The New Volta Blog is Coming

tumblr_mr4x2f0EhU1qch9gxo1_500The Volta Blog will be changing in the coming weeks. That change will bring with it a wider range of poetry-focused critical work in the form of interviews, conversations, news, events, literary criticism, columns, book reviews, and more.


If you have any questions, or if you are interested in contributing to the Volta Blog, please email co-editors Housten Donham [] or Kate Robinson [].

a princess magic presto spell by Lisa Jarnot

Jarnot400_1024x1024My nephew loves Lisa Jarnot’s a princess magic presto spell. Forget Thomas and all his train friends, the family and their bear hunt, the caterpillar no matter how hungry he might be. Sixteen months old, Nephew full-footed baby-runs his chubby legs down the hall and into the room I’ve invaded in my sister’s home the past several weeks. In a stack of books whose tower has been made vulnerably by the lack of any consistent shape, built more by timing than anything else, he always – always – whether by size (a respectable square of 7.5 inches tall and wide, barely half an inch tall), texture (a cover-binding of paper nothing like suede but with a softness that reminds me of middle school choir robes all the same) finds this triptych.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.05.19 AM

opening Part Three’s Every Body’s Bacon. In between such lines and language, now and then we land on artwork by Emilie Clark punctuating sections of the poems throughout the book. What he is in awe of, he can’t tell me yet. But Nephew points, vocalizes the ooohs and wows I’m also thinking of when I encounter these images which seem, in a sense, to be the cellular constructions of somethings enlarged, enlarged by a kaleidoscopic microscope. They are bright in a muted watercolor scale, intricate and smooth as line-drawings.

Admittedly, I find myself more easily understanding of Clark’s images than Jarnot’s poems. Another confession: I am an engineer’s daughter. I find safety in logic and order. On any given day when I go to the page, I most go for the opportunity to trust in means of communication I grew up with. It is far too easy for me to point at a collection like Jarnot’s and ask the mundane question along the lines of how do we as readers make sense of the pieces put together. This is a limitation of my reading, I am aware.

At this point in my reading history, I’m far less interested in these more obvious inquiries. Or – I see them as, in fact, so very important they risk and then lose meaning. While the impulse I still have is to find sense-making markers through Jarnot’s work, which presto spell is my first encounter, and poets writing similar verses, it leads to an unproductive thought-game that gambles with the beauty and wonder which ultimately makes this a book I’ve come to keep close.

Of course the child is how I came to better understand presto spell.

After a few times through the collection, I most looked forward to page 26 not only for the large Clark image on the adjacent side, but in particular for these lines early on in Every Body’s Bacon –

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.06.03 AM

These statements feel grounded, pointed, but not without sincerity or an intimacy. Much of Jarnot’s collection refuses personhood like this, but only so much as I-ness creates. Personality, without personal pronoun, is full and rich and palpable here in presto spell in a way that, once I noticed the omission – the revision – made me realize how much we rely on personal pronouns as stand-ins. Use of I or he or she, they can be shortcuts, allowances to leave out small details that Jarnot’s writing flourishes with.

A few times more than those, a small child on my lap reacting to and interacting with the language rolling off my tongue, off the pages of presto spell, I better understood to remember something not necessarily foreign but so fundamental about the aurality of language.

I will line up in the sentences of this lonely vehiculate, a day leaning toward evening, a

midsummer cacophony of peaches, hydrangeas, and bees,

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.06.16 AM

We end with wonder, an incantation to call ourselves home, or away, wherever will make us imaginative to lose and then regain ourselves with awe.

a princess magic presto spell is available from SOLID OBJECTS

Christine Holm began writing poetry while employed in social services and continues to find spaces where creative work overlaps with community service, from writing with palliative care patients through Poesia del Sol to teaching inmates with The Writers in Prison Project.

So I Began by Lisa Lubasch







If you read Lubasch’s poems backwards you find the erasure of meaning, a starting again:

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 8.07.54 PM

The spirit of reproduction enters a new mode. It works forwards, too, but the spirit of becoming is the return; to truly begin we must learn to begin again.

And before, on page 9, “Not a telling, but a faltering. Through trees her sight fell, upon” — Beckett said fail again but fail better, and if dialectics is a movement from nothing through nothing to nothing, where the spirit finds no resting ground, then the mode of poetry is the tracing of these gaps. It is clear in the faltering, in the stuttered prose poetry with its double-stop of caesura and period.

So I Began opens with something of an Ars Poetica, a delicately-crafted meditation on the Word that strikes me as in the mode of Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, the struggle with being-in-the-world, being-of-the-world:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.29.56 AM

Good poetry can be a prayer that frees us from the duty to pray, not in the protestant sense of returning the power from the priest to the Book, but in the Mallarméan-modernist sense of writing a new book altogether, of renumbering the constellations, that space “Where the stars would signify”. And the beautiful moment of opacity — “What, in words, would stifle, / What would lend / The no and yes to universal things // These suggested ends, how ends would speak / Them and be heard”.

This is difficult poetry, dense poetry. Lubasch uses images sparingly, like a chef at a fancy restaurant. Her mode is intensely philosophical, but the form is poetic to the end, more in line with Mallarmé’s playful philosophical quest than some more unfortunate metaphysical meditations set to line breaks. There are no end-of-poem punchlines, no satisfying reveal. Indeed, each poem seems to hang off the page, unfinished, and the effect of reading multiple pages in a row is a growing anxiety, that sense you’re entering into a domain that is not reserved for you, yet Lubasch has invited us. Something like the feeling of transgression while reading Sexton.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.31.01 AM

This is a book spare in text; good, because every line is a gift and a burden:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.31.14 AM

Here we see layers of re-writing, of that post-modern mode where things are shifting, unclear, frightening:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.31.24 AM

Language is for this book a last refuge, a resting place of the One (I plus Other?), but it is constantly in danger, falling away–do we hear the substance or the distance from it? What is the dialectic of language?

Obviously, Lubasch loves language, despite (or because of) her wrestlings. Listen to the music of these lines:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 11.59.55 AM

And this only continues:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.31.43 AM

There is something satisfying and voyeuristic in tracing the drama of writing, this sort of modernist tradition of analyzing what the hell our art is doing, and for whom? Here we have the self, the stranger (masculine?), the stars, the blood, anxiety, Open and Cheat.

On page 28 is the beautiful entering of the discourse of power, something obscene in its categorization, its attempt to conceptualize:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.31.54 AM

It is “Entering. Into you.” It is “A brutalizing structure”, that which classifies as victim, Something lingers, something resists, perhaps the feminine, the Spirit.

The analytic and scholarly language of the poetry is constantly breaking down, with its overmuch periods, with its redactions and silences.

By section 2 things fall into place, the body begins to take shape around some un-named trauma, something unclassifiable with which language must struggle.

What stifles, what betrays? Is it the Word or is it the Body? The poet is Athena with her feet on the earth and her scalp touching heaven. It is, in the end, the word “bleed” that seems to guide the reading.

In “The Situation/Evidence”, forgive me for reading the character “Open” as “Oppen”.

The speaker’s name is Cheat. The redacted lines are obviously cheating — “The second thing I notice is that I–I– / The third thing develops as the light moves down the tumbling place…. / The tumbling place is my name for– / One of the things that tumbles into the tumbling place is our–” (5). One cannot be mad; the lacuna has its function, the breath of a human in the midst of so many words.

This poem has the feel of speculative fiction. What is the “bondage suit”, the mystical and always-not-yet-arrived medications and provisions? The levers on the spine? The medicine is paregoric, which comes from Greek for soothing, from the verb “to speak in the assembly”. Of course the role of speech returns, and it is a soothing thing, a soothing thing we lack and so we are willed to speak (note “we are willed”, not “we will”).

There is always something mechanical in science fiction; the technology that grinds up humans, but then the protagonist busts through the machinery with her humanity. Or maybe not, or maybe not.

The forms shift from musical lines with white space on which to feast, to prose verging on short story, to something like a stuttering journal of a psychotherapy patient.

And “Getting Around It” is one of those unsettling poems that reveals a mechanism of the mind so quickly that we find a new thing breaking loose from something so old and well-worn, as old as our Imaginary and our Symbolic. There is something scientific about poetry like this; because the poetic gaze is upon the detritus of society, but when we turn that gaze inward.

In any case, there’s a reason confessional poetry scares people (men).

It’s funny; it’s funny — the poem passes like an analytical philosophy argument through a series of mental exercises that build the self, and they all hit against the hard rock of something, and thus are rejected, and in the end one has no toes and can barely stand but at least we are done with that traumatic notion of progress, that 19th century dream and that 20th century monster-in-the-shadows. We are nervous. We are hysterics. We are cutting off our own toes, but it’s okay because we are looking for a beginning, hovering between standing and falling.

This is good old-fashioned poetry of the New. Which is fortunate considering the title and that the cover art is a heart cut in half; or is it eyeballs trapped in a heart?

So I Began will be released by SOLID OBJECTS in October 2014

Liam Swanson is an MFA student at the University of Arizona. He writes on/studies communism, feminism, the politics of the apocalypse. His work has recently appeared in the Sonora Review, Cabildo Quarterly, and the Platypus Review.