Read it.

It’s not a critical review, since I’m not scholar in the field. Think of it as a recommendation for others like me: aware of digital poetry from the periphery, not too studied in the digital humanities, and working slowly to become a practitioner of digital poetry and other digital arts.

A great book for anyone interested in digital poetry. It covers a wide range of works from many contemporary artists working in this ever-evolving field.

@ Fence Books

My pain-&-disenchantment-fueled review of Nick Demske’s first book, Nick Demske, is out in print in the latest Sycamore Review 23.1. Wish it was posted up online, but the best I can do is an excerpt:

Nick Demske, I am erecting a solid bronze monument to this work, devised with warlock magic and prescription medications: a gate in the style of Dante’s Gate of Hell, wrought from the negative energies that hang in cartoon clouds above our heads. I have harnessed the anger of the millions foreclosed upon since 2008; the terror and rage of all whose family members have been shot, bombed or otherwise murdered in armed conflicts over markets, contracts or resources; the depression and anxiety of a population trapped in a bankrupt system of increasing productivity and dwindling prosperity; and the resentment and violence fed by the yawning chasm between rich and poor. The inscription on the gate reads: WHEN I SAY POST-APOCALYPTIC, I MEAN “CONTEMPORARY.”

I really got off on this tongue-in-cheek(s) work of irreverence and offensiveness. If you’re not familiar with Nick Demske’s online journal Boo: A Journal of Terrific Things, you should go read it. Then get a copy of the book.

And hey, Nick, if you read this post, I’m still waiting to hear back about my submissions. It’s been, like, six months now. Is there going to be an Issue 3? Don’t misunderstand me, I know how busy things get, but I about shit my pants for joy when I saw a journal asking for what seemed to be exactly what I had been writing for over a year. A journal of offensive things is something this country really needs. And a museum and cable television network of truly offensive things, in addition to the offensively stupid things already out there.


In the upcoming Winter/Spring 2010 issue of the Sycamore Review, you will find my positive and highly political review of David Lau’s Virgil and the Mountain Cat, his first book published last spring in UC Press’s New California Poetry series. I’m a big fan of that series and now a fan of Lau’s, so I hope you will go out, get the journal and read it. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

Virgil and the Mountain Cat, for all the bleakness and hopelessness it ascribes to our collective present and future (or perhaps due to it), stands as the most authentic and original books of new verse I’ve read in the last year or two. I am grateful to Mr. Lau for his insistence on pointing at the darkness and asking us to not look away, to not go on working (and writing) as though everything was fine. […] Violently refusing any conventions that might result in comfortable, sedating, or lulling tones and sentiments, this book, described by Mark Levine on the back cover as “an unforgiving glimpse of the horizonless present,” can’t help but resonate with the “absent future” seen with such fatalist urgency by the striking students at the UCSC campus where Lau teaches. And in the end, it is this refusal that I am most grateful for.

The rest of the review is available in the issue. I hope you will buy it and check it out.

eunoiaA friend of mine (and fiction writer) asked me to give some suggestions of contemporary poetry books to read, and I was a little surprised at how easily my first suggestion came. Hands down, it’s Christian Bök’s Eunoia. A bonus too: it’s online for free. Not only does it break the conventions of the publishing world by giving itself out free (and before it was in a print version, too, for that matter); but it can be heard performed in its entirety by the author, too [visit Christian Bök’s page at PennSound].  If this is new to you, and you’re curious about new poetry, start here. Unfortunately, a lot of what is labeled as poetry and is available in bookstores will likely disappoint you after this, but hey, there’s always EPC and UbuWeb, and they’re free, too.

To be plain, this book is a masterpiece and gift to (and from) the English language. If you want to demonstrate how poetry can be delightful and not just dumpy, and how poetry can serve the language, the reader, and the listener and not just end up as a neo-Romantic lineated letter from a perception-perceptive, experience-experiencing, feeling-feeling author.

If only it was normal that poems create experience and not merely relate it!

decnew_alphabetMy short review of Ron Silliman’s The Alphabet was recently accepted for inclusion in the next issue of Purdue’s literary journal, The Sycamore Review. It’s my second attempt at the book review, and I’m still trying to not be so positive all the time about the books I choose to review. But in this case, the praise was well deserved.

While writing the book review, I happened to read “What I See in the Silliman Project,” an essay from the mid-80’s by Stephen Rodefer reprinted in the most recent Chicago Review (54.3). It goes into much sharper detail and critique of the first three sections of The Alphabet. Much more incisive and comprehensive than I was able to get in 500-1000 words.

green_gray.jpgLiberating: that’s the best word I can come up with for the experience I had reading Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s second collection of poems, Green and Gray. What else could I say about a poem that declares this victory over life’s demands: “So much for problems and their solutions.”? What else could I say that would be more accurate than O’Brien’s own commentary on the book and its methods, embedded throughout this self-aware collection? As one poem puts it, “The feeling is / of the other side of the beginning of a bridge, / imaginary numbers, scratches on a table”; and these poems are “cold coals / of wildflowers, wars / at their centers, they go on for years / burning near the front / and from below.” Brilliantly conceived and executed, O’Brien has managed to be abstract and engaged in fairly lofty ideas without coming off as pretentious.

There is this warning for readers, though: if you’re looking for perfect poems, you should probably look somewhere else; O’Brien doesn’t write those. He begins “The Nature of Encounters” by “already screwing up the end of the poem / with a hopeful form of forgetfulness.” If you’re looking for poems that connect with you emotionally, that speak urgently to you, the reader, and bring comfort or mild epiphany to you in difficult times, this book might not be what you’re looking for. As O’Brien writes in “This Partly Imagined Tale,” “It may be / that feelings haven’t been accurate / instruments for some time now.”

What this book does take as its major concerns are the social, the intellectual, and the political; but especially, it addresses “the problem of senses confined to a head.” The focus on the perceiver, the senses, and the objects of perception keeps the poems from becoming didactic or sentimental by putting everything on the level of phenomenology. His avoidance of a poetic voice as it is usually conceived of in the mainstream contemporary lyric also keeps him free of such pitfalls. At the outset of “Objects in Portraits,” he writes that, “In the uncertain light of the first person / anything made is embarrassing.” He has chosen an interesting way around such embarrassment; he has decided to compose many (possibly all) of these poems with the language of other texts: not his own expression, but the expressions of words moved and rearranged into new contexts. In this way, the words do not follow an author’s intended meaning so much as they precede it and give rise to it. This reversal of the standard order of events or process is featured prominently in the poem “Hysteron Proteron” (the rhetorical term for such reversals). It contains some of the most politically dangerous moments in the book. O’Brien manages to cover bombs (think cruise missiles), toppled statues (think Lenin, think Saddam Hussein) and 9/11 with an intelligence and care to the nuances of connotation that allow him to get away with lines like “the fortuitous encounter on a sky / of two planes and two towers” and “911 Is a Joke, How Can I Move the Crowd, Police and Thieves, The Ocean.” [Just for clarity’s sake, “911 Is a Joke” is a song written by Public Enemy in 1990, here used as an example of how eerie hysteron proteron can be.] Another poem, “They Met Only in the Evenings” (as a brief note at the front of the book explains), was composed using only language from the USA PATRIOT Act and Jean Genet’s Querrelle. “The New” was composed by extracting phrases that mark time from Dante’s La Vita Nuova and arranging them into a meditation on causality.

The real achievement of this book is in the unexpected and often unexplainable moments of clarity that O’Brien arrives at through the expert use of these compositional methods. “In Re Others” pulls this off better than any other poem. One of many in the collection organized around anaphora—a technique which O’Brien employs to great effect—the poem moves along steadily on the repeated phrase, “There is this to say.” And much is said about the self and the “other”—those it coexists with—much of which “can be said with a ship / and a wave, with only and also.” But what it comes down to in the end is this: “a bee in a well, the edges of islands, / any meeting place of the one life and the other / and the rekillable flowers that grow there / as though to say: there is this.” The tail of the anaphora, “to say,” has fallen off, and there is only “this” left, naked and glorious: a thingness that is beyond any of the poem’s things, an awareness that is not confined to any sum or part of those who are aware, an imperceptible hum that can even resist the word silence. I suppose this is what I mean when I call this book liberating.

[Reposted by the author from the Sycamore Review weblog]

I’ve mentioned UBU web before, in particular their /ubu_editions page. Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading some of the books published there. In their newest release (the third series, Spring 2007), one name in particular stood out: Mairéad Byrne. I had not heard of her until I went to AWP in February and saw her at two panel events. She also happens to be a graduate of the MFA program here at Purdue. It seems then that there was something worthwhile that I took from that conference after all.

byrne_sos_thumb.jpgSOS Poetry, her book at /ubu_editions, is best described as a collection: it is clearly not a work that builds off of a single design plan, or has intentions of being analyzed as a whole work. It is divided into several sections, and even within each section there is little cohesion. But this is something of the point, I think, because the book draws all of its poems from Byrne’s weblog Heaven over the past five years or so, sort of a Best of Heaven. And weblogs are not designed for overarching consistency, which would aim for an effect of timelessness, but are organized around the timestamped post, which may build upon previous entries, but is more likely to follow the format of a journal or diary, which demands the communication of a set progression of time.

I’m not much of a critic, really. I don’t have any witty comments coming to mind right now. All I can say is that these poems read with an immediacy and a sense of joy that are impossible to ignore. They display a great sense of humor and wit, drawing on forms and subjects as diverse as advertisements, letters, announcements, advice, movie pitches, and ideas for works for art. It is obvious, too, that Byrne is very keen to the pleasure and/or trouble in words and our use of them (see “Bonkers,” “Humidity,” and my personal favorite, “Alright”). Variously, this is a fun and engaging collection, and a pretty quick read, too, if you’re worried about how long it usually take to read a tome of poetry.

Some of my favorites:

  • Eaten Bagel
  • Humidity
  • Wind Chill
  • Alright
  • Peel-A-Way
  • To Conquer Fear
  • Another Self-Portrait
  • Stop
  • Letter Home
  • When You Kiss The World