How to Keep Full in February by Michelle Gottschlich (Released by Monster House Press, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Casual periphery: Sound Sun Pleasure!! by Sun Ra
with a splash of water, the red, at best,
begins to thin. but it’s me too, thinning,
nearing my clearest, like adding salt
to water, a kind rolling boil starts
and all my thoughts quietly let go.
(from “stress, cleaning”)
Michelle Gottschlich writes transitory poems. These poems deface dualism, embracing the wide arc of knowing and defining, calling understanding inward, and then: expulsion. In How to Keep Full in February, a landscape of the Midwest is a zone of reimagination. There is certainty presented as the root of the metaphor. A certainty of image, common but mysteriously out of reach and intrinsically personal. Of typing and typology. What we all know but all know differently. Of truisms and a collective, matter-of-fact presence of culture. But one that is niche and of the poet’s life. The poems in this pamphlet, like arrows splicing open the image, form the dimension excising the binary and bringing it into a context of new, emergent, lively reality.
Poems here that are drawn strings. Poems that are imaginations. Poems that are dreams. Poems that are acts of recreating one’s world as it has happened, continues to happen, and will happen. Gottschlich’s work is assembled here, in a typographic angle as incising and minute as the unique and curious images themselves, for quick and rapid escalation, to quick and rapid release. Here is a sequence appearing brief but is in fact bold, enduring, daring, and relentlessly available, here is poetry that cries of body, of world, of the wavering, quivering tensions of identity.
[. . .] Hey, I’ll show you, here’s me
eating a lavender cupcake and wiggling around the quiet kitchen,
stepping on a grape, freezing a mouse mid-nibble. Here’s me.
The ideas that form who we are come forward in these poems like flames bringing light. It is like a gift. What we call ourselves, and what we relate to, what we know and abstractly utilize to understand ourselves better, understanding how we each operate and function. From poem title to poem title there is organic matter: representation of life, representation of decay, representation of the vulgar, grotesque transformation of the self.
Food. Consumption. Health. Humanity. These broad headings lead to themes of tension, mesmerization, and subtly intimate awareness. Gottschlich writes line by line like naturally formed steps across cliff or coast, but jutting too, a literary syncopation of unexpected rhythm. A challenge to some, a burden to others, a definite mastery of experimentation and again with the subtle: in this case, the fragments of near-rhyme, alliteration, consonance, assonance, and all other manners of sonic embodiment. But never disembodying the other qualities of these very narrative and sometimes lyrical, always-musical works. The reader only needs to slow down to allow this poet’s dramatic undertones to rise to the surface. Like walking slower down a forested path, the details emerge in vibrancy through a quiet and a calm.
i don’t know
how to begin
to just start
the way they can
as if on a glass road
with none of this
(from “the saint of auscultation”)
Most importantly, and a quality at risk of being overlooked by the common read either quick or slow, there is a setting in place here, in this book, of exquisite attention. This observed presence, this omniscience, is so powerful as it’s matched with moments of absolute concision, as described above. The poet brings a very powerful level of poetic play to the work, unquestionably beyond pretention. It is through this exploratory current that the book’s vision carries forth those qualities of the personal, the spectrum of the stories of life and potential life. Gottschlich’s craft matches the whirlwind of experience shot across these pages, binding them to one another.
Entrancing and filling, this book is only an early step for a writer whose work illustrates and describes in an elegant and ecstatic space. I sit here and imagine how others will read them, and think about how I will reread them, these poems, and see further in my own craft.
i feel everything
i want growing out of
an unswallowable stone.
Note: In the recorded reading of this review, I use the word "pamphlet" in error. This work is not part of the publisher's pamphlet series, but rather the chapbook series.
Piles of the misformed distinguish themselves from the night. A purple glow to its sky. They are all shadows, all cut black, and their particular shapes are angular and inorganic. No dirt among the machine piles. The floor of the compound is compound stone, composite stuff that is so broken from the weight of the metal and stuff it keeps. High walls, thick structure, band the massive courtyard of piles, gapped in places by great jaws, steel, molar, gnashing imaginable but stale and static. A scree-raw flock passed just overhead the wires that make some partial ceiling to this little dark cloister. A light blinked on a panel near one of the doors, almost a breath. A few bodies move among the wreckage in misguided motion, graceless things that pull at the junk occasionally. These are the scrappers and they are here through the holes in the walls which are not large, plugged iwth larger rocks too. Only the smallest scan enter anymore, a few of the scrappers. One has eyes among a pile of fibers and cords, eyes with the flat pupil of a goat —a copper-wild nebula spread to each wide lid. Only four fingers, it pulls part a variety of the dangle, searching.
—Whatsit? says another, younger, scrapper, a hood-lamp in its fingers.
—Lightsit, says the scrapper searching the wires.
A quiet sorting continues, and among them, the four pull together in the night at the corner a pile of what can be moved between the gaps in the concrete hole-plugs: a fluid-leak sealant pack, a broken sheaf of square steel and iron, a network of sorted cords, and the severed ends of some female insets.
They look it over, and the oldest of them passes the fluid-pack sealant down below and goes with, eventually fire-lining the remainder of the goods out to a trio of lounging characters and their reptilian mounts.
Not enough to encourage excitement, another night in Warrendale, another night passing the rough dyke-laned tarmac, the city’s peculiar waterways dull and dun under the violet overhead. An odd light blinks and the mounts shoulder the light load, pressed ahead by a gorgon-haired scrapper whose removed its mask and watches the blank lanes ahead for stray dangers. The conversation that might take place among a similar caravan through deserts of the past or forests of the past would fall to the meat of the group, seven of the tiny clan, but until they’ve reached the rough access point, a sewage park where the grate can be slid back and a darkness entered, no one bothers a word. There is something of a chain gang to their movements. The ditches of city dispersal follow the tribe until a subterranean twist passes a natural fork.
Their cavern Home is lit there by the striping of a myriad of mismatched lights, in steady sway criss-cross and rising into the bulged space. They throw back a few of the curtains that break the cavern and reorient them for privacy, unloading and clicking a few foot switches that light a near-clinical examination space. A scrapper with furred leggings slides from the group and returns with a set of the Oldest, inspectors who have wild hairs sprouting around their eyes. The sack of equipment is drawn up. The whole ensemble whistles, and each cable is tried against its respective port. None are discarded but few fit and each is taken by the younger rovers and rubbed of its basic slime and coatings by, allocated by color to a set of hanging racks; one drawer-casing slides out and the little ones fill it with the female ends. The day-workers will adjust those, fit them suitably. Splice if necessary.
So ends a night in the yard. Each scrapper takes a plate form the kitchen nearby, another of the tribe just done scrubbing the lint of old food onto a set of buckets. Skirts swish. Everyone moves to casual dress and the conversation gives us names, foreign names that can’t be written and hardly spoke.
—Say, have to.
The object in question between them as a hundred tiny fibers sprouting from. Coated in oil. It is a plate of some kind, and it, by the nimble hands of the rover who plucked it and refused its donation can be slid into a crystalline box wet with oil too. They pass it amongst themselves.
—Will. But whatsit?
One holds it longest. The others pay deference to its opinion, chewing.
It points its skull, smells the oils with a flat snout and slides the plate in and out, rubs away some of the oil to expose embossed initials O and Z.
They leave it there between them like a dying fire and eat the lentil mash without utensil. Retirement.
Another day. The hive warms during the day and the sound of the city’s maintenance purrs overhead. The processing plant aboveground is drummed by a series of membranes, great rubbers which like levees or dams will hold back the uglier flows, to be scrubbed by some long-armed characters with long tools, too, passing them through a labyrinth of suction and pressurization, eventually matted in a series of metal mesh weaves, electrified, and dosed, pumped out, towards the fields distant where farmers of bean, oat, corn, and larger-scale cereals await. Beneath the plant though, it is simply warm and busy. The rovers are a tribe numbered three-hundred at census, allowed a child to each, thirty children under-age to occupy themselves. Thirty exactly to match the Antiques, who in beds—or hammocks if in one of the older famiiles—roost higher towards the warmer-light-lit regions of the roost, throughout the day slowly losing their minds, charged with passing the morals of the clan to the new ones.
The remaining two-hundred and forty work. The sections encircling the center of the cave place are broken by panes of cloth which can be run down whichever track to create something of a room if necessary; during the day, hardly a break in the place, except around the the feed. The rovers bustle around old scav and new. They match and clean, scrub, splice, sort. When enough has been rung from a certain rag, there is a cart that shifts the dirtiest bits out into the tunnels whence it further layers the walls by a set of the reptilian patchers, friends of the tribe who live among the dyke waters.
There are repairs made to the things which are broken: the hunters’ weapons, the long scale kitchen with its broad-wire electrics, and recently, a boat. The lead electrics and metalworkers patched a plan together from various pages of advertisement and encyclopedias laying among the trash heaps to make a metal-hulled thing floating in the large channel nearest the grates. All the rovers are swimmers. Nearly amphibious with coarse hides and coats. Now that the boat’s large parts are floating, important to reinforce its basings. A team apply the water sealant discovered last night, moving alongside the vessel in the brown water with the self-pressing bottles above them in a flexed arm, tread, apply, tread. The boat is a trimaran with webbing, old mesh from the water plant spread in bedded warp over the individual canoe-shaped floats. A series of overhead tarps are easily unrolled.
The hunters were out among the tunnels, looking for desperate homeless from the cities, or runaways, children, whatever is. The humans are larger, but in groups of three or four, one can be hobbled and brought low. There are eight groups of four each, who communicate in clicks not so different from the patchers underwater language. They’ve learned language of the overland types, English and some Spanish, from a child who they freed eventually rather than eat.
—Too much, is what the Antiques had said when the fires were being stoked.
The girl’d been with them for months by then, huddled in the larger cell they kept feed in. She’d never been unkind and always spoke of her father’s morals and the way he treated others. Fond memories for the tribe, who still treasure the bracelets the girl had made while among them. This was years ago. Her name’d been Iole.
The box and its port was brought to attention and reported by the rover who had hidden it. Naturally it was punished for withholding, seven straps and a public sleep for weeks. The rovers were all quiet on this, since they were punished as much as it when exposed to its sleep. The box was investigated though and the wild-haired scrapper’s suspicions were brought before the Antiques who’d not seen something this advanced. They performed tests, and it purred electric and grew hot among the small caucus of considerate experimentation, so they shut it down and another day went into a night within the den.
The scrappers went out that night. The hunters returned as they left with a field-dressed corpse. They acknowledged each other as they passed, both with their respective dangers, neither arrogant to a particular self-importance. The reptilian mounts crept behind, and the gorgon-haired scrapper scanned with its wide eyes for stray dangers.
The violet twinges of the overhead world drew out from the city yonder. It rose, grainy in the pollutant, buildings like big stone geometry. There was nothing unnatural about it any longer because it had nothing to compare to. As far as anyone in the tribe knew, the world stretched to the horizon and stopped, out where the dykes dried in the fields, the furthest. Few felt need to walk beyond: the dykes brought food because all living things follow the water; the plant generated warmth.
