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
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