Wednesday, May 17, 2006


May 17, 2006

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to referenced article.]



From Eileen Tabios

Chris Murray reviews OBEDIENCE by kari edwards

Barry Schwabsky reviews MERCURY by Simon Smith

Alan Baker reviews UNDER THE MIRACLE BRIDGE FLOWS THE SAND by John Bloomberg-Rissman

Thomas Fink reviews HOME ON THE RANGE (THE NIGHT SKY WITH STARS IN MY MOUTH) by Tenney Nathanson

PR Primeau reviews THE ART OF COUNTRY GRAIN ELEVATORS by Jon Volkmer

William Allegrezza reviews THE BEDSIDE GUIDE TO NO TELL MOTEL, Eds. Molly Arden & Reb Livingston

Mary Jo Malo reviews "PHENOMENA OF INTERFERENCE" by Steve Dalachinsky & Matthew Shipp

Ernesto Priego reviews [WAYS] by Barry Schwabsky & Hong Seung-Lye

Thomas Fink reviews CITY ECLOGUE by Ed Roberson

William Allegrezza reviews DRIVE: THE FIRST QUARTET by Lorna Dee Cervantes

Cati Porter reviews LOCKET by Catherine Daly

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews 2 books by Catherine Daly: LOCKET and DADADA

Julie R. Enszer reviews LEARNING THE LANGUAGE by Kate Greenstreet

David Harrison Horton presents mini-reviews of four chaps: THE BODY ACHES [POEMS AND HAY(NA)KU] by Ernesto Priego; ON EVERY EMPTY LOT by Edward Stresino; LOST AND CERTAIN OF IT by Bryce Milligan; and GAZOOLY by Olivia Cronk

Laurel Johnson reviews from SERIES MAGRITTE by Mark Young

Richard Lopez reviews TYPICAL GIRL by Donna Kuhn

Julie R. Enszer reviews DESIRE PATH by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Silverman & Jennifer Wallace (with a note on the book's publishing format by Sandy McIntosh)

Eileen Tabios reviews MORAINE by Joanna Fuhrman

Jon Leon reviews WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE by Kirby Olson

Barbara Jane Reyes reviews PRECIPITATES by Debra Kang Dean

Laurel Johnson reviews OPERA: POEMS 1981-2002 by Barry Schwabsky

Laurel Johnson reviews ONE THOUSAND YEARS by Corinne Robins


Julie R. Enszer reviews THE UNDERWATER HOSPITAL by Jan Steckel

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz reviews PINOY POETICS, Ed. Nick Carbo

Tom Beckett reviews THE VICIOUS BUNNY TRANSLATIONS by William Allegrezza

Julie R. Enszer reviews POETIC VOICES WITHOUT BORDERS, Ed. Robert L. Giron

Barbara Jane Reyes reviews MUSEUM OF ABSENCES by Luis H. Francia

Julie R. Enszer reviews WAKE-UP CALLS: 66 MORNING POEMS by Wanda Phipps

Yvonne Hortillo reviews OCHRE TONES by Marjorie Evasco

William Allegrezza reviews SOMEHOW by Burt Kimmelman

Laurel Johnson reviews HEADING HOME by Loreta M. Medina

Kyoko Asana reviews SHOT WITH EROS: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Glenna Luschei

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz reviews POETA EN SAN FRANCISCO by Barbara Jane Reyes

Aileen Ibardaloza reviews THE UNABRIDGED JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH (1950-1962), Ed. Karen Kukil

Sandy's Mom reviews Sandy McIntosh's THE AFTER-DEATH HISTORY OF MY MOTHER

Guillermo Juan Parra presents Elizabeth Schön

Andrew Joron presents Brian Lucas


Juliana Spahr reviews BORN TO SLOW HORSES by Kamau Brathwaite

Joshua Corey reviews DOWN SPOOKY by Shanna Compton

Anna Eyre reviews PURR by Mary Ann Samyn

Barbara Jane Reyes reviews OCTOBER LIGHT by Jeff Tagami

Yvonne Hortillo reviews REAL KARAOKE PEOPLE: POEMS AND PROSE by Ed Bok Lee

Eileen Tabios reviews FORBIDDEN ENTRIES by John Yau



I've been/am active as an editor, but Galatea Resurrects (GR) offers the first time that I'm editing a publication which includes -- let alone, focuses on -- poetry reviews. It's an interesting position, for me, because I’ve not had that much interest in reviews (despite occasionally writing some), relative to other poetry matters. I am, however, interested in seeing how others engage with poems and/or poetry -- what moves them. And then sharing such with others in order to draw more attention to poetry's varied wonders.

I prefer that engagement to the notion of review (though I use the word), in part because "review" in some quarters comes with how-to-review paradigms which generally don't interest me. Some of the most effective reviews for me have been those which disrupt conventional review practices (for instance, Bill Marsh's review of Heriberto Yepez's BABBELLEBAB in GR's Inaugural Issue).

Also, I’ve noticed that a poem’s reader often responds (or responds mostly) to aspects of but not necessarily the entirety of the work. The fragment, however, may suffice for generating a meaningful engagement. And why not? In my first book BLACK LIGHTNING, Meena Alexander discusses in part the myth of how one needs to engage with the *totality* of a poem in order to respond significantly; on the contrary, there are many doors into a poem and not all need be opened by the same reader. This POV goes against some "how to review" rules, but it doesn't prevent a legitimate review or engagement, even as it may -- may -- emphasize one's appreciation for that review that attempts to address every single facet of a poem/poetry book.

With GR, I mostly want to facilitate poetry discourse, for which I honor the most incremental addition to such. For more background about how I came to deploy GR, you also can read my Introduction to GR's inaugural issue here. There, you'll see my primary intent as facilitating discourse on poetry, regardless, by the way, of whether it's negative or positive -- given subjectivity, I don't think being disliked is an insult to a poem; the real insult to a poem is indifference. In fact, since GR is open to seeing more than one review of the same publication, over time GR can start to show different engagements with the same work -- as already begins with this issue as some of the books reviewed were also addressed by GR's first issue.

This all is also to say, as of this second issue, I am renaming the subtitle of this journal from “(A Poetry Review)” to “(A Poetry Engagement)”. Though the interactions occur through “reviews,’ my intent for GR is really to engage. And I don’t -- as I said in my Introduction to the inaugural issue -- want to preordain (by evoking how-to-review rules) how others, including critics, should read poems. I also like the wordplay as regards “engagement”: some engagements are negative, positive or a mixture -- and not all lead to marriage. Of course, as someone who married Mr/s Poetry, I hope that engagements lead to a fulsome love of a poet(s)’s work, though GR doesn’t discriminate from preventing evidence of others’ aborted love affairs.

Relatedly, while recently cleaning out my files, I stumbled across what I think is the first poetry review I've written: a 1997 review of John Yau's 1996 collection, FORBIDDEN ENTRIES (Black Sparrow). I've reprinted it as the last review presented in this issue -- unchanged from its first (so please hold the tomatoes!) attempt at a critical POV as regards poetry. And I present it today despite the outdatedness of some of its concerns because its existence still relates to the timeless joy of falling in love with poems. I'd never heard of John Yau when I stumbled across his "Conversation at Midnight" in the American Poetry Review; I love(d) that poem so much it made me check out John's other books, which then came to inform much of my education as a newbie poet exploring the foreign language of poetry. I love(d) FORBIDDEN ENTRIES so much that it even made me attempt something new: write a poetry review...! All this, of course, understates the pleasures of having engaged with John Yau's poems -- a joy that I wish for all who read poetry.

Ultimately, when it comes to engaging with a poem, I find the notion of “review” as one that can be too limiting. As Charles Bernstein once wrote (in one of my favorite lines by him such that I once quoted it while writing a review of an art exhibit):

"you can't leave the theater humming the critique".

The deadline for submitting reviews for the next issue is Aug. 5, 2006. You can review books you own or ask for review copies sent to us. GR also is open to all styles of reviewing. I accept all forms, though would suggest generally that it's a good idea to provide excerpts of poems to exemplify reviewers' assessments. For more information, go to Galatea's Purse here.

You can ask me for suggestions, of course, but as it turns out, I rarely assign reviews; 99% of the reviewed titles are chosen by the reviewers themselves. That's all fine as I don't wish to limit reviewed titles to only those which I like. I am here (I first typed "hear") to listen -- and learn about poetry projects new to me -- as much as to "edit." For this issue, I'm particularly grateful to Mrs. McIntosh for rising from the dead so as to grace us with a review of her ungrateful son's poetry book. Without all you reviewers coming to the mountain where I perch, brewing up ideas to cure insomnia, GR would not exist.