The young rover who’d been strapped earlier held a part of the boat plan and a sketch of the strange box it’d found the night prior. It knew which pile to start searching, even if it didn’t know for what. They spread out, each their own orders.
The machine caused the footing underfoot to both wrestle for the rover’s feet and claw at them. Each was dextrous enough. But the noise when a salmon-skinned rover let it’s foot down too abruptly gave rise to a shrieking: metal on metal and then as it fell down the pile, on metal on metal and glass. It hardly ended when the tumbled equipment had based out. All them stared up at the doors that rung the second floor. There were dogs the men kept—they’d lost count of the bodies gone to the dogs. They didn’t count anymore. This would draw them. They retreated into the cracks of the base and slid past the crumbling tunnels and mortar, and warned the waiting loungers without much need: apparently the noise’d gone past the walls and all were hidden, alert, near the set of powerboxes that kept the lights on.
The dogs came around. Their barking preceded. The rovers understood the whole family would be on the chase. No luck staying togheter.
They pushed the reptilian mounts into the water and the loungers who held their bridles ducked in beside them, laying horizontal and clucking their mounts to swim. The dogs and men might not know them. They removed the saddlebags. Let them drop. Hoping, unlikely, that someone down river would comb up the valuable leather and stitching. They breathed just through their noses and the dyke-muck threatened to drown.
The youngest simply ran. They pulled forward onto their arms too, fingers tearing at the scrabble of the long lane. The smallest dogs passed into a street light maybe bigger than the largest scrapper by a half-body. If it reached the runners it would turn them belly up so the bigger, slower dogs behind, the dads and brothers, would eat its belly first. Then they would circle back in similar, looping speed because this is what the dogs had always done, and it was effective to an infinite degree.
At home it would be hours later. The investigators would’ve risen twice to find only each other. They would’ve pissed and the lights changed as the overhead plant kicked out of gear because it ran at night. The hunters leave then, the butchers passing them, and the lone rover would pull itself just far enough into the tunnel, back hips so twisted to make it look as though it’d been pressed in. Round black eyes as wide as could go, chattering. They’d cover it in bedding in a warm edge of the tunnel and it’d never speak but just moan and even the knowledge how great the pain was in it’s dying, they’d believe, this little tribe, that the pain of it was the most important part, the coins it paid to cross.
They found the mounts’ satchels and the mounts came too. It wasn’t much. The tribe was delinquent, all deeply mourning. It took that long for the overseers to consult the Antiques who said that always after this kind of push, the body deserves a rest, and so, with the exception of the kitchen, a silence overtook the savengers and they rested or walked in very pedestrian, pinned steps.
So passed a night and a day.
A new group of scavenger were shifted to raid the scrapyard, positions replaced. An upswell in momentum meant the boat was vigorously attended. Several electrics solved the power of its motorworks, and the propulsion allowed forward and back. The wheel gave it maneuvering and the odd craft puttered through the wide network of canals with eager and proud crew, who alternated as captain. The pieces recovered from the scrapyard on That Night were cleared and sorted. There was another box of thick, wildly-colored metal with an oil sheen and a pill, the length of a hand filled with blue crumb-powder. The plug unit on the exterior of the box was adaptable. Thin silver-spider wires waxed inside, stubble and an old one took a finger to the oils, matching them by scent. The adapter was linked through a set of powerboxes to screens and gauges and some trays were brought up, plus a spare powerbox. The kitchen was called to bring a vat of their rendered fat which was separate and melted and poured into the box. All was plugged in—electricity shaking the obscuring fat in plaintiff whine and no one would get too close but several of the Ancients had crawled to a low-deck staircase on wheels to witness from above how the spider-slim wires wove discriminate among the chunk of the kitchen fat.
Simultaneous a robotic voice from the affixed speakers and a printout display said the question “Location?” then a spawn of data points printed as more wires linked, the system’s internal mechanisms bypassing the manual demands, networking to satellites thick as rings in the overhead, invisible sky. This was Dimsbury Plant, 1014.67 N, 232.33 E of Charlottesville, about 161ft below ground, off the dyke maps by fifteen hundred feet. Without eyes, cameras, without heat or short-range censors, Ozone was just a spill of components but he was booted, and asked aloud and to the screen.
—Who composited me?
Several of the rovers went for plugins to install auditory input and the language and translation workers who spent days among the audio and newspaper components they’d scavenged began to talk and explain who they were, gleaming from the robot that what it’s primary function was a mapping solutions intelligence. No records of a past subsisted. All ownership had been dismissed.
They wondered what to do with it and decided to install it in the boat.
Previous: Ozone : Volley
did you go to school? has someone supposed to teach you the difference between what is real, and what is imagined...in order to protect you from a fast car in the street, or from a conviction that you would be able to breathe underwater? did someone who knew that you couldn't fly tell you so, in order to protect you from a big jump? later, someone who loved you less may have taught you, in a classroom of science, the difference between dead and living. just as a matter of course.
by various methods, a world of imagination was obscured from your vision. people who stayed in a pretend world, who didn't discern between "real," and "imagined" came to be known as un-well. we're the grown-ups now. the sacred tenets of your childhood world of imagination, ringing cleanly through your heart and mind in communion with so many others of your tribe, got obscured... no longer a matter of collective choice. childhood rules for dead, for invisible, for what can be changed are no longer listed in some shining script, on a stone door, impenetrable by influence of logic. whereas you had played. and others with you, now you get to share, with other grown-ups, what's known as "time."
a round, blank face, or a digital facsimile of the same, patterned concept in replacement of the moon and sun. we sharing time, now. you could call this concept of time a sort of "base," or zone of commonality to which we are all continually running. grown-ups running, checking in. see who has, or has not made it to join us, within a sequence of events. no going back, now. no rules for invisible. a clock has twelve neat numbers engraved upon it, and others quantified finely, between. a grown-up game. no invisible. life is, and will be newly quantified by the "done," or the "undone," seeing as you've got the time.
what could be the point of such a transition, for us all? of shunting imagination to the perimeters of a new, shared culture, so that what is "known" is represented by logic, and dominates the wealth of information we deal in, have parlance in. so that what's "unknown" is reduced to a grab-bag, a random variable, at which one might throw the imagination, after logic runs its courses and continues to come up dry. and logic sans heart, sans imagination has come up dry--has pillaged resources with no feeling for sustainability. the logic of profit, as an end unto itself, for example. to sum it up: it is as if the whole culture were jumping from a plummeting airplane, without enough parachutes to go around, and those who get a parachute yell to the ones who are left behind: "use your imagination!" imagination is viewed as an afterthought, as a wild-card, as a thing to be entertained with great reluctance. such is the ready willingness with which most any culture will forgo any real agency in the processes of imagination, once its children have grown. and its children are left with the burden of this imbalance, as a legacy. their attention rests in deficit, in the disorder of minds and hearts starved of the chance to fully live.
is there a culture which places value on the merging of imagination with logic, rather than replacing the former with the latter? which culture stems from what the Zen masters would call "beginner's mind?"
the culture of children. children everywhere. in every part of the world.
a few grown-ups are beginning to learn to act more like children...starting to head out into the field, from the factory,.because logic--logic sans heart,, the kind of logic lacking in imagination--has outrun its own, real resources, as it deemed them. logic sans heart, sans imaginations has used up all of the real stuff, burned it, pillaged it. some of our species have up trying to exist in a heartless, depleted world of the mind. crickets, frogs recede. a species of bird you hear at sun-up dies. the grown-up word for this is "extinction." there is also the phrase, "climate change."
the writer Ray Bradbury had a name for the human who has beginner's mind. the one who could flip it, make it all a different way--so that it wouldn't hurt people.
he said that you are a Dreamer. he said that any sane society should protect you.
note: this darth post has been cross-published via Facebook.
Sonoma by Lehua M. Taitano (Released by Dropleaf Press, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Casual periphery: Stubborn Persistent Illusions by Do Make Say Think
So I found a boat. And a lake. And I thought of the way the lake had come to be. And the way of history that floods and flushes out those who would call the land at the bottom of the lake home. And the stories and languages of those displaced people--the Pomo, the Miwok--whose sacred sites were drowned to make the place where boats like mine could float above on any given Wednesday in spring. Which made me think of my own displacement and of being in maybe love, too [. . .]
I am practicing my review of a pool of water. I am practicing the breathing toward and from the glassy place. Imagining the artist as the center of the elliptical ripple. Atop a watercraft or a leering bank. Glancing across or beyond, the sheen of light radial, but also fractal. An ordinary reverb of light.
i will let you in on joist and
(when is there not
In Sonoma by Lehua M. Taitano, I imagine water everywhere. In all of the spaces, covering all of the objects, all of the environments. This is not true: water cannot be everywhere. But it can, like voice, be anywhere. And in Sonoma there is a range of presence: actualized and potential. To make, to make do, to make through a sacred realm of possibility. Where life has lived, and will continue to live.
In Sonoma, Taitano resonates through observation, through quest, through pressure. Fragility of time and the fleeting realm of the natural image in tandem with the abundance of the landscape. Pause. New tab. I begin typing “Lake Sonoma” but then stop. No. I have not been there, and it is not about me, per se. Sonoma as rigor meets gentleness. Sonoma as inclusive. More: invited. To enter, to step forward.
To slide in a wall as if the banks were grooved and push back a flowing river.
A readiness, an inspiring acceptance of a wondrous and unknown body of water, thanks to Taitano’s voice, which scatters and collects from page to page, utterances utter and known meets unknown in aquatic bob and glide.
To the Lake Sonoma beyond from that voice found here, found now, presently found, possibly found. Imagery, the whirl and whir of the author. A lens of inquiry through a context divinatory, poetic. The experience is one that is pursed, and also bold: to read Sonoma is to listen through layers of story. Actualized and potential.
water shadow. lichen. / the nose of a swimming creature, / slick.
So I am practicing thinking of a pool of water. I am standing beyond the water, looking across it, wondering if there is sunlight, or darkness. Wondering how human this body of water is. Wondering how disturbed or how wild, how at rest, how succumbed to its own privacy. These exercises as a result of a book that is a result of experience. Of infinitudes of experience. Transcendental. Overcome with transition. The roar of the risen, or the rising. There is breath in this lake. A breath in the lake right now, right here.
Outside the windows of the apartment I call home, the late spring light shines on small green trees I can’t define, know not the names of, and the light still shines and through the sense of the unknown the light feels dignified, purposeful. Sonoma as a book of dignity and definition. As the result of craft. As a result of the poet as present, to siphon, funnel, perceive, relay. Taitano as the investigator, but there needs to be another word: a form of investigation that exhibits respect, is careful, is intensely aware and is resolved to an acceptance of the emerging beauty.
but i can give you
kettle. wool hood,
the right weight.
i can say gristle and
The words in Sonoma feel energetic. They feel etched: temporal but placed with a fixed and impressive effort. Or they feel engraved: to be as permanent as witness, actualized or potential. A poetry that sits like a body of water on a body of land. A poetry that grips the land through immense weight, and there are countless angles, and there is constant possibility.
