Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: The Rusted City

13 Apr

If Michel Gondry and William Faulkner were to team up and write a book about Cleveland, you might wind up with something akin to Rochelle Hurt’s debut collection The Rusted City (White Pine Press, 2014). Hurt’s collection is about not only a city collapsing in on itself, but also a family.

Hurt’s collection is decadent in the truest sense of the word. We watch as the rusted city eats itself alive. In one poem, Hurt writes:

The City Swallows/ falling scraps like a dog at a dinner table, it’s river tongue-lapping  them in from the lip of the shore. It jostles them down its throat, shaking an old tune out as the scraps rub and clash their way underground, groaning into beds of dirt. This is the din that’s rattled centuries of the city’s floorboards. But as far as the smallest sister knows, it is only the cymbal hymn the earth has always been humming— (18)

But through its erosion, the city gains a quiet dignity, a kind of aura. Like snow, the rust that covers this city makes everything beautiful, even as it erases it.

Of course, the city isn’t the only thing falling apart. Conjoined with the rusted metropolis’ fate is a family. There is a mother who pines for a lost father, a man who works at the one surviving mill. Hurt writes:

 The Quiet Mother Smiles/ as she tells her two daughters of the favorite father. ‘He’ll be your favorite too,’ she says, smoothing her hair with her palm. The smallest watches as red dust brushed loose falls from her mother’s head and collects on the kitchen tile, already stained a dull orange… The quiet mother tugs a gold ring form one of her fingers and hands it to the smallest sister. The ring is heavy as a marble in the smallest sister’s hand, and heavier every minute—a rock, anxious to be let go. The quiet mother picks up chips of rust from where the ring had hugged her finger and blows on it like something too hot, sending a storm of red to the floor.  (16)

However, if the father’s absence has left the family to slowly decompose, his presence is no less destructive. The father is obsessed with the spectacle of destruction. In one poem, Hurt writes:

The Roller Coaster is Burning, the Favorite/ father tells his daughters, buttoning their chin and ear flaps. ‘We go to get pictures,’ he says…

When they arrive swathed in ash, the roller coaster is folded in half, a writhing lattice of ruptured tracks, gangly as a giant insect. Hugging an arched belly of metal cars, its corroded arms are crossed already—the death pose, the smallest sister knows.  (41)

The father’s speciation of disaster is far from uninterested though, and later we will see that his desire to watch is as destructive as the spectacle itself. Hurt writes:

 The Favorite Father Chases a Tornado/ through the river with his camera. A layer of rust floating like algae on the water begins to break up. As he wades, his legs part one red island, making another. Soon there are too many tiny rust islands to count, and the river is a mottled red-brown.  (75)

The corrosion and collapse of the collection also belies a subtle violence. The city, once a capital of industry that consumed the world around it, has now in turn become oxidized and is being consumed by the air it breathes. The violence in Hurt’s collection is atmospheric and structures that once sustained have now turned against themselves to victimize what they once nurtured. Hurt writes:

Spring-Cleaning, the Quiet Mother/ discovers the habit of touching that’s begun in her kitchen. It wafts like a sulfur perfume through all of her rooms. She finds burnt sugar cubes of touching stashed under beds and salt mounds of touching collected on tabletops.  (49)

Narrating the collection is the youngest daughter, who must make a life in this dying city. Ultimately, it is her ability to move between the two meanings of decadence that allows her to survive. She sees not only the decay, but also the ways in which decay creates, the way even rust can be embroidery if looked at in the right way. Ultimately, this is what allows the smallest sister to survive—her ability to see the transformative power of decay, the way obsolesce makes something new. Hurt writes:

The City Opens/ along its river-seam like a swollen belly, expelling antiques. The smallest sister makes a list of what she finds on the banks… Every night she finds more, so she begins to build herself a home from them. Every night another wall, every week another room, every month another house—her new city birthed form the refuse.  (82)

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in the rust belt. I spent the first two decades of my life in Dayton, a city as notable for its lost industry as its contribution to aviation. And maybe this is why Hurt’s collection resonates so well with me. It is a eulogy for places that only become notable once they have lost themselves.

 

 

Best Thing I’ve Heard/Read This Week: Larissa Szporluk

11 Apr

traffic225For final event of this season’s Poets of Ohio reading series, Larissa Szporluk visited Case Western Reserve University from Bowling Green, OH to read and discuss her poetry. Below is an excerpt from my introduction to the event, as well as a video clip of her reading one of her poems:

I first became aware of Larissa Szporluk’s poetry in 2004, when one of my graduate school professors, the late-Jake Adam York, mentioned her as someone he considered to be one of the premier, contemporary poets writing at the time. Specifically, he directed me to her third, full-length collection of poetry, The Wind, Master Cherry, The Wind (Alice James Books, 2003).

While reading the book, I was struck by the ability of Szporluk’s poems to challenge not only the manner in which we use language, but their capacity to fundamentally alter the way in which we view the world; or, as she herself wrote in the poem “Death of Magellan”:

Heaven was lost

when up and down
lost meaning. (5)

Yes, just as Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe altered humanity’s spatial relationship to/of the world during the sixteenth century–literally changing our notion of what “up and down” meant–Szporluk’s poems changed the manner in which I conceived of both language and poetry at a time when I was primarily familiar with the canonical and anthologized poems taught in literature courses. More than a decade ago, then, her poems acted as a literary and poetic passage that was theretofore uncharted for me.

This semester, though, my students and I read her most recent book, Traffic with MacBeth (Tupelo Press, 2011), which, among other things, explores what happens when “violence takes over” (26) both the natural and human worlds. Take, for instance, the opening lines of the poem “Mouth Horror”:

Five male crickets
sing and fight.
The loudest wins,

the softest dies (38)

The poem presents the reader with the seemingly benign image of crickets chirping on a summer evening; but the moment quickly transforms it into a Darwinian struggle, wherein the “loudest” crickets “win,” such that their “chirp[s]” become “swords” that leave the “loser[s to] rot”:

into the sweet black gore
of cricket joy
expressed to death

in one dumb glop (38)

Such violence manifests itself again and again throughout Traffic’s representations of the natural world, as seen in the wind that “leaves a deep pocket / of dusk in your scalp” (3), a ladybird “carcass / on a snow-white beach” (7), or the image of an “eye of the cat-torn mouse” (41).

The violence that permeates natural world, though, does not remain within its bounds; rather, it overflows into the human realm by way story and myth. For example, in the opening stanza of the poem “Baba Yaga”; the poem’s namesake, who is a sorceress from Slavic folklore, tells us that:

I cooked my little children in the sun.
I threw grass on them and then they died.
I sit here and wonder what I’ve done. (47)

While, no doubt, this moment of infanticide demonstrates most evidently the violence inherent to the human world, there are also minor violences, often self-inflicted, that occur throughout the collection. In the poem “Accordion,” the speaker notes:

When the blood leaves my arm at night,
my arm is independent.
I hold it up, my own dead arm,
and flap it at the sleepers
in adjoining rooms around me.
Beating time, like being dead, is easy. (41)

Indeed, something as mundane as sleeping on one’s arm so as to cut-off circulation, thus inducing that “pins-and-needles” feeling, offers us a meditation on death that confers upon us the understanding that “being dead, is easy”—at least to the extent that its specter is ever-present and always near.

To this end, I think, the purpose of Traffic with MacBeth’s violence is to provide us with a heightened awareness of the fragility of life; and, thus, instills within us a greater appreciation for our brevity.

Here’s a video clip of Szporluk reading her poem “Flight of the Mice” from her first collection Dark Sky Question (Beacon Press, 1998):

Awful Interview: Aric Davis

9 Apr

aricdavis

To the left you will find a photograph of Aric Davis holding a keyboard. (Could we call that keyboard vintage? In a cool way – I think so.) Aric Davis is kind of a badass. Not only is he the author of seven books, but for sixteen years he was a body piercer and he’s a happily married dude and he’s a dad. Badass right? Right.

Aric is coming down all the way from Grand Rapids to help celebrate the third anniversary of The Five-Hundred by reading to us. That’ll be happening tomorrow, April 10th – more details about that here.

In February I awfully interviewed Aric in anticipation of the forthcoming reading. Here’s what happened.

So Aric, how is Grand Rapids these days?

Cold, snowy, and bleh! I love GR, and Michigan in general, but we have been absolutely smoked by snowfall so far this year. I’m used to a busy January and February when it comes to snow maintenance, but the snow started falling in November and has shown little sign of letting up. Hopefully we get a break soon.

You’re a punk-rock aficionado, correct? I’ve come to notice that some of my favorite punk tunes come from chillier climates. Would you say that, from your own experience and expertise – there’s a correlation between those two things? Also, how does one become a punk rock aficionado?

Tough call! There’s a lot of really good punk music coming out these days, and strangely, a lot of it is coming out of the northern United States. Captain We’re Sinking, Restorations, Save Ends,  Direct Hit!, Iron Chic, and RVIVR all put out amazing records in 2013, and they’re all from places where it tends to be a little colder. That said, with great bands like Red City Radio or Against Me! putting out new work recently/very soon, the south isn’t exactly in trouble. That said, I would be hard pressed to say that the north is tops for me, Hot Water Music and Avail are two all time faves of mine, and they’re both from the south.

As for the last part, I have no clue. I just like punk music a ton, and my formative years were heavily influenced by poorly recorded music made by people who give a crap.

That sounds like a really authentic punk way to become a punk aficionado. You used to pierce for a living too, correct? How has that influenced your words?

I worked as a body piercer for seventeen years, and it was and is a huge influence on my written work, even after a year of writing full time. Back when I was still in the tattoo parlor, I wrote on the same bed that I performed piercings on, taking a break as necessary to perform stabbings. It made for an odd juxtaposition, the work that I had to do to make money, and the work that I wanted to do but kept being chased from. I know there are a lot of authors with stories of incredible hardship, but I like to think that having to take breaks from writing to punch holes in genitals still sticks out as a unique situation. I don’t have any exact correlations between body piercing and scribbling, but I do know that spilling blood on a page is a piece of cake compared to doing it with a blade.

Do you feel that can cause you to be hard-as-nails in your own writing? Also – what was it like for complete strangers to trust you with stabbing their genitalia?

I certainly don’t think it hurts! The most useful my piercing career ever proved when it came to writing was when I was working on my gothic-romance-tattoo-ghost-story, A Good and Useful Hurt. With Hurt, I drew upon everything that I had learned in my years behind a needle. For the rest of my work, the tattoo shop proved to be a way to meet very-ahem-unique people, and to draw upon my experiences in working with them. Being in the shop definitely exposed me to a side of life that most people don’t see growing up, and that was definitely a good thing as far as my writing is concerned.

The trust strangers show body art practitioners is insane, in my opinion, and even the best practitioners are still human. That said, I developed a very good reputation for being the go-to guy for body mods in the Grand Rapids area, and I still can’t believe some of the things strangers entrusted me with. That said, everyone lived, so maybe they weren’t that off-base.

 So you consider yourself a pretty trustworthy guy?

As trustworthy as the next heavily tattooed former body piercer that makes up stories for a living.

I’ll mark that down as a “Maybe.” Say, who do you think would win in a bar brawl: Will Smith circa The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Vanilla Ice?

Well, the fact of the matter is that Vanilla Ice got absolutely rolled by the world. Suge Knight’s boys hung him over  a balcony, Queen shook him down for stealing the opening notes of, “Under Pressure” and things only got worse from there. V-Ice is the polar opposite of street cred. Not only was he about as manufactured as major label acts get, he spent so many years trying to reinvent himself that he went from singing a song about, “Rolling up the hoootie-mac” to now remodeling houses on high number cable channels. Mr. Van Winkle is a straight up buster, which would lead one to believe that pre-awful movie Will Smith should decimate him, except…

Will Smith had to leave Philly because he got in a single fight. If the rest of the world had this attitude, school bullying would be a felony. Not only did Will get in one little fight that scared his mom, his milquetoast rap game inspired N.W.A. to exist in the first place. Seriously.

Yup, Will Smith’s rap career was so busted, so unrealistic, that Eazy E and the boys from N.W.A. were inspired by him to invent gangster rap, because they couldn’t believe how fake Smith’s version of the world was when compared to the life of the average African American teenager. Will was worried about parents leaving town and getting caught driving their Porsches, Eazy, Ren, Cube and Dre were worried about being able to eat and not get shot. It pains me to say it, but Vanila Ice wins hands down, and the more Will Smith tries to push his stupid wiener kids on us, the bigger the divide gets.

Awful Interview: John Carroll

8 Apr

John Carroll

John Carroll made a mistake. He has thrice awfully interviewed me at PURGE to help promote both the launch of VouchedATL and our two birthday parties. That wasn’t his mistake, it was nice of him. His mistake was the manner of which he Awfully Interviewed me. I mean, he really ‘gave me a dose of my own medicine’ so to speak. I waited for a long time for retribution.

John’s been a regular contributor at The Five-Hundred since its inception, so we’ve invited him back to read for us at the Five Hundred’s reading this Thursday, April 10th at the Goat farm.

Below you will find an Awful Interview I did with John upon the release of Slow Burn, which was released by Safety Third Enterprises just about a year ago.

What are you trying to prove?

I don’t know? 9/11 was an inside job. The Illuminati is real. Aliens exists. Social media will be the downfall of civilization. You know, just the regular macho stuff. I guess I do know.

Do I come across as someone who has something to prove(other than bald is beautiful and all the other things I just listed)?

Kind of. You seem like one of those people who has a vendetta. You know, like Guy Fawkes. HOLY SHIT- John Carroll are you Anonymous?!

Shit. I wish. I like the idea of Anonymous, not so much for their ability to fuck shit up, which I think is pretty rad, but because they remind me of Borg from Star Trek. Kind of like Legion in the Bible. I guess I just like the idea of groups that refer to themselves as one, but then again the U.S. Army does that too. Nevermind.

Aren’t you a patriot? Have some pride! I heard you like baseball, right? Don’t you like pie? Happiness? Will Smith Movies?

I like Thomas Jefferson a lot. He made his own Bible and brought French Fries to America. I can only hope to accomplish that much. I really only liked baseball when Michael Jordan was playing. Did you know that Will Smith was supposed to play Neo in The Matrix, but turned it down? I’m not sure how I feel about that. But yeah, Will Smith is solid.

Didn’t you burn a Bible once? Was that your attempt to be Jeffersonian? How did that go for you?

You know what’s probably more offensive to most people? I burned a Beatles record once as well. I dated a girl who really liked the Beatles a few months later. She told me I was stupid for doing it. We went on vacation to Virginia and she wouldn’t take me to Monticello. We broke up when we got home.

WOW you really brought that one full circle — it was like watching an episode of Seinfeld. Have you ever seen that show?

Seinfeld is probably appreciated for the wrong reasons. Larry David induces panic attacks in my life. I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan of Jerry Seinfeld, but I read his book, Seinlanguage in 5th grade. I asked my parents if I could have a Bar Mitzvah after reading it. They made me accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour instead.

 Was that a pretty formative moment in your life? What do you think the repercussions were?

I’d like to act like it wasn’t, but the older I get the more I feel the need to revert back to adolescent tendencies. You know, ride a bike, jump on beds, make fun of girls that I’d like to have sexual intercourse with. Normal ten year old boy stuff.

Have you found yourself purchasing a lot of footed pajamas as of late?

Unfortunately, they don’t have them in my size. Hot Topic does sell dinosaur and Hello Kitty hoodies though. I need to stop by there to pick up the new Marilyn Manson album, so you never know.

How does Marilyn Manson always manage to date such hotties?

I think it’s pretty clear Laura. If you bang MM you’re guaranteed at least B-movie stardom.

Good point. You forgot to mention how romantic he is though. I mean, look at him. Marilyn Manson OOZES romance. What’s your favorite 90’s teen flick?

Drop Dead Gorgeous. Two words: Rolling Crucifix.

That makes a lot of sense. Has anyone ever told you that you look like Denise Richards?

Only in the dark.

Oh wow. So. …why should people come and see you read on the 17th?

The stories that I will be reading were actually inspired by Denise Richards’ outstanding performance in the 1998 erotica thriller Wild Things. I believe that I’m the first writer to ever incorporate her influence into anything literary, outside of tabloid magazines.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Ian Huebert

4 Apr

If you don’t recognize the name Ian Huebert, you probably have, at least, seen his work. Most recently, Huebert designed the cover for Matthew Zapruder’s newest collection of poems Sun Bear (Copper Canyon, 2014). He also created the cover art for Dan Chelott’s X (McSweeney’s, 2013), Jeff Alessandrelli’s Don’t Let Me Forget to Feed the Sharks (Poor Claudia, 2012), and is the primary cover artist for the chapbooks released by Dikembe Press.

In addition to designing covers for collection of contemporary poetry, though, Huebert also is an accomplished cartoonist and minimalist poet. Over the course of the past year or two, he has self-published a limited-run chapbook series of his drawings and poetry, titled Comb. Take a look at the below excerpt from issue one (click for large view):
Ian
One of my favorite aspects of the above image is how the text of the poem appears to both rupture the aesthetic surface of the cartoon, while simultaneously integrating itself into the image rather seamless. At least as a visual text, its ability to look both coherent and fractured is something that pleases me. (My critical vocabulary for visual art is limited, so my apologies for any idiomatic lack.)

As far as the poem itself, I enjoy how Huebert transforms a rather benign, childhood activity, such as climbing a “cherry tree,” into a “base,” sexual experience. Likewise, the wordplay via repetition and difference (i.e. “said” and “saying) and homonyms (i.e. “right”) adds another dimension of linguistic depth within the rather small space of ten lines.

Moreover, the sexual transformation that occurs in the poem alters our interpretation of the image; a child peeking through a hole in a fence becomes a moment of voyeuristic, sexual gratification instead of an innocent moment of childhood “spying.”

If you’d like to purchase a copy of issues one and two of Comb, or any of the other various woodcuts and prints Huebert has made, check out both his website or his tumblr account. You can also find a handful of Huebert’s poems in this year’s Lovebook by SP CE.

Awful Interview: Daniel Lamb

4 Apr

Daniel Lamb!

This is Daniel Lamb – a member of the literati in Atlanta, and a contributor over at The Five-Hundred! He’ll be reading at the next Vouched Presents at the Goatfarm on April 10th. (The reading that was delayed by an epic ice storm) in the spirit of that reading, he let me interview him waaaaaaaay back in February. It went pretty well. We talked about bars a lot. Come see him read, yeah?

Vouched: So Daniel, you work at Manuel’s Tavern, right? What’s it like to work with a chicken coop over your head?

Yes, I’m one of the weekend day-time bartenders; I’ve been there for a few years now.  It’s a really different kind of bar- there are always actors and musicians and writers hanging out there, as well as a really eclectic older crowd of politicians, business folk, lawyers, and crazies. It’s a pretty good place to work if you want to collect ideas for fiction work.  At first, I had my doubts about the chicken coop.  When the owner, Brian announced to the staff that we were building a roof-top chicken coop, people started looking bewildered and, quite frankly, a little grossed out.  I wasn’t sure if this was a serious deal or just a crackpot notion.  I was very, very wrong- obviously, you can see the coop today from the street. That project took about six or eight months to come to fruition.  A few months back, Brian brought in some baby chicks when the coop was yet in its infancy, and I was sold.  Those little birds brought a sense of hope and wonder to the place.  I get to tell the chicken story a lot these days while I’m working, and people have a really childlike curiosity in their voices when they ask the chicken question.  Now, if you’re lucky enough to stop by when Brian is around, he’ll talk you into going up on the roof and visiting the hens and the super green sustainable luxury coop they live in.  They are very social and like the attention.  They will peck your feet and untie your shoelaces.  Their eggs have been helping business, too.  We use the eggs during brunch, and they’re quite tasty- we sold out last week.  If you really want to read more about the chickens, the coop, and the eggs, there’s a lengthy post on the Manuel’s Tavern Facebook page.

 

Vouched: Who are some of your favorite regulars? How does working at the bar influence your writing work?

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some really interesting people.  It’s always really nice to see my friends come in to the bar.  Having said that, some of my favorite regular customers are people who I probably wouldn’t cross paths with socially, by circumstance, not virtue.  There’s this guy we call Angry Dan.  He’s in the construction business, and sometimes he’s angry- but he’s a really interesting guy who loves to talk about music, especially classic blues and rock, and likes sharing his knowledge.  There’s a couple, Harriet and Doug, who some of us call the Tavern grandparents.   They’re residents of Candler Park and they’ve been patrons since the 1950’s.  Harriet likes to order a “grandma beer,” which is a Yuengling in a short glass.  Her husband prefers pints.  My very favorite customers always have a story to tell.   Author Charles McNair frequents the Tavern and is always very encouraging.  I wait on GIE (Government in Exile) and the Seed-N-Feed Marching Abominable most Tuesday nights- both of these groups are comprised of some of the most intense personalities in Atlanta, and the keep me on my toes.  I really like waiting on the Metro Atlanta Task Force For The Homeless- Jim and Anita are two of my favorite people in Atlanta- Anita always brings me a hug when she stops by.  I also love the literary crowd that inevitably comes in after Write Club or Scene Missing- there’s always hullabaloo when Nick Tecosky, Myke Johns, Jason Mallory and their posse come by.  I know I’m probably forgetting some key people here, but there are just so damn many of them!

 

I don’t write much about the Tavern in my fiction or about the people I’ve met through work, but working behind the bar has made me a much better listener.  I think, as a writer, listening is definitely more important that talking.  As a writer, I have all the time in the world to think about what I am going to say, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have to hear what others have to say.  People in bars are very generous in telling their stories, and when I have the time to really listen, it’s like reading some of my favorite authors- it can be a transcendent experience, and ultimately, it’s part of how I make a living.

 

Vouched: Man, I need to hang around Manuel’s more often. Sounds like you have some incredible folks there. What are you working on these days?

I’m still feeling the effects of Write Club victory euphoria at the moment.  I’m wearing a few different hats right now, writing-wise.  I’m in the Rhetoric & Composition undergrad program at Georgia State, so I’m writing lots of papers, and  I’m  the ads and specials items that go up on Manuel’s Facebook page on the weekends.  I have a some writing assignments I am working on for a couple of live lit events that are coming up: a book review for an online magazine, Scene Missing (The Show) in February and the Vouched Books reading next month.  I am writing primarily short stories, some fiction and some creative non fiction.  Ideally, I’d like to find a home for some of these pieces.  Some of the stuff I’ve done is over at Scene Missing and some at The Five Hundred.  For a while I was tossing everything I wrote up on my blog, but maybe it’s not the safest bet to throw everything up there, all willy-nilly.  Back in November, I attempted NanoWriMo, and “lost” pretty bad, but I mined a lot of ideas.  I’m still sifting through what’s there to mold more short stories, and composing a little music (for fun) on the side.  I have a vague idea for a web-based chapbook that would pair flash fiction stories with soundtrack-like audio via soundcloud, but I’m still meditating on that one.  All in all, I’m keeping busy and trying  to find the stories and tell them in the best way I know how.

 

Vouched: Sounds like a lot of good stuff in the works, then. Tell us – what are you most looking forward to about the reading?

I think what’s really exciting is the interest people are taking in the literary community in Atlanta.  It’s really exciting to become a part of this body of creators that really is very supportive- everyone I come in contact with is really engaged in the discovery of new, good writing.  People have a lot of options as to how they spend their limited free time, and it’s awesome to see crowds patronizing these readings around town.  About The Five Hundred:  I really like a lot of the stories that I read there, and I’ve really enjoyed writing the pieces I’ve done for the publication.  What’s interesting about the whole thing is that it’s kind of an online writer’s workshop.  Everyone comments on one another’s work, offering suggestions on how to make these pieces into stronger, clearer works of fiction.  Flash fiction is a genre I really enjoy reading, partially because of my exceedingly short attention span, and partially because of the intensity that a 500 word story brings.  There’s a sense of urgency with flash fiction that longer work doesn’t necessarily lack, but the flash narrative really captures.  I’m excited to meet some of these writers (very good ones) that I’ve been reading and with whom I’ve corresponded.  Some of these folks are quite accomplished writers, and I’m humbled to be invited to read along side them.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: 2014 Argos Poetry Calendar

2 Apr

The past two years, Argos Books–which is run by E.C. Belli, Iris Cushing, and Elizabeth Clark Wessel out of Brooklyn, NY–has released a limited-edition, monthly poetry calendar.

This year’s version contains poems by Kazim Ali, Sommer Browning, Christophe Casamassima, Don Mee Choi, Ryan Eckes, Farrah Field, Joan Kane, Bhanu Kapil, Rachel Levitsky, Anna Moschovakis, Jared White, and Simone White. The illustrations were drawn by Essye Klempner.

This month’s poem is Ryan Eckes’ “chase scene #10,” an image of which is below (click for a larger view):

photo (20)

While we’re already in the fourth month of the year, consider ordering one of these wonderful artifacts to hang on your wall so that you may pencil-in (and not forget) trips to the tropical fish store, your Laser Tag outings, and when you intend on huffing paint with your chums.

Best Thing I’ve Heard/Read This Week: Tyrone Williams

28 Mar

adventures-of-pi-lgYesterday, the poet and critic Tyrone Williams traveled from Cincinnati to Cleveland in order to read and discuss his poems at Case Western Reserve University for the Poets of Ohio reading series. Below is an excerpt from my introduction, along with a video clip from the event:

In late-2002, I began actively exploring the world of contemporary poetry. As a way to discover the names of poets, presses, and different aesthetics that interested me, I started reading pretty much any literary journal I could get my hands on. After a few months of scouring the small press and magazine section at Tattered Cover in downtown Denver, I found myself gravitating toward journals such as The Canary, Denver Quarterly, Fence, jubilat, Open City, and Verse.

In one of these magazines, the Fall/Winter 2003 issue of Fence, an article by Rodeny Phillips appeared that was titled “Exotic flowers, decayed gods, and the fall of paganism: The 2003 Poets House Poetry Showcase, an exhibit of poetry books published in 2002.” In addition to providing a comprehensive overview of the showcase, several sidebars located in the article’s margins offered “Best Of” lists: “Best Books of Experimental Poetry” and “Best Debut Collections,” for example. While each list contained a series of names and titles with which I was unfamiliar—but, subsequently, over the years would become intimately familiar—one name caught my attention due to the fact that it found its way onto no less than three of these lists (if my memory serves me correctly): Tyrone Williams and his first book c.c., published by Krupskaya Press.

Given that the Phillips article championed this poet and collection to such a high degree, I went online and ordered a copy. When the book finally arrived and I read through it, I was confronted with a style of poetry that was theretofore unknown to me. The writing in Williams’ first book employed radical notions of form, citation, appropriation, and marginalia, all the while remaining socially, politically, and culturally engaged. This, indeed, was not the type of poetry I had previously encountered (even with exposure to the High Modernists); no, this was something more daring, complex, and exciting. The poems of c.c., such as “Cold Calls,” “I am not Proud to be Black,” and “TAG” were avant-tour de forces that acted as catalysts for my own interest, involvement, and dedication to poetry over the course of the next twelve years.

In 2008, Omnidawn Publishing released Williams’ second book of poetry On Spec, which I would later use for my comprehensive exams as I pursued my doctorate. In a citation of his book that I wrote in 2010, I argued that the collection “explores the confluence of post-Language poetry and African-American poetic tradition” by entwining “diverse aesthetic and ideological lineages” through the use of “different idioms and whose contents are often thought to be at odds with one another.” Moreover, I noted the book’s “conflation of genres,” wherein the poems sought to “question the relationship between theory and poetry,” as well as drama; in doing so, Williams created a “transitional and often nebulous zone.” These “boundary-defying techniques” were further highlighted in his “use of check-boxes, errata and footnotes…mathematical equations, cross-outs, quotation, and liberal use of white space.”

Most recently, his 2011 collection Howell (Atelos Press), which is a reference to Howell, Michigan and conceived in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, is an epic “writing through” of history that extends to nearly 400 pages in length.

For our course this semester, though, we read Williams’ Adventures of Pi: Poems 1980-1990. The collection takes a backward glance at the poet’s work, thus functioning as an interesting prequel in the development of a contemporary, poetic innovator. And although it does serve to flesh out his career trajectory, Adventures of Pi also offers readers engaging moments wherein the poet confronts the racial fissures in then-contemporary America in a straightforward but aesthetically compelling manner. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from his poem “White Noise (Fighting to Wake Up)”:

of a body dreaming two dreams,
only one of which is called
a black man in America,

the other, America
itself (18)

The notion that two dreams and two Americas exist within the speaker echoes, at least to me, the concept of double-consciousness as proposed by W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk, in which he famously wrote:

One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Furthermore, the form of Williams’ poem suggests an intensification of this “two-ness” through a strategic use of a stanza break between the two instances of “America” within the single, syntactical unit. In this sense, the poem fuses form and content in order to heighten its underlying conceptual framework.

Similarly, racial and cultural issues are addressed and challenged throughout the collection in poems such as “A Black Man Who Wants to be a White Woman” and “How Do I Cross Out the X Malcom.” Within these poems, Williams creates linguistic spaces wherein he’s “Scribabbling” his words into an “estranged language” (34) of neologism and wordplay in order to write a:

       story we make up about the other stories
[Which] Itself is made up of other stories:
Thus the three dimensions of history—plus history,
Remarkable violence (34)

Yes, stories made up of stories compound by other stories, all constructing an American narrative that resonates with the “Remarkable violence” inherent to the history of a country fraught with civil rights’ tensions and complex racial relations. But far from simply being a collection of didactic poems, Williams employs his heightened intellect, aesthetic sensibilities, and ear for the musical phrase in order to compose poems that address the political and social worlds while simultaneously providing aesthetic pleasures. In doing so, the poems challenge both our understanding of contemporary poetry and our concept of race in America today.

Here’s a video clip of Williams reading his poem “Mayhem” from The Hero Project of the Century:

The final event of the semester for the Poets of Ohio reading series will take place on Thursday, 10 April when the poet Larissa Szporluk will visit Case Western Reserve University from Bowling Green, OH.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: The Spine by Sarah Rose Etter

25 Mar

The Body Maps series up at The Fanzine is a new feature and for the first installment Sarah Rose Etter of Philadelphia set the bar sky high with her piece, “The Spine.” Here a few excerpts:

Everything inside of you is a curtain. Everything can be slid and tied to reveal more. You are a canyon of organs, bones, fat deposits, possible tumors, breast tissue, ligaments, white and red viscera, and then, finally, beneath all of that, the spine, which is your main river only very still, very hard, made of bone.

The night before it happens, you are swimming in painkillers in patches sucking at your skin to deliver relief, fog. The night before the Russian man splits you open, you picture him inside of you, his hands deft, sliding small, clear fragments from your flesh, your body just a skin bag of shattered glass.

You can describe, at length, the pattern the stitches made up your spine. You can go on about the way your head became a permanent moon over the toilet, the contents of your stomach shooting like white rays through black night into the clear sea below.

 

It’s a twisted narrative form with sharp, heavy  language and there is not one line that lets the reader off the hook. We can only hope that the rest of the series will be this good.

Best Thing I’ve Heard Today: Bloomfield, Foley, and Xu

20 Mar

Last night the poets Luke Bloomfield, Brian Foley, and Wendy Xu passed through Cleveland, OH on their Moonbucket poem tour in promotion of their books Russian Novels (Factory Hollow Press, 2014), The Constitution (Black Ocean, 2014), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013), respectively. Below are three short video clips of each poet performing at the event, which took place at Guide to Kulchur.

Here’s Luke Bloomfield reading his poem “Fisticuffs”:

Here’s Brian Foley reading his poem “Acumen”:

Here’s Wendy Xu reading here poem “Nocturne”:

Their tour, which has also taken them to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Akron, will continue tonight in Buffalo, NY.

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