Tag Archives: Poor Claudia

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.

The Chapbooks of Jeff Alessandrelli

22 Apr
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I met Jeff Alessandrelli in the autumn of 2008; but it wasn’t until winter/spring of 2009, when both of us enrolled in a poetic forms course at University of Nebraska, that we became close friends. After a few conversations, I learned that we shared similar poetic interests, listened to a lot of the same music, both owned dogs, and enjoyed drinking shitty beer until the wee hours of the morning, amongst other things. When you’re stuck a cornfield for nearly five years, you’re lucky to find someone with the same malformed interests.

Now that I live in Cleveland, OH and Jeff in Portland, OR, we don’t get to see each other as often as before; but every couple of months, I’ll receive a package from him that contains a new chapbook. Yes, Alessandrelli has been a bit of a chapbook machine during the last 14 months, coming out with three terrific collections.

Poor Claudia published the first of these chapbooks and released it at the 2012 AWP in Chicago, IL. Titled Don’t Let Me Forget to Feed the Sharks (which I’ve written about before, elsewhere), the book contains one of my favorite Alessandrelli poems, “Spring in the New Year.” It reads in its entirety:

Partial inventory of all items left dripping in the kitchen: one faucet, two knives. According to the fancy new guidebook I bought, you don’t go crazy all by yourself. Out of some freshly sealed envelope of darkness, every morning we have to invent the sun in order to see it, have to invent the sky’s cherry-blue backdrop in order to witness the sun’s milky light. Eventually there comes a point, though, when our inventions fail us: patentless, faulty, we wake up in some vaguely familiar pitch black. Yesterday was different we think, without entirely understanding how or why. But now it is the first day of spring and—reverent—we take the time to remember. Today is the first day of spring. Half-weighted flashlights aimed and ready, we ceaselessly pray that we will never ever have less. (21)

The cherry on top of this book, so to speak, is the artifact itself. Poor Claudia has done a fine job creating some amazing books, and this collection is no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with their product, I suggest heading over to their site and purchasing something.

For this year’s AWP in Boston, the relatively new Imaginary Friend Press released Alessandrelli’s People are Places are Places are People. While the artifact is a bit more in line with a no frills D.I.Y. aesthetic (as opposed to Poor Claudia’s more artisan approach), the collection contains some of Alessandrelli’s strongest poems. Two of my favorites are the opener, “Understanding Marcel Duchamp,” which reads:

One morning—I’m not sure why, maybe some type of lack or definition of half-tawdry want—I woke up, saw my neighbor’s bike lying in his driveway and just beat the shit out of it, just pummeled and crumbled and wracked and irrevocably dismantled it until what it was couldn’t even be called “bike” anymore; it was something else entirely. Then I went to work. When I got home that night my neighbor’s driveway was empty, his garage closed. The bike was gone, all its recognizable parts absent, vanished, shaped into new and heretofore incalculable realities. (1)

And two poems later, “Understanding Mina Loy (Everything, Everything, Everything)”:

I will refrain from discussing
the role of the lover.

Always burn the sheets
after you fuck in them. (4)

In the Elisa Gabbert-penned introduction to the collection, we’re told that an Alessendrelli poem is like “a place where you can know something but not believe, and vice versa; a place where understanding is not deeper knowledge but an alternative kind of access.” Or, as Gabbert, states later, these poems do “not tell us what [the poet] know, but to find out” something about ourselves while reading them. Indeed, when reading these poems, we enter into a process of discovery with the poet.

And just this month, the newly minted Both Books released a third Alessandrelli chapbook: A Lover’s History of Nevada. In this collection, the poet (a Reno, NV native) creates a liminal space filed with poetry, fiction, and historical non-fiction collaged into an off-beat guide to the Silver State. Take, for instance, the chapbook’s first piece:

Upon birth we slap the cheeks of every infant in Nevada until they bleed. To make sure he wasn’t born a wizard. To make sure she wasn’t born a witch. The old saying Go Fuck Your Soul means little in Nevada: forks weren’t introduced to our citizens until the mid-80’s, sandals didn’t arrive until just after the new millennium. In Nevada Y2K was a water rat that gnawed out the side of its cage and died quietly. A red sports car without wheels. The Humboldt River has no actual outlet to the ocean; it simply sinks into the ground, feeding a massive underground aquifer. The largest single public works project in the history of the nation, Hoover Dam contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. In Nevada. How the bike tires and automobile tires ravish and splendor the pavement, the concrete, the desert sands as they make their every way to Burning Man, the largest annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance the whole world over. We are a state of grievous angels, each of us ceaselessly attempting to burn our wings for nothing but the sheer sake of spectacle. You go first. Wait for me. (1)

The collection proceeds in similar fashion and, as Alexis Orgera writes of the book, creates an “amalgam of factoid, mythos, and rhythm” that “pays homage to [the poet’s] home state, exploring its landscape and the relationships therein through various states of being.”

Alessandrelli’s full-length collection The Last Time Will Be The First Time, will be published by Burnside Books later this year. If you live in or around Ohio, you’ll be able to catch Alessandrelli read at The Big Big Mess in Akron, OH on May 10 or in Columbus, OH on May 11 at North High Brewing.

Poor Claudia has a Crush on Sasha Fletcher and DAMMIT so do I.

14 Jan

Right around the time I decided to launch a Vouched table here in Atlanta, Christopher gave me a copy of Sasha Fletcher‘s When All Our Days Are Numbered Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets and We Will Not Hear Them Because We Are Upstairs In the CloudsJust typing out the title makes my threading pulse speed up. Now, just a year or two later, the spine of the book is cracked and white- a callus only my most loved titles can claim.

Then this morning- be still my heart!- I discovered Poor Claudia announced its latest Crush on Sasha. These five poems will win you over! Check out this excerpt from the chap’s first poem this is the year where astonishing things try to kill us (sidenote- Sasha rules with titles):

There are days I feel like waking up and discovering
I am pretty enough to be strapped
to the prow of a ship. If you’ve ever dreamed
of being pretty enough to be strapped to the prow of a ship
raise your hands. Otherwise proceed to the bank.

Further in you’ll find that love is real!!!!!!!!

We are standing on the pier trying to watch the sunset
but it’s not there. instead there are ships
wrecking themselves all over the place. We applaud

Read the rest!