The mind returns to the visage of the pool. In a blended and arresting moment of imagery, I imagine Lake Sonoma at night and at day, moon and sun merged into one orb, our planet spinning forward and backward at once, all of the occupying figures, the life, the presence, together in a single frame of time. There is a harmony to acknowledge and there is opportunity to be aware. All of this brought into the reader from Taitano’s Sonoma, of which we owe many thanks.
There Are Trees by Maxwell Shanley (Released by Dropleaf Press, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Casual periphery: Ison by Sevdaliza and Green Twins by Nick Hakim
What’s in your life? What’s in your realm of documentation? What’s lies in the tact of your observations? Are there tress, or are there other proximal things? Are these things seen up, or seen down? And where are you standing when it all comes together, presses in, at once, like textured pages tied together with red thread. Like Springtime in a hot and dry landscape.
For that which stands. For that which falls.
As Maxwell Shanley says, opening the book, opening the outwardly, which we need, which I felt the pressure to absorb, language, this communication, this zealous ideal. I think of how I think of standing. I think of how I think of falling. I think of what I owe to these positions, what we all, each of us, owe to these perspectives. A dominant discord, but also a fantastical optimism. It is not a poetry of complacency or nicety. It is a poetry of mature design, precise like a joust, widening like breeze.
So, then, there is movement throughout, then. And movement relates these things. This is how we lead from point A to point B. I suppose, and I suppose a lot, that we also must gauge how these things, these spasms of inspiration, these lives within the life we live, creep upon us, how they actually arrive, how they arrive from once where they were before heading off to their next position. These, then, are the extended lines of autonomous thought, trained lenses of our organs of vision, and we give them purpose, or purposes as a result of such knowledge. As is the most inductive, and intimate, of poetries and their lines, and their weights carried within their own contexts and essences.
I suppose. And then I shudder, I spasm, and I look back at Shanley. At his work in There Are Trees. At his earnest undertaking, like shovel to sunlight, filled with matter, raised, offered, a gift, a proposition, propped up, or extended, muscles aching, but strong is the response to the ache. Like a smile.
Regressive. What’s in your life? And upon identification, what to do? To find the components and take them? Track them? Expand upon them, or break them down to their own components? Macrocosmic designations. Microcosmic designations. Other, similar waves, arcs, ownerships: of truth, of an exquisite motion toward the image.
We were phosphenes, a hypnic jerk
on the back of the lid, all of us
in the same sleep.
In Shanley’s essence we have a realization of the extended act. We have pages that alter us, that are altars for us. There is composure. There is hiding. There is the realm of Shanley’s beauty, and it’s been delivered. A delivery, yes, the tone embraces the delivery! It is beautiful here, in There Are Trees, where we have arrived, or where everything has been brought to us, all along, we have been here. The aspect of the lettering, There Are Trees versus THERE ARE TREES, a mere perfection in the distinct clatter of organization, like wooden shoes sounding the echoes off the walls and across the recently empty room, or the slump of a tree falling, to rest in its composition and decomposition at once.
To open enough to allow the connotative experience requires effort and effortlessness. Paradoxically, Shanley’s voice is as much a voice of breath as it is a voice of calm and rest. The breath as it speaks these lines showers the landscape, merging the liquidous with the earthly, creating an exemplary murk. Again, dualities: primitive meets exceptionally complex; grandiose meets straightforward. The words speak themselves. The wielder unpacks their own reward through their own efforts.
[. . .] and you are a piano and let me be the crack in the glass, the salty water drinking away your walls.
The breath as the statement is intoned, carefully, as a book should be: wrapped, wondering, wandering forward. Roots to expansions of growth. Poems as the format. A carrying capacity. A capacity to carry, to preserve, to infuse, through collection, with the beautiful, and the paramount too. But only such as it is matter of fact: a calm, an inhale meeting an exhale in a common boundary of excellence.
These poems here are statements. As trickles of water, or distant lightning, or the bold maneuver of the limbs of a being, or the shadow complete and perfect edging along and beyond, to wherever you might not remember to give your attention, but promise to through the arrived epiphanic moment.
Ursa Major by Yves Bonnefoy (Released by Seagull Books, 2016)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Casual periphery: Black Origami by Jlin
Yves Bonnefoy was one of the greatest living voices of French poetry. In Ursa Major, his sixth book published by Seagull Books, he explores in profound new ways the mysteries of human consciousness.
[. . .]
Yves Bonnefoy was a poet, critic and professor emeritis of comparative poetics at the Collège de France, Paris, and received several major international awards for his work, including the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca (1995) and the Franz Kakfa Prize (2005). In addition to poetry and literary criticism, he has published numerous works on art history and translated into French several of Shakespeare’s plays.
[. . .]
Beverley Bie Brahic is an award-winning Canadian poet and translator. She has published two collections of poetry and translations of French writers including Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge and Hélène Cixous.
I would like to speak with you. / Who are you? / Red, a sky that is all red. / Have you another name?
(from “Hello? Hello?”)
It starts with the keys. Black keys sticking like jammed locks. Barricades, nonplussed segments. We sit together, clasping strange and immutable objects, those that combat the static quality of keys, as portals, objects repositioned, hard to describe, or even imagine, in a world so unrelated, this world we have, so stable and solemnly stagnant. Swirls of dust. Shudder of stars. Blankets upon blankets: new depths to the yawning in the night paired with the structures that give us access, and there is dulling, and there is bluntness, and there is meekness. And so now a book: a new object to be placed beyond the keys, and beyond everything else, to generate afresh the world right before us, a world that looks anew, spinning, the fragmented coin of our own world, shattered, shot, in multiple directions. Yves Bonnefoy’s invisible hand seen careening cordially into the future.
She? It was night. She knocked at the window. I opened, her huge head filled the window, the whole window. I was afraid.
