Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review of Endi Bogue Hartigan’s POOL [5 CHORUSES]

Pool [5 choruses]
Endi Bogue Hartigan. Omnidawn, $17.95 paperback (104p) ISBN 978-1-890650-92-6

Granularity and the chorus

[We are today
some 92%]

Red fire trucks through the glass doors—doors the size of fire trucks—
suburban banners for the sake of banners: cartoonish sunrise, frog.
There is not just one there is not just one there are many—

            What do you like? What do you like?

Portland, Oregon poet Endi Bogue Hartigan’s second trade poetry collection, Pool [5 choruses], winner of the Omnidawn Open competition, is constructed out of the idea of simultaneousness, both in speech and being, as an exploration into the polyphonic lyric multitude. Her poems embrace multiple voices and perspectives that works to overlap, even as the book is constructed in a fairly linear fashion, making her explorations less about overlap per se than about threads that wrap in, around and through each other like water. In the final section of the abecedarian poem “anniversaries walking,” she loops back around, her twenty-seventh section titled the same as the first, returning back to “a.,” as she writes: “Simultaneous to her, the thought of her in real time—which even she can think / about—sideways, through a flute.” The second section of the same poem reads:

b.
The anniversary of seeing children swinging from trees remembering swinging from trees is at heart a bleed of anniversaries. If you were born Christmas Day you share a birthday with Isaac Newton and Sissy Spacek simultaneously. Inlets bleed.

Referencing the anniversary of 9/11 (among other anniversaries), the poem subtitle announces that the piece is meant “to be read by 27 voices,” something I do hope has been performed, looping and stretching in such a compact overlap of simultaneous voice. If not everything heard can be understood, where does meaning go, or is the effect of the choral collage and mix of voices the goal? In a short interview included in the press release, she seems to respond to the question, opening her response with a discussion of her poem “chorus inventing lilies”:

With each of my entries in this poem, I found myself adding these short, parceled-out, elucidations and commands, and I realized it was a different voice. The chorus kind of talked back. Overall, I think one of the most challenging and surprising aspects of writing this book was that it was a kind of tug of conscience for me to enter from a new place formally with each poem, in order to necessarily do my hearing as well as what I didn’t hear justice. The choral gave me new ways in where voices emerge and differentiate and interstice and expand, but I didn’t want its force to be the force of a crowd. I had to find a way for language to be able to reference actual lives in the context of what is not referenced too, to mention things unspeakably embedded and complex in actual lives, with actual camellia bushes and layoffs and children and hopes and the 9/11 “anniversary,” which I didn’t want to merely report in stillness or claim an unfounded authority of report. I felt the danger of both over-speaking and under-speaking, and as a result the particular entrance point for lyric felt like a very tenuous easily slipping place; there is a series of poems necklaced throughout the book that explore this idea of “slippage,” which were especially challenging to write because I was writing at and from that point at the same time. I think one reason the chorus allowed me to navigate here is that although the chorus is active, it is distinct from the actors. The chorus is there beside the actors while in the same viewer space.

The five sections that make up her Pool [5 choruses]—“gallop,” “lily tally,” “Lola, backstage,” “yellow yellow yellow” and “office of water”—are built of poems that extend and pull apart the line, composing lengthy linear stretches in the smallest of spaces, writing poems both choral as in the multiple/polyvocal, and in the elegantly lyric. As she writes in the poem “Flurry series,” subtitled “4 choruses”: “The tree transferred choruses / from eaves to branches—from branches to eaves— / in their slippers and gowns, in their suits and linings and cowboy boot / dresses, in prints and in tresses and costumed sounds—[.]” What appeals most about these poems is how much manages to happen in such a small sequence of moments, moving one to the next to the next, each one sending ripples that continue for miles. Where Hartigan shines is in the lyric disjunction, composing poems that work to explore the seriousness of real events and the weight of how the world sometimes happens to be, all while managing a lightness of line and a spark of phrasing that bounces. (April 2014)

Purchase Pool [5 choruses] HERE.

