hi, it's darth. The Virgin Mary rarely gives interviews; this is due, in part, to her ascension to heaven. The fact that I'm dead, made it easier to reach her. What can I say--all things being equal, I had a much better shot at being granted this interview than did some of the old testament wraiths who'd been flitting pompously about, going on about their allotment of awarded virgins, on the tails of lives of virtue. Sheesh. Some caliphate dudes think they're ALL that. Maybe they just thought they'd wait...for a simple twist of caliphate. Anyhow, without further ado (or precipitation, lest my point be easily mist) (the puns! There's no sopping them now...) I present to you, reader, jewel of my eye, twinkle of my apostrophe, little saucer of pluck in my best alien invasion...an interview with the well-robed woman of Galilee.
Mary: darth! So sorry I'm late!
darth: Late, shmate. Relax. Armageddon isn't until later in January 2017.
Mary: Are you coming to the post-inagural women's march, in Washington?
darth: I'll be there. I heard there'll be no access for the women to the Washington Monument, though. The feds are hecking up access, in avoidance of a scandal...
Mary: A famous literary character once said, "one pussy hair pulls more than a ton of steel." The women will have their day in Washington, in my view.
darth: Which literary character are you quoting?
Mary: Bonanza Jellybean.
darth: From "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues?"
darth: Wasn't there a lot of hitchhiking in that book?
Mary: I'm sort of a patron saint of ladies who hitch-hike, I reckon.
darth: I'm all thumbs here, a bit nervous to finally be meeting you-- I guess I should start posing some important questions. Do you ever hitch-hike?
Mary: I prefer to take advantage of a migration of swallows.
darth: Are you having fun with me?
Mary: I am trying to loosen you up!
darth: So here's the thing. Can I ask you a personal question? About your stance on rape?
Mary: Dude, that is a heavy query.
darth: But it has always bothered me. I mean, here was you,this kick-ass chick with a big heart for all of humanity, and god basically date-rapes you-- I mean, you weren't even allowed to look at his FACE when he knocked you up, and then he sends his angel to explain it all to you...and the rest...well, the rest...is history...
Mary: Wow, you are really upset. Hey, are you crying man? Here--you'll rust all of your armor--
darth: (Sobbing) It makes me so angry. God fucking dammit Mary. It has pissed me off now, more than ever before. In this political, climate....How do you bear it? How do you stand astride such flagrant bullshit? And wear your robes like a boss. What the hell. (Blows nose inside helmet, loudly.)
Mary: Man, thank you for your compassion here today. Let me tell you one thing, and it's the thing which really matters. Come on, listen to me. People are gonna use you for their own aims sometimes. But don't let it kill you. If you were a victim of somebody else's choice, don't let that mark you as somebody who is gonna rob another of her choice. Don't let being violated twist you. Okay? Hang onto your purity, and recognize it in others. That's the only way we are going to clean up this misogynist culture.
darth: Don't you want to kick god's ass?
Mary: God was an old man who died a long time ago. He had a wig and beard, which he used to stash in a cardboard box in an attic. That's the old god I grew up with. He made a world and tried to rule it, but the women rose up from the sea and sang to him, and before he could stop his ears up against their sound, they had commenced singing him back into his fetal waters,and there he bobbed, back in their smooth waters as if he were in quarantine. He was without a visa, beneath the shining spire of the Washington Monument.
darth: Was it Armageddon?
Mary: I think they will refer to it as impeachment.
-- January 12, 2017
For 2017 we have created a new logo that will help to redefine Yellow Rabbits.
The original logo was created by Annie Lin and is at the Noun Project. It is licensed with Creative Commons. We added some color.
Hi, it's Darth. When I was a man, before I got a gender change and became a woman, I had to be a little boy. Yup, even in deep space we told "Yo Mama" jokes. Don't ask me why boys tell "Yo Mamma" jokes. Wait--you CAN ask me now, because I've got new insight. I've got a robotic vagina! It keeps me up at night wondering why I used to exchange "Yo Mama" jokes when I was a little guy.
I wonder, further, why the doppelgänger of the "Yo Mama" joke always got birthed, and why it still goes on today when young dudes hang out. When boys get to talking in private. You know the doppelgänger of the "Yo Mama" joke: the "I Sure Treated Your Mom Like A Lady Last Night" rejoinder. Crazy how they used to go together, right? I remember it well. You know, I got to thinking about the joke and its rejoinder. Dude, I am realizing it's the paradox we're all up against--you know, the ritual of the joke and its rejoinder is a really hokey, no-frills version of what almost all of our cultures have been doing, on a large scale, to the vagina... and it goes a little something like this: first, in order to grow up as a man in this culture, you traditionally get a little schooling on how to insult a vagina from which your fellow man emerged, when he entered this earthly paradise. You learn how to tell a "Yo Mama" joke.
Let's break it down: the act of insulting the vagina your fellow man emerged from does you the service of priming you for engagement in many upcoming battles which will concern vaginas, at some point or another in the future, while at once also rendering a service unto your fellow man--for lo, he will be a man when he, too, can at once both defend the vagina he emerged from, and besmirch the one which birthed you! I'm remembering ALL this stuff from before my gender change. A mutual understanding arises between boys who undertake this two-fold ritual. It's a tradition. It's tantamount to schooling on how to engage in aggression against the vagina, while it is also presents a view of the vagina as being an acquisition. Really, the ritual sets the stage for rape culture. Not right away with the rape culture. But later on. Rape culture thrives when a man can stand to be elected to office by those of his peers who also like to play the rape culture game . . . and there they will be, running things, as fast as you can say: "Either you're a whore I can exploit, and dump, or a trophy-wife who makes me look good." Well, maybe that's hard to say quickly. How about, a man who plays the rape culture game can get elected to office just as fast as one can say..."Clarence Thomas!" "Anita Hill!" Or, "Exxon-Mobil!" Because really, the rape culture game can be expanded to fit the contours of our Mother Earth's body, can't it? Hasn't the oil industry already been raping our Mother Earth for so long?
So. Here's a "Yo Mama" joke I'll share with you, on the eve of the December 19th Electoral College vote--except that it isn't a joke, at all: "Yo Mama is so angry, she just marched on the streets of New York city with all the other mamas, all the way up to Trump Tower. She was holding a sign which said 'Women's Rights Are Human Rights."
And here's a rejoinder: "I Sure Treated Your Mom Like A Human Being Last Night."
Maybe an East Bay artist said it best, though, when he inscribed these words beneath his 55-foot tall metal sculpture of a naked woman, by the Bart train tracks out there:
"What would the world be like if women were safe?"
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Ordinary Magic by Alison Stone (Released by NYQ Books, 2016)
If light were music,
mine would be the tune
your mother crooned as you,
the day's bumps and abandonments
erased, sank milk-drunk into sleep.
from "The Major Arcana XVII: The Star" (32)
Alison Stone's 78-poem book exploring the symbolic, historical, and practical-contemporary applications of the tarot is a book that is full of surprises, but carries the burden of countless contexts demanding further exploration. Though aware of the tarot (complete with its "Major Arcana" featuring the images that tarot stereotypes are derived from: The Fool, The Hermit, Judgment, and so on, and the Minor Arcana with its wands, swords, cups, and pentacles) I must profess I'm no expert in it. Fortunately, Ordinary Magic carries a title that describes what might be found in such rich material: magic (or heightened experience, at least) in the day to day. This presence of accessibility allows this book to shine, and Stone's voice to carry from poem to poem.
Many of the poems in this book latch on and, through narrative twists and lyric invention, pull close and let loose the reader's attention. The effect is splendid, allowing a shuffling of poems to allow ebbs and flows of tension, moments of the most curious splendor, and the grit of a touching and raw humanism. There is an ecompassing quality to these poems as a collection, framed under a tarot which balances fate and an urgency, a compelling cause to reflect and act, that flips pages and causes sudden eruptions of emotion.
By seed and root, by bud and stem...
You echo, our voices weaving,
high and low tones in contrast, the way
your dark skin shines against my paleness
when we make love.
from "Cups 10: Tenth Anniversary" (82)
I think of what brings the concept of intimacy into an application of our lives and how we bring the private forward into a space of honesty, openness, and the aformentioned accessibility. Like pulling from the deck, like drawing the cards as those erasing the line in the sand, that line of division. With these poems, Stone has contributed significant parts of her life. Experiences. Moments. Revelations. Reflections. And in most cases the poems as poems alone work with staggering significance. They are intimate and there is no doubt that they are of vital importance for defining Stone's life, or the lives of characters she has chosen to describe, be they historical or contemporary.
A healthy blend of additional frames beneath the tarot gives the tarot its greatest lengths and avoids the pitfall of cliches one would expect to come out of "tarot writing." These frames include allegorical tales reimagined in new tones and persepectives. These frames include utterances of commentary upon those who are no longer part of the moment that crafts a personal memory or anecdote.
Foreign and diffused, your lyre notes drift down. Sing
to someone else! I am not your flower; I am pollen
brought to flight with every breeze. You would bind me
in a dying skin. You take my hand and call me
by my secret name.
from "Swords 4: Eurydice to Orpheus" (70)
The thick spectrum of poetic storytelling making up this book has, like all recanting, high moments and low moments. Stone's highest are when she plays with language and explores her voice's fullest potential, and when such breaking of limitations allows an emergence of new language. Her lowest? When the poems become narratives, distancing themselves from the aural and visual qualities that make this book shine. Though these pieces of prose disguised as verse may reflect a juxtaposition of sorts, I found the effect weakening of the book as a whole: why not write in blocks of prose, if that is the visual and auditory effect that will result from reading the poem?
There are many questions regarding the reasoning behind this book, questions that I wish were answered more directly. Stone has provided us with a gift of satisfying and challenging poems, but beyond the tarot, what do they stand for and where did they come from? And as such, what is the tarot operating as here? The frame of the book, and the general theme of the book, never seems enough, especially considering the revelatory nature of the tarot itself. But to ask the readers to understand the many nuances, the countless cultural and literary and historical references packed into this book's pages is a stifling request indeed.
[. . .] A thick snake
slithers and coils.
Which scares you more,
to believe that life is unfair
or to believe that life is fair?
from "The Major Arcana XI: Justice" (26)
Urgencies for description aside, the book is truly enjoyable and creates moment after moment for pondering life through Stone's eyes. Rough on the edges, this book follows in a long line of the author's books, and is certainly not to be her last. How it (and the many capacities of the tarot) fit into Stone's grander, more enduring vision is exciting to think about, and I will be excited to see these developments, connections, and (hopefully) the further emergence of necessary contexts in the coming years.
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Power Ballads by Garrett Caples (Released by Wave Books, 2016)
it takes a
lot out of
me to be
the one to
see the mortal
remains remain but
someone is to
blame for the
indescretions hectoring me
from “Zen of Nez” (65)
It only takes several seconds on a search engine to answer some of the 2016 questions of poetry: why do people read it now and what does it offer in our latest age of consumption, in our latest age under the threat of authoritarianism? To some poetry is supporting and healing. To some it is about creating perspectives, offering images and lessons of hope. Much of what fuels poetry is the expectation of newness, always. A consistent looking forward, a continued reviewing of what has come before in hopes of describing what might be and what might continue to be. Power Ballads by Garrett Caples serves the reader in just such a way. As a collection of works mostly looking inward, works Caples has constructed as representation of the self or about representation of the self, especially in a world of excruciating absurdity and/or/because of madness, this book serves as one of many books of poems enjoyable to read in 2016.
Despite the lingering haze of an institution of privilege throughout the book, which I discuss below, the poems that make up Power Ballads are a reflection, at their core, answering the why of poetry needed today. Poetry as needed in everyday life by everyday people, poetry as needed to represent the full range of human experience, poetry as humor and critical commentary. Poetry as past and present and future, as thorough reflection of the self and the world beyond the self. These and more are the elements that go into poetry, that gives us reasoning behind why poetry exists, and why poetry is so valuable in an age of uncertainty, insecurity, and transition.
For poems to be enjoyable they must be pondersome, but also they are to evoke emotion: the positive lightning of laughter, the endless realms of sadness and pain. Poets do this, but how? For Caples, in both the book and the individual poem, the inquisition and the core emotive qualities are provided through significant anchoring. These anchors come in forms. There are anchors to love, like in the opening “Avid Diva,” which is a 2016 version of the call to the muse, the chorus before the flood of experience. The sonic qualities in this opening poem remind me of the convergence of seriousness and playfulness within the deepest forms of love: “avid diva, visit me / dispense divine advice / o radiant deviant” (1). Crisp lines like these are planted throughout this poem and the book as a whole, offering a sobering anchor and offering a way to trust Caples as the provider of significantly heavy, engaging poetic experiences. Other thematic anchors throughout Power Ballads include: social humor, a personalization of cultural history, and a revolving (a retrospection) around the self, to name a few. And in writing those anchors down, I ask myself: “what poets don’t do these things?” and “are these universal qualities to poetry?” Sometimes more so than others. Caples comes through here, though, and provides us with a presence of his own craft. Consistencies allow us a healthy, engaged romp through the relatively brief 31 poems in 83 pages, a small book that, despite a few exceptions which I mention below, has no need or calling to be significantly larger.
