Thursday, June 17, 2010

New American Writing 28

Apes can mind-read.
Studies show

what makes us human
is our tendency to point. (Rae Armantrout, “Working Models”)

My first experience with the poetry annual New American Writing is the new issue, #28, edited by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, and already I’m a fan, with stellar highlights by Rae Armantrout, Liz Waldner, Elizabeth Robinson and Steffi Drewes, each, it seems, exploring different aspects of the length of the poetic line and the sentence; writing poems, each, that bring new life to forms that so often need it. I’ll say it: I believe in the sentences of Steffi Drewes. But why doesn’t such a journal, such an annual, have author bios?
proof that this waltz, these waves, have no destination

having said no to the sound of heavy machinery we traipsed on and
topsy-turvy signatures followed.

do you believe in only one answer when it comes to keeping time?

if she hears the truth and the leaves fall to the floor, she may still be
able to locate the first intersection.
(in math, the focus; in dance, the pivot pointe)

off in the mountains the dust dwellers have begun to chant.

choking sometimes comes out as hocking. later the same day, a child
learns the difference between exhaust and exhalation.

arithmetic. arrhythmia. arabesque. (of course she studied, but not in
that order).

what’s the ultimate conversation-stopper—split skin or a sonic boom?

a portal is forming underneath the floor boards. an ideal audience
measuring our every misstep.

what is your favorite part about spring? is what she asks me. one is
wind. the other is take a wild guess.

the rhythm is born from us, be it falter, dash, fracture or simply good

even a fallen animal startles at the sound of music.

There are some worthy translations here too, from Osip Mandelstam’s “The Voronezh Notebooks” (with introduction) by John High and Matvei Yankelevich, as well as a feature on five contemporary Greek poets; its always interesting when any journal explores alternative points of view. But what really strikes are the other pieces, including Elizabeth Robinson’s “Lorine Niedecker Harmonizing With Paul Celan” and “Jack Spicer’s Frying Pan.” Luxurious; exactly why haven’t I been reading her work earlier?
Jack Spicer’s Frying Pan
For Fran Herndon

A small frying pan results in a small man. Or vice, alchemically,
versa. A pan and a man cook identically each time and
size desires nothing of it.

Cook it again this way, exactly.
Center the heart of the pan on the coil, turn
the handle west to where the sun will someday
set. Pan
and man

exact to the red coil. The game

of feeding ourselves is utmost ritual
and so we win the game.

The smallest frying pan, like a pendant hung
at your sternum, a brand on your breast,
enlarging the want of it, the game of the want
of it, the specimen of the pan, with its magick
handle to the east where someday the sun may rise

exactly as the eating proceeds, red coil, exact, I said, exact.

At nearly two hundred pages (I suppose, if the choice between author biographies and more writing, more writing really is the more interesting choice), there’s enough here for just about any serious reading of contemporary lyric, including some compelling prose by Noah Eli Gordon (a writer I’ve been keeping my eye on the past couple of years), and another by Edward Smallfield that remind of the compact visceral and visual rhythms explored by Jay MillAr’s Sporadic Growth: being a third season of 26 fungal threads (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2006). I’m also very taken by these three poems all with the same title by Rusty Morrison, these “Commonplace” poems; why does it feel I’ve been missing all sorts of things by not paying attention to this journal earlier?

1 comment:

Dean Faulwell said...

Agree with all you've said, but especially with your observation regarding Elizabeth Robinson's work. What possible excuse can we offer for having overlooked her this long?