Friday, November 30, 2007


November 30, 2007

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]

By Eileen Tabios

Patrick James Dunagan reviews WRITING POETRY: FROM THE INSIDE OUT by Sanford Lyne

Sam Lohmann reviews BURNING INTERIORS”: DAVID SHAPIRO’S POETRY AND POETICS, Edited by Thomas Fink and Joseph Lease

Patrick James Dunagan reviews RIPPLE EFFECT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Elaine Equi

Sam Lohmann engages RIPPLE EFFECT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Elaine Equi



Patrick Rosal reviews AMIGO WARFARE and ZERO GRAVITY, both by Eric Gamalinda

Eileen Tabios engages AMIGO WARFARE and LYRICS FROM A DEAD LANGUAGE, both by Eric Gamalinda

Thomas Fink reviews FRAGILE REPLACEMENTS by William Allegrezza

Pam Brown engages URBAN MYTHS: 210 POEMS by John Tranter

Rochelle Ratner engages HELEN IN EGYPT by H.D.; LOBA by Diane di Prima; SURVIVAL: A THEMATIC GUIDE TO CANADIAN LITERATURE by Margaret Atwood; and THE JOURNAL OF SUSANNA MOODIE by Margaret Atwood

Lars Palm reviews OPERA BUFA by Adam Fieled

Pam Brown engages BLUE GRASS by Peter Minter

Raymond John De Borja reviews ALL THE PAINTINGS OF THE GIORGIONE by Elizabeth Willis

Eileen Tabios engages WANTON TEXTILES by Reb Livingston and Ravi Shankar

Ryan Daley reviews THE ECSTASY OF CAPITULATION by Daniel Borzutzky

Joe LeClerc reviews CANA QUEMADA [BURNT SUGAR] - CONTEMPORARY CUBAN POETRY IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH, Edited by Lori Marie Carlson & Oscar Hijuelos

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF YEARS, CAPITAL and ERRATUM TO A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF YEARS (LEVIATHAN PRESS, 2001), all by Giles Goodland

Nicholas Manning reviews BLACK STONE by Dale Smith


Patrick James Dunagan reviews COMPLETE MINIMAL POEMS by Aram Saroyan

Lisa Bower reviews THE ARCHITECTURE OF LANGUAGE by Quincy Troupe

Jeff Harrison reviews DAYS POEM, VOLS. I and II by Allen Bramhall

Burt Kimmelman reviews FORTY-NINE GUARANTEED WAYS TO ESCAPE DEATH by Sandy McIntosh

Eileen Tabios engages HUMAN SCALE by Michael Kelleher

Pam Brown engages VOODOO REALITIES by Philip Hammial

Laurel Johnson reviews PASSING OVER by Norman Finkelstein

Pamela Hart reviews THREADS by Jill Magi

Lars Palm reviews DOCUMENT by Ana Bozicevic-Bowling

Nicholas Manning reviews OBSTRUCTS/CONSTITUTES by John Crouse

Eric Hoffman reviews N/O by Ron Silliman

William Allegrezza reviews GUESTS OF SPACE by Anselm Hollo

Larissa Shmailo reviews E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E V-A-L-U-E-S: THE FIRST XI INTERVIEWS, Curated by Tom Beckett

Eileen Tabios engages PUBLIC ACCESS #1, Edited by Nicholas Grider

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews PIONEERS IN THE STUDY OF MOTION by Susan Briante

Mark Young reviews EL TSUNAMI by Kevin Opstedal

Aileen Ibardaloza engages “LAKBAY-KAMAY”, a poem by Father Albert Alejo; "PSALM 120" in BOOK OF PSALMS, THE NELSON STUDY BIBLE; “OUT BEYOND IDEAS” by Jelludin Rumi in THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, Translated by Coleman Barks; and OUT BEYOND IDEAS, a CD by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit

Kristina Marie Darling reviews INBOX by Noah Eli Gordon

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews NOVEL PICTORIAL NOISE by Noah Eli Gordon

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews THE HAPPINESS EXPERIMENT by Lisa Fishman

Paul Klinger reviews LETTERS TO EARLY STREET by Albert Flynn DeSilver

Eileen Tabios engages FREE by Amanda Laughtland

Ivy Alvarez reviews MOONSHINE by MML Bliss

Beatriz Tabios engages THE BOOK OF THE ROTTEN DAUGHTER by Alice Friman

Eileen Tabios engages BELOVED INTEGER by Michelle Naka Pierce

Two Poems by Patrick James Dunagan: "Dear Elaine," and "A Sloop in the Heart of Things"

“The Poetry of Put-On” (Addressing Bill Knott, Andrei Codrescu, Armand Schwerner, Jack Spicer, Among Others) by Rochelle Ratner

Murat Nemet-Nejat reviews SUDDEN ADDRESS, SELECTED LECTURES 1981-2006 by Bill Berkson

Scott Glassman reviews SIGHT PROGRESS by Zhang Er, Translated by Rachel Levitsky with the author

Judith Roitman reviews INVERSE and THE BOOK OF OCEAN, both by Maryrose Larkin

Meritage Press Tiny Books Releases Fifth Title for Poetry to Keep Feeding the World!

The Bad Bad Metaphor!


This Issue No. 8 rounds out the first two years of Galatea Resurrects (GR). Woot! And I am delighted to share that GR has presented 405 new reviews of various poetry projects. GR's reviews cover works put out by 207 publishers, in addition to the producers of one blog, one poetry CD, four poetry videos and a performance troupe. We've also introduced online 48 reviews previously only available in print journals (some of which are no longer in existence). The reviewed publishers certainly reflect the internet's reach, as publishers' headquarters reside in the United States, England, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico, Philippines, Australia, Wales, South Africa, Germany, Japan, France, and, of course, the internet. You can see these statistics fleshed out in the new LIST OF PUBLISHERS COVERED BY GR.

This issue also inaugurates a new GR feature: THE CRITIC WRITES POEMS, inaugurated by Patrick James Dunagan with two poems (the first of which synchronistically is a poem sequence inspired by his reading Elaine Equi's Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems that he reviews in this issue). I thought this feature might be interesting in showing the poetic talent of those reviewing others' poetries/poems.

Since this is the last issue for 2007, we can also announce the recipient of the 2007 CALENDAR AWARD given by members of the secret organization, Oenophiles For Poetry (OFP). Basically, the OFP membership read all of the reviews/engagements published in 2007 and chose their favorite read. Note that I say "favorite read" versus "best review" -- after all, the judges were in their goblets when they made their choice, and even when they're totally sober their judgements are not necessarily reliable. Anyhoot, the recipient turned out to be[insert drumroll punctuated with clinking glasses]:

Congratulations, Guillermo! Your Award comes with a cash prize as munificent as what I was able to scrounge from the pocket pants and purses of the OFP membership while they met to determine the award recipient (actually, they met to drink through my wine cellar but....). Sadly, I must bemoan the state of a credit card-dependent society. I was only able, this year, to scrounge up $10.25. Doesn't anyone walk around with cash anymore?!!! Anyway -- Guillermo, Congratulations but don't quit your day job.

To other matters beyond low finance, I continue to be amazed that GR has lasted this long and with such copious quantity of reviews/engagements. Here are more numbers:

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)

Of such, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews

Thus, I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Any project as long as its author is a poet is eligible. For example, this issue inaugurates the first review of a book of art criticism by a poet: Barry Schwabsky reviews Gloire des formes précédé de Le double corps des images by Jean Fremon. Information for submissions and available review copies HERE.

As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in comment and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).

Due to the various hijinks at Galatea, my beloved puppies Achilles and Gabriela hired a lawyer. I had told them that no one will sue me for printing negative reviews of poetry books but, given their genes, they wished to protect me just in case. So, for their latest entry into the Dogs' E-Photo Album Masquerading as a Poetry Review Journal, here they are with their brand spankin' new lawyer (and grumpy OFP member) pausing to relish a November stroll through the vineyards:

With much Love, Fur and Poetry,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
November 30, 2007



Writing poetry: from the inside out by Sanford Lyne
(Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL, 2007)


Sanford Lyne offers the following bit of guidance: “The earth is a good place to be” (193). This is not a book for anyone who considers herself not to belong: readers of Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, Woolf, Nietzsche; punk rockers; hipsters; public chess players; anybody who digs Dickinson and/or Whitman; skateboarders; or individuals otherwise possessing the slightest bit of wit and interest in resting matters into their own hands. This book may appeal to schoolchildren and roller-bladers. Approximately half of the voters who elected President Bush may also find something of use in it, as will approximately half of the voters who did not elect him. It’s unlikely that any European reader wouldn’t scoff at it.

There is no possibility of recommending this text to any reader under any circumstance for any purpose. Lyne wants poetry to be introduced to every person. He deems it a worthwhile—if somewhat imaginary—goal to get every person writing poems on a regular basis. He believes this will do the Spirit in them good. This book provides no balance to the view it offers, not only of Poetry, but of the World at large. Books so overly slanted towards making their readers “better” in whatever terms chosen are foolish and naive. This is the sort of work that encourages a self-glorying arrogant ignorance in people which ends up emotionally and imaginatively damaging them. Such material shapes the thinking which lies behind schoolteachers who scold and belittle the most promising among their students due to their own inadequacies which are reflected back by the eyes and tongue of the enlightened youth.

It’s not that it is at all difficult to find an agreeable passage. It’s the use which Lyne is putting his references to, the manner in which he directs his readers. His touchy-feely preconceptions of them ooze from off the page sending shivers down the spine.
What kinds of things grow our consciousness, our circles of awareness?
Living—life itself—will grow these circles. That’s in the design of life, for life is movement, change, and, therefore, response and hopefully reflection, new insights and understandings. Reading will grow these circles, especially if we talk with interesting people, people who are also awake and expanding their awareness. Emerson—like his student Henry David Thoreau—also believed that walks in nature expand our awareness. Emerson called nature “the great unread book,” and he thought our time in nature was essential—indeed, indispensable—to our growth. And again, writing grows these circles, for in writing we enter our own silence, our own stillness, and listen (172).

If people were to be trusted to attend to doing what is necessary and doing it well, this might be a passable bit of encouragement. Unfortunately, a significant portion of humanity looks to the easy way out of the majority of entanglements when thus confronted. Lyne conveniently leaves out the necessity of working hard. He gives a vague gist of Emerson in the above passage. A glimmer off the cream-puff top of an enormously engaging bore of wonder. If the reader doesn’t bother to go back to photocopied high school copies of Emerson’s essays—let alone become at least aware of, say, Carlyle’s influence upon them—he has not done her an ounce of favor, but more likely considerable harm. It’s similar to watching the Star Trek films which reference Moby-Dick and never reading the novel, especially the copious notes of the sub-sub-librarian which preface it. Granted, Lyne is perfectly adaptable reading for many graduate students in American Literature and the majority of their younger professors as well.

The hope would be that Lyne is not to be found of use to anybody who has spent the barest amount of time sitting with poetry, whether writing or reading it. Unfortunately, this is an unlikely assessment of the current situation. The problem is found in Lyne’s approach in general, it takes the norm into terrific consideration and does everything to be welcoming to it. Everybody is treated comfortably, any challenge must be gentle. No jarring of the individual’s world and temperament. None but the softest of demands are to be placed upon them; to be ever accommodating to their needs and perspective, utter passive acceptance.

Given that the norm is saturated with an ever increasing onslaught of digitalized distractions which make it increasingly difficult to focus on actual circumstances of interiorized personal growth and development, there’s little chance of his approach not growing in popularity. This is good for Lyne because he means to sell his book and continue teaching his poetry writing exercises in various workshops across the country. As is a well acknowledged fact, poets don’t make any money off writing poetry. Lyne has found his niche and now, in the vein of traditional American Capitalism, is successfully exploiting it. There’s a place in Dante’s Inferno for such abuses of the Imagination and a plethora of curses hurled by William Blake against those who support the Infernal Machines which Lyne appears to have no qualms of doing, may he find his own path to eternal peace.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom, and Red Ant Press among others.



"Burning Interiors": David Shapiro’s Poetry and Poetics, edited by Thomas Fink and Joseph Lease
(Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007)

This year, coinciding with David Shapiro’s sixtieth birthday and the publication of his New and Selected Poems, 1965-2006, Farleigh Dickinson University Press has published this collection of essays responding to Shapiro’s body of work (nine prior books of poetry, as well as numerous critical works––including the first book-length study of John Ashbery––and several collaborative work). Shapiro is a wonderful, complex, innovative poet who became involved while still in his teens with the New York School poetry scene of the mid sixties; while strongly influenced by the neo-surrealist, collage-oriented, richly visual frivoliste proclivities of older poets such as Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Joseph Ceravolo and Frank O’Hara, he managed to break through the veneer of irony and acoherence which typified his peers’ work, and to invent a poetry of emotional and political intensity and great thematic cohesiveness. Shapiro has become an influential elder in his own right, as a teacher as well as a writer (he has described himself as teaching “architecture to poets and poetry to architects” at the Cooper Union School), and this collection edited by two younger poets, Joseph Lease (who was a student of Shapiro’s) and Thomas Fink (who wrote the first book-length study of Shapiro’s work, The Poetry of David Shapiro, in 1993), is a fitting way for the U.S. poetry community to honor him. There are essays by twelve poets––Lease, Fink, Paul Hoover, Judith Halden-Sullivan, Joanna Fuhrman, Carole Stone, Stephen Paul Miller, Daniel Morris, Denise Duhamel, Noah Eli Gordon, Ron Silliman, and Tim Peterson––as well as one by the art critic and painter Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, and a poem by Timothy Liu dedicated to Shapiro.

The book as a whole provides a useful overview of numerous themes and aspects of this complex poetry. There is a recognizable set of recurring motifs which appear gradually through the earlier books and are recycled, transformed, and interrogated, giving the work a particular consistency and familiar personality, while also exploiting the ironic or comically arbitrary aspects of self-reference and self-parody––like Ted Berrigan in The Sonnets, Shapiro acknowledges his own poetry as well as that of others as fair game for collage. Gordon cites David Shapiro’s description of his teacher Meyer Schapiro’s essay on Cézanne as restoring “our sense that an artist is deeply invested in his usual constellation of images,” and offers a list of elements of Shapiro’s “constellation”: “snow, knives, venetian blinds, clouds, violins, the page, photographs, golf balls and billiard balls, insects, airplanes, and, of course, the . . . copy, with all its ancillary lexicon: trace, parody, shadow, original, outline, rewrite, correction fluid, and so on”––to which must be added the house and other architectures, the sphinx, fire, hair, and––as a form of the copy––the translation or “strong mistranslation” which so dominates his 1994 book After a Lost Original. Gordon speaks of “images”, but I want to insist on the obvious point that it is words that recur, always in different context and always by their recurrence drawing attention to their character as words; snow in Shapiro’s poems is not precisely analogous to apples, say, in Cézanne’s painting, and it seems misleading to equate each noun with an “image” in a poetry that constantly clowns with and fusses over the arbitrariness and opacity of language, that consistently uses ambiguous grammar, incomprehensible similes and other verbal devices to obfuscate or refract any “direct presentation of the thing”.

Shapiro’s linguistic devices are many, but there are a few which recur constantly. The words like and as, for instance, take on an extraordinary life of their own in his work, abdicating the poetic simile’s customary concern with similitude in favor of wildly ramifying juxtapositions:
Sunken rocks are sunless
like a fence in iniquity
or a hedge in oblivion
or sunshine at supper
like the supreme being in surgery
restrained by oscillating powers
sweeping the dirty body
useless as if agreeable stuff
like saccharine might look upon
love’s clean teeth
(“Music Written to Order,” New and Selected Poems p. 94)

Peterson’s essay “Distorted Figures: Mannerist Similes and the Body in David Shapiro’s Poetry” examines this device, which Peterson sees as derived from Raymond Roussel via Ashbery, but which has become uniquely Shapiro’s own, one of the things that makes any discussion of “image” in his poetry so difficult: in the absence of logical relations, each thing is grammatically linked to each other thing in the poem.

This “mannerist” or “specious” simile is also discussed in passing by Fuhrman in “’Not a Bridge’: Dialogue and Disjunction as Didacticism in the Later Poetry of David Shapiro,” and she goes on to examine another device, the psalmic or liturgical list held together by a repeated phrase, as in:
What was there to do? It is said you cannot live life in quarter tones.
What was there to do? It is said you cannot live your life in silence.
What was there to do? It is said you cannot live your life playing scales.
What was there to do? It is said you cannot live your life listening to the Americans.
(“Falling Upwards,” New and Selected Poems p.124.)

Blessed is the architect of the removed structures
Blessed is the structure that weathers in spring snow like lies
Blessed is the crystal that leaps out of the matrix like a fool
And blessed is the school
(“A Burning Interior,” New and Selected Poems p. 221)

Other specific aspects of Shapiro’s poetry discussed here are his collaborations with children (in Duhamel’s “Plays Well with Others: The Collaborative Poetry of David Shapiro”), the ways in which his family and his New Jersey childhood are invoked and distorted through his mainly non-autobiographical, anti-confessional practice (in Stone’s “David Shapiro: New Jersey as Trope”), and the influence of the painter Jasper Johns on Shapiro’s work (in Miller’s “David Shapiro and Jasper Johns: Ego in the Egoless Pie”). Shapiro wrote the text for a book of Johns’s drawings, and dedicated his new collection of poems to him; Miller describes their friendship, which began in the sixties, and draws intriguing but somewhat strained analogies between Johns’s anti-illusionistic investigations of sign and emblem––maps, flags, names of colors, numerals––and Shapiro’s nondescriptive, nonnarrative use of language, leading the critic to the (false) claim that the poet has “no subject matter except language.”

It is interesting to note that the most illuminating and ambitious of these essays, the clearest and the most charming, is also the only one not written by a poet: Gilbert-Rolfe’s “House Blown Apart.” He begins by explicitly emphasizing that his is a view of poetry “from outside,” but goes on to summarize beautifully the situation of poets at a time (the essay was presumably written in the mid eighties, after the publication of Shapiro’s House (Blown Apart)) when “Advertising and politics––more or less the same thing––provide a discourse so entirely detached from the world, while completely obscuring it, as to keep the general public’s imagination locked into a poesis of the banal, a poesis in which symbolic instructions lead unerringly into another entirely symbolic formulation, in which desire is paraded and resolved without ever coming down to earth.” He maintains that “It was always like this, but presumably not always so extremely linguified, so liquefied by the domination of language, of a world in which there are in the beginning so many names that one never gets to the thing––in the beginning were words, and as a consequence the world has been indefinitely deferred.” (One is used to hearing poets, talking about more or less the same situation, deplore the domination of image, and with no less truth, I think: the world is dominated by a linguistic economy whose primary tool is symbolic imagery.) To this condition poets have responded by “preserving, in flagrant contradiction to all that characterizes the twentieth century, the idea of the private”; they are “interstitial figures who attract our attention, when they do, by the strength of their irrelevance. . . . But they remain, as ever, the only people who know how the language actually works. And, like all people who are privy to special knowledge, they accordingly pretend that they are chiefly concerned with just keeping it alive. Like all custodians, they are instead, pace Foucault, changing it by the minute, and are themselves quite unable to keep up with the change.”

This generalization is acute with regard to Shapiro’s poetry, which imitates the marginal and self-inventing speech of children, transforms and hybridizes multiple traditions in an effort to memorialize and preserve them, and seems to dramatize the struggle of thought to keep up with an accelerating and snowballing event in language. The attempt to understand language and to preserve it involves Shapiro in a chain of considered and spontaneous actions which constantly threatens to escape his control; often his poems resort to sudden swerves away from sense, comic or awkward or pathetic readjustments of form and tone, contradictions and tautologies, the opacities and aporias any sincere verbal exploration runs into––“bumping into walls like a poet,” as Baudelaire wrote.

“Does he know what he’s doing?,” asks Gilbert-Rolfe in discussing Shapiro’s venture into “the workshop of Mallarmé and Verlaine, the place of the moment’s pretence to significance and the book’s to be at once organic, staining as a kind of writing, and architectonic––made of glass, pages as doors.” The influence of French symbolism is little discussed elsewhere in the book (it is a subject still largely taboo in U.S. poetry, eighty-odd years after Pound’s and Williams’s pronouncements against it), but Gilbert-Rolfe proposes it as one of “three and a half historicomythical worlds” on which Shapiro draws. The “half” is “American poetry since the Second World War,” especially the New York scene around Ashbery and O’Hara; the first whole “world” would seem to be that of American modernist poetry prior to the war. These the critic passes over quickly, noting that Shapiro offers “a more scholarly view of mainstream modernism––Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Cummings, in a word, them––than one finds, for the most part, in the New York poets of the preceding generation.” He then launches into a brilliant discussion of Shapiro’s “weirdly revisionist” use of French symbolist techniques.

His symbolism, Gilbert-Rolfe writes, is distinguished by “the extremism of its playfulness.” And: “This is probably what annoys people most about his poetry. It tends to engage in pathos without being earnest.” The “weirdness” he attributes to the “willed regressiveness”––the lateness––of Shapiro’s return to a Symbolism which “was the pre-Freudian moment, in which all that psychoanalysis would ever say, and, perhaps, far more than it would ever see, was spelled out by poets.” (Compare Shapiro’s use of Freud’s phrase “Ordinary Unhappiness” as the title for one of the sections of House (Blown Apart)). Shapiro then is attempting “a reconciliation, through a kind of (symbolic) regression, of two obviously quite irreconcilable conditions”––the “masterful and uninvolved” view of the Dandy, and the “mastery of innocence,” equally peripheral, which belongs to childhood––“the brilliant child playing in a world made out of anxiety.”

Gilbert-Rolfe goes on to offer a very interesting definition of poetry’s task: “He knows what he’s doing. . . . Poetry knows itself to be the guardian of language and, in that, language’s archivist: the ultimately adult language, and in that language at its most uninvolved, ‘useless.’ It also knows itself to be where language can play, quite without reference to the reality principle: the ultimately infantile language, once again, language at its most uninvolved.” He then comes to the last of the “three and a half worlds”: “the one that Shapiro has invented for himself. Geographically, its borders encompass both Passaic and Prague, linguistically it is prone to dialects, a result of its inhabitants being conversant with both Ovid and Percy Sledge” (a reference to Shapiro’s wonderful poem “A Song,” which improvises at length on the motif of Sledge’s 1966 hit “When a Man Loves a Woman”). He points to Shapiro’s tendency “to deploy the grandfathers [e.g. Kafka, Arendt, Forster, Scholem, Benjamin, Meyer Schapiro] to overcome father” (that is, the New York school poet, his most immediate peers) as one of the strengths that distinguishes his poetry, with “its complete lack of either knowingness or naïveté,” from theirs: “It is quite without the slickness which characterizes so much New York poetry, sure as it is of the common assumptions of its audience, the privileged role within it of certain themes––or perhaps only one: the psychology, as far as that can be articulated through poesis, of the very sensitive and at the same time either very weary or very self-absorbed.” This is spectacularly unfair, but the point is a good and necessary one. The earlier poets were concerned with brilliant inventions of tone and technique, and created a new way of poking fun at poetry’s pretense to present consciousness (e.g. The Tennis Court Oath) which quickly evolved into a genuine new way writing about consciousness (e.g. Mountains and Rivers), and then settled, sometimes with a disturbing complacency or facility, into the long business of exploring this new territory. Shapiro, appropriating all the gifts of his elders, has developed a poetry of much greater emotional and intellectual range, making parody’s voices resonate as lament and hymn, endowing collage with a new historical and psychological awareness of what it is to collage, “trying, and I should say succeeding,” as Gilbert-Rolfe puts it, “to make poetry topple one kind of reading into another as only it can do.”

Ron Silliman contributes a reprint of his blog post of March 22, 2003, an essay on Shapiro’s 1971 sequence “A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel.” It is the closest thing in Burning Interiors to an extended close reading, though it focuses on only three of the poem’s eighteen sections. Silliman’s theme is the political implications of the poem as a whole––not only the one clearly political section, “The Funeral of Jan Palach,” about the Czech student who set himself on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet occupation, contemporaneous with the self-immolations of Norman Morrison and others in the U.S. protesting the Vietnam War. The limits of the blog format are evident in the brevity of the essay and in its failure to address the structure or themes of the piece as a whole, or specify about its politics, while asserting vaguely that “the ways in which these poems invoke history, as well as discourses such as science, make it instantly evident that the social realm is what is at stake––that for me is an almost perfect evocation of the political.” On the other hand, Silliman makes quite acute and interesting observations about the style and structure of the three sections he does look at. His piece also highlights one of the strengths of the blog as opposed to the academic essay, its tendency to put the act of reading into a very specific personal and historical context. Thus he notes that “it was possible, even plausible, in 1971, to read ‘A Man Holding and Acoustic Panel’ . . . without recognizing it for the political poem it is”; that “at the time, my own response was incomprehension––I simply did not have the critical framework in my head . . . to recognize the work for what it was, and is.” In a nice reversal of the critical commonplace that political works are doomed to become dated and irrelevant in a few years, this one has only ripened after three decades, and continues to bring up new associations: “So it is no accident, I suppose, that I have been thinking about this poem this week, not only in the context of the tragedy of Iraq, but also the homicide of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old Olympia, Washington native who was literally bulldozed to death by the Israeli army last weekend. Unlike Palach and his American and Vietnamese counterparts in the 1960s, Corrie did not plan her fate.”

Joseph Lease ends the book with an essay called “Afterword: The Night Sky and to David Shapiro,” which seeks “to place David Shapiro in a tradition of prayer, elegy, litany, and sincerity.” It is less a work of criticism than a personal tribute to a poet and teacher from whom Lease, himself very exciting poet, has learned so much. In making a plea for sincerity (while professing “I also love camp, goofy irony, breathless irony, unappeasable (ironic) anger, and so on”), he marshals quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alice Notley, Henry Thoreau, Donald Revell, Susan Sontag and Walter Benjamin, but the most illuminating quotations come from his own 1990 interview with Shapiro, who describes his search for a mode “less lenient with history”: “I had an anti-imperialistic theme, politically, that was very difficult to match with monochrome and I was less taken with camp than with Jewish earnestness and with prophetic qualities in Isaiah that were my first sense of poetry.” And: “I’ve been interested in achieving the kind of massive, depressing sense of melancholy that one gets again and again in Jasper Johns (in many ways my aesthetic standard) and the mania for prophetic structures in John Hejduk’s great imaginary cities. And I often dream of a poem that will be as labyrinthine as one of John’s analogous cities.”

There remain a few topics of interest which I think are not sufficiently examined by the essays in this book: Shapiro’s use of traditional forms (especially the villanelle and the rhymed quatrain); the ways in which he uses political and religious themes, and specifically the ways his poetry attempts to confront the physical and linguistic violence of the American empire, from the Vietnam War to the present atrocities; and, on the other hand––or perhaps not––the rich and complex humor that is almost ubiquitous in his work. Shapiro is one of the funniest poets alive, although his funniest poems are often terrifying, depressing, disturbing, and incomprehensible as well, veering between satirical deadpan and a manic clownishess on the verge of nonsense, and often making use of that all-too-familiar dialect of empire, hilarious and inscrutable foreign-language phrase-book English. As Gilbert-Rolfe points out, “some of Shapiro’s funniest stuff has to do with the arbitrariness of language, . . . the nonrelationship of words to things”; Shapiro is fascinated by the pathos of noncommunication and the bathos of miscommunication in political and erotic relationships, where language is often a kind of eraser fluid, a kind of blindness:
I have had an accident. I cannot see.
I have broken my glasses and I’ve missed my train.
I like you very much. Do you like me?

I need a guide. I need a secretary.
For when? For tomorrow. I will come again.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.

I need an interpreter. Here is my key.
Ouch! Stop! How long will it take? Please use novocaine.
I like you very much. Do you like me?

Remove your clothes. Open your mouth and lie
Like an interesting city under an airplane.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.