my lamp is damp
with doggy dew
squish beneath my feat
laughter in my slaughter
house drowns out
touch of mothertough
from “Dark Candle” (19)
“Dark Candle” is like many of the poems in this book: it is the about the area between the self and the world we encounter. In this case “we” is a very individualized, personalized voice, that anchor I mention above. Most poems by Garrett Caples are very obviously about or through Garrett Caples, a quality I admire and have been influenced by for years, in my own writings. The sonic arrangements he provides create an extraordinary perspective through voice alone, while also offering descriptions of what it means to live, observe, and be. It is the primal quality of humanity. It’s the core of who we are as blips in the otherwise anonymous collective, ghostly crawling through our own maps of reality.
Moments such as those in the poem above are moments that are constructed out of the poet’s relationship to place. How we go about being in a place, describing it, using our faculties to describe it. As Caples illustrates in poems like “Love is Made of Sky” and “My Black Diary,” the poet is fully capable when going beyond the individual moment and wrapping up the context with the powers and effects of time travel. Humans come from some space, move into the current space, and move on. And how that entire arc of arcs falls into place is one of the major resolving qualities poetry has in its reflection of humanity. “My Black Diary” is a lovely, endearing look at this phenomenon of time, or Time, and why it is so necessary in cultivating the intimate and the personal in a place in our greater timeline that evokes darkness and terror:
a congressional address. an elegy for a musician including a line from renoir’s the river. an elegy for an apartment. an elegy for a poet. an elegy for a relative. an elegy for my best friend. an elegy for myself. it ends in 306 one-word lines composed entirely in four-letter words. (25)
What has come before, what still is (including all those memories), and what could be: the states of our endurance and our witness. The documentation and exploration of the incredibly personal in is met with the larger universe and that, at least for me, is the high-point (the highest quality) in Caples’s writing. In “Oakland,” a semi-epic homage to the incredibly-storied Bay Area city, Caples explores the ranges of urban and home identity through the process of being in that city fulfilling many roles and identities. Arguably “Oakland” is a poem that deserves a book of its own, an extension that continues where Caples has started it, if only because of the love that is bound to this poem as a poem representative of so much existence.
Similarly, in terms of tone and serving as a rather vicious exploration of criticism against authoritarianism (in all the right ways), “Margin of Terror” represents the activation of citizenship and commentary on what society is for and who acts within it:
a safecracker. a safe cracker. a man with his tongue in your ears. a spider who enters your internet. a government. an earwig drawn to your underwear drawer. your transvestite gettysburg ip address. a pistol palace with raunchy guards. america’s varicose veins, the bloodclot in its brain. (44)
There are moments in Power Ballads that bring the rhythm and song of the lyrical verse into a prose form, and in the cases of the list poem (as seen in “Margin of Terror”) these moments are welcome. However, some of the continued socio-political perspectives showing themselves in prose writings like “Parable” and “Self-Portrait as James Bond” fall sullenly short. The writing does not suffer in these works individually, but when paired with the immensity of the heart throughout the book, my inner urge was to reject these pieces for being coarse, misplaced, or perhaps even misled in their silliness and pairing with the other poems which more profoundly affected me. Despite the disharmonious juxtaposition, these pieces, as well as the rather-epic inspection of Marlo Brando in “Gut of Brando” are light and humorous and genius, and are not terrible to read. And perhaps that is Caples’s intention all along: to provide an anchor of ease at crucial points, a light spirit that balances our reading experience, a “why so serious” punctuation, perhaps?
Near the end of the book, there are two poems that overwhelmed me with empathy and optimism, which I believe serve as keystone statements for the book’s place in our fragile American society (and other fragile societies too!). First, in one of the ten poems Caples writes for Philip Lamantia, we see the role of the poet as individual and fellow human among us all: “you show me / you. it’s enough” (69). Second, in a poem called “The Cantos, Then Tacos / (Dictation from Barbara Guest),” Caples gently places, almost secretively, a line that describes just how important poetry and language reflect onto our life and relationship to the past, the present, and the future (all which help shape us): “the poem / becomes / los angeles / by means of / mental geometry / rigid grid / on fluid spine / the colossal / squid’s giant / eye” (76). These lines and so many others crop up when least expected and contribute value to the canon of American poetry and I hope they will be remembered as such.
At the beginning of this piece, I spoke of the haze of an institution of privilege, and it reads as though I am personally judging Garrett Caples and his work in this book, but that is not true. It is not a judgment upon Caples or other individual writers of poetry existing in this haze. The poems work. The poets work. These things and these people are effective. Instead, I wish to spend this last moment in this review talking about the bigger picture. We are at a point where the privilege of creating books that lack greater context, explanation, and lack an explicit expression of goals and intentions serves as a demeaning counterpoint to the works and the workers themselves.
We cannot ignore the short explanations Caples and other writers provide in their books (whether notes leading into the book or footnotes at the end). These comments provided on craft and references are nice and partially descriptive, and though I love the general sense of mystery that floods the book from the smallest to the largest references, from the smallest to the largest experiences, what Caples is capable of deserves more space, deserves more explanation. I really wanted to know the larger context and how this book of poetry, like so many other books of poetry, aims to contribute to humanity. I wanted “beyond the poem.” And maybe this desire is what poets like Caples want us to read the poems to learn. Maybe. But maybe also there simply deserves to be more context, greater sense of why with these otherwise ghostly books of poems. Because I have Caples wonderful book in my hand, but as I shelve it, what symbolic urges will spur me to take it back off the shelf again, rather than some other book for some other obscure reason.
The books that warm our hearts and push us fiery into the future through strategies of empathy are the books that serve as a precursor to what is possible, and what readers of poetry and survivors of oppression deserve. I thus defer my criticism and judgment to the mode of the liminal, and uplift this book for what it is in this age and how it falls in-line with how poets and publishers create works today. While Caples is part of a cast that is fully capable of outputting brilliant poetic works into the readers’ domains, this book and others like it show us that so many poets will have continued energy to move forward and delimit the status quo, so that poets and lovers of poetry alike can be taken forward in the embrace of humanity and its love, and know not just that we like to read poetry in an age of uncertainty, but why: why this poem, why this book, why this power ballad, why this whatever, but why this in particular.
Yellow Rabbits Erasure Review #3: not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them by Jenny Boully
Review by Judson Hamilton (@judson_hamilton)
The romanticism – –
Blue hair ribbon wide
Table: china laid
;we love you.
It was always like this, it is always like this, it will always be like this
Flights of fancy are - blooming
down in the
catacombs of commentary!
Lascivious fecund and earthy).
The treasure is buried here she says. She says it as if she has said it before. But that’s yesterday’s treasure, says he. He says is as if she has said it before. I want today’s treasure; nothing personal, Wendy. Today’s treasure will not need to be rubbed down to make it shine; it will come out all a-gleaming, so fresh I’ll be able to see my own pearly teeth. In it. So then? So then, Wendy.
Review by darth.
Hi, it’s darth. Posthumous gender changes are fairly unprecedented, sure—the goddess Quan Yin pulled it off once, I think. And everybody likes to put a mustache on the Mona Lisa…. Last you heard from me on the subject, I was ankle deep in Wella Balsam shampoo commercials, somewhere near Bolinas, CA…. I’m comfortable, now, as a woman. All of the other, posthumous, gender-transitioning archetypes come to Bolinas, to shake off the dark side. I’m in good company! Let’s not get side-tracked from the oncoming November presidential election, though. Wait! The November, 2016 presidential election is being upstaged by a group of Native Americans at Standing Rock, in North Dakota, and the November, 2016 presidential election be like: “well, since there’s no way to stop this ‘the colonists are in charge of all of the resources, now’ thing, please go ahead and vote, on or before November 8th, and we’ll sort the details regarding our collective future out, later.” Michelle Obama says she is voting for the woman candidate-- and, let’s face it, Michelle Obama is pretty compelling. Her tribe was enslaved by colonists around here, not so long ago. She knows what adversity is, she’s strong. Yet, I don’t trust the woman for whom Michelle Obama is voting. That’s not a political statement. It’s a statement I am making as a woman. Okay, as a woman who was once a man…who turned into a robot named darth vader, who then died, moved to Bolinas, and changed genders. As that. The woman who wants to become the first Democratic woman president of America this month, has a very long history of involvement in colonialist aggressions, ya know? My new stance as a woman, is: sure, it sucks to hear the male Republican presidential candidate talk in an insincere way about my vagina, yet it also sucks equally, to hear the Democratic candidate, who has a vagina, refer to my vagina insincerely, to hear her strike up an allegiance with my vagina while she continues to support actions which deplete our mother Earth’s resources, and which degrade life itself, for humans whose political interests have no standing when they run counter to the dictates of a political ally’s avarice. It’s hard to sift out allegiances, when arguments become over-simplified, right? And, we want to be hopeful, productive, realistic…good mentors to our young girls. The horsemen of the apocalypse may be Rainbow Dash ponies, as our new generation of women explore what current American culture affords as totem animals…yet, is the apocalypse really such a bad thing? Maybe, the word “apocalypse” has been code, all along, for the failure of colonialism. I just saw a great herd of bison show up at Standing Rock Reservation, in answer to the prayers of thousands of all tribes, in solidarity. I dunno. There’s a trumpet blaring, a rooster crowing. The ocean, mother of us all, grows warmer, more acidic. Chinnook salmon, and smelt, are at risk of extinction. Somewhere, out there, Bernie Sanders walks the remote sand dunes of presidential exile, carrying with him the ways of the old masters. Pure waters rise, dead oil halts for a day. A thousand voices cry out!
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Like Bits of Wind by Pierre Chappuis, Translated by John Taylor (Released Seagull Books, 2016)
A poem is entirely momentum towards the Other, love, though it is but absence.
(from “The Other,” in The Proof is in the Void on page 322)
I believe I failed. I believe I read Like Bits of Wind in an entirely inappropriate manner. The book is huge, and represents hugeness. Nearly 400 pages densely laden with verse and prose of the most incredible poetry, a poetry that fills land and mind in ways that go beyond spirituality, beyond practicality, and yet encompass both. I read the book in just a few days. This is the wrong thing to do.
Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis, with the daunting assistance of translator John Taylor, has given the English language a gift. This book of books is an arousing and arresting blockade of meditations, insights, and critical commentary on a world of language at once pristine, concise, and disturbingly present. This book of books pervades the core with an immense energy, while giving significant credit to a writer whose aesthetic and poetics is focused, chiseled, alarmingly bountiful in its beauty and clarity.
Mountains of dream, of haze:
words unburdened of their meaning.
(from Full Margins, section 2, on page 25)
The translated books included in Like Bits of Wind are: Full Margins, Blind Distance, Abstracted from Time, The Black of Summer, Within the Voice’s Reach, Cuts, and selections from The Proof is in the Void. The original publication dates of these books range from 1992 to 2014. Each book is so significantly unique that to fully explore their individual identities in this writing here would be a disaster, but I will touch upon their core qualities. Full Margins and Cuts provide sparse verse described by John Taylor in his introduction as Haiku-like and skeletal.
The heart of Like Bits of Wind is filled with longer, larger, sprawling poems taking up form through prose, written in both the traditional paragraph and in staggered sequences of lines. Finally, The Proof is in the Void, which is remarkably the earliest book included, closes this collection. In it Chappuis explores a poetics that is transfixed on developing an attitude toward the nature of language. He writes of the void and absence. He explores silences and egos. He records questions relating to the trembling and reverberation within. Though his references are numerous, and his homages and respects are indefatigable, I found his critical work undeniably similar to Rene Char and Paul Eluard, the work of Chappuis being equally as illustrative and varied.
It speaks for itself! A gesture, a landscape, a photograph, a revealing blunder, a style of dressing, etc.—the expression always designates that which escapes words, takes place ore expresses itself apart from them. Moving water, passing clouds, a piece of music, a face all speak for themselves without us having to wonder how they occur or what they are saying to the world.
(from “Speaking,” in The Proof is in the Void on page 358)
And yet Chappuis is distinctly outerworldly compared to the mystique and inquisition of Char and Eluard, and the countless other 20th century European writers. Though I would never hesitate to label much of the poems in Like Bits of Wind as avant garde, I would be more elevated to label them natural, of nature. A nature poet at his core, Chappuis brings the bounty of his poems inward through the very immediate and majestic spaces around him. These are broad stroked spaces. This is an expressionism that unlocked an image rather than crystallizing it. These are descriptions that touch upon the relationship between the heart of the individual and the heart, equally beating, of the earth, air, and water nearby.
And by “nearby” I mean Chappuis explores space and existence via close proximity. Like reading the work of Bei Dao or even Li Po, reading Chappuis, no matter how condensed or how expansive the piece, brings an immediate space, an exquisite environment, through the voice of the speaker and plants it, a seed or greater, into the mind of the reader. That he has even called out 18th century haiku poet Fukuda Chiyo-ni gives further to this point. The work of Chappuis, unique to himself, feels like a blend of linguistic philosopher and Zen Buddhist—though to classify him and his work as such would only damage the even broader potentials found in his poetry.
For the time being, breathtaking chilliness and transparency.
To go, over random paths, like someone on the lookout for an echo, through the forest assailed by a thousand flame tips.
(from “Noon Fanfares” in The Black of Summer on page 186)
At the beginning of this writing, I mentioned that reading this entire book in a few days is the terrible way to do so. The overall feeling, the milieu, found within Like Bits of Wind is containment through very singular, pensive moments. Some of these moments are more temporary than others; however, they are still spaces of the heightened mind. They start at the core of being: the heart’s beat, the lungs’ breathing, the eyes and their zeroing in on what is present and what is not.
Though there is never an instruction to approach these poems slowly, my body’s reaction to reading the book quickly was, on the whole, negative. As soon as I fell back, the last page flipped, my reader’s hands urged itself to return, to start again, to take the pace of a slowness Chappuis has offered. Indeed, much of the gift of this book of books is Chappuis’s own landscape, map, which contains fundamental exercises in the construction of the image. In truth, my first reading was exaggerated by a sense of nostalgia. I remembered encountering William Carlos Williams for the first time. Remembered encountering Ezra Pound for the first time. Remembered seeing the image for the first time. Chappuis in this book has provided another opportunity to relearn how to see—no, how to feel—through the image in new circumstances and situations, and it is extraordinary.
Clearness seemingly letting herself be carried away with regret, sliding along languidly, joyously, cheerfully, lingering in hugs and kisses, in love with herself, scattering her reflections that fragment as soon as they are gathered; soon she dives headlong into the rapids, emerging with each lash of the water, impatient for the heights of pleasure.
(from “Weather Clearing Up, April” in Within the Voice’s Reach on page 213)
When you visit Like Bits of Wind, you will find yourself entering a world that is essentially relevant and yet uniquely its own. Through an exploration of what is possible, and how it is possible, the poems here will arrive to you and transform you. These writings carry aesthetic consequences, in the best way possible. How Chappuis and Taylor have managed to do so much in a single collection, and yet remained accessible and inviting, is a feat unto itself. With its receipt, with its encounter, I feel only joy in offering it as a recommendation to readers of any form of poetry.
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Tender in the Age of Fury by Brandon Pitts (Released by Mosaic Press, 2016)
How do we deal with history? How do humans assess it and keep it in their thoughts, or remove it from their thoughts, as they move through their daily life? How do artists appropriate stories and images from the most ancient and the most recent histories? Tender in the Age of Fury is a strong example of how to actively answer these questions. Brandon Pitts provides in this book 35 poems across 4 sections, which hone in on the immediate and not so immediate pasts, and for the most part, these poems are insightful, honest, and thorough examinations of cultures that came before us, and the lessons they carry, and how the themes and power of those visions are still relevant today.
in the shadows of my sanity
where neurons fire static
and the mystical storm is wet with distortions
the sun had just set
on the final millennium
(from “The Apocalypse of Weeks: Vision the First” on page 35)
After roughly a third of the book was behind me, I asked, roughly, what might necessitate writing through the eyes of the indentured and the guttural in the Americana heart of the last few centuries? “Legba: The Prophesy of the Coming Mannish Child” explores through allegory and symbolism (to use Pitts’s own words) early folk spirituality of the continent. These poems are filled with characters unique and forgettable: from witches to everyday individuals to the faces of the monstrous unknowns. These characters are presented in rather scattered verse, lines that cross the pages representative of work, mystery, and a lack of fluidity—ultimately geographically relevant and evocative of communication and life “back then”—an effect which sucks the reader in, as through a warp of time, or mystical vision.
she sang songs about the old times
in that far off land
(from “Delilah Went Cold” on page 6)
The ritual of reading poetry and learning through reaches greater relevance here with the contexts of each of the poems. From potion-making to observations of the decay of the flesh, the descriptions within this first section are marvelous and fantastical, yet feel contemporary and fresh. Like Cormac McCarthy or Tom Waits, the images crafted here by Pitts are the shadow of a sense of Americana often dominated by major political events. In a way, Pitts brings forward smaller stories and has done an excellent job of re-envisioning histories through a more precise lens.
