A first turn through the pages of this magazine finds me among most entertaining aned engaging of accomplices and interlocutors. I’m about where Jordan was when he gave it his enthusiastic approval the first time around—and like Jordan I find the editors’ sensibilities consonant with mine. Jennifer Moxley’s poems, which open the journal, are rueful meditations on how quickly political engagement can turn to empty formalism; at the same time, these are also, it seems, a reflection on Moxley’s poetics, and they evince her obligation to a continued engagement with poetic (as well as political )form, if she is to maintain the integrity and intensity of disposition that readers have come to expect from her. The stunning last poem, surreal in the best sense of the term—an engagement with, rather than withdrawal, from the real—with its post-apocalyptic mall scene, seems to set up a image reservoir that the rest of the journal, oddly, keeps drawing from. Some kind of revenant keeps returning throughout these poems—in Alice Notley’s spare and broken and absence-haunted songs; in Raymond McDaniel’s Oulipo meets Hopkins meets Night of the Living Dead meets Mother Goose; in Gillian Conoley’s Frankenstein. No zombies in Moxley’s poem, but I’m reminded that malls and other places of public exchange are, of course, the sites of choice for undead hordes because there, within the regurgitated melodies and brand-lighting and must-have non-needs, they blend right in. This makes The Canary less the kind that sings kindly by the window than the kind you take into the coal-mine. It’s also a nice object—the not-quite-sky-blue, artless cover lets us look through to the contents, and I find the font and the not-quite-square size of the thing particularly satisfying: where too big meets too small, where things do not equal themselves, yep, there’s poetry.
There are lots of other poems that deserve mention—Brenda Shaughnessy, Philip Jenks, Anne Boyer (we love you! come out of the barn and publish your book!) and Joshua Clover, whose sublime The Totality for Kids just arrived. I need a couple of days to think on this book before I can say a few words about it. Do get a copy, though.
Pretty Young Thing (Danielle Pafunda)
Someone should write an article about poets like Danielle, Heidi Lynn Staples and Lara Glenum, among others, who it seems are working hard to reanimate/ disinter the seemingly decomposed (and not so exquisite) corpse of surrealism and the powers of negation it offers us in this particular damaged and damaging time. Danielle’s book reminds me of Lara’s (which I reviewed here) to a certain degree: they have a milieu in common (places called Body and Non-Body)—but the poems in PYT don’t use the narrative or topical frames that one finds in Hounds of No. Danielle’s book truly goes on its nerve, pushing forward, Beckett-like, by a thread of texture or by dint of poetic will and desire. The long poems in this book are particularly good, continuously generating and then displacing narratives as they go—here a wedding, an operation, subjectivity, sex, here womanhood in all its intellectual and biological armature. One can hear, to a certain sense, the riddling and riddled textures of Berryman’s Dream Songs and Dickinson’s best poems. Indeed, you could probably make the case that the form of these poems is, in many cases, an example of the seven-beat line which some prosodists have found occasion to think of as a kind of ballad meter (two lines for the price of one):
When I got out in the weather, the weather was missing. The hour
slit like an electric cord, splintered, and fused to the pavement.
There was a space in the road where I thought a handsome cab should be.
There was really a space, and you would’ve been here to fill it.
Not incidentally, that handsome cab does appear in the final line of the book. But it’s on fire:
At the end of Oklahoma, only the haystack was burning. The surrey.
Last but not least, I wanted to mention that those of who are in New York early next week should go see Ben Lerner read at the Poetry Project on Monday, Mar. 13 (8:00 p.m). Ben’s Angle of Yaw (out from Copper Canyon late this year, or early next year) was one of the highlights of my 2005 reading season. You can find a chunk from the book in the recent Conjunctions. There’s a fierce directness and clarity and license to Ben’s poems. As well as anyone, Ben gets the feeling of the present moment—its vertigo, its floating blidnesses, its perversities—right.
Sunday, March 05, 2006