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Reviews

{Today} in Class: Micro-Reviews

So, for weeks now I’ve been promising excerpts reviews of contemporary poetry books and lit mags by students in my Deeper Poetics class. I’m consistently surprised and delighted by what they’re up to. Here are a few snippets:

Helena B. on Darcie Dennigan’s Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse (Fordham U. Press, 2008)

Dennigan’s book doesn’t have anything so cheap as a moral. But in the crystalline strangeness and unfamiliar beauty of all of the poems; in the relationship between the poet and a young child (who may, in fact, be the child-self of the speaker herself) who each need the other desperately, and who agree to last; in the speaker’s wry and insistent and self-deprecating self-awareness (that can be found in nearly every poem but is most noticeable in “Eleven Thousand and One” and “Interior Ghazal of a Lousy Girl”) is some reassurance: that the world has already ended, that the world is always ending, and that we are still here. This is the kind of book that ruins me for doomsdays scenarios. May the ending of the world be half this beautiful.

Brandon V. on Lisa Jarnot’s Night Scenes (Flood Editions, 2008)

Lisa Jarnot’s Night Scenes begins with an epigraph out of Robert Duncan:

O, to release the first music somewhere again,

for a moment

to touch the design of the first melody!

Night Scenes is aptly preluded: sound and meter govern the poems in this collection. Jarnot pens the lyric—through implicit in the lyric poem is the myth of the proto-lyricist and first poet, Orpheus, and his songs of loss. Jarnot crafts scenes of sprawling fields and forests restful and bucolic and bathed in stars; these scenes, however, are as a dream, sung from a distance, projected like moonlight onto the page from Jarnot’s ostensible (as first seen in the poem “Bar Course Excise Insensible”) home in Brooklyn. Night Scenes is a searching, a reaching for that lost first music—and Jarnot takes up the task jubilantly, finding her melody in the wonder of the sensuous natural world.

Emily M. on Matthew Zapruder’s The Pajamaist (Copper Canyon, 2006)

“Here you must make / wander a method / and from that method / be willing even to wander.” (“What I Need”)

Matthew Zapruder’s description of the Museum of Natural History in his second collection of poems, The Pajamaist, holds equally true for his poetic practice. Zapruder weaves a meandering trail through the text, stopping now and again to gaze or rummage or backtrack as desired. Following him down that path, one is more than likely to get lost. And yet, as we reach the end of a poem or a series of poems it is as if we have arriaved back home—that somehow the end was present already in the beginning and middle and lies before us now, somehow both puzzling and familiar. Zapruder embodies T.S. Eliot’s words, “we shall cease from exploration / and the end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started / and know the place for the first time”(The Four Quartets, “Little Gidding”).

Sandy W. on Jericho Brown’s Please (New Issues, 2008)

Throughout Please, Brown draws from a rich cultural heritage of musicians and their songs, weaving them into the poems, utilizing the titles of familiar songs about the themes he explores but re-appropriating them for his own words. He intersperses these “Tracks” in the format of an album, separating poems into sections under the heading: “Repeat,” “Pause,” “Power,” and “Stop,” which subsequently correspond to the physical buttons on a music player, indicating the power and possibilities of sound. They are action words, but also commands. As each section unfolds, its component poems express the heading ideas as related to moments in life, personal preoccupations, and the intersections of ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.

Melayna S. on Nathan Whiting’s Distancing (New Rivers Press, 1974)

When I was twelve years old, I was certain that the ultimate purpose of my life was to convince my parents to buy me a cell phone and to bribe them into letting me have a television in my room. Countless cell phone bills and approximately two thousand five hundred and fifty five hours of my eyes soaking in television rays later, I was left feeling like a disconnected girl in a big, big world that I did not understand. I had no secure sense of orientation to anything that was going on around me. And I felt trapped. And I felt like everyone around me felt trapped. And everyone looked trapped in their own separate and distinct worlds. Nathan Whiting understands how I felt. “What was I to do with my life? / I threw a tantrum when the T.V. was turned off / and became bored. / I was surrounded by the American dream. Surrounded. Surrounded.” In his book Distancing, he expresses his dissatisfaction with the emotionally cold life of New York City. The distance which he fells compelled to place between himself and material glorification ends up pushing him even farther away from the relational world bustling all around him.

Kejt W. on Kristina Born’s One Hour of Televsion (Year of the Liquidator, 2009)

[read as interconnected prose poems]

The first of these TV-Land poems begins without any explanation, “One thing we will do is improve the quality of processed meat and cheese. It is important that you feel safe when putting these things in your mouth.” The next TV-Land poem is about employing “pig babies” to shit into the ocean, fertilizing “plankton [that] may one day heal our planet.” In my high school environmental science class, I learned that some forms of plankton absorb carbon dioxide and may be able to halt the advance of global warming. So, in these two TV-Land poems, we have unsafe industrialized food, pig babies, and global warming, and then we return to the scene of the speaker and Jean-Philippe driving a car headed to Las Vegas after the speaker has just vomited on his hands. Given how much is going on in the TV-Land poems, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t follow the course of events in the road poems. One Hour of Television is actually obsessed with distraction.

James C. on Dorothea Lasky’s Awe (Wave Books, 2007)

Dorothea Lasky’s first book of poetry breathes its own heady aroma…and somehow every poem seems to convey a sense of wondrous sentiment; from cats to the apocalypse, everything becomes wild and magnificent; it’s like you’re seeing everything for the first time, and the effusiveness is infectious. This is not, however, the fake or artificial awe that contemporary poets use as a mean to an end. Awe’s semi-confessional quality lends Lasky’s poetry an air of emotional sincerity lacking in many of the machinations of modern poetry. Lasky’s poetry neither seeks to impress with its structural complexity nor its intellectuality; it just is, its image and emotion, plain and simple, almost a revival of romanticism, with its birds and souls, blood and moon love.

Zach E. on Poetry, July/August 2010

While the poetry in Poetry might seem slightly tame in this day and age of experiments in form and challenges to the aesthetics of craft—with the included works utilizing well-established methods of rhythm and forming and maintaining a cohesive narrative throughout—the pieces in this issue take on the task of clever (and, at times, highly effective) reinvention. The selection begins, for example, with Stephen Edgar’s regular-yet-subtly-irregular rhyme scheme (woven within even octets), seen explicatively in his politically charged, “Oswald Spengler Watches the Sunset.” The piece opens with a succinct characterization of how the titular character—a German philosopher who penned, among other crucial texts, “The Decline of the West,” an exposition on the cyclical natural of civilization—might perceive the world:

The air is drenched with day, but one by one

The flowers close on cue,

Obedient to the declining sun.

Forest and grasses, bush and leaf and stem,

They cannot move (and nor, you dream, can you)

Similar to the disdain incited in the reader against this “declining sun”—which we might well infer to signify the accumulated knowledge of western civilization—the language with the poem subtly rebels against traditional form in that, despite the presence of rhyme and meter within each octet, a unique rhyme scheme and rhythm are produced. Indeed, throughout Edgar’s pieces, there persists they type of rebellious application of form…

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