Tag Archives: Noah Falck

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Chapbooks

18 Nov

chap3chap2chap1chap4During overly hectic periods in my life, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to invest in a full-length collection of poetry with an intensity that gives due diligence to the aesthetic, emotional, and poetic content of the poems therein. For this reason (among others), I enjoy reading chapbooks. Engaging a poet’s work within the confines of 15-30 pages enables me, as a reader, to spend more time with individual poems, to think about the conceptual framework of the entire collection in a more concentrated manner, and to do so in a relatively truncated time frame.

The past few weeks, for me, have been rather busy and, thus, I’ve not been able to dedicate my time to reading any full-length collections. Luckily for me, though, a stack of recently acquired chapbooks have gathered in my apartment; this was the perfect opportunity to read these little books.

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already aware that there is no dearth of wonderful chapbook presses across the country releasing limited-run titles. Of these, my favorite presses take an artisan approach to constructing their artifacts, creating books that demonstrate a particular type of craftsmanship, attention to aesthetic detail, and a general love of book-making. While I find presses that release chapbooks that embodied a D.I.Y. and/or zine-style approach to their artifacts interesting as well (but for different reasons), I find a certain pleasure in fetishizing a finely-wrought chapbook.

To this end, I would like to offer brief reviews of four chapbooks that are both well-constructed and filled with well-conceived poetry.

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Brown, Lily. The Haptic Cold. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.

In “I Tie Down My Fill, Close the Sky,” the opening poem of Brown’s newly released The Haptic Cold, the speaker says:

When I went outside and spoke, metal
was coming out of my skin.
I spoke backwards and others
rotated the phrases back for me.

However strange we need to be to get there.
The skin’s scales speak of failure
to do something. Easy to fail all day,
then use the word to show
a state of non-achievement.

The speaker attempts to articulate herself, but she voices her phrases “backwards” and in a “rotated” manner, thus obfuscating her desired meaning or intent. Moreover, her speech, instead of communicating a message, effects some strange bodily transformation wherein metal comes out of her skin.

To this end, “I Tie Down My Fill,” and The Haptic Cold, in general, address a particular “failure” of language to do “something” which its speaker intends. But this “state of non-achievement” becomes an achievement in and of itself–at least to the extent that these poems disorient their readers, situating them in a linguistic field marked not by utilitarian ends, but by its ability to disrupt understanding through the “violence of artifact” and artifice.

As such, when we encounter strange passages, such the following lines from “Taxonomic”:

I swallowed the doorjamb’s

shine. The threshold
breaks off as I use it.
The water has a breeze

says the dog-eared lady
who owns both.

we need not so much worry about the poem’s discernible logic; but, rather, we should focus on the haptic effects that such linguistic and cognitive dislocations render within and upon our bodies.

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Falck, Noah. Celebrity Dream Poems. Portland, OR: Poor Claudia, 2013.

Falck’s chapbook Celebrity Dream Poems consists of twenty poems, each composed of four couplets that he titled after the name of a famous person.

The poet prefaces his collection an excerpt from Berryman’s “Dream Song 14,” which simply reads: “Peoples bore me.” While, no doubt, the epigraph acknowledges the vacuous nature of celebrity culture, these absurdist poems do not work in service of reinforcing this claim; rather, Falck’s poems enliven the celebrity machine by infusing it with quirky humor through a re-orientation of context. Take, for instance, the poem “Lebron James”:

There is a lake on the moon on fire.
I hold your hand and try to explain

everything as if it were written by
Dr. Seuss. I will not lose anymore

not in the dark, not in the park, Sammy.
Though, I will win seven rings in Miami!

Your tears came out as small green hams. You stood
near a window pointing to the fire on the moon.

Similar to the gossip and entertainment magazines found in the checkout lanes at the grocery store, the poem provides a brief engagement with a celebrity figure. But unlike those magazines—which frame their subject as person who is “Just Like Us” through images and captions of him/her performing banal tasks—Falck’s poem creates a little, surreal world for us to lose ourselves in momentarily.

And that world, populated by burning lakes on the moon, tears composed of miniature green hams, and an impromptu Dr. Seuss adaptation, is decidedly nothing like the one in which we normally find Lebron James. Instead, this world effects a bizarre yet enjoyable milieu, wherein an NBA superstar is a rhyming astronomer who watches the moon burn impossibly.

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Fortin, Jennifer H. Give or Take. Salem, MA: Greying Ghost Press, 2013.

Give or Take is a series of fifteen prose poems that, more often than not, offer reflective meditations on a particular subject matter. For example, the collection’s first poem “Hawaii” begins:

My work is to point out the inescapability of neglect and call for a slower, deeper interaction with it. As we reached the end of our inaugural experience of neglect, our attention returned to skin, the sonic sibling of skim. Neglect just means you don’t pick something up, and you don’t or can’t handle it.

While the poem’s title references the island state of Hawaii, Hawaii is never addressed throughout the course of the poem. Hawaii becomes the neglected object through non-engagement. Rather, the speaker presents us with other subjects, such as skin, skim, apples, doorknobs, and forks. Most importantly, though, she addresses the concept of neglect itself. To this end, the title of the poem is a “cheap kind of attention”: in other words, invoking a term for the explicit sake of non-engagement.

The subject matter of each prose meditation alters quite a bit from piece to piece. One of my favorite reflections occurs during the collection’s title poem:

There’s a “you”—probably now a me—described that morphs from character into concept via the inappropriate. The absolute is all over the place. “You” is all over the place. When it comes to assessing you’s emotions, it gets very serious. And anytime there are big feelings involved, tender complexity is not far away.

In this passage, the speaker of the poem investigates the protean nature of pronouns and the manner in which the second-person pronoun can sometimes refer to the first-person through a morphing of character. Moreover, these alterations in antecedents usually correspond to some “serious” emotional states that tend to involve a “tender complexity.” Just like pronouns and the emotional states affixed to them, Fortin’s prose poems are both tender and complex in concept and delivery.

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Kaminski, Megan. Gemology. Houston, TX: Little Red Leaves, 2012.

Megan Kaminski’s chapbook Gemology works through a troika of tropes: the word, the flesh, and the city. The collection, in many ways, seeks to collapse these three distinctive terms so as to render their differences unintelligible. Take, for instance, the following excerpts:

                                    Name me perception
                                    name me economy
rows of turnstops
lanes of traffic
halls cubicles queues
                 order number and sign
                 away my body
                 one department or another (4)

We implore you exhale city smoke and invite us
within garneted sanctuary damp cavern
architectures making way songs and bodies
rending walls porous to sound silken soiled (5)

Vowels roll drip down thighs
conjunctions across backs

I put on my city

city built line on line body on body
alphabet buried beneath street
cross-sectioned-fluid-fattened (7)

Yes, the poet builds the “city” from “line on line” in the poem, but also of “body on body.” But these bodies themselves are made of language, such that “Vowels roll…down thighs” and one can find “conjunctions across backs.” The city, likewise, becomes a body, at the least to the extent that the speaker claims that she can “put on my city” as if it were a detachable skin. Furthermore, the city is language, wherein one can “exhale” it through articulation, capturing its “architectures” in “song.”

No longer can we tell where one entity begins and another ends. Instead, all three are enwrapped in a tri-folded chiasmus such that they are indistinguishable from one another.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Noah Falck

30 Sep

“Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war” wrote Russian critic Victor Shklovsky. In order to prevent this, he asks artists “to increase the difficulty and length of perception.” For Shklovsky, defamiliarization is essential because “art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” Maybe this explains how Noah Falck’s debut collection, Snowmen Losing Weight, can be simultaneously so surreal and so deeply corporeal.

Falck’s poems return the world its strangeness. Even seemingly straightforward descriptions feel weirdly askew. For example, in the poem “Interval between Beating Pulse and Sunrise” Falck writes:

Lastly, the insects grind a kind of static into the night. Lastly, the hair on your back is shaping up to be another Massachusetts. A toy in a cereal box. You’ve lived to tell about it with clean hands. I am all of a sudden. Or the tongue in the mouth saying, the last time was a lake reflection, a windshield wiper held in place by ice.  (44)

There’s a kind of significance created by simplicity in Snowmen. Instead of eliminating ambiguity, Falck’s laconic descriptions somehow make his poems more elliptical. Further, through Falck’s surreal reportage, he creates a kind of unity in tone that troubles the idea of significance. An example is “Inside the Inside Joke.” Falck begins the poem with these lines, “I keep seeing people/ who look exactly like you// and the clouds keep/ running into all the buildings.// I have to think for a minute/ or two” (32). In Falck’s poems, all events are made equal, so the significant and the quotidian collapse into each other, and such distinctions are proven imaginary. This can lead to a sense of arbitrariness, which is heightened by the “crossword” poems that punctuate Snowmen….  The poems, titled things like “5. Across” or “19. Down,” posit an America that is continually expanding out into space. For instance, in “13. Across” Falck writes:

The conversation ends with a sigh.
Enough is enough.

The emptiness of a white room
passes time like solitaire.

Nothing will ever be as it once was,
when we listened to music backwards
and dreamed of making love to the police.

Tonight, the television plugs the World Series—
the elevator is cluttered with cancer patient footprints

and on the fourth floor, grandpa is plugged with pins
on his deathbed. (36)

The evenness of Flack’s language delineates a country where everything is happening at once and simultaneity is a kind of meaning.

Also striking about Snowmen… are the poems that capture the choreography of our lives. For example, in “From a Desk” Falck writes, “Once upon/ a time in a crowded locker room twenty-/ two women waxed lips in unison” (4). These poems could almost be scenes in a musical. In “13. Down” Falck writes:

The night studied our bodies
with its callused hands.
We leaned like kitchen knives
and watched the waitress
two-step around decaffeinated beverages.
Between blinks there was a constant shift,
time kept killing itself in tiny circles.  (7)

In these poems, serendipity is created through simultaneity. In “18. Down,” Falck writes:

The moon marks the rooftops with silver […]
Across town, a radio emits a mess
of static from a fire escape where a woman
takes off her coat like a superhero […]
There’s a black cat with scholarly eyes, parading,
and hiccups channeling from the New Moon Saloon,
where two friends swallow bourbon in unison,
oblivious to the fact that they are sleeping
with the same beautiful woman. (9)

The continual coincidence of the random in Snowmen… is what gives the book cohesion. There’s an omniscience to Snowmen…, but not in any metaphysical sense. These poems’ only transcendence is estrangement, the way they are able to show us our lives as a performance we’ve forgotten we’re in. This omniscient perspective doesn’t mean there’s no “I” in Snowmen… however. Someone has to be there to hold the camcorder, and this I is present as more than just a type of attention. In “The Last Time I Ate a Hamburger It Was Raining,” Falck writes:

The light of the day had given up and fallen behind
the tallest buildings I had ever seen—somewhere
between 24th & 35th, though it could have been between
Liberty & Church. Regardless, you were there with me […]
I rubbed my belly first before pulling your wet
body onto mine, the people around us were the fungal shapes
of a dream, they were the silhouettes of silhouettes
melting into the afternoon and I think I was in love. (11)

Falck is very much in these poems, both as the person seeing and the person seen.

The estrangement in Snowmen.. isn’t mutually exclusive with intimacy. “You” is the most common pronoun in book. Falck is not talking to the abstract reader; he is talking to you, and particularly affecting is the closeness he can create while keeping the reader a stranger. In “Staring Contest,” Falck writes:

In your eyes, a traffic light, a backyard of paperbacks, a Home Depot. In your eyes recycle bins fill with history books, a collection of lightening rods from 1989 […] In your eyes, marching bands. In your eyes the clapping of several simultaneous first kisses in the shade of a Mexican sitcom […] (51)

The need to address this “you” is the engine of Snowmen… If we can lose ourselves in familiarity, we can lose ourselves in strangeness too, and Falck’s speakers find ways of inhabiting what can be, at times, a profoundly alienating life. For example, in “In a Room Doubling as a Hallway,” Falck writes:

I whisper to you a pillow away
that the President is being taken care

of, and then our unscripted dreams
struggling, black hungry

failures of hope, unbuttoned episodes
with the architecture of blindfolded men […]

where the wind is a wingless insect muscling a serenade […]

where our old lovers marry,

breast-feed, and mow crooked lines behind white picket fences […]  (23)

This intimacy is only underscored by the fact that each copy of Snowmen… is handmade and unfolds like a Jacob’s ladder, and this says something about the contract Snowmen… makes with its reader. Snowmen…, however, is also intimate in the other sense of the word as well. Falck’s poetry can be sensual, but manages to do so without feeling cloying or fetishistic.  In “Cincinnati,” Falck writes:

Drink a bottle of Tequila in the dining room. Expand internally. She’ll leave lipstick on the scruffy portion of your check […] Undress her slowly in a room fumbling with public television light where the shadows crowd the curtains; carve a thick mutilated forest on the walls. When morning comes […] [l]et the songs happen. Let the sun slip across the room to paint her lips a water-color orange. (48)

Surrealism then, for Falck, becomes a way of approaching the world, a way of touching it again, like it was still new.

Noah Falck’s world is both the world I live in, and the world I wished I lived in. And maybe, that’s what’s most beautiful about the text, that it brings those two a little closer together while still recognizing the essential difference between them.

Noah Falck at North High Brewing (05/11/13)

22 May

On 11 May, Columbus, OH Matt McBride hosted a reading at North High Brewing that featured the poet Noah Falck. Falck read from his first full-length collection Snowmen Losing Weight (BatCat Press, 2012), as well as new poems from a series called Celebrity Dream Poems. Below are a few videos of the reading.

First, here’s Falck reading “Celebrity Dream Poem: Madona”:

Here’s another video of Falck reading “Celebrity Dream Poem: Jay-Z”:

And finally, watch Falck battle crowd noise from the bar while performing a humorous rendition of his poem “5. Across“: