenticity, integrity, functionality, and responsibility. From the displacement of the characters in her plays to her own multitude of voices, to even the final sequence of poems in the book that decay out of their selves, Meadows provides blunt statements, often nihilistic, often existential, on why we are who we are and what we are supposed to realize and then give back to the world. Not quite depressing but certainly uncomfortable, these notions of existence and purpose in Meadows’s most poetic moments are in many cases the most straightforward moments in otherwise mysterious works.
adhere (smoke to wet paint)
routine (to glass pane)
("modesty” on page 122)
Still, it is a challenge to define Meadows’s work in The Demotion in any singular way, which is partly why this book shines so brightly. In some of the later poems, there is a quality that is less static and direct, with subconscious, sub-present explorations of reactions to world events (political, environmental) and an almost spontaneous sense of poetic existence. “Medium Logic Machines” reads like a cross between William Burroughs and Joanne Kyger. “Slang of Regime Deferral” reads like Michael Gizzi. There is a sense of play here, and it is rooted in an intensity that much of contemporary poetry lacks. Said playful intensity reminds me of Keats’s negative capability, and reminds me of Stein’s exceptional linguistic topsy-turvy directives.
Would this book benefit from having greater explanations about each of the works? Probably. But would something be lost through a closer and more explicit explanation? Definitely. Meadows’s work before The Demotion and through The Demotion maintains Ezra Pound’s “make it new” in 2017 better than most other writers I’ve read, and yet in an age where more and more content is accessible and more and more content is designed to flow “correctly” and succinctly, the idea of “newness” both within literary art and beyond feels counterintuitive. That said, these works by Meadows certainly have their own place, their own spirit, and in so respond to Meadows’s fascinating commentary on the certainty of functionality and responsibility in society—by being certainly functional and responsible and yet not completely definable.
It's darth. Happy March. almost. February is still here. February has moved out of range of federal signal blockers, in order to be able to transmit a livestream assessment of the position it currently holds, after mass arrests and federally backed corporate takeovers sought to violate February's right to exist as a sovereign month, as part of a larger collective body which makes up what we used to refer to as our seasons. Our seasons are missing in action. White supremacist gangs with fossil-fuel corporate holdings have attained critical seats of power in the federal government, in a little white house behind a big fence, and they continue to order troops of soldiers to enforce removal of the seasons, including little months like February, on the grounds that these months are too colorful, and represent, through their suffering and violation due to pollution of their elements by corporate and federal fossil-fuel interests, too much of a reference to what the currently dismantled Environmental Protection Agency would have referred to as "Climate Change--" were that phrase "Climate Change" still to be considered legal to say. Gag orders on phrases such as "season," and "Climate Change" have been in effect since the beginning of February, the little month which has just lost its status as part of our calendar. Says one Republican press agent at the white house: "February has so traditionally been part of the cosmology referring to seasons, or has been known to...refer to a transitional phase from one of Mother Nature's states to another...this little month has its roots in a season, in pagan traditions, it represents heathen ideology. As such, February's status was as a place-marker in a now defunct calendar/climate system which is being phased out." In order to replace the term "seasons," the White House behind the big fence has issued a statement indicating that the use of the terms "sweater weather," "shorts weather," or "closed-toe shoe weather, with...maybe a scarf" can legally be used. These newly approved phrases can now be heard on Brightbart News, broadcasted as part of what is still being called "The Weather Report." Federally approved news source Brightbart News Channel will soon be phasing out The Weather Report...meanwhile, another February fugitive, the groundhog, long-time purveyor of the season of Spring, is being held in a detention center fifty miles outside of Cannonball, North Dakota, in a cage with some confiscated medical supplies, said to have belonged to a Lakota medic named Red Fawn. Red Fawn in being held in jail, due to the fact that she bears an animal name. Brightbart News Channel issued an alert on Friday, warning that any more humans found to have animal names will need to report immediately to the Bureau Of Non-Animal Name Affairs (formerly known as the Bureau Of Indian Affairs), which has begun working in collaboration with Exxon-Mobil, and Energy Transfer Partners--Sun Company, Inc./Sunoco, to enforce the new Non-Animal Name Order. Under this order, all those not bearing state-approved approved first, or last names must relinquish their personal data to a newly approved “Climate-Believer/Mother Nature Lover/Pagan/Muslim/Heathen Registry," to which all citizens who are not registered as white supremacists/fossil-fuel stock-holders must add their names. Any link between the fossil-fuel industry and the white supremacists which was previously denied has now been proudly admitted to, by the current administration. Non-white supremacist groundhogs, numbering in the millions, have not been excluded from the federal mandate to give over their personal data to the heathen registry, although this last is proving difficult to enforce, as few, if any federal employees speak groundhog. Animals in general, should they show any indication of behavior which alludes to Climate Change (delayed hibernation, refusal to copulate in predicted patters, or tardiness in leaving for annual migrations), are subject to arrest and detention as well, pending further notice. One tree was arrested in Pennsylvania last Thursday, for blooming early, on charges of colluding with a conspiracy to leak information concerning an early Spring. The tree's lawyers are working pro-bono, 24/7, to ensure their client's right to a fair trial.
