Monday, January 07, 2008

ongoing notes: some recent American poetry collections by Zawacki, Padgett, Young & Byrne

A whole bunch of things since getting back to my western desk; I’ve started posting more interviews for that 12 or 20 questions series (Peter Darbyshire even noticed); Amanda Earl, but today, posted a list of what some Ottawa writers are up to on their various poetry projects, and wrote a "best of" for 2007 (that was nice enough to include me). Pearl chimed in on Phil Jenkins' original article on potentially bringing back Ottawa laureates (with a follow-up letter or two in the Ottawa Citizen); here are some photos I recently posted from two Alberta adventures (Calgary extravaganza and the Olive Reading Series), and the Ottawa launch of the Peter F. Yacht Club #8. And did you see this strange little mention of a few Canadian poets, including John Newlove, Max Middle and Sharon Harris?

Athens GA: On the recommendation of expat nathalie stephens (currently in Chicago) [see her 12 or 20 questions here], I got in touch with American poet Andrew Zawacki (co-editor of Verse), who sent me a copy of his third poetry collection Anabranch (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004), a follow-up to his previous By Reason of Breakings (2002) and Masquerade (2001).

snow today and through tomorrow
and through tomorrow night, in a stutter

the logic of dominos, music the method
of dice: northsouth and isterdriven

do not tarry, do not turn, because
the impartial, because because:

gigolo heat and the haze it chafes against
encrypted blue, a prayer for their sickness

that went, that went: the salt of x
is the psalm of x, encoded in apricot,

gunpowder tea, and given
to being given again and against:

I owe myself, I owe myself,
dancing in front of the doorway my debt,

dancing in front of it, open or shut (from “Viatica”)
There is something vaguely ghazal-like to Zawacki’s lines, pushing further his lines of thought through a series of accumulations. I like the slowness of his poems, in the four long poems that make up this collection; these four poems that stretch out as far as he can take them. Still, this book is (now) four years old; how long do we have to wait before we see another?
alone and in advance
over an unknown grave (from “Viatica”)
New York NY: It’s interesting the difference between confidence in Canadians and Americans, with the title of American poet Ron Padgett’s new poetry collection, How to Be Perfect (Minneapolis MN: Coffee House Press, 2007); the first thing it reminds me of is Charles Gordon’s non-fiction title How To Be Not Too Bad: A Canadian Guide to Superior Behaviour (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1994) (not that one has anything to do with the other). The author of roughly twenty books of poetry and prose over the years, the second generation New York School poet Padgett (check out this recent interview with Padgett) is capable of some fantastic and subtle wisdom in his poems, one that makes it more and more obvious how he could be a favourite of Toronto poet and fiction writer Stuart Ross (and also reminiscent of some recent George Bowering pieces) [see my recent review of Padgett’s book of collaborations, published by Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press].
History Lesson

I think that Geoffrey Chaucer did not move
the way a modern person moves.
He moved only an inch at a time, in what
we call stop action. Everyone in his day moved
like that, so they could be shot into a tapestry,
but also because time moved in short lurches
and was slightly jagged and had fewer colors
for them to be in. But that was good. Humanity
has to take it one step at a time.
Great Barrington MA: Despite ending his infamous press The Figures a few years ago (1975-2005), American poet and curator Geoffrey Young continues to produce collections of poetry through other publishers, most recently The Riot Act (Lowell, MA: Bootstrap Press, 2008).


She yelled
the horses are prancing through introductions
& I dropped the book of Job
hustled in
& heard we had six minutes til post-time.
She’d just put on short pants and a shirt
after taking a bath & was trying
to get a comb through her long tangled hair.

I said wait a minute
unsnapped her pants
pulled them down around her thighs
slid down her standing body
& buried my tongue in her moist bush.
I perfumed it, she said.
I can taste it, I said.

Pretty soon I was sitting on the floor
& she was sitting on me
riding me back and forth
yelling giddiup giddiup
way out ahead of those other horses
who hadn’t even arrived at the starting gate yet.
I heard a trumpet announce something & the crowd got excited.

