Saturday, December 03, 2005

a brief note on four American poets

For whatever reason, more of the American poets whose work have excited and interested me most over the past few years have been older men (Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, Ted Berrigan, etcetera) and younger women (see the piece I already did on New York poet Rachel Zucker). What do you think that's all about? What are the boys not doing? Anyway, here are four of them, in no particular order.

Pattie McCarthy, Philadelphia PA: I was immediately struck by the work of Pattie McCarthy when I first found some of her poems in an issue of the now-defunct Philly mag ixnay, a fraction of what would become her first trade collection, the unbelievable bk of (h)rs (Apogee Press, 2002). I later found a copy of her second collection, Verso (Apogee Press, 2004), and would recommend her work to anyone and everyone. A manual of how things should be done, the work in her first collection is electric, and even dangerous, writing not only a language of leaps and bounds but of a heart-wrenching music. A technician of stark, emotional thought, McCarthy matter-of-fact moves through all the dross and gets directly to the cut-throat heart.

indeed, the greediness
of it, its placement on the tongue :
antiphon. I'm aware of the changing

shape of my eyes, by hairlines.
a cauldron of bellies, legs
meeting under a barstool. my own

recently the more given.
your narrative in reprisal
is reversible. unpedestalled, still

illusory : the last sad office
. I think of how we might
simply walk out.

the syntax of the miraculous that
comes to pass at night, comes to characterize.
what we get as wholly unexpected.

the sum of my education, that
music the more brutal.
therefore or rather your sometimes sister.

-- "(p)salter," bk of (h)rs

I find interesting that in recent reviews, Ron Silliman talks about his amazement with recent books by Canadian poets, including those by Toronto writers Rob Read, Mark Truscott and Jay MillAr (the first I haven't read but the other two are amazing); becoming bored with American, where I'm of the opposite mind. Is it simply that we are so aware of our own models that we've seen it all before? Is it the newness that we love?

there isn’t enough blood in my veins to write my name.
[. . .]
agatha’s letters— inscribed on tiles, bells, amulets— against fire.

since I was born in daylight my mother said I’d never see anything worse than myself. however, it was the morning of the last day of spring, so with the solstice
I might get something yet. my grandmother from Cobh would not tolerate sheeogy
talk— she went to college to study piano (Bowling Green, 1919). nevertheless, she said
that since I was born on a Sunday there would be no cure for me.

-- from "piseogs," Verso

Lisa Samuels, Madison WI: When I first found some of her poems online I immediately knew that I had to publish some of them myself, eventually able to produce the chapbook “The Museum of Perception” (STANZAS #33, 2002; long out of print). An even denser language that McCarthy's, but with a different kind of electrical work, Samuels is the author of four other titles, including the chapbooks LETTERS (Meow Press, 1996) and War Holdings (winner of the Pavement Saw chapbook manuscript contest, Pavement Saw, 2003), and the trade collections The Seven Voices (O Books, 1998) and Paradise for Everyone (Shearsman Books, UK, 2005). She has also published an annotated critical reprint of Laura Riding’s Anarchism Is Not Enough (University of California Press).


The enormous room is full

it is empty

gas houses rise on a horizon
we are in it

through vamping the sound we

locate ourselves downside, the little man harboring
an opportunity inside his waist pocket, screens arriving faster
and faster

people are crowding their ideas, crowing with back wings unescapable
the woman is in charge temporarily, she thrills to it, walls collapsing

through this kind of displacement we

solve something or nothing, it is the same

woman standing to the side with no answers on her tongue
pushing out the skin with bankside cheeks

As she said in an unpublished (unfinished) interview:

I sometimes think of the title of one of my poems in The Seven Voices: ‘Refraction journal.’ That is to say my poems are usually transactions of more or less indeterminate beginnings (an urge to write, a line that starts me) that veer through various spatial imaginings, specific memories or observations, colors or sounds, rushes of frustration or enclosement, rhythms and so on. It is also sometimes the case that I write with specific incidents in mind, like with the poetry manuscript I am working on now, an extension of the kinds of poems I wrote for War Holdings. I hold an event in my mind, as though a narrative I don’t quite want to ‘tell’ since the newspapers have done that more or less, and I try to be there in slant images, or in the kind of breathing that took place (as I imagine it), or in documents or spoken or internal words, or sounds and shifts of body or intention. I did something like that when I wrote a few poems after reading extensively about the Rwandan massacres: some of those poems are explicit, or seem so to me; others are more muffled and generalized. Partly I don’t want to presume, but also I do want to presume, that I should put words in that place though I was not there.

Stefanie Marlis, Patagonia AZ: I've been quite taken with the poems in Stefanie Marlis' fourth poetry collection, cloudlife (Apogee), and recent poems in Fence magazine. I like the sparseness, and the spacing. There's a clarity to her allusion, her intimate histories; a resonance that doesn't need to be understood to be felt, in a small collection of brief bitter storms.

her kelpie's side torn
my landlady's mended fence
now she worries when the javelinas
come up from the creek
how will they go home?
neighbor family
bivouacked on the lawn
for meteor shows
may hear their spliced hooves
cross the open-air theatre
outside my moon-proof
icy venetian blinds

-- "desert blinds"

Jennifer Moxley, Orono MA: After her first two collections of poetry, Imagination Verses (Tender Buttons, 1996; reissued since by Salt) and The Sense Record and Other Poems (reissued by Salt), comes a new one that pre-dates the previous two, her Often Capital (Flood Editions, 2005). Made up of two sections, the poems in Often Capital were originally published in chapbook form before her two trade collections, as the chapbooks The First Division of Labour(Rosetta, 1995) in an edition of fifty copies, and Enlightenment Evidence (Rem Press, 1996), in a first edition of twenty-five copies, and a second edition of one hundred.

the rumor, it isn't merely a fond perception

but the celebration of manly kind,

underground living made you monstrous Leo, a forgetter,

notorious evasion floats above

fucking day to day, the supposed hours flourish

they are stone-like in memory,

while opening words and walks display evaporation

hence the lady's journal, hence the letter entreating,

for even I don't remember my overt life anymore

erector though I was, and you quiet hours of dawn

where is your confirmation now except

in everyone else's mouth
-- Enlightenment Evidence

In many ways, everyone who writes should write postscripts the way she has, in her "afterward," talking about the constructions and origins of the two sections; writing an essay on her own work, with some memoir thrown in:

I began with a question: "how given chorus / a she complete"? My "she" meant to stand for women in general: i.e. how sing a fully realized female life? But this "she" also stood for myself and the Muse, she who must act as chorus for so many hidden thoughts. To question the way "she" exists---in history, in language, in love---brings the mirror of "he" always to the fore. Therefore the restrictions that tie the "he"---to history, to language, to love---inform these poems as well. "In Firenze, in Greece // Variations end on David's earth," referring here to Michaelangelo's David, the perfect classical male body; those erect nipples---"sad culvers"---give no milk, have no known purpose, and yet arouse us nonetheless. I had noticed the contemporary dearth of representations of female desire, especially towards the male.

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