That's the news. Check out February's live feed, coming to you live in your sanctuary cities. Let your love give you courage to speak its name in all seasons, for all seasons, to resist fear and hatred. Or, in the words of Kahlil Gibran, if you like:
But if in your fear you would seek only
love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Except for gathering clouds,
nothing stirs now in the valley.
A thousand years ago,
a dozen tribes flourished--
the Lune, the Ari, the Kizona,
others. But then one night,
consistent with prediction,
the men felt a malaise in
their village: blood commenced
to harden. A limping ibex
fell at winter’s end; the flaccid
wind folded in on itself.
Earth got used to the silence.
To harden a limping ibex,
the men felt a malaise in-
consistent with prediction.
The Lune, the Ari, the Kizona,
fell at winter’s end. The flaccid
earth got used to the silence,
their village blood. Commenced,
a dozen tribes flourished
others. But then one night,
a thousand years ago,
wind folded in on itself.
Nothing stirs now in the valley,
except for gathering clouds.
Jason Barry's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Angle (UK), Noble / Gas Qtrly, The Citron Review, and other journals. He currently lives in Xi'an, China, where he works as a Lecturer in English at Jiaotong University.
Invocation by Jennifer S. Cheng (Released by New Michigan Press, 2010)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
"So that afterward in the darkness as I am riding home, I am looking out the window, thinking of octopi on the ocean floor and what they see at night." (from page 7)
Jennifer S. Cheng's Invocation is the early precursor and prelude to her award-winning, mind-dropping House A from 2016. This proclaimed essay, a kite of kaleidoscopes rustling in the wind, a hum of radiant and indefatigable mystery, is genre bending and genre defying, splicing autobiographical narrative with prose poem with image cluster. At 37 pages with 23 images, this work is at least as image-based as textual, yet the work is not wholly anything specific: because it is a work of full emptiness. But it does have a foundation, and that foundation is Cheng’s uncanny and fascinating voice.
As an exploration of what it means to be vocal and what it means to be voiceless, Invocation searches Cheng’s own history. It is a short book that navigates through the density of life as part of a family and the resulting smothering. Cheng’s world is one that is fluid (see: the fully-realized presence of water in House A) and yet it is a world of core disconnection. Here we have what it is to not speak, and to thus learn the action of speech.
Ideas of noise and sound form here, in this literary uplifting, this essay of invocation. The path of one’s voice, as a proper extension of identity, is sought here. The traditions of the reserved woman in a space of domesticity and domicile history are challenged here. The weight of silence within is accommodated by the weight of silence without, and that unity is reconciled here. Cheng wastes no time or energy through her text and visuals to unravel her history and her thorough struggles and beautiful courage in such an unraveling. And yet this essay does not seek to provide significant resolutions. Instead it is a preview, an opening of a throat on the verge of a song.
Metaphorically, Cheng’s Invocation is the step forward into her own voice, the poet finding the poetics, the individual learning their limits, authority, authenticity, integrity. Cheng’s invocation has long-since found its validation, and magically, Cheng’s voice is greater, fuller, more present in 2017 than ever before. Or so it seems, while the wind howls before the silence only moments away.