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Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
This Month’s Featured Artist: Adrianne Smith
Adrianne Smith, a native of New Mexico, lives and makes art and writes in Jackson, Mississippi. During her time in the Deep South, she has developed an affection for shrimp and grits, southern poets, and phrases such as: “this ain’t no church, so don’t say amen.”
Contents 4 7
A pont at the painterâ€™s table: Derek Fenner on Patrick James Dunagan RE: RE: Ed Davis on Meredith Sue Willis Love Poems for Weary Revolutionaries: Cheryl Klein on Jen Benka
A New Kind of Air: Clark Knowles on Julie Doxsee
Art Objects: Sam Kerbel on Art From Art
An On-Going Conversation: Kristina Marie Darling on Kyle McCord & Jeannie Hoag Sucker-Punched: Sonja Livingston on Louis B. Jones
Sobering Expanse: Rita Mae Reese on Mark Jarman
Listen to This: Megan Marton on Andrea Rexilius
Missed by Casual Contemplation: Amy Henry on Stacey Levine
Derek Fenner on Patrick James Dunagan
This, then, would be the conversation. —Charles Olson When Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) comes to you in a dream he careens, Into the rushing out amid all eyes to look hands grasping He speaks to you in initiatic phrasings, embracing the cult of painting—the force of light, sinuous taut lines, melodious expression of color, and the wit of centuries. If you’ve not been so lucky to have Guston visit you while sleeping, with Patrick James Dunagan’s, There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn’t Talk: A GUSTONBOOK, there is still yet some hope to enter into conversation with the painter. When Patrick James Dunagan comes to you in a book you get drunk on language: That’s right. Everybody knows that if you just think about things, our minds are always dialectical. No sooner do you think of one thing than you think of its opposite. Your mind moves around in a vast space. And you can get intoxicated.
He merges open fields of language, borrowed, heard, and made in order to shriek in the desperate quiet neighborhood that exists when poets invoke painters. His ear informs his mind through the eyes of experiencing artworks at root levels. And these poems travel fast, faster than many books of poems I’ve read. As the last page comes by I sprint in the same direction with it to find myself starting all over again, each time reading a little quicker, hoping to thin the gap in this race for the last word,
The Post-Apollo Press, 2011
A pont at the painter’s table:
Need to organize occupy and hold the space is there ever to escape
Taking its title and many quotes from a talk given by Guston at the University of Minnesota in 1978, Dunagan’s book engenders the talk of painters. Its subject haunts us, looming in the very near past, as well as hanging infinitum in museums and private collections spanning the globe in what Charles Olson would call “the going present.” Yet it is just the type of conversation that Guston would have loved. Consider the following from the same talk: The few people who visit me are poets or writers, rather than painters, because I value their reactions. Looking at this painting, Clark Coolidge, a poet who lives about 30 miles away, said that it looked as if an invisible presence had been there, but had left these objects and gone somewhere else. I like that kind of reaction, compared with reactions like 'The green works, the blue doesn't work'. The dialogue is part of the preparation of the finished work, and in this way Dunagan speaks first with the painter prior to his own incantations of form in the final product that is a book. He brings this up in a recent on-line interview with fellow Bay-Area poet, Micah Ballard, saying: Well, the words are in the books. So yeah, fuel for expanding the conversation. Growing The Company, in Creeley's sense, which you write to and from which the writing arrives. What's the act of publication, as in editing and publishing, but an extension of the greatest of collaborative exercises...arising, as it does, from a shared community of interest. (The Argotist Online) In A GUSTONBOOK, Dunagan is clearly as verbose as his channeling’s of Guston and others. He takes the reigns and gets his words in there amidst the interstitial lines of friends, Pilings of stuff tangled roots early Zephyr surf team cutting through pillars of burned out Santa Monica pier late ‘70s California Because the conversation is happening in the present/past/future all at once, 5
it’s an ambiguous dance that has the painter taking a political stance, “A Guston is for Palestine,” giving his review of a Tarantino film, “Bang bang / Guston watching reservoir dogs,” or even dresses the poet Wallace Stevens into a purely Maya Deren role, “Wallace Stevens staring at voodoo / practices giving a stern / open earnest look about.” (Dunagan 14, 38, 75) In this way, Dunagan renders time sensational, allowing for his literary peers, both living and dead, the opportunity to stay engaged. While art lives through inspiration and can be derived from dialogue, does the reader without any prior knowledge of Guston or Dunagan’s other sources have a lesser experience? Not if they are active participants in language, A poet isn’t a painter where a look would do go words for surface everything anxious Dunagan does not assemble a cultured experience of the painter Philip Guston, for that is not his intention. Instead, he expresses his own inner conditions around the painter’s images and words in a multi-faceted poetic structure that lingers in the transformation as well as the representation of reality. These are powerful expressions from a very poetic mind. References Ballard, M. & Dunagan, P.J. (2011). The Argotist Online. Retrieved from http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Ballard%20interview.htm Guston, Philip. Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations. Clark Coolidge, (Ed.). California: University of California Press, 2011.
Ed Davis on Meredith Sue Willis
Hamilton Stone Editions, 2010
When I read a description of Meredith Sue Willis’s new book, Re-Visions: Stories from Stories, at first I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy tales which, according to the back cover, are “spin-offs from myth, fiction and the Bible.” But how entirely wrong I was. Totally absorbed, I read the volume straight through—and then returned to re-read, wondering which of my reading friends I should gift with the book. Most of Willis’s sources are well-known, such as Adam and Eve from Genesis, Martha from the gospel story of Lazarus, Scheherazade fromA Thousand and One Nights, and Topsy, the slave girl from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, others have been crafted from a mere mention, such as St. Augustine’s concubine Monica from the Confessions and Claribel, Queen of Tunisia, who is briefly mentioned in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Slightly more obscure, though no less delightful were Baucis and Philemon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Willis also constructs some stories from scratch, such as “Her Statue” and “Legend of the Locust Root.” I’m glad the author felt no compunction to be a slave to her sources, often using them more as inspiration than model; some, like the Biblical tales, cleave closer to the details, while others wildly differ from their sources. Willis’s tales are as delightful as they are truly insightful in a surprising but never heavyhanded way. The book is never preachy, as the “morals,” if any, arise organically, emerging from the mouths of believable characters. Like the eponymous protagonist of “Martha, Sister of Lazarus, “my favorite. Willis brings this fullyimagined world to life through ultra-sensory language: “I could smell . . . the perfume Mary wore, the sour breath of the wine-seller and the lactation of a Bethany woman” Into this world “the Nazarene” walks. as in the gospels of Luke and John, Martha is much distracted by domestic duties and is more aggressive and questioning than her sister Mary. But Willis takes that aggressive7
ness much further. Throughout most of the story, Martha is not swayed by this “grave robber’s” silver tongue. Furthermore, Willis sexualizes this famous encounter, which, oddly, adds to its spiritual power. With his charisma and “glistening river of wavy hair,” Jesus easily seduces Martha’s sister Mary—as well as all the men—but Martha makes the would-be messiah prove himself to her more through his manhood than any supernatural power. The central metaphor—Jesus as the “lover” who has spiritually impregnated Martha—is both illuminating and moving—and so apt, given how easily everyone else in the story has been seduced. Everyone except Martha, who holds out until the deeply moving conclusion. Similar sexual overtones and themes of seduction are found in “Claribel Queen of Tunis and Antonio the Usurper of Milan.” Willis’s lively tale, spun from a mere mention in The Tempest, details the nearly life-long obsession of Claribel, daughter of Neapolitan royalty, with the “corrupter” Antonio. The subject of Claribel’s great crush is the brother of the Duke of Milan, who, in Shakespeare’s play, was responsible for removing his brother Prospero to the island in order to usurp the dukedom. In Willis’s story’s present action, Queen Claribel has brought before her “a white-haired Italian galley slave” who claims to have “once preserved the honor of the Queen of Tunis.” And, sure enough, it’s the “old corrupter” Antonio from her earlier life in Naples. Before he kidnaped his brother, she had declared herself to him, on the eve of her wedding to the Lord of Tunis, whom she didn’t love, marrying only to cement trade relations between their countries. Sexual and political stakes are raised early on. After Claribel buys the galley slave and has him brought before her, the man pets Claribel’s foot “brazenly, in full sight of the others.” The queen must hide both her revived interest as well as her history with the mysterious man who’s neither old nor a servant (nor, when he’s bathed, an apparent eunuch). But the big question this reader wondered was: how “corrupt” is—or was—the “silver prince of Milan”? It’s the engine that compels the narrative backward into the past, in which we find that Claribel courted death and disaster to pledge her love to Antonio on the eve of her wedding to the king of Tunis. Distraught that she will never marry Antionio, she begs him to deflower her, for “the infidel won’t buy damaged goods.” The climax is a stunner, demonstrating how both Claribel and Antonio wound up in their present circumstances and answering my initial question, expanding Antonio’s character from Shakespeare’s portrayal.
