The Constant Critic: Jordan Davis’s review on Michael Palmer and Dorothy Barresi

In a more recent addition to The Constant Critic, Jordan Davis reviews Michael Palmer’s and Dorothy Barresi’s newer works, while additionally discussing larger issues of what is being done through poetry and how poetry is changing.

One particular passage that discusses this is as follows:

“There’s a tendency in poetry of the last forty years, a decrease in paraphrasable substance, a diminution of affect and increase in aesthetic polish. This tendency leads straight to a hyperaestheticized (and campy if you ask me) kind of work that the popular kids wrote and liked five or ten years ago. The popular kids go to the moon. A very spare kind of mournful almost meaning-free kind of work. Almost—there are referents, something is being talked about—but usually it’s a break-up poem, a renunciation, a history of gardening. There’s a line at the end of one of the sections of Notes for Echo Lake, “In the poem he learns to turn and turn, and prose seems always a sentence long.” Not in my experience, it doesn’t—if anything, prose seems always to claim to be getting to a point that takes another sentence, while making sure you feel like you’re getting there each time. Some of it is beautiful and some of it leads to what the critic John Palattella calls the cul de sac, a safety aesthetic in which there’s no (these cliches are mine) risk no engagement with anything other than other aesthetics.”

To view the rest, please go to: Thread by Michael Palmer (New Directions, 2011) and American Fanatics by Dorothy Barresi (Pitt Poetry Series, 2010).

For additional reading on Davis’s review, please see John Gallaher’s response to the review at his blog, Nothing to Say and Saying It.

Poems of the Week

THREE POEMS, THREE POETS

BOB HICOK

Watching My Father Watch (Seriously) “Joy in a Can”

He pointed the remote at the screen and said,
he’s dead, she’s dead, though they were singing
in bright colors. This went on so long
I thought the entire choir had passed,
to treat death as an hour or car. On the edge
of his chair, smiling, loving, he said,
not the Jesus words but the meld
of voices to voice. By smile
I mean a child’s when the wish of a bike
or hawk goes by. At eighty, he must think
of the dead as his people, of song
as what awaits. A bike going by, a hawk,
the skitter of some bottom-shine
that could be spoon or cross,
a bit of mirror holding the river
to the river, that blinks
when the river blinks, erased by what it sees
as it is sees it. Not to say that life
is or isn’t a river or glass of water
beside in the dry night. It’s good to know
what one is or isn’t saying
about the shapes of desire. A dead woman
singing of a place where no one dies
with so much make-up on, it was as if her face
had long ago left her, and in its place,
hung this idea of what it looks like to try
to convince yourself you are blessed.

JORDAN DAVIS

For Dylan Moran, or After Him

The instructive disappearing act
of a hallway of misanthrope nematodes—

you see enough basic cable
you get the sense someone is following your great friend

with a balloon
of morons…

And here’s the amazing thing,
all our simpatico guest-starring

can’t pressure a simple hello
into that tube top.

CHARMI KERANEN

Seney

It’s slow going

waiting for the rock
to become a fish

the log
to become a grebe

the eagle’s nest hovers
naked and known

but who in their right mind
would leave

the SUV to fight the deer flies

100,000 ticks per moose

*

We used a retractable razor blade
to scrape the inspection stickers

from each window carefully

safe for another year

yes, there was a forest fire

a virgin pine burn

then blue buckets of berries
all those following years

the town was skirted
like a woman

you’re dying to surround

Hemingway said

The Big Two-Hearted

was more poetic

*

all from Passages North 31.1 (2010), Ed. Austin Hummell

Poems of the Week

FOUR POEMS, THREE POETS

NANCY KUHL

Grieving Narcissus

sound decaying within the ear
and without your chaos memory
born of blue contemplation an eye
first revealing bones or that ever-
wavering reflection and how you are
exceptional again and I observe
your lips open around see, I and
naturally I want to reply but
the last lasting dream of tiny frogs
filling my unhinged mouth keeps me
aloft and alert and dressed in disquiet
when you say green as the story goes
you say in this light and slantingly
at the far edge of a fine afternoon but
it’s been raining for days even in this
corner room where I waited and waited
where I heard almost every word

ELIZABETH WILLIS

Blasted Hymn

Morning swings
its wave above your head
A proper undertow of history
and ahistory, the bank
with its barricade of brass
Winter-kill against
the outweighed garden
A vase obstructing
your pictorial turn
It’s coming on like a cold
It’s filling your sails
with a future-scented wind
Heaven help you
keep its secrets
You who placed
your trust like a pearl
into this dirty shell
The force of habit
takes you on
like a chair
you think you’ll paint
or lean on

ELIZABETH WILLIS

Extended Forecast

If lace in the machine
then air in the head of the lilac

The face up close
is up against the minted wind

Overseen like labor
overlooked like a valley

G. C. WALDREP

discrete series: WET PASTORAL

this spell folds toward you,
here, the wax birds are

spreading their little cloths:

new water rations: you
make something higher,

out of hair maybe, & hoist
relenting towards it, flange

of body in the rental dark:

you watch there, as through
vent or some unobtrusive

substrate: substance:

bent on capture: imperfect
save for signature, & that

not liquid, something
satisfaction had been saving:

the ladder falls, touches
the ground, you burn it

& then build another ladder:

you can’t “see” the country:

you consult the manual,
spleens glisten: it’s not as if

science were watching you:

radius/broadfall/marshlight:

illegible notes somebody,
yourself maybe, scrawled on
the back of your left hand:

*

all from Denver Quarterly 45.3 (2011), Ed. Bin Ramke

Poems of the Week

FOUR POEMS, FOUR POETS

Jon Loomis

Conspiracy Theory

It starts with a flash, and then snow –
dither of sparrows, winter clenching its teeth.
One day you’re out walking: your shoes

sink into the pavement, the white van
pulls up to the curb. Of course
they deny the whole thing, whoever they are

in their joke-shop masks: one like Reagan,
one like Felix the Cat. You worry too much,
they tell you, adjusting your chains. It’s bad

for your health. You nod, keep your mouth shut.
The snow smells like smoke. The sparrows
rustle their leathery wings.

John Gallaher

The First Chance I Get I’m Out Of Here

In the dream you had
you died
and then you awoke.

I had to draw the line, as there
is a corridor between all things.

The lighting is always too dim.

How else could we find ourselves
outside the story of us,
where the evil twin or the ugly twin
or the twin who is damaged
is walking back and forth above you
in the attic
talking about America.

For all things we want to say
there is an inexpressible center.

So what is there to do
but to climb the stairs
with this hatchet?

Kimiko Hahn

A Dream of a Pillow

Zealous beast or mother,
zealous marshmallow, zealous feathers.

Although the neuroscientist

does not declare in print, So what,
she believes that the brain

observes props and scene
in a lucid watchfulness

which may play out proverb or verse
or be utterly meaningless.

Zealous codeine. Zealous noose.

Rick Bursky

Cardiology

Seven years ago I bought a pair of crutches,
just in case. Each Sunday morning I practiced
walking with them, bent my left leg back
from the knee as if the ankle had been mangled
while stepping onto the escalator.
I also practiced with the other leg unable
to support its proper share of weight.
A surgeon sold hearts he carved from oak.
Some people have nothing to lose,
he said, sanding a pulmonary vein.
I cooked breakfast with an arm in a sling
made from an ill-fitting shirt. Yes, practice.
Once the beauty of the oak is absolute
the surgeon places it where a heart is required,
then sews with attention not typically lavished
on those who’ve lost everything.
Twice each week the phone rings
at three in the morning. I never answer.
Someone is practicing sad news, I’m certain.
An oak will one day grow from my heart.
No amount of practice can prepare you
for the first push through dirt.

*

all from Field 83 (2010), Eds. David Young and David Walker

Christine Garren’s The Difficult Here, review by Ryan Smith

Christine Garren – The Difficult Here. 42 Miles Press, 2011. $12. Reviewed by Ryan Smith.

The Difficult Here by Christine Garren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More so than with any poet I’ve yet to read, Christine Garren’s poems always leave me with an impression of what I imagine to be her ‘process’, which is the only word at hand for what feels like the machinations of a writer with the abstract, nuanced, first-mover kind of creative patience that forgotten deities would do well to gather around to take notes on.

These poems are absolutely precise, pristine, free of any recognizable scaffolding, having been spun into motion and carefully watched over, waiting for each of these scenes to suss themselves out with a Darwinian cruelty towards the unnecessary. The ‘scenes’ come in and out of view not so much with quickness as with a quiet consciousness of whatever it is a particular poem might do on its page, refusing to mill around at either beginning or end, waiting to be noticed.

In several of these pieces an attitude almost resistant to the reader-viewer flares, opening with a biting bitterness toward “the young, // with their fake cleavages and fake fingernails and fake-colored hair–that cheap / looking flock”. Like all of lines here, this scathing sweep never really swings home; there’s a periphery of empathy constellating around, a subtle but emotional tell that pulls this compelling chapbook together. This feeling of continuity was my central, overarching feeling while finishing this book, as its titular lines show in the poem ‘Late January’:

“In the air that was violently cold, in the grey unforgiving light of morning
I drove past miles and miles of houses. Forever the road went
and though it was the end of January, in every other yard it seemed
a fake wretched-looking reindeer stood abandoned–or a life-sized creche
wasted in the freezing weather. In the end it was impossible to ignore
the repeated frostbitten glare of the virgin staring out into the street
or the elegant, flesh-eaten camel who stood beside her infant
swaddled in ice–as they stayed on this year, living with us
a little longer now–suddenly stranded in the difficult here.”

While this poem seems lonely in its absence of any human presence save the speaker, it stands with an even greater degree of starkness in the context of the rest of the book, where life and motion teem over. This poem seems to me one way to frame the rest of the book, in that the compartmentalized feeling of each poem and their swift arrivals and departures remind me of the houses the speaker likewise passes; the ‘here’ becomes both some faintly concrete place as well as a more heady location carried through all of the poems, stringing them together like the various trees mentioned in nearly every poem both figuratively and, faintly again, literally as they can be found manning the gaps of the textual landscape from one piece to the next.

The ‘here’ is so difficult because of the experience of reality itself, passing as one does through the grey murk between both joy and bitterness with either too much speed or not enough, lulling around at times in the wet late of a January, the decorations either forgotten or somewhere near it, looking as weathered as we all usually do. The warmth of the holiday has passed–everything is passing–but will, of course, be coming around (and leaving) again. The ‘here’ is the small moment, the tedious and unforgiving one that sits between the various, kindly-regarded ‘real’ moments that constitute the whole of life. But even these moments and micro-moment snapshots prove rich, exponentially layered with even the fewest lines. There’s a grace to this, and a grace to such moments that Garren allows to permeate this chap; the effect is light but stalwart, never letting both feet on the ground while making a kind of ineffable sort of stand. Just don’t expect superficial, easy meaning to answer you in return; ‘here’, we’re absolutely on our own, whatever we make that out to mean:

The Living Star

“we forget we are dying
and spin
on and on drifting nearer
then apart–living just as you do–all the time
we see you in the fields near your Autumn fires–your faces tilted upwards
toward us
as if we held an answer–when we live just as you do–nothing
about us is free”

‘The Difficult Here’ is the first book from Indiana University South Bend’s 42 Miles Press.

Zachary Schomburg’s from the fjords, review by Clayton T. Michaels.

Zachary Schomburg – from the fjords. Spork, 2010. $10. Reviewed by Clayton T. Michaels.

With the publication of 2009’s Scary, No Scary, Zachary Schomburg cemented his status as one the most compelling and original poets publishing today. As with his debut full-length The Man Suit, his less-is-more aesthetic, which relies primarily on repetition to create rhythms and build tension, made Scary, No Scary both incredibly readable and deceptively dense; it holds up to multiple readings and reveals something new each time.

Schomburg’s latest is from the fjords, a chapbook from the ultra-hip Spork Press, and it is another fantastic collection from a poet who seemingly can do no wrong. This is not to say, however, that from the fjords is a kind of Scary, No Scary redux; in some ways, the poems in this chapbook are a departure from Schomburg’s usual style. For starters, the repetition that was such a large part of his previous work is much less frequent in this collection, making it seem more varied than some of his previous work; each of the prose poems in this chapbook could stand alone instead of seeming like parts of a longer sequence. There is, however, still a great deal of thematic unity that makes the lack of repetition seem more like a natural evolution in style than some kind of radical reinvention. His characteristic dark sense of humor is still very present in these poems, too: for example, in ‘Meat Counter,’ the speaker wakes up inside the meat display case in his grandfather’s grocery store; in ‘New Job Serving Fried Pies,’ the speaker’s three co-workers mysteriously drop dead inside their pie trailer; and in ‘The Donut Hawk,’ the speaker is hunting, as the title would suggest, hawks made out of donuts.

Any review of from the fjords would be incomplete without a mention of the look of the chapbook itself. From a purely aesthetic perspective, Spork is putting out some of the best looking chapbooks around—with their letterpressed rawboard covers and hinged spines, they look like hardback children’s books from the 1970’s, and each book comes with a two-color vinyl sticker of the book’s cover art. A lot of time and care clearly goes into the design of each chapbook, which is one more reason to own a copy.

Kelcey Parker’s For Sale By Owner, review by Ryan Smith.

Kelcey Parker – For Sale By Owner. Kore Press, 2011. $16. Reviewed by Ryan Smith.

For Sale By Owner by Kelcey Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelcey Parker’s debut collection of stories will leave you feeling, among other things, very surprised. The surprise at work is not because of the material she works with—the seemingly quotidian bricks of the domestic Midwestern suburbs—but in the way she infuses those materials with a truly unique velocity and darkly playful touch. The suburbs and soccer moms and unfaithful husbands aren’t the ones you read about in books or watch on sitcoms, but the ones you yourself drive past every day and speculate about as your mind wanders.

To me these stories have done what few have managed, and that is to bypass what we think we mean with terms like ‘realist’ that are supposed to reference a familiar framework—our own ‘real’ lives. So we’ll find ourselves or people we know in them, their stories are ours, and so goes their supposed (and often effective) premise. But Parker has done the real trick, has reached a territory of the real that shows just how far fiction of this typ might push when it bothers to stop and trouble itself first. You might not find your story in this collection but they all seem close at hand, in the yelling from the neighbor’s house or the lone woman you spot checking into a dingy motel.

I was also at all times enjoyably perplexed by the emotions and humor Parker has woven, complicating every thought and piece of dialogue such that it seems one might labor under the very real sensation of experiencing several, even conflicting emotions at once. Are these stories hopeful? Nihilistic? Heartbreaking? Heart-affirming? Every sentence seems to turn where you think they’re going, which is the real key to this kind of reality, the one we genuinely recognize as our own: the stories don’t know, the characters don’t, just as we often don’t. Sometimes we do feel affirmed or utterly broken, but such concrete places are few—these stories aren’t selling anything or playing dress-up.

This notion leads to my final appreciation which is that this collection feels like it comes from a veteran source; there’s no lack of confidence or deftness to Parker’s gesturing, a steadied hand at the wheel as she careens us around the burning suburbs of her sophisticated, sharply imagined inner world.

June 11: Kalamazoo Book Arts Center’s “Poets in Print”

Taking place at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, Adam Clay and Pablo Peschiera will be reading on June 11th at 7pm. Broadsides featuring the poets’ work, created by KBAC artists, Lauren Scharfenberg and RobE, will also be available for sale and signing among the poets’ other works.

The reading is free to attend and open to the public, and refreshments will be available.

Doors open at 6:30pm, and the reading will begin at 7pm.

