Sunday, November 30, 2008

* * * VOLUME TWO (2008): PROCESS * * *





Editors, "Hap, Gusto & Whim"

A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture

ISSN 1938-3592

VOLUME TWO (2008):

Process: Fields of Signification

Hap, Gusto & Whim: Notes After Process

Our call for work, which you may find reprinted below, proposed a collection addressing various aspects of process.

Process keeps moving and changing, and we have done our best to engage with the word’s many meanings, following the aleatory paths of becoming.

Hap (Fortune), Gusto (Zest) & Whim (Impulse) have also shaped the journey that has brought all of these writers, artists, readers, editors, performers, teachers and scholars to this place of no-place, a figuration of recon-.

Where is this journal? Where does it really reside? Here it is: everywhere and nowhere all-at-once. Like magic, but a little less mysterious. Fragile, but flexible. Impermanent, but immediate. Edited and arranged, but interactive and open for discussion.

The table of contents for Volume Two underscores six aspects of process: Reviewing, Dialogue, Translation, Method, Becoming, Featuring. Within each, you’ll find much variety and innovation.

Thirty-eight contributors. Sixty-seven individual publications: five reviews, four interviews, fifty poems, five essays, two stories, one conversation.
Many (if not most) of those works defy ready categorization, however.

All submissions and works accepted for publication were reviewed by the editorial board and/or by other external reviewers. Nearly all of the final documents were revised prior to launching/publishing.

Reconfigurations is an open-access, annual, independently managed, peer-reviewed journal for poetics and poetry & literature and culture that aims to build bridges among different national and international communities.

Our work here turns upon generative contradictions. We are both outside of established institutional hierarchies of process and production (we are online in the form of a blog) and we are the epitome of such systems (we are peer-reviewed). We seek to gather and present both creative and scholarly texts—a judiciously selected diversity of genres/modes and forms of discourse. We exist as a dynamic space for readers and writers invested in tradition and innovation. Such dedication to both/and, such inclusion of opposition, is required by our project of reconfiguration.

Works are accepted for editorial review, April through August. Reconfigurations launches/publishes during the month of November.

Reconfigurations, ISSN 1938-3592, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. For permissions beyond the scope of that license, please contact the Editor
and Publisher <showard@du.edu>.

We welcome your participation. Comments may be submitted via the post-a-comment link at the bottom of each document page.

The Editors, November, 2008

196 / 129 / 67 [5, 4, 50, 5, 2, 1]



Going on, continuous action, proceeding.
The passing or lapsing of time, years, seasons, etc. The fact of going on or being carried on, as an action or series of actions; progress, course. The course of becoming as opposed to static being. Philosophical and theological ideas based on the concept of process.

That which goes on or is carried on; a continuous action, or series of actions or events; a proceeding; a course or mode of action, a procedure.
Succession of things in order; sequence; progression.

A narration, a narrative; an account; a story; a play; a discourse or treatise of any kind; an argument, a reasoned discussion, a disquisition.
The course or content of a narrative, treatise, argument, etc.; drift, tenor, gist. A passage of a discourse. A linguistic operation or change.

The whole of the proceedings in any legal action; an action, a suit; a case, cause, or hearing; the course, procedure, or method adopted in carrying on an action.
The formal commencement of any legal action; the mandate, summons, or writ by which a person or thing is brought into court for litigation. That which follows on from something; an outcome or result. An intended outcome, a purpose, a goal. A formal command, mandate, or edict, issuing from a person in authority. In patent law: any method of obtaining a useful result by an action other than mechanical (e.g. chemical).

A continuous and regular action or succession of actions occurring or performed in a definite manner, and having a particular result or outcome. A sustained operation or series of operations
with reference to natural or involuntary action; also, with reference to artificial or deliberate action (in later use esp. in manufacturing or other industry). In early use also: a method or procedure for carrying out such an action or series of actions. Objective, etc., chiefly with reference to industrial and manufacturing processes. Designating a container, enclosed structure, etc., in which something is subjected to an industrial or manufacturing process.

The continuing interaction of human groups and institutions, esp. as observed through their effects in social, political, cultural, etc., life, with the aim of finding underlying patterns of behavior in the available data
; freq. contrasted with the study of such aspects of society through structures.

The action of straightening and styling the hair, esp. by chemical means; (also) a chemical preparation used to accomplish this; a hairstyle produced in this way.

Onward movement, progress, projection.
Onward movement in space; also, in non-material senses, of action, time, etc. Degree of progress or advance. The act of proceeding or coming forth from a source, emanation. A projection from the main body of something; an outgrowth; a protuberance. A protuberance or projection, esp. from a bone. An outgrowth; spec. (in a moss) one of the main divisions or segments of the inner peristome.

A print produced from a process block. Used with reference to printing in which the design to be printed is created by a chemical or mechanical process rather than manually; sometimes spec. designating or relating to a kind of color printing in which a continuous and wide range of colors is produced by superimposing half-tones in each of three or four different colors.


To institute a process or legal action against, to sue, prosecute; to obtain a process or summons against; to serve a process on.

To subject (a person) to a process, as of registration, examination, or analysis.

To go on, take place.

To go, walk, or march in procession.

To lead or carry (a person, etc.) in procession; to go along or through (a street, an area) in procession.

To subject to or treat by a special process; to operate on mechanically or chemically; spec. to preserve or alter (food, a foodstuff, etc.) in this way. To purée or liquidize (food) in a blender, food processor, etc.

To reproduce (a drawing, etc.) by a mechanical or photographic printing process.

To register or interpret (information, data, etc.); computing to operate on (data) by means of a program.

Also, more loosely: to deal with (something), esp. according to an established procedure.



RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture

Volume 2: Process: Fields of Signification

Submission Deadline: August, 2008

Publication Date: November, 2008

Call for Work: Articles, criticism, dialogues, essays, fictions, images, interviews, manifestos, poems, reviews, statements, translations, vectors & whatnots.

Guidelines: Volume two of Reconfigurations <
http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/> seeks innovative works concerning process—the dynamics of action, exchange, mediation and transformation—in relationships and communities. In what ways are relationships either subverted or sustained by the idiosyncrasies of communication? How and why are the fields of commerce, inquiry and performance shaped primarily by their experiments and questions rather than by their commodities and results? What may be discovered by studying what is often forgotten or overlooked—process: inside-out & outside-in—during this age of fascination with product? Submissions addressing matters of process defined broadly and surprisingly are welcomed. In addition to the themes suggested above, other possibilities might include: editing, politics, research, teaching, translation, travel, etc. Reconfigurations invites submissions that engage with those diversified fields of signification.

Electronic Submissions:




7pm: RECONFIGURATIONS, readings, discussion, journal trading and release party for Volume One, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/

RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture is celebrating their first year of production. Volume One was published in November, 2007. The editors are currently accepting work for Volume Two. Submission period runs through the end of August.

RECONFIGURATIONS invites attendees to read selections aloud from Volume One at this event. Personal laptops for direct access encouraged, but not necessary. Please bring journals, lit magazines and books you’d like to exchange with others, as well.

RECONFIGURATIONS is an electronic, peer-reviewed, international, annual journal for poetics and poetry, creative and scholarly writing, innovative and traditional concerns with literary arts and cultural studies.

An open-access, independently managed journal, RECONFIGURATIONS publishes in November and is registered under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

The Dikeou Collection is located in the Colorado Building, 1615 California St, at 16th St, Suite 515, Denver, CO 80202. Free and open to the public Wednesday-Friday 11-5pm or by appointment. For more info contact 303-623-3001 or info@dikeoucollection.org

For more info about poetry events contact Rachel Cole, rachel@dikeoucollection.org


* * * REVIEWING * * *

Christina Angel, review: "Clown Girl"

Christina Angel

“A Hearse of Another Color”: Monica Drake’s Clown Girl. Portland, OR: Hawthorne Books, 2007. $15.95. ISBN: 0-9766311-5-6.

Have you ever wondered what Balloon Tying for Christ is? Neither have I, but that doesn’t stop Monica Drake from opening her painfully comic novel with this catchy line, and thus setting the tone for this surprising, entertaining book. Clown Girl illuminates a familiar yet foreign world in which Drake evokes, via Nita’s conflict with art versus sustenance, a certain modernist angst. Nita is not to be mistaken with a Bozo or even The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown; rather, Nita channels the profoundly emotional spaces of a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Nita’s preoccupation with Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (“Kafka was the voice of my resistance, my own religion, my grand opus” [251]) infuses the narrative with pure modern irony. The easy metaphor of Clown Girl would appear to be the sad clown, but the far more complicated one relies upon Nita’s pièce de résistance of a mimed performance of Kafka’s famous story of the man-turned-insect: “You’ve watched me develop it - watched me practice the transformation into vermin on my back, seen me work out the surrealist confusion, the naturalist horror” (283). The symbolic value of The Metamorphosis here is that Gregor wakes, “eager to see how today’s illusion would gradually dissolve” (Kafka 7), and this is what Nita does each day; the narrative trick is that, like Gregor, she too is slowly transforming and the illusions that dissolve are not the expected ones. She wakes to discover that the nature of her clown art has not transformed her into an artist but rather into a ridiculously dressed caricature of her former self. She finds she is not a clown, but simply clownish.

For all of its seeming predictability of the sad clown whose every attempt at various types of success falls spectacularly to pieces, Clown Girl is refreshing and unpredictable in its depth. Drake’s characters are often frenetic, disorganized, and aimless. The story drags in a few places, but the resulting punch lines and pratfalls make me wonder if the dragging effect is also metaphoric. After all, if the text asks us to incorporate the likes of Kafka, then it is likely also requesting we consider these lulls in action as representative of Nita’s existence. The anticipated romantic plot comes to an expected fruition, but it is the trip from cover to cover that proves to be more than half the fun. Chapters with titles such as “Chance Pays the Karmic Bill; or, Give Chance Some Peace!”, “The Tidy Side of Hell; or, Tonics, Soporifics, and Palliatives,” and “Silence Isn’t the Only Thing That’s Golden,” can only be a rollicking good time.

Having lost her parents and recently a child via miscarriage, her particularly apt status as a clown results from her ultimate desire to be an artist. Her wry sense of humor is her weapon against the perpetual adversity of her life, and proves to be Nita’s only ally for much of this tale. She suffers from an unexplained condition which causes heart palpitations and fainting spells, and her clown status prevents her from being taken seriously in the hospital emergency room, the local free clinic, or by any person ostensibly in a position to help her. Nita’s boyfriend, Rex Galore, serves as the absent lover whose name suggests his lack of seriousness: “My Clown Prince. That strong giant, Rex, darling shaman and showman” (26). He is away, does not return phone calls, and is supposedly busy getting into clown college. Nita idealizes Rex and puts him on a pedestal from which he can only fall, and as readers we all see what she cannot: the unequal relationship that must end badly.

Nita resides in the home of an ex-boyfriend dope dealer whose new girlfriend Natalia/Nadia/Italia – her actual name is never clear, and this is funny but becomes tedious – continually threatens her (and her little dog, too) with physical violence and eviction. In the fainting spell which opens the story, she attracted the attention of a local police officer who is kind and caring, but creates only more chaos for her because the company she keeps in Baloneytown (“where baloney was all the steak anybody could afford” [41]) works hard to remain under the radar of the law (“House Rule Number One where I lived: Don’t talk to cops” [25]). To make matters worse, Nita’s two female clown acquaintances only want to pursue careers in clowning with fetishists and manage to rope Nita into it, with – naturally – immediate comical misunderstandings and serious outcomes. All of these factors, along with clever puns like her “hearse of another color,” set Nita up for a series of pratfalls that become increasingly more tragic and less funny as the story progresses. Finally, it appears that no one gets the joke, including Nita.

Ultimately what Monica Drake’s Clown Girl offers readers is a brilliant meta-narrative which can be enjoyed at varying degrees of engagement, if you can get so far as to read it. The slapstick, easy-pun humor both annoys and entertains the clever reader, but the larger concerns of the novel might be lost on the average person picking it up and wondering, “who is Chuck Palahniuk and why should I care what he thinks of this book?” In this regard it is both approachable and intimidating, and the novel’s only real shortcoming is perhaps its lack of appropriate audience appeal. If you like Palahniuk, the expectation is that Clown Girl is comparatively edgy and disturbing, in which case you may be disappointed; if you read the inside panels and expect an effortless romantic comedy, you may be left equally lukewarm by the end. However, if you can look beyond the possible marketing flaws, you may discover that the level at which Drake employs her biggest punch line is where her genius lies. Clown Girl is the story of a girl clown who is continually aware of her role as a performer of fictions – including her own – and yet her only relief from the chaos of her life is the recognition that she is the author. The prose is tight, the tragic-comic balance tense, and the witticisms smart. In the current fiction landscape, the writing of literature too often insists on genre convention or the inaccessible, obfuscated postmodern narrative, so much that we forget what makes a great story: heartbreaking humanity. Clown Girl captures this and leaves you wanting to take the ride all over again.

Works Cited:

Drake, Monica. Clown Girl: A Novel. Portland, OR: Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, 2006.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Trans. Donna Freed. NY: Barnes and Noble, 1996.


Christina Angel is a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver. She holds a B.A. from Metropolitan State College of Denver and an M.A. from the University of Colorado in Renaissance/Early Modern studies, with a minor in Film Studies. She has taught literature and writing courses at the MSCD and the University of Denver.

Heide, Rexilius, Scarlata, Tynes, "Chax Reviews"

Anne Heide, Andrea Rexilius, Susan Scarlata, Jen Tynes

The Changing Shape: Collaborative Reviews of Chax Press Books

* Slightly Left of Thinking: Poems, Texts & Post-Cognitions (2008) by Steve McCaffery, reviewed by Susan Scarlata

* Implexures (2008) by Karen Mac Cormack, reviewed by Andrea Rexilius

* Sound Remains (2008) by John Tritica, reviewed by Jen Tynes

* War Dolly (2008) by Elizabeth Treadwell, reviewed by Susan Scarlata

* A Message Back and Other Furors (2008) by Leonard Schwartz, reviewed by Anne Heide


In an interview in the Winter 07/08 issue of Rain Taxi, Steve McCaffery remarks, “The possible cross-pollination of a present to a past fascinates me, that both can be chiasmically propensitive with the present able to contemporize the past and the past historicize the present.” This is an apt starting place from which to consider McCaffery’s Slightly Left Of Thinking: Poems, Texts & Post-Cognitions published this year by Chax Press. McCaffery’s sub-title provides a prescriptive means for reading this anti-prescriptive collection –each page in this book can indeed be seen as poem, text or “post-cognition.” McCaffery’s statement above articulates much of what the writings in this book enact.


Karen Mac Cormack's Implexures opens with this epigraph by Bryher, “Time tangled; it never ran in a straight scythe cut, as they pretended in the moralities, but lay in loops, like the grass at haying time when the conies scampered for safety, and stem and flower were upside down together.” What follows is a text that is part autobiography, part biography, part diary, and part history laid out in a series of interlocked prose paragraphs.


Of J.B. Bryan’s abstract paintings, Suzanne Sbarge writes, “Although rooted in the landscape genre, these lyrical garden paintings depict active verbs of experience rather than landscape as scenery. His marks are tendrils –– reaching, in constant motion, twirling, twisting, tying, unraveling, connecting, and overlapping. Bryan calls their visual syntax ‘more about flowering than any particular flowers.’” Much the same might be said of John Tritica’s Sound Remains, the cover of which features one of Bryan’s paintings.


As the title suggests, Elizabeth Treadwell’s War Dolly interposes the vernacular and vocabulary of the feminine up against and into that of war and destruction. This text works on the level of literal wars (“the warriors troop in the desert”), and on a more figurative plane dealing with the disintegration of language (“The City of horror & all Gods little Favor Flavs”).


Leonard Schwartz’s A Message Back and Other Furors seems to be asking the imperative question—when faced with it, can one write anything not informed by atrocity? Can one’s writing not be informed by events that shape our lives’ historicity? Can we, as poets, excuse ourselves from politics simply because it fails to rest within our direct line of sight? Through repetition and estrangement of what become familiar phrases in the text, Schwartz proffers not so much a doubling or a field of opposites, but a very real failure of recognition. While approaching the subject of representation and obligation directly, Schwartz also calls into question our responsibility to see and respond to that which we may not claim.


In McCaffery’s S.L.O.T. , as the book is labeled in the bottom corner of each page, the text titled Naming starts with numerous quotes, and the last in this list is Micahel Surya stating, “A name bears a kind of flagrant sad evidence.” From there this poem continues on with a litany of names, often used as modifiers. From Aphra Ben to Whoopi Golberg and Tanya Harding to Edgar Allen Poe in its nine-pages—this text is a demonstration of the “sad evidence” of names.


In her Implexures Mac Cormack implicates us in her language. We are no longer just an audience or a reader, but part of the history she speaks of; we create it with her. She writes, “Pick a childhood to look at. This doesn't have to be your own, but if it is, the strangeness of certain events may shift unexpectedly.” Implexures is about how things shift unexpectedly, about how selves shift, how histories shift, how prose shifts into poem and poem into photograph or drawn image. This text is, like most hybrid texts, not simply a “border crosser” but a border walker. It faces its edges and points at them.


Rooted in the alliterative naming and enumerating of the everyday, Tritica’s poems portray language as the day’s primary material and focus. Landmarks serve as measure of movement, as another way of comprehending the “o’clock.” Objects present themselves in order to map space, to project a sense of self that is always shifting, always blurring its territory but blurring so consistently and rhythmically that a “real world” still appears beneath the wash: one with espressos and refrigerator motors and dirty cars are both object and music. A rhythm tattoos a space and a place. The title refers to that shifting groundedness: the remains are reliable even as the sound perpetuates: are they supporting or subverting one another? Where is knowledge seated?


Every bit of language is used in Treadwell’s War Dolly, and with variances in repeated words and phrases Treadwell’s words accrue meanings that reverberate with each re-appearance. “This asphalt river of pelts,” changes to, “antique river of pelts,” and this image of a flowing mass of animal skin and fur echoes as another way of saying, “those who have attacked species,” a label implicating everyone that Treadwell utilizes early on in the text . Throughout, words like jammies, dolly, and candy apples appear stripped of their trite connotations. In the footsteps of Chris Tysh’s Continuity Girl, War Dolly reclaims these cutesy words injecting them with power by mashing them up against other, dissimilar vocabularies, and letting them hold their ground.


The repetition that Schwartz engages throughout the text offers both estrangement and intimacy. A line that repeats (in various articulations) is “Familiar ground is foreign land,” and each time the line reappears, the reader incurs a sense of that unfamiliar familiarity—the intimacy that comes from meeting, twice, a strangeness. In this book, things are not only defamiliarized, but wrenched out of meaning and understanding, articulating the confusion and disorientation that surfaces in the face of atrocity: “every vertical surface either door/or daughter.”


Flipping through S.L.O.T. , , one immediately recognizes McCaffery’s wide scope; from concrete poems referencing empty boxes that bear the titles of famous artworks at the tops of pages in the Pictures In An Exhibition section, to the Ghost Poems that describe poems that never appear, McCaffery is left-of-post-cognition on every page. Within the varied sections collected into Slightly Left Of Thinking, McCaffery consistently cross-pollinates present and past, and anything else ripe for hybridizing, which here means everything.


In Implexures Mac Cormack is conducting a research experiment of the self. She uses typical research methods to juxtapose a personal history with quotations by a large variety of philosophers, historians, and writers. Her text asks the question, how can one research and know one's self at any given moment? There is only so much digging one can do, and that digging is fundamentally internal rather than external or of public domain. Mac Cormack transverses this by going around the private self, by surrounding the self with others, with parallels, with contradictions, with interruptions, with cycles. She makes memories and then lets them erode, retelling them through other voices, adding details, omitting things. The stories she tells are both not her own and her own. They belong to a particular attention, a grazing or gleaning of human experience. Her text is a cacophony of the whole body speaking at once.


When John Tritica borrows lines from Nathaniel Mackey, Rosmarie Waldrop, Italo Calvino, Clark Coolidge, and others, those bits of italicized language are like weights dropped into the water of the poems, around which the texts ripple and echo and place themselves, allowing themselves to adopt other musics and rhythms even as they keep drumming that same place: espressos, refrigerator motors, dirty cars. More about living than any particular livelihood, these poems sing the everyday until it becomes a single shivering note for which the ear must bend toward, blend toward: as Tritica writes, “the hum of the room improves me.”


Despite its forward moving, disparate post-modern disintegration, War Dolly travels also to roots of the feminine-as-first-want in semblances like, “this milky satellite need.” This phrase calls up the milky-way, lactation, dish TV, and weaning all at once. It is groupings such as this, with their multitude of references, which ground War Dolly beyond its language. There are often parallel trajectories of ancient and recent in this text where salves, altars, and pagan savior gods make appearances; Treadwell consistently juxtaposes her questioning of the possibilities in older traditions with what is most “now”. In Strawberry Girl Treadwell poses a series of startlingly pertinent questions. “Can you afford this house?” she asks, “can you afford this replica of this house?/ can you afford a copy of it? / can you afford this house?” she goes on. These of-the-moment questions are not left alone, but exist intertwined with and against the surroundings of War Dolly and its consistent shifts between varied registers of language. Directly after these questions are posed, the shift is to “save these turtle jammies for my kids,” which has the effect of bringing these lines from the universal economic questions to the local, domestic reality enclosed within these larger queries.


Each poem in A Message Back & Other Furors is not so much titled as separated by two slashes, “//” which informs both the violence of splitting the text into “poems” and the doubleness of speaking to and out of war. Beyond the linguistic and formal concerns of the text, Schwartz constructs stark moments in which he allows realness to surface from the unreal—that is, when he allows for the stark singularity of war to arrive without moderation:

Misfortune’s most holy site:
bleached by bomb light,
mantel and bone.

Reminiscent of survivors’ tanka written in response to Hiroshima, here Schwartz is able to lay bare the horrific cleanliness of war—that which fails to be difficult and can offer only one conclusion, only one interpretation. But this doesn’t mean that Schwartz accepts any singular definition. Certain poems in the text seem to arise from a wholly different mode of understanding, where “I uromastyx my steak with a vegetarians gusto for tofu…I iguana, you iguana, he, she, it iguanas,” as if meaning has become unhinged, and the task of representation is abandoned for the easy irony of a failure to mean. Contradiction is an integral part of this text, and our ability or failure to simultaneously believe in conflicting truths becomes the foremost concern of the book.


In the section Opposite Poems, the final text in Slightly Left Of Thinking, McCaffery writes, “…a singularity of shorelines the memory/of a sign of what’s to come. The hand that writes this is dying /and perhaps already /“the work that I was born to do is done,” ”. The quote within the quote here is noted as, “George Chapman’s words on completing his translations of Homer.” Thus, the present sense created with, “the hand that writes this is dying,” is contrasted with one of Western literature’s seminal translators, and indeed the present, “contemporizes the past as the past historicizes the present.” In Opposite Poems McCaffery writes, “We only experience how meanings are made /by pulling language apart/but try explaining that to their mothers.” And this presents another consistent thread in McCaffery’s work, whether working with phrasal “bodies” through the use of quotation marks and parentheses in the Quote Aside section, or in Eleven Distractions where McCaffery provides disparate definitions of colors and, “Two memories of an episode that never happened,” he is pulling language and its given meanings apart in every possible way. As Chax Press proclaims to publish writing that, “does not take things for granted,” McCaffery refuses to take the materiality of words for granted, and dissembles them so he and his readers can, “experience how meanings are made.”


Mac Cormack’s Implexures moves between thoughts in a visceral way. It attempts to be simultaneous, like memory. The line, “Perhaps this accounts for the attraction of watching a fire, the unexpected shifts as logs are consumed and sparks burst forth,” is one of many images that begin to define her inquiry into the shifting and folded nature of self, time, memory, and story. If you look at something long enough you see that what it is is unstable, uncertain, constantly changing form. What you grasp onto are those little leaps of light.


In John Tritica’s Sound Remains more than any particular room, the space created within these poems is positioned to hold attention.


The persistent language-based contrasts in War Dolly that concomitantly reference content (from ancient times to yesterday) return us to our most basic human needs and wants as well as the queries wrapped within them. By providing many varied lenses War Dolly forces us to see contemporary reality for what it is starting with the, “flat thin crust of civilization to walk on /like hard candy apple the earth.”


In this poem from A Message Back and Other Furors, this ability to believe in conflicting truths is repeatedly questioned:

If we are able to believe in contradictory things
it is because violence is accepted as a legitimate political instrument.
If we are unable to believe in contradictory things
this means we will not see what will come to pass without us.

The poem continues in this manner, often contradicting itself until we arrive at the poem’s conclusion: “The state of Contradiction is grave/The state of Non-Contradiction is grave./In any case, recurrence is a definite no-no.” This final statement seems indicative of the text as a whole. Although Schwartz is able to propose these questions with sincerity, he seems unable to let that sincerity sustain itself. Irony becomes an increasingly visible mode of “questioning” in the text to the point where we are unable to maintain any kind of certainty.


Andrea Rexilius is currently working towards her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Denver. Her poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Bird Dog, Coconut, Colorado Review, How2, Minor American, P –Queue, Volt, and elsewhere. She is the editor of the online journal PARCEL and assistant editor of Denver Quarterly.

Susan Scarlata’s work can be found in recent issues of Sous Rature, Coconut, and Denver Quarterly. She lives in Denver and Kelly, Wyoming, and edits Lost Roads Publishers. Her chapbook, Lit Instant: Installation 1, is coming soon from PARCEL.

Jen Tynes lives in Denver, Colorado, and edits horse less press. She is the author or co-author of the following books and chapbooks: Heron/Girlfriend (Coconut Books, 2008), See Also Electric Light (Dancing Girl Press, 2007), The Ohio System (w/ Erika Howsare, Octopus Books, 2006), The End Of Rude Handles (Red Morning Press, 2005), and Found in Nature (horse less press, 2004).

Thomas Cook, review: "Tonight’s the Night"

Thomas Cook

Catherine Meng, Tonight’s the Night. East Stroudsburg, TN: Apostrophe Books, 2007. $11.00. ISBN: 0-9793627-0-9.