Startlingly different in every way except delight is Willis’s modern, often hilarious, re-telling of a tale from Ovid’s Tales of Metamorphoses, “Baucis and Philemon #3.” In Ovid’s fable, Hermes and Zeus find no hospitality among the
corrupt townspeople until chancing into the household of the poor old couple, Baucis and Philemon. After enjoying their generosity, the gods reward them by saving them from the flood and naming them caretakers of the temple their house has now become and granting them their wish “to die together”; after a long life they sprout branches and become trees. Likewise, Willis’s story focuses on a married couple, one of whom, the husband, is in the process of trying to become a tree. Tension and humor result from point of view: a young female jogger reluctantly listens to the comic tale of woe related by an older woman she met in the park, embodying the inhospitableness of the townsfolk in the original. But Willis’s “Baucis” doesn’t require much hospitality, as she explains why she’s going now to join her husband in her quest, “to be a tree for a while.” There’s a satisfying comeuppance for the rude narrator—in the sympathetic Baucis’s eloquent description of the “raw hard thing itself,” which is her life. The reader, if not the clueless young narrator, gets the opportunity for valuable insight—and a lot of fun. “Can animals comprehend the ineluctable serenity of the tree?” says the deranged husband. “The beauty of photosynthesis, the perfection of osmosis! No pumping, heaving, killing, chewing, gulping, choking or eructing. A tree has no moving parts.” Indeed. I’ve tried to give a taste of the enormous pleasures to be found in this slim, readable volume. The nine stories are powerful, surprising, and satisfying. You’ll no doubt be as awed as I was to meet the slave-girl Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at fifty-something, living with her teacher Miss Ophelia in Vermont. From the very first story, “Sermon of the Younger Monica,” the stage is set for an experience of exotic worlds yet down-to-earth insights. All the stories but one are told in first-person, increasing intimacy and enjoyment. Before you know it, you’ll have read the whole book. Then, perhaps as I did, you’ll want to re-read, re-vision…
Cheryl Klein on Jen Benka
Hanging Loose Press, 2011
Love Poems for Weary Revolutionaries:
Jen Benka’s second book of poems, Pinko, opens with a poem called “Instructions for the End,” which can be read a guide for the apocalypse or for approaching the 57 pages of this collection: there is no plan to save us trespassers, take up your tools we will store things here we need and when the siren sounds lay mirrors in the street bring heaven down to earth The book is invested in laying mirrors in the street—merging the ephemeral and the earthly; empowering love in a world where it is trampled by warlords and labeled trite by academics. Many of the poems fall closer to the “experimental” end of the spectrum, which can be a tough (yet refreshing) form for a manifesto on love and empathy to take. I’m a fiction writer—I gravitate toward narrative and often equate “experimental” with “cold” and “impenetrable.” So Pinko took a couple of reads to make its full impact on me. But what an impact: a largely non-narrative poetry book that’s invested in the politics of language but also the politics of war, AIDS, race and gender. It embraces constraint as its heart spills out every line. The only other piece in the first section, the essay-like “Flower Flower,” elaborates on the book’s worldview. The narrator recounts coming across a snippet of window-frost graffiti. She expects it to indict the cops in some uncouth way, but instead it’s a declaration of queer teen love. Where you’re expecting terror, you’ll find tenderness. And the reverse can also be true, which is why the world, 11
however beautiful, is never quite safe. The second of Pinko’s four sections includes a poem for each of the words in the military’s phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.). These are the trespassers’ tools. “Hey, war,” they seem to say, “we’ve taken your organized violence and built our own language from it.” Most of the pieces are short skinny-lined riffs or neat rectangles of prose. The subject matter ranges from the our legal system’s attempt to categorize domestic life (as in “Dixie”: “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a ‘spouse’/ the word ‘family’ refers to ‘meat and television’”) to the lies we tell ourselves about war (as in “Uniform”: “the instructions read: don’t worry about him. there is hot steam rising from the grate. he volunteered.”). One of the questions posed in “Flower, Flower”—“How do I forgive you without surrendering?”—echoes through the alphabet poems. Growing older means seeing the world in a more nuanced light than did the youthful self the narrator describes in “Zulu,” the one who donned “army surplus jackets and white armbands” to protest apartheid. How to negotiate this new understanding with a very real need for change? “Oscar,” though less overtly political, explores how a scene changes with the addition of another body, or when a verb becomes a command: (he) sits down on the sofa languidly the sound of an electric bell (he) enter(s) pull(s) off his gloves puts out his hand to take a sandwich eats it helping himself move(s) to him retreating to back of sofa kneeling upon it (he) bows to him glances goes out Is this description or direction? A proper solo tea or a lovers’ tryst? Are we theater patrons in velvet seats or peeping toms at the window?
The third section, which is comprised entirely of poems with “between” in the title, delves further into such disputed territories. The possibility for grief is embedded like a bomb into every human connection. Or, as Benka says in “Be-
tween Returning,” “the opposite of home is glass. it is easy to mistake one for the other.” This creates a terrible anxiety, in which “the fallow field where sweet manure will grow corn tall” and “the trunk of a car where oranges spilled from paper bags” (“Between Lost and Found”) are also places where bodies may be uncovered. The title poem, which ends the last, brief section, concludes, “accepting that I am not powerless/ means studying geography and grieving.” The narrator seems to agree with W.S. Merwin’s statement that “We were not born to survive/ Only to live.” So while there is still no plan to save us, a belief in love is not evidence of naiveté so much as the ultimate (if fragile and imperfect) act of resistance: “division is the natural condition of cells/ we split to become a greater thing.”
A New Kind of Air: Clark Knowles on Julie Doxsee Black Ocean, 2010
The cover art for Julie Doxsee’s Objects for a Fog Death presents a green mass creeping across a black background. The mass itself is broken into dozens of separate swirling ridges, a topography of sorts, as if a great sweeping pain had been charted by a mad cartographer and pressed into service as a map for those lost in the brume. Yet the cover design by Denny Schmickle only hints at the complexities of the both the mapped and unmapped territory through which Doxsee guides her readers. “Guides” is perhaps a misnomer. Although the reader rarely feels lost in the wilderness with Doxsee blazing the trail, she is no mere Sacagawea; she is equal parts trickster, shade, gatekeeper, and sentry. The paths she wanders down (and lures her reader into) are often circuitous, starting in the middle of the wood, or perhaps ending there. They exist in a cockeyed dimension cluttered with the detritus of things tangible—couches, hips, crowbars, buttons, skin—that ground us most firmly in our own world. Take these lines from “Sky Letter,” for instance:
Streams, waterfalls, & little moon-side cacti spill from a box lined with lightning. Close by there is a path leading to a huge hole in the ground that looks like the paradise you hallucinated when the shoreline kicked your ceiling.
Doxsee is careful as she moves through the early stages of the poem—there are familiar objects: calming streams, a box perhaps tipped on its side that exposes the cacti—but soon that hole looms, a daunting, inescapable landmark in the landscape. But even the hole isn’t to be trusted, it morphs into a paradise, and then into the remnants of some surreal upheaval in the entire landscape, the shoreline (not the beach, not the shore itself, but a line that marks the separation point of two large objects even as it is defined by the two objects) kicking hard against some limits of vision—perhaps a ceiling in a lover’s room, or perhaps the ceiling near the edges of the atmosphere, where the curvature of the world alters the scope of our vision. Later in the poem: Now balloons filled with misread nightmares swim up, searching for the hand I can’t close my verbs around. And despite the constancy of her presence as guide throughout the poem, Doxsee herself is left peering over the bulbous shapes of those balloons. Those verbs she cannot quite grasp are so very much like fog, actions slipping through her fingers. The reader is left in this roomful of balloons, bobbing and drifting, while Doxsee moves from one landmark to another, chooses a path, a new direction, and charges off to another poem. Each poem consists of the blurry and shifting shapes of a world befogged, but the poems are neither murky, nor unclear. The poems aren’t muddy or hazy by way of craft. The fog of the title has a clarifying effect, despite the fact that the poems often exist near the ends of things: shore, relationships, hopes, deaths. There always seems to be something swirling up and around the objects at the heart of her lines, or up and around the poet herself, or perhaps up and around the reader. The book does ask a lot of its readers—it requires our vision, too. It’s as if Doxsee made the map, but without the reader, she’s more lost than we are. Or perhaps the fog is a constant and maybe the objects inside the poems (or Doxsee, or us) are swaying. Either way, there is continuous movement, and either way the reader ends up believing she’s watching one thing before she realizes that she’s been looking at something different all along. In “Kitchen Tour” Doxsee writes: Those are
finger thicknesses squeegeed on your fog in the form of see-through sphinxes. Here the fog is thick and Doxsee only allows that finger-width glimpse. Later, after the fog has shifted and grown more stable, those finger-widths swaths become something more concrete: Those are old teeth marks in the water from when I bit all the ice cubes in half. Here, the fog has solidified and then liquefied, but the reader is left with those teeth marks, an anchor-point, the remnants of something torn free, visible still even after the currents have recycled the compounds at the elemental level. Objects for a Fog Death is a magical book (in the truly dark and layered and mysterious sense of the word—not in the saw-the-lady-in-half sense of the word, although that’s quite possibly an apt comparison, too). She has crafted a concise book with sentences that snake surprisingly through multiple couplets and end up in unexpected places. Take the poem “Architecture” for instance: If lightning is just more heat, where is the cyclone to entwine us until our veins take down all the trees between here & seven days ago? If I write my address on your wrist the fog will wash it off, melt 16
into more ocean until we are only more ocean. All of these poems are told in of gloaming. Doxsee’s doorways open to a terrain that requires a certain patience, careful movements. The reader must be aware of the edges of the rocky path at all times. This is a good thing. Doxsee must have recognized that the world already has many easily opened doors. This book wants its readers to attend to the job of reading with focused attention, to come to the page ready to trust the orienteering skills of the author. And once that door is open? It doesn’t close. The reader can’t (nor will she want to) go return. Toward the end of the book, she writes, in a poem titled “Dear Sparrow”: You pretend my door is your skyload of leaves, a new kind of air you sail. Object for a Fog Death is most certainly a new kind of air.
Sam Kerbel on Art From Art
Stephen Soucy, Editor Modernist Press, 2011
For an artist to reveal his or her muse is to disclose the inner workings of an aesthetic work. In other cases, or perhaps simultaneously, the work itself exposes the artist. When Lord Henry Wotton asks Basil Hallward in the first chapter of The Picture of Dorian Gray why he refuses to show his painting, Basil replies, “I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.” The short story collection Art From Art, edited by Stephen Soucy, puts these competing notions on full display. A Los Angeles-based writer/filmmaker and founder of Modernist Press, Soucy has assembled thirty-eight short pieces of fiction that draw their inspiration from works of art both real and imagined. The nature of these relationships, however, proves more complicated than they may seem. Does knowledge of the influencing artwork or art form reveal the most important aspects of the story it inspired? Or is analyzing the story itself the key to understanding the relationship between writer and art? A fervent postmodernist may cite Barthes or Foucault and claim that this dilemma is entirely irrelevant, since both involve the identity of the author—who is, of course, dead. But if one replaces the author with the story’s characters, this equation suddenly becomes intriguing. The question then becomes whether a pre-existing knowledge of the artwork at hand provides meaning for the story, or whether the story itself has more to do with the art as it interacts with the principal characters. Consider Tracy Debrincat’s exhilarating story “Call It A Hat,” whose action takes place primarily at a performance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. As the story progresses, the emotional state of the protagonist, Lydia, becomes seamlessly intertwined with that of the music, obviating the need for any knowledge of the pieces in question. As she listens to a concerto by Shostakovich, for example, the narrator observes that Lydia “slipped away on the 19
opening flourish for trumpet and piano, then down the broader, darker themes underscored by the strings and the solo trumpet’s solemn sustained notes.” By the time Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is performed, Lydia’s mind has fully assumed the agitated qualities of the piece: The music crashed and thundered with jarring percussion and offbeat rhythms. Lydia’s mind leapt to one possible future. Some Saturday afternoon, with her husband Franklin out returning videos and Lydia home in her pajamas, holding a fan of glossy Polaroids of anonymous body parts, red, shiny, engorged; opened and spread by manicured fingers, wrists with gold watches. Quick! What kind of watch did Franklin wear? A brown leather band. Was is cracked? Crocodile? A gold face… The Shostakovich and Stravinsky fuel Lydia’s dizzying state, which in turn perceives the music as increasingly frenzied. Lydia does not simply coexist with the music; the two form an intensely symbiotic relationship that gradually generates a similar effect on the reader. While Art From Art explores the relationship between art and audience, it does not totally ignore the role of the author. Along with bios, Soucy includes brief statements by the authors describing the pieces of art that triggered their writing and the circumstances in which the stories were composed. And like scholarly introductions to famous works of fiction, these concise declarations may limit the scope of the reader’s experience if read before the story itself. Despite this caveat, the author statements serve a critical purpose: rendering the artistic process in action. The brilliance of Art From Art as a concept lies both in its presentation of the inter-relationship between art and writing as well as its exploration of how human beings experience art. In some pieces, including “Call It a Hat” and Richard Zimler’s breathtaking story “Stealing Memories,” art plays as overt a role as Dorian’s portrait in Oscar Wilde’s novel. In others, like “Flesh, Blood, and Some of the Parts (Le sang du monde)” by Marshall Moore, art exercises a more subtle yet equally powerful influence, both regarding the story’s plot as well as its style.
Soucy notes in the introduction that “it was easy to discern the best of the bunch” from all the submissions he received. But among the present selection, several works stand out in their treatment of the artworks that inspired them. Besides the three aforementioned stories, Anne Whitehouse’s “A Visit to the Stock Exchange” and Sean Padraic McCarthy’s “The Man Who Walks Beside the Sea” rank among the most compelling and well-crafted in the collection. At almost four hundred pages, Art From Art could have benefited from more serious cuts.
Nevertheless, the result is a pristine volume that presents itself as an aesthetic object. Filled with stunning visual art, Soucy’s collection defies the digital allure of the e-reader age (if there is one) in its exquisite presentation. This is not an accident. Another story, “Scanner Days, Starry Nights” by Martin Rose, depicts a world where digital museums—financed by global banks—incinerate original artworks. Rose’s personal statement may as well be Art From Art’s raison d’etre: “In our virtual world, we have lost our connection to fearless, artistic sensibility, and seek to destroy it.” Whether self-aware or not, this warning validates the need for more books like Art From Art, sounding the call to preserve artistic authenticity in the digital age.
Kristina Marie Darling on Kyle McCord & Jeannie Hoag
Gold Wake Press, 2011
An On-Going Conversation:
Published earlier this year by Gold Wake Press, Informal Invitation to a Traveler effortlessly situates Romanticism in a postmodern literary landscape. Presented as an ongoing conversation between poets Kyle McCord and Jeannie Hoag, the poems in this stunning collection suggest that contemporary ideas about selfhood and identity are deeply rooted in the nineteenth century. In many ways, the book’s dialogic structures is especially well-suited to this idea. Throughout this plaintive, lyrical collection, McCord and Hoag present identity itself as a collaboration between self and other, history and modernity, and the various received ideas that one must constantly negotiate.
The book offers readers several recurring imagistic motifs, which convey these ideas with subtlety and grace. Throughout Informal Invitation to a Traveler, works of art appear and reappear, serving as a metaphor for the speaker’s attempt to locate the self within a complex literary-historical tradition. Consider “Self Seen as Art I,” The grass is many baubles stacked against each other, and today you will not leave the beloved. You will see a man, your friend, wearing his Amish hat, his grey suit, pointing to a lot where a president’s mother gave birth. (19) In poems like this one, the speaker’s voice arises from cultural detritus. Thus the “baubles” and “beloveds” that populated Romantic poetry serve as a foundation for contemporary self-expression. For McCord and Hoag, personal identity functions in much the same way as the poem itself. Just as the piece
collages received ideas and images, one’s sense of self appears as a series of appropriations from art, culture, and literature. With that said, the book’s stylistic decisions frequently compliment these ideas, offering readers a graceful matching of form and content. Just as the Romantic tradition grows increasingly fragmented as the speaker introduces other aesthetic influences, the poems themselves alternate between lushness and fragmentation. McCord and Hoag write, for instance, in “Every Day the Little Arts Are Dying,” But I have you now, J.R., and the rubbles of the cities seem not so bad. The sea salt bathes in the city of the dead. A sleepy logic overcomes everything, we think, in the overpriced cafes where we sit. And find such things occluded—time in its meander turning each thought scarlet then cinder in turn. Though we know it is good that we grasp at such only as an afterthought. Then the compass of our being swings west. (11) Pieces like this one emanate a Romantic sensibility, finding beauty in ruins, melancholy, and decay. These observations are seamlessly woven with more contemporary imagery, namely the “overpriced cafe” in which the speaker finds himself. In many ways, the end of the piece, in which “the compass of our being swings west,” signals an even greater shift away from the lush emotional landscape of Romanticism. For instance, this poem is juxtaposed with a beautiful but spare piece, which reads, Hurricane of traveler of above & around, dark middle of heights and arrows, landings & loading docks empty vans empty trees & mailboxes. (12) Although the subject of the poem transitions from nineteenth century ruins to a postmodern proclamation of “emptiness,” the speaker describes herself as a “traveler,” who must explore and navigate these disparate aesthetic influences. With that said, the book’s shifts from lushness to sparseness gracefully mirror this tension between Romantic and postmodern sensibilities. All points considered, Informal Invitation to a Traveler is a terrific collaboration, one that proves as engaging as it is thought-provoking. 23
Sonja Livingston on Louis B. Jones
Let’s begin by agreeing that a sucker-punch is a good thing. Maybe not in life, where being hit upside the head while unawares is rarely rewarding. But in the world of books, to be caught off guard and taken somewhere you did not expect in a way you hadn’t quite anticipated is one of the great pleasures of reading. I can’t remember the name of the film, but it was definitely a film and not a movie—three freshly-scrubbed people walking among the ruins in northern France discussing God and philosophy and science. They were good-looking and earnest and said things I nearly followed, which allowed me to journey with them for nearly an hour before my head began to throb. But then, I’ve never been one for prolonged discussions of God and science or the sound of one hand clapping. Tell me about the tupelo trees in the swamp where Uncle Fino hunted water moccasins, take me to the old railroad bridge with your character as she discovers the various failings of the heart. More than multilayered intellectual tangles, I want people. So thank goodness for the people who shimmer enough in the pages of Radiance to pull me from the foreign film of chapter one into the brilliance of the story that unfolds in the remaining chapters.
The novel takes place over the course of an evening and into the early hours of a new day. The story centers around the world of Mark Perdue, a one-time mega-physicist with complications from Lyme disease who had recently decided (with his wife) to abort a late term pregnancy and to forego an important academic conference in favor of escorting his teenage daughter to a fantasy camp in Los Angeles, where she gets to be a celebrity for a few days and he gets to spend time (and imagine life with) the lovely and intelligent Blythe, who has suffered her own losses. The setting is the various bars and hotel rooms humming around the celebrity vacation for which Mark has paid 5 grand, and
which leads to his daughter’s surprising changes, and to most of the action in the book. Jones makes good use of setting, and throughout the novel, things shine. Not simply the images he harnesses to tell his story (the flopping goldfish in an elevator, the Hollywood sign, the Wizard of Oz flickering on a TV screen) but the characters as well, including the exquisite descriptions of the unborn child named Nod. The various pieces of the novel are fitted neatly together which not only shows the work of an expert craftsperson, but which supports the weightier issues at play within the seemingly simple narrative. The fresh use of language, the understanding of human nature, and even the head-spinning questions I don’t always follow take me by surprise, and are lovely. As is the absurdity, which mostly (but not always) works. I can allow for the high powered beautiful lawyer wife, for instance--the one who trades in her high heels for a red work belt in order to hammer away her grief at Habitat for Humanity work sites. And I adore the aforementioned goldfish left floundering on an elevator and the way Mark walks by then regrets leaving it. I even accept (and enjoy) the wheelchair-bound teenage demagogue/Adonis (named Bodie) who serves as a counterpoint to the lots child, but I can’t quite buy that a physics professor (even at Berkeley, even in his Lyme-disease induced fog) could believe that 42 is past-prime (my own self-delusion perhaps) or that a physicist and attorney couple named Mark and Audrey would really give their daughter so saucy a name as Carlotta, or that our main character could thoroughly convince himself he is untroubled by the loss of an unborn child—even one whose sad complications would have so obviously led to sad and complicated lives for all involved. Minor quibbles aside, the story pushes forward, the action unfolding in ways that were fresh and kept me turning the pages, eager to follow the movements of characters that, once I allow for, are delightful, their situations compelling, their various intersections meaningful. I’m surprised and refreshed by Louis B. Jones’ people, their stories, and, most of all, his use of language. The simpler lines were more likely to hook and showcase the author’s insight: The first onset of the lifelong loneliness, and to describe: Bodie Lostig was so conceited he was positively luminous. They function as little bullets, those shorter sentences, full of wisdom and coming, as they do, between the more layered constructions common to the writing. The latter were initially hard to follow, especially in the novel’s opening chapter, where sentences such as the following appeared while I was still anchor myself in the text: And that form of devotion would always, no doubt perpetually, be available, to be drawn flashing from its scabbard but he hadn’t known what a girl’s graces were until Lotta, nor felt how over years his world was gradually changing shape so that female’s natural secret regnant 25
ascendancy become more impossible to ignore, not until Lotta, not until he’d started watching a girl take shape from earliest infancy, the fineness of discernment, as well as a soreness, which amounted to a discriminating kind of electromagnetic force, all superpowers compared with boys’---and how hard that all was for them, the amazing unremitting meanness of their competition, their fundamental sad practicality, then the encroaching ineluctable weird song and dance of their inferior competence. Later in the novel, the writer’s far-reaching and often strung together thoughts become not only easier to unpack, but add texture and provide an unusual back beat for the story, as well as demonstrate his obvious understanding of the various complexities (and simplicities) of the human condition: That’s what Bodie’s kind of philosophy proposed; but the truth is, a physicist and a lawyer are worth more than a paralyzed, retarded, blind baby, that’s an objective social fact you have to take responsibility for, because if you don’t, then you do live in a world where the evening sound of dishes is as great as the Milky Way, or just the sensation of cotton fabric is as profound as the Seven Wonders of the World. Such ideas serve the novel once the reader adapts to the use of such layered language, and once the story itself becomes strong enough to support them. “Radiance” is an intelligent novel with unusual but beautifully imagined characters and situations. Once you’re anchored in the story, you’ll want to fly through the chapters to learn what becomes of these quirky but tender people, and the conflicts in which they find themselves, conflicts that anything engage readers in the simple but large questions (the loss of a child, the value of one life over another, real life versus fantasy). As for the stickier philosophical questions the novel wants to illuminate, “Radiance” will please those patient and eager enough to tackle them, as well as to challenge and engage those who simply want to travel the pages of a novel with a handful of well-wrought characters and a story that matters.
Rita Mae Reese on Mark Jarman
Mark Jarman is a sober poet. He’s so sober that he might be in danger of becoming the designated driver of American poetry. This sobriety is as natural to him as breathing, as we see in “My Parents Come Home Laughing” from his first book, North Sea, in which a young boy watches his parents come home from a feast for Robert Burns and collapse into helpless laughter. The boy does not join in the laughter or the weeping that follows but watches and draws comfort from it. This seems to be much of the perspective that this poems are written from—a secret, sensitive observer drawing a solitary comfort from humanity or nature. Jarman is the author (or editor) of fourteen books, including three collections of essays about poetry and one of the most vocal proponents of expansivist poetry. He is a co-founder with Robert McDowell of the now defunct Reaper magazine that featured poetry that favored the nearly quaint ideals of story and image. The pair also founded Story Line Press, which closed up shop in 2008, after championing the work of expansionist poets writing in both verse and prose.
Expansivist poets are in direct opposition to free verse poets. The divide between the two can seem depressingly similar to American politics—conservatives (Expansivists) versus liberals (post-modern, fragment-oriented poets). The conservatives have a populist mission—to appeal to the general reader (which might seem like a quixotic goal) while the liberals have been accused of writing only for each other, or for no one. This lumping obscures a great deal in poetry, just as it does in politics, rendering invisible the many liberal, non-white practitioners of metrical verse and received form. It also provides a too-easy way to dismiss the work of a poet such as Jarman by category rather than evaluating him on the body of his work. Bones Fires provides the opportunity for critics and casual readers alike to not simply revisit the old debate of
Sarabande Books, 2011
playing without a net, but more importantly, to read Jarman’s best work to see how well the poems hold value and meaning and to witness how this important American literary figure has developed over the past thirty years. North Sea (1978) revisits Jarman’s childhood years in Scotland. His father moved the family to “a linoleum factory capital” there for three years when Jarman was six to serve a small church. “We Dare Not Go A-Hunting” recalls the charming phrases for everyday things that he learned there—like “widow’s soap,” “Devil’s pupil,” and “nestling’s hour.” Such a poem, particularly based on its title, might seem in danger of choking the reader with rose-scented nostalgia but at its core it’s concerned with the power of language itself and lets you know this poet means business. It provides a good lesson in reading Jarman’s work. There is a real danger in writing poetry about one’s childhood—it can be as boring as watching a stranger’s vacation in a too-familiar setting. But Jarman is a poet deeply devoted to memory and returns to childhood and quiet domestic scenes many times. In fact, David Wojahn once noted that Jarman’s goal is to create an “ethics of memory,” a system to allow the reliving of the transcendent moment and to also admit to the “cheapness and vulgarity” of such moments. I think our technology does this for us now—we are bombarded with updates and images of cheap and vulgar transcendence. I find it numbing. I prefer to think that Jarman is up to something else. In The Rote Walker (1981) we find foreshadowing of some of Jarman’s best later work. The title poem in particular shows how deftly he can weave scriptural rhythms and phrases into a lyric about family, doubt, and language. “Blesséd my blood swamping / The pure heart with ink,” he writes. Here again we find Jarman as the serious child but he begins to make us feel his very real hunger for transcendence and to understand that for him language is the chosen vehicle for that miracle. Far and Away (1985) provides us with poems centered around California, where Jarman spent most of his early life. The poet here seems contented, which allows him the luxury of creating phrases such as “albums embalm such nights” and “Pleasure bungalows. The honeycomb / Of the beachcombers’ cluster of rentals.” In poems such as “The Supremes,” a poem that begins with a memory of first seeing the Supremes on a television in a market with his friends, we see a perfect example of the project of an “ethics of memory.” But despite Jarman’s honesty and the loveliness of the image of boys shivering in their wet swim trunks in this market as the Supremes ride on their television float, the poem can’t quite escape the thickening of nostalgia. Lan29
guage and image have not quite pulled off the hoped-for miracle here. The section from The Black Riviera (1990) features almost exclusively long narrative poems. This critically acclaimed book, which won the Poet’s Prize, reveals a deepening of Jarman’s voice and his vision. “The Shrine and the Burning Wheel,” about witnessing some teenagers burn the bicycle of another boy who is working, unaware, at a convenience store is deftly done and one of the best poems in the book. In other poems we see Jarman more active at the work of transformation, as in “Awakened by Sea Lions,” a lovely poem that drops briefly into a memory of his daughters awakening in the night and calling to each other and ends with a description of the sea lions: “Dog-eared, whiskered like cats, mouths set / With human teeth. The call travels its distance. / Once heard, it travels further.” Understandably, there is no excerpt here from Iris, Jarman’s 1992 book-length poem. Instead the collection moves directly to the 1997 Questions for Ecclesiastes which won the prestigious Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. This book contains the Unholy Sonnets, a series (rather than a crown) of sonnets, including the oft-anthologized “Unholy Sonnet 14,” about the writer Flannery O’Connor. All of the poems here crackle with life and energy, as if the dreamy California boy of Far and Away has been suddenly and radically awakened. Language is a force here, and a delight. And Jarman’s humor, at times maddeningly subtle in earlier work, at last reveals itself directly. Here memory and history escape the sticky trap of nostalgia and provide a means for the poet to illuminate desire, including the desire for transformation. Unholy Sonnets (2000) continues Jarman’s exploration and quarrel with time. The poem, “The Word ‘Answer,’” tells us “That’s all it wants: a prayer just wants an answer, / And twists time in a knot until it gets it.” In these poems he meditates on the apparent uselessness of prayer (“Someone was praying that it never happen / Before the first window on Kristallnacht / broke…”) but consoles himself with the idea that prayer nevertheless helps to shape God. To the Green Man, published four years later, feels in many ways like an earlier work. Though “Five Psalms” that begins “Let us think of God as a lover / Who never calls” carries the momentum created by Questions and Sonnets, many of the other poems seem to play it safe and their focus on narrative dampens the electrical charge rather than directing it. Epistles (2007) could be seen as an experiment in the dangers of religion and poetry. The poet here is using Paul’s letters from the New Testament as inspiration to create a series of pastoral poems. The Holy Ghost has often been represented as a bird and in “For the Birds,” we see Jarman’s need for that 30
spirit and what sort of spirit he has created, both through prayer and poetry: I am bored. I need birds. Not flight but activity, not serene detachment sailing but intense engagement hunting. Look me in the eyes, frontal, head on. And I admire you. Study me askance. And I adore you. Even the moa in the museum case. The trinket hanging from the Christmas tree. This blending of the desire for transcendence with the natural and the manmade world works to revive the nearly exhausted pastoral poem. The danger comes at the very beginning of the passage I’ve quoted—with the “I.” Many poets writing today in the pastoral mode employ a collective viewpoint (not that this isn’t problematic in itself) perhaps mainly to avoid this difficulty—an “I” that must at once acknowledge that it is not a “fixed point” (a delusion beautifully rendered in “Days of ’74” earlier in the book but one perhaps made overmuch of by some other poets) and claim some sort of authority or vested interest in the observed. That voice, concerning nature, can seem to assume too much, to border on bombastic—as perhaps Jarman does in lines such as “If I spoke to you through the waves....” Epistles for the most part evades this difficulty and instead renders a man deeply in love with an endangered world who has only words to try to save it. The new poems of Bone Fires bring the poet and reader full circle—back to that “failing linoleum factory capital / That looked across the firth at the real capital / As if it were purgatory gazing at paradise.” In “The Wee Spider” a North Sea roughneck tells Jarman that the town is dying because his father left it so long ago. The belief, or the polite lie, that his father held such sway must bring a comfort that one man’s life can matter, no matter how small it has at times seemed. It is an affirmation of one of the central aims of literature—to hold up a moment, a person, a possibility and to affirm that it matters. Mark Jarman is a poet who has trained himself rigorously in form and meter; that discipline has created a body of work that is as well crafted as an Amish table. The poems are, for the most part, durable and unassuming. But they are also filled with the surprising and intimate touches of the craftsman— glowing details that keep drawing the reader back. The order to be found in Bone Fires—the sonnets and the crowns, the blank verse, and prose poems—might contribute to the overwhelming feeling of sobriety to be found in these pages but it is also that order which makes rendering the random and the transformative possible. Perhaps this has been Jarman’s project all along. 31
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Listen to This:
Rescue Press, 2011
Megan Marton on Andrea Rexilius
