Tag Archives: Selected Poems

Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked

18 Dec

For many, many reasons, I’m unable to review a lot of the books I read. Instead of putting together a “Best of the Year” list, I thought it might be more interesting to create a “Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked” list. Below, then, are a handful of titles I thoroughly enjoyed, along with an excerpt of a poem that I thought was particularly swell:

Blaser, Robin. The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006.

from “Image-Nation I (the fold”

the participation is broken
fished from a sky of fire
the fiery lake pouring itself
to reach here

that matter of language caught
in the fact      so that we
meet in paradise      in such
times, the I consumes itself

the language sticks to
his honey-breath      she is
the path of a tale, a door
to the perishing moonshine,
holes of intelligence
supposed to be in the heart

Gridlley, Sarah. Loom. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2013.

from “Shadows of the World Appear”

It isn’t difficult to remember
how it went.

A wordless world would be a relief
until it expects you to see a horse.

Try to sing and stand where the aspens quiver.
The breeze will always

be almost there. Go back those few steps:
it isn’t difficult to remember:

the wind will always shine as if
it loved its armored riders.

Hall, Joe. The Devotional Poems. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Trailer Park”
In an algorithm of trees exploding in your face, shaved from soap
in a prison cell, in a pair of yellow finches
alighting from high power lines over all these dudes
lying on their beds, palming their cocks, waiting for me
leached from circuits in a baroque array of evolving graphical
representations of a black economy, cancer, subverting process,
O Beast! O Christ!
in the mother fucking sound and the mother fucking light
the iterations of thunder, the bass so high
it hurls you into the grass, Beast!

Hass, Robert, ed. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa. New York, NY: Ecco, 1994.

from Bashō’s “Learn from the Pine”

Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.

The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart.

Wieners, John. Selected Poems: 1958-1984. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1998.

from “Poem for Painters”

                                                    No circles
                           but that two parallels do cross
And carry our soul and bodies
       together as the planets,
                      Showing light on the surface
                              of our skin, knowing
                      that so much of it flows through
                              the veins underneath.
                      Our cheeks puffed with it.
                              The pockets full.

Wilkinson, Joshua Marie. Swap Isthmus. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Upholsterers’ Moon”

so then the moon
drifting way too close
gets leaky

going through treeline when
a voice in the radio
accidentally says your name

Xu, Wendy. You Are Not Dead. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013.

from “We Are Both Sure To Die”

Clutching a tiny molten piece
of someone else’s life. I tried sleeping
in a bed made of heavy light. I tried moving
out into the forest where everything
was a deer. Say you will be nothing or
beside me. How best do you correspond
in the darkness of a year? But look the year
rolls over and gives me a new face. Now
you go toward the ocean with a terrible
spirit of discovery. There is getting to know
your body and disowning it. The ocean says you
are not dead. What else did you want
it to announce?

Zukofsky, Louis. “A.” Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978.

from “A-12”

Together men form one sky.
The sky is a man,
You must know this to understand
Why places are different
And things new and old
Why everywhere things are different,
You cannot find out
By looking at skies alone
But from their effects.
One sky is rich in each of us,
Undivided.
When a child is conceived
It gets a sky for a gift.

I would suggest checking out all these books if you already haven’t. Each one will melt your face in their own special way.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Lisa Jarnot

21 Aug

JarnotBeginning with Norma Cole’s 2009 Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1998-2008, City Lights Books has been releasing contemporary poetry titles under the auspices of their Spotlight Series. According to their website, the series “shines a light on the wealth of innovative American poetry being written today” in an attempt to provide cultural visibility to poets and the small presses on which they normally publish. With strong releases by writers such as Anselm Berrigan, Cedar Sigo, and Cathy Wagner (I’ve previously reviewed her City Lights book Nervous Device), the series has been, to my mind, an unqualified success.

Earlier this year, City Lights Books published the tenth installment of their Spotlight Series: Lisa Jarnot’s Joie De Vivre: Selected Poems 1992-2012. While it might seem odd for a poet with only four full-length collections to release a “Selected Poems,” this volume offers readers new to the poet’s work a wonderful introduction.

Jarnot, born in Buffalo, NY in 1967, studied with Robert Creeley at SUNY-Buffalo and earned her MFA at Brown University. In addition to her books on Burning Deck, Zoland/Salt, and Flood Editions, she is the author of the biography Robert Duncan: The Ambassador of Venus, which the University of California Press published last year. Currently, she lives in New York City, where she’s resided since the mid-90s.