and the came
walking up the knoll
a lone sheep
who turned to the people and said:
while you were shopping
these men of means took control of your mind
(from “The Apocalypse of Weeks: Vision the Fifth” on page 42)
Derived from the culture jamming techniques used by African American slaves, the second section in the book, “The Apocryphon,” explores an appropriation and re-use of apocalyptic religious scripture. Not being well-learned in anything biblical, I went into this section with a certain fear. What could I possibly take from this area? Though Pitts does not explain every story as presented in his poems, which arguably could have helped or detracted from his unique creations, I did not find the lack of footnote or explicit subtext a derailing. In fact, the broadness of the works, and their immediacy (Pitts merges the dusty biblical storytelling with contemporary references) piqued curiosity and greater inspection. The largest swath of success from this style arose through the intersection of vocabularies:
Let them ignore the ringtone
as the cellphone vibrates across the table
like a planchette spelling out doom
I will take pleasure in the storm
(from “Nimrod” on page 50)
Relatively shorter are the two sections following: “The Carbon Age: Poems: 2011-2014” and “The Labours of Spartacus Baptist.” Though the poems in the former of the two sections by no means fall out of line in tone and craft, I did wonder why they were included in the book. Oddly and wonderfully, including a section as short as only a handful of works brings about questions related to the form of contemporary poetry collections. Whereas the expectation is for an equal divide between sections in these books, Pitts follows his own interest with this inclusion of the miscellaneous. Ultimately this section serves the reader well, and allows for a look at Pitts as a wide-ranging author, the poet who has the capacity to look at themes in brief and succinct concentrations.
See Spartacus Baptist standing at the baptismal font
on the shores of the Rivers Commerce
washing sings from the brows of the toilers
(from “The Labours of Spartacus Baptist: Labour of the Third” on page 90)
The closing section of Pitts’s book is an homage to Bernie Sanders, utilizing the name Spartacus Baptist for yet another allegorical reappropriation. Sanders presented as champion, as both gladiator but also reverent leader is what I took from this set of two poems, the first seven sub-sections, and the latter one sub-section. Once again, I found my fear based on an ignorance of history and context; ultimately, however, Pitts has provided a strong set of poems that crystallize the idea of Sanders as a strong and enduring individual through an older, epic style of storytelling. For those who feel oppressed by the way systematic media presents the qualities of political candidates and the political spectrum generally, these poems will be a strong alternative approach to thinking about symbolic heroes such as Sanders.
Tender in the Age of Fury is a book that is delightful and telling. There are so many distinct and fresh images throughout that regardless of the context, the poems represent incredible journeys and are fascinating opportunities to be included in new and old histories. How this book fits with the larger milieu of Pitts’s work is curious. As a conceptual artist, Pitts carries a capability to look forward very specific, awe-inducing works. Where will he evolve requires us to turn around and look toward the future.
Review by darth
Hi, it's darth. October brings us monsters, effigies--always has. I looked at a party napkin with Frankenstein's monster on it: his eyes were closed, he didn't need a cell phone camera to captures memories. Frankenstein's monster is already dead, look at his green, sleeping face, stitched together by a selfish parent who wants to see if it's possible to create life. When his monster eyes open and he's got the job, of confronting the intellectual who made him, of asking if the intellect is capable of love for its creature, of compassion and possibly a long-term dental plan, lower carbon emissions, and some sort of habitat arrangement . . . things get fraught. One of the Karamazov brothers got so appalled by what appeared to be a moral disconnect in the construct of divine workings, that he invoked the devil, who showed up to illustrate a fiasco of nihilism. The devil always sounds a bit like Albert Einstein, explaining what will happen to all of us if we continue to split the little atom. An atom is really just an apple on the tree of what we know--call it the tree of knowledge, if you like. You don't have to believe in a god to understand, that biting into the core of structures which hold us all together . . . can result in a situation which blows us all apart. The closed eyes of Frankenstein's monster compelled me, as I stood staring at them in the grocery store, the way an image on a party napkin can, to imagine the party this green-faced, bolted together guy was invited to. It's the party we're all in: life. Somebody chose to put him on the guest-list. Just a little lightning and the whole thing starts up. Bombs exploding. Pitchforks in the night, moral imperatives gone awry. In a laboratory right now, scientists in China are shouting over Skype to scientists in New England, of the possibility that the ancient Woolly Mammoth could be revived, vis-a-vis his reconstituted DNA. For realsies! Just because they can. When offered the technology, sometimes we choose the black helmet, the cape, and the voice-modulator and we keep on trucking--and sometimes somebody makes that choice for us. Either way, what I want in my treat bag when I knock on your door for Halloween, is to get love taken off of the Endangered List. As that guy who paints the whales on public busses likes to say: "Extinction Is Forever." Makes you wonder what the code for love is, swirling in that apple core at an atomic level. Hope it's present when the lightning strikes, for all of us here on Earth. Happy Halloween. darth