Tuesday, January 31, 2017
RALPH LA CHARITY Reviews
MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST by Paul Pines
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2015)
re-Membering the Mix of Time’s Pulsing
I’ve just come from a long dip in enriched waters authored by Paul Pines, a pretty recent collection of poetry by him, MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST (Dos Madres Press, 2015). Of great curious good moment throughout this volume is the matter of Memory, a mystery of august breadth and promise that is taken by the poet through a host of changes. For Pines, memory is a dynamic, a cauldron, a witching lure, a weeping and a singing. It is a final/final promise of being, becoming itself. He has written this book of poetry to celebrate that.
Not that this book is made up of poetry exclusively. There are prose pieces scattered as guidelines throughout, and these prose pieces are crucial to shedding insight into the matter of the book’s central tension : Memory, the poet warns us, in an opening prose salvo, is not a “retrieval bin” of lost moments, but the womb of creation. He quotes Socrates’ last words : “Please don’t forget to pay the debt.”
Pines’ poetry speaks of the “sound // a wall of silence / makes when it falls” . . . this is the beginning of poetry for the estimable Mr Pines, an inscrutable locale “to hold / what can’t be // contained by / memories ” . . . right there, at the very start of this book’s journey, a new dispensation for what poetry can achieve – conflated with memory not as container but as cauldron, the poem implies creation :
“a stranger // to myself / anchored // and adrift / on folded wings // an angel bound / by the desire // to summon / what is // beyond / recall ”
“go back to bed / try to sleep // then wake / to eavesdrop // On a perpetual / conversation // in my head / That speaks // me into life / again ”
Those lines above, fragmented via my crude quotations, are but threads that weave in and out of a 6-part poem entitled “ANDREW WYETH ENTERS HEAVEN,” a poem that finds the poet abed beside his Lady, restless as the dark witching lure of sleeplessness begs him forth, both numb and alert, again and again.
Why the painter Andrew Wyeth, you might well ask, only to be pulled into the light by the very next poem, “ANDREW WYETH ENTERS HEAVEN, II’:
“the created world / as light-catcher // let light call forth /
the dead // as stones / in our orchards // breakers /
along our shore // as waves / breaking against //
our nakedness / on a summer day // as what commands /
light because // it wounds us / with its brilliance ”
That the light might “call forth” is the weeping alarum made flesh by the poem; that light’s brilliance not only alarms but that it also wounds with brilliance . . . what’s
being recollected by the poem actively threatens any sense of containment, yes? We are somewhere else when we are in the throes of this kind of Memory . . .
Having encountered the above, we are yet a bit more than a third into the book when we come to the poem entitled A MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST, no doubt the source of the book’s title. This is a scary poem, and a first pivot point for the collection as a whole :
“the Genius / who begins to whisper /
in our ear as soon as our lips / touch Lethe //
and we drop / screaming / into the / world”
That so-called Genius might well be the Great Real World itself, as Pines then proceeds to skip about, from Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo/Jackie Robinson-era Ebbets Field of his youth, on to the death by gunshot, in Detroit, of Eddie Jefferson, most beloved be-bop hoofer-cum-vocalese innovator from Pines’ time as the Bowery jazz club owner/operator of the now-legendary Tin Palace:
“recording / in the breakdown / of radiated atoms /
a new understanding / of the relationship / between matter /
and energy // the unpredictable / dance //
of particle / and wave ”
Talk about contained memories, eh? And what an oh-so fine tribute to the late jazz great. Or take this, a 10-couplet poem, reprinted whole :
- Again, for Douglas
Holding on to something
past but still alive inside
one forgets and then
when one remembers
it seems so important
not to forget again
I want to say that
forgetting is a merciful act
but when what is recalled
feels essential to being
who one is in the present
I am not so sure
it isn’t more like
has spilled over
on to East Broadway
and there are ducks
in the window
of what used to be
The poet’s faith is tested by Time’s ruination, and who’s to say that memory does not add to that misery? Onward the poet Paul roams, everywhere from CATCHER IN THE RYE to Chance the Gardener, T.S. Eliot, Robert Redford, and Pines’ own maestro-bellwether, Carl Jung :
“Jung / didn’t / have to // read Jung / to become / Jung”
By which time the poet has become old, as becalmed as an ancient jalopy, marooned in comfy Glens Falls with shelves of precious learning and a need to round thru a series of toasts, before the book’s finale. These toasts are warm-hearted but inscrutable, each one dedicated, as were the book’s earlier poems, to first-name-only companeros from the poet’s past :
“re/minds me / to listen for // what follows / instead of //
a thud / a graced note // a touch / unanswered”
The toasts are themselves grace notes, farewells of a sort, part of the book’s final section, A C(L)OCK FOR ASKLEPIOS . . . note how the poet has inserted that parenthetical “L” – it is a deliberate visual cue meant to infuse the ancient proscription
contained in the complete death scene last words of Socrates, quoted in full at the book’s start :
“Crito, we owe a cock to Asklepios. Please don’t
forget to pay the debt.” (from Phaedo)
The “L” that the poet has inserted makes of the ancient injunction a new figure, and one that is reprinted as a diagrammatic painting depicting The World Clock of Wolfgang Pauli, as rendered by W. Beyers-Brown, at the end of the book. Paul Pines thus concludes his poetic celebration of Memory with a most provocative representation of Time . . . the painting makes of Time three distinct circulating pulses, the middle pulse of which is anchored by four discrete, hooded figures in black, each figure hefting a pendulum. The World Cock of the painting is supported upon a black bird in flight.
‘Tis the poet’s own fugit, layered and spiraling, a gyre in his Mind’s Eye, and this, his book of pulses.
Ralph La Charity’s first book of poetry was MONKEY OPERA, published jointly in 1979 by San Francisco’s Bench Press and Kent, Ohio’s Shelly’s Press. His most recent flat spine book was FAREWELLIA a la Aralee, published in 2014 by Dos Madres Press of Loveland, Ohio, from which his most recent collection, litanies said handedly, will be forthcoming shortly. He can be contacted at https://www.facebook.com/ralph.lacharity.
Posted by EILEEN at 4:30 AM
Monday, January 30, 2017
EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Then Go On by Mary Burger
(Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2012)
On one level (among many levels), Mary Burger’s Then Go On seems to be about post-seeing: that is, one sees, and then the questions are What is significant? or What is the significance? If so, such can be apt—what one sees and then how one understands what one sees are two separate steps. What makes Then Go On so endearing to me are what I thought of as “plot twists.” In many of the works, there is no logical or predictable cause-and-effect between what was seen and then what was understood from such witnessing. The whole effect is rather entrancing.
Here’s one example, the poem “I Like Purple.” By the way, I’m calling these writings “poems” but they could be prose or flash fiction or whatever—they’re poems, to me, though they transcend normative genre.
“I like purple,” she says. “I don’t know why.”
She tapes plastic farm animals to a piece of cardboard and calls it a farm. She has colored the cardboard green. We accept her premise.
The truth came out: I did not know how to read.
I show above the first two paragraphs, and then, five paragraphs later, the second-from-last paragraph. How deftly did Burger get there! It also explains why the one-sentence paragraph, “The truth came out: I did not know how to read.” arrived with a pleasurable shock, pleasurable for its unpredictability.
The impact of such “twists” enliven these poems/prose poems. In addition, given such plot twists, it seems logical that many of the endings are just fantastically powerful, e.g. the ending to “A Series of Water Disasters, 1”:
"Standing there in the sunny white passageway filling with seawater, with water that would not be still until the surface was level with the sea, I realized then that my mother’s faith would drown me."
My favorite attribute I’d ascribe to this collection is lucidity: it generates such impactful-ly wise lines as
“Some lives bear no resemblance to the things that happen in them.”