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
May 17, 2006

Tuesday, May 16, 2006



obedience by kari edwards
(Factory School, 2005)

where i leave my wings and leave my limitations behind: kari edwards' obedience

Gender activist kari edwards writes a poetry of kinetic energy in perpetual linguistic flux, a poetry of "bodies in motion" (12),

rising with the sun
caught in non-newtonian motion
from zero to infinity times ten

The poetry of obedience flows in acrobatically stunning, quick shifts of dialectics, transformative reversals, "forms forming" (20) in "continuousness reruns/ continuously replenishing" (21). This poetry is an act of carefully combing through ideas as one's fingers would comb through beach sand looking for that one special thing--a shell, a creature, a lost ring, an old spoon--that one knows intuitively must be there, even if one is not yet sure what that found-thing will turn out to be, or, that it may never be found. The goal is not what matters--the quest is what matters. Here is a genuine poetic quest, a tracing that combs through the act of philosophizing life in a continuous present--of thinking aloud--via turns of compressed image and allusion, fluid person(s) (variety of voices and speaking positions), emotive action, artfully alliterative and consonant sound involved in "rejuvenating the naked, creating vast flames that leap to tomorrow's tomorrows in a word, on a body made of non-objects not objecting to themselves ... a figure that is flesh ... a dream surging on a plane ... rising against the ... walls of hate" (69). Reading this I am sadly reminded once again that hate is a purely human invention: in fact, implicated regularly when "a species disappears" because "we live in a spectrum of hatred" (13). Yes, then: obedience raises a communal voice that is volatile and harsh toward hatred, yet also full of beautifully transformative energy, a lively chorus of compassionate song countering the panoply of human violence, poetic song holding forth against the painful, debilitating, deadly effects of myriad hatred.

* * *

This kinetic poetry is not merely a function of the verb to be, a factor of 'is'. The poetry is not is; rather, it feels. This poetry feels close to the body-as-loved, close to the vital fluidity, the blood that sustains and cares for the body. Indeed, there is something of "blood" on nearly every page--blood, both as let ("... a knife, a bullet, a blood clot/ stars and stripes) figuratively-politically, and as sustaining life ("blood donors") (20). Thus, as readers we are drawn in by this recognition of blood, a most common, shared element of physical humanity--rather than being distanced by the word as object on a page. We are continually embodied rather than othered by this poetry. Its kinesis, in effect, is a literal form of inspiration: while reading, especially if reading aloud, the poem-speakers are felt as beings, as if running a language-to-life gauntlet until nearly breathless; speakers are continually uttering thoughts in a rush toward that peak moment when the lungs are depleted and must be, then finally are, filled. Replenished with fresh, life-giving oxygen, as in this passage:

call it blows against life
so powerful
so furious
so blood thirsty
call it whatever
call it
tears in a clairvoyant downpour
a gasoline rainbow
a sophist who mistakes
touch for a dream
a dream for an infection
curvature of space for an optical

I am talking about an antechamber
of words
petrified forest of images
faucets dripping from the underground
a ball of wax and second class citizens
a replica who counts
ad infinitum
till the bones are crushed to the last breath

* * *

This fluid interchange of energetic words, body, and things exists not so much in the subconscious arenas of mind and culture proposed and cultivated by surrealism and Dada, but more as a primordial chamber for sorting and reflecting, "an antechamber," or a twilight region of pre-consciousness, a Kristevan almost-place (akin to Kristeva's notion of the semiotic chora) of Dickinson-like proportion, of possibility. Yet a possibility evolved more out of an emphasis on the transformative, one that fruitfully never quite attains a fullness of having (nor knowing) its name. That is because it is a condition of possibility that recognizes it is always in semiotic metonymic motion.

* * *

The notion of transformative possibility is alluded to right from the start of obedience. The book begins with two short epigrams, one a line about discovering knowledge, taken from the ancient Hindu mystic-spiritual guide, the Upanishads. The other--a line about the universal import to everyday life of the notion of "possibility"--taken from gender theorist Judith Butler: "Possibility is not a luxury; it is as crucial as bread" (obedience, 5). The import of a Butlerian, poetic form of "possibility" to kari edwards and to this book cannot be over-emphasized. The quote comes from Butler's landmark 2004 text, Undoing Gender (Oxford UK, Routledge, 29), a work that questions gendering from the perspective of transformative physis, ethos, and logos via transsexuality understood not only as a figuratively performative phenomenon and state of being to be enacted or staged, but as a radical act of transforming gender in all aspects of self and being: body, mind, spirit: as the ultimate radicalizing and exercise of agency in one's episteme. Transsexuality as an act, then, that entirely unseats the cultural and socio-political centrality of heterosexuality. As a transsexual, kari edwards innovatively writes to, speaks from, having experienced this as struggle, as often painful yet a uniquely transformative state of being, a state of profound "possibility," where one is always "giving birth to an appropriation of the self into the other... dying in dying ... a death with a welcome or replayed on a final end, only to begin again" (51). The cycle is one of renewal, and as Butler notes, of "improvisation" (Undoing Gender, 1). And as one speaker in obedience puts it, the experience is akin to declaring "myself a border interloper... [I] adjust to delux adjectives" (18), and one might add, also a far more nuanced texture and complexity of pronouns.

* * *

As subtext, one particular "possibility" conceptualized in obedience is that identity is permeable; "possibility" refuses to be fixed with, to be burdened by, a rigidly defined name, a narrowly defined identity. The "I" speaks to, continues a relationship with, a "you" transformatively, implying fluid interchangeability. The "possibility" that conditions this speaking "I" foregoes the predictable, the compartmentalization that would occur in the inescapable and stiffly maintained hierarchies of bureaucracy and socialization packed onto identity by designations of gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, that inevitably occur in language and culture. This transformative possibility of "I" refuses to be named (defined) even if to ride the wave of resisting being named is costly for the individual in every possible human way. In that sense, then, this poetry is particularly political: an in-your-face, on-going response to the inadequacies and insufferable limitations of identity, the narrowness and rigidity of taxonomical language and the sense of community as merely systematic and singular, in terms of shared being.

* * *

The energy of this poetry is realized by the act of writing, which is an ongoing attempt to ride the wave of, yet never attain, complete or absolutist definitions. The act and energy of this poetry make productive, material use of that desirous, intangible paradox of thought, imagination, moment, and the experience of fluidly being-with/in-thingness. We hardly have words for that phenomenon, and that is the challenge this poetry takes on. Through the writing process, to make manifest that which (knowingly!) can never really be, except in passing. As Martin Buber might say, to make manifest the full presence of the I-in-Thou in relation to the I-in-It. For, the poetry of obedience also speaks of a spiritual quest to know or to be part of that linguistic and material space Buber called Thou, which designates the abstracted familiar being, the spiritual other, the unnamable entity that all being exists in relation to, in dialogue with. In other words, the same entity or Thou to which the first, most ancient poetry was addressed. To speak in and out of that paradoxical relation is a large part of the project in obedience, to reveal how "I am you," (7) and that, materially and linguistically, we all originate from being

conjoined in the erotic
in a cavity between
slight and never
evaporating human voices

And "and": the simplest of conjunctions underscoring the fact of being conjoined. And: with which poetic allusion to life and art this passage puts Plato to shame for underestimating and then banning poets and poetry. Moreover, Freud and Lacan are allusively targeted for their patronizing pathetic fallacy of male-centeredness, while Luce Irigaray's groundbreaking work in talking back to the fathers (Plato, Freud, and Lacan) and asserting an unequivocal feminist presence in psycholanalytic and philosophical discourse is no less alluded to with an applauding, deft wit.

* * *

The poetic challenge here is also to grapple with the innerness of thought, its silence(s) and its self-silencing, in relation to the outer-ness of power where one is "powerless to say" (67), especially against "arrogant bigotry" (48). To talk back and to assert oneself in the face of bald violence(s) emanating from such outer forces as "helicopter gun-ships" and "an army of" (what amounts to near-compulsory) "heterosexuality in the name of god and country" (77), which evokes the continued need for gender activism in word and in deed. Such, yet again, marks one of the most damaging and narrowest limitations of having/accepting a name, of committing the act of naming, even of self-naming, even as self-empowerment--given that westernized languages, which ultimately form human consciousness of self and world, divide and classify human speakers by a deceptively (laughably) narrow, binaristic number of gender positions: one is supposed to fit oneself in as either "he," or "she," only, a conceptualization that forsakes all states of sweet in-betweeness and any possibility of interchangeability, or newly-created, as yet unnamed and transformative positions. Add to that the implication of a further travesty of language, insofar as language narrowly limits other beings by ascribing to them (of the plant and animal worlds) the ingloriously, sub-human, indefinite referent position: "it."

* * *

So, here is a poetry grappling with how to speak oneself out of that conundrum, how to speak thought so as to make it physically manifest as self-empowerment, a initiation into the predominant mainstay of change in discourse: "argument," with its hegemony of causality in western letters and culture, thus, courageously: venturing into argument as a poetic way to enable the disempowered,

...because in the very being, that brings being into play, brings an argument
to a position of because, being the force behind a wall no longer speaking, held captive with probing hands, attempting to make sense of senselessness in a senseless world, inhabiting the living in an object, concerned with the impossible aberration of too many hyphenated words, finding what will crevice on the surface, thinking surface, thinking forgetting -- forgetting thinking, passing completely through being in a wild rhapsody of utter faking, making sense of sense, making a square, faking a square, making the concrete blur, making the unheard unblind, everywhere in interstate cemeteries.

Why courageous?--because language (in the broadest Derridean sense of the term), in all its inadequacy and narrowing, is all we have to be ourselves with, and with others. Think about it, the desolation of that recognition.

* * *

I want to conclude here by calling attention to how kari edward's obedience opens. The first line is "let's begin" followed immediately by these lines:

there are mental facts
as potent as physical facts
let's start again
with a theory of law
bodies of resistance
a miraculous wonder striptease

The book--really one long poem, a poetic journey--goes on to end, paradoxically with the echoing line, "let's begin again" (82), which is the eloquently sole occupant of the last page, but never the last word on this journey. For, if the word is limiting, it is also fluid, thus recycles, "again" and yet "again." In that humble construction is signified, aptly enough, both purpose for poetry and hope for its speaker(s). Few books of poetry have grappled so successfully with so much of philosophical and cultural significance. Given the profundity of this book, and the innovativeness of this author, I cannot wait to see what poetic challenges kari edwards will take on in hir next journey.


Chris Murray's poetry and reviews can be found in Sentence 2/3/4, LIT 10, American Book Review (forthcoming, July 06), Jacket 29, Black Spring 1, Score19, Fascicle 2,Yale Angler's Journal, Mem 3, Shampoo Poetry, Blaze Vox, Sidereality, Moria, can we have our ball back?, Eclectica, and Znine. With Hoa Nguyen & Susan Briante, Chris curates the print journal, Super Flux. A 2004 chapbook, Meme Me Up, Scotty! can be acquired via Since March 2003 Chris has been blogging poetry & poetics at chris murray's Texfiles. Chris teaches rhetoric and literature, and directs the writing center at University of Texas at Arlington.



Mercury by Simon Smith
(Salt Publishing, Cambridge, UK, 2006)

Before I moved to London from New York a few years ago I had little acquaintance with contemporary poetry in England. Yes, I knew Lee Harwood’s work pretty well, and Geoffrey Hill’s too; Tom Raworth’s rather less so. I’d read Christopher Logue’s “accounts” of Homer and, because I’d liked Christopher Middleton’s translations from the German, a bit of his own poetry as well. J.H. Prynne was more than just a rumor to me, certainly, but not a lot more. Of younger poets, I knew nothing.

Only after I’d arrived did my ignorance strike me as odd. I began trying to catch up with my new context but quickly saw it wouldn’t be easy. A lot of British poetry was and is hard for me to “hear” even when I can see that it is good. Reading it could be something like reading poetry in a foreign language one happens to know quite well.

So things stood when a mutual acquaintance suggested I check out a London-based poet named Simon Smith. Eventually I got around to googling him to get a sense of who he might be and what he was up to. Learning that he had a forthcoming book, his second, called Reverdy Road--it was about to be published by Salt in 2003--I was immediately intrigued: Not only do I love Pierre Reverdy’s poetry, but having come across the street near where I live in south-east London, I too had written a poem called “On Reverdy Road.” So I got the book as soon as it came out: a revelation: Resembling nothing I was familiar with in American poetry despite name-checking Jack Spicer and clear affinities with the New York School’s love of speed, wit, and variousness of tone, it had a music I could tune right into, something very much its own though it has also helped me, I think, hear my way into the work of some of Smith’s British contemporaries. In Reverdy Road I found a new English poetry I could hear every bit as clearly as I could that of the Americans who were opening my eyes and ears at the time, the likes of Eleni Sikelianos, Linh Dinh, K. Silem Mohammad, and so on.

Now Smith has published Mercury, very much a continuation of the project begun in Reverdy Road (not with his first book, Fifteen Exits, published by Waterloo Press in 2001). The sheer quantity of his production--the two books together amounting to nearly 400 pages of poetry produced in the course of just four years (but then they are well-aerated pages)--is further evidence of a great creative ferment. I, who always urge more severe editing on anyone who will listen, would not wish to have a page less of this oeuvre. Perhaps that’s because Smith succeeds in elevating poetry above the poem. What I mean by this is that the book on the one hand and the line on the other--what one might call the macropoem and the micropoem--become more striking, in his work, than the intermediate unit of the poem, thereby alerting us to an idea of poetic activity as a matter of quite small and oblique momentary acts of articulation and perception, on the one hand, and of the steady, ongoing process of awareness and accumulation through which those moments can be cultivated, sustained, and amplified, on the other, more than of an effort toward self-enclosed, autotelic form. In this aesthetic, the end of the poem has nothing to do with closure, being little more than the necessary moment of rest, a systole. Smith nonetheless retains the division of the book into poems, it might almost seem for the convenience of it more than anything else. The individual poems’ brief, almost negligible titles--“Bet Wit,” “Tee Hee,” “Heaps,” “Of,” “Slips Light,” “Day One”, to cite one sequence almost at random from early in Mercury’s first section--can seem arbitrarily assigned, like the ones some abstract painters give their canvases, yet by their very fragmentariness slyly crack a window open onto the world we’ll glimpse in the lines that follow.

Smith does not believe in rigorous consistency, so that anything one might notice as a rule of thumb about his practice will always be contradicted somewhere but, in general, each line is also a stanza--that is, a space separates it from the next, introducing a disjunction even where there might otherwise appear continuity--that begins with a capital letter (that is to say, each line represents a new beginning) and breaks off without punctuation (though there are beginnings, there are no endings). It’s not unusual for a poem to end in mid-phrase: “You or me sweep end on a”; “It seems we can six months in which brings me to”; “You saying when we are for this experience and drop off the edge there we”--or even in mid-word: “Take the ch.” At the same time, each line tends feel as if it could stand alone, in a musical sense though not in a grammatical one, as a “complete fragment,” if one can speak of such a thing. Again, one could give samples almost at random. Here is the beginning of a poem titled “Pfuff”:

Into the glass the sunset and its long arm

Raindrops dissolve low visibility equals grey light

Like my eyes like yours and other reference points

The playing card is the traffic island

And here, in its entirety, “In Reality,” which gives an example of one of Smith’s ways of making his fragmentary lines bear a syntactical overabundance rather than the syntactical deficiency one would normally expect (and which he also puts to good use):

An appointment book with a black cover machine-stamped
             “2004” inscribed in gold

The dreams that die in small children’s eyes shining snow

Black and white “still” colour on the video “hiya” starts off

Where we left it at the stair’s foot

“Now” too quick to record whatever you do with your mouth

Smith manages to sidestep the dichotomy--bizarrely significant to the discourse around contemporary poetry in the UK, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom--of accessibility vs. difficulty. Neither word applies here (the back cover is just wrong in claiming these as “poems that say difficult things simply”) maybe because this poetry is more concerned with its own doings than with an effect on some proposed reader. Other poetry can seem desperate and mannered by comparison. An immense energy passes through the field of this poetry but the poem does not want to concentrate that energy to produce a massive force. It is open, striving neither to impose a meaning nor to evade one. It’s neither personal nor impersonal. One might wonder casually, for instance, about the identity of the Michelle who recurs in many of the poems but it’s clear that whatever she means to the poet may not be what she means to the poem. Likewise, it does not gather itself around a topic. The subject is poetry itself as a form of awareness, an attitude toward contemporary urban life. If there is a formula, it might be the advice-to-self given in the poem “Rain”:

Squeeze Reality into as tight

A space as possible

--but now in case you’re wondering about the grandiloquence embodied in that capital “R” Reality--isn’t that a tad sententious?--watch what happens next to it. Let’s start again:

Squeeze Reality into as tight

A space as possible the capital “R”

Crushed through a thin mouth to “r”

Is that making too much of a letter? Doesn’t the poem have bigger things to attend to? Well, no, not when the letter is what reality gets squeezed through in order to make a poem. Or as “Chair,” one of a number of single-line poems in the book would have it,

As a letter acts the repository of the immediate


Barry Schwabsky is an American poet and art critic living in London. His most recent publication is the chapbook Tephra, from Black Square Editions.