(from “You, Again!”)
There are moments and then there are emerged moments to match the mourning of those previous: topical, traditional, noticeable. Beyond the keys there is the book and then the breath races, gently, quietly, with the heart: images as quintessential. Paramount. As problematic: the fluttering sensations of words transforming worlds beyond the lids: luring, alluring, and so on. A rhyme meets the rhythm that the French poet would know were he alive: jubilations whirring, a weirdly episodic and catastrophically clandestine beauty in this book: shatter open the glass baubles, rupture the density of lenses, burnish the meticulous unknowns with reinforced language.
Have we, do you think, existed?
(from “Oh, Divine”)
The translator, Beverley Bie Brahic, has a tongue saintly stoic and wildly rupturing: a test pressuring the secret, softly-lit poetics out of the reader, awareness, sweat on brow, tightness within the skin, the movement present, ever so, and yearning. Translations of translations of time and space. Translations of translations of the indefatigable complacency towards the burden of thought: a burden so bright and bountiful, we have pride in knowing its presence, its persistence, its faculties and fruitfulness. A reminder: color, questioning, and existence. All the things we want, need, know: palpitation of consideration. A naturalness to the dialog, gutting open the conceptions and bluntly blown, there it stands, outlasting the moment that tries to capture it.
Hard, harder, hardest: to imagine I’d never been exposed to A piece of stone, with its marks, its cracks, all its colours—that’s true infinity, don’t you think? (from “What’s That Noise?”) And now, here we go, here we are, present reader, affixed reader, afflicted reader of the dainty and the spell cast, in isolate, in isolation of intention. Myself as ignoble but invited, flapping but wound up, resisting but still spun across the fabric of these strange, captivatingly ambiguous stretches of art. The landscape. The passage of time. The narrative bombardment, a bereavement highlights or as subtext sits and brings us closer, it is temporary: to think of the magic, and the transformation. Where once transformation was possible, now it is certain. Where once the magic was held to pause in a blank state of being, now here it lies at the base of our feet, slowly making its ascent. Bonnefoy, crafter of the splendid, for this book is like a wish held up and opened, opened to mean expanded, as inviting as it is surrounding. As coldly shaking as it is warmly forgiving.
A book with four parts: “Ursa Major” and “Inside, Outside?” and “The Bare Foot, The Things” and “Oh, Divine” and it is a book that will press and press, standing on its own in acute transparency. These are the things we do not see, and these are the things we should see, and this is how to go about it. Playfully. Perceptively. Purposefully.
Thinking slightly further: fractals of childhood. And the spiral grace too, spinning in the circles as we blush ourselves past magic, wonder, daze, and the drama of knowing more, and more, through less and less space: minimal to bring that tightness back, objects clasped to be released, the keys touched down upon to be forgotten. In Bonnefoy, the language is one of grace, but too, it is one of humility. An innocence crashing like waves against cliffs, fresh succulents moaning against the sea’s swollen air.
Look down and then up again: keys, and they are replaced. Long since. To the old guard, the old regime, the mechanical keyboard itself opening. Alas, I can breathe again, as I could write again, inspired by this collection, Ursa Major, a bear, of witness, of energies, of representation. It does little to describe what can be best said through reading in silence: the arch, the archetypal, the buoyancy of the overwhelming met with the underwhelming in harmony. In this little blend of procreation, we have the realm of possibility. Bonnefoy as the bringer of enchantment: an imbue of the chromatic, of the perceptional, of the pressure to soften the challenge to linger.
Do you think I’d want to let go of you?
No, but where are you? Where are we?
I don’t know. In the sky.
(from “Ursa Major”)
ASTRAL PROJECTION by Kyle Flemmer (Released by above/ground in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Causal periphery: Short Passing Game by Davy Kehoe
VISITATIONS OF / THE AFTERLIFE / (SEMI- / PERMANENT)
A musing on permanence. A musing on muses. Permanently fixed as paper can be, as the folds into the book. I’ve read this of Kyle Flemmer as a poet in 2017, and here privileged as pinnacled by a sober chaos, the rumble of the essence spoken aloud of becoming, being, in transit, the reader as the fix and as such fixed, or the post-transit, above and through, this book too understated, is a book of how to move, how to be open and up, whether the breath rises or falls, and we focus. And strumming around I’m diving left and right, page to the right first, then the left, hands go to fists, thinking about the line, the flux, the certainty to mark the page. Right or wrong but under no knowing of moral obligation or a mindfulness that begs to know better, I imagine the author as we always do: hunched over a thought, peering into it, examination roomy and complex, but no complaining, magnifying glass over book, the projection of the voice amplified by the echo of its own voice, its own owning of substance.
But here the other layer, the layering is the act of placing up and up, positioning and uttering. This work as the enhancement process, the prepositions and the postpositions, and the knowing of the directions, alchemical or at least ancient, a logic, an arithmetic, cold and to the touch, but the paper is warm. The paper worn from me flipping, though not much to flip, this title is as obviously a sentiment as it is a notation, my breath slowing as I am on the verge of realization of attitudes in the age of inquiry needing the crux of the curious: the parked press of a spark as we read: “ASTERITE: / GEMSTONES KNOWN / TO ANCIENTS” and lights light though it also was the bedding to the cheeks, kept swollen and worn, warmly, through the star, and the hunch is the night, peer looking at peer through the flight of a narrowly open set of words and meanings. It is a gasp of air flushing through. ASTRAL PROJECTION a morph of our own positions “IMPACT EJECTA / LOCKED INTO ORBIT” the way the family spins out of control, family of controlling mechanisms, the knobs and dials and turns and spins aloof, spinning through bound and unbound laws and sets of laws.
As hypnotic in flush as hypnotic in pensive as a thorn’s embedded brush, the notifications in Flemmer’s work are tame but hushing and their effect is a result of the symphonic influences of the everyday, mirrored with the mire of the deluge of the unknown, a deluge as invocational as performative, a quest to peek, a question of peaking. In this case I imagine the self, an utterly incomparable being of universality, who is as much spearheading a vision of the iceberg floating across our climate-changed-oceans, as the self who stares upward into the oblivious cosmos, mapped stars a bouquet of bold guidance. Or perhaps we’re all frozen through the quaking malcontents of beings beyond our boons and brazen shims and slams: “GORGON’S HEAD / UPON HER BREAST” as the locomotion to get up, feel right, push better. Flemmer, with his diagonal poetics, offers the sour spatula from which we must rest our lazy, equitable tongues, and move forward like frolicking mimicry into the dust, like dust, as dust, once more unto a breached midnight blue sky.
Propped like a crypt of imagery, fastened like knobs and dials to the machine, which is a map calling your name, therapies of folding engagement, the hissing beep of the oven made ready, the historical nuances of what could be said to be kept tight, and what could be tossed, relieved, into the older space beyond, that distance which we know of, refer to, rely upon. Spiral bodies are these reliances, often referential, and often confronted. Utterances. “NATURE IS / REVENGED / BY NEMESIS” and “NATURE IS ORDER CONTORTED / REVENGED / BY NEMESIS” as the way it should be an utterance, the way it should break open with egg-like ooze resting upon the surface of your eyes, that dangling splurge, the effect of your eyes, twin sponges in the gangway, calmed by a fresh wheeze of the poetries that boost, boutique indexes of “RUBBLE PILES, BINARIES” toppling over the comfort of the cheeks.
First, 2016's Once in Blockadia is the anvil we've been waiting for. Political and ecological, civil and riotous, Stephen Collis has crafted work demonstrative of a poetic system that contends beautifully all the damning systems around us. From Talonbooks.
Second, 2017's Meadow Slasher, not to be confused with Meadow Thrasher, is the fourth item in Joshua Marie Wilkinson's No Volta pentalogy. It is rapid, earnest. It is raw, but concentrated. The poems in this book extend the poet's life for us viewers, just as previous poems have. From Black Ocean.
Lowly by Alan Felsenthal (Released by Ugly Duckling in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Causal peripheries: Juliana Huxtable
If I can remember the moment before I forgot, I will know I am a mystic now.
[. . .]
The true light is the loneliest light there is.
(from “Like Someone Once Was”)
With time and story as two major motifs that delicately structure Alan Felsenthal’s Lowly, this book is a humble one. Containing 32 poems often (through diverse thematic premise) expand and contract, the result of the overall book is equal parts excitement and accessibility. Within his first published full length collection, Felsenthal examines, with remarkable fullness, new approaches to mysticism, the arrangement of image, and the pinnacle of experience (via storytelling) through flits of emerging lyric, tousles of prose, and the occasional acrobatics of an otherwise boundless form. A rather tight-knit collection, Felsenthal's rather young voice is startling: it appears timeless and gives us premises by which an examination of the human life lived in 2017 becomes more possible and more enjoyable.
From cover to cover, Lowly is a book of beauty. The pieces range in shape and size, but maintain a degree of tone, a tone of tone, so to speak, successfully capturing and holding in place the essence of Felsenthal’s poetic interests. This is a poetry where the speaker is personable and present, reliant and reliable, and utterly fascinating. Voice wavers. Content bends. The historical and contemporary circumstances dance. And yet the mood of these poems, the texture of these poems, is consistent. A beauty abounds and, just as Ariana Reines claims to have reread the poems over and over, the beauty begs to be cherished over and over.
the river wears a waste apron,
grades the rocks to steeper slopes,
grows mossy of a saintly hue.
(from “The Last Traces of Bluffs Fading Out”)
A fascinating effect comes through the natural array of image and statement. The poems blush with the psychedelia of certainty in what is easy to define as their author’s core; and yet they are vacuous, liminal, and distanced from one another. This collection, then, is as much about its abundance of the beautiful as it is about its range of style. There is an implicit value of wandering that explains the logistics of the waver in Felsenthal’s work. The waver of the narrative of the poems, that they may engage on one premise and then surprise through their own twisted pathways. Never do these works explore to the point of the grotesque; limitations hang over them like veils, modes of intention placed to the point of exasperation by the artist positioned above.
The notion of the “above” is one of height, and it would be wrong to disregard the presence of both God and “the godly” in Lowly, which ironically or not still, in its naming, counterpoints a distinct actual or potential otherness. With obvious nods to a Jewish heritage through parable and language and symbolic characters, and also an appreciation for the archetypal and ancient in storytelling, investigation, and preservation, Felsenthal demonstrates a passion for expressing collected knowledge. In this collection, such expression includes is actuated through demonstrations of reached wisdom, clarity of interest and inspiration, and the effort necessary to knowing.
I poked a worm with a twig
the wind made shudder, the wind
I invented to stop me from poking the worm.
(from “The Mind’s Eloquent Hotel”)
That otherness mentioned above, the being or state of being that is not quite knowable, not quite attainable, is one that is undeniable in Felsenthal’s work. Like Duncan, or even Rauan Klassnik, this lingering source of life and death in the poems of Lowly is one that cannot be shrugged off. It is inspiration. It is reasoning. It is the beck and call and sobering capacity of the poet here. A Brother Antonius blended with a New York hedonist’s agnosticism. A Gary Snyder afforded the epistemological luxuries of the era of the Millennials. In reading Felsenthal, I was also healthily reminded of the themes and worldviews of Rexroth, Blaser, di Prima, and a more controlled and contented Olson.
