by Matthew Pincus
Streaming, by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, is concerned with the interconnectedness of historical moments that are enmeshed with the personal and global spiritual consciousness of the present world. The speaker says in the title poem, “Impressions strummed today / incite future impulsion, / create past prophecy” (6). Global warming, the changing climate, September 11, street children in Medellin, Colombia, the rights of indigenous, the Dust Bowl are all issues in the forum of the text. Historical or current manmade problems are evoked: “Along an echo-wrinkle in existence / your presence permeates swaying” (6). That is, the many folds or moments of experience echo in the spirit, or emotions of others, and permeate the many swaying moods of society, culture, and politics.
The collection is tightly structured, starting with an elegy to her mother, and having each successive section dedicated to family – wavering between past, present, present and past. In an interview with Jan Beatty Hedge Coke says, “I am a person who often thinks in music before words materialize.” Hedge Coke’s rhythm in Streaming is apparent with lines like, “Summer rain in reggae balm / below heat, here in / banana cherry slide—just right” (22). The playful opening from “Summer Fruit” morphs into a more philosophical tone in its conclusion with, “Light streaming in all directions / fanning rays as heat spread, / sunshine through sweltering shade, / shadow dark embracing” (23). The image reminds one of Borges’s “The Aleph,” where center is not an origin but a sphere, almost like Earth’s ecosystem in a season Hedge Coke’s poem is evocative of.
Hedge Coke works with lyric, verse, and prose poetry along with short and long poems. “Campos” is only half a page, but evokes deep feelings about the disconnection Americans, and Westerners have with the food they eat, and those that pick their fruits, vegetables, and raise livestock. This is reminiscent of the Los Angeles Times Investigative piece last fall on Mexican “Superfarms” supplying produce to American grocery stores. The last stanza is both searing and poignant: “reverent to tastes, savory, / clutched, cradled, caressed / for someone else’s table” (44).
“Burn” is the longest and also one of the more powerful pieces in the collection. It details the multiple Marfa fires in Texas in 2011. She uses the experience, material, now historical event as seeing fire’s great strength, and destruction. The latter is shown with the lines, “Chihuahuan and Sonoran, now both carry largest wildfires in colonial / history, both heated harder, spreading / further than pictured / in recent times. Everything from Tucson through Texas a rage” (115). This could translate to the land, but also the political values of two conservative states.
Again though, as “Burn” evolves, it comes back to one’s experience, connection with other individuals as well as the land around them. The speaker says, “Yet, fire is the birth of life, the spark there and we / were with spark, ignited. / My life emptied into the banks below mounds they now lay within” (132). Streaming is a strong collection, and Hedge Coke is a poet with a remarkable voice in the saturated landscape of poetry.
Coffee House Press, 2014: $16.95
Hecht’s poetry collection is not so much an appropriation of older poets as a way to engage more current social contexts out of the form created by the innovation of her elders. Each poem is a revision in a sense, and through a process of reworking, reconstructing words, Hecht finds a medium for translating a vivid imagery of character, and at her strongest point, reflections, ruminations on art’s double function as an artificial mirror towards a more grave and “ir-real” reality.
Who Said, at its weakest, makes cultural references which only seem relevant to the author. Doctor Who and Star Trek are, more or less, just hobbies for Hecht during leisure time and the references to Genesis and Declaration of Independence are lofty, gaudy constructions around poems which should only be appreciated, not be rewritten. Bellamy’s Cunt Norton, released December of last year, is a more constructive cultural appropriation of classical authors.
A cryptogram at the end of the text is supposedly, according to a note from Hecht, expected to solve the many author identities revised throughout the text. These codes, in a sense, seem to be a revision of Eliot’s footnotes in The Wasteland, but the larger context is: shouldn’t these poems be accessible without the footnotes or past authors? More crucially, social themes pervasive in the text are the rising Heroin epidemic in the Northeastern United States (Hecht teaches in New York), and also suicide, or rather Beckett’s quote from The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, I will go on.”
“Not Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and, “Leopard goes through Hell Villanelle” are explicit poems about addictive drug use, and two portrayals, the former more realist, the latter more psychological about their effect and affect on individuals. “Episode,” a poem at the end of section three about an individual hungover from a night of drinking wine carries from shame to thoughts of molestation to the beauty of “wildfires in California.” The double negative of, “but I find I can’t be disabused,” carries an eerie feeling from the next stanzas proclamation, “There must be water in these clouds / though, and freedom here, and nothing / that happened will happen again” (22). Although there is a violation, a trauma, a disturbed peace continuing to ripple into the next section of the collection, there is also a resonance the speaker will still prosper, and revitalize a liberty for them self.
Hecht is best in “Lion and the Honeycomb” where thoughts veer from “trail of bone” to “fields of bloom” as the 21st century’s graveyard collapses into a visceral soup of “sweetness, meat, and feeding.” Meditations in “Lenny Bruce” are not only self-conscious of the poetic voice, but also the trans-mutational nature of language over the course of a person’s life, and how signs and codes become the visceral, cerebral and consequentially real functions of one’s life.
Hecht is not an innovative or unique poet by any means, but certainly one with skill, talent, and an ability to construct, dissect, and further delve social defects of the modern American abyss.
Who Said is available from Copper Canyon Press
Matt Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He received a B.A. from Pitzer College in English and World Literature and is currently an M.F.A. candidate at Naropa University’s Kerouac school. He has reviewed books for Pank, Raintaxi, Bookslut and Necessary Fiction.
Night Palace is a collection of poems by writers John Weiners, Darin Klein, Robert Creeley, Gerard de Nerval (trans. Robert Duncan), Cedar Sigo, Tom Clark, Pierre Reverdy (trans. Kenneth Rexroth) and others. The chapbook’s aura resonates best with lines from “Black Ghost,” by Will Yackulic, Micah Ballard, and Cedar Sigo:
The shipwreck echoes back
figures against the glass
to do the work, the keys
the riot, the ones (26)
There are communal ghosts among the poems, haunting, existing as phantoms talking code through crows, barkeeps, dragons, moonlight, Count Dracula, Jimmy Hoffa and blood. They, like Count Dracula, welcome one into their universe only to be consumed by the vivid images and crisp distortion of social reality through the fantastical.
One excellent poem is “Night Palace,” the last piece in the text, written by Joanne Kyger and dedicated to the editor Micah Ballard. The poem’s caesura cuts back on specific spacing where the line, “is that its over’” ends out towards the right margin, but the next lines lead back to “from the dream” on the left margin. “Then you grow up” stands alone as the break between the first and second half of the poem. The content of “and get to be post-human/ in a past that keeps happening / ahead of you” mimics the literal structure of the language earlier in the text. Kyger’s poem could be a rumination on innocence and experience as much as an acceptance of death and the possibility of afterlife.
Another strong poem of the collection is “15th Raga/For Bela Lugosi” by David Meltzer. The poem is both an ode to Dracula as a literary as well as cinematic figure, and the man who first starred in Universal’s 1931 film. A line at the end of the first stanza describes eyes as “pure / white marble” manifest as a description for heroin noted by the use of “junkie” in the second stanza. Lugosi himself became addicted to morphine and methadone, linking the second half of the piece to both actor and the character. A smile, the bite into the neck, and “good taste” as a homophone for Lugosi’s suave talent and blood forms a gothic scene into tragicomic memoir. The lines, “The way / you drifted into Victorian bedrooms / holding up your capes like skirts,” not only carries a grace to its adjectives, but also references Mina Harker and the Golden Age of Hollywood when Dracula was first made. “Capes like skirts” carries the sexual nature of the original epistolary novel with Mina Harker, as well as the great films of the 30s such as The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind.
The editors have selected a fascinating collection for one to enjoy, hopefully on a dimly lit train ride or watching pouring rain from a coffee shop. Any way one enjoys Night Palace, they will be entranced by a sublime community from current poets to French Romantics.
Night Palace is available for free at Ugly Duckling Presse
Matt Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He received a B.A. from Pitzer College in English and World Literature, and is currently an M.F.A. candidate at Naropa University’s Writing and Poetics program. He is also a review contributor for Pank, RainTaxi and Bookslut.
The sextets of blank verse running through Console’s text are trios of stanzas carefully placed for the harmonic cadence of words rubbing, grafting each other’s surface close enough to feel the rough decay of pastoral. The text starts with a refrain of “Downrange”, an aural echo of the American frontier through a mention of ‘pistol’, and a few lines later, ‘his skull’. Violence in the first stanza is jarred, in the traditional sense by romantic elements of ‘garment’, ‘water / Passing consistently among the rushes’, and ‘the bank’ (6).
These juxtapositions are strategically set to delve a gap, a literal in-between of language and intimacy where Tony is embedded in the name Anthony. The gaps form spherical objects abound with the use of moon, ‘blow kisses through the ragged keyholes’, and the woman ‘Zero’, whom they have been both involved with. These spheres lead to a longing, or rather a harsh truth both characters feel for their society: “Doing fine despite their being dead / To him by signs given immutable / Autistic power of signification” (8).
The text turns on this longing, a past sadness, and creates another gap through a presence of desire. Desire for the speaker, unlike society, is mutable: “Though the water and the clay whose curve / The slipping water’s suppleness retained” (9). It can become a metaphor for Providence, or a streak in aniline, an organic compound. Here, the text makes desire a literal recombinant language with the mention of ‘expletive’, ‘rhyme’, ‘assonance’, monosyllable’, ‘ligature’ and ‘ampersand’. The speaker imagines the relationship, gap between the two through placing of stresses and syllables, giving specific images or adjectives more weight than others.
Console’s poetry is erudite to say the least, and at times his minute detail for placement of iamb, anapest or dactyl wears on even an astute reader of poetry. He received a doctorate in creative writing from Kansas University, a lauded accolade for any poet, but extensive, comprehensive knowledge wrenches a crux, at times, in the lighter clichés through Ok Tony. “Spit it out. / Here is my handle. / Here is my spout” (9), at the end of a stanza lessens its heavy tone with a sour taste of nursery rhyme. Later, the speaker says, “Tony is a little boy that lives / In my mouth, among the candy shards” (11), which again dilutes poetic value by drawing a reader back to Danny’s altar ego in The Shining.
Although lines at times tend to drag along, the gap developed by the sphere recurs in lines, “Mouths and noses weeping thickened water / to lubricate those trembling machines,” leading back to Convent Garden, and a mention of John Moses Browning, the firearms designer, with a previous line, “Outstretched metal won the West” (16). The speaker’s imaginative construct of a pastoral wholly embedded in subtle flickers of images, places and history notes an alternative reality to one where the pastoral is abused as an object, like a firearm against others. Writers like Mr. Console and Megan Kaminski, are brewing something in Kansas about a new pastoral gnashing with urban America.
Download Ok Tony for free at The Song Cave
Matt Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He received his B.A. from Pitzer College in English and World Literature and is an M.F.A. Candidate at Naropa University’s Writing and Poetics program. He has recently reviewed for Bombay Gin and PANK magazine.
Rod Smith taught and went to Georgetown’s MFA program simultaneously, without a B.A. thanks, as he says in an interview with Daniel Gutstein to Carolyn Forche and Joan Retallack. “What’s the Deal”, a chapbook from Smith vacillates on the colloquial phrase, as it becomes a wrench, a piece of culture accessible to all social and economic strata. “Deal” can be in reference to the President, Britney Spears, William H. Macy, the Padres, the Pope, and numerous others. The use of the word as metonym for speaker wanting to comprehend or provide content to the context of a situation lends Smith’s language to a languid flow, improvisation similar to Gena Rowlands in a Cassavettes film.
The use of punctuation gives an unconstrained rhythm, able to swiftly stop and go on surreal inquiries while enjambment keeps structure of the text. The architectural skeleton of how metonym or symbols for cultural/economic milieus fit like puzzle pieces in conjunction with lowercase letters and question marks, juxtaposes individual elements of American society for a more transparent view of its subconscious libido:
What’s the deal with Joe Satriani and Coldplay?
What Do The Fox News/Rasmussen
Reports’ Latest Opinion Polls Show?
What’s a Good Deal? Exactly how do you know
If you’re getting a good deal on Prince?
that would lead me to believe that
he likes women in his songs so . . . (4).
A coherent narrative is absent from Smith’s text, but an agency, a pervasive thread of thought continues to layer the function of the cliché as backdrop to a more serious investigation of current societal culture.
The text devolves through the poem into a more self-referential, comedic tone (One can already see the cackles received for the original musical performance at the D.C. arts center). The speaker questions their absurdist poetry, and “What’s the Deal” evolves into, “what the fuck does that mean?” Questions or inquiries however evolve to embellished lines such as, “Exotic Island Cutie Secret Thoughts,” “Gravytrain Lafayette,” and, “Dragonette Deed in the Eastern Silvertine Lodes . . .” (p. 8). The original (rhetorical) question becomes a way for Smith to create a decadent, rich language of performativity. Thus, literal lenses of “Windows Vista,” “high-stakes game of strip poker,” “Roleplaying dictator,” and, “ecstasy + what + deal” manifest as zany transplants of technocrats, gamblers, ruthless third world leaders and druggies.
Smith creates an alternate reality, which, in the last section becomes a cerebral and economic commentary on capitalist, laissez-faire America. A surreal scene with rubber duckies filling a campus in Sunnyvale leads to the sardonic irony of, “The story of psychic repression is quite complicated.” The speaker’s cliché almost becomes ritual, an image of head bobbing, “Amtrak rewards card,” to, “FICO Scoring and Other Credit Issues”. The last references to “drive around in your car,” and “under the sun” gives off a transitory, sentient, meandering linger of the “economic justificationer,” always perpetuating, existing in the so-called ‘personality’ or aura of America.
Matt Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He received his B.A. from Pitzer College in English and World Literature and is an M.F.A. Candidate at Naropa University’s Writing and Poetics program.