The battery is dead. Charge up the battery.
Can you draw me a map of the road I’m on?
I like you very much. Do you like me?

Can I see you today for the whole day? How long will that be?
Here is a present for you. A silver brain.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.
I like you very much. Do you like me?
(“The Carburetor at Venice,” New and Selected Poems p. 66)

Some of the essays in this collection suffer from a surplus of ill-defined abstract terms (“abstraction” itself being the most blatant one), sloppy semiotics (“Postmodern lyric finds its elegiac note exactly in the lost identity of word and thing, but in its yearning rescues the word as it drowns the referent”), and a recurrent false dichotomy which sets up the sin of “referentiality” against the virtue of “opacity” or “undecideability.” There is too great a tendency to generalize about Shapiro’s oeuvre as a whole, sometimes with an affectation of academic argument but without any real controversy, when it would be more to the point to offer close reading and thick description of the ways particular poems work. Innovative poetry in the U.S. is very exciting these days, but this book suggests our critical practices are not quite adequate to keep up with it. I say this not to quibble, but because I have a genuine desire for critical writing that might help me to read better Shapiro’s very complex and sometimes frankly overwhelming poetry, and did not always find such help in his book.

However, Burning Interiors does succeed as a testament to Shapiro’s growing importance, to the extraordinary originality and coherence of his work to date, and to his influence on a generation or two (how do you count generations, anyway?) of younger poets. It provides numerous opportunities to see pieces of his poetry anew by the simple fact of excerpted quotation and juxtaposition, and offers, as a whole, a comprehensive catalogue of Shapiro’s main themes, influences and techniques. Nearly every essay hits, at least once, an authentic note of gratitude and affection for the Shapiro. Fink and Lease have put together a timely collective love letter from the U.S. poetry community to one of its great poets.


Sam Lohmann lives in Portland, Oregon. He edits a yearly poetry zine called "Peaches and Bats," and has published some chapbooks, most recently "Listen and Run."



Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems by Elaine Equi
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2007)

The Anti-Confession Confessional: Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems by Elaine Equi


Come Inspiration,

sweet as two beautiful hookers
in a dream.

Don’t go girls—

even if you don’t know a thing
about poetry,

at least help me decide
what to wear.

-Elaine Equi

Elaine Equi doesn’t shirk away. Her poems are always of use, first and foremost to herself. Thankfully, in her case, this isn’t a negative criticism. How she accomplishes such personal exposure without over-doing any confessional aspects in the writing is the wonder at the heart of her poetry.

Even with its shitload of artifacts, the everyday
is radiant, while the banal is opaque and often
obscure. I prefer the latter, with its murky
agate, mushroom, ochre background music—
its corridor of lurk. One hardly knows where
one stands with/in the banal. Walls come
together with hardly a seam. Wherever we are, we
feel we have always been. Poe, for all his special
effects, is rather banal in his approach to the
supernatural, i.e. overly familiar. Against the
inarticulate velvet of this mood, one grasps at
the everyday for relief. Thus any object can
bring us back with the fast-acting power of
aspirin. Any object shines.

When exposing the most personal of details, Equi places them (as she notes above of Poe) in such a context that familiarity is muddled and they are newly viewed. As with the most exciting of poets, Equi looks for new information in her poems. What it is she might discover in the act of writing that will place her in such a frame of mind that “any object shines.” Reading her poems is to enter into that “corridor of lurk,” finding new visions, such further possibilities of “the everyday,” that it is both a challenge and a pleasure to partake of them.

Her focus is on the distance of intimacy. Where might words lead that the world, once gazed at afterwards, is beheld anew.

Lovely to be
like a racehorse surrounded by flowers

but it is also lovely
to be surrounded by air and own pendants

and bracelets of soot.
Here is a factory made fresh by broken windows

and there is my muse
returning home with a pail of milk.

He brings me
down to earth where all poetry begins

with such beautiful hands
that I am forever doing nothing but thinking

of objects
and asking him to hold them.

Vachel Lindsay’s “factory-window song” brought into her own, without undue direct reference. The powerful patriarchal legacy of the benign female muse turned back on itself, under her own understanding and use of it. Assertion of her command over the gaze so often abused and misused by a patriarchal monopoly of the Arts which persists in the same old dumb observance. Equi doesn’t dwell long on such matters, instead giving the poem its own space to develop them or not, on its own terms.
It must be
like losing your
fear of death

to just stop
worrying about
what you look like—

no longer tied
to that lamppost

like a dog
in the rain.

Equi sets her poems free to range where they may. The territory covered is ever diverse and fresh. The fearless ringing of new perspectives resounds throughout this collection.

Reading Equi may be likened to visiting a favorite relative. There’s always a story to be shared that titillates and charms. Another cup of coffee is a welcomed opportunity to stay around awhile longer. A solitary line offers a store of knowledge that sparkles, encouraging a closer, second look. Who wouldn’t want her for an aunt or second cousin?
I admit I used to like to smoke three packs a day wrap-
ping myself in an opalescent carapace of fog and being
always as in Victorian novels on the verge of swooning,
particularly when climbing stairs. Then for a brief spell,
during most of my teenage years, I was in love with
shoplifting. It was the sex glue in my adolescent girl-on-
girl world. One of those never-enough places where I
allowed myself excess—hungry open pockets and purse
gobbling perfume, candy, all the imagined gifts an imagi-
nary lover should give. Going out with boys, surprisingly,
proved to be an inexplicably simple solution.

There’s pure joy in the delight she takes in a conceived wrong, turning it around and finding a surprising rightness held within it, a shared rush of being naughty and nice—glimpse of a pleasant grimy bit of living. Rather than offering guidance or handing down lofty wisdom of a sage, Equi offers feelings and scenes from her own experiences that are focused on the immediacy of the moment: what feels good right now and has no harm other than offering a focus away from worrying over stresses and tensions of the day-to-day.
Just for today, I’d like to
step into someone else’s list.
Run their errands. Wish their wish.

Today is St. Ita’s day (the most famous
woman saint in Ireland after Brigid).
She is said to have reattached

the head to the body
of a man who’d been beheaded
and to live only on food from heaven.

Meanwhile the weather here is gray
but optimistic, aspiring to (I’m not sure to what).
The slant of something moving up and away.

There’s continual observance of detail, a zeroing in on the essential elements which play the major roles in creation. The poems are well constructed reflections of the living she’s busy getting on with. Her good times and her bad, her past and her present, the various loves and fascinations which have played round her through time.

In 1979, on the 50th anniversary of your
double-suicide, I came like a bridesmaid
dressed in black to scatter rose petals
in the lobby. Then I went home and listened
to Joy Division, whose lead singer would
also kill himself. Death was everywhere
at the time, though mostly as a fashion
statement—kohl around the eyes and
safety pins through the cheek—with
the real devastation still to come. Now it
is 1993 and no one much likes to glamorize
their death wish, not since AIDS has made
absence so conspicuous. Today people prefer
to look healthy, and it’s mineral water I
toast you with in the Art Deco jungle of the
hotel bar. Not the sort of place I’d choose
if I were going to end it all, bit if I’ve
become anything, I hope it’s more tolerant—
even of the very rich. Outside on the ground
there is no snow yet, but old rice the color
of ivory, leftover from some other wedding,
and in the bare trees, white lights like a
handful of rice, transformed on this winter
afternoon into “the pleasure of neon in daylight.”
Perfect moments in an imperfect world, joined
together so that even death cannot separate them.