My favorite kind of book is the kind that, rather than answering, explaining, emoting, or simply recording, requires me to interact with it in an authentic and challenging way. The texts that most engage me are those that invite me to do more than absorb, that draw me into something like a puzzle or riddle or koan; that require my active participation in the making of meaning. Andrea Rexilius’s To Be Human is to Be a Conversation (Rescue Press 2011), is this kind of book. Although To be Human is categorized as poetry, it works as a kind of collage, experimenting with a wide array of forms--from essays to “notes” to interviews to memoir to images. As the title reflects, the book is about conversations-not just those comprised of language-based exchanges, but those that happen beyond language, between human bodies. The collection centers around a relationship between two half-sisters, both named Andrea, who experience a kind of twinship as they struggle with alternately inhabiting one another and feeling an intense and alienating separation. Though the subject matter could lend itself to sentimentality, Rexilius’s exploration of sisterhood is not just moving, but composed of vibrant, surprising language and intellectually complex ideas. As Rexilius explores her relationship with her half-sister, she raises questions about what it means to know someone or to know ourselves, and whether this is even possible. In the first of several pieces entitled “Essay on Sisterhood,” Rexilius explores the intricacies of the sisters’ relationship: A sister is an echo chamber. She is a nun, but the naked kind. Having religion is having a sister to speak in tongues with. You take a shower with a sister, and teach her to bathe her battlefield. She tells you what a country is or what it means to divide. A sister is like war. She mim33
ics you and you mock her. She will take your name out from under you. She will take your clothes and your culture...Your sister burns you down. In this excerpt and throughout the book, the language is urgent, tense, and precise as it examines the uncertain terrain of the Andreas’ relationship. The sisters find union in the secret, spiritualized language they share; they reflect and amplify one another as in an echo chamber. One sister teaches the other what it means to grow up and exist in the world. But the relationship is as difficult as it is sacred: the sister is a violent identify-thief, someone to insult. Although their intimate union is often a comforting and even religious experience, it is also destructive, most notably in its annihilation of individual identity. Once one sister reflects the other, individual identity can no longer exist. The inescapable, alternation between separation and connection that exists in our deepest relationships is the tension at the heart of the book. In the opening section, Deconstruction of the Organ, Rexilius quotes Sylvan S. Tomkins, who discusses how as soon as we become interested in our connection to another, a barrier forms: ...such a barrier might be because one is suddenly looked at by one who is strange, or because one wishes to look at or commune with another person but cannot because he is strange, or one expected him to be familiar but he suddenly appears unfamiliar, or one started to smile but found one was smiling at a stranger. Even in the company of those we are closest to, those whose DNA we share, the strangeness of the other separates, pains, and haunts us. Just at the moment we think we know someone, we discover that we don’t. Distance, after all, is situational, Rexilius writes in another version of “Essay on Sisterhood.” And in the case of these particular sisters, part of the situational distance is created by culture and language--one Andrea grew up in Illinois; the other, who does not speak English, in communist Hungary: She was raised in Communist Hungary. You don’t know much about the experience of communism. You like the color red. You read a book about it once. Certain words or references or premonitions were thrown from the mouth and burned. You do not like the idea of mouths burning. For your sister this was not an idea. But despite the language barrier and the sisters’ inabilities to understand one another’s pasts, they learn to communicate in deeper ways (“Our first conversation was performed by the body,” Rexilius writes in “Notes on the Body.”) The connections and conversations that are formed beyond language is another of the book’s important themes.
The opening to the book’s second section, Attempting Embrace: a Crisis in Form(ing) shifts from poems into more reflective prose. Here, Rexilius bravely
critiques her own process of writing about the relationship, admitting: I always feel that my attempt at capturing it doesn’t do justice to the actual--because it isn’t a “story” and shouldn’t be one; it was a physical shift, a change in (of) the body. I...am not sure how the body remembers or how the body tells, except that maybe it essays (attempts). The voice is one of accepting frustration: unsure, agitated by the fact that language cannot “do justice” to or translate the body’s reality. The section admits to failure--language cannot begin to describe what the body experiences: it can only attempt. In the piece “Notes on Performance,” Rexilius explains: “The body forms its own sentence that is not recognized by the voice, or by language.” This is what most fascinates me and draws me into the book--that it is comfortable enough in its skin to essay, to be unsure, to question and explore (“investigate,” in Rexilius’s words). But more importantly, rather than declare the text’s meaning, Rexilius allows the reader to be a collaborator, invites us into the conversation. Her insistence on leaving room for the reader to become a part of the text--to engage in a personal dialogue with its ideas--is one of the most refreshing things about the collection. We are invited to physically interact with the book in a variety of ways, to create our own meaning. We’re asked to contemplate the connections between the text and photographs of the author’s grandmother and her twin, or required to participate in a piece entitled “Interview on Sisterhood” where Rexilius asks the readers a series of unexpected questions: What kinds of physiological/psychological responses does hearing, reading, saying, or writing the word “sister” create in you? or Can you list/map/describe these responses? Beneath each question is white space--a kind of thought-space for the reader that creates a desire to at the very least pause and contemplate, or possibly pick up a pencil and fill in the space with ideas. At other points in the book, untitled poems are lined up on facing pages like reflections, so that the reader is allowed to decide whether to read horizontally or vertically, separately or together. In the book’s second section, we are presented with a series of “notes,” a collection of quotes from other writers, which appear alongside Rexilius’s thoughts on the process of writing the book. Rexilius doesn’t interpret the quotes she shares--instead, they exist alongside one another without direct commentary, allowing us to find our own connections to other themes in the book. These excerpts lead the reader to form our own questions: can texts heal our bodies? What does it mean to become an individual ‘I’? What does it mean to create meaning beyond language? From beginning to end, the reader is key to both the creation and the performance of the text. The final section of the book, Sister Sutures, is related to sewing, another act 35
of the body. In “History of Reading as Sewing,” Rexilius writes: “To stitch: to pull something together in context, to combine two unlike things in association.” This is an apt description of what the book does as it reminds us what it means to discover our own humanity through conversation: it is about much more than the words we speak--but about everything that goes on beyond and beneath language as we observe, contemplate, and attempt a deep connection between speakers--or in this case, between readers and writers.
Missed by Casual Contemplation:
Amy Henry on Stacey Levine
“There’s such a terrible tension that exists between something and nothing,” such are the words of a tired nurse towards the end of one of Levine’s short stories, and it becomes a theme throughout this collection. All of the tales are unique, and not a single one complies with the reader’s predictions. Rather than being confusing, though, it illustrates the complexities that are present in everyone’s life. The stories show a mastery of depiction—scenes are created that are completely unknown and sometimes impossible. So how is it that they feel so real? Because amidst the inconceivable lie basic truths. For example, in “Alia,” a young woman desperately wants a family. Yet her method of assimilating into the life of a friend goes awry. As her own personality submerges, she recognizes, “I was younger than I had been, I felt much older; and in the future, we would all become unimaginably older, diminished…” “And You Are?” questions the identity of a time-obsessed woman who finds that merely going to the movies once a week makes life exciting. Her smalltown life and her edge of hostility belie her words, as she reveals an unexpected insight (and possibly an explanation): The good side of life was simply better…though there were sides to life that were neither good nor bad; there were sides that were both, too; there was yet another side that no one could seem to express, and though there should have been no further sides to life, unfortunately, there were. It’s these other sides that repeatedly surface, at times just as a glimmer, in these tales. Perhaps Levine has discovered that addressing these realities through the language of make-believe will make them easier to accept, or grasp. Maybe they’re not even meant to be accepted, but rather to act as a 37
launching point into thinking deeper than we may find comfortable. In “Sausage,” an improbable factory of upside-down bicycles makes sausage by enslaved workers. At the point of escape from the horror, one worker’s experience translates into a slanted commentary on the pharmaceutical industry. Let’s now look at all the shame you’ve ever endured and collect it together as in a little half-shell, so you can feel it all at once, along with the fallacies to which you cling, and then, perhaps, you will see yourself more clearly. ‘We will learn why you chose to take on the guilt of another, and why you wanted to be more free, and tried, sometimes, to escape into sleep, with the white tablets you so cunningly ground into powder…’ As a whole, the collection of tales feels like an exploration of the disparity between the inner self and outer actions that frighten us. Does anyone really want to admit that their identity, if replicated down to the DNA structure, may not appear the same? This can’t be read quickly and set aside; there’s another dimension that I fear might be missed by the casual contemplation.
