Tuesday, May 12, 2020

JoAnna Novak, Abeyance, North America

So            loneliness is not emptiness,
            not an ambushed field,
            not Cistercian,
            not cloistered
but           concupiscent
    so fragile, full,
            and open to you remembering,
                    oxygen, kissing
                    a little trowel
                            I keep
                        down my dress.
Yes          I do want rauwolfia,
            jasmine, California poppies,
    forget-me-nots, I desire the
                    raw green peppercorns
                        in your noisy toolbox. (“LOS ANGELES → CONTINENT”)

Writer, editor and publisher (founder of the chapbook publisher and online journal Tammy) JoAnna Novak’s second poetry title, after Noirmania (Inside the Castle, 2018), and third published book, is Abeyance, North America (New York/Kingston NY: After Hours Editions, 2020). Abeyance, North America is constructed as a suite of five lyric suites: “LOS ANGELES → CONTINENT,” “BOSTON → BOSTON,” “INTERLUDE: PARADISIAQUE,” “NORTH PACIFIC DRIFT → HOTEL SUITE” and “ABEYANCE → LOFT X.” Novak’s poems are ripe with a confident and sexy swagger, and there is a meditative insistence here that is quite compelling, accumulated through her short-sketched lyrics, one set on top of another. “You are the one I want / and we will examine it / every day. Horrible / carpeting of illegal white / trillium and those cats / and prostitutes for / I was game at Thunder / Bay amethysts and kissing / your cock beautiful.” Her poems articulate movement, awareness, beauty and consequence, each suite-section shifting from one state to another, even if there might be little to do obvious difference between those two states. “Suppose the Virgin River left Zion and replaced / the Harbor.” she writes, to open the prose-sequence “BOSTON → BOSTON”: “Put the edge of my plan in a gorge.”

There is a 2018 interview online with Novak, conducted by Sarah Blake for Chicago Review of Books that I found quite interesting. The interview focused, in part, on some of Novak’s work with formal structure—the Spencerian sonnet, line breaks and Oulipian structures—specifically within her then-newly-published poetry debut, Noirmania. The interview reinforces what Abeyance, North America already provides: the awareness that Novak’s structural considerations are purposeful, as well as highly playful, through a small collection composed across an ambitious space and conceptually-large canvas. How does her abeyance, her suspension, spread itself across an entire continent? As Novak responds as part of that 2018 interview:

I agree that line breaks and enjambment create magic, for sure, and I love when you can be tugged between multiples readings of a line. I write prose, too, and so a lot of the time, when I’m typing a poem, I’m eager to think about the gaps and leaps and aporias I can create by tabbing or spacing. I like the gulps and caesuras a poem splattered with white space can have. And then, too, I think working with the whole page can be an extremely useful editing tool. I’m bolder in what I excise when I write with a lot of white space. Sometimes I’ll work a draft of a poem that way and then bring it back to a more controlled form—I like when language retains that distilled feeling. 

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