Category: Douglas Piccinnini

REVIEW: Think Tank by Julie Carr

think tank

by Douglas Piccinnini

César Vallejo, Inger Christensen, Alice Roberts, Louis Malle, Alfred Tennyson, Alice Notley, Eileen Myles, William Shakespeare, Andrew Zawacki, P.B. Shelley, David Glimp, Stephen Ratcliffe, Lisa Robertson, Erin Mouré, John Wieners, Robert Urquhart, René Char, John Ashbery, David Hume.

In the residue of “old devotions” and new meditations, Julie Carr’s Think Tank archives the still-digesting data from a-life-in-books into the mind, into the body. From the body, Carr gives back a novel text in an act more nuanced than ventriloquism: Think Tank dialogs in the ear-marked pages of ‘literature’ in a style that mirrors the craft of folksong and of jazz; to expand the role of inherited ideas and exponents of style; to take input and produce an output worthy of praising and pushing the boundaries of the art(form).

And at once, the space of this book and the space of the body achieve an act of synecdoche, in which the body is an extension of the book and the book an extension of the conscious body.In this way, Carr is able — to borrow a line from Carr via Inger Christensen —  “to circumvent death and communicate presence.”

As equal parts homage and transformation, the long sequence that makes up Think Tank dwells in a metalepsis of poetic selves. Its alert, yet forgiving, engagement with the “sharp rocks of indeterminacy” yields more than pastiche. As Carr writes,

And narrative illusion breaks down metaleptically

Transforming expectations of early and late

Bubbling in “yeasted minutes” the resulting work presents an “effort to amass some new time” and track a consciousness of melodies that dialog with Vallejo, with Notley, with Myles, with Hume—among others.

A careful reader sees the many minds at work in this book and takes note of the overarching gesture that values the superimposition of selves that form the narrative of our lives and, as Carr trumpets, via Notley,

One has a secret self, a rather delicate pondering inner person. Much of poetry exists to communicate with this entity.

Carr’s Think Tank broadcasts an involved music that roams along the historical dial of thinking and makes a strong case for the pleasure of interior life and the pleasure(s) of thinking.

Solid Objects (2015): $16.00

Douglas Piccinnini is the author of Story Book: a novella (The Cultural Society, 2015) and, a collection of poems, Blood Oboe (Omnidawn, 2015).

Read an earlier view of this book on the Volta Blog here.



REVIEW: Dead Horse by Niina Pollari


by Douglas Piccinnini

Niina Pollari’s acerbic debut, Dead Horse, lives in the foreclosed present of the American Dream and yet, it is dressed with ancient feelings. For a reader feels the urge of the Latin antiphon, “[i]n the midst of life we are in death and, is also seduced in the throes of a young Morriseyshirt half-opensigning “in the midst of life we are in debt, etc.

Pollari’s complicated ennui faces “the pathless darkness / [d]arkening more.” Suffused in a desire for somethinga sign, anythingher speaker presses against the dissonance of the age,

It feels like noise
From headphones, in the air
In my hand, static
We stand still as coins
The apocalypse I feel
Is turning itself up like snow
On a dead channel

This casual, almost trite confession of a lost connection—of a “static” feeling, is familiar. And to look back a century passed in a few lines from Paul Verlaine’s “Apathy,” the affectation’s ageless, universal quality reveals itself.

The lonely soul is heartsick with this dreary
boredom. They say, down there a battle rages.
Ah, if only I weren’t so lack and weary,
if I could bloom a bit in this dull age!

The distorted “noise” and “static” that Pollari’s speaker addresses is a function of what money, or lack thereof can do: time and labor involved in a dollar as a unit of currency is silenced by it’s ability to be uniform—a symbolic object that rich or poor use in the same service. A coin is perhaps the strangest common object people encounter everyday; it is loaded with symbolism. And, while this relationship of money to gold and its promise is silent, the inequality of money is silencing.

The capital in capitalism, “like snow / on a dead channel” is a bleak truth. It begets the unrest caused by the severe financial disparities of late-capitalism.

It is this disconnect that pricks an apocalyptic nerve. Pollari’s poker-faced delivery of lines like “[t]he imported shoreline is washed away each year” embodies the millennial dilemma: the inevitability of a future debt compounding our existing

In “I Owe Money, debt not only defines, it radiates in the superficially baffling way that No Credit is Bad Credit threatens populations into the sudden accretion of crippling financial obligations.

I owe money, a large amount
Tied to my name, and following me around
The hundreds of dollars I relinquish every month
I don’t even miss it
Paying money is part of me
Like my human face
The amoebic debt that sparkles around me
Like a beautiful shirt
Ownership is gathering things
And gathering things is a kind of self-definition
So just like that, I have gathered debt
And so I own money and let it define me

“Ownership” is “self-definition” is owing money. This debt is a type of added value. It offers a sense of worth, “like a beautiful shirt” you buy that maybe you shouldn’t but you do anyway.

The pissed-off feeling braided into this kind of institutionalized spending resides in the promise of potential, the fake it to you make it offering of every borrowed purchase made in promises.


Consider a few lines in exchange between Rocco and Leonora in Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Fidelio,


If we have no money, love cannot comfort bring,
Sadly life drags on, and sorrow follows
But when the coin jingles in the pockets,
Then fate is our prisoner.
Yes, gold brings love and power,
And all our wisher fills.
Happiness is the slave of gold;
Oh what a precious thing is gold!
Nought with nought united, what remains?
At dinner sweet love, and after dinner hunger;
May fate smile upon you and bless your endeavors.
Arm in arm, plenty of money in the purse;
Many a year you thus live.
Yes, happiness is subservient to gold:
oh what a precious thing is gold!


You can easily say so, Mr. Rocco;
Yet in truth now there is something
else which would not be less precious
to me; but I observe with sorrow that
with all my endeavors I cannot attain it.Rocco:

And what is this?


Your confidence […]

The certainty of our lives: life is a debt we pay by dying. We live in this debt as characters that seek the acceptance of our times.


In Francisco Goya’s etching, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” the epigraph reads, “[f]antasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels. The critic Colta Ives notes, the etching “shows the artist overwhelmed by the torments of his own mind.” Perhaps this is always the case. “Overwhelmed by the torments” of one’s own mind, a fantasy of the future is erotic in it’s potential.

Debt is to desire a certain future though we are never exactly in it. We arrive in a version of our desire, our dream. Pollari’s speaker survives at the crosshairs of time. She writes,

And how an hourglass is wide on both ends
But wide enough in the center for one grain only
That image is my voice
Working in my throat

In the present, at a center that is just “wide enough,” there is the sense of all grains that have yet to pass through the waist of the hourglass and all the grains that already have.

The voice of these poems, like a grain of sand part of a larger beach, is fated to a kind of eternal erosion.

I look at pictures of myself sometimes
And I can see my skeleton
Skull all hard
Around the eyes
Where they sink in a little
These pictures are rare but becoming less so

It’s blue around the eyes sockets
Like a mortal gleam

Pollari’s poems make apparent the baleful rule of existence—if you are alive you will die. Moreover, the inherent drama of your life is that it’s your own and “[t]he death of a body means nothing / [u]nless it’s your own.” Pollari strives at an elusive, perhaps selfish clarity, predicated in an interior knowledge that reflects her speaker’s environment. However, the environment has little to confess. It is opaque. The rules of nature and the rules of living were made by some other agent. The resulting position of Pollari’s speaker becomes one of both suspicion and indifference.

Nature bores me
The way a thing I don’t understand bores me
Like when I looked at an article about plagiarism
Sometimes I just can’t think about something
I can only describe it with words.


Norma Cole writes, “a poem is a made place, a deedless deed that stakes out or constellates ambiguity without laying claim to it, without attempting to master or contain it.” The seemingly wavering intention of a “deedless deed” or a kind of nontransferable gesture is the cultural capital of a poem, a poet. Niina Pollari’s Dead Horse gives a kind of evidence to the human condition—gives audience to the deed of living and the manifold misdeeds we are born into—“etc., etc., etc.

Dead Horse is available from Birds, LLC.

Douglas Piccinnini was born in New York City in 1982. His writing has appeared in Antioch Review, Diner Journal, Jacket, Lana Turner, and, The Poetry Project Newsletter—among other publications. He has been awarded residencies by The Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm in Marquette, NE and, The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia. In 2014, he was selected by Dorothea Lasky as a winner of the Summer Literary Seminars. He is the author of the forthcoming novella, Story Book (The Cultural Society) and collection of poems, Blood Oboe (Omnidawn).

REVIEW: Wallless Space by Ernst Meister


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,
which sees
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,

Spinning itself
spins around.
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,
understanding the

grave. The
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.

You sustaining
four, you
corners of region!

I stand
between air,
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

a stone
and on that stone
a shadow

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.

That We Come To A Consensus by Noah Eli Gordon and Sara Veglahn

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.21.38 AMIn an exchange of what is and isn’t said, That We Come To A Consensus meets in the antiplace where the cult of the author—and his or her ego—is dethroned. As a collaborative work, the fingerprints and audible identifiable gestures of voice are smeared, scrubbed. And the possible problem of attribution begets a kind of envy: Who wrote that? That’s a Gordon line. That’s a Veglahn sound.

Poetic collaboration, in recent history, is perhaps exemplified by the mid-twentieth century so-called “New York School” of writers. The shared art-making practice codified a gesture towards art’s potential but more so, the friendships made in mutual admiration based in that same act. A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery and James Schuyler; Bean Spasms by Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett and Joe Brainard; The Altos by Barbara Guest and Richard Tuttle—to name a few.

As David Lehman suggests in his compelling chronicle of the inner sanctum of New York School poets, The Last Avant-Garde, one of the many great lessons that poets learned from Action Painters—like Jackson Pollock or Willem DeKooning—was that “it was okay for a poem to chronicle the history of its own making—that the mind of the poet, rather than the world, could be the true subject of the poem—and that it was possible for a poem to be (or to perform) a statement without making a statement.”

In TWCTAC, the minds of Gordon and Veglahn enact a kind of sympathy for the possible poem and its making. The resulting poem offers a record of the dynamism of exchanges between poets. This work is not only a gesture toward art but also a record of that transmission in understanding and, of that relationship.

Lehman also suggests, “all poetry [is] the product of a collaboration with language.” To that end: all writing is collaboration—with not only language, but with other writers. As the voice of these poems are the voices of Gordon and Veglahn as much as they are the voices of other writers, overheard conversations, magazine headlines, etc.

What connects people in language is the result of the trial and error of communication during communication: the understanding of how we mean when we try to say what we mean.

TWCTAC happens in a transit of hidden exchanges—perhaps a letter or an email, a phone call, notes on a napkin. The behind-the-scenes is not visible in the poem. What is visible is a suggestive text that occupies Gordon and Veglahn simultaneously. This is a collaborative poem about collaborating and dissolving the authority of the author. This blurring of boundaries makes a mask for many faces.

I’ve been inside a vault
could say we meet at the airport
as an appendix to an apology
you arriving in a sombrero
me wearing a white carnation
a kind of greeting

The romance and the strangeness of partnering in language is perhaps not sexy but sensual, as this scene connotes a kind of first-time-meeting where the other needs to be visually identifiable by wearing “a sombrero” or a “white carnation”—regardless of the fact that the “we” is both the “you” and the “me”—such that, the person we find is wearing both a sombrero and a carnation.

In addition to words of transport—planes, trains, elevators, etc.—the voice of this poem speaks in a mid-transport where the traveller finds herself. The speaker asserts, “it’s my hotel face” and “I’ve never been to that hotel.” The poem and thus the documentation of the poem is the “hotel” or the temporary space for this voice/these voices to inhabit while in transit.

Say I have a hotel of catastrophe
in a fiction the hotel collapses
boots & rags branded & back tomorrow
one way to assassinate the newly canonized

It is a kind of “bird migration” done together and, to do so, means to be on the same schedule: on time and in time.

Dream a watchmaker & make him tangible
don’t say that because I’m using it
which clock is correct when the mission bell chimes
what divisive thought when dancing alone

And yet, how do we talk about collaboration for fear of the penalty of being wrong in attribution, in meaning—lest we run out of ideas of ideas of ourselves to project on a work.

A collaboration in poetry is perhaps the permission to be impractical. How will this poem hold up to my canon? The Canon? In this sense TWCTAC affirms that poetry can be a way of life between people. To nurture a life in art when the artist might “[h]ave nothing to say” or when the artist feels they “haven’t said anything.”

The poem climaxes in a litany in which the refrain “that we” rings and rings like an anxious child at a doorbell.

That we come to consensus
that we cling to a key
that we turned on the light
that we rained down our glances
that we exist in intervals


that we didn’t quite agree
that we recognize many faces
that we are not fast like machines

In a circus of subjectivity the poet and poem perform to practice life in a particular way, to “cling to a key” to make meaning and relate—not just a poet to a poet but, to the world and everything in it. Yet, life is a clumsy thing, and although we can be machine-like, “we are not fast like machines.” TWCTAC acknowledges the validity of the “many faces” of meaning and embraces the fallible yet generative potential of collective capital.

That We Come To A Consensus is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

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.

Aphoria by Jackie Clark


Screen shot 2014-07-13 at 10.23.33 PM
Jackie Clark’s full-length debut, APHORIA, dwells in “the pleasure of creating condensation where none should be”—as if somewhat abashedly, the speaker of these poems confesses. As if poetry—a kind of condensation, a possible pleasure would be—could be—otherwise denied.

Clark’s APHORIA is fitted into three sections: WE GATHER AT NIGHT, THE CITY SALUTES ITSELF and I LIVE HERE NOW. Each section sequences through poems whose titles are empty/emptied parentheses. The emptying is the condensation and seeks to work out an “overflow” of stimuli.

the repository gathers
thick water,
a falling in public
of private space engaged with surface areas
even with labels, each retelling discloses pent up attributes
it is vague
it is a story of my person, my compass

Between people, between things, Clark’s speaker navigates the visible and invisible constructs of urban anxiety and the speculative currency of selfhood.

An awareness in these poems is audienced—is reflected as the speaker suggests, “the idea of us / is my palm / held up parallel / to my face.”

Whatever is said in APHORIA is seemingly meant for, contained by or captured by the self. And not through embarrassing disclosure but rather by meditative self-awareness—as if every action is proof of self, every recorded gesture: a disclosure of the human condition.

These poems uncover and recover the universal spaces of desire, of relationships and of creatures imperfectly perceiving their habitat, in both physical and mental spaces.

Each day remains possible because a sense of the rest is lost.
            What happens next is what happens.

The dilemma is ours and is as human as the inert thingness of calculating an experience: as rending/rendering meaning happens or not and, as one potentially impatiently awaits a revelation.

The urgency of these poems succeeds in an ability to offer the feeling-ness of a situation over the situation itself and act as markers of the credulity of experience.

Yet for Clark, loss of meaning is meaning. It is the possible poem. It is a way of negotiating experience.

If I dream of a boat,
what to make of the water,
an abbreviated holiday,
I dream of fields but even then know I am inventing symbols,
how much like an arrow,
revisitation is an emotional crime,
I dream of working,
I can ruin any affection,
classic wherewithal,
not loose upon the crowd,
not looking for a familiar face,
avenue after avenue does not ask me to know them,
neither do you,
I look deep into people’s eyes when they are looking,
the other way,
a glimmer of invitation,
should we always assume that we are welcome,
for as long as we want to be welcomed?

And even though the “( )” titles and the poems that follow punctuate and ameliorate this sense of loss, an ever-present fatigue haunts them.

The constant stimuli of being present but also in the possible poem, remains constant “when the things at hand aren’t properly identified.”

Clark’s ambition resides in a willingness to ignore the fulfillment of closure, for the concreteness of the “I” to dissolve under its own weight, the weight of “individual minutes against the / obsessively staccato sensibility of the smallness / of an object moving through space and time.”

Aphoria is available from Brooklyn Arts Press

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.