Category: Connor Fisher

REVIEW: 1000 Folds by Joe Ross

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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,

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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,

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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,

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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.

REVIEW: Belladonna* Chaplet Series // Susan Briante

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(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 Connor Fisher

Susan Briante’s chaplet, Neotropics: A Romance in Field Notes, is the 52nd publication in Belladonna’s series of small chapbooks. The chaplet is dense in its form, the intensity of its language, and the registers and types of language which Briante has combined. Neotropics, as its title suggests, concerns itself with a renegotiation of natural space in its intersection with human agents. Briante’s narratives place the reader in a humid atmosphere that is oppressive in a variety of ways, yet every poem and prose block demonstrates Briante’s creative dexterity, as she layers meanings and significations in minimal space. The only geographical location mentioned in the text is Galang Island (located at the southern tip of Malaysia), but page titles, as well as text throughout, indicate that the location is essential to Neotropics. Pages titled “3rd Day Of The Rainy Season,” “5th Day Of The Rainy Season,” “7th Day…” and “12th Day…” are interspersed with five pages titled “Eventual Darling” (no other titles are used). Formally, the work is largely consistent; Neotropics begins with a prose page (four paragraphs) followed by pages of lineated poetry, several of which comprise lines broken up into small stanzas or couplets.

The mentioned juxtaposition is indicative of the general form of Neotropics, as well as its overall argument. Briante plays the bricoleur in her poems, drawing language and concepts from political and feminist discourse, botany and general natural description, erotic meditation, and psychoanalytic pseudo-insights by early 20th-Century analyst André Tridon. In “7th Day Of The Rainy Season,” Briante writes,

A stem’s placability should not be mistaken for delicateness.

“Breathe deep,” the doctor told me and slid his stethoscope like a

coin over my chest

A seat by window suffices to stitch the world together.

I consider the number of heartbeats per minute within this pasture

of traffic.

Exaggerated mania for identification, writes André Tridon, is a

symptom of weakness (8).

Earlier in the composition, Briante engages more directly with nature, and uses natural objects to construct an ontology and a grammar, which the rest of the chaplet both occupies and troubles. In “7th Day Of The Rainy Season”

Mist treads down the mountain roof by roof to rest beside me.

White-tongued bougainvillea embrace a fishtail palm.

Romance plays no part.

Cuts of raw beef fill flatbeds hurling up the hill.

I sit with my legs closed, a single woman edging a plaza in Taxco (4).

Neotropics combines a natural environment—at one beautiful and threatening—with a politically oppressive atmosphere and a gendered, feminine space that is at once elevated and threatened by its surroundings. The sexuality of the female persona emerges, and the interior space that this invokes initially seems at odds with the external: the world of the “rainy season,” in which men define the female sexuality: “The frigid woman, writes André Tridon, is a cripple or a neurotic” (6). The result, however, is not a domination or determination of sexuality— Neotropics establishes a dialectic between the two manners of being and their associated qualities: inner / outer; performative / observing; and spectacle / diagnosis. This dialectic is formative to the poem and drives its development; as the persona and narrator navigates the inner and outer spaces of the poem, her account itself becomes a form of description, a flexible definition of the natural and the unnatural. This is at once an aggressive maneuver and a relinquishing of authority—the imposition of language into/onto the natural world confronts its inadequacies and biases; the poem possesses a political agency that rejects the external interrogation of female sexuality and political alterity. Neotropics simultaneously allows its subject matter to retain an autonomy; Briante avoids enacting the same clinical diagnostic mode that Tridon uses. She presents her subjects as they are—more accurately, as they appear to be.

Briante concludes the book with a touching moment that moves toward reconciling many of the political, sexual, and natural dialectics in Neotropics and which highlights the complicity of language in negotiating sites of political action and resistance:

Shepherds of reflex and deviation with preference for “sticks

trowels, knives,” with preferences for nipple clamps and half-light

chase flocks of pandemics across withered earth

to swat and prod at syphilophiac scars,

while the rooftops of a processing plant glisten like hand mirrors,

while the tanks of a refinery shimmer like a silver backed comb (11).

Neotropics is available as a free PDF download from Belladonna*

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.

M. Yankilevich’s A Boris by the Sea

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 10.23.43 AMIn the liner notes to Miles Davis’ legendary album Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans writes that

There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. . . . These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

A similar aesthetic is as work within M. Yankelevich’s chapbook, A Boris by the Sea. The material of the chapbook’s construction is noteworthy, and brings a unique temporal aspect into the work. The original and only copy of the chapbook—indicated on the back cover with a dry “1/1”—was constructed of cardboard rectangles bound together with thick twine. There is a section of paper laid (perhaps pasted) on each cardboard “page”—the paper sections have typewritten words on them, as well as occasional drawings of flowers and other plant life, and frequent spots or lines of black watercolor ink.

While the ink splotches are enough to invoke Evans’ description (“an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment”), the nature of the chapbook is also one that relies on principles of spontaneity and cannot be revised or recreated. The original artifact cannot be exactly recreated and, if it still exists at all, is still made of less durable materials than traditionally printed and bound books. The reader is conscious of reading a scanned and digitally reproduced version of the original art object. This mediation of the chapbook is further commentary on its limited temporality; just as the ink patches and lines cannot be revised once the ink has touched the paper, so the chapbook-as-artifact cannot be altered from its original instantiation.

The plot of A Boris by the Sea has a similar effect—the entirety of the text could be reproduced within a single paragraph, and the brief narrative revolves around water: a substance whose nature is to dissipate and evaporate. Within the character Boris’ journey, in which he tries unsuccessfully to quench his thirst, numerous unsuccessful attempts are made before Boris alters his approach in a manner that cannot be returned from. The chapbook concludes:

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Having tried to relieve his thirst via watering his plants, watering sand, and watering the sea, Boris abandons his desire for a watery solution and instead gives his body over to the earth, becoming dirty. This is a temporal solution in addition to a material solution: dirt will not evaporate and, once a body has been dirtied, it cannot be cleaned again but with water, which is the element Boris rejects as incapable of solving his problem. “Dirty” is a permanent state, unlike those states associated with water’s material and evaporation. Boris has found a permanent solution to the problem of thirst via abandoning the temporally limited and embracing an embodied permanence.

In this way, both Yankelevich’s sparse narrative about Boris and the material construction of the chapbook (coupled with the nature of ink stains on the paper sheets), concern themselves with temporality and the ways in which we as readers encounter it. In both Boris’ abandonment of water and self-immersion in dirt and the chapbook’s presentation as a digital copy of a flimsy cardboard original, there is an aesthetic of the permanently temporary. This is what Yankelevich’s chapbook values in its narrative and its construction: the presentation of the temporary, made permanent by a material change. Like Evans’ presentation of Kind of Blue, this aesthetic is one that disallows revision or change—it preserves its temporal moment of creation, a moment that its readers know is limited and irreversible.

A Boris by the Sea is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

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.

Hesiod by Geoffrey G. O’Brien

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Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s chapbook Hesiod, published in 2010 by The Song Cave, takes its name from a Greek poet who wrote during the 6th and 7th centuries BC. The historical Hesiod was a contemporary of Homer; he was among the first Greek poets to introduce the self as a subject of his verse. Hesiod wrote about ancient Greek beliefs and practices ranging from mythology and astronomy to economics and farming. In short, he set out to detail the complicated intersection of the poet’s subjectivity and the day-to-day life and habits—in all of their minutiae and grandeur—in which the poet necessarily submerges himself. O’Brien’s Hesiod stands as a continuation of the Greek poet’s humanist project; he pulls time, space, days of the week, living within a city, and material products into the web of realities that he lives within. O’Brien’s Hesiod also acknowledges that it is not only the poet who lives immersed in these tediously profound (and profoundly tedious) existential circumstances, but also the non-poet, the non-writer. Hesiod democratizes and expands the space of the poet to include those whose life has no intersection with literature—however, he does not do so by speaking for those who are poetically voiceless and appropriating the voice of an unknown other. Rather, O’Brien presents his own subjectivity (and by extension, values all subjectivities) as a vessel containing limited experience which is able to contact and provide insights to a broad human experience.

The chapbook comprises a long poem, which is written in a single column of text unbroken by titles, numbers, or stanza breaks (save for one). This gives the verse of Hesiod a distinct rhythm (both in the reader’s mind and in its form on the page) that flows without pause until the poem’s conclusion. The continuity and surficially (or formally) linear structure of the poem works in parallel to one of O’Brien’s primary themes: the nature of time and the dual forms in which it seems to appear. Hesiod contrasts the immediate, transient, moment-to-moment sense of time in which we perceive our lives with the infinite and ungraspable nature of the eternal.

The month lies further
Divided into weeks, which will have
A habit of encroaching, and what was all
Dark circles of potential in the hand
Or a nearly transparent green
Floating just outside the obvious soon
Falls back to familiar hours
Designed for a desert capital
Where to walk around unaccosted
Has become a form of genius.

Yet despite the abstract nature of O’Brien’s concerns with time, the poem is grounded in a pragmatic concern that entwines all of Hesiod’s themes: time, the relation between a subject and the material things that he uses on a daily basis, and the pressures of living in a prescriptive culture. These major themes highlight the formal query of the chapbook: how can a language-using subject interact with the physical and immaterial objects constituting his world without either dominating them or being dominated by them? To this effect, Hesiod often works in the space of metaphor and allegory; O’Brien bends the contexts and associations of the objects within the long poem to form a material mesh which strengthens the force of his concerns with everyday life juxtaposed—not always comfortably—with philosophical probing and speculation.

I’d like instead a total serum
To change the pace of conversations
You have with those same days
The man is selling subscriptions for
Despite light rain coming down
Unscheduled. If not handing over
Anything, if it occurs to you anyway
To drop the changing blade you didn’t
Know you held, have held too long,
Then do so, it won’t lose its edge.

This is not to say that O’Brien’s use of language—and the objects that it describes—is appropriative or controlling. He allows objects to permeate matter-of-fact statements, questions, imperative demands, and other types of common speech in ways that vex both language and object, but which undermine the autonomy of neither.

Hesiod also challenges the notion of a distinct “poetic language,” often believed to be at work in verse by defamiliarizing concepts that would be otherwise familiar to the reader and imitating reality in ways that make it novel and unexpected. O’Brien uses non-poetic language—words, phrases, diction, and statements that are drawn from an everyday lexicon—to trouble the division between the “poetic” and “non-poetic.”

From the 27th to the 28th rest
In embarrassing determinations:
Dressed before you leave the house,
Give no credence to initial thoughts
That round things love form more
Than angled ones. Wait mindless
As an herb.

If a specifically functioning category of language is not necessary to create a poetic effect on the page, Hesiod asserts, perhaps the distinction itself is useless and can be dismissed from our conceptualization of poetry.

O’Brien’s chapbook is a cohesive, tight, and masterfully crafted exploration into the significance and challenges of documenting one’s motions through the world and the objects that populate it. Hesiod strikes an admirable balance of abstract pseudo-theorization and descriptive material connection, all while maintaining consistency in its everyday, unstilted vernacular. The poem concludes: “the rich man is he / Who attaches no name to public works / And refrains from loving anything.” This is to be read not as antisocial prescription, but rather serves as a suitable dismissal to the reader, who subsequently must engage her own vernacular of language, time, perception, and objects, and reconcile these often abrasive realities into a suitable daily life.

Download Hesiod  for free at The Song Cave

Connor Fisher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He has a 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.

Graham Foust’s To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems (pt II)

downloadGraham’s Foust’s To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems was on nearly everyone’s “best of” list for last year. Two of our 365 participants wanted to review it, so we went ahead and reviewed it twice. 

To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems is Graham Foust’s fifth collection, and in it he whittles down and hones his terse, direct style and embraces a tone that is at once teasing and inclusive without losing its elements of pathos and meta-poetic awareness. With few exceptions, the poems in Anacreon follow a similar formal structure: the majority of lines are a single sentence. In instances where the poetic “section” exceeds a single line or includes multiple sentences, these lines are closely spaced together on the page. Because of this intersection and identification of line-with-sentence, Foust’s poems seem to place greater emphasis on the sentence than on the poetic line (or at least to value the two structures equally). The elevated sentences of Anacreon place the book’s emphasis upon these discursive units in intersection and conjunction with one another; while the importance of sound and rhythm is not diminished, these elements function within the sentence, in contrast to being prioritized in a more line-based poetics. In the poem “To The Reader,” Foust writes,

I mean to pry, to fail to gain and know it.

My days are mostly framed before they’re painted.

It’s never so too late as when the face of a state-murdered person

drops its shape, and then the sun comes swallowingly on behind

idealess clips of gray.

I breathe so quickly as to kill myself.

As always, anyone’s hands (47).

This focus on the sentence as primary unit, combined with the frequent and seemingly stable “I” present within Faust’s poems, elevates speech over voiceless text; although the book is a textual artifact, it retains qualities of speech. Sentences are often presented as a direct address to the reader or to a frequently present yet unnamed “you.” Like speech, the poems convey the inner thoughts of a specific subject—although the stability of Anacreon’s subject is occasionally questioned or shaken due to a vexation of the terms “you” and “I,” in which the two pronouns sometimes shift places and seem to resist consistent definition.

            Thought to be there looking through the picture frame into a space,

you, Graham Foust, grabbed up a chunk of soft despotism, slopped

it on into your mouth, and began to chew (41).

Positing language as speech rather than “mere” text makes certain claims about language that Anacreon largely embraces: an individual subject is the source of language, and this subject uses language to navigate through the phenomenal world. The language claims made by Foust in Anacreon also posit the sentence-based poems as enacting a self-construction; the subject can use language in a way that determines his interaction with the world and that allows him to shape his own sensory and mental perceptions. This means that the subject uses sentence-based poetic language to selectively compose his subjectivity by projecting speech-based language into the world and drawing language from the external world to inform his own vocabulary.

In another of Anacreon’s formal strategies, the left page is half full (either the upper or lower half), and the right page fills with text the half unoccupied by the left. The opposing half-pages create a formal inverse-mirroring effect; the facing pages of poems seek to map on to one another through their similar line structures and half-page size, but are kept from doing so; each set of lines is met only by a blank space, and the attempted mirroring is incomplete.

The idea of mapping one thing onto another (as a page of poems onto another page of poems) as a necessary process which must necessarily fail is a frequent thematic concern within Anacreon. Foust’s poems often concern themselves with the material world and the body—the work of the poems is at once documentation and subversion, as they highlight both language’s attempt to identify and pin down the world that exists outside of poetry, and its vexations in seeking to do so. Many of the poems are concerned with replicating the speaker’s feelings or with describing sensory experience, as in “To Graham Foust on the Morning of His Fortieth Birthday”:

Ache’s got a cinematography to it.

A time-lapsed lily unfurls as if in pain.

An irreversible process is one for which nature has such a prefer-

ence that the reverse process is meaningless (29).

However, for Foust, objects cannot be so easily pinned down and identified; a slippage tends to occur when the poem lingers on a sensation or object. In this instance, the book’s form and content reinforce one another’s affect; the flighty, briefly lingering sentences and constant shifts of focus mimic the slippage of the poems’ grasping for—and inability to encounter—objects that it can describe and contain with accuracy. Objects and emotional states transform into other objects as the poems perceive them; Anacreon identifies that a poem cannot grasp an object as it exists, but rather, changes a thing through the act of its perception. Whatever the poem aims to represent slips through language’s grasp and we are left with a residue, an alternative, as when Foust writes:

I’ve come straight into the room as if the poem was to be for me.

The poem is briars and bells of poison.

The torn half of a book is in the wine that’s crawling toward me on

the floor.

The revolution will probably be pantomimed (102-103).

This, then, is where Foust’s masterfully controlled and hermetic sentences and poems leave the reader at the end of Anacreon. Through their insistence on language-as-speech; use of terse, dry sentences; and concern for the intersection of real-world events and our perceptions of them, Foust’s poems comment on our inability to accurately know the obtuse phenomenal world. However, Anacreon is not a lament; it does not abandon the world of things as being unknowable, but draws out and praises our own hesitant, poignant, and self-aware attempts to catalogue the reality through which we and poetry both move.

Buy it from Flood Editions: $16

 Connor Fisher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He has a 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.