Joshua Marie Wilkinson: UA Faculty Recommends

Harmony Holiday’s Negro League Baseball (Fence Books 2011) is a book of tremendous joy, threaded against a searing, musical pain. These poems offer a treatise on loss and celebration, in long, elastic lines of astounding rhythm. And they yield this combinatory: an exuberant hurt, an ecstatic lament “born of dormant corners” and articulated through “struggling to depict what’s kept thinking.” But Holiday’s struggle—in skeining cadences—constructs a lyric of “spectacular brooding.” This is the work of a voice we didn’t know we needed: “Should you feel displaced make everywhere messy, massive, good as you have it.”

Laynie Browne’s Roseate, Points of Gold (Dusie Press Books 2011) is a moon-obsessed, luminescence-haunted book, seeking to externalize the lives of the interior, and to chart the internal forms of the ephemeral. Shifting between a discreet lyric and a methodical prose sentence, Browne’s new book is in search of transformations manifest in the as yet unrecognized. And it’s a beautiful, strange work full of lush phrases, like the following: “Interior to newness of perception is an encoded bank of sea fog, wrapped in the intangible quality of distance.”

Soldatesque / Soldiering: With Dreams of Wartime (BlazeVox 2011) is the companion book to a lovely and sprawling installation here at the Poetry Center featuring Anne Waldman’s texts and Noah Saterstrom’s artwork. As the companion edition, this thin volume makes a perfect take-away to stay in the world they’ve combined to create. Saterstrom’s artwork here is especially visceral in one of the finest works that will go down in the annals of American poetic and visual art collaborations. And BlazeVox has done an excellent job with beautiful reproductions.

Humanimal: A Project for Future Children (Kelsey Street Press 2009) is Bhanu Kapil’s third book, released in a stunning paperback edition. In 1920 “two white ghosts,” indeed human girls named Kamala and Amala, were spotted in India “roaming with a mother wolf and her pack of cubs” by one Reverend Joseph Singh, who “decided to track them.” Through Singh’s diary, Kapil tracks these wolfgirls, too—all the while being followed herself by a French film crew producing a documentary about human/animal contacts on a trip to Bengal. One could imagine a work like this as a sprawling novel, and yet in just over 70 pages of prose—and it’s brilliant prose—Kapil moves with lyrical speculation, in her own diary-like record of the journey: “Balled up, her shaven head and spine visible through her skin, the wolfgirl was a singular presence, almost butter-yellow against the granular fabric of the Kodak paper.”

Rachel Levitsky’s latest book Neighbor (Ugly Duckling Presse 2009) is a study of the self refracted through those in closest physical proximity to our daily lives. Her predilection for the couplet charts a spare lyric, as the first poem opens: “Neighbor is a long page / about the neighbor // why is it called “Confession” / or if it’s called “My Neighbor” // or what, if anything, I am. / I have ideas.” The poems in Neighbor think in a troubled, discordant vein, and what they tender are fascinating questions: who are we in the eyes and ears of our neighbors? what of our noise? what means our coming and going—or our staying in for long periods—to those on the other side of the wall? They are minor questions in a major strain: who am I to the outside world? The neighbor is a perfect signpost for this question, since anyone’s neighbor presents them with the simple fact of alterity in our quotidian lives. Described in the book’s “Source Material” as both a manifesto and log, Neighbor is something beyond these altogether: a poetry that confronts the mysteries of one’s self as an articulation of the engagement with the near-anonymous other, just beyond the brick and drywall.

My rice tastes like the lake by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa (Apogee Press 2011) is the third collection by a Tibetan exile who grew up in Nepal and India. All of Dhompa’s work is scored with a lyric compression where intelligence, sensuality, loss, and awe are collapsed into lines that accrue with a seeming ease that belies the almost conversational tone. She writes, “My words drag like chairs chained to a dog. / (I cannot follow the logic in this.) Still, / some sadness will never leave.” Dhompa’s lengthy, patient poems are concerned with those ineluctable gaps between language and experience, between imagination and knowledge, between the political and the quotidian, as she writes, “The world, / such a pretentious word, but there it is / circling inside, outside clouds part / and align as to suggest they too are at liberty.”

Re- by Kristi Maxwell (Ahsahta Press 2011) is a compact new collection with a flare for Hopkins’s musical density but with a punning intelligence all Maxwell’s own. The book opens with the following signal lines: “Filleted as is the year with seasons / light straddles the fence the height of she / who has arms agape in the outline of a fig / but arm-large for they are arms / noun-stammered toward hold.” The probing sense of the four long poems in Re- trace meaning through music of a domestic cleavage of a she and he, (both echoing the title of the book and) weaving around one another in Maxwell’s punning layers of language, as seen here: “Rabbit-foiled sleep, / his frontal lobe suppers on posies off an oddly-/ poised crow’s left wing. She’s nearby and not. / Near bye, she has torn seeing out of her / iris. A flower clenched in the beak / of the crow, grown empty as tables.” That cleavage is one where the word itself is split asunder, mirroring as it does the strangeness of utterance as representation and communication fraught by its reception.

O Bon by Brandon Shimoda (Litmus Press 2011) is the book I’ve been waiting for. Having read it a few years back in an early manuscript form, its luster in my imagination has only increased. Shimoda’s tormented lyrical investigations are scary in their precision, in their tactile articulation, and in their drift-netting for the interned Japanese-American ghosts of his ancestry. The thing about Shimoda’s poetry is that where so many other lesser poets would stop and revel—or gloss over to beautify—Shimoda seeks to unpack each revelation of spirit and atrocity, to score each membrane of experience, to record the strange laughter in the dirt at the edge of the grave. These isolated phrases alone should provide a good enough preview here for the unafraid: "saluting a hex of gangrenous sky," "netting the slack," "in the slats of yellow eyes," "of raining ears," "drawing fretted smoke," "and everywhere I ask to those who pry from scanning."

In Rowers, Chrysanthemums by Hans Faverey and translated from the Dutch by Francis R. Jones (Leon Works 2011), the poems double as echolocations and tactile thought machines. They twist from speculative meditation into sensorial awe with Ponge-like focus and a penchant for grandeur akin to Barbara Guest. But Faverery’s curious lyrics are obsessed with the temporal, the fleeting, and the long-gone: developing a poetic landscape of arrested particulars, conversations with the dead, and memories plucked from Homeric visitants. And sometimes the lines just dumbfound me in their ghostlier demarcations: “First the message kills / the receiver, then / it kills the sender. / Whatever / the language.”

Tres by Roberto Bolaño (New Directions 2011) and translated by Laura Healy collects three short works of poetry (two in prose and a long, slender piece called Los Neochilenos) with facing Spanish and English pages by the consummate master of the novel. Bolaño, a recent darling of poets for his characterization of writers in his fiction, has become semi-famous for extolling his minor works (these little volumes of poetry) over his monster works like his posthumous 2666. And his poems are wonderful indeed, hard as they are to read outside the context of his bigger works: not just because of the shadow of his fiction, but because of the way his poems, too, flirt with narrative scenes, quickly abandoned, as an early page reads, “In the bedroom, in addition to the reflection that sucks up everything, you notice stones, yellow reefs, sand, hair on pillows, abandoned pajamas. Then it all disappears.” Fans of The Savage Detectives might be left longing for more, but those us who love Antwerp and The Romantic Dogs will find much to linger on in Tres.

 


Photograph by Cybele Knowles

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