Sunday, March 11, 2012

HANDSOME Vol. 4, No. 1


I am a little
in sailor’s dress
until sailing sad said
I am the hemline see
here, oboe reed—
white and wet, absolute. (Dawn Pendergast)
After hearing the journal’s name for some time, Paige Ackerson-Kiely handed me a copy of the journal HANDSOME, Vol. 4, No. 1, produced by Black Ocean and co-edited by her and Allison Titus. There are incredible works here, most of which are by poets I’ve not heard of, and the lack of author biographies at the back is rather frustrating. Who are these people? This is a lovely designed journal, one of the better looking of the ones I’ve seen out of the United States. Good to see new writing by Dawn Pendergast, a poet I’ve been seeing more and more of over the past couple of months. There are the most exquisite untitled prose poems by Tara Rebele, brilliant and cutthroat erasures by Katherine Bogden, and other striking works by Tony Mancus, Hannah Craig, Becca Jensen, Ricki Garni, Natalie Shapero and Alex Crowley. I ask again, who are these people? I do understand the benefit of a lack of bias when reading work by unknowns; I know some respond to my frustration with the lack of bios with a roll of the eyes, but I always want to know: are there books or chapbooks by any of these writers I should be looking out for?

I always enjoy reading the last few pages of Samuel Beckett’s biography. Suzanne was nagging him, he was falling down a lot, his eyes hurt, it was hard to breathe, walking was difficult, Ussy was out of the question, he had written Waiting For Godot so long ago it hardly mattered, he fed the pigeons biscotti from his dressing gown, and his last poem started off like this: FOLLY. And that was it, FOLLY, the end, finito. His hands did not shake. And yes, he was indeed handsome, and he was excited about the future.

I always like to add that last part. (Ricky Garni)
Part of the excitement of going through such a journal is in the range of discoveries nestled inside. There seems, I’ve been noticing, a real tradition of the prose poem in the United States that doesn’t exist in Canada in the same way. When she was here for VERSeFest, Paige Ackerson-Kiely suggested that some of the current wave of American prose-poems—in journals such as sentence: a journal of the prose poem, and the writings of a number of poets including Ackerson-Kiely, Sarah Mangold, Sarah Manguso, Elizabeth Robinson and others—could go back to the work of Russell Edson. I’m thinking I really have to start picking up his books.

you must learn to recognize objects standing
on any end. He bought me a drink. I said THIS PEN

CAN WRITE IN SPACE, meaning this pen
explodes on planes. A child traveling alone

was sitting between us solving a What Is Wrong.
Goldfish bowl on hot stove, kid, get

with it. Oh I am a wholly worthless person.

We went over it all. I thought a ball
field was a radar screen. Oh I was close. (Natalie Shapero)
I’m also fascinated by the rhythms in the poems included by Liz Countryman, including a section of her poem “HOT AND COLD AUBADE,” that reads:
Everywhere people
said good morning to me from across the street—I was going

that slow.
My gut like a wrong word, the bent crepe myrtle

artless. Elsewhere
people brush each other in coats by mistake, or a man

Your hair is blowing in the wind!
My only real question: are back issues available?

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