Thursday, December 07, 2023

Ongoing notes: Subpress Collective/CCCP Chapbooks: J-T Kelly + Mark Statman,

I’ve been seeing these Subpress Collective/CCCP Chapbooks that Jordan Davis has been producing out of Brooklyn for a while now—see my review of Buck Downs’ GREEDY MAN: selected poems (2023) here and Nada Gordon’s The Swing of Things (2022) here—so I’m pleased to see copies of J-T Kelly’s LIKE NOW (2023) and Mark Statman’s CHICATANAS: SELECTED POEMS (2023) appear at my door.

The chapbook debut by Indianapolis poet and innkeeper J-T Kelly, LIKE NOW, offers an assemblage of short lyric first-person narrative and layered accumulations that sway and play, such as the short poem “Plunder”: “Pomegranate—ripe, / Unbroken— // I, too, hide my heart— / Fruitlessly.” There’s something of a disjointed lyric reminiscent of Canadian poets Stuart Ross, Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, each composing poems that lean into disconnections, connections and surreal threads and sly humour across the short lyric. I’m curious in how Kelly’s poems form across such narrative disjoints and jumbles, and how these pieces shape themselves not simply through a completed thought run all the way to the end, but one that rests somewhere in the middle, allowing the reader the space through which to complete on their own. I am intrigued by these poems of J-T Kelly.


What I said when I was leaving.
Your friends and their boots.
I left it there on the key stand.
The road is dry. But I still think about
standing on the on-ramp outside of Bismarck.
At the mercy of. Sometimes forty-five miles
from a pay phone. I went north because
Zach didn’t listen and had gone south.
He had been picked up and taken to some field.
They tried to set him on fire, but the gasoline
dissolved the adhesive and he broke free.
The wheat so near to harvest must have swayed majestically
as he ran, pain in his eyes, suffocating,
And deciding to finish grad school, which he did.
You, it turns out, consider me to be.
The headlights extend sideways out of the low stalks of winter
The passenger seat holds my fur-lined leather mittens
and your anthology of poetry from The New York school which I
    will not give back.
You can go to hell. I’m going to Seattle.

I hadn’t actually heard of New York-based American writer, poet and translator Mark Statman before seeing this new title, although the acknowledgments of CHICATANAS: SELECTED POEMS offers that he is the author of six poetry collections, two works of prose and has translated collections by Federico García Lorca (with Pablo Medina), José María Hinojosa and Martín Barea Mattos. I’m fascinated by the idea of the chapbook-length selected poems, something Davis has been exploring for some time (there was also the chapbook-length Stuart Ross bilingual Spanish/English ‘selected’ I reviewed recently, published in Argentina), and I would almost think that putting together a chapbook-length selected would be far more challenging than attempting one book-length, even beyond the consideration of weighing the possibility of ‘best’ against potential ‘representative of this author’s work,’ etcetera. I’m curious as to how the poems in this collection might be representative of Statman’s larger canvas of writing, offering first-person lyric musings via hesitation, soft and slow unfolding of narration. There’s a slowness here his lines and breaks require, both firm and thoughtful, never in any particular hurry, because you’ll get there in the end, either way, whether losing a poem through a young woman’s accent (“the disappearance of the poem”) or a piece on the death of Kenneth Koch, that opens the collection, “Kenneth’s Death,” that begins: “he’s dead and / I still don’t believe: / years later / I’m walking someplace / and I’ll think / this is something / I’ll tell him / when he gets back / when he gets back / as though where Kenneth’s gone / is simply too far away / to telephone or / send a postcard [.]”


some mysteries have
to be that way
Alma asked me yesterday
if I was going to
the casita today
was I going to harvest
our chicatanas
giant ants from
whose toasted bodies
legs and heads removed
Alma makes a
sharp spicy salsa
the chicatanas only come out
once a year and every year
since we bought the
casita we’ve had them
they emerge before dawn
the ground wet it’s either
on the 24th or 25th of
every June St. John’s Day
I ask Alma
but how do you know
which day 24, 25 and she
smiles and says because
the morning after
the dawn fills with
small white butterflies


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