Adam Clay is the author of The Wash (Parlor Press) and A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World, which is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, and elsewhere. He co-edits Typo Magazine, and since 2008 has been the coordinator and editor of the Poets in Print series at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. He lives in Kalamazoo with his wife and daughter.

Pablo Peschiera’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pleaides, Shenandoah, Copper Nickel, and other places, and he writes and edits reviews for Diagram. He teaches at Hope College in Holland, MI, and he’s currently reading Pinker’s The Language Instinct.

Kalamazoo Book Arts Center
Suite 103A, Park Trades Center
326 W. Kalamazoo Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Click here to view this event and the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center Website

Poems of the Week

FOUR POEMS, FOUR POETS

JULIET COOK

Venus Tree

I planted my oranges with teeth.
I offered my crush a piece of spiked fruit;
next thing I knew, he was missing an arm.

Could this be transcendence in a newfangled way
or were we just consuming each other? How do we
move past our mutilation into our desired sweet bite?

Forbidden to talk about hunger, we suffer
involuntary movements of the tongue—
weevils, vowels, forking out.

My tongue flicking, my limbs twitching
like orange-splotched salamander tails.
I wanted to chew and swallow, but I spewed it—

a bloody spume of glitter dripping down.

CAROLINA EBEID

Havoc Yonder World

The hours pass like bloodhounds & flashlights
trailing a criminal through the ever-
greens. “See with what heat these Dogs of Hell advance,”

says the book. (It is safe there.) No room
left to walk out of in eastern Tennessee.
See with what wind the adjectives begin

to disappear. Pasture gone of its gradations
of green, stripped of its flitty-winged, worn through
to its last musky dank. You lowered storm-

screens & deadbolted doors, yet trouble came.
No reason & no right season: it advances
under snow skies glinting as the bluing

on a rifle; under sun-drenched citrus
trees, how like the derailing of a train
it comes, the shrieking wind knocked out of you.

(I put my hand
over my mouth

I put my hand
over my mouth)

BRENT GOODMAN

To the Student Who Asked You What My Poems Mean

for David Graham

I cannot find my hands. Nor will a tongue against
wet cobblestone help triangulate one’s
penultimate destination. Let us first turn
our desks into a circle. From the street I cannot locate
the original box the Xmas lights came in, though from space
the earth does appear to explain somewhat the question
of surface tension. At eye level one might say
we still share monkey hair down there. Such soft places
grow wild between us. Page 53 for example. Say chesterfield, say
gingham, say Burl Ives. You see I’m only visiting. Can you
not make the reading? For the life of me I can’t comprehend
this motel nightstand testament. I’m a little taken aback
by that. Please explain to me the difference
between indifference and differed inference. Stare down
the cat. Stare down the barrel of a flower. Yes I am
imagining your tantric flush right now. Say dissonance,
because it rhymes with childhood. Allow me to rephrase:
I cannot find my legs, nor is the full-length mirror
perched against my precarious procrastination (see
Appendix A of my forthcoming). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not
guarding my words as much as skinnying them out
for a midnight swim. I shouldn’t have mentioned
“the ear in my chest” nor the probable whereabouts
of “Future Brent.” You won’t catch me
tea-bagging the char of the GOP. Is that too
duplicative? I do not wish to imply
your SUV dredges home the same anchor moon
mind does most nights. So now we know ourselves
better? Regarding the strongest synonyms for subtext,
will this burning geographical survey suffice? I mean
I’ve finally found my feet and they weren’t at all
where I remember planting them.

LOUISE MATHIAS

Satine

I know there were years

I lived in the valley

of what couldn’t be true.

But how to explain

the way its inhabitants called me? His violent way

of looking at the world,

the way the hummingbird’s chin

was indigo in light, then suddenly, marauders.

How I fingered my ruffles and wept. You could say it was wrong,

but the moment seemed grosgrain and urgent. So I hung

my belief on a hook (little noose).

Like a slip you might leave at his place;

what was once

so pale and alive there.

*

all from Barn Owl Review 4 (2011), Eds. Mary Biddinger and Jay Robinson