Jessica Bozek, in her collection The Tales reveals how our desire to write a story, to tap true events for emotional resonance, comes at the peril of reality itself. Her collection’s success lies in its deployment of the absurd: it’s a disaster story about violence wrought through the whispering of stories. The Tales relates the aftermath of one nation’s military annihilation of another nation by means of a single soldier, who accomplished his mission by storytelling. As is characteristic of good weird fiction, precisely how this went down is left mostly to our imagination.
For years afterward, people talked about the first
soldier to fell a nation with bedtime stories. They
wondered if it was better to be stilled into atrocity or
surprised by it.
The collection takes the form of a series of short prose-poem “tales”, the accounts of various individuals involved in the disaster: the historian, the revisionist historian, the seismologist, the dog, along with multiple installments of the tale of the disaster’s Lone Survivor. Punctuating the tales are pages entitled “The Saving: A Fairy Tale”. Each of these offers what appears to be an alternative plot, a scenario which may have resulted in the preservation of the victim nation. “The Savings” often come from animals. The loon’s lesson is that all communication must happen underground:
Now under a funerary green, the citizens are cut off
from the surrounding lands. A loon teaches them
that they can dive down into their own small lake and
come up in another lake. The cost of this transport is
that all communication must happen underground.
Perhaps, what the loon teaches is that we must practice communication not by bangs and flashes but by burrowing deeper into the tales of our neighbors and ancestors, by refusing the temptation of the old familiar tale.
The first section of the book focuses mostly on the tales of others, on accounts of the disaster itself. The middle section, which consists of italicized and lineated text, stirs up something metatextual:
the enemy is often
Which makes me wonder: is it that what we identify as enemy is often merely an adjunct that represents a different and larger whole… or that the figurative device of metonymy can in fact, be the enemy. An intriguing and sort of worrisome thought, given that I’m supposed to finish a degree in creative writing pretty soon here. But I’m not saying Bozek’s collection is a denunciation of figurative language or, by extension, tale-telling; just that she troubles the endeavor. From Seismologist’s Tale, we learn that only those outside of stories survive the soldier’s attack:
The leaves were thin on the trees. By the time the
soldier made his final circles, only children
who hadn’t learned the words remained awake. Without language
the felt the leaves and the leaving.
Disaster stories are attractive because they can furnish us with a morally simple universe. It’s easy, when reading or writing disaster, to reduce the history to simplistic human muck, and to get down and wallow in it. This attractiveness undoubtedly poses a dilemma for artists and architects commissioned to create war monuments. And indeed, this is what is asked of the Lone Survivor toward the end of the book – the victorious nation seeks to compensate him through means of a contract that includes a Total Replacement clause, and through the construction of a memorial to his dead compatriots. So: How do you commemorate horror without glorifying it? The Public Relations Consultant’s Tale articulates a depressing truth about many monuments: that they either bore us or thrill us, but rarely educate us:
They keep the Lone Survivor alive as a specimen. On
field trips, their children visit the New Permanent
Demonstration of the Untenable Existance of
Destroyed Peoples at the State Museum for the
Justification of Military Action. The teachers use their
pointers and speak sternly. The children yawn, but at
night and for weeks to come they wonder about the
man who lives alone on this 3.2-mile tract. The brave
ones vow to return at night.
I looked up “tale” in the OED. Its various definitions share in common a mention of the verbs “tell” and “relate” and “say”. That is, “tale” means more or less the same thing as “story” but with a stronger indication of vocal agency. The tale is not as much the sequence of events being told as the action of telling them.
What’s you point, Sally? A monument is an edifice constructed for the purpose of relating a story. The edifice is the tale we tell. But the thing that happened still happened; its remains and its survivors persist on earth. (And they almost always do. Despite the stories, destruction is rarely total). They remain, occluded by the tale of their destruction. Appropriately, the book opens not with The Historian’s Tale, but the Revisionist Historian’s Tale, and the first detail it relates about the soldier is his white museum booties. Perhaps what’s being suggested is that the persistent packaging and display of disaster in museum and memorial, in book and lesson, can make us numb to the fact that the disaster is ongoing around us. The Historian’s Tale follows the Revisionist Historian’s Tale, and is more concise:
The citizens covered their heads, sitting down to sleep.
I closed the book wondering if what we need is fewer stories, or fewer metaphors, really. Because those things make sense, but disaster doesn’t. This book is sequence marvelous tales, and of parodies of political speech and absurd bureaucratese, punctuated by the dry accounts of the Lone Survivor of his life in the aftermath. In the end, he chooses a memorial made of fabric so that it will fade. The Seamstresses’ Tale relates how they made the memorial and how it was picked apart by birds and used for their nests.
Eventually, some birds took portions for their nests.
We liked the metaphor of it.
What could be so damning as that?
The Tales is available from Les Figues Press
Sally McCallum is from Tucson and studies at the University of Arizona.
In 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.
Rather than lyric or imagistic intensity, sometimes it’s the all-out fierce trajectory of a collection, fueled by mystique, intrigue, pacing, etc., that wows us. Baby-Doll Under Ice, from Hyacinth Girl Press, delivers the aforementioned qualities, but at heart it’s the momentum, or descension—the continually downward spiral—of the poems’ two personae (Charotte and Baby-Doll) powering Shinkle’s collection. This mood of decline establishes itself early in the first prefatory poem, “Shades of Sub Rosa”:
So the being-sucked-under begins. But sucked under what? The poem, “Baby-Doll’s Descent Into,” offers some insight:
Here I have to pause to draw attention to Shinkle’s great ear, particularly the long drawn out mouthiness of “swallow,” “woman,” and “submerge,” and the way the submersion, sounded out by the acute vocabulary choice, is followed by the audible fragility of pairing “ice” with “create.” And notice how the breaking of the ice follows the submersion; it’s the little details like this, the narrative non-linearity of sensorial experience just ahead of the consciousness of physicality, that demonstrate Shinkle’s devotion to detail down to the propulsion of its very minutiae.
But lyrical acrobatics aside, these lines introduce the dichotomies that truly drive the collection: that of mind vs. body, consciousness vs. sensorial—manifestations of capital S self continually chasing each others’ tails in the hopes of reaching a higher understanding: thus the recurring circular imagery. Baby-Doll and Charlotte never explicitly interact, but they do appear joined by the symbiotic impulse to cycle through one another. Often their relationship is understood by comparing facing pages, making this an almost living book, in some ways. On one page:
And on the opposite page:
One wonders whether a unified Baby-Doll/Charlotte persona is yet another circle, a sort of Heraclitean step into the same yet ever differing river. There are many possibilities here. No matter the answer, the personae continually recede into each other like a matryoshka doll, and there is pleasure in that.
Yet the poems conscientiously recognize that there is a sort of eternal regress built into this design, and it doesn’t escape Shinkle to expand the poems well beyond self-study. In “Machicolation,” for example, Shinkle zooms out and examines the larger ramifications of ouroboros-like ideologies:
Where it may seem trite to leave the downward spiral in the purely personal realm, Shinkle pushes herself to larger critique, one that is, of course, well open to interpretation, but is assuredly an understanding that, if we want to fully mine our personal cyclings and sinkings, we must also mine those of the interpersonal—and vice versa.
Baby-Doll Under Ice is available from Hyacinth Press
Jake Syersak is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at the University of Arizona. His poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Cutbank, Phoebe, and Ninth Letter. He is the author of the chapbook Notes to Wed No Toward from Plan B Press. He edits Sonora Review and Cloud Rodeo.
I’ve been encountering a lot of what I call “science poetry” lately. These collections delve into a variety of science or scientific principles to act as the impetus for the poetry. On a theoretical level it is intriguing, this usurping of science’s logical claims to truth to reformat them into the uncertain and undefinable realm of poetry. These “science poems” when successful present the abstractions of life and experience hidden amongst the definable mechanics of the sciences. Benjamin Landry’s first collection Particle and Wave attains this metamorphosis. The Periodic Table acts as an exploration of mythology, family history, and an interrogation of poetry. Landry’s poems offer an experience that is not rigidly fixed in one defining moment. Instead his collection shows a constant erasing of boundaries and negation of accepted knowledge. This destabilization erases what is believed known and calls into question the history leading to the present moment. The structures of the poems enhance this. He cycles through verse, prose, and erasures in a crafting of a theory which can ground his explorations.
Landry’s book is building the world which he inhabits. The atoms of the Periodic Table become much like the phoneme, a base component of creation. Whether is it a construction of language or the material world both atom and phoneme are the means to explain the existence of their respective objects. The poems however, subvert that and instead these origins are not viewed as proven fact, but more as a means by which to inquire. They reach towards uncertainty and hope for revelation. They accept that there are moments of history and memory that are absent or that never existed and it is this place the poems speak.