ALAN BAKER reviews

Under The Miracle Bridge Flows the Sand by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Bamboo Books, Culver City. CA., 2006)

The Californian poet John Bloomberg-Rissman has a substantial body of work behind him: several collections, a Selected Poems and a large-scale, unpublished work, 'Travels to Capitals' which draws on the poetry of Michael Palmer and the artwork of Donald Evans. Most of this work is self-published in limited editions and on his website ( Bloomberg-Rissman's early work has the American virtues of plain speech and direct statement, with conventional first-person narration. A quiet, humane and humorous voice. More recently however, he has adopted techniques such as random word-generation, and has blended his more conventional voice with alternative forms of discourse. Incorporations from other writers, snatches of news reports, overheard conversations and other 'found' language all appear in a single poem. The result is a fascinating and at times powerful mix. The pamphlet under review is representative of his current output.

The opening poem is in memory of a close relative of the poet; a moving and dignified piece using few words, but hinting at larger vistas and associations (it reminds me of Bunyan and is in fact abstracted from American poet Ronald Johnson’s RADIO OS -- itself an abstraction of Milton):

all is

the O


wonder passing through fire


from noon to

trumpet’s sound

The word “and”, repeated again at the poem’s close, leaves the poem open, expressing the life lamented as part of a larger process.

One of the things that appeals to me about this poetry is its philosophy of life, that it’s optimistic, yet realistic, aware of a spiritual dimension, but never pompous or dogmatic; and there's an anarchic side to these poems that manages to deflate authorial pretensions:

In the film jet fuel froze but
the hero could still light
a match. Is that science?
It's hard to say something
intelligent about a dishtowel, so
I hung one up instead.
Every moment a zen master
Slap. Thanks for the link
to the self-defense nightstand.

but there's also an undertone of grief and sorrow, and some bitterness:

Out the window
Xmas lights,
Ho ho ho,
Torture prisons,
Unseasonable heat…

...When you call
I say ‘yes!’

And count the angels
dancing on a pin.

And the ghosts.

…Old fools
both of us
to feel things.

Maybe it's an American thing, but Bloomberg-Rissman seems to be able to write first-person, anecdotal verse and make it significant and untrivial. Most contemporary British poetry in that vein fails to do that; I'm not sure why, but it may be to do with the American idiom being open and democratic, while the British vernacular always seems conscious of an inferiority which may have to do with social class (although there are notable exceptions: Lee Harwood for instance). In Bloomberg-Rissman quotidian details can have an almost stately quality:

Some days last centuries.

The tire is changed.

The bird has gone

That's part 1

Part 2:

I shook all night
Till the 3rd ativan.

And there's some skillful interweaving of idioms. In the poem 'For K' we have the plain-spoken lines:

You say, I
Wouldn't be young again
For anything. Age may ache,
Is also ease.

and in the same, very personal, poem, we have:

By the

Moon, a vapor X. If
It's a riddle the
answer's obviously. Controlled burn.

cinema verité.

which then moves seamlessly back into plain statement. This is skillful stuff, and a long way from the straightforward manner of his early work; an altogether richer mix.

This collection includes two translations, one by the Columbian poet Héctor Rojas Herazo, and three sonnets by the Belgian Miriam Van hee, both of which work well and fit in with the general tone.

To my mind, the finest poem in this pamphlet is 'After 3, 5 Weeks', a homage to the guitarist Derek Bailey. What does it for me is the musicality and the fluidity of movement, the feeling of improvisation that's just right for its subject:

If blue sky. If twenty
Tiny clouds, quietly, quietly. If
O, if o, if only.
Between fear and fear and
The other thing. 4:48 in

The morning. Stars swirl. Above
Dark trees. I can't
Use every word. May all
Beings find peace. Falling into.
Falling out of. This or

Any other inimitable.


Alan Baker lives in Nottingham, England. He publishes the Leafe Press pamphlet series, is editor of the webzine Litter and is assistant editor of Poetry Nottingham. His most recent (and third) pamphlet of poetry is 'The Strange City' (Secretariat Books, UK).



Home on the Range (The Night Sky with Stars in My Mouth) by Tenney Nathanson
(O Books, Oakland, CA, 2005)

The author of a major tome on Walt Whitman, Tenney Nathanson in Home on the Range (The Night Sky with Stars in My Mouth) has produced a long collage-poem of Whitmanian energy and scope. The poem consists of 108 dizains (ten-line stanzas), and Nathanson has created diverse effects within this form in an unusual way: he has packed in so many overgrown “versets” in some sections that they take up much more space than others. Occasionally, two-and-a-half dizains fit on one page, whereas one section sometimes occupies more than a page. While there is variety in the alternation among medium length, long, very long, and outrageously long lines within a single section, the overall impression given is that of a breathless onrush of poetic data.

Much of this data, a little more than half in each section, comes from “intertexts,” as Nathanson’s list—one book per section (except in Dizain 70)—at the end of the book calls them. Many major British, American, and continental modernist (and nineteenth century) fiction writers serve as sources. Poetry by Whitman (of course) and Frost, literary criticism, critical theory, cultural studies, Zen texts, a scientific treatise, and a diet book are also included. The variety of intertexts allows for ample diversity in verbal texture.

Dizain 5, whose source texts are three different essays from Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, begins with the line: “messengers is law a gloomy way a firm place in a long existence impossible here.” Nathanson’s source is the essay, “Franz Kafka,” in which Benjamin writes: “What may be discerned . . . in the activities of those messengers is law in an oppressive and gloomy way for this whole group of beings. None has a firm place in the world. . . . There is not one that is not either rising or falling, . . . none that is not deeply exhausted and yet is only at the beginning of a long existence. To speak of any order or hierarchy is impossible here” (117). Notice that Nathanson severs the copular link of discernment and “law” (and the secondary importance of “messengers”) in the original passage and gives us the grammatically strange equation making the servants of “law”—which might include language as well as human functionaries—identical to this authority. Indeed, in the “gloomy way” of Kafka’s work—and the feel of this comes through in dizain 81, whose intertext is The Castle—bureaucrats embody the full force of coercive regulations for hapless citizens. While Benjamin emphasizes individuals’ lack of security (“firm place”) and the “long existence” of their suffering, the poet ties “firm place” and “long existence” to the “law” before undercutting the notion of firmness with “impossible here,” which in the original passage was linked with a declaration about “order’s” absence. However different Nathanson’s deployment of the intertext’s words, effects of his collaging convey some of the darkness of Kafka’s work and Benjamin’s interpretation of it.

Obviously, the kind of intertextual labor I performed in the previous paragraph is not a practical overall reading strategy. But a general awareness of possible traces of the source text in harmony or conflict with Nathanson’s own words enhances the reading experience, as in Dizain 44, where scientific discourse from Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions , and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory is juxtaposed with “natural” imagery of Nathanson’s own approximation of a Thoreau-like transcendentalism: “Focused on the electron, this discussion charged particles the same way that rocks on everyday sanctum increase in strength/ sitting and dwindling down into wind, rain, the flecked rocks hunkered and washed by the lake, your insight breathing/ short theories of 10 space-time dimensions.”

The poet’s mode of collagistic presentation does not deliver hard information like scientific findings to the reader; his “discussion” can “charge” heterogeneous “particles” of discourse to “increase” the “strength” of multi-contextual suggestiveness. “Rocks” could be stable enough to support an “everyday sanctum,” but the phrase’s potent strangeness exceeds its aptness in importance. Note how enjambments between the first and second and between the second and third lines are not arbitrary; for example, phenomenological “insight” about nature can inspire (“breathe”) much more abstract, theoretical formulations; the two are parallel ways of experiencing/measuring “reality.”

Depriving canonical fiction of its narrative motion through fragmentation, Nathanson retains some of the thematic charge and feeling tone of not-so “empty words.” Lines taken from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter foreground the pun in a central after-effect’s name and convey the pleasure/agony of Hester’s union: “on the wooded hills of no scandal, shine, pearl/ passionately his burning walked among kindred, so pure in horror. He bids you” (Dizain 33). The “range” (scope) that Nathanson is at “home” on is a wide array of scriptive cultural artifacts. Collage deployment of that scope engenders the “homelessness” of the between, of intertextuality: such poetry ranges in ways that a time-traveling Whitman would probably judge to “contain [new and old] multitudes”: “say I also return, translucent, beetles rolling balls of dung, winds surging, shaded, are the others down/ and sundered, no, they’re down where the tall grass twines under the oak tree having a Swabian picnic. swell” (Dizain 92).


Thomas Fink, Professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia, is the author of two books of criticism, including A DIFFERENT SENSE OF POWER (2001), and three books of poetry, most recently AFTER TAXES (Marsh Hawk, 2004). His work has appeared in JACKET, VERSE, TALISMAN, CHICAGO REVIEW, DENVER QUARTERLY, x-Stream, MORIA, MILK, AUGHT, OCTOPUS, CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE, AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW, and numerous other journals and ezines. Fink's paintings hang in various collections.


PR PRIMEAU reviews

The Art of Country Grain Elevators by Jon Volkmer
(Bottom Dog Press, 2006)


Jon Volkmer is the Thomas Hart Benton of contemporary poetry. That is, without the Benton's rampant misogyny, nasty anti-intellectualism, and general abrasiveness. It is in his dirt simple illumination of working folk’s trials and triumphs that he falls into close alignment with the self-described “enemy of Modernism.” Volkmer remains loyal to his American roots; in terms of both structure and content, his poetry stands in stunning contrast to current poetic trends.

In sixteen poems planted among black and white photos capturing classic Heartland imagery (courtesy of Bruce Selyem), Volkmer presents a world of sun-scorched backs, calloused palms, and gruff voices. The Art of Country Grain Elevators takes the reader on a long ramble through the Nebraskan countryside. Despite being a professor of creative writing at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, the poet’s voice is that of an aged husker. His steady, genuine verse suggests a sort of wizened insight inherited through a family line whose blood, sweat, and prayers have long fertilized Nebraskan soil.

In “Rats”, Volkmer paints a gruesome scene: hired hands stomping on baby rodents, snuffing the life from them as they scramble into the open. An indirect but deeply stirring meditation on natural order, the poet writes: “they did a silly stomping jig/I clapped, until I saw the tiny bursts of fur/‘But Dad!’ I said, ‘they’re babies!’/‘But what?’ he said, ‘they’re rats.’” With those lines Volkmer grasps by the neck the dark poetry and crude justice of rural life.

“Epitaph on a Three-Block Main Street” is a melancholy reflection on lost towns and lost lives -- on lost history. Volkmer conjures up places that “can’t be found, not on a map” and villages whose very foundations have been worn away by the stiff winds which blow forever across the plains. The specter of the ghost town arises on both a physical and spiritual level; the reader imagines the poet’s voice shrinking to a forlorn whisper as he concludes, “You have to visit the nursing homes/to find a handful who remember/where Table Rock was…”

In one of the collection’s finest pieces, Volkmer artfully sketches the perverse intimacy which exists between a farmer and his seed. “Dust” is divided into curt verses which argue from this perspective and that as to which crop “killed man first.” “Wheat can be funny/smelling almost of bread/And the shit you cough up/kind of looks like dough.” The poem is wreathed in black humor, though it concludes on a macabre note: “I knew milo was the worst of all/because Old Vaughn said so/and he had to spit out/the oxygen tube/to say so.”

Largely avoiding the bold typography, sharp line-breaks, and raucous subject matter which typify much of poetry these days, Volkmer has crafted rich and authentic poems which speak to the soul and come from the hearts, hands, and hard work of Midwesterners. His sensible diction and populist undertones are refreshing breaks from the transgressive experimentation of the avant-garde and the snooze cruise that is more mainstream poetry. The Art of Country Grain Elevators is the hymnal of the everyman farmer, the tireless laborer, and the blue collar Joe whose lives blaze marvelous in their simplicity. Here we have Woody Guthrie with a dash of confused nostalgia, maybe Robert Frost stripped of Yankee trappings, perhaps even Richard Brautigan sans marijuana. Such beautiful Americana comes along all too infrequently in these busy, postmodern days. Quiet but powerful, Volkmer’s prairie songs can -- should! -- be savored by everyone from the schooled poet to the school janitor.


PR PRIMEAU is manager-in-chief of PERSISTENCIA*PRESS and the editor of Dirt, a 'zine of minimalist poetry and poetics. His work has appeared in Skald, Eratio, moria, minimum daily requirements, fhole, Yawp, and Starfish.



The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, Edited by Reb Livingston & and Molly Arden
(No Tell Press, 2006)

Naughty, naughty, naughty—how often do we get to say those words about a poetry anthology? Not often, but they definitely apply to Reb Livingston’s and Molly Arden’s The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel. Just listen to some of the section titles for this work: “Discretion and its Discontent,” “Techniques Guaranteed to Please,” “The Difference Between Seduction and Manipulation.” Our seductive editors tell us in their foreword, “These poems aren’t ‘desperate,’ they’re naughty, incorrigible, precocious, stimulating and exhilarating.” Even more, these sexy poems are written by some great poets (with buttons undone for our viewing pleasure!), such as Noah Eli Gordon, Catherine Daly, Amy King, Ravi Shankar, Shanna Compton, and Shin Yu Pai. Eighty-four poets focus on the sensual in this book, and that makes for anything but an ordinary anthology.

When I first picked up this book, the titles alone were titillating: “Überdesigned Happy Juice,” “After Ten Years Together, We Sneak Off to Make Out in Someone’s Closet,” “No Bra Required,” “The Vacuum.” After such titles, the poems have a steep task, but most of the poets are up to the work. Take this bit from Ravi Shankar’s “Simpatico”:

               What exists but now, wet and pulmonary,
rinsed of context like two glasses used to mix a drink—
what’s not soluble in liquid exchange?
Personally, I’d trade my kingdom for your clavicle,
the chance to draw a bow across the viola of your hips.

Come on! Doesn’t that at least make you loosen your collar? In this excerpt alone, we’ve a sense of carpe diem combined with the sensual “wet and pulmonary” thrown on top of a delicate touch of the hips. That’s good. Other poets in this collection are no less adept at depicting desire, the problems of declining desire, or the complications of love.

At this point if you are thinking, anyone can write about sex; what’s the big deal? These poets explore desire (and its surrounding friends) from a variety of angles. Take, for example, a selection from Shin Yu Pai’s “tie me up, tie me down”:

the Western tradition:
a punishment

reserved for
           petty thieves
            wife beaters


unforetold perversions
            in the land of the rising sun:

            a feudal obsession with sex

In this excerpt Shin Yu Pai explores sex as a colonized thing or sex as a violent colonizing agent. It would be hard to say she’s writing about just sex. In her piece, as in many of this collection’s poems, sex is multilayered beyond the many layers it already has on a person-to-person level. That in itself is a reason to go out and buy this book. Just make sure you’re not alone when reading it!


William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, covering over, Temporal Nomads, Lingo, and Ladders in July.


MARY JO MALO reviews

“phenomena of interference” by Steve Dalachinsky & Matthew Shipp
(Mastered & produced by Assif Tsahar, recorded at Tonic 7/23/2005. Released 2005)

Ever since I discovered Steve Dalachinsky's work I've been curious to know if he really understands what he's talking about. His poetry seems to me more like a hypnogogic/hypnopompic dream language. You know the place, where color and sound and word interchange to make non-sense? But now I know differently. Dalachinsky is a poet, himself a medium where all these conspire to produce singular works of art. He spontaneously crafts a coherent and perceptible phenomenon from the chaos we too easily name as knowledge. His earth is a colorful cacophonous place where the music of the spheres and blood and piss and shit combine to make something worth remembering, though we probably won't. Perhaps the feelings and images shot from his recordings will remain via the technology we so easily dismiss. Did you know that the iridescence of a CD is caused by the interference of light waves?

Matthew Shipp's piano and Dalachinsky's poetry have combined to produce their best album yet. Yuko Otomo's cover art is elegant and appropriate, stark black and red on white. Speaking of color, Dalachinsky always writes passionately about it, using it like someone who's suddenly rendered color-blind, someone shredded by their desire to see it again. The color of fruit, the blue of the sky, all of it unmasked from its grayscale disguise.

With this album he has found the physics of his poetry. He typically expresses a Zen comprehension of the something that emerges from nothing, and the music that arises from silence; but now he reveals a recognition of the principles of physics, the (un)predictability of a quantum universe. He serves up a delicious platter or palette of sound and shadow, a digestible meal with all senses commingling. One word suggests others and a sound suggests a word or a color or traffic sign. Doors are always closing but a window is sometimes a way out.

It's the raucous NYC microcosm baby, with schizoid shamans playing blackjack, and where Gal I Leo stargazes but plays us a no-frills evening, selling us the myth of meaning in SUBWAY SYSTEMS:

chill          reflect the myriad
of hopefuls & the din's aswirlin here
like the way reason flames this season . . .
put down that card and roll . . .

       wash         the jordan (narc)few turns'round
        the we are its center
        motion moon planet         (S)(T)(A)(R)
what the milky way is made
of what the stuff of dreams reads seam of traffiker
when those edges go how long the riff goes on how close the comer gets . . .
(Gal I Leo)


But my words don't do his words justice. You have to hear him interject copyright, click, imprint, omit, emit, money, honest, repeatedly with agitation throughout a pome. I admire his juxtaposition of a night sky with consumerism!

How can I describe 3 orchids for niblock? Chthonic, erotic, primal? Uttering glossolalia, he speaks a ménage à trois straining to give birth to something, but what? The impossible, the inexpressible. And then there are the trust fund babies of both kinds, and the other-colors America.

The directness of embracement:

       if I travel with You
further than this Spot
beyond my discontent
        to embracement
        to silence
& springtime
        do you promise me a place on the charts
with a bullet


He observes and then tells us about julie and a musician:

he played
        just for you
                tonite julie
        he may not know
        you may not know it
but every flower
        on your
                rich dark
        felt the moisture
         his bell


Did you know that light waves interfere either destructively (by eliminating each other) or constructively (by combining into larger waves)? From the title pome in which he proclaims that he will not say, but he does, and incredulously sounds like he can't believe it.

tho nothing is without color as
nothingness itself in B&W is illuminated by its primaries
                                Bio-logic the politic of color elected
from the tip of the candle to its base ( nothing is in simple b & w
                                tho the DARK is so difficult to penetrate
                 for the dark contains all that it is not ) . . .

i cannot believe i said "rainbows" . . .


secrets                 refract ures
        white reflects & black
        the sound of color
        the color of sound
        where thought forms
        & voice forms
        & sand turns to glass . . .

( did i say color? did i say sound?)


You could read the entire lyrics booklet from this beautifully packaged CD and never come close to what you will taste and experience when you hear him bust a sound wave. Dalachinsky has never performed with more intensity. He finds it all by losing it. Nostalgia is a promise of what never remains. We'll have to do this again some day. Letters can form more than words . . .

do you
ever dot your eyes before you look?


Mary Jo Malo describes herself as a continuing undergrad in the School of Hard Knocks. Her C.V. is that she was born in 1949; in and out of foster homes for 18 years; newly separated from husband of nearly 40 years; proud mother of seven; extensive researcher of world religions and philosophy. She worked as a sales, marketing and advertising coordinator for a manufacturer of large electrical power apparatus. In 1993 she was disabled in an auto accident in the Rocky Mts. of Colorado. Never fully recovered and forced into early retirement, she’s had an abundance of time to pursue her favorites, poetry and philosophy, cosmology and evolution. These days as novice to modern and post-modern poetry, she’s been delighted to discover the Beat and post-Beat writers, among many others. While hoping she has miles to go in her adventure,and appreciating every poet and critic who takes time to talk with her as she seeks to better express her own voice, Mary Jo Malo finds now herself in good company. She is also the host and moderator of Company of Poets, a poetics mailing list/discussion group.



[Ways] by Barry Schwabsky and Hong Seung-Hye
(Artsonje Center and Meritage Press, Seoul and St. Helena, CA., 2004)

A small pale-blue book with the word “Ways” inside square brackets on the cover. There is nothing else. No author’s name, nothing but a plural noun in small type. The first page is blank, featuring a single white square (its margins black), mirroring a bigger square made of three black squares, one white, on the inside pale-blue cover. The page, therefore, is not completely blank, but almost. The book begins like this.

[Ways], by Barry Schwabsky and Hong Seung-Hye, is not a “typical” poetry book. It is a typographic book, though, in spite of the fact that all the fifteen poems within are regularly aligned to the left margin. It is a graphic book, a collaborative effort between two proper names that have attempted to fill the book’s space with black ink, making a delimitation of space. Schwabsky offers a progression of words, an ascending-yet-descending flow of letters and lines that eventually end on the top of everything, a gradual, patient escalation into blankness. Seung-Hye multiplies empty boxes and mathematically expands equal dimensions to animate the page-passing. A poetry flip-book, if you will, that should be read carefully but swiftly, without stops, holding your breath. It is a book to read in any direction, but always sequentially, one numbered poem after/before the other. [Ways] appears before me as a sophisticated piece of poetic machinery (poetry as sewing; the poem as a sewing machine) that proposes new ways of understanding poetry and graphics; a humble dissertation on the nature of reading lines, line-breaks and enjambments, subjects and objects, transitive and intransitive verbs left margins and “empty” spaces. As I write this I cannot but feel that I am betraying the beat-keeper that makes this book resonate with all its moving complexity. The main difficulty is speaking about it. A book that must be experienced, it can be read as a theoretical proposition on poetry as movement and of reading as motion. But it should also be considered a reflection on the nature of words and images in relation to space and what we consider “blank”, empty spaces, the whiteness of the wordless page.

“A page left intentionally blank”: such is the maxim of this book which is in itself one single poem fragmented into fifteen movements or, if you will, a series of fourteen poems and a coda or, possibly, a collection of fifteen individual poems that should be read in two opposite directions. This phrase, the first line of the poem numbered as “XIV”, will be fragmented, sampled and remixed throughout the book/poem, the last line of the poem numbered as “I”. Fifteen poems all composed with fourteen lines divided in seven couplets compose this flawless progression of signifiers that, through a regular pattern, proposes new ways of reading. [Ways] flows upward and downward, spirals only in two’s, like final, conclusive couplets of old sonnets that suddenly find themselves flipped, animated and turned something else, becoming a discourse of alternative meanings to standard signifiers.

[Ways], indeed, grows towards the top of the page, until the blank page, left intentionally blank, stares fixedly at us. We breath, excited, still puzzled and in awe, but the page is, again, not completely blank, but gasping with that infinite fractal box of multiplied little squares that increase, in all their stillness, gradually before our eyes. The page pulsates with its apparent blankness, light that grows brighter with the shadow of the squares. The page is yet another square, always contained from the beginning, still there until the end. The text is, literally, a matrix that recreates something similar to “a sky remanded Thoughtfully”. The book glares with little units of meaning (like the stars dreamed by Roland Barthes) that pierce the chest like the photographic punctum of a dead loved one staring at us from beyond a faded dot matrix of printed paper (“second loves/ love best”, from II). After the “blank page”, another poem, seven couplets like all the others, the solution to this mathematical puzzle that flashes with the self-awareness of a melancholic patient drunk with oblivion and neglect; a clarity that only the Dawn seen by mad poets can blur: “speechless words, afflicted/ pleasures, if not without”. [Ways] flips like infinite square doors and windows, a conditional interrogation on the nature of the poem as the perfect artifact of meaning; an exercise on mistaken beginnings; a reorientation of the couplet as the definitive not-closed stanza, in this case made up of possible false starts. After all, [Ways] can indeed be read as a “sonata for a sewing machine” (from IV), since it creates the effect of mechanical, repetitive punctures that create embroideries on skin. But Schwabsky’s and Seung-Hye’s book is many other things as well: it’s not a map, nor the written directions to arrive to a destination. It is instead different manners of achieving what could be seen as the opposite of poetry: the blank page. [Ways] gives the page, left intentionally blank, a signifying power that is almost blinding in its beauty. Ultimately, [Ways] grows into its coda like a profoundly painful love letter, like the lyrics to a naked song.


Born in Mexico City, Ernesto Priego is an essayist, teacher and translator. He is interested in everything having to do with poetry, graphic narratives and pop music. He recently released his first book, NOT EVEN DOGS(Meritage Press, 2006).


THOMAS FINK reviews:

City Eclogue by Ed Roberson
(Atelos, 2006)

At the end of Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (New York: Cambridge UP, 1993), Nathaniel Mackey expresses the hope that “the quantity” and “quality of attention given to African-American art and cultural practices” (285) can be increased. Mackey, himself an important African-American experimental poet, wants “Ed Roberson’s Lucid Interval as Integral Music,” among other texts, “to win the sort of acclaim accorded to Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah,” thus confronting “neo-traditionalism . . . with a countertradition of marronage, divergence, flight, fugitive tilt.” Thirteen years later, Roberson may not be closer to the kind of widespread appreciation that Dove still enjoys, but the publication of City Eclogue, his seventh book of poems, published by Lyn Hejinian’s and Travis Ortiz's Atelos, is an excellent occasion for pointing out, at very least, that those in U.S. experimental circles should take strong notice of his work.

Much of City Eclogue has a political tinge. In “Sit in What City We’re in,” the Civil Rights movement’s lunch counter sit-ins evoke unusual questions about desire, individual and collective identification, and confrontation:

to know how those kept out
set foot inside, sat down, and how
                               the mirrors around the lunch counter
reflected the face
to face—the cross-mirrored depth reached
                                infinitely back into either—
the one pouring the bowl over the head of
the one sitting in
                                at that counter. (26-7)

Whereas southern white segregationists desired the maintenance of African-American invisibility, the plethora of mirroring at the restaurants ironically insists upon a plethora of visibility for all. Subtle comfort can be taken in the fact that the actions of those insisting upon an end to their subordination are captured by early sixties mass media along with the racists’ violent responses. For the poet, such mirroring occasioned by the African-American students’ courageous protests undermines any pretence of “imperial selfhood” and makes isolation from the challenges of community impossible. However, his carefully spaced strips of syntax, sometimes fragmentary, prevents sloganeering and a simple parsing of the situation:

                                this regression this seen stepped
back into nothing both ways
From which all those versions of the once felt sovereign
locked together in the mirror’s
march from deep caves of long alike      
march back
into the necessary      
we are
reflected in the face to face we are
a nation facing ourselves our back turned
                                on ourselves      
that reflection sat in demonstration
each face
                                mirror reflecting into mirror generates. (27)

“Steps” (stages) of multiple mirroring are a “seen” (scene) “regression”—like a deconstructive mise-en-abyme—into such layering that one can focus on “nothing” individual. Racism, too, constitutes a psychological regression into a “nothing” of unbridled id. The many “versions” dangling from the “From which” (that lacks a determinate antecedent) and the spatial separation of “sovereign” from “self” sit “in demonstration/ of” this visual and social confrontation shattering individualism’s foundations. “Deep caves of long alike” might signify the single racial origins of homo sapiens and, thus, a “march” into racial divisions, or it might reflect how the lunch counter protests can be identified as one of various pivotal movements away from the “long” institution of segregation. Whites and blacks must “face” each other, facing also their mutual inclusion in “nation,” but also, the mirror supposed to supply one’s own identity presents the individual’s “back” and offers the face of an “other.” So the mirroring-effect may throw into question rejection of the “other” as a denial of otherness within the “self.”

In the course of the poem, several other intricate formulations of the selfhood/otherness dialectic are offered, including a quasi-utopian transcendence of polarization without the sacrifice of individual agency: “the self not lost, shared/ being in common in each other” (31). At times, Roberson seeks a way of simultaneously incorporating perspectives derived from different points in history: “A here and not-here division of things,/ where the future is in the same/ place as the past, is . . . like these facing mirrors/ in which time is making faces/ at you from the elemental/ moment, the faced and yet to be/ faced/ in one frame” (29). “The elemental” is what makes history useful for confronting the present’s urgencies.

“Beauty’s Standing,” the book’s second part, consisting of a ten-section, seventeen-page poem and a kind of coda, examines various trends in contemporary African-America. Since its title recalls the sixties slogan, “Black is beautiful,” one can read it as an affirmation that, despite continuing oppression, this “beauty” still “stands.” This is indicated in two examples from section 2: “The lovely women styled in as no other/ time are not the body of this space they make/ only the flow through it”; “a park/ of the highest form of pickup/ basketball in The Village a Harlem sound. . . “ (42). Yet this “beauty” is endangered. From the outset, Roberson calls attention to harsh environmental conditions, including images of urban clutter that, far from signifying abundance, indicate poverty and the effects of a community’s lack of political clout : “re: the water the heat/ is out of control the land toxic.// Building up more junk on more/ junk doesn’t pay the bills & get the light back on” (41). The couplets of 6, “(the first casualty is where you live”), one of the most compelling sections, depart interestingly from more direct treatments of racial profiling and police brutality found in Black Arts and other earlier African-American poetry:

The quiet of the house evacuates into the street
leaves all the rooms to follow the haunting

concern without yet subject    the ghost with its cradle
floats across the walls red revolving patrol

lights a spun radiant weapon a night-
stick elucidation      
a beating without a given reason

that just shows up at a door
in the neighborhood      
just happen

to be
Who this time. (49)

The strange personification of “quiet,” along with the mention of “haunting” and “ghost,” indicates how precarious encounters between an African-American community and the police undoes domestic serenity. The deliberately awkward phrase, “concern without yet subject,” underscores free-floating anxiety hovering in the neighborhood. Perhaps evoking Toni Morrison’s most famous ghost story, Beloved, the apparition floating “with its cradle/. . . across the walls” not only suggests the squad cars’ “lights” rudely infiltrating the house of a family just trying to relax, but also memories of many similar intrusions and their consequences. Metonymically aligned with the menacing “night-/ stick,” “patrol// lights” impose a particular, disturbing visibility (“elucidation”) but provide “the neighborhood” with a lucid understanding of racially motivated, authoritarian violence and its lawless, un-reason-able disregard for due process, etc. This passage’s concluding phrase makes innovative use of grammar and pauses indicated by spacing to energize the truism that, for racist white policemen, all black men in such an area are rendered anonymous; they are “suspects.”

Countering the elucidation of sociopolitical hopelessness are demonstrations of the resourcefulness of poor urban African-Americans. Recognizing that black (and white) conservatives’ “bootstrap” ideology in reference to the elusive “American dream” is no match for the exploitative force of “bosses,” some of the folks represented in Section 9, whose “territory” is “on the other side of the idea/ of having anything/ to throw away to be collected” by the sanitation department, do what they can to narrow economic and opportunity gaps by acting as pragmatic ecologists: “After empties us/ out into the local dump/ to turn what we can find over// to make up/ into something we can use” (54). Their benefit is obviously extremely limited, and they are subject to what Roberson eloquently identifies in section 4 as “that powerful level of segregationists/ the civil rights movement never reached,” those who impose “the great weigh of wealth’s want/ that moves other men’s hands// and feet and leaves its own clean” (45).

In order to combat the very exploitation they suffer when they try to make an honest living in “this” allegedly “great countryland/ of opportunity,” others in the community feel justified in resorting to nonviolent theft: “The catch/ up in what/ we catch off the truck.// That we should catch up/ or make up any losses in the floor/ the union boss wants/ for his house” (54). And they are aware that the corrupt “union boss’s” subversions of democracy are not aimed exclusively at black workers: “him who’s/ gonna get paid/ and twice to put it in/ for the vote to/ stay ahead/ of the niggers/ of all colors other than” (54-55). It may be too simplistic to fill in the blank left implicitly at the end of the sentence with “white”; if, perhaps, the blank remains, it is a reminder that such bosses want to find ways to expand the pool of the exploited to maximize his own profit. In response, the workers maintain their own ironic version of Booker T. Washington’s “bootstrap” philosophy: “Get me/ a piece of that/ fall off the back of a truck first/ economy/ I can pick up like/ Y’know, with the bootstraps! (55)

One of the most troubling, challenging passages in this long poem of numerous troubling manifestations is the complex, ambiguous moral critique in the second half of section 2:

The kind of walk that’s always taking cover
instead of steps that gets to the corner
and can see what’s around it by the faced
direction targets cite the shooter’s placed,

by where people look for what’s against them,
we slouch that walk eye on our government
without thinking because we can’t think
without our common term yet      
just a stink

of sense that something’s wrong here we always
used the word for      
about our enemies:
dictatorship, takeovers, military
class rule, compromised legitimacies

These words hide as understood      
our denial of such
with exclusive meaning      
by definition never the us

         or) By

our self-referent definition      
none of these words
admits us and are (still in our habit      
Colored Only. (43)

In this passage of casual rhymes (“think” contaminated by “stink”) and off-rhymes (fervor against “enemies” compromising “legitimacies,” in which the use of the pronoun “we” makes the speaker (if not necessarily Roberson) implicate himself along with others, who is the target of disgust and/or pity? Who “walks” with such defensiveness, fear, and, as the pun on “steps” indicates, lack of positive social purpose? In 2000 and 2004, it can be said that the Bush campaign, capitalizing on the fact that many U.S. citizens had “a stink// of sense” of something awry in and with the U.S. yet lacked a coherent ideological critique of their nation’s ethicopolitical flaws, “sold” them vague abstractions that gave them something external to blame and made them overly comfortable about “America.” That many European-Americans, since the Civil Rights and Black Power era, have failed to identify the insufficiently corrected “habit” of institutional racism and thus perpetuate a form of segregation (“Colored Only”) may label them as the culprits at whom Roberson is pointing. The Charles Olson-like play with parentheses, however, might signify a useful uncertainty about boundaries: “we” “Americans” of various races and ethnicities, however divergent our economic status from one another, often uncritically utilize a “common term”—and “term” implies a temporal limit as well as a verbal expression—without perceiving how it limits “our” thinking and thus blunts possibilities of overall amelioration of national and international difficulties. Persistently, “Beauty’s Standing” solicits uncomfortable admissions and disrupts “exclusive meanings” and inadequate “self-referent definitions.”

No less than the late playwright August Wilson, another Pittsburgh native, Roberson in City Eclogue exposes how the environments of the urban poor are undeveloped, diminished, ecologically and otherwise devastated. For example, the title of “The Open” signifies that a neighborhood is “opened,” not to opportunity but, “their buildings razed,” to the perception of emptiness (figured as the number “zero” [66]), a clearing away that teaches loss:

their blocks of bulldozed air opened to light
take your breath as much

by this kind of blinding choke as by the loss felt
in the openness

suddenly able to see
as if across a drained lake from below

a missing surface: the knowing everyone
by some common

immersion schooling you. (63)

The trope of “bulldozed air” bespeaks the extremity of violence done, not to mere buildings, but to a cultural milieu and to literal “atmosphere conditions,” to allude to the title of Roberson’s 2000 collection. The poet seems to tell us that this “immersing” vision, elementally painful as the synesthetic “blinding choke” is, permits the benefit of a political insight. The wild impossibility of having the “privileged” vantage point “below” “a drained lake” underscores the sense of acute consciousness of a former presence through a current absence. Roberson laments the trials of “a people whose any beginning is disbursed/ by a vagrant progress,// whose any settlement/ is overturned for the better// of a highway through to someone else’s/ possibility” (64). That this “betterment”—this laying waste, “old houses moved down/ to vacant lots of garbage lawn”—is perpetrated by those whose economic good fortune contrasts mightily with those they are displacing receives the full weight of irony through modification of the noun “progress” by the adjective “vagrant.” And the play of “disbursed”/dispersed emphasizes the financial causes of disruption. From a sense of segregation (“distant separation”) by neighborhood comes knowledge of bitter interconnectedness.

Both “open” and dense areas can be equally problematic. “Eclogue,” the book’s final poem, juxtaposes an urban area, “flat and densely packed with people” and “the empty open of the plain,” where “the grown over dumpsite/ of the meadowlands wetlands or the shore/ is corps of engineered the bulldozer beetle’s/ ball of dung shines in it. . . “ (131). Roberson’s “city eclogues,” bearing a trace of the pastoral in evocative flashes of imagery, frequently account for socially induced devastation of what could otherwise flower. If, as he puts it in the last line of “Counsel of Birds, “the alarm is our alarms are not working” (116), the poet is working hard to revive the alarm.


Thomas Fink, Professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia, is the author of two books of criticism, including A DIFFERENT SENSE OF POWER (2001), and three books of poetry, most recently AFTER TAXES (Marsh Hawk, 2004). His work has appeared in JACKET, VERSE, TALISMAN, CHICAGO REVIEW, DENVER QUARTERLY, x-Stream, MORIA, MILK, AUGHT, OCTOPUS, CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE, AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW, and numerous other journals and ezines. Fink's paintings hang in various collections.



Drive: The First Quartet by Lorna Dee Cervantes
(Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2006)

Sometimes literary works strike so deeply that it’s hard to say much about them except “Look!” Lorna Dee Cervantes’ Drive: The First Quartet is one of those works, but it is even more than that since it contains five smaller books in one, all full of energy, knowledge, excitement, growth, and anger—emotion itself. Just flip through, open this book randomly, and prepare to be awed by the beauty of the words. Take, for example, this excerpt from “Indigenous:”

Indigenous eyes, the hardness
of shale. Indigenous sky,
colorless. Wind wakes
the wanting of the weeds.
Fire frees the founding of the fence.
The sea slays the slicing
of the seasons. Rock
rocks the rocking of rage
into stone. Let it turn you
to salt. Let it lick you into
rapids. Make it see you
into stars.

In this piece, there is no mistaking Cervantes’ mastery of language. She uses her skill with consonance and line breaks to present us with elements transformed, charged, so that they seem full of meaning or knowing, like the simple lines “Wind wakes / the wanting of the weeds.” The weeds and the wind have volition and react to each other, and the poem puts the reader, the you, into a larger charged community than we usually find ourselves. In this piece, as in many in the work, we find out something about ourselves that we already know but have not verbalized.

Moreover, this poet does not stray from conflict; in fact, she’s at the head of the line, like Neruda or Cardenal, rallying the wronged to action. Some of the poems from the beginning section, “‘How Far’s the War?’”, even have similarities with poems in Neruda’s Canto general. For example, Cervantes explores the rape of the people and the land in her poem “Coffee.” Here’s a small bit of it:

In Guatemala the black buzzard
has replaced the quetzal
as the national bird. The shadow
of a man glides across the countryside,
over the deforested plantations; a death
cross burnishes history into myth
as it scours the medicinal land into coffee.

These lines are beautiful, but they evoke action and memory as witness and battle call. One can almost hear Neruda whispering over Cervantes’ shoulder, “I have always preferred a poetry where the fingerprints show. A poetry of loam, where water can sing” (Trans. Margaret Peden). In Cervantes’ work the fingerprints show full of the life that animates them. In the first section alone, she explores besides coffee and banana production, American imperialism, 9/11, and other equally important events. She shows herself to have an ear to the ground, but for her the ground is speaking.

Since Cervantes’ last book of poems, many years have passed, and this book, widely anticipated, was worth the wait. The themes, while ranging wide, strike accurately at the American pulse, and the language itself is symphonic, mesmerizing in its sheer elegance. Cervantes in the “Author’s Note” at the end mentions that she bound the books together in one so that it would be easy “for carrying with you.” That is exactly the type of work this is, one that you want to carry with you into nature, through the season, as a companion and guide.


William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, covering over, Temporal Nomads, Lingo, and Ladders in July.



Locket by Catherine Daly
(Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT, 2005)

Catherine Daly’s Locket is sheathed in gold with black script, the flourish of an L a swooshing swirling metaphor for one particularly troublesome four-letter word. Yes, these are love poems.

Lashed with lust, lush with longing, luscious as a labial-lingual kiss, Daly pulls us through a landscape rippling with heat, bristling with the riddle of that ‘same old song’. These are poems that are as straightforward and unapologetic as they are sweet and circumspect.

Love’s a huge subject. I can’t tell you that Daly has anything new to say about love or its effects of consequence. It’s how she goes about saying it that makes this worth your time, with language that is sharp and clean and smart and funny. Take these lines from the third section of the poem, “Osculate”:

Our two, worth their maximum and minimum,
perambulate, perform. Parabola, ellipsis, ellipses:
I would like to mention discontinuity at this juncture.
It slices our pair from the earth’s mantle.

Out of context, this may seem like gobbledygook, but within these paper walls it makes perfect sense. This poem, in three sections, directly corresponds (in ascending order) to the Roman words for ‘kiss’: Osculum, a greeting, an air kiss; Basium, a direct lip-to-lip kiss between lovers; and Savium, a ‘deep kiss’, known nowadays as ‘french’. Slipped in between these ‘kisses’ are references to mathematics, Jimi Hendrix, and WWII. Now consider that this poem, “Osculate”, uses the word ‘vacillate’ in the penultimate line, and is followed by a poem titled “Oscillate”.These poems are thick with images, references, word-play, making each a rich read. Daly uses language like a child uses blocks: she builds it up to knock it down.

Here is her poem, “Couple”:

               “many a slip between cup and lip”

Two tipple tea, tupple, Tippacanoe,
sumptuously sip, sup, supple.

Two pull and tamp
their ample mutual appeal.

Two grasp two apples, oh,
to journey from Tampa to Tupelo.
Two peel their clothes.
They put and place, topple,
tumble, not duplicitous, pillowed, paired,
duplex, circumspect, slumber together.
Dual and singular, nuptial bells peal.

Throughout I have found lines that seem particularly resonant. In the poem “Grain” the narrator states:

My love is a crop circle hoax,
has trampled all my grain.

Such a terrific metaphor for love’s crush, that something thought to be so miraculous and out-of-this-world can be flipped, becoming so real it turns fake, false.

Here is a line that I absolutely love from “American Beauty: Night”:

Comport yourself within this machinery of want.

‘Want’ is just that: a machine propelling us toward--something--that will (hopefully, temporarily) satisfy. But it is a messy, undignified process.

In “Endnotes” there is so much language-play that it almost becomes nonsensical, but it is joyful nonsense.

She scatters her words with Arabic numerals,
Superscript or superior, a supertitled opera,
supernumerary, numinous, superfluous, fluent.

Love may be her always implicit, sometimes explicit, subject, but it is the way she skips and dances around it that makes this book such an engaging read.

In “Footnotes,” on the facing page, there is a line which I think sums it up best:

If the ride’s pleasurable
it can be followed

Locket is a lovesong. If I were to locate one flaw, I would say it is in the seeming predictability of the narrative arc. But that can also be considered an asset. On all levels, Locket is pleasurably riddled and referenced; a reverberating read.


Cati Porter is poet, artist, freelance writer, and editor of the online literary journal, Poemeleon. Her poetry has been featured on kaleidowhirl, Poetry Southeast, Sunspinner, Banyan Review, and Poetry Midwest. She lives in Riverside, California, with her husband and two young sons.