Ripple Effect covers Equi’s entire oeuvre up to the present. She begins the collection with a selection of New Work and then follows with poems from her first Coffee House Press publication, Surface Tension (1989). From there she continues forward with selections from her books: Decoy, Voice-Over, and The Cloud of Unknowable Things. In the back of the book, she gives a sampling of Early Work, “all but one of them written in Chicago” where she first began to write, read, and publish her poems in the late 1970s. It’s a splendid and generous sampling. The only two things to gripe about are: 1) a wish for more of the Early Work, including from which chapbooks individual poems are taken (the titles of the chapbooks are given but not in relation to individual poems), and 2) an index of titles and first lines is always nice to have with such a major collection. But these be minor quibbles. This collection is a wonderful delight and a terrific opportunity for new readers of Equi to become familiar with the unique qualities her work alone possesses.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom, and Red Ant Press among others.



Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems by Elaine Equi
(Coffee House Press, 2007)

This nice thick green paperback selects and collects poems from Elaine Equi’s four previous books from Coffee House Press (Surface Tension, 1989; Decoy, 1994; Voice-Over, 1998; and The Cloud of Knowable Things, 2003), bookended by a generous assortment of new poems at the beginning and a smaller section of “Early Work” at the drawn from her five books with other presses published between 1978 and 1989, before she had moved to New York from Chicago.

Offering a vast and diverse array of mostly short, consistently fun poems, this book is perhaps best suited to casual browsing; but it threatens to become addictive and, if read straight through, offers a better look than was previously possible at the persistent themes and approaches in Equi’s work as they recur and develop over nearly three decades of writing. Her characteristic style combines imagistic density and concision with a charming lightness of tone, an appearance of breezy casualness which is of course arrived at by years of devotion to craft. In her best poems, disparate observations and phrases are focused into delicate melodic structures where the silences between lines are as present as the sounds. Equi has no shyness about displaying her influences; there are a three-line poem, “At the End of Summer,” dedicated to Louis Zukofsky (“Go on / Mr. Tree Fugue / I’m listening”); poems dedicated to Robert Creeley, and Joe Brainard; mentions of Garcia Lorca, Barbara Guest and William Carlos Williams; a poem “After and in Keeping with H.D.” and this revealing “Prescription”:
Take Herrick
for melancholy

for clarity

for nerve

Some of the best poems in this book are centos collaged from the work of other poets. There are “Two Dozen Roses for Jackson Mac Low: a Cento,” “From Lorine” (which, says a note at the back, is “a collage of lines and phrases (slightly edited) from Lorine Niedecker’s letters”), and “Wang Wei’s Moon,” consisting of lines about moonlight from the great T’ang poet. (This last is dedicated to David Shapiro, presumably after his work on “mistranslations” of Wang Wei, and Shapiro returns the compliment with his poem “Elaine Equi’s Moon” in his 2002 book A Burning Interior.) These poems are gifts of tribute and acknowledgement, and theoretically interesting explorations of multi-authored, appropriative or ventriloquial writing practices, but they are always also well-made poems on their own, with a musical integrity that is clearly Equi’s own. They are also, of course, eloquently direct demonstrations of “the pleasures of influence” and of writing as a way of more actively reading––there are a lot of moons in Wang Wei’s poems, what happens if we put them all on a page together and introduce them to one another? Likewise the poem on H.D. emulates, in a manner that is more enjoyable for being slightly cheeky and put-on, that poet’s habit of building her poems by playing variations on repeated sounds, to an effect of vatic incantation, and sometimes being led by ear-associations to some wondrous strange metaphors:
When I am a current
           lifted up––
can you hear eclipses’ seasoning?

When you are a cure-all,
there is no signal,
           nor sorcery
trailing along.

When I am a curve-ball
           made of shelter,
O can you hear distance receding?

When you are a comment,
there is no sour cherry
trudging across sanctuary gravel.

Equi is refreshingly open about the ways in which her poetry is derived from other poetry; as she puts it in “Legacy”: “There’s no shame in being someone else. / You may even be better at it than they were.” This makes her a great poet of reading, a subject which numerous poems in this book address explicitly––“Found in Translation” (“Poetry is the sound one language makes when it escapes into another. . . . For years, I copied authors from around the world. Then one day it occurred to me, perhaps it’s the translator I imitate, not the poet. This idea pleases me and makes me want to write more. . . . It would be great to learn French in order to read William Carlos Williams.”), “The Sensuous Reader” (“In autumn / take all the red and blue / out of a book.”), “The Objects in Japanese Novels,” “The Return of the Sensuous Reader” (“Remove all the words from a poem; / keep only the punctuation. . . . Change the gender of all the pronouns in a poem / and see for yourself. . . . Memorizing a poem is a good way to destroy it.”), etc. The volume as a whole presents the life-rhythms of one person’s relaxed and unpretentious engagement as a consumer-producer of literature (this banal economic terminology is very much part of Equi’s world), a cumulative graph of pedestrian amusement and everyday imaginative existence, which is strangely comforting. Read in bulk the poetry may begin to seem slightly too comfortable, too relentlessly neat and charming, but it is certainly a good thing to have around and come back to whenever one likes.

The poet avoids emotional autobiography (except as in the spoof “Ultra-Confessional”) in favor of a playful fluidity of voice: “Nothing can stop this / endless, transformative / flow of selves / into other, opposite, / even objects and animals,” as she puts it in “Men in Camisoles.” There is a certain lack of ambition which limits the scope of the work, but it also frees Equi to concentrate on formal stylistic concerns––prosodic music and dazzling effects of color and texture. She generally uses a short line which emphasizes each syllable’s relation to those surrounding it, modulating stress and quantity expressively and using enjambment as a device for suspense and tension, sometimes building up to a punchline, a koan, or a breathtakingly bizarre image. Rae Armantrout is probably the poet closest to her in terms of sound and prosody, but Equi’s approach is lighter, brighter, less caustic. But it’s hard to write about this kind of thing without flailing among mushy adjectival abstractions; better to give examples. From “Destinations”:
In brine daylight
thought becomes brimmed.
Fraught with sudden,
steeped in listening.

From “Art About Fear”:
Some objects
are like a sieve
that language
passes through
while others
repel the alphabet
with a harsh
clanging skin.
Minor intelligences
perched on
the tip of.
Go ahead, say it
in your Bullwinkle French.

From “Decoy”:
think of ready-ing
as doing the prerequisite reading

clouds slide
smoothly over the skin

“He lives in his legend
and that’s about it”

a neatly folded labyrinth

going by:
blue blooms on the red field
of a dress in motion

if only we could get
that feeling back where
it’s the landscape that moves
and the viewer who stands still

“Yes, yes
we have to get together

and no, I don’t
know who you are.”

My favorite poems in this collection––there are many––emphasize this formal aspect of Equi’s work, offering a sonic and visual arrangement without ulterior “meaning” or “filling out” a traditional or newly invented “form” with the “content” it requires. On the other hand, the more anecdotal or narrative poems tend to be less enjoyable, and a few jokey ones are frankly annoying.

One of the most frequently occurring forms, utterly simple and endlessly delightful, is the list. There are all kinds of lists in this book: “Wittgenstein’s Colors” (“Blond / Tamarind / Bacon / Fog”), “The Seven Veils of Spring” (“1. ice water / 2. egg yolk / 3. pollen / 4. cotton candy / 5. fog / 6. chablis / 7. snot”); “Things to Do in the Bible,” “Table of Contents for an Imaginary Book,” “The Lost Poems” (“Victor Mature’s Kiss / The Snow Queen’s Summer House . . . Mister Preface / Charm-Quake / Postponing the Future”). There is a poem which describes each item of mail received on a certain day, a poem about dreaming in lists, and two different poems––separated by 223 pages and at least 20 years––which take the form of an elementary school vocabulary quiz, i.e. a list of words which are defined and then used “correctly” in sentences: “Quick, somebody throw the drowning man a siccative!” There are many other kinds of form-based poems in the collection: “Detail” piles up “not x but y” statements, where y < x: “Not the nest / but the egg. // Not Ophelia / but her bouquet. // Not the torso / but the arm”; “Out of the Cloud Chamber” moves repeatedly “out of the x into the y,” splicing an old saw and a famous poem: “Out of the frying pan and into the choir. // Out of mimesis endlessly mocking.” The beautiful “A Bend in the Light” does something similar with the formula “A y in the x,” while working in Dickinsonian off-rhymed quatrains, with allusions to Emily Dickinson’s poem beginning “There’s a certain slant of light.” “1+1=3” consists of stanzas (or perhaps a string of individual haiku-like poems) having the form 1 word / 1 word / 3 words, as in: “Saltlick / tit / of the infinite”; or: “River / runs / through a bullet.” Finally, in a more traditional form, there is a beautifully crafted, acutely tender and very moving pantoum, “Jerome Meditating” (concerning Equi’s husband, the poet Jerome Sala), in which the repeated and recontextualized lines knit each stanza to those adjacent in a strong, slow, unemphatic rhythm like that of a meditator’s breathing. The device of repetition, carefully handled, insists on the importance of everyday domestic details.

The “everyday” itself is very explicitly a theme of Equi’s, as is “The Banal,” and she elucidates the difference between the two in a poem of that name:
Even with its shitload of artifacts, the everyday
is radiant, while the banal is opaque and often
obscure. I prefer the latter, with its murky
agate, mushroom, ochre background music––
its corridor of lurk. One hardly knows where
one stands with/in the banal. Walls come
together with hardly a seam. Wherever we are, we
feel we have always been. Poe, for all his special
effects, is rather banal in his approach to the
supernatural, i.e. overly familiar. Against the
inarticulate velvet of this mood, one grasps at
the everyday for relief. Thus any object can
bring us back with the fast-acting power of
aspirin. Any object shines.

The poem’s very tone and typographic form play in the median between prose (and “the prosaic”) and verse (popularly associated with an aesthetic of the “radiant” everyday). Ripple Effect as a whole engages with both sides of this dichotomy, as well as with the somewhat queasy, politically and poetically ambiguous middle ground, the world of kitsch and advertising, in which “any object shines” with a borrowed light. The catchphrasey allusion to aspirin in “The Banal” strikes this note, as do several of the new poems in the volume, such as “Ciao Bella Chocolate Sorbet,” which is almost literally an advertisement for that dessert, and “Calcium Rush,” which evokes late-90’s milk ads (“My bones are growing stronger. / I feel them flexing their rippling marrow / high on the leafy milk of calcium”). “Unisex Colognes” is a triptych of imaginary slogans (“BLACK FOREST // Breezy. Bold. / Brooding. Bavarian. / /Makes anytime / feel like the middle of the night.”). “Ambien” is a dark parody of televised pharmaceutical-salvation monologues: “That’s Nutella on the light switch? / I should never answer e-mails after midnight. / Those are definitely raisins on the floor. / Never, never again. / I’ll just take my pill and go right to sleep. / I’ll wait until I’m already asleep to swallow it.” “Mountain to Mountain” reads a landscape delineated by logos: “Big Tit Mountain / Marlboro Country // Shangri-La-La / Mountain Dew / Iron Mountain / Sugarloaf.” These ad-like poems seem first slight and then disturbing, illustrating as they do the proximity of poetry to advertising, the degree to which any effort of poetic praise is almost doomed to repeat the rhetoric of commerce, which seems always one step ahead in “perfecting the science of discontent” (as Ezra Pound once said poetry should do).

On the “everyday” side of this miasmic middle, there are poems like “Fennel,” “A Lemon,” and “Almonds,” which offer meditations on or “thick descriptions” of their namesakes, an approach that recalls Ponge and Williams. The “banal” side is a major theme especially in the poems from the book Decoy, such as its title poem, the long sequence “Art About Fear,” “My Father Sees a UFO,” “Ninety Percent of All Serial Killers,” and its enigmatic opening poem, “Brand X”:
I know you think
this is about sex
but that’s only because
it’s really about advertising.

Someone talking
in an office.
Someone comparing two things.

I make decisions
or my body
makes them for me
and certain nights
everything is perfect.

Wedges of light flap
slow as Indian summer.
A red receding.

There is real violence
but it’s an after-dinner violence
mellow in the air
as sex is a kind of violence

like anything
that pulls us toward it
even though we’re unable
to ask for it by name.

One advantage that poetry still has over advertising is its ability to invent and evoke unnameable objects, and to include modes of consciousness which do not neatly add up spiritual lack resulting material desire. Poetry can distil an “enough,” and that “enough” can be an entirely new and unforeseen entity, more and other than the sum of its referents. Equi, with her keen sense of visual description and of paratactic conjunction, does something like this in her best poems, such as the long (for her) “Trenton Local,” or the compact lyric “’Your Purple Arrives’” (the title is a quotation from Zukofsky):
Purple flower.
           Purple heart.

Heap of sharp
and muddy edges.

Bruise or blossom?

Harp strings
of morning’s slow . . .

bright bug
with a crumb of window
on its back.

The way syntax and meaning hover in the line-breaks between “trickle-down” and “realignment,” between “slow” and “bright”––Ripple Effect is full of such crumbs of window.