—from “A Series of Water Disasters, 4”
Here’s another example that I share from randomly opening the book:
“The way shoots come off a new shrub uncontrollably, in all directions. The exuberance of growing is too much to contain. The exuberance will have to be contained, which will mean eliminating some of it.”
—from “The Man Without Stumps”
Such lucidity also results in “All New Yorker Stories,” a tour de force poem of seemingly about New Yorker stories, but is actually much more. It’s an analysis as much as it is a review as it offers its own litany of significances as generated by the poet’s imagination and separate from the referenced works (two stories are footnoted at end of work to imply scaffolding: they were what were being referenced as the poet wrote our her work). Burger’s poem is separate from the stories she read in the way cake is separate from flour, milk, eggs, cinnamon, salt, et al. But the ingredients were actually their own cakes—what was read was stories, not words from a dictionary—but the point is that these cakes also became ingredients for Burger’s cake. (I write the next two sentences after this parenthetical as what I think to be a Mary Burger twist:) The critic suddenly realizes it’s 8 p.m. and she hadn’t eaten all day. Where’s that cake?!
In writing like this, it can be challenging to assess what works or doesn’t work. For, it’s like analyzing a collage where seemingly random things are spliced together. For one instance, I feel the second paragraph of “Rusted” works, but I’m not sure about the first paragraph, or, indeed, the overall poem. Here’s the poem’s first page:
Such contrasts with “Look—here comes a human” which is clearly a (pleasing) success. What makes this work for me? Music. Rhythm. And the psychologically stark elements. Returning to collage, these prose poems contained clear images whereas those in “Rusted” are more blurry from the conceptual meditations that are less fixed (as they are more subjective than the citations /imagery in “Look—here comes a human”).
“Rusted,” however, is the third work in the book—a positioning that implies authorial belief in its strength. I wonder, thus, what about this work I am missing.
But “Rusted” is the only instance where I felt some misgivings. Bluntly, I was blown away by the rest. There’s a languor, a density, a dense languor or languorous denseness that necessitate the prose poem form: its paragraphs. Such, too, is something to praise: the thoughts presented by the collection are fleshed out, deeply investigated before articulated, and the significance of that, I think, is that the thought process never frays until the last necessary word is written. What a feat: “In retrospect, a pattern emerged, but only just; one could not say it had been premeditated” (“Necessary”).
In fact, I think I could write a book alongside reading these works. I think the result would be interesting. Burger’s dense works contain much to generate a book-length response, which is actually to say, here are words she wrote but also the possibilities for words a reader might write. In this manner does the collection reveal a large heart as well as befit its title: Then Go On.
By the way, there are occasional presentations of poems the author wrote when she was seven years old. They’re not bad—actually pretty nifty! Here’s one her poems as a 7-year-old which spurred out the adult going on to make new poems:
From elsewhere in the book, when I read this from “Orbital,” I thought that this excerpt could serve as the collection’s “ars poetica”:
"This paradigm shifts so that words are as nimble as neurotransmitters. Like a small chemical messenger, a word can do anything you can think of. A word can move muscles. A word can hold eyes."
What a lovely—unspeakably lovely—passage.
Burger lets language write itself and the results also reveal the pleasure she must have felt in the process, a pleasure that replicates itself in the reader now reading her prose poems. Here’s a typical killer ending, this from "Talking About the Universe as if It Existed":
"I turned on every light in every room even though I could only be in one room at one time."
That killer ending is all the more impressive if you know that its poem began with a prosaic, “My boss Erik can’t stand Yoko Ono.” Just imagine how the word traveled to get to its ending!
I’ve thought about reviewing this book for five years, since when I first read it on release in 2012. It is so dense it took that long for the words to marinate within me (marinate? geez: I’m hungry. Where is that cake?!) so that I can finally generate a response. That response is gratitude that this work was created. Thank you, Mary Burger!