As for her writing, Jarnot has, for the better part of her publishing career, trafficked in the poetics of difference and repetition, recalling, to some extent, a Steinian aesthetic. By employing a finite lexicon in conjunction with an ever-complex re-ordering of those words and their syntax, Jarnot’s poems produce an interesting and, thus, productive tension between the familiar and the strange. Take, for instance, the opening sentences from the prose poem “blood in my eyes,” originally from her first book Some Other Kind of Mission:

Blood in my eyes followed by truck in motel. either severely or proper. followed by police activity. followed by truck in. followed by followed by. followed by truck in motel. at the library. at the truck in motel. at the of. today there where they’re taking me. followed by. i dreamt about and followed by a truck in thence motel. followed by properly.(4)

The poem continues on in this fashion for some time, piling sentence fragment upon sentence fragment, all the while echoing the words “followed by” and “trucks” and “motels.”

This technique, though, becomes even more compelling when, during the time period of Ring of Fire, Jarnot replaces the period with the comma. Gone are the staccato rhythms of fragmented sentences; instead, dense and sinuous sentence structures appear. Augment by these comma-driven syntactical digressions and tangents, the poems become beautiful in their unwieldiness. A wonderful example of this shift in punctuation is “Poem Beginning with a Line by Frank Lima.” Her homage to the oft forgotten New York School poet slides through twenty-one lines of enjambment before its one and only moment of terminal punctuation:

And how terrific it is to write a radio poem
and how terrific it is to stand on the roof and
watch the stars go by and how terrific it is to be
misled inside a hallway, and how terrific it is
to be the hallway as it stands inside the house,
and how terrific it is, shaped like a telephone,
to be filled with scotch and stand out on the street,
and how terrific it is to see the stars inside the radios
and cows, and how terrific the cows are, crossing
at night, in their unjaundiced way and moving
through the moonlight, and how terrific the night is,
purveyor of the bells and distant planets, and how
terrific it is to write this poem as I sleep, to sleep
in distant planets in my mind and cross at night the
cows in hallways riding stars to radios at night, and
how terrific night you are, across the bridges, into
tunnels, into bars, and how terrific it is that you are
this too, the fields of planetary pull, terrific, living
on the Hudson, inside the months of spring, an
underwater crossing for the cows in dreams, terrific,
like the radios, the songs, the poem and the stars. (48)

Yes, the poem becomes “terrific” in its many permutations of the radio, the songs, the cows, and the stars populating its lines as they meander within its singular syntax. The poet finds a way to enliven repetition with a refreshing ecstasy due to her adeptness in recombination; in the hands of a lesser poets, such practices can easily bore a reader, making her achievement all the more remarkable.

But Jarnot is not a one-trick pony. In her later books, she works through different ideas and aesthetics; in “Sinning Skel Misclape” from Night Scenes, for instance, she starts to move away from a poetics of difference and repetition to explore rhyme, meter, and antiquated spellings and pronunciations:

O sinning skel miscalpe thy lock
from frenzied felbred feefs
and longitudes of long tongue fuels
unpebble-dash deceased

Unpebble-dashed, unpebble-dashed,
Unpebble-dash unrose,
up from the theme that random flaps
in news flash rancid hose. (73)

While Jarnot does overload the first two stanzas of this poem with the hyphenated “unpebble-dash,” such repetition takes a back seat to the poem’s other characteristics. Likewise, in Selected Poems’ concluding piece, the fifteen-page “Amedillin Cooperative Nosegay,” the poet explores organic, open-field forms composed, primarily, of catalogs and lists in order to create a fluid and impressionistic account of our modern era.

When all is said and done, though, Jarnot’s poetry continues to resonate because–after the experimentation and language play–her poems still burst both with feeling and beauty. Whether penning lines such as “let them row for days beside the / moon and next to other things less brave” (63), or tugging at the heartstrings with lines like:

and at noon I will fall in love
and nothing will have meaning
except for the brownness of
the sky, and tradition, and water (27)

Jarnot finds a way to capture a moment of emotional intensity with and in language, while simultaneously letting that moment retain the mystery and the wonder which it produces.