* * *

Sometimes it happens that ones memory of a book is pervaded by the colors of its cover, regardless of the contents. In this case the cover is a garish spring green, and I noticed there was a lot of green inside as well. Inspired by Equi’s centos and other forms of readerly writing, I thought I might push this “engagement” with her work slightly beyond the usual bounds of a review by closing it with a paragraph “of my own,” made entirely from phrases found in Ripple Effect. I hope this is not too presumptuous or flippant an abuse of the reviewer’s office (in my case a picnic table in Laurelhurst Park, Portland, Oregon). I hearten myself with the thought that a review often functions anyway as a kind of cento or anthology of favorite lines, and that this is really the quickest way to get in a lot of good quotations at the end. So I offer


Knowledge back then was edible and served on the backs of broad green leaves. Quick and emerald green. Yellow meets and mingles with me, followed by an anonymous, clove-scented man. The screams of plants connect the turquoise dots. Under a green bough, history expires, the famous sea serpent. Is it jade or black––the river’s moodring? Tarn. Charred nettles. Snot. Cabbagefangs. Three empty beer bottles rest side by side in the nest of a cinderblock of tall wild grass. All they sell is the potential for candy: a twitchy, twangy, tangy green. “Crickets Crush Woman.” The leaves have finally found their niche: Willow seen by candlelight. Or the rarely seen pistachio green full moon that burns the pines. Cut into, its flesh unwinds like a roll of film––shot half in winter, half in spring. O to live on nothing but arugula and espresso! Sage. Marigolds. Salems. Rolling Rock. A pulse in the bark: Spring is a station too. . . . Its green apron and aquarium days . . . Even the light matches, pale and cold and slightly green, like the apple against his dark skin. Go on Mr. Tree Fugue I’m listening. Green is also the color of cash. Gears caught in the crab grass. Some uncharted green.


Sam Lohmann lives in Portland, Oregon. He edits a yearly poetry zine called "Peaches and Bats," and has published some chapbooks, most recently "Listen and Run."



World0, by John Bloomberg-Rissman
No Sounds of My Own Making by John Bloomberg-Rissman

Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems (1978-2006), by Tom Beckett
Steps: A Notebook, by Tom Beckett

Este bienestar, tibio/this Well-Being, warm, Poems in Translation, by Argel Corpus


World0, by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Leafe Press, Nottingham; Bamboo Books, Culver City, 2007; limited edition of 100 copies)

No Sounds of My Own Making by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Leafe Press, Nottingham, 2007)

John Bloomberg-Rissman doesn't need to invoke John Cage to become an experimental musician. He is a poet in the sense he used words and writes and organizes those words according to recognizable patterns, but his aesthetic enterprise seems to go beyond poetry to enter the realm of sound art. Both his chapbook, World0, and his book, No Sounds of My Own Making, are experimental artefacts in themselves, disguised as “traditional” poetry (even though the use of the hay(na)ku form is privileged, the latter not being, precisely, “traditional”, at least not in the canonical sense) but in fact working as exercises in sampling, looping, cutting and pasting. Bloomberg-Rissman uses the word processor and his blog as a deejay and remixer would use a pair of decks and a sound editing software: what counts here is poetry as organized words and the sounds and ideas they represent. These two are brilliant consequences of blogging as a poetic platform, and as such bear the mark of digital and online poetry: hypertextual, non-sequential, playful and free from the constraints of current mainstream or official tendencies in America or Europe. No Sounds of My Own Making is outstanding as an experimental long hay(na)ku, a piece that musically would traverse everything from John Coltrane to DJ Shadow to to Richard P. James, all seasoned with a bit of Sigur Ros's made-up lyrics. Bloomberg-Rissman's poetry is intellectually demanding because it forces to reader to map out his reading cartography, the literary landscape of his sources. Experimental yet experiential and therefore autobiographical, here's an attempt at reorganizing chaos and rediscovering the aura brought out by repetition. The author is dead but alive and well, thank you, because this poetry is foucauldian deleuzianism in all its splendour: it is not where words come from, but how they are arranged; where things are coming from is the least of our worries, what matters is where we will make all that go.


Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems (1978-2006), by Tom Beckett
(Meritage Press, St. Helena/San Francisco, 2006)

Steps: A Notebook, by Tom Beckett
(Meritage Press, St. Helena/San Francisco, 2007)

Tom Beckett has to be one of the most inspiring contemporary poets out there. His writing is as simple as it is complex: the reader is trapped in his fishing net (one pictures, also, Beckett dressed in fishnet stockings), because this is seductive poetry at its best. This is not, mind you, love or erotic poetry as Barnes & Noble or Borders know it. Unprotected Texts is a poetic photo album populated by snapshots of zombies, questions, ghosts, reflections, comic book aesthetics, critical theory, psychoanalysis and that humid, warm sensation of bodily fluids. Playing around with different stanzaic forms (hay(na)ku, tercets, couplets, lists, prose, aphorisms and other variations) Beckett has a voice that spectrally populates, under different masks, a poetic discourse that is as irreverent as authoritative. If Unprotected Texts has the melancholy tone of masturbation as an act of love, Steps, as a custom-made, handwritten “Tiny Book”, has all the playfulness of the unique event, a poetic journal that becomes public diary, extension of his now-defunct blog, yes, but also prosthesis of his body. Beckett's poetry, like Bloomberg-Rissman's, is the result of an aesthetics fully inserted in the 21st century, in the age of electronic global communications and the becoming-gadget of the human body. Unlike Bloomberg-Rissman's, Beckett's poetry is unavoidably possessed by a single voice, even if its manifestations are all multiple and variable. The fact that Unprotected Texts concludes with an interview with its author materializes the factual blurring of pre-existing categories that clearly differentiated bodily experience from literary act. Beckett's poetry is all corporal, and as such becomes to the bare eyes of the reader a naked performance: the Author's presence is that of a pole-dancer, tantalizing and perpetuating the reader's desire. Unprotected Texts and Steps are books for those who are willing to share his bed with a total stranger, beyond sexual orientations or distinctions of any other order.


Este bienestar, tibio/this Well-Being, warm, Poems in Translation, by Argel Corpus
(La Mano Izquierda, Victoria, BC, 2006)

Este bienestar, tibio/this Well-Being, warm finally reaches our hands via Mexico City. Argel Corpus (Mexico City, 1973) has written a touching, warm, vulnerable collection. A bilingual edition (translated by Maleea Acker, Susa Oñate and the author), this limited edition chapbook (75 copies only) offers a painful testimony of an experiential poetics that is nevertheless constructed around a careful, conscientious concern for form. Fully inserted in a Latin American tradition of contemporary poetry, Corpus carries his last name like a cross: his poetry is fragmented but aspires to wholesomeness; his words behave like bodies with dismorphic disorders and mirror themselves in the English versions next to them, giving back intimate reflections on the nature of time passing, the relationship of the self with the external world, proprioception as a phenomenological dilemma, the need to express the whole existence through the observation of what is small and apparently insignificant. Picture a crystal-clear lake and the sky mirrored on its surface: as readers our minds become naked feet not daring to test the waters on pain of disturbing the still peace of the whole landscape; such is the effect of Corpus's project. Mostly written in three stanzas of four lines each, with the occasional syncopation of one-liners in italics, the poems in Este bienestar, tibio/this Well-Being, warm have to be read in both English and Spanish to attempt a more or less just approach to what they may coyly suggest. There is a sadness here, a coldness of the heart that finds refuge in the obsessive contemplation of the physical world. Think of Sylvia Plath's “Tulips”: it is winter here.


Ernesto Priego was born in Mexico City. He lives in London. He blogs at Never Neutral and is the author of the first single-author hay(na)ku poetry collection, Not Even Dogs. The "jainakú" is Mexico's version of the hay(na)ku poetic form.