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA was reviewed by Alan Baker for Leafe Press' LITTER and by Valerie Morton for The Poetry Shed; I FORGOT ARS POETICA was reviewed by Valerie Morton for Leafe Press' LITTER; and AMNESIA: Somebody's Memoir was reviewed by two Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewers: by Kevin Killian and by Grady Harp. She released three books and two chaps in 2016, and is scheduled to release a similar number in 2017. More info at http://eileenrtabios.com
Posted by EILEEN at 2:04 PM
Sunday, January 29, 2017
DANA WILDE Reviews
Coring the Moon: selected poems by Kenneth Frost
(Maine Street Rag Publishing Co., Charlotte, N.C., 2014)
Illogical logic: the poetry of Kenneth Frost
Kenneth Frost's poetry first crossed my radar in 2010 in the form of his first collection, Night Flight. It was a disconcerting, welcome sighting. In 2012 Main Street Rag Publishing Co. and Frost's wife, poet Carolyn Gelland, brought out his second collection, Time On Its Own, another neatly packaged little book, which contained poems just as affecting as the first. Coring the Moon, published in 2014, is a much larger collection that contains both of the first two books plus about a hundred and fifty more poems from an apparently vast storehouse of writings compiled over his lifetime.
Frost's poems are, in one way of saying it, a literary parallel of the visual arts' expressionism. The imagery – and the words themselves – fit together in ways so unconventional they can appear fragmented and illogical. Their fragmentation is an expression of what a particular moment in the mental and emotional world looks like to the poet. The overall effect, sometimes kaleidoscopic, often funny, always peculiar, shares material with surrealism, which seeks to evoke the illogical logic of dreams.
This is difficult material for a poet to make work. And by “work” I mean to create a jolt of unfamiliar emotion or thought that looks incoherent but feels like it coheres. Exactly the wrong word occurs in exactly the right place. Unrelated images appear side by side by side, yet in the end feel related. Hart Crane in 1930 termed this baffling kind of coherence, in one description, “the logic of metaphor.” Tens of thousands of poets have labored with it over the last roughly eighty or a hundred years; the vast majority ended up mainly with incoherence.
Kenneth Frost is one of the exceptions. A straightforward example from “Coring the Moon” is “February, Maine,” in its entirety:
wrings the geranium's
If you've ever watched a February afternoon in Maine – or anywhere cold – creep past your living room window, you know exactly what this nonsense means.
Almost all of Frost's poems are tersely stated like this, and if you're not in the right frame of mind, just one or two of them may not be enough to generate the atmosphere of surreality or starlight the poems all target. But the effect is cumulative: Six or eight or ten short poems into any part of the collection, you find yourself occupying a state of mind that would seem wholly coherent in a dream, but dangerously confusing if you were trying to drive a car.
The mind memorizes
a warm dry room.
What intersection of light
and cerebral energy
of a dream,
the traces of a face,
the timbre of a voice
and not the voice?
The answer (I think) is: a poem. “Coring the Moon” offers us a healthy selection of this mind-bending intersection of light and language, composed over Kenneth Frost's lifetime.
He was born in New York City in 1928, and suffered injuries in combat during the Korean War which took years to recover from. He afterward taught literature and writing at the New School and Columbia University in New York, and later moved with Gelland to Wilton, Maine, which was his home at the time of his death in 2011.
Coring the Moon is available through Main Street Rag's online bookstore at mainstreetrag.com/bookstore/. Carolyn Gelland's illuminating explication of some of Frost's poems, “Words in Orbit,” appeared in Notre Dame Review Summer/Fall 2016 and is available online at ndreview.nd.edu/assets/205468/gelland_review.pdf.
Dana Wilde's reviews of poetry and fiction by Maine writers appear regularly in the Off Radar column in the centralmaine.com newspapers. Hisrecent book is Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.
Posted by EILEEN at 2:10 PM