As an introductory offering to Felsenthal’s poetics, Lowly fluidly reflects the nature and youthful energy of dabbling. Because of the book’s relatively unconstrained structure, the poems within are fractured glass with a multiplicity of story. Some poems are small fragments of image. Other poems offer significantly explored and intensely pristine moments carrying weight, context, depth, prelude, and a prolonging conclusion and totality. Dabbling and experimentation also presents itself in form. Many poems are tightly wrapped, often heavily aware of enjambment and breath. Others are narrative poems that wind serpentine down the page, often escaping the poet’s control for a more extensive and encompassing presence of language, natural and wild, as open as the mind of these poems’ speaker.
upon a time before our eyes were rocks, before the columns broke
off and fell into the center of the earth
(from “Alternate Zoo”)
Even still, Felsenthal has included poems written in straight prose, which is arguably one of the stronger forms in the book. The lack of projective writing and full exploration of the page indicates a degree of stillness and formalism that aids the themes while also carrying a degree of maturity, artistic conservativism, and (as mentioned earlier) humbleness. And yet, curiously, how this book might look if greater risks of form were made, with particular regards to a poetics packed with shards of image and bendings of tone through themes of witness (even omniscience, arguably) is an image to ponder as Felsenthal continues his work.
On a final note, I found it very enlightening to consider Felsenthal in our present age of newness, an age where creativity is constantly fleeting, where trends are instantaneous, and where permanence is unapproachable. With Lowly, it seems, we have potential emergent ways of looking at this world context capable of counteracting flight and thinness of the contemporary life within. Though not defiantly antique, Lowly is a book that gathers its power from tangible and abstract tokens of the sacred, tokens capable of drawing out the value of memory and perseverance, continued presence that is nearly arcane. Susan Howe, the other major writer whose quotes are featured in the book, uses the word “metaphysical” to describe the Lowly poet, and I would have to agree. But, beyond Howe’s description, I believe Felsenthal represents a metaphysical consideration that is even more valuable in our newest contexts, and thus should be approached from them first. Felsenthal is capable of starting forward and reaching back, rather than starting from history and attempting to integrate forward. Such situating and spread is a fascinating examination of a poet who can linger in multiple time frames at once and, with a hint of irony, show the value of the full spectrum while also giving value to its parts. Metaphysical, or just straight meta, in this book we have a profound voice that may be quite close to the metaphorical heavens after (and before) all.
Invite instead the arcane. Hello.
From: Sunny girls by Sandra Moussempès, translated by Eléna Rivera (Released by above/ground in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Causal peripheries: R3hab, Phil Ochs, Flying Lotus, Young Marco, Burial (1, 2, 3)
In above/ground’s published translated selection of Sandra Moussempès’s Sunny girls, we have 12 pages of poetry collected into a shared reflection of sensation. Here there is the sensation of the emerged emotion; the incoming flux, epiphanic, startling, arousing. It is the sensation of possibility, where Moussempès establishes, unleashes, and releases context. Beneath the banner of the image of the line cast into water, this is poetry that is the line, the throw, and the water altogether. It is beautiful language of the unknown, of the potential, of the radical.
Undeniably a small pamphlet of verse, From: Sunny girls is the type of book that explores the possibility of itself. Thanks in part to the incredibly skilled work of translator Eléna Rivera, as well as, of course, the included original French writ of Moussempès, what is a small pamphlet is also a sequence of induced cravings to read the full work, the original French, abound, are harmonious, encourage salivation, a seeking of salvation through new words. The voice of the speaker within the text evokes a full poetic range: there is the breath, and it is short, and then it is long. This is performance and engagement, with profoundly subtle hints of feminism and naturalism, in unison: “Poetesses who bet on the banal don’t ride mopeds despite appearances”.
Lines move in staggers, and then splice across the page like lightning. The lines are fully human, fully realized, full actuated; and yet they are at odds with each other, for the sake of being at odds before the reader. With equal parts maelstrom and finesse burst spirited instances of balance-cum-counter, crushing the impasse of maladroit forms and “banal” formulaic intentions.
Yet there is surprise. There is unknown and it is consistently furthered. Flip a page and Moussempès shows the extended reflex of repetition, and bulk, crushing blocks of prose, where punctuation has been subsided for rhythm, where speed is harnessed and funneled into the extraordinary. Whereas the space of the before was chiseled, here there converges elegance and literary force into spectral vibrancy, cloud-like, expanding and contracting at once: a new image of the breath for the reader. Like a Gertrude Stein or, fifty years later, the ongoing abrasions of the language poets, there is a thickness to the life in poems like “Momentary Resurgence of Visual Sensations,” which contains lines like: “I smile but without thinking reflect on the fact that thought speaks for itself speaks the sound of my lips doesn’t exist if it isn’t in the sonic fiction”. And this thickness is uplifting, ravishing, peculiar and inducing of life.
The cinematographic qualities of Moussempès should not be ignored, especially in this selection. The quasi-described elements of the human body, its parts arranged in and out of focus, are captured and referenced but not relied upon. The performance of balancing back and forth between movement and eruptive mental declarations is balanced with maturity, elevated arrangements, and a very concentrated fulcrum of expression. To be “sunny” is to be impacted by the sun, by the light, in all its weight and substance. The world Moussempès has crafted for her speaker is one where the realms of possibility of humanity are explored; and yet also, more precisely, the realms of possibility of the poet too: “I ask myself and my answer is a question that becomes a remake of my supposed previous life”. The cyclical underpinnings are a gift of challenge and revelation at once.