Catherine Meng’s first book of poetry, Tonight’s the Night, represents one-third of the current catalogue at Apostrophe Books, a publisher of “poetry intersecting theory, philosophy, cultural studies, and pataphysics.” Like Johannes Goransson’s A New Quarantine Will Take My Place and the newest Apostrophe book, Refrains / Unworkings, by Paul Foster Johnson, Meng aims at the heart of this publisher’s mission. She creates an elaborate fugue through the use of the words
“geese,” “green,” “grass” “notes,” and “Bach” in a book-length meditation that borrows its title, and the title of each of its poems, from the Neil Young lyric. Meng both constructs and deconstructs a number of fugal elements, playing on the musical and psychological elements of fugue, via the other main inspiration for the writing, Glen Gould. In an Author’s Note, Meng writes, “the poems that follow began as an experiment in repetition after reading the biographies of both Neil Young and Glenn Gould,” but in the table of contents we see a more complex architecture. Here, rather than a typical contents, Meng constructs a sequence of 31 epigraphs, with the component parts of a page number, a line from the poem that appears on that pages in italics (normally these line are quotes or partial quotes from the individual also quoted in the contents) and a more substantial quote from the influence:


If green is the color of my true love’s hair

If there were a theory of colour harmony, perhaps it would begin by dividing the colours into different groups and forbidding certain mixtures or combinations and allowing others; and, as in harmony its rules would be given no justification.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Colour

In the body of the book, these extended citations do not appear. A table of contents like this could place a heavy contextual burden on the poems, with philosophical figures (Nietzche, Heidegger, Poincare) and artistic figures (Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, Max Ernst) looming large over the work, but by keeping these citations to the contents (which really functions more as an index) Meng is able to keep these dialogues available for the curious reader, but non-intrusive for the reader of just the poems.

And the language of the poems themselves is wonderful. The book opens:

In April it snows your favorite song. It wraps around your ankles
where Bach should be. Eyes confuse leafless trees with artificial trees.
Toward chord curve, toward trucks
barreling into their break where the lights of the city pick up
you follow the line. Shitting troops of geese
bellow toward an ugliness which wobbles weird,
the bald tire they make of the sky. Where this world folds
exposed to the sun you can learn
about face. The articulate patterns of each blade of grass. (5)

This first poem announces Meng’s direct, stark and stunning language as well as the fugal elements she will continue to sound throughout the book: Bach (returning again and again as kind of place-holder for other individuals or for identity, more generally), geese (which often sound or “bellow” as a whole, as is the case here), and grass (typically, like the geese, a great tension between the singular blade and the plural, innumerable blades). Meng repeats these same words (along with “green” and “notes”) keeping each word involved in a constant confusion of sense. To the benefit of countless leaps in her poetry, she first makes useful ambiguities out of parts of speech and then achieves a kind of synesthetic universe that keeps sound and color at play: “Cutting with hands/ carving & back bowed—/ the two are conducting/ & the color responds”; or “a mistake & mistaking it twice until it’s a choice/ ignoring the grass growing so loud the hand” (29 & 47). The synesthestia along with the repetition create both a wild divergence and a claustrophobic calm: “two hands sever into bass & treble,/ they flew. they do, sprang back from flight” (29). The words and images begin to seem both familiar and divergent.

The poems indulge the polyvocality normally considered in both psychological and musical fugues. The repetition of the words sometimes accentuates the amnesic aspect of the voice—the way that someone in a psychological fugue might relive the same events and the same ideas in new and dangerous contexts—whereas Meng’s placement and arrangement of the words reflect the appearance and reappearance of notes, as in a musical fugue. Fortunately, Meng doesn’t rely too much on either notion of fugue; she keeps both psychological and musical elements in play with one another:

& the backbone’s connected to the sight
so vertigo starts
when black flocks back to light
the land that seeds
what Bach is
trying to see
what green is
if green was never there. (14-15)

When I finish Meng’s book, I find myself turning back to the contents, which themselves seem to perform a fugue of certain broad and related topics, interpolating the thinkers Meng engages in surprising ways. I do this not for any lacking on the poems’ part, but because her architecture is so sound. Tonight’s the Night plays with that range of material, sounding all of the notes, sometimes sharply (as in the early echo from Wittgenstein) sometimes more abstractly (as in these moments of resonance with Bach):


Bach worries momentarily on the birdlessness / of the day

Music has the frustrating habit of proving in the end to have been about nothing in particular…
—Glenn Gould


Bach should be, blade beyond blade, wave
Everything decisive arises as the result of opposition.
—Friedrich Nietzche, The Creative Process, (Brewster Ghiselin, ed.)

This sense of abstraction—resonant absence— is the final tie between the two fugue states that Meng scores for the reader’s performance. The combination of notes that compose a musical fugue are powerful both for their presence in the piece, but also for when they disappear, fade out. In amnesia, it is not always that we forget who we are, but also that someone or something can come to stand in our place.


Thomas Cook's poems have recently been featured in Lamination Colony and are forthcoming in Quarterly West, Pank, and Action Yes. He is Assistant Editor of Luna: a journal of poetry and translation and Co-Editor of Tammy.

Gregory Kirk Murray, review: "Cleaning the Mirror"

Gregory Kirk Murray

Joel Chace, Cleaning the Mirror. Kenmore, NY: BlazeVOX [books], 2007. $16.00. ISBN: 1-934289-58-2.

Joel Chace is a late-modernist whose waste land is zeroes and ones rather than “dried tubers.” A highly experimental poet, he tinkers with how words mean and how they are put together. In his Cleaning the Mirror: New and Selected Poems, one recalls everything from the “if you like it, then you understand it” modernism of Gertrude Stein to the typographic play of e.e. cummings. And, though he is allusive throughout, he is not oppressively elusive, and the reader will delight in the blending of mindful erudition and reconfigured cliché. Unlike Eliot’s “Waste Land,” the work seems like more of an anthology, though there are several recurring themes. The collection comprises nine parts, mostly taken from his previous publications in journals such as 6ix, xStream, Coracle, and Three Candles. Many of these “parts” are long poems from chapbooks published by Anabasis/Xtant, Red Pagoda Press, and Puddle Leaflets, to name a few.

“Twisting Tail,” which is for physiological reasons the final poem in the collection, does not merely indicate either his poetics of narrative (tale), or his endlessly “twisting” poetics of the long poem. It also shakes its tail at the reader, implying a layer of sexual innuendo that pervades many of these selections. Still further, “twisting tail” implies the luminous t(r)ail of particles following a comet, this flash across the black universe being the inverse of Chace’s inked word clusters across the expanses of white page. If I appear to be waxing interpretative here, consider the ample space that BlazeVOX, the book’s publisher, provides the reader to do just that: write out interpretations in the margins. With small font and big pages, the reader is free to get creative.

The themes mentioned above in Chace’s play on “twisting tail” do not only surface in part IX, titled “terrible thread,” but also in various spots throughout the collection. The first part, “Time’s Lap,” is a “twisting tale” as well. His “Paper World” and “Falling Waitress” are “twisting” narratives, their tortuous paths marked primarily by irregular stanza and line lengths. For those who fancy a single narrative voice, as opposed to helter-skelter heteroglossia, “Paper World” is the only poem that commits itself to one; that said, it is easy to be fooled by the vaguely explanatory voice. Indeed, the poem treats the notion of a “speaker” thematically, if not performatively as well. Chace’s persistent thematic complexity and his penchant for fragmentation create clever and unique insights, though the reader might ask which truly “poetic” observations are sacrificed when the poet is, as the speaker of the final poem suggests, “just farting around.”

The collection is at its most charming and most fulfilling in part IV, “Heisenberg.” Obviously a reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle, Chace’s poetics of uncertainty governs this part of the work. Here, he creates short stanzas of varying length, usually with short lines as well, and separates each by fifteen dots, suggesting something between a prolonged ellipsis and the seam of a garment. Both Chace’s constellations of themes and his clever wordplay create this layered effect, and visually the poem is, as he indicates in one poem, “pied” with fragments. One of these fragments is a highly colloquial and darkly humorous account of a monkey flinging excrement into a pilot’s face and then being shot by said pilot. Here as elsewhere, the poet toys with a “low” poetic discourse, playing the edge between the poetic and unpoetic, questioning Seriousness’ long-standing dictatorial rule. It is appropriate then that he alludes to John Cage’s “4:33” in this section. Cage’s provocative piece opened-up a new space, a space of which, as in Heisenberg’s observation of the quantum mechanical world, the viewer cannot be certain. What, indeed, was the music in Cage’s piece? And where was it? Chace, like Cage, counters the notion that the audience should “think/ appropriate/ expressions of praise then/ leave.” It even becomes uncertain whether the reader or the poet is the one “cleaning the mirror” of the title, as he writes in “Heisenberg”:

he kept cleaning
the mirror kept
finding himself knew
if he kept cleaning he’d
find the new way to move

The enjambment on “knew” suggests that both poet and reader not only find themselves “in the know” by cleaning the mirror, but also find a way to “make it new.”