Derek Fenner is an artist, writer, publisher, and juvenile justice educator. He is the author of My Favorite Color is Red (Bootstrap Press 2005), I Know Longer Believe in the Sun: Love Letters to Katie Couric (Boostrap Press 2009), and Wild Schemes (Lew Gallery 2010). He is currently finishing his second novel, I Know Longer Believe in the Northern Lights: Love Letters to Sarah Palin. He lives in Lowell, MA.
West Virginia native Ed Davis recently retired from teaching writing full-time at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He has also taught both fiction and poetry at the Antioch Writersâ€™ Workshop and is the author of the novels I Was So Much Older Then (Disc-Us Books, 2001) and The Measure of Everything (Plain View Press, 2005); four poetry chapbooks, including, most recently, Healing Arts (Pudding House, 2005); and many published stories and poems in anthologies and journals. His unpublished novel Running from Mercy won the 2010 Hackney Award for the novel. He lives with his wife in the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he bikes, hikes and meditates religiously. Please visit him at www.davised.com. Cheryl Klein is the author of Lilac Mines (Manic D Press) and The Commuters, which won City Works Pressâ€™ Ben Reitman Award. She recently received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation to complete a novel about wayward circus performers. Her fiction has appeared in The Normal School, Other, and several anthologies. She directs the California office of Poets & Writers, Inc. by day and blogs about life, art and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com.
GRL Clark Knowles teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire. He received his M.A. in fiction writing from the University of New Hampshire, and his MFA in Writing from Bennington College. The Arts Council of the State of New Hampshire awarded him a Individual Fellowship for the year 2009. His fiction is forthcoming in: Conjunctions, Nimrod, Eclipse, Limestone, Harpur Palate, Glimmer Train Stories.
Sam Kerbel is a graduate of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He currently works for Limmud NY, a nonprofit organization focused on Jewish learning, and is an editorial assistant at Guernica: A Magazine of Art and Politics. His writing has appeared in Guernica, Kirkus, and Tablet among other publications.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Night Songs (Gold Wake Press, 2010), Compendium (Cow Heavy Books, 2011), and The Body is a Little Gilded Cage: A Story in Letters & Fragments (Gold Wake Press, 2011). She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Ragdale Foundation, as well as grants from the Vermont Studio Center and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her poems appear in Third Coast, Barn Owl Review, RHINO, Cider Press Review, Gargoyle, and many other journals.
Sonja Livingstonâ€™s writing has been honored with a NYS Fellowship in Literature, Iowa Review Award, Pushcart Prize nominations, and grants from Vermont Studio Center and The Deming Fund. Her work is widely anthologized and her first book, Ghostbread, won the AWP Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named a book of the year by ForeWord; a second book is forthcoming. Sonja is an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program at the University of Memphis.
GRL Rita Mae Reese has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. She is a graduate of the MFA program at University of WisconsinMadison. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her first book, a collection of poetry entitled The Alphabet Conspiracy, is available from Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press. She is currently working on a second collection of poetry entitled Apocrypha: The Lost Books of Flannery, a biographical treatment of the Southern writer Flannery O’Connor.
Megan Martin is the author of Sparrow & Other Eulogies. (Gold Wake Press 2011) Her short prose has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Black Warrior Review, The Collagist, Hobart, H_ NGM_N, and La Petite Zine, among others. She lives in Cincinnati and teaches at University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
Amy Henry is a freelance writer and reviewer who is obsessed with Eastern European fiction and global poetry. She reviews both at her website,www.theblacksheepdances.com. She spends her time reading, writing, and wrangling an octopus. When that wears her out, she watches the BBC and acquires an accent.
POETRY The City, Our City, Wayne Miller, Milkweed Editions The Book of What Stays, James Crews, Bison Books Entering the House of Awe, Susanna Childress, New Issues Poetry & Prose She’d Waited Millennia, Lizzie Hutton, New Issues Poetry & Prose Say Sand, Daniel Coudriet, Carnegie Mellon University Press After the Firestorm, Susan Kolodny, Mayapple Press Still, Matthew Cooperman, Counterpath Press Absence is Such a Transparent House, Aby Kaupang, Tebot Bach The Weary World Rejoices, Steve Fellner, Marsh Hawk Press The Hands of Strangers, Janice Harrington, BOA Editions Kingdom Animalia, Aracelis Girmay, BOA Editions House Inspections, Carsten Rene Nielsen, trans. David Keplinger, BOA Editions Gospel Night, Michael Waters, BOA Editions Transfer, Naomi Shihab Nye, BOA Editions The Spite House, Elizabeth Knapp, C&R Press Concertos, No Collective, Ugly Duckling Presse Cursivism, Will Hubbard, Ugly Duckling Presse The Hermit, Laura Solomon, Ugly Duckling Presse Journal of American Foreign Policy, Jeff Hoffman, New Issues Press Underdog, Katrina Roberts, University of Washington Press Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You, Lea Graham, No Tell Books Flies, Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press No Father Can Save Her, Julene Tripp Weaver, Plain View Press Remains to be Used, Jessica Baran, Apostrophe Books The Disinformation Phase, Chris Toll, Publishing Genius A Fast Life: Collected Poems of Time Dlugos, ed. David Trinidad, Nightboat Books Memory Future, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Gold Line Press Ethics of Sleep, Bernadette Mayer, Trembling Pillow Press Downtown, Lee Meitzen Grue, Trembling Pillow Press Flower Chart, Lisa Fishman, Ahsahta Press Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, Joshua Ware, Furniture Press Books The Crows Were Laughing In Their Trees, Peter Conners, White Pine Press The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008, edited by Orlando Menes, University of Notre Dame Press What’s This, Bombardier?, Ryan Flaherty, PleiadesPress Kingdom Come, John Estes, C&R Press The Illustrated Edge, Marsha Pomerantz, Biblioasis The Cold War, Kathleen Ossip, Sarabande Books As Much As, Allan Peterson, Salmon Poetry Naked Woman Listening at the Keyhole, Sophia Rivkin, Mayapple Press Left Glove, Mac Wellman, Solid Objects 42
Fully Into Ashes, Sofia M. Starnes, Wings Press About the Author, Larry O. Dean, Mindmade Books (chpbk) The Yellow House, Robin Behn, Spuytend Duyvil Stranger Air, Stacie Leatherman, Mayapple Press Tropicalia, Emma Trelles, University of Notre Dame Press Pretend the World, Kathryn Kysar, Holy Cow! Press Torn, C.Dale Young, Four Way Books Track This: A Book of Relationship, Stephen Bett, BlazeVox Books The Afterlives of Trees, Wyatt Townley, Woodley Press Dreamlife of a Philanthropist, Janet Kaplan, University of Notre Dame Press Undone, Maxine Scates, New Issues Poetry and Prose Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Plain View Press The Relenting: A Play of Sorts, Lisa Gill, New Rivers Press Kinesthesia, Stephanie N. Johnson, New Rivers Press Fishing for Myth, Heid E. Erdrich, New Rivers Press Birds of Wisconsin, B.J. Best, New Rivers Press Either Way I’m Celebrating, Sommer Browning, Birds LLC Kings of the Fucking Sea, Dan Boehl, images by Jonathan Marshall, Birds LLC Lily Brown, Rust or Go Missing, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Great Performance, Emily Kendal Frey, Cleveland State University Poetry Center Say So, Dora Malech, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Firestorm, Zach Savich, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Girl Without Arms, Brandon Shimoda, Black Ocean Ennui Prophet, Christopher Kennedy, BOA Editions At the Bureau of Divine Music, Michale Heffernan, Wayne State University Press Grief Suite, Bobbi Lurie, CW Books The Body, The Rooms, Andy Frazee, Subito Press How Long, Ron Padgett, Coffee House Press Historic Diary, Tony Trigilio, BlazeVox Books Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite, Suheir Hammad, UpSet Press Strata, Ewa Chrusciel, Emergency Press Helsinki, Peter Richards, Action Books Campeche, Joshua Edwards, photographs by Van Edwards, Noemi Press Breathing in the Dark, Howard Schwartz, Mayapple Press Faulkner’s Rosary, Sarah Vap, Saturnalia Books You and Three Others are Approaching A Lake, Anna Moschovakis, Coffee House Press Mapmaking, Megan Harlan, BkMk Press I & We, Joseph P. Wood, CW Books No Eden, Sally Rosen Kindred, Mayapple Press Annulments, Zach Savich, Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University Expedition: New & Selected Poems, Arthur Vogelsang, Ashland Poetry Press The Homelessness of Self, Susan Terris, Arctos Press Circular Migrations, Brenda Bufalino, Codhill Press
Gently Read Literature publishes monthly in-depth reviews of contemporary poetry and literary fiction as well as the occasional original essay pertaining to aesthetics, writing, or culture. Gently Read Literature is always looking for reviews, criticism, and essays on contemporary poetry and literary fiction. Although we are open to examining all styles of poetry and fiction (and, therefore, all poets and novelists) we prefer those authors/presses that do not typically get the attention they deserve. Our guidelines are simple: 500 words minimum with no maximum, with as much direct textual analysis as possible. Contributions should be emailed to Daniel Casey, editor, (gentlyreadlit@gmail. com). “GRL submission” should be in the title of email, and must be in the body of the email or attached as a MS Word document. All contributions should be plainly formatted—12 point font, Times New Roman or the equivalent, single spaced. Because GRL publishes monthly, contributions are considered on a rolling basis. Gently Read Literature is edited and maintained by Daniel Casey, all questions and comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Daniel Casey, 223 Eastern Ave., Oberlin, OH 44074.
