by Douglas Piccinnini
In a consciousness claimed by the brutal expressions of war coursing through the first half of the 20th century, the late poems of the German poet Ernst Meister (1911- 1979) embody a torment dedicated to life’s inevitable conclusion. Though less concerned with the social actors of calamity, Meister instead interrogates the invisible order that operates on being.
In Wallless Space, Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick translate the final work of Meister’s informal trilogy (Of Entirety Say the Sentence, In Time’s Rift, and Wallless Space).
With precision, Foust and Frederick intone Meister’s philosophical and poetic torque, dialing in on the underlying struggle: the elusive, expanding surplus of time; the baffling dissonance keyed into life.
The epistemological sparks of this collection glint around the darkness of dying—of death—and therefore, awaken a reader to questions concerning the causality in and of life.
Where the cross is
of the hourglass,
lightning takes root.
Here at this point,
how you stand,
all time unfolds.
Meister’s poems tell the story of our known and unknown universe and, of the perplexing inclusivity awareness allows for, as “all time unfolds.”
The poems meet at the “point, / which sees/ how you stand.” Thus, we arrive at a moment of profound presence where we are and, “[w]here the cross is / of the hourglass”— where time seems to happen.
Meister’s poems essay an essential gesture to toward understanding. As history is real: History in the pointing, history in the blunting of meaning and, history in the honing of meaninglessness.
It’s been a long time, it seems,
that you’ve waited
to get into what is fleeting,
for only now are you there.
Now you ask
what that was,
which right now
It is perhaps disorienting to think to make meaning beyond meaning-inside-of-knowing. It is an effort that seems to move with itself as,
As do you, looking
out the windows
of the house.
A sense of helplessness haunts Meister’s Wallless Space: to have a wall is—in a sense—to know boundary, that you are “looking / out the windows / of the house.” For Meister, the superficial structure of knowing is bound in what we know. This paradox twists on itself as “[s]pinning itself / spins around.” Boundless, Meister confronts Stevens’ nothingness that is not there and the nothingness that is—and yet, they are one.
An elemental and an eternal reconstitution exists at the crosshairs of time unfolding: That time appears to unfold. That we think we know this there and that not there.
The drama of the intellectual void and the actual void comingle, as the feeling of nothingness is itself nothingness—should such a feeling portray both metaphysical and physical truth.
Thus the actual nothingness in and of itself contains attributes—symptoms that beget description. In Foust’s own poem “A Dream-Nothingness Is Spread Over The Actual Nothingness,” (which borrows from German novelist Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil) this tension is “[o]verheard / in our void.
At once placed in the eternal unfolding moment and, in high contempt of its physical and metaphysical implications, “turning / and swiveling, / one leaf is / hanging / from winter’s tree.” As Foust and Frederick assert, “Meister’s great achievement […] is his celebration of language’s power as both product of and protection against the existential void.” This void contains multitudes and,
The one who understands
is the digger,
peak of powerlessness
is down there.
“Power” is not being placed in the grave. “[P]owerlessness / is down there,” in the grave. The place of power, where Meister makes sense of senselessness, is on the page.
corners of region!
pondering my breath,
while up and over my head
space lifts itself
with innumerable heavens.
Again, in their introduction, Foust and Frederick suggest that “[t]he four corners of the everyday piece of paper double as the corners of a more expansive region,” citing then Meister’s allusion to the book of Revelation: “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth.”
The vessel for making meaning is limited to the formal elements in the known world. But also the divinity of space—that which is ruled by something nonmaterial, and unseen in the regions of knowing. Just as the corners of a map mark a physical knowing, the corners of Meister’s page come to mark both a physical and metaphysical knowing.
In Wallless Space, the nothingness that hangs on everything descends from the “empyreal,” the highest order of ‘heavens.’ Yet theologically, in an absence of God, the drapery of and lack thereof presents a teleological stalemate.
To live is conversion as to die is conversion also. Likened to Dickinson, “This world is not Conclusion.” Between eternities—before and after life—is life and its enduring gridlock of doubts and certainties jerk through consciousness.
Often in mid-riddle, in recitation, in rending transformation, Meister’s poems perform magnitudes on a small scale. Translation is like possession, and together Foust and Frederick offer Meister’s tongue to an Anglophone audience. The anti- metaphysical lesson in Wallless Space is to enjoy the surface and sounds of these poems again and again, in spite of their heaving weight.
…on whose head
lies a shadow
and on that shadow
and on that stone
Wallless Space is available from Wave Books
Douglas Piccinnini is the author of the forthcoming book of poems, Blood Oboe (Omindawn, 2015) and a novella, Story Book (The Cultural Society, 2014), as well as numerous chapbooks, including Flag (Well Greased Press, 2013) and ∆ (TPR Press, 2013) — a bilingual book of poems with Cynthia Gray and Camilo Roldán. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Antioch Review, Aufgabe, So & So, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Lana Turner, Vanitas, Verse, Vlak — among others. He is a winner of the 2014 SLS Contest for Poetry, judged by Dorothea Lasky.
by Connor Fisher
1000 Folds, written by Joe Ross and published in 2014 by Chax Press, is a stark long poem that circulates around its subject matter and meditates on the nature of time, spatial objects, and the concept of becoming. The book is divided into three sections (in addition to a brief Prologue)—each section is formally similar to the others. Ross’ long poem comprises short, isolated lines that are presented traditionally: left justified (although many lines are indented) and read from top to bottom. The brief lines are paired most often into couplets, although groupings of three lines or individual lines are common as well. This separation of lines and couplets from one another provides percussive breaks of negative space within the otherwise constant flow of the poem. These interruptions provide a contrasting texture and lend an intentional temporary misdirection within the otherwise-linear movement of the page; a false sense of completion at the end of lines and stanzas jars and defamiliarizes the poem.
In the book’s final section, Ross writes,
This technique also allows Ross to elongate sentences or clauses down the length of a page; he enacts a temporal delay to stretch the time of the poem.
1000 Folds is primarily concerned with the concept of time—it situates the temporal as a circular force, rather than a linear projection. Through time’s agency, events recur and are never finally beyond the purview of either poem or poet (who functions as a suitable stand-in for any human subject). Time is a hollow; a gap that is inherently empty in order to be filled with various transitive events and interactions. Ross writes,
The constant flow of time dispossesses itself; the temporal is at once vehicle and vessel, yet contains nothing that does not slip away. Time’s complex nature constrains the book; it is an object that exists within time and that is read temporally, that establishes a specific lexicon to make certain arguments, and yet that must be discarded line by line as a reader makes her way through the pages.
In conjunction with the centrality of time to 1000 Folds, the book also concerns itself with the moment—an instant of time in which the impetus is placed on the individual to act or generate meaning and which would otherwise be a vacant space. Ross frequently describes temporal phenomena with spatial metaphors—this strengthens the poem’s conception of the temporal moment as an inhabitable space of opportunity and consequence.
The final concern of 1000 Folds is with the process and potential of becoming. Ross depicts becoming as an ethic that is entwined with time; temporal circularity does not alter the possibility—and necessity—for ontological change and development. Recurring moments indicate time’s ability to enact generation and alteration; this is at once for Ross a philosophical statement and an ethical call to seize what Ross terms “the clarity of becoming” (56). Earlier, he writes,
At the beginning of the excerpt, Ross asserts that thought, like time, moves in patterns of circularity and returns to find itself (“thought’s remembrance / of thought”) and enters into the play of being. Thought and time together implicate becoming (“Away of being / still” and “To the rumors / we would become”) and attest to its crucial placement both within the poem and within an ethic that allows individuals possibility and agency.
1000 Folds deftly advances Ross’ arguments and poetic strategy without resorting to didacticism or excessive abstraction. Rather, the book maintains a remarkable consistency and cohesive vision that blends together complex concepts and maintains momentum to a compelling conclusion. Ross has undertaken the ambitious project of outlining both a conceptual argument and a specific ethic, and 1000 Folds stands as a remarkable success of both poetic dexterity and philosophical complexity.
Connor Fisher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He has an MA in English Literature from the University of Denver and is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing—Poetry from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
(This is part of a series of reviews on titles from Belladonna*’s chaplet series, many of which are now available as free PDFs)
by Peter Vanderberg
Anne Waldman’s chapbook is primarily composed of the single, long, title poem. The book is a fragmented meditation that approaches questions of war, conscience, feminism, art, history, and other subjects. It is a book that at once confuses and invites the reader to create meaning. The experience of living with this book for a while was like what I imagine Zen students experience in their search for no-meaning.
First, an epigraph from the New York Times dated Nov 18, 2001. A site recovery worker writes about ghosts and what he sees, unseen by others. Waldman’s book is now placed in that context: under the specter of 9/11/01. The effect is that now, the book is grounded in that memory of 9/11, but it becomes also about the unseen, and somehow this makes the poem bigger than any fragmentary visions of that day and its aftermath.
Waldman’s opening poem appears to be a prose poem, the entire piece italicized, which for me suggests a voice, either in one’s head or being yelled in defiance of definition. The cumulative effect of the poem is an announcement of self: though it seems to contradict itself at times, its terms at once powerful:
I am the toil of all Jerusalem my eyes are firebrand meteors to light your way…
then dabbling in cliche’:
I am here living the good life the sane life the yuppie housewife life…
I think of Whitman: “Do I contradict myself…then I contradict myself, I contain multitudes.”
Next, the title poem: [Things Seen] Unseen, which is typographically separated by a line. The poem is a Ginsbergian free-verse piece that at times bewilders and then comes clear, momentarily. The ephemerality of the poem’s sense of itself suggests a consideration of the nature of reality. There are, undeniably, things unseen. What then is the relationship between the seen and unseen? What questions arise from that relationship and what answers, if any can be found there?
Again I am reminded of Allen Ginsberg in that Waldman, as Ginsberg usually does, sends me researching the terms of her poems -
Ofra Haza singing “Galbi”
La Pitture Etrusche di Tarquinia
A Bar At The Folies-Bergere
Ofra Haza singing Galbi refers to a 1984 song that set a 17th century Arabic poem to music.
La Pitture Etrusche di Tarquinia – Etruscan murals from 8th – 2nd Century B.C.
A Bar At The Folies-Bergere is a painting by Edouard Manet of a girl behind a cafe bar staring directly at the viewer.
From these notes, I glean a setting: the Arab world, its history…then, I am in Paris, and the beautiful girl behind the cafe counter looks at me accusingly, enticingly. I do not know what this all means. The effect is like notes of music that create an emotional tone beyond literal translation.
The poem is also fragmented in terms of its typographical layout. Phrases and ideas scatter and are separated by a physical break in the form of a bold line cut horizontally across the page. Waldman uses this visual break on every page of the book. The effect is an invocation of the title:
This polar relationship, at once contradictory and complementary, invokes the idea of the other. The effect on each page is akin to that of the octave – sestet relationship in the Italian sonnet: the call and response that creates a dialogue of thought and meditation.
This charged energy drives the reader on through Walman’s poem. Each fragmented idea leaps to the next with the reader in search of continuity. As the page is broken by the line, so to is the thought process, and so it must begin again.
Page four begins with the parenthetical “(seen).” A clue to which side we are on? Perhaps the reader can now feel grounded in the physical, the real, the observable. But what follows begs a search for meaning, a salve for a reality that does not ground us well:
The Camps & Genocide
2,000 lbs of laser bombs
a white male Chief of Staff smirks
a vice-president dodges his odds
Waldman does not shy from making political statements. These things seen, lead to questions and a search for meaning (redemption?). A bold line drawn across the page is the gate through which the reader passes into the “(unseen).”
it depends what ends you are on
terrorism? or eternalism?
sun & rain of a dead civilization
her debit card
works like a ghost
These metaphysical fragments prompt us to consider the cost and the remains of the “seen.” We search for answers in between, in areas of overlap between seen and unseen experience.
Personally, I found it difficult to unravel [THINGS] SEEN / UNSEEN. Perhaps that is the experience Waldman wants us to have. The questions that arose in reading her work led to meditations, uncomfortable thoughts, feelings of anger and despair, even self-accusation. The work Waldman gives us is like a koan. We are invited to unravel the poem, trace its meanings, draw our own lines and raise our own questions.
This chapbook is free. The experience of reading it is bewildering, powerful, uncomfortable and invigorating. Through her poetry Anne Waldman offers a spiritual exercise. It’s value is somewhere between mantra, spell and prayer. As she says towards the end of her book, “this document keeps the demons at bay.”
Peter Vanderberg served in the US Navy from 1999 – 2003 and received a MFA from Queens College, CUNY. His work has appeared in CURA, LUMINA, The Manhattanville Review and in collaboration with his brother James’ paintings in their book, Weather-Eye. He teaches at St. John’s Preparatory School and Hofstra University.
some links to things:
some of Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters at The New Inquiry
Meara Sharma interviews Claudia Rankine at Guernica
an open letter to white poets from Danez Smith
Bernadette Mayer on writing traditional forms
the Best Books of 2014 next door at The Volta
Cold Genius by Aaron Kunin // Fence Books
Kern by Derek Beaulieu // Les Figues Press
The Dead Girls Speak in Unison by Daniell Pafunda // Coconut Books
all books, with the exception of Then Air, are also available from Small Press Distribution
(This is part of a series of reviews focused on titles released by the Oakland-based small press/poetry cult Timeless, Infinite Light.)
by Adriana Widdoes
The Old Zoo in Griffith Park, its emptied, creaking cages embracing anonymous passersby in need of temporary shelter; a foreclosed home with boarded up windows on Avenue 56; the polluted, concrete banks of the L.A. River, tagged by teens at twilight, where a weathered man fishes for his dinner, among the inky sand and reeds.
All of this is the vacant “green/brown” space of Los Angeles, the “shards of glass, car engines, truck engines, shit, chewed popsicle sticks, a screw, feathers, fronds, used condoms, hand prints, tongue prints, and feet” and contemporary sites of capitalist breakdown that poet Emerson Whitney lovingly investigates in his remarkable first book, Ghost Box.
Published by Oakland-based small press Timeless, Infinite Light as the third installment in their Tract series, Ghost Box is at its core the story of a haunting. Whitney is the poet-detective tasked with tracking down Emily, our ghostly, unseen criminal who may or may not be to blame for the impromptu bird sanctuary that has appeared in an abandoned Home Depot lot near downtown L.A., and who may or may not be dying and turning into a bird herself. Readers never observe Emily except through the multi-colored bowls of cat food and water-filled paint trays that she leaves behind for her beloved birds. The complete explanation behind who Emily is, and exactly which universe she inhabits (ours or some place wilder), evades us, just as she evades our intrepid narrator Whitney, who tries for months—notepad in hand—to catch a glimpse of the phantom Emily, to write her onto his pages.
A braided documentary and hybrid text, Ghost Box juxtaposes Whitney’s unearthly poems with his lucid prose, slowly revealing the bird-feeding criminal Emily bit by confounding bit. But while the prose pieces detail the narrator’s observations of the scene at the abandoned lot, the poems are written from the perspective of Emily herself—Emily, who waits always on the periphery, out of reach. What Whitney carries through all of this is his arresting ability to conjure beauty out of ugliness. For example, about halfway into the book he describes spending the night in his car:
It’s 1:30am. I watch the action over my dashboard like horizon. The bird population is thrashing, the most wild I’ve seen. The lot is an aviary. It’s hard and hot. Feathers float in the air. Dirt crusted birds skip between shards of glass, lipping discarded McDonald’s wrappers. Chirps and coos are constant. The scene is somehow soft, like sleep.
And despite an undeniably feral quality, even Emily appears bewitching:
I’ve taken to hiding under cars
and snaking between piss-shrubs
I sleep nowhere—
my eyes are glowing, atrophied
but I am stronger still
Whitney writes plenty of sly humor into Ghost Box, too. There’s mention of a seagull attack involving “a McNugget, a child.” There’s “a herd of Jehovah’s Witnesses” that descend onto the narrator during his stakeout, leaving him feeling even more unnerved than the aggressive birds flying overhead (readers should feel relieved to know that he successfully keeps the Jehovah’s Witnesses at bay by announcing he’s on his way to buy a sex toy.) In fact, one of my favorite scenes occurs when “the person with the rake” (Home Depot’s appointed pest control person, and Whitney’s default stakeout companion) explains his understanding of “wildlife.” Whitney writes:
That afternoon, I joke about the term ‘wildlife’ on the no-trespassing sign with the person with the rake. He does not think it is funny. He believes that besides the birds, the ‘wildlife’ of the lot includes people like ‘that guy in the van,’ he points to a faux-wood-grain VW mini-van that is permanently parked on the periphery. ‘And all the other homeless people,’ he gestures in a circle around the site, ‘also cats, bees, skunks, and one possum.’
In our age of increasing capitalist destruction of the natural world, what is wildness? Wilderness? Who or what inhabits it, and how? These are questions that Whitney playfully fingers, pokes and prods throughout his text. Always, there is the obvious answer (cats, bees, skunks, Emily’s birds). But in Ghost Box we witness yet another still, something hushed that whispers: wild are the lone ones seeking beauty amidst overwhelming grayness, who—like Emily and Whitney himself—meander toward the edges and let the dirt-filled cracks swallow them whole.
Or as Whitney puts it, “what looks like almost nothing.”
Ghost Box is available from Timeless, Infinite Light
Adriana Widdoes is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She is co-founder of Which Witch Books and she hosts literary events at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip. Her writing has previously appeared on Freerange Nonfiction, Trop, and the Black Clock blog.
By Michael Wasson
Linguistic torsion. There’s really no other way to put it.
Before I had even started reading Biswamit Dwibedy’s compelling debut, Ozalid, I flipped to the back of the book for the blurbs. Cole Swenson mentions, “we’re in unmapped territory.” Immediately, Ozalid had offered some form of curiosity to me, spurring me on to take a dip in its depths.
Let’s begin, though, at the title: Ozalid—a process in which type and graphics are duplicated onto translucent paper. When I was slated to review this book, the name itself had already drawn a simultaneous confusion and a fascinating intelligence.
The poems throughout seem to meet at a plane of space where language, at its core, is found at the time it recedes away. In doing so, Dwibedy’s poems flicker, flutter, dissolve, and interact with its almost bizarre language placement. The rippling white space therefore really shapes the book’s flow.
The poem “Vein,” for example, depicts what could be a human vein “[a]slant / against its / own / defined on / soft mud.” I’m thrown off, expecting to follow the path of the vein against its own. It’s own what? As readers, we’re dissembled right then and are pivoted into “defined on / soft mud.” The logic of the syntax and rhythm is torqued just enough that we’re redirected with the image of the vein still somewhere in our peripheral.
enough that perfect rain –
In the same poem, after our redirection, we can follow along like a lens that has found its focus. We see the development of footprints, equality, balance, a sort of superimposed image that has discovered signs of human remnants beneath its initial surface texture.
I think what Dwibedy has touched on is an intimate relationship with the strangeness of language and letters. Having touched at these accounts of language’s ever-present ephemerality, Dwibedy comes to terms as best he can:
The beauty of letters
to know them
love ends badly
In the middle of this poem, “Barely Touched,” the speaker says, “Anything could happen.” How precise. Anything can happen when dealing with creation and art-making. That’s the failure inherent in process. At all times, in life, in human wonder, we’re woven into a world of the living and dying—the dead and the newly born. So this is how that line haunts—because then at large Dwibedy is conscious to the bright, aperture-quick stains of suffering, of failure, of success weighed down by its uncertainty, its “unmapped territory” as Swenson fittingly gathered.
But also then the collection is a testament to how art is a process toward powerful discovery.
At the gut of this collection, however, there is always an air of mourning, and it’s not really until you slow down and hear the heartbreak within the speaker. Like the aesthetics of impermanence, Dwibedy’s takes on an impossibility, an almost but not quite, an attempt to pin down shadows in the harsh surge of light, only to see his poems’ experiences, and his readers’ as well, drenched in awe and grief.
Dwibedy offers us “Which the mind is a chain of pauses” at the end of Ozalid, almost as a way to reaffirm our entire course through the book. And even though this is expressive enough to sew us down, the final line of the collection mirrors my conclusive sentiment: “amazed across the way.”
Michael Wasson, nimíipuu from the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, earned his MFA from Oregon State University and his BA from Lewis-Clark State College. He received a Joyce Carol Oates Award in Poetry, and his work is included or forthcoming in Poetry Kanto, As/Us, Hayden’s Ferry Review, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Cutthroat, and elsewhere.