Much of Chace’s work relies upon the “new,” and is by definition new, as he incorporates gaming terminology and experiments with typographics that were not available twenty years ago. Part V, “Cheats,” suggests the metaphors of writing as programming and reading as gaming. The cheats, apparently designed for a Nintendo game console, are scattered throughout, in such “passages” as, “C-UP + C-DOWN/ R + 1/ + 2.” These cheats seem primarily “programmed” with humorous intent, as during “Grendel’s/ Stage Fight,” one should “Keep holding Start/ and press/ Quick). There is plenty of room in the margin to write, “LOL.”

With technology come problems. Two long poems, comprising parts VI and VII, are referred to as “Translations,” yet they appear to be transcribed onto the computer by an apathetic amanuensis. As the “translation” occurs, the text gets harder and harder to understand, not merely because the keyboard appears to be sticking (as he writes, “kkkkkkk” and “bbs 1111 bbbb 111”), but also because the words are less and less like those found in a dictionary (“kokkels, kebs, all ranes” and “Fool roggen/ bunshapp”). Here, the language computer appears to be breaking down.

But, these “translations” don’t have the last word. One of the collection’s best poems, “stagehand” helps the faltering machine, to my thinking, convalesce in part VIII. Thematically, the stagehand is not merely a synecdoche for theater help, but also a helper on “execution day,” signifying either the end of a life or the day of a performance. Or both. Indeed, the wordplay delivers resoundingly in the final two parts (VIII and IX), returning Chace to his strength: combining themes to suggest interesting metaphor. Reflecting on what to do with these metaphors and ultimately what is at stake is up to the reader.


Gregory Kirk Murray is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. He has presented work on Elizabeth Bishop and Jean Genet and is currently researching ludic poetic practices in American, African-American, and French modernisms. He is also a poet whose work has appeared in limbic, among other places.

Daniel Louis Singer, review: "Brief Under Water"

Daniel Louis Singer

Cyrus Console, Brief Under Water. Providence: Burning Deck Press, 2007. $14.00. ISBN: 978-1-886224-87-2.

Never has error in poetry been quite so right as it is in Cyrus Console’s first collection, Brief Under Water, a wry, ambitiously conflicted system of fifty-five narrative prose poems titled in binary code, out from Burning Deck Press in 2007. The book, a “study,” as the speaker(s) immediately identifies it, is that reasonably rare work whose topical subject is successfully mirrored in the experience of its consumption, by design. And Console’s subject is nothing less than the “study” of human failure in the assumption of progressing time and place as progress in life and literature.

In testament to the relative éclat of this volume, two statements must be made in earnest: First, that experience of Brief Under Water as anything other than a totality successfully invites, even encourages the experience of error in interpretation. As a result, the success of the book lies not only in its occasionally unsettling quietude, its frankness, but, ultimately, in the experiential ambition with which it is conceived and constructed as a system, offered up as a sort of metonym in “100”:

“For years I did not seem to get anywhere. To speak of moving in place, or, as I was then fond of speaking, monsters of the deep. This was a phrase I had picked up and which I carried with me for many years, ignorant of its meaning. I used it to get by. You could say that I had a problem.” (11)

Second, that while individual poems may, at times, descend to threadbare gimmick or a claudicantical cleverness, as when the speaker in “100000” sacerdotally quips: “The wine they again brought out, and I drank of the wine, and was drunken, and I lay, cheated, and stole” (39), these occasional distractions come mostly to be forgotten in the face of the overall potency of the sequence as a systemic whole.

Though there is no delineated segmentation, the book moves in episodic sections, tracing some element of a character figure and a relation to place through studied recollection from poem to poem. In the first quarter of the book, for example, “my brother” and “the house” or home-of-origination form the threads of progression. Following, the communicative and relational distancing of “Dad” and the traveled exodus of developing adulthood in the second quarter is sequenced into “the city” or “the island” and the spouse or romantic/sexual other in the third, and, at last, to outer space or “the sky” and “the balloon” or “the blimp” in the final grouping.

The great irony is that this progressive investigation is not presented as progress. The alternately first and third person speaker(s), though certainly not the work, is doomed from the start, considering the central error-locus at ground/air zero described in the opening poem, “O”:

“I suppose we were waiting for Black Monday. There were comets in the air. It was beautiful over Libya and beautiful over Chernobyl…We drew planes in profile and bullets in midflight. We were still convinced of a graphical solution. In fact there was no tomorrow.” (7)

There can be no future, only past and present as sequence, and the final outcome of a “study of this kind,” a phrase which self-identifies the whole of the book repeatedly throughout, is the rhetorical positioning of life-as-progress and literature-as-progress as fundamental wrongs. In the final poem of the sequence, “110110,” there is only the inevitable: “Huge, empty, he could not progress but with drifting; but in a way he had won. The air, trapped by its own weight, pushed the blimp higher into the sky.” (61) Lest this cyclical totalizing from sky in the beginning to sky in the end be misunderstood as story, it must be stated that, while certainly narrative in lyric approach, this book is no novel-in-verse, no Ann Carson Autobiography of Red. The sequence never resolves into an extended narrative to satisfy any novelistic sensibility and does not attempt to do so, but neither is it devoid of cohesion beyond collection. Definitively a project-book, the threading of episodes develops a trans-progressive phenomenology, out of which emerges a general pastiche—a more conceptual, more cyclic poetics of investigation.

As the proof is often in the pudding, something potent is played out in the pastiche. Console’s systemic referentializing is not your average affinity for allusion. To put it bluntly: this is something special, as it operates dualistically and ambitiously beyond the general employment, first in structural invocation and subordinately in semantic misdirection.

Regarding the former, the structural poetics of the book deftly invokes Susan Wheeler’s 2001 Source Codes, also a project-book constructed of a numbered sequence of poems, also following a single line or image progressively from one lyric into the next. The two books are not the same: Wheeler’s “computerese,” as one reviewer called it, is confined to an appendix of HTML, whereas Console’s sequential numbering is, to borrow from Kenneth Burke, “terministically screened” in binary code. Additionally, his trans-progression is quieter, more subtly topical and sectional than is Wheeler’s, but the mimetic invocation is deeply affective. By adapting Wheeler’s architecture as reference, he activates the hermeneutic of error that gives rise to Brief Under Water.

Further, Console’s treatment of the entire phenomenology as a sort of movement-in-place is systemically referential. His direct use of the phrase (“to speak of moving in place”), and the constant cyclical movement in the poems directly calls on Aristotle’s Metaphysics: “And there is no movement but movement in place, and of this only that which is circular is continuous.” This invocation, like that of Wheeler, informs the topical structure of the sequence, as it threads from home looking skyward, to the disparity of distance, and back into the inevitable sky.

His subordinate system of reference, on the other hand, at first appears less innovative. Appearing as a Thomas Pynchon Slow Learner-style, early-works imperative to “make it literary,” Console occasionally affects a general literariness, the thanatopsistic William Cullen Bryant, a Dostoyevskian morality of mistake. This simplicity of allusion is deceptive, however, as it acts in concert with the larger referential movement to foreground the book as a generative struggle, reconciling a more localized fallacy of literature-as-progress, which, in turn, picks up a strain of problematics traceable again to Aristotle but then reified in Shelley’s old claim that poetry is always a sort of mimesis. Thus, Brief Under Water successfully uses literary reference both to inform its topicality and to encourage the progression-as-progress act of error in the actual consumption of the text by inviting exactly this type of simple explication of content and prominent textual feature in much the same way the billiard-hall shark suggests a friendly game of pool.

This subordinate referentializing is used to considerable effect in the titling features. Burning Deck’s note claims that the binary numbering of the poems is “intended to express [the author’s] sense of movement-in-place,” which, out of context, rings mute. However, understood as the subordinate extension of Console’s structural Aristotelianism, this binary numbering is of considerable systemic importance as it furthers the metaphysical development of error in the text at the same time as it semantically misdirects the reader. The effect is shown in the January/February 2008 “Poet’s Sampler” of The Boston Review, which states: “the poems are mysteriously numbered, with large gaps in the sequence,” which is precisely the type of interpretive error Console deliberately enacts as experiential parallel to his subject matter. (Actually, the binary numbering is in perfect sequence and translates in Arabic numerals to titles “0” straight through “54”).

This totalizing system of reference is so bold as to even claim purpose for the title of the book as a whole. Brief Under Water draws its master appellate from Franz Kafka’s 1919 “Brief an den Vater,” meaning “Letter to the Father,” a title given to an actual 45-page, type-written Kafkan epistle. While the letter-written-to-father motif appears at multiple points throughout the sequence, as it does in “100111”: “Dear dad, I put down, dear Dad, the great television antenna swayed in the wind” (46), it remains tempting to treat the title of the book as a simple mistranslation of the German, rather than as a fundamental part and example of Console’s system of larger action. Thus, the experiential misdirection of his referencing effectively mirrors the whole of the problem of error under study in this work.

If Alexander Pope was right in claiming that “to err is human,” then Cyrus Console, in projecting that to be human is to be stuck in error, may be more so. That the experience of mistake, miscommunication, and failure is a temporal epistemology of the self in moving/unmoving elegy seems to be the inquirical finding of Brief Under Water. Ironic, then, that a book about doing it all wrong as a matter of course ultimately does it so well.


Daniel Louis Singer
has been the editor of The Wordsworth: for the Published Poet, Aspiring Author, and Writer for Wonder and Whimsy and of small literary journals. His poetry and prose have appeared in Centripetal and Plymouth Magazine, among other places. He is currently at work on: a Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Theory at the University of Denver; two poetry manuscripts (Yank, Man, Hand, and Other Imperative Identities, and A Sacred Geometry); and a post-pedagogy theory of composition.

* * * DIALOGUE * * *

Dan Beachy-Quick, "Call & Response"

Dan Beachy-Quick

Loss as Repeated Lesson; or, Call & Response

The gas-station sign grows brighter than sun
And so we know it’s night. We study night;
We cannot lie. Dark conceals and won’t explain
The bulb above the book glows implicate
In paper dressed in white. One grows weary
Of saying “I.” I read the book. So the day
Grows legible. There are no riddles. The starry
Spheres work their influence to guide astray
Our small hopes. Mind-governed strife. Call & . . .
You, your absence. These coins that were his eyes
When the book was shelved. The ferryman’s hand
Collects his toll. Currency exchange. I
Read apple, play, appease, please on one face.
“Inscribe the blank” (etched opposite) “to define place.”

¥ ¥ ¥

A pip marks page marks seed in apple-white;
Fold the page into a coin and put it in the slot
And down the chute the apple comes—almost
Tasteless. Very faintly, one tastes the sun.
I taste the sun. It tastes like the eye-chart
In the Doctor’s office where I couldn’t—
Without eyes—focus on the letter E
Writ so stupidly large. What is the least line
You can read?
If I squint, I can see
the sun glow bright against the dark screen.
They hollowed out the book so the sextant
Fit inside. They didn’t tease me about being blind.
They said the oarsman gentled the water with quiet
Thoughts quoted from this empty book’s last line.


Dan Beachy-Quick’s book of interlinked meditations on Moby-Dick, A Whaler’s Dictionary, will be published by Milkweed Editions in September 2008. His fourth book of poems, This Nest, Swift Passerine, will be published by Tupelo Press in spring 2009. He teaches at Colorado State University.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nigel Beale, "Audio Interview With Jaap Blonk"

Nigel Beale
Nota Bene Books,

Audio Interview With Jaap Blonk

Sound poetry has been defined as “verse without words.” Intended primarily for performance, pure sound texts typically ignore the role of meaning, and downplay structure. Sound poetry is primarily a 20th century phenomenon. Futurists and Dadaists pioneered early forms of it.

The poet Edith Sitwell coined the term Abstract poetry to describe poems she’d written which emphasize aural rather than literary qualities; “Patterns of sound” in the process of being invented. Rooted in the primitive and universal, sound poets are often motivated by a sense of the inadequacy of language.

As a vocalist, Jaap Blonk has performed around the globe exciting audiences with his powerful stage presence and childlike improvisation. We talk here,
http://nigelbeale.com/?p=975, in an interview conducted for The Biblio File radio program, about the noises humans make that aren’t words, how important they are in communication, and the way sound poetry utilizes them; about meaning found in intonation and getting booed, the pleasure of inventing structures, Dadaism and the breaking of rules, Johnny Van Doorn and A Bridge too Far; about the international phonetic alphabet, pitch, timber and the best English language sound poets. Listen, and brace yourself for the recital of a sonnet Jaap wrote in honour of Van Doorn.


Nigel Beale is a freelance writer/broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Washington Post, The (Manchester) Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Bookseller Magazine and The Quarterly Conversation. In his role as host of The Biblio File radio program, http://nigelbeale.com/, he has interviewed many of the world’s most admired authors; plus publishers, booksellers, editors, book collectors, librarians, conservators, illustrators, and others connected with the book.

Halvard Johnson, "Almost at Home"

Halvard Johnson

Almost at Home

Driving home in our spanking-new SUV,
she said, “White noise,” and I heard,
“Wet nose.” Then I said, “Why not?”
She thought I’d said, “Wipe snot.”

In Munich, as in Berlin, the links between
naturists and socialites were all too
evident, the excitement, though, not nearly
so great. “Take me,” she said, slyly.

“To what?” I replied. After all, she was
still behind the wheel. “Stimulation,”
she said, thoughtfully taking up the cause
of atheism, anarchism, and other

such propensities. Political currents were
rampantly running, nearly upon us.
“Turn left,” I said. “Bereft of what?”
Her most pugnacious manifesto.


Halvard Johnson was born in Newburgh, New York, and grew up in New York City and the Hudson Valley. Having lived in Puerto Rico, Germany, and Japan, he currently resides in New York City, but spends his quality time mostly in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. "Almost at Home" is reprinted with permission from Organ Harvest with Entrance of Clones (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2007).

Doug Holder, "Poet and Polymath Hugh Fox"

Doug Holder
Ibbetson Street Press,

Poet and Polymath Hugh Fox: Still a Wunderkind at 76

At the Sherman Café in Union Square (Somerville, Mass.) I met poet, translator, critic, playwright, Hugh Fox and his wife, before a taping we were to do at Somerville Community Access TV of my show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.” Fox was visiting his daughter who lives in Somerville and teaches at area universities. Two of my next-door neighbors Kirk and Lucy joined us as Fox held court. At age 76 Fox shows no signs of slowing down. He regaled us with stories of his extensive travels, all peppered with his vast wealth of knowledge of ancient Aztec culture, mythology, literature, and publishing. Fox talks like a Bronx cabdriver (decidedly from the side-of-his mouth), and he is not afraid to use, to put it mildly, unsavory language. My friend described him as “Larger than life.” And so he is.

Fox, who was a tenured professor at the Michigan State for well over 30 years, recently completed a controversial memoir “Way, Way Off the Road” (Ibbetson Street) that dealt with many of the figures from the small press movement, a movement that has produced thousands of small literary magazines and books, and is the lifeblood of poets and writers of all stripes.

Small Press books and magazines are typically defined as having press runs of less than 5,000. Fox has championed a movement that gave a start from everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Mark Doty.

Fox was a founding member of COSMEP, (a seminal small press organization), and he published the well-regarded literary magazine “Ghost Dance: The International Quarterly of Experimental Poetry,” (1968-1995). He is the recipient of two Fulbright Professorships and penned the first critical study of the dirty old man of literature himself, Charles Bukowski, as well as a critical study of the poet Lyn Lifshin. Fox was a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize, has written and published over 80 books and chapbooks of poetry, and has reviewed countless small press books for Len Fulton’s “Small Press Review.” Fox was the Latin American editor of the Western World Review & North American Review, and a former contributing reviewer on Smith/Pulpsmith magazine founded by Harry Smith.

* * *

Doug Holder: Hugh you wrote critical studies of Henry James and Charles Bukowski, two vastly different writers. Whom did you have the greater affinity for?

Hugh Fox: I got my PhD from the University of Illinois and my dissertation was on Edgar Allen Poe. I was raised as an Irish Catholic, and all I read was Irish Catholic literature. I had no idea what was in the outside world. I decided to take on Henry James because it would be an Americanization process and I thought I would learn to write novels. I did like James’ work a lot.

I never intended to get involved with Bukowski. I was totally academic. And then one day I was in this bookstore in Hollywood, the “Pickwick.” Anyway, I bought Bukowski’s book: “Crucifix and the Death Hand.” I got a hold of his press LouJon in New Orleans, and they told me to look him up in the phonebook. So I called him up and said: “This is Hugh Fox. I love your work. I want to meet you.” He said: “OK, come over tomorrow.” He was living in a motel in Hollywood. I talked with him a while. He took out these suitcases and there were all his books and magazines in them. He gave me five full suitcases and told me if I saw doubles to keep them. My entire way of seeing the world changed after this. Bukowski and Henry Miller were big influences of change for me.

DH: You were friends with Harry Smith, the book publisher, and founder of “The Smith…” magazine. Smith published such writers as: Duane Locke, Ruth Moon Kempher, John Bennett, Lloyd Van Brunt, Jeff Sorensen, Alan Britt, and Tristram Smith as well as my friends Luke Salisbury and Jared Smith. Can you talk about your relationship with Smith?

HF: I’ll tell you what happened. Smith had no money at all, and he meets Marian Pechak up in Rhode Island at Brown. So he marries her and her parents died and she got millions. So they move to Brooklyn Heights. They had a big Brownstone mansion. So Smith tells her he wants to be a publisher. His wife said:” Hey, we have the money do what you want to do”. So he started to publish. He had an office right by City Hall in New York City. I met Smith through COSMEP and used to go to Smith’s all the time. I went between semesters, and in the summer. I’d go for a month a year for twenty years. Smith published everyone who was anyone. I did a lot of reviews for him. He paid me—I stayed at his house—he set up the basement for me. We used to go out for lunch and dinner and his wife told the kids to call me: “Uncle Hugh.” I was closer to Smith than anyone else. Through him I met Menke Katz who was a great Yiddish writer.

DH: You edited the groundbreaking anthology “The Living Underground,” that our Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish was in. How did you get this collection together?

HF: It was formed due to my connection with COSMEP. This was the “Committee of Small Press Editors and Publishers.” Len Fulton and others formed it in the early 70’s. Len Fulton still runs the magazine “The Small Press Review” and “Dustbooks Publishing” in Paradise, California. COSMEP used to have annual conventions around the country: St. Paul, New York, and New Orleans. Every convention had a huge reading and almost every small press editor in the country was there. I got to meet all the writers and all the publishers and I got to know people in Boston, and of course Sam Cornish was in Boston, and as it happened he was included in “The Living Underground…” Cornish was at the convention in Boston.

DH: What is an “underground poet?”

HF: Someone who is not published by the big New York publishers.

DH: What was “groundbreaking” about the anthology?

HF: We had living, contemporary small press poets. We had folks like Charles Potts, Richard Krech, and many others. We had a reunion almost forty years later in Berkley, Ca.

DH: How did you get involved with the small press literary award the “Pushcart Prize?”

HF: I got involved through a COSMEP conference in New Orleans. The Prize doesn’t have as much impact as it did in the day. I go to a Barnes and Noble today and nobody is buying anything, everyone is there with his or her computer. Everyone is having coffee with his or her computers.

DH: Hugh you are the most prolific reviewer I know. How did you get involved with reviewing books, and why do you spend so much time on an activity that doesn’t provide you with monetary compensation?

HF: I became good friends with Len Fulton of the Small Press Review. Now, every four months or so I get a package of books to read. It’s good for me because I get to find out what’s going on with the poets. It influences my style—all these poets I read. It helps me get my name in the Small Press Review all the time. I want to be involved.

DH: Your are the doyen of the short review. How are you able to get to the essence of a book with such few words?

HF: Before I go to bed I always read a few things. Then I just react to it. It’s funny it is like I listen to an inner voice. The inner voice tells me what to write. The reason I got a degree in American Literature was really to learn how to write reviews of books. To react to books. My first draft of my Poe dissertation was horrible. My advisor said as much. He told me that I was going to write his way. He said: “You are going to react, feel, and so forth. I learned to react. I learned this from academic teaching.”

DH: You said you always considered yourself a wunderkind, a boy genius. How about now at 76?

HF: The same at 76. I haven’t aged mentally or psychologically. I’m still 26. I may have cancer of the prostate, arthritis, but my mind is the same. When I was in California recently I wrote 100 poems in two weeks.

DH: What do you want your legacy to be?

I haven’t thought about it. I would like to see other people do the same thing. I want them to react to the world around them.


Small press activist Doug Holder is the founder of Ibbetson Street Press,
http://homepage.mac.com/rconte/, and has published over 50 books of poetry by local and national poets. THE MAN IN THE BOOTH IN THE MIDTOWN TUNNEL, a collection of Holder’s poetry, was published by Cervena Barva Press in 2008.

Kristen Orser, "Interview with Arielle Greenberg"

Kristen Orser

Interview with Arielle Greenberg

Arielle Greenberg is the author of Given (Verse, 2002), the chapbook Fa(r)ther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003), and My Kafka Century (Action Books, 2005). With Rachel Zucker, she recently co-edited an anthology of essays on women poets and mentorship, Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (University of Iowa Press, 2008). She is also the editor of Youth Subcultures: Exploring Underground America.

She teaches in the poetry programs at Columbia College Chicago, where she is a co-editor of the poetry journal Court Green and was, easily, one of the most important mentors in my poetry career. It was, I think, her curiosity and her ability to push me towards risk that made me choose Arielle as my thesis advisor. I remember her telling me to put all of my anxiety into the poem instead of making a poem that is “clean.” And, once I knew I was allowed to be as messy on the page as I was in my head, poetry started being something necessary—becoming something like bread.

I met with Arielle over lunch in early June to discuss poetry and poetics; I'd intended to talk about process or something relatively simple, but our conversation moved towards class identification/politics in poetry and women's bodies as parts of—or, even, as—text. With Arielle, the expected is never what will happen, but all the detours and deviation take you somewhere entirely new and utterly wonderful.

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KO: I remember reading Given and, my reading group at the time asked me if I liked it; I didn't know what to say. Your work seems to resonate later—some time after finishing the poem, when watching television or listening to music. Like the work needs a lived experience in order for it to engage with all of your mental synapses. And, maybe, it depends on culture—American culture—for all the references to start piling and gathering their own logic.

AG: The work is American, very idiomatic. I've always been interested in slang, idiom, regionalism—it's funny, I'll love a book and flip to the back to read the blurbs and they will say, “This poet is working with the American vernacular.” And I'll realize, “Oh, yes, that's why I liked it.” It's related to my academic interests too: my study of cultures and subcultures.

The weirdness of everyday, used language. Joyce's Ulysses is one of my touchstones and I love how the language in that book is taken from soap advertisements and bar conversations, totally low culture stuff, alongside all the high culture references. Joyce was very much in love with that vernacular.

My books do depend on American cultural reference points. But, that said, I don't think my work is nearly as difficult as some poetry out there. In every poem I write, there are seeds of emotional narrative: very few of my poems come from a purely intellectual or poetic exercise. I think my work falls in a gutter between Confessionalism and Language poetry, and perhaps this makes it harder for some readers.

KO: What do you think about poetry in our contemporary moment? What do you make of post-avant-garde poetry, neo-confessional poetry, and all of these other “types” of poetry. Do you think we need a new “movement” or do you see something gathering, something starting to happen?

AG: I don’t think there is such a thing as the “post-avant-garde” because the avant-garde should be whatever is the most innovative, groundbreaking thing at any given moment. It should be constantly changing and shifting and evolving and enduring. But the way I described my own work above, as falling in that gutter between Confessional and Language, etc., is what gets called “post-Language” and “postmodern Confessional” and a variety of other names. So it would not be in my best interest to disparage these groups!

But seriously, I like work that borrows from a variety of traditions. It’s also just what makes sense to me—how can a young poet in this day and age not borrow from many traditions?

Honestly, I don’t believe poetry needs anything. I believe this in principle, because I don’t think you can force an art form toward something—I think movements and schools and whatnot arise out of their cultural moment organically. But I also believe that poetry doesn’t need anything because I think we’re in a very exciting moment for poetry right now. I’m reading many wonderful first books by young authors.

I wonder, actually, whether there has ever been a genuinely bad moment for poetry, or if those who thought so just weren’t finding their way to the exciting work.

KO: I think poetry enters the world differently than prose. With prose, there is an immediacy. Like, all of a sudden it's there. Poetry is much slower somehow.

AG: I think of my poetry as pretty fast. It’s like I am riding a horse into town and picking up people along the way, saying, “Come on!” But I am conscious about putting in a point of entry.

KO: How do you cultivate a point of entry for your readers?

AG: Some people have a context for the poems—they know the presses or magazines and journals where I am published and that provides a context. But in general, I feel like my poems always have some germ of humor or emotional transparency or narrative hook that provides a point of entry.

Also, I have to remember that it's not possible to reach everyone. And there are such low stakes: I only need to be beholden to myself. Pragmatically, I'm at liberty: in poetry, since so few read it, there are very few expectations. Nobody expects anything from my work like they expect from Danielle Steele or Anne Rice. I am in it mostly to amuse and challenge myself.

I went to P.S. 122 in New York City to see a play. It was a stripped down musical with three girls, a motorcycle boyfriend, and nothing was clear. The actors spoke in this disaffected, completely stylized manner. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, they would break into song with the same, apathetic voice. I was laughing hysterically and Rob, who was my boyfriend at the time, didn’t get it. I was like, “It's genius!” And later, at a dress store, the boutique owner sounded exactly like one of the women in the play. Rob heard her voice, looked at me and said, “Oh.” He got it. This is also my goal in poetry: to highlight the strangeness of the world. Don't invent the strangeness, it's already there—allow for that uncanny sense to come through.

KO: Sometimes I wish you would have told me all of this when I was finishing my MFA and wanting, so badly, for everyone to love what I was doing. I wanted them to drop on their knees and say “This is great.” How'd you get this kind of autonomy over your work?

AG: I started out writing what I thought of as very linear narrative poetry, but even when I thought it was clear, I would bring it into workshop when I was in graduate school and everyone would say, “What is happening here? What is this?” And I would be thinking, “But it's so clear, isn’t it?” Baroque—that was a criticism I always heard.

My poetry was, and is, thick with language. I'm not interested in representing reality. I'm writing a poem. Language is the thing. I just kept hitting my head against walls doing the stuff I thought was expected until finally I allowed the fact of my oddness to just exist: I embraced it, went fully toward it.

When I was in middle school, everyone said I was weird, and I honestly didn't know how to be normal or popular. I could keep trying to be something that I didn't know how to be or I could embrace how weird I was. And I made that decision. I started coming to school in crazy thrift store outfits—that I loved—and I owned the weirdness. That got me through adolescence.

Then, I felt like myself. In high school, I became friends with all the other freaks and it was wonderful! I made the same split with my poetry.

KO: There is narrative in your work. Maybe it isn't clear, but it seems to be in there. Also, history. My Kafka Century seems so immersed in history—personal history and collective history. Were the ethics of representation important to you when you worked on My Kafka Century?

AG: Linear poets have a responsibility to make their narrative, a story that already exists, an art. I hold linear narrative poetry to a different set of standards. For me, I wasn't as worried about representation because my poems so often prioritize language over clarity or story.

KO: What about working as an upper middle class poet? You admit, in your poetry, to a certain degree of privilege; what compels you to admit this and to give voice to this experience?

AG: I do feel it’s important to acknowledge the existence of class. I did not grow up upper middle class. I grew up in an upper middle class environment and my parents were money-conscious and they acted like we were poorer than we were, but we were solidly middle class. I didn't have a fancy Bat Mitzvah. My parents were also sort of hippies and anti-materialists. They would never have taken us to Disney World. We didn't have cable or an answering machine. That just wasn't how we lived.

But I felt poor when I wasn't and that was wrong. I was aware of those disparities and oddnesses, even as a child.

So I think I constantly try to write class onto the screen. I feel like what I can do about class in my poetry is to recognize it. I agree with something Harryette Mullen said when she visited Columbia College, something along the lines of: Poems aren't political. If you want political, go work at a soup kitchen. I think class is always in the back of my head.

KO: I think it's a Western New York situation—to feel this way about class—since the property value is so cheap, but there aren't any jobs.

AG: In Belfast, Maine, there is this socio-economic diversity: working class people and middle class professionals and working artists and hippies and people who have chosen to live without a lot of money and people who help each other out. My family loves it there. It feels right to us. If you go even a little further south along the coast, people are on their cell phone in the food co-ops.

KO: And that's what is so surprising about your poetry with relation to its class acknowledgment—how detailed it is. You know how to put in a small detail that makes the poem very aware of its time and of its status.

AG: Raised the way I was, without a lot of extra stuff, I noticed the details. If I saw a doll I wanted, I'd save and save for it for years. One thing, one object, could really matter.

KO: Intellect is part of this, too, right? You know a lot about psychology and are dealing with it in Given and My Kafka Century. What is it like to peel back the brain? What is it like to put all of that in a poem?

AG: I am not trying to write poems of intellect. Some critics have said that about my work but I’m not sure I know what it means. My poems are only as smart as I am. I try not to play any smarter or dumber than I am in my poems.

I am really interested in how the brain works and in psychological makeup, and I think I use poems as a way to sort through things I’m interested in, to ask questions that occur to me about why I act a certain way, feel a certain way. Poems can be a space for not-knowing, which is one thing I really love about them.

KO: Fa(r)ther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials shows the influence of music as pretty directly on your work. It seems like each book embodies a different genre of music—blues, punk, pop—do you think what you are writing is influenced by what you are listening to?

AG: Music, and all the other art forms, are always at work in my poems. I love music, I love film, I love paintings and performance art and photographs.

Music was a big part of my identity formation. I grew up listening to Janis Joplin, Doo Wop, Buddy Holly because that’s what my parents loved. My parents owned albums up to 1968, then they got married and they stopped buying as many albums, but what they had in their collection was great. I loved the Beatles. At some point I had that epiphany that what you listened to is who you are (at least, it is in high school). I remember my first serious boyfriend brought a carrier of CDs to our second date and said, “This is what you have to listen to if you want to date me.” I had been listening to rock and psychedelic rock, so the punk he brought over wasn't a huge leap.

That became my world. I was a college radio DJ. I saw a lot of shows. I was in the presence of a punk scene and I wasn't that into further extremes of the music, but I liked the people.

Most people who are into good rock go back to the roots, so my discovery of bluegrass led to the basis for some of Fa(r)ther Down.

I've been listening to a lot of current music lately—I've been finding stuff I like. There is nothing like a good album to provide a certain kind of energy and that's the same energy I use to write poems—it's almost like nostalgia and immediacy combined.

KO: Was it in Either Or where Kierkegaard suggests that all other arts seek to be as high as music?

AG: Poetry is so self-conscious and insular, whereas music is often about a communal experience—being at a concert, being sweaty, and everyone jumping up and down and signing. I wish poetry readings could be more like that.

KO: Can we talk about the new homebirth lyric essay project? It seems important to know that books are happening and poems are being published alongside, sometimes because of, complex and troubling realities.

AG: My third manuscript has poems about my recent stillbirth: the book ends with those. It dives off a cliff with those poems and it doesn't come back. Because that's what happened. That's the end of the story of a certain phase of my recent life—and there is no recovery from it, exactly. I’m fine, my family is fine, but we can’t go back to the top of that same cliff. My baby’s death can't be undone.

The Home/Birth book, which is another project, a collaborative project written with Rachel Zucker, has some stillborn stuff and an afterward I wrote about my own stillbirth, but the book isn't actually about stillbirth. That book is about birth.

KO: There aren't that many poems written about stillbirths, are there?

AG: There are actually a lot of excellent poems about birth, and probably some about stillbirth. But this book isn’t poetry. Rachel and I don't know what to call this project: an essay, creative nonfiction, a long poem, a polemic, a conversation. It's trying to do, to be something different. Maybe to be an argument, which is not a way I usually write poems.

KO: Do you think women are still looking for a language to talk about birth and stillbirth?

AG: Writing about it required me to be present about what happened. The whole experience required me to be present. There are uncanny or creepy parts in Home/Birth that foreshadow my son Day's death that I wrote while I was still pregnant with him. We talk about horrible things that happen to women in the hospital or to the babies. While writing one line, where we are talking about the practice of throwing stillborn babies into the incinerator, Rachel said, “It's so hard to read that. I hate that.” And then there was a line that came up right after the section where I say “the baby just kicked,” because I wrote it when the baby was still moving and the baby had just kicked. I said to Rachel, “We should put 'the baby just kicked.'” And Rachel said no. She thought we couldn't say that.

Working on that book, which I wrote throughout my pregnancy, makes the stillbirth present for me, but even if I’m not working on a project about birth or stillbirth, the experience always present for me.

KO: You've read some of the work and I've heard Rachel talk about how it's been received. How are audiences reacting?

AG: We've only read from Home/Birth to two audiences so far. The first audience was mostly made up of childless students in an MFA program, and they seemed mildly appalled. The book is somewhat anti-lyrical, and Rachel and I are both known as these more lyrical, experimental poets, and here we were reading this overtly polemical piece. They almost seemed embarrassed for us, embarrassed that we were talking about the body, the actual body—actually talking about the vagina. But that’s also what some of the audience—notably mothers and politicized students--responded to. They told us how important it was to them to hear poems have something to do with the real world and politics. One mother in the audience was crying. The second audience we read it to, who were all mothers, seemed to love the work.

This is not surprising to us, this divide, and Rachel and I are completely up front and proud that it is a feminist project.

I’m also working, with Becca Klaver, to put together an anthology for teenaged girls of contemporary poems by women, and in doing so, I've been thinking about what it means to write about sex and sexuality. For example, it’s hard to find poems, and I can't even find any science articles, about how women have more sexual desire when they are most fertile. Our bodies are kept such a mystery to us in our culture.

KO: I remember my mom saying, “When you want to have sex, that's when you shouldn't have it,” and then throwing a basal thermometer my way.

AG: You’re lucky: usually, nobody talks about this! So many women are completely unaware of this!

I'm encouraged, honestly, by how many things there are left to write about. I remember, especially as a young poet, feeling like everything had already been covered, all the good stuff had already been written, so what was there left for me to do. At this point in my life, I wake up excited about new things to write about, by how much hasn't been covered. As I said, there are a lot of wonderful first books by young poets that feel genuinely new to me. I love when there's a new poet or book I'm reading and I have to stop and wonder where it’s coming from. That's so exciting.


Kristen Orser is the author of three chapbooks, Winter, Another Wall (Blossombones, 2008), Fall Awake (Taiga Press, 2008) and E AT I (Wyrd Tree Press, 2009). Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in With+Stand, If Poetry Journal, Indefinite Space, FOURSQUARE, Cannot Exist, Womb Poetry, Ab Ovo, and elsewhere. She teaches at Columbia College Chicago, but misses the smell of grapes in Western New York.