Reviewer bio: Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014). He regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review of Anne-Marie Turza’s THE QUIET

The Quiet
Anne-Marie Turza. House of Anansi Press, $19.95 CAD paperback (104p) ISBN 978-1-77089-443-3
i:iii

Within every city are unseen cities, intangible walls and alleys: a voice, one afternoon on the radio, addressed its audience. Rats too are historiographers, said the voice, the voice of a rat specialist. Come hydraulic hammers and hoe rams, come rubble. Rats thread the empty plots between ghost buildings, following old paths to their nests as if the walls still stand. In this city of brick and limestone where you and I are sleeping. Every night, traversing pathways that seem no longer to exist.

Victoria, British Columbia poet Anne-Marie Turza’s first trade poetry collection is The Quiet. Constructed in five sections, her poems delve into, among other subjects, the geography of cities and the country, science, bedtime stories, winter and doll clothing, with each piece as carefully constructed as had they been etched, or carved. The second and fourth sections of the book are made up of single-page lyric poems, with more than a couple that open with quotes from Leo Tolstoy’s Ana Karenina. The remaining three sections, each titled “The Quiet,” are constructed as extended prose-poem sequences wrapped around and through the collection as a kind of Greek chorus of lyric abstracts, composing the city as a kind of dream-state. As she writes: “A man is sewing button holes into the wings of months. / The wings tear, and the man keeps sewing. It is long ago. / The world still has an end. The man carries the moths / there. Gently. They begin their long falling.” Turza’s The Quiet is reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972) for the way she describes the prose-landscape of her abstract, physical places.

iii:i

The quiet is not unlike that long crescent-shaped lake of freshwater seals, that body of water at times blue, at times blue-green, called the North Sea in Chinese texts of the third century, near the city of Irkutsk in Siberia, lake Baikal—a lake so deep a boulder, dropped centermost, would sink the length of the CN tower once twice three times, and would still not reach the ground—there in the depths, the golomyanka, a transparent oil fish that lays no eggs, gives birth to its young, live. Above, on the surface, the fishermen sing the old chant to the wind, using its name: Hey, barguzin, drive the waves harder, we haven’t far to go.

Many of the poems in The Quiet are reminiscent of the fable, akin to pieces such as the prose works in Czeslaw Milosz’ A Roadside Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998) for their fairytale wit, storytelling charm and twists that occasionally turn dark. These are deeply sharp and smart poems that wish to entice, impart and take the most careful measure.

LAST HOUR

He swam without air elderly and east in the warrens of his veins his lungs two ton magnets in the pull of banished animals. Diplomystus brevissimus fish splay of Eocene bones prickling in his temporal lobe. Other things were there tunnelling east southeast away from him. He swam in a white nightshirt. He swam with his eyes shut. He had once pencilled a question mark in the corner of an envelope next to a bright stamp: it was printed with some kind of blue and gold flower.

(April 2014)

Purchase The Quiet HERE.

Reviewer bio: Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014). He regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review of Brooke Ellsworth’s THROWN: A TRANSLATION

Thrown: A Translation
Brooke Ellsworth. The New Megaphone, $6.50 + $1 shipping, letterpress (28p)

The subtitle of Brooke Ellsworth’s chapbook Thrown is “A Translation,” and the A is an important word here because the chapbook isn’t a traditional translation.  Rather than clarifying Ovid’s Metamorphosis into English, as has been done many times before, Thrown translates the classic into the contemporary.  The three-poem chapbook focuses on the story of Echo and Narcissus, and instead of dwelling on the end point the way many of us probably did in high school—the narcissus flower, the perils of narcissism—Ellsworth is more interested in metamorphosis itself, in “the change of bodies into new bodies.”  Ellsworth tells the story we know with lines spread across the page and in conversation with each other.  She employs an innovated use of & to create words like “h&” and “underst&ably.”  The reader is not told the story through linear narrative, but sees Echo’s plight play out in language and line:

“& he gave absorbed Echo such meaninglessness to braid in response.
                                                                                        of me of me of me
touch me touch me touch me”

Thrown is Echo and metamorphosis together: repeating what has been repeated so long, while changing it into something new.  The poems don’t work to clarify Ovid but to play off Ovid, to echo the less explored.  (Spring 2014)

Purchase Thrown HERE.

Reviewer bio: Christy Crutchfield’s novel How to Catch a Coyote is forthcoming from Publishing Genius in 2014.  Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review online, Salt Hill Journal, the Collagist, Newfound, and others.  Visit her at christycrutchfield.com

Review of Andrew Zawacki’s VIDEOTAPE

Videotape
Andrew Zawacki. Counterpath Press, $14 paperback (128p) ISBN: 978-1-933996-34-9

Film and poetry share some interesting properties. Loosely speaking, both are laid out in long, sequential strips comprised of individual units. Each unit on its own makes little sense, yet when the linear strip is broadcast through some mechanism—the projected image to the eyeballs, the spoken word to the ears—a whole image is produced and consumed.

If we accept this functional simile, then what would we call Andrew Zawacki’s book-length poetry collection, Videotape, in filmic terms? Its scattered collection of loose scenes from around the world wouldn’t really qualify as a documentary, or any other genre one is likely to see at the megaplex. I see it as a home video collection. It was in an unmarked cardboard box, lost in the basement for many years. It’s damp, many of the tapes are damaged, and they are unlabeled. Slipping the forgotten tapes into the machine (recall that satisfying “ka-chunk” sound as the VCR accepts the cassette), you view the grainy scenes, memories from someone else. Broken scenes from a life that you don’t understand yet are compelled to watch.

Haloed by the devil’s own down- pour: stop motion poplars, in a platinum stutter, the binary code of gravity that pulls them toward the sod & solder their uv pro- gramming pushes them from ...

Zawacki’s shifty and impressionistic verse skips, cuts, and blurs the image, evoking eroding film stock. Though he avoids most emotional terms, the representation of the poems as damaged and beyond repair gives the book an undercurrent of decay and disuse. The thing about video tapes is that they are old, outdated, and almost considered (shudder) vintage.

. . . scrolling out from quinol clouds, by zoetrope or strobe: the moon, a strip of aluminum foil, stuck to the film stock - here

Again, if poetry is film and film poetry, what does it say about poetry to tie it so closely to a bygone technology? Has poetry lapsed into obsolescence too? I think it’s a little bit “yes” and a little bit “no”. Look to vinyl collectors, found-footage enthusiasts, classic 38mm revivalists, remix culture and ephemera hounds, where outmoded technologies are collected, discussed, dispersed, and loved despite their dust. Maybe Zawacki’s poems/tapes are like that, someone taking an old form, seeing possibilities in its age and imperfections, and projecting a bit of their weird light through it. (March 2013)

Purchase Videotape HERE.

Reviewer bio: Tom Taff lives and works in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review of Sawako Nakayasu’s THE ANTS

The Ants
Sawako Nakayasu. Les Figues Press, $17 paperback (93p) ISBN: 978-1934254547

When faced with a threat that is oh so tiny, we cannot help but exert our God-given largeness. Now imagine it the other way around and give account of what happens when we are what’s tiny. When our perspective shifts so quickly, cognizance and spatial orientation and size matters altogether, all at once. With the literal, figurative, and fantastical world of ants (and the occasional other insect) at her disposal, Sawako Nakayasu plays with perspective throughout The Ants, shrinking her lens at any moment to narrate (via ant) the ants’ struggle to hitchhike on passing shoes or widening her lens to narrate (via human) an adult’s lifetime desire to own an ant farm. As the perspective shape-shifts from piece to piece, the playfulness lends Nakayasu the ability not only to shake up stylistic elements of form and tone but to harness imagination further. The Ants is a world where “the clever ants who can read numbers” perch on light bulbs with the lowest wattage to avoid death when humans turn on the lights. It is a world where the ant farm a child always wanted is now circulating in her adult body, leaving her to explain: “And so it is that I am forced to call up my friend who owns a gun to come over and shoot me, somewhere harmless like my leg, where it won’t kill me, just make a big gushing wound large enough so the ants can get out, and he does, and they do, and now do I miss them.” It is a world where two ants set out from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and upon their rendezvous cause two bickering women to stop fighting in awe of the ants’ “force and intention.” In this way, the ants in The Ants are not always ants or even solely stand-ins for humans. Similar to how Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America morphs into more than a book title, the air in The Ants is swollen with high “ant density levels,” ants are manuscripts (“he edited my ant, without even asking”), ants are blankets that you wear to keep warm. In this way the fancy of the ants becomes even more fantastical, and we as readers are continuously surprised at the lovely turns such extended metaphors take.

Yet even with all the delight that comes from entering such an imaginative and thoughtful world, it is Nakayasu’s strength in language and short form prose that elevates her collection. Take “Colors,” one of a handful of especially short pieces, in its entirety:

I leave the house for a couple of months, and upon my return find that a gang of ants and  a gang of cockroaches have been having turf wars in my home. I don’t actually see any ants or cockroaches, but I can tell by those tiny colorful bandanas they have left behind.

Much to our enjoyment, the whimsy here is both clever and evocative. Beyond that, Nakayasu rallies time, point of view, and negation to create a reflective character in a curious situation—and does so in the span of two sentences. And more than anything, it’s the sentences in this collection that beg the question of what exactly we are reading. Are these poems that unfold as character-driven stories? Or stories that employ a strong sense of language and repetition and sound and imagery? In many ways it matters less if The Ants is a collection of poetry or fiction, and more how these pieces function individually and as a whole to speak to our anxieties of isolation, escape, survival, and unknowing. Nakayasu writes intentionally on the fence of genres and further blurs the lines among literary forms, something that—regardless of our tendency to categorize and in spite of any genre purists left in our blurry, blurry world—enchants us as readers and excites us craft-wise as writers. Of course it should surprise us little when some of the most progressive writing comes from the spaces between because it’s the between that inherently challenges the boxes we try to work inside or work around or avoid altogether. All that said, it follows that The Ants is the first title in Les Figues’s Global Poetics Series, which includes three other promisingly form-bending collections forthcoming from derek beaulieu, Colin Winnette, and Sandra Doller. The Ants has indeed set the bar of innovation high for the series, as well as for whatever “ant-human relations” or poem-story matrimony comes next from Nakayasu herself. (July 2014)

Purchase The Ants HERE.

Reviewer bio: Michelle Dove's fiction appears or is forthcoming in New South, Passages North, Pear Noir!, Barrelhouse and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review of Kyle Coma-Thompson's THE LUCKY BODY

The Lucky Body
Kyle Coma-Thompson. Dock Street Press, $16 paperback (160p) ISBN: 978-0991065707

Writing extreme violence is not something to be taken lightly for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the dangers of having it come off as immature or over-indulgent. It can also be off-putting to some readers, thus limiting the writer’s potential audience. Coma-Thompson, in his absolutely breathtaking debut collection, puts the reader to the test immediately and forces them to make a choice: come with me or don’t, and it’s this reader’s opinion that you must go with him. The title story does double duty as the collection’s grisly opener, detailing a brutal, relentless murder and subsequent dissection of the body. The writing is sharp and unflinching, and, as the reader acclimates, not just inside this piece but throughout the collection, another ubiquitous aspect begins to reveal itself: beauty. The writing is beautiful, bending not just with the violence but also the threat of violence, and disruption, in search of something more. From “The Lucky Body”: “One of them stood over the rest as they worked and voiced his admiration: here’s someone who truly wanted to live; just look at how well he holds together.” From story to story in this three-part collection the reader is treated to variations of form, making each new piece an exciting and terrifying adventure. In “pG”, an unbroken torrent of language using only commas, an artist constructs his masterpiece from animal and human carnage: “…the next evening it was vagrants, and the evening after, tourists, and after that, policemen, cab drivers, old women he found wandering away from the open air market, each arriving in their own time and incorporated into his painting…” In “Spring in Zurveyta”, the longest story in the collection about a journalist who interviews a vicious president at his compound, Coma-Thompson flexes his skill as an architect of sublime tension that’s steadily increased to a dizzying crescendo. “Atown”, narrated in second person, is a fantastical and frightening story of a shrinking town that traps both residents and visitors: “It will be dark in an hour. Then it will be dark. After a few hours, someone will say in a few hours it will be lighter. So goes the days and nights in a small town.” It’s the range of writing, the varied styles, and the incessant movement that gives this collection such power. Because it’s not just violence Coma-Thompson is exploring, but our existence around it, our use and understanding of it as a complement to that which is meditative, even funny, as felt at the close of “About Grimm” in the collection’s third part. Without giving away the surprise, it’s about a man, freshly returned stateside from Afghanistan, who falls into a desperate life of car thievery until he meets his match in a most unexpected way. Beneath the shifting blackness of these stories there is a burgeoning hope, and it’s this hope that allows the reader to walk away with their mind blown yet still completely intact. A truly extraordinary debut. (December 2013)

Purchase The Lucky Body HERE.

Read an interview with Kyle HERE

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit him at melbosworth.com

Interview with the author: Kyle Coma-Thompson

*Interview conducted by Mel Bosworth

Kyle Coma-Thompson is the author of The Lucky Body, a collection of stories. Recently, Kyle was kind enough to make some time to answer a few questions. Here’s how it went:

***

Mel Bosworth: How’s it going?
 

Kyle Coma-Thompson: It's going well.  

MB: What’s it like where you live?  

KCT: Louisville has a slow pace to it, and more than a few tall green trees. It's cheap to live here. Many, many interesting, creative people in loose affiliation with each other.  

MB: Tell me a little about your new collection, The Lucky Body. How long did it take you to write it? 

KCT: I learned how to write fiction during the writing of the book, so the stories were written over a period of two, two and a half years. I wrote a large number of stories and selected pieces that seemed to work together. About three or four times as many stories ended up getting excised and (thankfully) forgotten.  

MB: Your book is the inaugural book of Dock Street Press. What attracted you to them or them to you?  

KCT: Dock Street read a story of mine in a journal, Bat City Review, and contacted me through the editor there. Then the usual business: I submitted samples of the collection, then the full batch of stories. It should be worth mentioning that their willingness to choose this book as their inaugural publication says much about their interest in works that aren't tailored for a maximum degree of readerly comfort. That is, the very aspects of these stories which had caused many editors hesitation in the past were the reasons Dock Street was excited about taking on the book as their first project.  

MB: Your sensibilities as a writer are phenomenal, and you have such a broad range when it comes to storytelling. This is a great talent to have, and it makes your collection truly stand out because it’s so varied and exciting. I feel like you could write whatever you want in any style you want, so I ask: are short stories/pieces your thing? Are you hammering on something longer, or perhaps shorter?  

KCT: I just completed a short novel (or long novella) titled Qua. I tend to move between different forms every couple of weeks or so—from short fiction to longer fiction to poetry. Somewhere between these transitions certain nascent ideas or approaches to new material are developed. As for this aspect of stylistic mutation you mention—well, this happens naturally. Once I write a piece, it requires a contradiction. So each new piece, ideally, crosses out everything I relied on or established in the piece that preceded it. Contradiction, you could say, is my way of moving forward.  

MB: You write extreme violence very beautifully. What drives you to write about violence, and is it something passing or something you’d like to explore further?  

KCT: Violence taken at even its most literal manifestations, when considered from a certain distance, becomes metaphorical. In many cases, the externalization of some ill-defined internal conflict. Not the most original observation to make...but this tendency to commit transgressive acts against others in order to liberate oneself from some latent measure of self-hindrance or from a vague, undefined feeling of oppression, seems common enough. Many people experience their acts of cruelty as an excess of lyricism. In my stories, I'm just trying to portray this accurately.   

MB: I feel like you pull a lot from human history into your work, and in your story “From Anna”, a character goes into detail about an ancient archeological site where it’s discovered fifty-year-old women were forced to fight to the death and were then buried in a kind of mass grave/gladiator pit. Did this really happen? Did this small kingdom really exist?  

KCT: No, this didn't happen in any literal sense. But it has, and will probably always continue to be the case, in one way or another.  

MB: Do you like music?  

KCT: Yes. 

MB: Do you hate people?  

KCT: No. I aspire to be observant of them. And myself.  

MB: Are we worth it?  

KCT: Yes. 

MB: Is writing worth it? 

KCT: Yes. 

MB: What’s for dinner?   

KCT: Tofu and bourbon. 

MB: What now?  

KCT: Bourbon. 

***

Purchase The Lucky Body HERE. 

Read my review of The Lucky Body HERE.

Visit Kyle Coma-Thompson HERE.