Picasso’s Tears

untitled-1Picasso’s Tears
Wong May
Octopus Books, June 2014
323 Pages
$24

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Few books of poetry this year will have a more interesting back story than this one. Born in China in 1944 and raised in Singapore, Wong May came to the United States in the 1960s to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop. Between 1969 and 1978, she published three collections of poetry with Harcourt Brace. Then, rather abruptly, no further books.

Poet Zachary Schomburg came across Wong May’s first book, A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals, in an Akron public library and was sufficiently intrigued to investigate. It turned out than Wong May had married an Irish physicist, moved to Dublin, and raised two sons. Although she published virtually nothing, she had continued to write poetry. Since Schomburg is one of the many contemporary poets who has a sideline as an independent publisher, we now have Picasso’s Tears, a handsomely-designed (by Drew Scott Swenhaugen) hardbound volume, 286 pages of poetry and an interview (more precisely, a 12-page answer to the question, “How has your relationship to poetry changed since 1978?”).Continue Reading

Talkativeness

Talkativeness_for_website_grandeTalkativeness
Michael Earl Craig
Wave Books, April 2014
104 pages
$18.00

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If you were among those persuaded by Thin Kimono (2010) that Michael Earl Craig was a poet to watch, you may consider your intuitions confirmed. Talkativeness dwells a little more deeply in the voice of that earlier volume, becoming more at home in it, but still capable of surprise.

Craig’s territory is contiguous to the domains of Ashbery, Tate, and Dean Young, but a little further off the interstate, a little lonelier. The natives are kindly but unlikely to offer help unless asked. For that matter, you might get further by simply paying closer attention.

The book’s epigraph, from Yamamoto Tsunetomo, states, “No matter how good what you are saying might be, it will dampen the conversation if it is irrelevant.” But—the following volume seems to ask—how confident can we be that any remark is irrelevant, when it may connect intimately to the topic at hand by unguessable, labyrinthine subterranean channels? How do we know that the apparently tangential is not, in fact, the royal highway to the real?Continue Reading

The Pedestrians

Pedestrians_final_for_website_1024x1024The Pedestrians
Rachel Zucker
Wave Books, April 2014
160 pages
$18.00

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Rachel Zucker is a writer of daunting productivity. The Pedestrians is her sixth poetry collection since 2002; she has also published a memoir, co-authored a book about home birth with Arielle Greenberg, and co-edited two anthologies—this in addition to having three boys of (on the evidence of this volume) moderate-to-high boyishness. Moreover, The Pedestrians could easily be considered two books.Continue Reading

The Dustbowl

223_4430The Dustbowl
Jim Goar
Shearsman Books, April 2014
86 pages
$16.00

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The greater part of Jim Goar’s The Dustbowl is a poem or sequence also called “The Dustbowl,” which the jacket copy describes as “a collection of serial poems.” These poems are, on average, about ten lines long, made up of short, staccato sentences or phrases, often enjambed, and some deliberate compositional process has clearly taken place—a chart at the beginning of the book shows how the fifty-five poems of “The Dustbowl” were taken from a run of more than ninety. But we do not know what the principles of inclusion or exclusion were, or in what way the poems are serial.

One would like to know more, for “The Dustbowl” makes compelling reading. If one were to fall asleep some afternoon having just learned that John Steinbeck published The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (an adaptation of Malory) as well as The Grapes of Wrath, and then dream a braided dream of Okies pursuing the Holy Grail, and were Godard then to edit that dream, one would have something a little like this book’s title poem.

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Orange Roses

51xwlRDsvOL._SY300_Orange Roses
Lucy Ives
Ahsahta Press, September 2013
104 pages
$18.00

With the proliferation of graduate programs in creative writing, the day approaches when most poetry published in the United States will have been written by people with graduate degrees in writing poetry—a prospect that may launch a thousand jeremiads. But I will not complain, so long as the academicization of American poetry means we will be getting more books like Lucy Ives’s Orange Roses.

Ives’s poetry is aware of its own processes—as in “Early Poem,” which enumerates its one hundred sentences as they occur (“In the thirteenth sentence I realize I have chosen something”). It is also aware of its own awareness of its own processes, as when the eighty-third sentence forgets to count itself, prompting the admission, “sentence eighty-four contains the question, didn’t you already know that this would start to happen.” For some, this will seem like disappearing down the meta-poetic rabbit-hole.  But the rabbit-hole, remember, is one of the ways to get to Wonderland.

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Pink Reef

refdp_image_z_0Pink Reef
Robert Fernandez
Canarium Books, April 2013
96 pages
$14.00

I brought this along on a recent visit to my doctor, just in case there was a wait; as it turned out, I read the whole book and started again at the beginning—not only because my doctor was running an hour behind, and not only because it was a better alternative than People, but also because it is a book that envelops and surrounds, creating a space one cannot easily leave. A doctor’s office, too, seemed an eerily suitable place to take in Fernandez’s meditations, which trace the shore where the mind meets the body.

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Not Unlike…

explosionsThe Explosions
Mathias Svalina
Subito Press, December 2012
136 pages
$16.00

[Note: P. Scott Stanfield holds a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Recently, I challenged him to see how many references to other works and artists he could make in a single 500-word review. He gets one point for each, or two for any he hasn’t used in a previous column. Last month’s score: 29; this month’s score: 17; all-time record: 31.
—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor]

In the Venn diagram of twentieth century American poetry, we tend to imagine the poetry of political commitment and the poetry of formal audacity as inhabiting non-overlapping circles. In a recent review of Adrienne Rich’s final collection, Ange Mlinko emphasized these boundaries in asserting that Rich’s “impact on poets of the last couple of generations has been weak,” because her audacity was in her politics and not in her language.  Exceptions come to mind—Robert Duncan, Ron Silliman—but our most politically radical poetry is often pedestrian, and our most formally radical poetry often hermetic.

In twenty-first century American poetry, however, the two circles are intersecting more frequently. Juliana Spahr has been combining radical form with radical politics for years, as have Lara Glenum and Kathleen Ossip. The marvelously strange poetry of Mathias Svalina is another example.Continue Reading

The Bees and Rapture

9780865478855The Bees and Rapture
Carol Ann Duffy
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2013
96 pages / 80 pages
$23.00 / $15.00

Editor’s note: P. Scott Stanfield holds a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Recently, I challenged him to see how many references to other works and artists he could make in a single 500-word review. He gets one point for each, or two for any he hasn’t used in a previous column. Last month’s score: 21; this month’s score: 29; all-time record: 31.
—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

Carol Ann Duffy is the current poet laureate of the United Kingdom—the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly LGBT individual to hold the honor (among her purportedly straight, male, and English predecessors are Dryden, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and, er, Alfred Austin). She has long been well known in the U.K. (she is in the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Scot though she is), but only some of her work has been published in the United States.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux are beginning to make things right by publishing Duffy’s latest collection, The Bees (which appeared in 2011 in the U.K.), along with her previous collection, the winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, Rapture (2005).

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Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death

Pagel_cover_sm_72dpiExperiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death
Caryl Pagel
Factory Hollow Press, September 2012
78 pages
$15.00

Editor’s note: P. Scott Stanfield holds a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Recently, I challenged him to see how many references to other works and artists he could make in a single 500-word review. He gets one point for each, or two for any he hasn’t used in a previous column. Last month’s score: 20; this month’s score: 21.
—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

A seeker of fossils is a scientist, but what about a seeker of ghosts? No way, most of us would say. “Okay,” the ghost hunters might protest, “we do not belong to prestigious institutions or attract foundation grants—but are we not methodical, do we not document carefully all we do? Yes, our findings are ignored by the scientific establishment, but who truly represents the spirit of free, open-minded inquiry? Them, or us?”

Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death inhabits just this kind of twilit world, where the broad daylight of orderly modern science entangles itself with the old shadowy world of myth, legend, and superstition.

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Not Unlike…

Readings in World Literature
Srikanth Reddy
Omnidawn, 2012
42 pages
$11.95

Editor’s note: P. Scott Stanfield holds a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Recently, I challenged him to see how many references to other works and artists he could make in a single 500-word review. He gets one point for each, or two for any he hasn’t used in a previous column. Last month’s score: 31; this month’s score: 20.
- Andrew Ladd

Readings in World Literature, Srikanth Reddy’s new chapbook, is hard to describe. The back cover calls it a “prose sequence,” but the acknowledgements page calls it a “poem.” Likewise, it straddles the fiction/non-fiction divide. Reddy really does teach “Readings in World Literature” at the University of Chicago, but not “Introduction to the Underworld,” as he does in the text. He and Suzanne Buffam really do have a daughter named Mira, and he may really have developed a melanoma; since he teaches at the University of Chicago, he quite possibly really had a student who described himself as a “Zen Naxalite crypto-Objectivist.”Continue Reading