Friday, February 03, 2023

Stacy Szymaszek, Famous Hermits


New York was hell on earth today
  trash fire on the F track    a black substance    perhaps
mastic asphalt oozing from vents along the C/E
    but I’m only reading about it    I slipped
on the ice    down to one knee    they don’t believe in salt
or plows    and I forgot the chains for my feet    “At Night the States”
  closes with Montana    a word I have always liked    the state
grows on me    like adulthood    still I confess I hate hot
    cereal out of a pot    at midnight    and it tasted
like and was the same color as the rug in here    so when a glob
fell I left it there    so I wouldn’t lose my thought    it was Marlowe’s
birthday    yesterday and I heard the ground hog
insinuated    early spring    my love cares to visit the pleasures
  of going down on me    like a vine
I spiral all over the house (“CENTURION FACE”)

The latest from Hudson Valley, New York poet Stacy Szymaszek is Famous Hermits (Brooklyn NY: Archway Editions, 2022), following more than a half-dozen trade collections, as well as numerous chapbooks, including austerity measures (Fewer & Further Press, 2012) [see my review of such here], JOURNAL STARTED IN AUGUST (Projective Industries, 2015) [see my review of such here] and Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals (Albany NY: Fence Books, 2016) [see my review of such here], as well as the more recent The Pasolini Book (NC/NY: Golias Books, 2022). The eleven poems that make up Famous Hermits extend Szymaszek’s engagement with a variation on the day book or lyric journaling, furthering a thread of New York School poetics (I’ve been reading and rereading Bernadette Mayer lately, so can really see the linkages) across lengthy lines and sentences in an expansive and even continuous ongoingness (think, also, of the late Vancouver poet Gerry Gilbert, although it seems less likely Szymaszek aware of his decades of work, or elements of Fred Wah). There is something compelling with Szymaszek’s use of personal material (whether actual or otherwise), and one might even see a way how her books could fit neatly against each other across an autobiographic spectrum; it would be interesting for someone to more closely examine the length and breadth of her published work to chart the evolution of her particular variation of the lyric journal. She utilizes the details of reading, living, responding and being as the building blocks through which her poems emerge, propelled by language and rhythm, a cadence that flows easily across and down each page. “in the sloppy middle of life,” she writes, to close the three-page poem “STOP MAKING PEACE,” “is a dialogue          in view of Santa Catalina // I woke to find // an elder woman selling her soap /// mine has more / pine tar / in it / because frankly / I am / a master // of my trade [.]”

“I am I because my landlord is my accountant,” she writes, as part of the poem “CENTURION FACE,” “he knows me / in the tyranny of paperwork gesticulate over a plank / of leather [.]” Szymaszek stitches together her poems-as-collage, travelling across an expansive distance of daily offerings, deep reading and language; hers is an exploration as much temporal, writing personal space both internal and external, rippling well beyond the immediate into wider considerations of city, landscape and culture. In certain ways, this is also a collection coming to terms with relocation, moving out of a lengthy period of New York City for the Hudson Valley, offering a journal on and around such an enormous personal and professional shift; one that feels akin to hermiting, perhaps, which is why she invokes so many across the text. As the back cover offers: “The concept of the famous hermit is born out of a desire to experience integrity, to not go forgotten, yet with a fierce need to separate from liberal ideas of what poetry should publicy perform. She invokes other kindred artists such as Dante, Bob Kaufman, Tina Modotti, and Jean Seberg as guisdes as she writes her own statements of renunciation and ultimately of middle-aged self-love.”

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