Friday, November 22, 2019

Meet the Presses’ Indie Market (part one,

[knife│fork│book's Kirby, visiting Anstruther's Jim Johnstone]

Another year has come and gone! And we will see you this weekend at the 25th anniversary of the ottawa small press book fair, right? The reading tonight and/or the fair itself tomorrow?

Toronto ON: The poems collected in Toronto poet, editor and publisher Hoa Nguyen’s latest offering, the chapbook ASK ABOUT LANGUAGE AS IF IT FORGETS (knife│fork│book, 2019), appear different than the work I’ve seen from her previous full-length collections. The poems in ASK ABOUT LANGUAGE AS IF IT FORGETS shift from the predominantly shorter, meditative lyrics of As Long As Trees Last (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008 (Wave Books, 2014) [see my review of such here] or Violet Energy Ingots (Wave Books, 2016) [see my review of such here] to poems a bit more expansive and storytelling, with lines pulling and even stretched apart, such as the middle third of the poem “Why This Haunted Middle And Door Hung With Haunted Girl Bones,” that writes:

Go into your tree      roll on a rabbit fur blanket
Refuse to eat for thirty days     plus ten days

        Unremembered        does it matter
Misremembering the baby she lost     a different baby

(unborn       never born        the unnamed)
        This rain reminds me of rain

There has long been an element of Nguyen’s work that has featured remembering, memory, loss, melancholy and acknowledgment, but there is something here that feels heightened, almost as though the text of some of these pieces have been crafted from interviews (or even family story, perhaps), citing more specific and sprawling details than before. In these poems, a story is developing, and one I would very like to know more about, such as the poem “Mexico,” that includes:

She named her stand Mexico
      and Minh came by often
would send his soldiers there to buy drinks
from her Mexico

      Mexico became the most popular
juice spot on the river

                  but sometimes his soldiers were
boisterous and caused trouble and other
merchants were jealous
of her success         Minh too
wished to control her
and insisted later that she move
away from her Mexico to Saigon
                         to be near him
                                       and next was that

Thorold/Burlington ON: I’ve been increasingly interested in the work of Thorold, Ontario poet Franco Cortese (he had an above/ground press title earlier this year, as well, with two more forthcoming), the most recent title being tekster (Simulacrum Press, 2019). Through his work generally (and this title specifically) Cortese explores both accumulation and accent, punctuating and excising, all of which make for fascinating visuals that might be difficult, or even impossible, to perform aloud (but it would be interesting to hear, if he was willing or able). He is also one of more than a couple of younger poets that have emerged over the past couple of years who focus their work on the blending of visual poetry and constraint (British poets and Penteract Press co-publishers Anthony Etherin and Clara Daneri, and British poet Lucy Dawkins being further examples of the same). For example, the poem “ROTO,” a poem I could only imagine as a typesetting nightmare, opens: “mióşiş šøws hiş homõ shims” (and I don’t even have every typesetting symbol on my computer to replicate this properly). The effect is stunning, and deliberately overwhelming, and further considerations I’ve seen other poets explore (including Gary Barwin), but nowhere near this far. Cortese’s description at the back of the collection writes that “ROTO consists of a phrase exhibiting reciprotational symmetry (and which, as such, serves as a sort of axially-inverted palindrome), followed by a loosely-constrained lipogram composed exclusively of letters found in that reciprotationally symmetric phrase.”



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