Tag Archives: Julia Cohen

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Collateral Light

3 Dec

Julia-Jules-Cohen-Collateral-LightSure, it’s easy to read Julia Cohen’s second full-length collection of poetry, Collateral Light (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013), and get lost in the odd, little worlds that it creates in and with language.

If one was so inclined, this would be a relatively easy way to approach the book: as a text that builds itself, its surroundings, and the parameters of those surroundings through bizarre imagery, abrupt non sequiturs, and meta-linguistic statements. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from the title poem:

Pour your wicked
cornstalks over my what

Everyone likes to look
at the moon

Show me mine

Chew a page

Here comes something


Play with
the biggest face

Do you get a bee?

Blue is a very
good color

You happen


I am watching bees
traverse your jeans

I bit the point
of the strawberry

Off to the left
I’m seeding

The light peels back
a ringing splint (29-30)

Outside of a few images that one can easily visualize (e.g. “I bit the point / of the strawberry”), one finds little within this poem that connects directly to the outside world; rather, the poem is very much in and of the world it creates for itself. In fact, the poem self-reflexively announces this hermetic state of being when the speaker declares: “You happen // Here.” Yes, you, reader, occur, exist, and experience the poem only within the poem: in other words, “Here.”

To this extent, reading Cohen’s poems as self-contained objects dedicated to world construction through linguistic play and a poetics of the absurd would seem all well and good. The following excerpts from the poem “We Clamor We Like The Sound Of It,” and their insistence on inventive language use, reinforce this view:

I took
the word for fireworks
Found my mouth
in the knuckle rhyme (76)

It turns
out language
is the other people

Is another person’s
language (77)

The image is a mortal thing
To dwell, to leaves traces (78)

Are your sounds inside
the paper asylum? (81)

                     We broke

the clasp of the orange
dress acquired through language (82)

Whether conflating words with fireworks, redistributing sound throughout the body, exploring the ontology of images, confusing the speaker of a poem, interrogating the origin of sound, or debunking language myths (i.e. “nothing (half) rhymes with orange”), Cohen’s poems call attention to the manner in which her texts use language poetically.

But, to my mind, a more productive way (or, at least, a more interesting way) to read Collateral Light is through the lens of how the poems challenge their own (and our) emotional formations and registers.

To explain this statement a bit further, take the second section of “Practice By Fire & Doubt.” In this poem, the speaker defines a “poetics of doubt” as follows: “You see something, you feel / something, doubt” (87). Her poetics of doubt, then, requires that we complicate both how we feel–and how a poem induces us to feel–strangely.

Of course, the impetus for this poetics of doubt stems from the speaker’s desire to do something with her feelings, such that she is not simply a passive receptor of them. Indeed, she even mentions that to do nothing with her feelings is untenable: “I can’t just sit here with feelings” (34).

And what does the speaker of these poems do with (her) feelings? Well, sometimes she toys with an unnamed you for the sake, it appears, of spirited play:

But I want to give you a new feeling               one you can’t
get rid of right away
but in the end            it’s just a white bottle
I don’t believe in either (37)

Infusing “you” with a “new feeling” that he/she “can’t / get rid of,” the speaker finally concedes that this feeling was nothing more than a “white bottle” she doesn’t even “believe in.” To this end, the feeling shifts from a persistent or inescapable emotional state to a banal object that cannot be trust: a trick of perception wherein an internal condition mutates into an external form.

At other times, though, the speaker simply acknowledges the fatigue that often corresponds to the need/desire to name and perform our feelings: “It’s exhausting everyone asking to feel alive” (40).

Finally, while categorizing feelings too rigidly would undercut the uncertainty of her poetics of doubt, the speaker comes close to articulating her, our, and the poems’ feelings during the poem “Fill Me With Poison!” In the second section, she works programmatically through negation so as to vaguely define feeling through the process of subtraction:

nobility is not a feeling
cunning is not a feeling
decency is not a feeling

A feeling no an empty space

Here a localized wanting, a text (19)

Of course, she preserves the uncertainty attendant to doubt in that she doesn’t provide us with a conclusive definition or strict parameters for feeling. Instead, we’re informed that it is a “localized wanting” confined to a “text.” In other words, feelings are contextual: shifting responses by/for/of an individual within the limits of a poem and predicated upon what we desire at the moment of encounter. Yes, even the description of feelings remains elusive.

And this, I think, is what makes Cohen’s collection exciting. Instead of reading Collateral Light as book of poems invested in language play and bizarre images (Yawn. What book of poems worth its salt doesn’t?), Cohen asks us to enter into each poem as we would an emotional field wherein our feelings alter and shift from word to word, line to line, and stanza to stanza, recalibrating our psychological and emotional responses as needed.

Therefore, when the speaker of “Fill Me With Poision!” inquires of us “What’s your capacity of mutation,” we can read this interrogative as a veiled imperative that those who wish not to immerse themselves within the poetics of doubt—with its protean emotional registers and ambiguous affective responses—should move on. Yet, if we are prepared for the task at hand, then we can we bath in the glow of an “uncertain moon” (22) and “destabilize / the center of the center” (36) of our feelings.

Indie Lit Classics: Greying Ghost Press

5 Jul

In 2009, Ryan Call called Greying Ghost Press “a press to be excited about” and he was right and is right and seems like will be right for a good while to come. Check out Ryan’s spotlight from four years ago over. Then check out the rest of this post for 2013 Greying Ghost chatter from myself and others.


The first Greying Ghost chapbook I ever encountered was I Am In The Air Right Now by Kathryn Regina. It might’ve been the first chapbook I ever bought myself, like looking back to remember the self-titled Savage Garden CD as the first I ever bought with my own money. I had never seen such a skinny, beautiful book–mirrored title, diagram stuck in the middle, maroon page spooning the cover. And the poems! The poems are not shy, though they might want you to think they are. In the air, they are, with their whimsy and their spirit, their new touch on the old heartbreak.

from “i thought there would be no one in the air”

the air is empty but

there are several families living in my chest.

I am going to open my own store and sell only

things that i especially like. puppets, diet coke,

spell books, beautiful rocks. i am going to sell

these things to the families in my arteries.

some of the people in the families die. there is a funeral

in my kneecap. the grandmother throws herself

into the grave. the children play at empty plots.

And 99 numbered copies later, poof, they are gone, have been gone, tucked away on select important shelves, just like so many of GG’s finest releases.


Matt DeBenedictis, publisher of Safety Third Enterprises, on the radness of Greying Ghost Press:

Every chapbook I’ve ever ordered from Greying Ghost Press felt like they had me in mind when they made it, or they had a faithful hope in a cumulative reaction of cornerstone thoughts on first glance: the little details etch themselves like romantic gestures that can’t fade into the past.A circular die cut on a thick cover stock reveals a map and a nestled ampersand (J.A. Tyler’s Our Us & We), books folded like pamphlets are given wraps and buttons like they are gifts. I feel like a thieving’ little shit when I open some of them. I’ve been tempted before to just immediately frame their chapbooks on the wall (without opening a page) and just let the reviews on Goodreads be enough of a satisfaction.

The care that Greying Ghost Press puts to each chapbook is a knowledge that printed words are far from over; we still have so much imagination on how to rest ink onto paper.


Cassandra Gillig, keeper of that dumb poetry blog, on GG’s hosting the Corduroy Mountain archives:

Probably the part of Greying Ghost I enjoy the most (since it is very easily sharable & free to access & this is something of great value to anyone looking to get into a press & find out what they are doing) is their online archiving of Corduroy Mountain.  Corduroy Mountain was, unarguably, something too special for human consumption–a literary magazine worth all of the awe & envy most can & should muster.

You can see everything that was published in Corduroy Mountain on Greying Ghost’s Issuu Site, which is an incredible thing.  CM also does a great job of showcasing the perfect brilliance GG publishes on a regular basis.  In addition to making things that are frustratingly gorgeous, GG has published some of my favorite writers.  Becca Klaver’s Inside A Red Corvette is kinda funny, way good, & so honest.  Dan Boehl’s sometimes perfectly sparse and always overwhelmingly perspicacious Les Miseres et les Mal-Heurs de la Guerre is nearly too wonderful for words.  Paige Taggert, Kathleen Rooney, Jac Jemc, & Sasha Fletcher all released stupidly good things with the press.  Not to mention the JA Tyler & Schomburg chapbooks which I feel are adored universally by those who have read them.

The appeal of Greying Ghost is, of course, their willingness to take risks and to publish writers who are experimenting with form, and, while this is not necessarily the first press to do it, the work GG has championed is perfect and enriching and, wholly, presses like GG are the reason small press publishing is so exciting right now.


Matthew Mahaney, author of Your Attraction to Sharp Machines (Bat Cat Press), on his favorite GG chapbook, Sugar Means Yes, by Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina:

The silver-blue wallpaper cover pages define the room of this chapbook, the physical borders of a world in which brothers and sisters use foxes, masks, razors, and salt to teach us the true, dark meaning of every object and action, and where a new lesson will find you each time you visit.


And when you order one of these fine fine cared-for chapbooks, the envelope also comes stuffed with bonus goodies, a.k.a. pamphlets, these little brushstrokes, printed and folded goodness, from folks like Danniel Schoonebeek, Wendy Xu, Jennifer H. Fortin, Brian Foley, and more.


Carrie Lorig, author of NODS. (Magic Helicopter Press), on her two favorite pamphlets (one of which happens to be mine, awww shucks, WOW):

In South Korea (a town called Imjingak / 임진각), there is a Pamphlet/Leaflet Launch Site. It is about getting information across a young, sore border. Now that there is a ban, and they use large balloons.

According to the OED, the word ‘pamphlet’ is named for a popular love poem, Pamphilus, seu de Amore, with a Greek name (It has not been tested in French. -OED) that means “friend to everyone.”

At my catering job, during a lull in service, the sweating girl next to me mumbles, “If your wedding is going to be this big, you need to just do the food family style.” Big bowls for whole tables. Passing and touching moves it fast, spreads it fast.

Pamphlets, flyers, leaflets. Like ants or my friend Bridget’s bees, I hardly imagine them alone. I see them as the sudden waterfall swim they cause in the air. I see them devouring a part of the ground.

My two Greying Ghost pamphlets were pressed to me. Right before M.G. Martin left a dance party in Boston, he put “Sister, Thank You,” (#47) in my hand. It was fucksnowing, I’m sure, when I opened the manila envelope with “Don’t Reason” (#40) by Tyler Gobble inside.

“Don’t Reason” – The symmetry, the railing against the title, in Gobble’s “Don’t Reason” is as beautiful and smallbig as HALLELUJAH. “I can’t believe / that was you “, “You can’t believe / the words,” “The fact we need / God,” “The fact we need / Meth Sun,” “How can they talk / about so many overturned cars,” “I heard a man / singing a song / on a bus” A prayer is a thing you assemble and aim with don’t reason. You assemble it in the face of no galaxy you can reach into. You put your head in the fridge to cool off. You don’t do it to get an understanding of why we send these floating, desperate chunks of flower and human ash and plane crash and hum drifting out.

“Sister, Thank You” – I don’t always think repetition is as conscious as we insist it is. What if every time you say a word, you are not as aware that it is the same word as the previous word you just uttered as you are that you are saying the word however you are in that moment, on that part of the page, in that blank space of the conversation. It doesn’t matter what comes after it or before it. This might be how the constant onslaught of thank you interrupted by “roses, sister, language, mouth, tongue, deep, without, bones, skin” is thinking about repetition. I can echo through them all together, taking in the longitude and population and spelling out carefully as it gets big enough to be a Thank You nation-state. Or, I can encounter each of them alone, failing alone, struggling alone, to get to a sister. There are 11 rocks in this one, two in that one. A beluga that won’t be touched unless you are naked.


Jamie Iredell, author of lots of good stuff like The Book of Freaks (Future Tense Books), on the lasting goodness of Greying Ghost Press:

I’ve pretty much always loved GG. This goes back to the early days of the “online lit” thing, or “alt lit,” whatever you wanna call it. And maybe they weren’t even really the “early days” either, but whatever. I bought Peter Berghoef’s “News of the Haircut,” “Help” by Adam Fieled, “At The Pulse,” by Laura Carter (a very close friend of many years), “I Will Unfold You With My Hairy Hands” by Shane Jones, “The Tornado Is Not A Surrealist” by Brian Foley, “Walden Book” by Allen Bramhall (this was a huge book for me; it was amazing and amazingly designed), and “Naturalistless” by Christopher Rizzo. I was blown away by these books, and at the time I was writing my own stuff and was publishing it in literary magazines. Carl was, at the time, putting together stuff for the first Corduroy Mountain issue, and I submitted. He liked what I’d written, and asked if I had enough to make a chapbook. That was the middle section (“When I Moved to Nevada”) of what became my first book, Prose. Poems. a Novel. Since all of that went down, I’ve still been a GG fan, as Carl has continued to produce amazing work: “Inside A Red Corvette” by Becca Klaver, “I Am In The Air Right Now” by Kathryn Regina, “Our Us & We” by J.A. Tyler, “Pretend You’ll Do It Again” by Josh Russell, “Sky Poems” by Nate Pritts, “The Poughkeepsiad” by Joshua Harmon. And they just keep coming. Amazing books, Careful attention to language and design. Carl Annarummo is a diamond in coal field of contemporary lit.


Two of my favorite GG releases, for both their perfect design and dropping-of-the-jaw poems, are Imaginary Portraits by Joshua Ware (full disclosure tag: Vouched contributor) and Plus or Minus by Weston Cutter. Two very different books, but paired together in my heart. Ware’s is a pocket-sized thing, sturdy dark dark cover with die-cut window for the title to peek out from its yellow home. Cutter’s book is sheathed in a map. Ware’s poems are vignettes masquerading as visions. Cutter’s poems are uncompromising meditations. Moving poems and unique cases, these are two of the newer and most fitting representations of the stellar work Greying Ghost produces.

from Cutter’s “Yours, Alaska”:

in cragginess and distance, in separation

and bearing; in your imagination Alaska

I want to know if you see my Minnesota

as the dumb cousin pestering for a pass

during the post-Thanksgiving football game

and what about Montana, Alaska? Okay,

no one can ever be as cold, Alaska, but

let’s start a band, call ourselves the Chills:

you’ll wear a trucker’s hat, play the bass,

lay a beat for the rest of us to throb

longingly along to but Alaska you know

you can’t stay frozen forever, yes?


“The quality of their productions alone make them one of the most sought after small presses to work with — if you ever get the chance, jump at it!” – Hosho McCreesh, author of several awesome books


Grab yourself a subscription for Greying Ghost’s 2013/2014 catalog or pick up one of the few past releases still available. This stuff is hot.