The sound from the culvert
was not nothing.
It might have been the sound
of solider ants
clenching their mandibles
in their sleep, dreaming
of swaths of leaf
for cutting. Or
Landry practices manufacturing mythology as a way to come to understanding, much like the Greek gods explained the sublime phenomena of nature. The first poem Hydrogen poses for the reader to:
“Imagine the heat generated/by Daphne transformed into laurel/and you can begin to feel /what the electron feels/in renouncing its steady orbit./…Daphne was, of course, an ordinary girl:/desires not especially volatile./ She, too, forgot her terror, nodded off/in the glow of a star appearing/to explode for billions of years. “
Daphne exists as both a person and the myth. She is the laurel tree and a symbol of poetry and the poet’s desire that cannot be possessed. Landry offers a passionate plea to close the gap between memory and the present, the poet and the poem, as well as the lover and the loved.
Metamorphosis becomes an engine through which these gaps can hope to be filled. The human experience becomes a series of crafting theories and the testing and rethinking of these theories. The poems avoid didactic and pedagogical pitfalls which could threaten a detached stance of a statement as opposed to immediacy of exploration. Instead, these poems are always struggling and interacting constantly maturing as the collection progresses.
I am particular drawn to the poems which explore poetry is and its role in society. They constantly draw attention to the malleability between physical and emotional experiences. It is in these poems; especially Ununoctium, where inquires posed by Landry about the human and the unknown meet on constantly shifting borders.
Everywhere one turns:
You speak to the dresses
in your closet as though
they were children.
The subconscious goes
and makes a deliberate mess
of things; and theory…
theory will have to suffice
Particle and Wave is availalbe from the University of Chicago Press
Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images. Chris is currently working on Fairy Tales interpreted through the Fibonacci sequence and a poetry collection that juxtaposes the anxiety bound in artistic creation against American Anxiety Post 9/11. Chris is also in the process of creating a blog to host a yearlong conceptual poetry/visual art project.
As the Republic edges toward disaster, Anakin Skywalker falls for Senator Padmé Amidala. A private eye’s search for a missing cat takes him on a trip through space and time. A woman law student seeks to discover the truth about the murder of two Supreme Court justices. A British boy’s life at a school for witchcraft is menaced when an infamous murderer escapes from prison.
The best thing about conceptual poetry is that it doesn’t need to be read. Have you heard this before? Conceptual poetry’s mouthpiece Kenneth Goldsmith says so. You don’t have to read it. (I didn’t read Adam Braffman’s BESTSELLER. Not all of it. Didn’t have to. Still loved it.) All you need to know is the concept behind the book. Here’s every word I spoke for a week. Here’s a year’s worth of weather reports. And without ever having to read these things, you understand them. So, in a weird way, if you get the concept—which should be put out in front of the book—then you get the book, and you don’t even have to read it. Such things are better to talk about than they are to read, so it is said.
But that isn’t to say that there is no reading taking place, for in talking about conceptual poetry, you are, in a way, reading it. (This is one of the many notable perverse accomplishments of the genre.) And in reviewing conceptual poetry, you are effectively taking said reading (your think-talking) public.
Of course this isn’t a word for word reading—though, for what it’s worth, I do wonder whether close-reading conceptual poetry isn’t a completely useless tactic—but more in line with how you read the proverbial room, how you read a painting (the expression on her face). Both goal and process are fundamentally Cubist: you want to bring the hidden component out from behind and unfold it so it rests boldly in front, right there on the same plane as what was already visible (the rear cheek and eye in line with the face out in front, the shaded poetic material in line with its outward facing source text).
So approaching a conceptual poetry becomes not unlike solving a riddle, in which an interlocutor is challenged to pin down the name and nature of a hidden object by probing its comparisons to some better illuminated things (The soldier who attacks me with his sword will cry, says the onion; and of the iceberg: it is water become bone). The significant difference, it seems, is that with conceptual poetry the familiar points of comparison (the soldier and sword, the water and bone) are so familiar, so ‘better illuminated’, in fact, that it encroaches upon—and is!—a moment of plagiarism, an exact duplicate. So when Kenneth Goldsmith transcribes and publishes a complete radio broadcast of the longest nine inning Major League Baseball game on record and calls the book SPORTS, we read it (sort of) and find ourselves thinking about and probing into some other indeterminate something (idea? feeling? understanding?) about art, of all things, despite the fact that we’re essentially just listening to the radio (play-by-play, commentator filler, cheesy local ads, and all). Art theory, for God’s sake, from the shitty off-the-cuff jokes a baseball analyst makes about the way an outfielder steals second! What movement!
–I want to localize this before the wheels come off.
A woman’s long journey to self-discovery. The five-year relationship of two women, a teen-age patient and her analyst. An ex-President and his Congresswoman wife investigate four crimes in the capital. From India to England to Africa: the travels and travails of a writer as he struggles to achieve a coherent self. The complex relationships of a family in New York City and South Carolina’s low country. Blackford Oakes plays his part in the race with the Russians to get a satellite into orbit.
I was eager to probe Adam Braffman’s BESTSELLER (sometimes titled BEST SELLER ⌘ V) in a public review because I think it links up in an important and efficient way to a complicated relationship we have with beginnings. While first dates are exciting, first date conversations (as my Tindering coworkers might tell you) become dull, routine fixtures of establishing who, what, where, when, why… before getting into the good stuff (not sex, mind you, but longer-term companionship). It’s undeniable: there’s an insufferable component to beginning again, no matter the potential upside. After all, doesn’t it take more energy to accelerate a resting object than an already-moving one?
At play is the same factor that determines our growing preference for television to movies (and sequels to original productions). The time spent investing in new characters’ names, personalities, relationships to one another, work-places, home-places, school-places, drinking-places, the direction of the show, the genre of the show, even, (what balance of comedy and drama, of romance and danger): in television, this takes, say, half an hour (the pilot), and the next 20-50+ hours are then fairly beginning-free (you start episode six of season four and you hit the ground running), whereas with movies you are obligated to restart completely every 90 minutes (unless you’re a sequel!), because no sooner have you gotten the equivalent of two or three episodes into “the series,” so to speak, than you’re wiping the slate clean, introducing a new movie with new actors, characters, settings, plots. It’s exhausting, really, and it doesn’t play to our growing greater interest in the culture-stuff with higher substance-to-time ratios (not sex, but companionship).
So when Adam Braffman culls together between two- and three-thousand single-sentence summaries of two- or three-thousand of our generation’s top-selling books featured in the New York Times Best Sellers archives and then strings them together end-on-end across 88 text-stuffed pages, we experience the sentences taking part not in the satisfying brevity of a tweet, text, or Snapchat, but in the intolerable sensation of endlessly flipping channels, scanning Netflix suggestions, rifling through StumbleUpon hits, and nexting in Pandora, which is to say: there is no resolution, only regeneration.
So no, you don’t have to read BESTSELLER to understand how it works as a seemingly-infinite cycle of flashcards dotted with cursory trivia on the subject of Popular American Fiction and Memoir (more or less), but maybe you should anyway. I was determined to read it in such a way, word for word. It’s an obsession I believe became ingrained in me as I struggled to read another tremendously rewarding piece of conceptual poetry—Angela Genusa’s TENDER BUTTONS (also from Gauss-PDF)—which itself likely stemmed from my desperately clung-to belief that all poetry, narrative, lyric, or conceptual, is fundamentally a time-art, one that must be slogged through to know well. I would recommend reading this way—one single-sentence plot summary at a time—despite the fact that you will likely give up at some point (as I admittedly did at least twice) because it turns you on to an experience of the text that your conceptual knowledge of it simply doesn’t offer.
Inspector Richard Jury must identify two skeletons found at the site of a bomb attack on London in 1940. The romance of an American Indian princess and an Englishman, told in words and pictures. The second volume of “The War of Souls,” a fantasy saga. The President is kidnapped; fella says he wants million.
What I mean to say is this: in reading it all, every word, one detects periodic glimpses of charm in the otherwise-muddling challenge of interacting with BESTSELLER. If the 88 pages are broken down into paragraph-long chunks, reading said chunks feels not unlike keeping up with an episode of Game of Thrones or some other episodic ensemble-cast television saga, where so many disparate balls are kept up in the air, each getting its turn in the passing juggle, that even the most incongruous of storylines begin to inform a larger composite narrative. We begin to imagine BESTSELLER describing (or behaving as) a hyper-maximalist novel in the vein of Infinite Jest or White Teeth, but larger and more inclusive, that couldn’t possibly exist as a real book, but very well may exist in the cloud, so to speak, with these various summaries functioning as plotlines directing us toward and hinting at it, the bestsellers being but individual books of the BESTSELLER Bible’s Old and New Testaments.
And though these charmed moments are fleeting, no sooner appearing in their eight-to-ten sentence groupings than yielding back to the frustrating “begin afresh, afresh, afresh” mantra that echoes throughout the book—didn’t I say our relationship to beginnings was complicated?—they do pepper a difficult manuscript with enough regularity as to reward a careful reading of an otherwise (supposedly) unreadable text. It’s why I can say both that I didn’t read all of BESTSELLER and that I didn’t not read any of it, that I was endlessly beat-up by it and in love with the bruising.
BESTSELLER is available for free from Gauss-PDF
Michael Gossett is from Memphis, Tennessee. He tweets a commonplace book of poetry, riddles, comedy, and basketball at: @michaeljgossett
Attendance at a smorgasbord is liable to lead to gluttony. Sitting at Stefania Heim’s A Table That Goes on for Miles doesn’t lead to gluttony, or isn’t full of itself, or the smorgasbord is not the usual panoptic affair. In fact, this may be the reason the table continues—one thinks everything is available, in sight, and then realizes there is much more offered. It has to do with the approach Heim takes in her poetry; cerebral more than imagistic, sparseness where one would expect many more necessary words to produce the intended affect or situation. A nutshell might consist of: lonely, deliberate poems, austere and searching for meaning in the wake of childbirth. Nutshells are simplistic items though and this is a strange journey through balances in the poet’s life, or maybe how things can be seen as unbalanced, have gone awry and how. As seen in this opening paragraph, it is not easy to describe Heim’s first collection—it refuses easy confines.
For perspective, the book is situated around three recurring poem types/art. The cover and several pages surrounding the multiple iterations of “The Dream is About Us”, is courtesy Rachel Farbiarz. This artwork is all in black and white within the pages, but vibrantly colorful on the cover. As can be seen, realism is not the objective of the work; rather spatial relativity collides in a stream of dreamlike images. These pieces appear as if collaged and morph into something more than its components—the art lends a surreal quality to the words. From the first section of the “dream” sequence:
Attempted to pilfer the definition of homesickness.
Grass level, gentle slope. To those plagued by guilt,
may there be continuous planning
for the unimaginable. (21)
And what appears across from these opening lines is unimaginable: an old woman three-quarters encircled by flowers (somewhat like a halo, though the axis is two dimensional) with one flower over her loins. Similar to the cover, the reader should have planned for unimaginable poems and further art. Look at the first line of this poem though; it posits that the speaker tried to steal a definition. Earlier in “Misericordia,” Heim has situated the reader for this occurrence:
The country is only one language.
We say comfort and mean
that though there are more stars here
than we can imagine,
there is still one small, cream room.
It is small enough. (1)
Continuity plays a major role in this work. As the poems progress, so too does the reader’s knowledge of understanding the speaker. This country only has one language. There are other languages in the world, yet they are mostly translatable to English. Even though there are other languages and they can be translated, we (the people) have agreed upon definition. Does definition define what we attempt to communicate to each other? Heim believes it does not, that language is an inadequate way to confer feelings, emotions, reactions, or blame.
The third running sequence of poems, titled “Moving Picture,” is peppered throughout the book. As Heim states in the notes they reference and mix various films and texts. In answer to the aforementioned question, Heim gives us these examples or reinterpretations or emotional attachment as an audience member to a given work. She doesn’t simply recapitulate a specific story, but tells us how she interprets the tale, where her interest is. As these words don’t do justice to what she is doing, there is no simple way for me to state that where one is looking from the understanding is different. Heim knows the story continues, she’s aware of her “constant miscommunication” (79), and is still interested in working through the language to convey “A voice that thrills, a killing” (77). It’s the voice that knows how to put language together and push the message through the colander of distance.
This is a serious collection that deals with heavy topics. A cliché-like line like that is part of what Heim might call “retroactive inevitability” (9). I know that I feel that and thought it in my mind, but it’s been used so many times that it is not worthy of a book review. The freshness has gone and we’re left with pieces (words) to sew together into quilts (sentences). So, yes, this is seriously concerned with wants, relationships, motherhood, honesty, change (in a multiplicity of ways), fear, vagaries, guesses, will, and experiments. However boring that description is, Heim’s writing is that much sharper as in “Saturday, and Getting Colder”:
All my new estimates are proving to be right:
A life is as assembled out of thin
birch branches. Now you know
everything: I was unnaturally lit from within.
that’s my handbag at the scene of the crime.
Do not “look to me.” I will not be prepared. (65)
So, what is known and what is controlled? Are a woman and a man going to feel similarly after birthing a child? What is the plausibility of one thing happening? Would obsession obscure the aperture of the viewer? These questions and more are considered within the book. It would be easy for me to say I have the answers to interested potential readers, that I read the book and understood, or that I can’t really teach anyone anything. Yet, that would be the easy route. The route that I want to take is to say that I feel this is an important book. What I know is that Heim did not simply “box up what living deforms” (33), she has taken a journey and she has been shaken by it. Her shaking has shaken me. The quiver is still pulsing and the table is long and set for many people. You should join us at the table. The discussion is good, the poetry is better.
A Table That Goes on for Miles is available from Switchback Books
Matthew Schmidt is pursuing a MFA at the University of Arizona. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Asinine Poetry, Down in the Dirt and Eye On Life.
Peter Gizzi’s A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me is a chapbook published by Ugly Duckling Presse that preceded its inclusion in a larger full-length text, The Outernationale, which was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2007. The chapbook itself consists of a long poem in five parts that pull apart, or put together, moments of possible panic, and where there is alarm, there is a need for preparation – to depict every moment as one under the speaker’s control. The speaker’s immediate use of conditionals with the anaphora “if” swiftly funnels us into scenes that bring vulnerability and about-to-break moments where life seemingly depends on the very acts that might hurt or end (us). By dropping readers into the beginning, middle, and of possibilities, “If today and today I am calling aloud / If I break into pieces of glitter on asphalt / bits of sun, the din / the tires whine on wet pavement / everything humming, (7)” the speaker clues us into what could go wrong as well as their pensive state of mind. This inviting pensiveness allows the reader in to a privacy that intrigues us to follow (what might be the ways in which we know we were loved).
Gizzi’s poetry is akin to the impact of a love poem/love story. It is the balance between ballad and epic, which speaks to his dual placement as a lyric and narrative poet. Gizzi’s poetry occupies both definitions, “The day unbraids its pretty light / and here I am to see it” and “If every afternoon gravity and fire / it’s like that here // undressed, unwound (11)”; Gizzi wields elements of song and sequence to chronicle changing perspective. The point of view zooms into the speaker’s wide world and then zooms out to pinpoint the speaker’s grounding, participation and ponderings. This, then, creates the braiding yet blurring balance of brevity and connectedness with just a few lines. Furthermore, Gizzi sheds light on understanding and searching the imagery of memories,
A branch and the scent of pine in summer
the bridge and the water in the creek
the stones and the sound of water
the creek and my body
when hair and water flowed over me (17)
These lines appear almost inductively, which contributes to the zooming out strategy, documenting the speaker’s optic movement as they examine the branch and then the scent from it, the bridge and then the water below it, as well as the stones hitting the water. The speaker begins these images and the reader creates meaning – the reader stays with the image. In staying, we linger, hover, and expect. This is the essence of lyricism – we look forward to what’s next coming.
Apparent in these lines is the outstanding use of light that reinforces introspection and reflexive investigation:
If the sun throbs like a drum
every five minutes
what can we do with this
the 100,000 years it takes a photon
to reach the sun
eight minutes to hit our eyes (12-13)
By juxtaposing the motion of the light with the ways in which it decelerates or accelerates as it meets the sun with planets and people, respectively, light then measures the difference of impact and even privilege. By asking, “what can we do with this,” the reader is implicated in how our collective humanity can be small but great. This question has the potential to leave us futile or in despair, yet it underscores the existential power we have within the bounds of our bodies. This begs the question: what makes a panic a panic? Perhaps the panic is hanging onto what one has while appreciating the details and citizenship of our lives. What we do is highly up to ourselves; Gizzi’s use of light incites us to take on the work of mystery when, really, we are engaging in an exacting, honest shift towards profundity that we can create.
A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me moves us to figure out for ourselves what is lit. Gizzi’s poetry is a path and a mainstay while the readers are the actors. The poetry is very much about the speaker’s memory, insight, and imagination just as it is about the reader’s.
A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse
Janice Sapigao is a Pinay poet, writer and educator born and raised in San Jose, CA. She earned her MFA in Critical Studies/Writing from CalArts. She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called the Sunday Jump. She currently lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College and San Jose City College. Please visit her website at janicewrites.com.