Available Review Copies POETRY While I Was Dancing, Steve Clorfeine, Codhill Press Climate Reply, Trey Moody, New Michigan Press I-Formation Book 1, Anne Gorrick, Shearsman Books Cargo, Kristin Kelly, Elixir Press The Other Place You Live, Jane O. Wayne, Mayapple Press Sleepers’ Republic, David Gruber, Astrophil Press Death Obscura, Rick Bursky, Sarabande Books Why We Make Gardens, Jeanne Larsen, Mayapple Press Logorrhea Dementia, Kyle Dargan, University of Georgia Press The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Jennifer L. Knox, Bloof Books The New Make Believe, Denise Newman, The Post-Apollo Press The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, Leslie Scalapino, The Post-Apollo Press Naked Beauty, John C. Goodman, Blue and Yellow Dog Press Your Mouth is Everywhere, Nick Twemlow, Racquetball Chapbook Tournament (chpbk) Venus and Other Losses, Lucia Galloway, Plain View Press Iteration Nets, Karla Kelsey, Ahsahta Press The Ache of Appetite, Rachel Hadas, Copper Beech Press This Is Not About What You Think, Jim Murdoch, Fandango Virtual The Houdini Monologues, Karl Elder, Word of Mouth Books 44
Mosquito Operas, Philip Dacey, Rain Mountain Press The Best of (What’s Left Of) Heaven, Mairead Byrne, Publishing Genius Incidental Music, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, BlaveVox Books Night Songs, Kristina Marie Darling, Gold Wake Press Gospel Earth, Jeffery Beam, Skysill Press The Iron Key, James Longenbach, WW Norton The Smaller Half, Marc Rahe, Rescue Press Praying to the Black Cat, Henry Israeli, Del Sol Press The Available World, Ander Monson, Sarabande Books The Smaller Half, Marc Rahe, Rescue Press No Other Paradise, Kurt Brown, Red Hen Press The World in a Minute, Gary Lenhard, Hanging Loose Press All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song, Rebecca Foust, Many Mountains Moving Press Wet Information, Jillian Brall, ZoeWo Press Gnawed Bones, Peggy Shumaker, Red Hen Press These Indicium Tales, Lance Phillips, Ahsahta Press Realm Sixty-Four, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press In the Function of External Circumstances, Edwin Torres, Nightboat Books Grief Suite, Bobbin Lane, CW Books How To Live on Bread and Music, Jennifer k. Sweeney, Perugia Press Paternity, Scott Owen, Main Street Rag FICTION Lightning People, Christopher Bollen, Soft Skull Press Feather, David Rix, Eibonvale Press (PDF) Access, Xu XI, Signal 8 Press (PDF) Animal Sanctuary, Sarah Falkner, Starcherone Books The Cisco Kid in the Bronx, Miguel Antonio Ortiz, Hamilton Stone Editions Destroy All Monsters & Other Stories, Greg Hrbek, Bison Books Bohemian Girl, Terese Svoboda, Bison Books The Tiger’s Eye: New & Selected Stories, Gladys Swan, Serving House Books Inheritance, Jane Lazarre, Hamilton Stone Editions Hassie Calhoun, Pamela Cory, Scarletta Press Our Jewish Robot Future, Leonard Borman, Scarletta Press To Assume a Pleasing Shape, Joseph Salvatore, BOA Editions Janet Planet, Elanor Lerman, Mayapple Press Memory Sickness and Other Stories, Phong Nguyen, Elixir Press Ambient Parking Lot, Pamela Lu, Kenning Editions Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions A Marriage of Convenience, Andrew Plattner, BkMk Press Green Gospel, L.C. Fiore, Livingston Press Trigger Man, Jim Ray Daniels, Michigan State University Press
Instructions for Living, Laurie Blauner, Mint Hill Books/Main Street Rag Sensation, Nick Mamatas, PM Press Love/Imperfect, Christopher T. Leland, Wayne State University Press Funeral for a Dog, Thomas Pletzinger, WW Norton Events Film Cannot Withstand, Zach Savich, Rescue Press At Home Anywhere, Mary Hoffman, New Rivers Press American Fiction: The Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Authors, Volume 11, Kristen J. Tsetsi, editor, New Rivers Press This New and Poisonous Air: Stories, Adam McOmber, BOA Editions Death-in-a-Box, Alta Ifland, Subito Press Halal Pork and Other Stories, Cihan Kaan, UpSet Press The Cosmopolitans, Nadia Kalman, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen, FC2/University of Alabama Press The Wonderful Room, Bryan Woolley, Wings Press Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack, Carol Novack, Spuyten Duyvil Color Plates, Adam Golaski, Rose Metal Press Look! Look! Feathers, Mike Young, Word Riot Press 3/03, Chuck Wachtel, Hanging Loose Press The Underbelly, Gary Phillips, PM Press Pike, Benjamin Whitmer, PM Press Yield, Lee Houck, Kensington Books Fort Da, Elisabeth Sheffield, FC2 We Know What We Are, Mary Hamilton, Rose Metal Press How We Move the Air, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, Mayapple Press Felicity & Barbara Pym, Harrison Solow, Cinnamon Press Dream Fishing: Stories, Scott Ely, Livingston Press Under the Small Lights, John Cotter, Miami University Press In the Time of the Girls, Anne Germanacos, BOA Editions Attention Please Now: Stories, Matthew Pitt, Autumn House The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Ben Brooks, Fugue State Press Robot 9 in Wonderland, Louis Phillips, World Audience The Rat Veda, James Chapman, Fugue State Press Flashing My Shorts, Salvatore Buttaci, All Things That Matter Press (pdf copy) Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, Leslie Scalapino, Starcherone Books Bartleby, the Sportscaster, Ted Pelton, Subito Press From the Hilltop, Toni Jensen, Bison Books University of Nebraska Press Life of a Star, Jane Unrue, Burning Deck The River Road, Tricia Currans-Sheehan, New Rivers Press
Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction