Tuesday, June 27, 2017
EILEEN TABIOS Engages
DADA BUDAPEST by John Olson
(Black Widow Press, Boston, 2017)
Fine, it didn’t get me at the first sentence. But it got me with the second—and that’s saying something about this 401-page book. Here’s the sentence that yanked me into reading John Olson’s DADA BUDAPEST in one sitting and as soon as I opened it:
It crashed into an abandoned pile of socialism.
Candidly, that made me snort out a laugh that I had to stifle lest I offended the strangers seated around me in a local cafe. I had just picked up the book from the post office, brought it with me to a coffeeshop, opened it as soon as I got my white chocolate mocha, and flipped it open intending to scan the first few pages. Instead, I not only read it all but began taking notes for a review. As I didn’t have any paper with me, I had to make the notes on the same envelope in which the book had been mailed—such was the urgency of my reaction. Here’s a photo of the notated packaging, along with the spy novel I’d brought to read but ignored for Olson’s poems:
DADA BUDAPEST is a collection of prose poems that contains tight musicality through its most unslack sentences—not a single sentence sags! The music also threads together the most delicious juxtapositions of bits of knowledge that, before the poet turned his attention to them, might seem to have no or little relationship to each other. It’s not enough to lapse to the interrelationship of all things—those elements still have to cohere to create a poem. In Olson’s hands, the wide range of objects-as-references he gathers might be read to contain a logic resulting from jazz, an art of (among other things) improvisation. Until it’s not. Let’s take a look at the opening poem whose second sentence so jazzed me up:
(click on all images to enlarge)
Disparate elements, sure—from socialism to the Sri Lankan elephant to Phillips-head screws to seaplanes. But when I took a closer look at the prose poem, I got a sense of each sentence being worked upon and over to ensure each word was just right. After all, the approach is “dada” so that references might be substituted in a seemingly arbitrary way as narrative logic is not at play. Yet the result—given that this is poetry—must still sing or be otherwise poetically effective. So, as an example, there’s this sentence
The glasses were French ocher and veined with absent-minded rivers.
That sentence works—it's positively accessible through, yes, meaning. (Music vs. meaning is a false binary in poetry, yes?) Start with an image of ochre in Roussillon, Provence—
Observe the “veins” of horizontal lines. Such might evoke rivers. But then Olson heightens the poetry (evocativeness) by inserting the adjective “absent-minded” which is also appropriate—does not (the water of) a river go in a direction planned not by the water but by the nature of the land including its hollows? A river doesn’t have to think about where (its waters) go; it just absent-mindedly goes!
Further down the poem is the mischievous logic of “alcoholic ice skates”—a logic that surfaces when one thinks of newbie skaters skittering along an ice skating rink. When one is off-balanced (e.g. a skittering ice skater), as might result from too much alcohol, one has no pretense, hence the next reference to “naked” for purpose of “naked peculiarities.” Next up, I would have thought the surfacing of an elephant would be nonsense but it was preceded by a reference to short-sightedness and, according to no more trustworthy a source than Sea World, “Elephant eyes are about 3.8 cm (1.5 in.) in diameter and their vision is moderate. Elephants traverse forests, savannas, and grasslands, primarily orienting with the trunk, as opposed to sight.” From there, it is no less than a joyous romp to hail the Sri Lankan female elephant named Sathyanga!
One can determine, thus, a logic in a John Olson poem not just because of the cohesive abstraction of music but the specificities of knowledge. (And is this not the great effect of art and poetry as regards nonsense: when nonsense makes sense?) At one point of reading through this book, I pictured Olson to be a white-bearded librarian who never leaves his library and sources poems by choosing random stacks of books to push and then making poems by plucking phrases from where the books randomly opened themselves after falling; he massages the plucked phrases and, Voila!, a new poem! With more thought, this picture of a hermit-librarian can’t be quite true as I vaguely recall from an emailed conversation years ago that Olson is a runner. (Does he still run? Was he running during these poems—is No. 9 current in “And What”? Anyhoo…) But my initial sense of the poet as a librarian more directly reflects how much knowledge the poet contains and crams into each of his poems. Such creates fresh metaphors and similes, as when, in “Waggle Dance,” he likens a “bizarre form of acrobatics” to a “type of Japanese Butoh.” Fabulous.
At times, the knowledge is delivered transparently and still deftly, as in “A Brief History of Indigo” and, from “Between Hotels,”
Be kind to your legs. Let them finish what they’re doing. Remember: the moon’s distance from the center of the earth is 240,000 miles.
Thank you. Now I know “the moon’s distance from the center of the earth.”
Also, there are certain things that some poets don’t like to talk about in public. One of them is how the poem can be a premonition—how a poem can foretell. I hate to say it but, as someone born in the Philippines and who still follows developments there, there is or was (at the time of its writing) a (political) foretelling in the first paragraph of “The Ghost of An Adjective”—
The ghost of an adjective chews a noun into the Philippines. The noun catches fire. The noun fire catches fire. The fire feeds on an allegory in search of a theme. The theme catches fire. There must, therefore, be adjectives for the fire. Adjectives that will burn: hot, inextinguishable, monstrous.
Anyway, I’ve read many of Olson’s other books and his linguistic inventions (and discipline) are not new to this book. What I sense more in this collection versus the others (though I’m not saying such doesn’t exist in the other books) is an overt focus on the nature of writing, e.g.
Words are the best illusions. Words are everywhere, books in brooks and sermons in stones. They comfort our mortality. They give us the illusion of meaning.
—from “Radical Tapioca”
I’ve never been into sailing. But there is a nautical term that has a great attraction. The word is ziuhitsu, which means “follow the brush.” Writing, which bears many similarities t the practice of sailing, requires a shiver of light. There is no shame in changing direction, particularly when the winds are curious sensations.
There can be no mistaking it: I write poetry for the delirium. Thought is reflective, quiet, that’s not it, not what a poem is, not entirely. It’s too wild, too eccentric, spinning out of control.
—from “Smart and Black and Full of Birds”
Lines of poetry create a galaxy of goats that deform the fence and withdraw into squares of androgynous headlight. Look what walking has done to the sidewalk.
—from “The Stepladder Confesses Its Clatter”
As well, the opening to “Hippopotamus” (and, thus, "Dada Budapest"):
There’s also a wise comment on the effectiveness (or not) of anthologies somewhere in the book (yeah, my fingers slipped and the book shut and pardon me if I don’t go for the specific reference—did I mention the book has 401 pages?).
Olson also seems besotted with (the word of) “ochre” in this book. Neither bad or good—just saying. (I’m besotted, unconsciously, with the word “replete” in my poems. Neither bad or good—just saying.)
Nonetheless, this is dada. Are there moments in the book that, for whatever reason, don’t work? In my read, it happened once: the opening lines to “The Glamour of Reproduction” starting with:
In winter the arcade menstruates.
I can’t make that line work for me, no matter how much I try (and should I be trying so hard?). But, for me, this dislocation happened just once. That’s pretty good for a thick book of poems. And the matter at hand is, of course, dada... so that, ultimately, what makes sense is subjective.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer pleasure of Olson's word plays. Somewhere (in this 401-page book so look it up yourself) “pallets” transform to “palace” and it’s a hoot. As is this example from “Eight Pounds of Feeling”:
If you see a seesaw would a seesaw see you?
Dada is often mischievous. Mischief animates many poems, e.g.
If you haven’t already noticed, my face is in labor. It’s giving birth to a nose.
—from “The Ears of the Cricket”
The human mind is haunted by its own mouth
—from “Dance of the Bamboo Nipples”
It’s odd how quickly adapted I became to wearing reading glasses after turning forty-three or so. I cannot say the same about my prostate.
—from “Going All Gonad”
An eyeball dragging a caboose to the end of a sentence.
—from “Infinity’s Orchid.”
I could go on; you’d want me to go on. But do yourself a favor and get the book for yourself. Have you been paying attention to the titles of the poems I cite? But, meanwhile, here’s one for the “Pimple-Poppers”:
I can reach heaven with my tweezers and a feeling of intense abandon.
—from “The House of Estuary”
(Geeeeeeez: only a John Olson poem can make me reveal publicly that I'm a fan of YouTUBE’sDr. Sandra Lee.)
It’s also fun when you occasionally see the process surface, as in “Eight Pounds of Feeling” when a reader can sense that, at first, the poet thought the poem wasn’t working as it began to be written. But Olson pulls it out of its potential Alice-ian vortex. Here’s its beginning:
Lucky Spencer Selby to find your way in an Olson poem. Hi Spencer!
Many of the poems last for more than one page, a testament to the poet’s mind—the scale indicates the depth and span of the poet’s ability to suspend the universe for the alternate worlds he creates in his poems. But let me share a one-page poem for the sheer pleasure of it—and it says something about the consistent effectiveness of his poems that I open the book at random for a one-page example:
Hear that, Grasshopper? “Go, grab a dream and sleep. There are parables to discover.”
I could go on. For Clayton Eshleman said it perfectly in his blurb:
“John Olson is writing the most outlandish, strange, and inventive prose poetry ever in the history of the prose poem.”
Consequently, my "review" does not do justice to the marvelously rollicking expanse of John Olson’s poems. I’ll just note: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
I do want to express gratitude to the publishers for releasing such a thick poetry book—the publishing world needs more of you! Thank you Joseph S. Phillips and Susan J. Wood, publishers of Black Widow Press!
Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects. Her 2017 poetry releases include two books, two booklets and five poetry chaps. Forthcoming later this fall is a new poetry collection, MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press). She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere for a recent review of her work: Dina Paulson-McEwen reviews AMNESIA: Somebody's Memoir for WALK THE LINE! More info about her work at http://eileenrtabios.com
Posted by EILEEN at 5:33 PM
Monday, June 26, 2017
DANA WILDE Reviews
Wild Horses, Wild Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1971-2010 by Lindy Hough
(North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA., 2011)
Lindy Hough's poetry, collected from most of a writing lifetime in Wild Horses, Wild Dreams, follows diverse, fascinating, strangely intersecting trails. Or maybe not so strangely – this is life, after all.
Categories are usually slippery and misleading – as Hough's poems often consciously remind us – but to speak in them anyway, her poetry turns over, in different ways and perspectives, roughly five general themes. Overarching her contemplative world is the nature and workings of the inmost human psyche. Developing within this are observations and evocations on personal experience and the planet; how the natural world reflects emotions and other kinds of feeling; the complex frictions of the interpersonal; and what is going on at the blurred edges between authenticity and inauthenticity.
These themes are too complicated to cover the least bit thoroughly in a brief review, but let me just call attention to a couple of passages that make clear why these poems are well worth a look.
Memorable to me, for personal as well as aesthetic reasons, is a poem from the early 1970s, “To the Cape Elizabeth Ladies.” I first read it years ago and never forgot it, partly because I grew up in the Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Hough is talking about (and where she too lived for a time while married to a young anthropology professor whose ambitions (and hers) eventually outstripped academia (but not each other's)), and moreover, because it drives so forcefully, without being overbearing, into the veneers and inauthenticities of well-to-do suburbia. The scene is a ladies' reading group attended by the speaker of the poem. A welter of familiar emotions arise, including the boredom that led many of them to the living room club:
… I become more objective
as the hour wears on, everyone knitting, those who
are not knitting with their eyes straight ahead on
the reader. No one has read the book, except the one
reading from it.
There is the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between their money and the world – “We are tantalizing ourselves in this here book / … by reading about rich people” juxtaposed to:
War. Death. Vietnam. War. Death. Vietnam. Killing. …
Our country is discussing advertising
& its glamorous overworked world at this meeting of
bored Cape Elizabeth matrons while bombing
WE ARE RESPONSIBLE.
Most of us have been in or around this kind of inauthenticity, I think, and yearned (some of us, anyway) like the speaker of this poem for any simple recognition of reality, let alone an authentic thought or expression of feeling. Unbeknownst to them, this poem is the Cape Elizabeth ladies' enduring positive contribution to culture.
Similarly, in “The Clairvoyant” we get a refreshing, if edgy, honesty about evasive inauthenticities in the world of psychic study and participation, which Hough has never been far from, and indeed occupied as a founding publisher, with her husband Richard Grossinger, of North Atlantic Books. The speaker of the poem grows disaffected during a lecture by a clairvoyant: “His eyes rolling upwards? / Not a hint from the divine, / but him thinking where / to ramble next.”
But the dark of inauthenticity in life is inevitably offset by the light of the natural world, and Wild Horses has many uplifting, probing passages like these memorable lines from “Leaving California”:
Spiders speak hardly at all
just build their complicated webs everywhere
When too big a catch gets in and pulls the whole
thing down, they let the intruder lumber away,
Then lug the strands back up to the starting point
and start all over.
Whenever the people in my world seem to shine
with a certain brilliance
my world seems OK again
Directly stated, vivid, well-handled lines like these characterize most of the collection, from the book-length cycle “Psyche” (“Human geography – / beautiful particulars revealed / in the palm of a hand”), to the more recent “Maine Songs,” in which the theme of grappling with personal frictions is concisely detailed:
Picture rolling your anger up in a garland of roses
throwing it out to space,
then blowing it up
That's what Berkeley Psychic Institute recommends
It would slow you down, I say, considering
trying to picture how shifting gears
enough to do this silly joyful act
might impede angry words
rolling from my mouth like cartwheels
Also offered are prose narratives on dreams and what might be waking visions, and their possible interpretations, both figurative and literal. “I know what I dream / I'm hungry for –” the title poem concludes late in the collection, “the dreams of wild horses.”
The personal and the political, the social and the psychic selves weave and blend richly together across this lifetime offering of plain-spoken, yet layered poetry. Well worth the journey.
Dana Wilde's reviews of poetry and fiction by Maine writers appear monthly in the Off Radar column of the centralmaine.com newspapers. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.” <http://www.northcountrypress.com/summer-to-fall.html>
Posted by EILEEN at 9:54 AM
Sunday, June 25, 2017
RALPH LA CHARITY Reviews
REVOLUTIONS : a Collaboration by John Matthias, Jean Dibble and Robert Archambeau
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2017)
Osip’s Recoverance, Three-Faced
In the endnotes concluding the book REVOLUTIONS, the poet lets us in on the fact that the poetry in this book took several years to write, as opposed to the book’s visual art and its critical commentary, which he tells us are both of very recent vintage. Also, that the visuals and the commentary are to be received as co-equally significant and contributory to the book’s whole – given that the book comes at us from those three discreet vantages, it is important not to privilege any one vantage over the others :
“The book, to be called Revolutions: A Collaboration, would revolve but
probably not resolve. That would be okay. Also, it would be understood
that all three collaborators were on equal footing in the book.”
Not only that, but the poet takes care to empower the beholders of the book as well :
“All three of us are delighted to have any readers at all, and the
reader should feel as ‘free’ as the poet, the artist, or the author
REVOLUTIONS, then, is a book of the Poetic Imagination, and of snares that are not there, but are. It is a matryoshka doll of a book wherein ever more intricate secrets spill forth from the nest, each secret borne of precedent secrets, each trope bound forth in further unfoldings. The book relies on perspectives fashioned by each of its three collaborators, the poet John Matthias, the critic Robert Archambeau, and the printmaker Jean Dibble. Their perspectives are intimately interwoven and the book is unimaginable without the resonances their mutual conjunctions both sponsor and inspire. REVOLUTIONS, bodied forth from Dos Madres Press in the Spring of our current year, 2017, turns the Russian nesting doll inside-out, and her secrets become jeweled oddments worn as raiment to a cumulative art form the book breathes life into, as if for the first time. This is collaboration itself rendered specifically and distinctly tri-partite, and ultimately as mysterious as it is exhilarating.
Jean Dibble translates the poetry of Matthias into poster art relying solely on Matthias’ poetry as source for its evoked strategies, what I myself took to be visual synesthesia, a music that, while unique to Dibble’s command of color, symbol, and platted flair, yet broadcasts over the book as a whole, turning the poetry in through itself and back out again on a scale of crafted expansion that the eyes hear and the ears see. There are twenty separate exemplar plates of Dibble’s poster art, evenly spaced throughout the book’s 112-page length. In each of the posters, a specific poem is reproduced and given new life. What becomes apparent as the book reveals itself is that Poetry, outlier that it always is, infects and transforms other forms of art, and is, herein as in the best of all possible worlds, repaid in kind. REVOLUTIONS refuses to not be a kind of Furthering, not only multi-dimensional in its sourcings and effects, but multi-impactful in its emotional range. Dibble’s visual music, then, becomes the book’s emotional core, over-riding as it does the text proper, and that core is in each postered exemplar everywhere both disciplined and heartrending, a triumph of re-envisional empathic amplification.
The poetry of John Matthias is intellectually venturesome, elusive and challenging, precisely so. His is an art that draws on 76 years of life, pointedly focused. He plays games in his work, and those games do not fear the Void, they revel in it. He is by turns angry and celebratory, jocular and oracular, but you have to read close. Herewith, an excerpt from an early piece of his in the book, the poem “Jerkwater”:
town’s the home of Jereboam
who is aquarius to every passing phantom train.
Houses are jerrybuilt and shake like Jericho
when jayhawker nightfreights come arumbling through.
The Jews, the Gentiles there. The arbitrary constant C
was married to an Imam, tsar and all
his retinue forgotten. It was far away.
Jesuits are exiled to Australia – to Jarvis Bay,
you Jerk! Said Mr. Waters. Indenture and Haphazard
were his favorite words.
Formed of ten couplets in all, note how in this extract the poem challenges itself by using a host of dictionary-found J-words arbitrarily selected and then stretched into a coherence as allusive as it is elusive. The poem is resolute in its bodying forth. As it is but the third poem in the book, “Jerkwater” manages to echo back and then forward, building on tropes and themes and twists of this or that rhetorical disjunction, that emerge in careful build-up. Note the incidence of Jewry, trains, far-flung ports of call, and exile… other poems will do similar but ever more peculiar strategies, making echoes that become, eventually, links in a chain that has a life only incrementally apparent. It is the artfulness of this poet to collage his effects, poem to poem. The effects conjoin to keep the reader guessing and off balance, as in “Plastered” :
Ahpf! Borsht! He missed his sentimental meetings with
The Bishop of Pah. Jerkwater’s the limit, he was
heard to say. Thank you, Jereboam. I may be a plaster cast
but I am still the boss. Bastard of a plasmagene at payoff,
I’m also Pliny with a pistol on a plinth. Evolved from
the Pliocene. I am here to stay.
In this poem, P-words have stepped to the fore, mixing in with those J-words (and a splicing of B-words!). The arbitrary dictionary game continues apace all through the book’s first 52 pages, which 52 pages got started with a Dibble color portrait of the poet, which colored portraiture strategy she will repeat at the beginning of the book’s second section, where she captures a photo-derived image of the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, who is the focus of that second section.
But back to the gamefulness of that opening 52-pge section, for which the book’s collaborative interweave provides a speculative unraveler par excellence, the critic Robert Archambeau, who hips us not only to the Game, but even more to the period set that is that section’s underlying lit’ry mundi :
“The members of the set … are, of course, members of an integral set, part of
the calculus whose equations Matthias writes for their music. The integrals
are part of the dictionary game Matthias has set for himself … a game whose
pieces are the first few nine-letter words he finds in a dictionary’s listing
under a given letter. But I’m only interested in getting to the import of these
integrals by a back way – by reference to the set Matthias really loves : the
Modernists … Not only is his work written in accord with a thousand Modernist
techniques – the jump-cut, the arcane allusion, the geo-cultural rock-drill, to
name just a few – it constantly invokes the Modernists themselves : the poets,
the artists, and especially the composers.
Archambeau is the book’s buffer, without whom Matthias could prove almost too elusively steeped in the afore-mentioned Modernist methodology. Archambeau, himself no stranger to cleverness, brings a deft sort of interpretive elan to bear, a flexible leavening of wit and tolerance and insight that acts, on the one hand, as an invite to play for we of the uninitiated shade, while on the other hand functioning as a smart counterweight to the dashing and at times withering poetic stutter-steps of this book’s poetry :
“There had been alienated artists before the twentieth century, but nothing
like what we find among the Modernists. Exiled or expat, bohemian in habit,
radically advanced and challenging in form and views, they are our icons of
of the unpopular arts … … … Matthias is drawn to the lives and works of the
Modernists because they speak to the condition of all non-, or anti-commercial
artists who have come after them. They are the patron saints, the forefathers,
the ones who got here first. By ‘here’ I mean that special island where we
refuse to compromise, to bend our art to serve the powers (we who won’t
be indebted to the Tsar) or fit the common taste.”
Note Archambeau’s parenthetical nod to the Tsar, because the book’s greatest surprise occurs when it turns to the 2nd section, which has as many pages as the 1st and is prefaced by Jean Dibble’s colored and hyper-vivid portrait of Osip Mandelstam. All of the book’s previous indications of coalescing concerns quite suddenly have their center of gravity, devolving aslant (towards our own Age de Trump perhaps?) by ringing in the horrors of Stalinism. This section sings and depicts the miseries of the poet Mandelstam, besieged and vanquished and Gulag-disappeared great poet in extremis -- THIS section is this book’s passion, the self-same revolution REVOLUTION’s resonant collaborative trinity presumably has had in mind and heart and spirit from the very beginning :
Cannot stop the blood maker’s flood
from gushing into everything that lives and dies,
ill-ebbed of floodtides, tossing fire-fish
on the sea-bone sodden sand,
while above it all the netted songbirds bride-
sing the sorrow as it pours and pours,
fangled bitch, my Age,
upon your wounded living dying hide.
The above is the second of four stanzas in the book’s final Matthias poem, which final/final dirge goes un-postered and un-commentaried. As did the 4-page poem that immediately preceded it, a work that is printed in the original Russian, so that what concludes this book is what everything that preceded it fore-tasted. The Modernist echoes have conspired in their inexorable build-up, so that a resonant dying fall announces, from the book’s penultimate song, THE RUSSIAN (Osip Mandelstam), here translated :
It is not I who says what I am saying now.
It is dug from the earth, like grains
of petrified wheat.
depict on their coins a lion,
Many different pancakes, of copper, of bronze, and
Lie in the earth, in equal dignity all;
Trying them for a bite, the century leaves
upon them an imprint of teeth.
Time clips my edges, like a silver penny,
And I no longer have enough of myself.
Throughout REVOLUTIONS the beholder is treated to a many-angled banquet of effects. As elusive as any one effect might be, it is in the mixing of all those effects that the book achieves itself. The poet achieves grace for his terrorized forebear, the visual artist achieves a poetics of sighted sound, and the critic takes us into an orientation we receive as grandly utile in its breadth and particularity both. And yes, the book manifestly rewards re-reading and re-apprehending, since I have managed to give but a teasing hint as to how its complexities meld into a variegated whole that is, truly, sublime.
No apologia that, simply an affirmative indication of this tri-partite collaboration’s exhilarating Lift!
Ralph La Charity is a collagist and performance poet whose most recent book, Litanies said handely, has been issued from Dos Madres Press as of March, 2017. The Litanies is his second Dos Madres book, following his FAREWELLIA a la Aralee, from 2014, which includes a CD of La Charity performing poems from the book.
Posted by EILEEN at 2:01 PM