[a photo of a rare early evening opportunity to sketch out some writing recently, at the Barley Mow on Bank Street; with titles by Tung-Hui Hu and Anne Carson]
It does feel like moons since I’ve done a proper one of these, unattached, say, to the semi-annual small press fairs we keep doing, so here are some notes I’ve sketched out recently on some smaller publications that have come my way lately:
Philadelphia PA: Michigan poet and media scholar Tung-Hui Hu’s latest publication is the chapbook-length On the Kepel Fruit (Albion Books, 2017), an exquisitely designed and produced lyric essay—an incredible, gorgeous essay—that wouldn’t feel out of place in an issue of, say, Brick: A Literary Journal, inquiring on the history of this long storied and legendary fruit. With what appears to be a lifetime of research, blended with travelogue, this deeply personal essay is quite remarkable as an introduction to both the kepel fruit and Tung-Hui Hu, author of three poetry collections to date: The Book of Motion (University of Georgia Press, 2003), Mine (Ausable Press, 2007) and Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). As his essay opens:
Describe the tree whose fruit is called the kepel apple. When eaten, it perfumes the body’s secretions with the scent of violets – saliva, sweat, breath, semen, tears – and at the same time it stuns a woman’s body and makes it temporarily infertile. A royal fruit, kepel was forbidden for a commoner to plant or eat; trespass brought the penalty of death. For the sultans’ harems in Yogyakarta and Solo, however, eating the kepel was mandatory. A botanical system of permission and transgression, penalty and pleasure: another moment in a long history of government legislating the bedroom. Commanded Solon, lawgiver of Athens: “a newe maryed wife should be shut up with her husband, and eate a quince with him…”
To be told what you can and cannot put in your mouth is an act of intimacy not between you and a lover but between you and the state. For to bite into a kepel is to realize that your body is full of holes, that it is so porous that everyone else can smell you wherever you go, can even smell what you’ve been doing; it is a tracer dye that follows the inner motions of your metabolism. Picture your body made public, like the diamond cutters who are weighed before and after their shift at work, down to a tenth of a gram, lest a diamond be secreted in one of their crevices. No privacy within your body: each action breathes out violet through your skin, seeps, like the steam barely visible above the spout of a kettle. No matter what we do to hide, our bodies give us away: we are aroused in spite of ourselves.
Brooklyn NY: #221 in the BELLADONNA* CHAPLET SERIES is Eléna Rivera’s LE SOUCI FORMEL / the formal concern (2017), produced as part of a reading in Queens, New York by Eléna Rivera on May 1, 2017, alongside Hoa Nguyen and Camille Rankine. The poem moves its way through short sections set across the page, writing on art, language and architecture, and the larger possibilities of these so very human creations, ideas that have crept into much of the work I’ve seen of hers over the years. As she writes:
This poem preoccupied with architecture
of things interior in relation to each other
Must be committed to what is at stake
what’s possible for an artist to do
“The actual execution of the sentence”
In what language? “execution of …”
Part of what appeals about Rivera’s short chapbook is the sketchbook quality of the poem, composed in short, collage-like bursts of lyric inquiry, accumulating into something both nebulous and remarkably clear, and far larger than itself. I’m curious to know if this is a self-contained piece, or part of something much longer; or, perhaps, both?
For in the end art led the way
back into embodiment
gave a whole new dimension
to our being “no chance of
putting up a defense” why
fortify the fortress?
Can the machine be “a substitute
for the situation were in”?