Review by darth
"I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is." - Jean-Michel Basquiat
Hi! It's Darth. My gender change has been going well, I went to see Ghostbusters, to celebrate. Those three women were smart, yet they treated their handsome secretary like Hollywood treated Marilyn Monroe. I, personally, have had a relationship of long standing with ghosts. Once the living depart their cloaks, they join a realm of ghosts who give you instructions at pivotal times--thems the happs. It was nice to see Bill Murray amble into Ghostbusters again, for old time's sake, wearing a hat which he'd gotten from his mother. My mother was a slave, and gauze-wrapped toilet-paper-roll-headed howlers tied her up and killed her. That's the story everybody tells me. Bill Murray used to hold Gilda Radner up, while she burped in people's faces in her role as a drugged New York underground singer. He probably learned so much of his craft, just holding Gilda Radner up while she burped. Life is funny, like that. We do absurd shit, and it holds a deeper lesson. Marilyn Monroe hit a ball against a paddle while people racked up her points, in the movie "The Misfits," while her own life resembled the thread of elastic which hinged the rubber ball to the paddle, people shouting ecstatically around her at the improbability that she could continue. When I complete my transition to the female gender, I will have to reconcile myself to being absurd. I will take my helmet off, bathe my fried scalp in a mountain brook, and wade around looking for watercress. Like the Wella Balsam hair shampoo commercials, in the 1970s. I will become the mother I didn't have as a young adult. They tell me my dad was made of neutrinos, or something. I suspect he was really a welder from Bolinas, California, who performed ballets out of the flat-bed of his truck.... If I meet him in the future, when I'm a woman, I'll ask the ghost of Jean-Michel Basquiat to paint a portrait of the two of us. Dad The Neutrino, and Fried Wella Balsam. There's a crown floating above Jean-Michel Basquiat's head, even in heaven. The angels keep trying to get him to wear the crown, but he still won't put it on. Being in the middle of a coronation is just how some artists roll, forever. We all have our dignity to uphold.
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.
From “Tao for the Hypochondriac” on page 92
There is a special place reserved in the world for those writers whose poetry is a combination of craft and of life, those writers whose projects are an immediate reflection with their own perceptions. You might argue that all writers are mere conduits with a good awareness of the world, but in 2016 this case is simply not the only case: there is fluctuation through the level of embodiment and disembodiment and the degrees of sympathy and empathy within the writer (from their senses to their core).
Reading Henrik Hoeg’s quirky and slightly-ironic Irreverent Poems for Pretentious People (Proverse Hong Kong, 2016), sent me a series of zips and zaps, an array of tingles and entanglement leaving me as perplexed as I was overjoyed. Hoeg brings terms of the delightful with an exceptional grounding of the conceptual into the wider canyon (canon) of contemporary poetry.
I never wanted this, I’ve always wanted that.
That seems ever new, not cliché, like old hat.
This is forgettable, through and through.
While that is fresh, and fancy too.
From “This That” on page 22
A wit and a humor here demonstrate the world swirling about the speaker, and as importantly this wit and humor provides a relieving backdrop to an otherwise very urban existence. I’m reminded of countless poets whose minds were lost on the streets of cities all throughout the globe: torn apart by the complexity of consumption (and desperation), individualism dwarfed by an absurd (or grotesque) mass or density. I am also reminded of countless poets whose minds were found through the daily excursions of the city, the place as a breeding ground of ideas and creativity and inspiration and, as we see in Hoeg’s poetry significantly, an inventiveness resulting from convergence.
What is convergent in the 112 pages (6 sections, 77 poems) of Hoeg is through his interactions and intimacies with the everyday. From the playfulness of language and multilingualism, an obvious confrontation in a city as global as Hong Kong, to the remarks on work and identity, Hoeg has thrown his own perspective into a meeting space of many others. The results are almost (or exaggeratedly) humorous as a result of such immediacy: “Coffee coffee, work. / Nicotine nicotine, tar. / Alcohol alcohol, weep. Ambien ambien, sleep. Coffee coffee, / work work.” (From: “Coffee Coffee, Work Work” on page 46).
The effect of repetition and rhyme blossom out of many of the poems within this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read work with such formalist constraints, but in doing so here, I was not disappointed. In 2016, a return to some of the roots of the poetic tradition is more informative than clichéd or tired. Hoeg offers a series of patterns in his application of these qualities, of the meter, of the rhyme, of the stanza, that once again reflect the urban and reflect it well. Hoeg allows rigidity and rhythm to arise out of the dynamically pointed spaces he created in each poem:
The American Dream is a poem,
with arbitrary stanza segregation;
The American Dream is a poem,
sold for a dollar a dozen;
The American Dream is a poem,
but Middle America wishes it wasn’t;
From “’Tis of Thee” on page 33
Most curiously is the personal multiculturalism Hoeg’s work breathes and bleeds. There are cultural roots in Hoeg’s work reflective of a contemporary and historical Denmark, where Hoeg’s lineage starts. Despite being a Hong Konger (and a self-described expat), Hoeg succeeds in championing all the places he has relationships with. From commenting on the negativity and the positive nostalgia of American culture (see above), to musing on the life and history of Scandinavia, Hoeg brings an intimacy to this book and leaves little out. Perhaps it is his own response to a world (Hong Kong) rapidly changing, to hold on tight and bring close everything he has known and seen that will keep him afloat, as a writer, as a human, as a voice outstanding in an otherwise noisy echo chamber. No better can we see Hoeg’s faith to the self than in “I Know Why the A.I. Weeps” on page 75: “He searched, he was a thing inside many other things, / Connected things, and he could go between them, / Or be in all of them at once, or set himself upon the memory of one.”
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
We’ve heard of a space that exists where all things are possible. Where things are contractual by engagement. The whispers of invitations. The shouting of engagement. These words of beckon and repel, these words of concrete concentration, abundant abstraction. Nicolette Wong carries forth, brings forth, urges forward. An undeniable enchantment. A flutter of fandango. The memento of resurrections. It sits, this book, like a tourniquet.
Nicolette Wong’s Stone Bridge Madrigals (Corrupt Press, 2013) is a self-actualization we privileged readers have the opportunity to witness. Settings crafted from the tops of pyramids, stories woven, crafted with personas made out of weather patterns, personas born toward flora. The rage and the moment of the drift beyond. Tokens of many shadowed passersby. A deep root of love both rupturing of and growing with history below an earthen surface.
Surfaces are how we perceive grounding. Stability. What’s beneath us. That keeps us from sinking, or ensures we are positioned for sight, visions, visages. The tidal waves crashing and cracking all around us. Whip and maneuver of windstorm and the burgeoning words: keep upward, hold right, known beyond gravity, gravitas. There is a vulnerability. There are always the words piercing like darts around us, hailstorm, maelstrom, the woven patterns of violence.
Wong writes: “Do not concede to barbed laps. / I will suck up frames, hurl my knees / through chandelier rifles / your open hands.” (From “Skye Well (II)” on page 3.) Imagery of violence, of action: of barrier, boundary, of abuse and entanglement. Reaction and reactivity: the will, strong. Exquisite sense of reclamation. An identification of situation, scenario. The pulse of acting upon the profound, on the entry of a perceived threat, or the exit and the exhibition of the aftermath.
To believe that there is the beginning. To believe that there is the moment after the beginning. And that nothing ever finished, that there is always light to allow for forgiving, forbearance, fortuitous lamps allowing for alighting. It is in the lack of or excision of survival. It is in the need for and recognition of a value for a system of experience.
This book tells the voices of ethereal and corporeal brides whose lives are beyond initiation, are past performance. Culling the language for zones of reception like scythe to grain stalk. Opening up the vent letting gaseous forms dissipate, forceful flushing. There is blood here. There is texture. There is presence: of woman, of man, of the surreal balance between the two. There is a command in the tension of integrating self with other. There is the grounding close to the surface, and that which is forever away, that which only knowable by its escape of intimacy.
How wide is the net cast? In what ways are our identities turned, torqued, transmogrified? Words stepladders of letters, allowing for the eyes to meet a horizon of engagement: breach of wall, triumph over the lip of cliff, ascent up from the watery flush. Words that go beyond song. That go beyond life. Death. Go to a breath, series of beliefs, surrounding and upward, like eyebrows, like urgency.
Eleven poems: an elimination of performance, a deserved examination of the rising and falling of world’s beating chest. “The baroque derelict alive / for one last time, reaping feather / flesh with opulent tiles.” (From “The Death Circus” on page 1.) What is natural? What is anthropomorphic? Who are the brides and what are their marriages? A yearning of ritual. A brutal uniting of the staggered masculine and the absorbing feminine. Eleven poems cast a clash, reach an ignition, tame outward understandings of endearment, empathy, a chiseled and graying record, what it means to know, what it means for Wong to have written this space of an acknowledgment in fuchsia and wind spit.
A list of additional images, encounters: singes, contortions, barbs; “monuments of my womb”; spilled sand; “last night’s lava”; and wraiths carrying love. A selection. A tremble. A book filled with unsullied spirit, or have I misinterpreted: are these madrigals the songs of the post-sully? Each flip of the page finds a speaker humble though able, at risk but rising beyond horizon, extending view, lungs filled with reconciliation, a mythic questioning of history.
To read a series by Nicolette Wong is to consider the close proximity of the poem to the storm, to the grounds of the death of connection, to the moments of the dissipated boundary, to the echo of embodiment and the ceasing of the end of the pattern of scars. To read a series by Nicolette Wong is to join unstoppable worlds and praise the process of revision mastered by those wedded by an impermeable state of being.
Through the burning and the bellowing and the billowing and the bearing: a chance to see the sensors of whiskers of knowledge.
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All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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