& carefully I manoeuvered her until she was flat
on her back, head below the TV
and now I was riding her, rocking gently
not even racing now
as the announcer spoke of the Derby’s glorious history.

Arching her back, she looked upside down
at the horses on the screen
some in the starting gate
others glistening and edgy and powerful
about to enter
but we couldn’t wait for them
& in a beautiful homestretch
at least a minute before Cañonero II

won the 97th Kentucky Derby by three lengths
we kicked it all the way home.

I find it interesting just how far some of Young’s poems move through narrative (much like Canadians David W. McFadden and Stuart Ross, and American Padgett), yet he titles, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, a poem and the first section of the collection, “Why I Don’t Write Novels” (particularly reminiscent of the work of both Ross and Padgett).

A man approaches a closet,
opens the door, reaches in,
selects a shirt, slips it off
the hanger, replaces hanger

on rod, turns from closet
with shirt in hand,
and without shutting closet
door, walks into bathroom,

stands in front of mirror,
puts shirt on, watches
his hands buttoning it, loosens
his belt, tucks shirt into pants,

tightens belt, smiles at
the glass, leaves the room.
The first section, as well, starts with three quotes by other writers:
“To me all sonnets say the same thing of no importance.” William Carlos Williams

“And could one make a sonnet of nothing but trees.” Clark Coolidge

“I am not a sonnet, you are not a sea urchin, and this is not a poetry contest, comrade.” Stephen Rodefer
That first quote is quite a challenge; where did Williams say this? I would be interested in finding out. I wonder what a poet such as Stephen Brockwell would make of such quotes?

Young also runs a summer art gallery down there in Great Barrington (the same town, incidentally, where Canadian ex-pat poet Jan Conn lives).

Providence RI: The author of a number of other poetry collections [see her 12 or 20 questions here], Irish ex-pat Mairéad Byrne’s most recent collection is Talk Poetry (Oxford OH: Miami University Press, 2007). Made out of a series of prose fragments [see also the short review by Rachel Loden on her own blog], almost as short essays/stories, they remind me a bit of George Bowering’s recent chapbook published through Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series [see my note on such here], except not as fiercely tight. Byrne’s pieces move through “life itself,” as referenced by the opening quote by Claes Oldenburg that reads “I am for an art…that is heavy and coarse and / blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”
Global Hastening

I don’t know what happened to May. It disappeared in a blur of rain & grading. One minute it was May 1st. Now it’s May 19th. Everything’s whizzing by. When I was young summer lasted all year. It was like the ocean. Amber waves of grain rolling way off to the horizon. Now it’s like zzzpptt! As soon as it’s Monday it’s Friday. Months are like weekends. You make a note to do something & 3 years later it’s done. There’s no point in looking forward to anything. I understand that as you get older time speeds up. But this is surreal. Everyone’s hit. And it’s not just a horizontal thing. It’s vertical too. My daughter says I can’t BELIEVE freshman year is almost over. My 9-year old confides to her friends Time flies. Babies go bye bye bye bye. And they can’t even talk. What’s happening? The temporal caps are melting. This
one’s for Mr. President.
There are a number of these pieces working through temporal concerns, whether ageing or simpley the passage of time, almost the theme that runs its way through this collection. Byrne’s prose-poems read almost like floating entries, and drift and flow like water, like clouds along meandering lines that sometimes close, and other times, allow the reader to continue once the piece is done; a good poem stays with you, long after you’ve finished reading, and there were a number of pieces here that strayed, and even stayed.

I used to be 4 years younger than my husband then he left me with 2 children & I got 7 years older very quick. Two years went by. I was 11 years older by then. He stayed the same age, always 30, possibly even younger. In no time, I was 20 years older than him & hurtling towards old age. Even the children began to age. They were small & wrinkled, older than their own father. His skin was baby-smooth, his brown hair rising like a stack above their wilting heads—or like a vividly brushed dun & purple mountain ringing the horizon in the pan of which, somewhere, they tottered

No comments: