Sunday, July 20, 2008


July 31, 2008

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to the referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]

By Eileen Tabios

Jeffrey Side reviews WHERE THE THREE RIVERS MEET by Aine MacAodha


Eileen Tabios engages ENDGAMES by Márton Koppány

Patrick James Dunagan reviews DERIVATIVE OF THE MOVING IMAGE by Jennifer Bartlett, BEAUTY [IS THE NEW ABSURDITY] by Jennifer Scappettone, DOG GIRL by Heidi Lynn Staples and THE MARVELOUS BONES OF TIME by Brenda Coultas

Eric Hoffman reviews PASSING OVER by Norman Finkelstein

Pamela Hart reviews BONE PAGODA by Susan Tichy

Tim Wright reviews GOING GOING by Jen Hofer

Nicholas Manning reviews PPL IN A DEPOT by Gary Sullivan

Tyrone Williams reviews THE ANATOMY OF OIL by Marcella Durand

Nicholas Manning reviews CORNSTARCH FIGURINE by Elizabeth Treadwell

Eileen Tabios engages & PERSONA, poems by Mackenzie Carignan and photographs by Felicia Ohnmacht

Francie Noyes reviews MIDNIGHTS, poetry by Jane Miller & artwork by Beverly Pepper

H. Francisco V. Penones, Jr. reviews AMIGO WARFARE by Eric Gamalinda

Francie Noyes reviews BLIND DATE WITH CAVAFY by Steve Fellner

Tyrone Williams reviews THE STRAITS by Kristin Palm

Eileen Tabios engages BE THAT EMPTY: APOLOGIA FOR AIR by Alice B. Fogel

Richard Lopez reviews BREAK ME OUCH by Michael Farrell

Tyrone Williams reviews OPEN BOX (IMPROVISATIONS) by Carla Harryman

James Stotts reviews ENTER MORRIS IMPOSTERNAK, PURSUED BY IRONIES by Eugene Ostashevsky

Thomas Fink reviews TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD by Carole Stone

Laurel Johnson reviews THE BLUE MOON SERIES by Rodger Martin


John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews HORACE: POEMS by Tim Atkins; COVERS by Susan Landers; and FLOWERS OF BAD: A FALSE TRANSLATION OF CHARLES BAUDELAIRE’S LES FLEURS DU MAL by David Cameron

Karen Rigby reviews ISLE OF THE SIGNATORIES by Marjorie Welish

Eileen Tabios engages THEORY OF COLORS by Mercedes Roffe

Pamela Hart reviews THE ORCHARD by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Kristina Marie Darling reviews CHANTEUSE/CANTATRICE by Catherine Daly


Andy Frazee reviews THE CITY VISIBLE: CHICAGO POETRY FOR THE NEW CENTURY edited by William Allegrezza and Raymond Bianchi

Jim McCrary reviews SPADE by David Bromige & Rychard Denner; ART IS WAR by Anne Boyer; THE ROMANCE OF HAPPY WORKERS by Anne Boyer; from THE TRADITIONS by Juliana Spahr; NO FACE by Judith Roitman

Evelyn Hampton engages THE SMALL ANYTHING CITY by Cynthia Arrieu-King


Eileen Tabios engages FORGET READING by Anthony Hawley

Denise Dooley reviews THE RIVER IS WIDE / EL RIO ES ANCHO: TWENTY MEXICAN POETS Edited and Translated by Marlon L. Fick

Pamela Hart reviews CHILD IN THE ROAD by Cindy Savett

Nicholas Manning reviews THIS POEM/WHAT SPEAKS?/A DAY by Tom Beckett

Eileen Tabios engages ORANGES & SARDINES, Summer 2008, Vol. 1 Issue, Edited by David Krump, Andy Nicholson, Meghan Punschke and Didi Menendez

Karen Rigby reviews THE BOYS I BORROW by Heather Sellers

Eileen Tabios engages RAFETOWN GEORGICS by Garin Cycholl

Laurel Johnson reviews DEFIANCE by Hugh Fox

Jeff Harrison reviews SKINNY BUDDHA by Sheila E. Murphy

Pamela Hart reviews THE MARVELOUS BONES OF TIME by Brenda Coultas

Leny M. Strobel engages PRAU by Jean Vengua

Francie Noyes reviews CLOUD VIEW POETS: MASTER CLASSES WITH DAVID ST. JOHN, edited by Morley Clark, Jane Downs, CB Follett, and Susan Terris

Patrick James Dunagan reviews SHINY, No. 14, 2008, edited by Michael Friedman

Bob Marcacci reviews TWO HATS APPEAR WHEN APPLAUDED by Raymond Farr, OCCASION IN THE MOSAIC DISTANCE by Paul Klinger, [from SLOT (TO PULL AN HISTORICAL SITE FORM YOU)] by Jill Magi, SPECIMEN by Marci Nelligan, INSECT COUNTRY (B) by Sawako Nakayasu, and SOUVENIRS by Bronwen Tate

Derek Motion reviews ORIGAMI SHIPWRECK by Craig Perez and Katy Acheson

William Allegrezza reviews IT’S ALL A MOVIE by Alex Gildzen

Nathan Logan reviews NEVER CRY WOOF by Shafer Hall

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz reviews AN MAUPAY HA MGA WARAY UF IBA PA NGA MGA SIDAY (Waray poems with English translations) by Voltaire Oyzon

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor reviews BEIJING BACKGROUND by Bob Marcacci

Eileen Tabios engages ORGY IN THE BEEF CLOSET by Michael Koshkin

Laurel Johnson reviews SUDDENLY, FRUIT by Linda Tomol Pennisi


FEATURED POET: Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

Thomas Fink interviews Jennifer Kwon Dobbs

Francie Noyes reviews AVERNO by Louise Gluck


Allen Gaborro reviews PRAU bv Jean Vengua


Tiny Poetry Books Feeding the World…Literally!

Dawg Days of Summer!


This issue is dedicated to Rochelle Ratner, poet, editor, novelist, critic, and GR poetry engager...R.I.P. dear Poetry Angel...

I continue to be grateful that reviewers -- all volunteers -- continue to send GR their reviews or engagements. And I am delighted to share that this issue of GR is posting a record number of reviews: 68! Woot and YaY! With Issue No. 10, GR brings total new reviews to date to 538 (a summary can be seen at GR's List Of Reviewed Publishers). Here are the latest stats showing how Poetry continues to burn as hot as California's wildfires did this summer:

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)

The project reviewed thrice was FLOWERS OF BAD: A FALSE TRANSLATION OF CHARLES BAUDELAIRE’S LES FLEURS DU MAL by David Cameron, which was actually reviewed twice by Ryan Daley (the other review is by John Bloomberg-Rissman). I mention Ryan Daley because one review is a "review" while the other is an "engagement"; some of you have asked about the difference and now you can see how one critic differentiates between these two terms/acts.

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE.


As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).


Here I am unshowered, unshaven and bleary-eyed over my first cup of coffee from having to stay up late to put out this issue. But of course this photo is not about me; it's about the reason some of you check in -- to see more photos of moi dawgs (but read some poetry, wontcha!), in this case Achilles and Gabriela are wrestling on their new lawn.

With much Love, Fur and Poetry,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
July 31, 2008



Where the Three Rivers Meet by Aine MacAodha
(Lulu Press, 2008. Free download available.)

Where the Three Rivers Meet by Aine MacAodha is a collection of poems linguistically evocative of 17th century Irish Gaelic poetry, although written in English. This is not surprising as MacAodha is an Irish poet intuitively connected to that rich poetic tradition. Her poems are rich with references and imagery that evoke the mythos of Ireland’s ancient history and Celtic traditions. She also writes about the landscape with a sincere affection and respect not only for its actuality, but for its vitality and mystery. In some respects, some of her poetry has a connectedness to the ancient traditions and concerns figuratively expressed in various earth religions, as well as in Celtic Christianity.

The vocabulary of the poems is interesting. MacAodha uses words that are largely unfamiliar to most readers, such as “dander”, “beagmore”, “alder”, “lough”, “gaels” and “firbolgs”. She also makes copious references to Irish mythic figures and places, such Cú Chulainn, a legendary Irish hero and demi-god, and “Tara”, which was the ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland. The obscurity of these words and references should not impede the reader of these poems. Far from it, they function as intertextual metonymic ciphers to be appropriated by the reader for his or her own personal exegesis.

The supernatural is never far removed from the poetry, and is largely expressed in refreshingly rhetorical terms:
I feel its supernatural pull
working its way up from the earth
and out to the universe.

(‘Aghascrebah Ogham Stone, Ireland’)

Into this November air
a supernatural force
draws me to it like a magnet

(‘Aghascrebah Ogham Stone, Ireland’)

She is the blueprints
of the past,
the wishes of the unborn,
the spirit of the crops

(‘Fire of the Gaels’)

Here, the physicality of the natural environment is “spiritualised” and enlivened by the poet’s consciousness, and words like ‘pull’ and ‘draws’ signify a forward (and perhaps upward) movement suggestive of a monistic narrowing of the “gap” between “heaven” and earth; spirit and matter.

Additionally, the landscape is made to resonate with human and non-human “energies” implanted long ago. For instance, the Sperrin countryside (a region in Northern Ireland) is described as if it can “record” past history, as is seen in the following stanza from ‘The Sperrin Mountains’, where dander (a material shed from the bodies of animals) is imbued with consciousness in order to recognise the latent “recorded” historical energies present in the landscape:
Dander over the peat clad slopes
find the ancient past alive
in the bones of the Sperrins.

This is again seen in ‘Banda’:
In myths we recall our living past,
woven as carpet on the landscape.
In stones, trees and bog;
in birds, horse and dog.

Here, sentient and non-sentient matter become amalgamated and seen as (to a degree) functioning as geological recording devices. Yet, in this poem, the recorded energies develop into personalised “ghostly” manifestations, and accordingly the poetic register is made to complement this transformation by taking on a more archaic and almost biblical tone:
Oh sacred bile, Oh graveyard Yew,
the Hawthorn and the Oak;
the Hazel, Alder and the Rowan,
the Willow and the faery folk.

Pay homage to the spirits of Tara,
the ones who went before
the Warriors, Bards and Kings,
the Queens and many more.

MacAodha’s use of poetic language is interesting in that it exists within its own self-demarcated boundaries, not reliant on mere description for its affects. For instance, in ‘Fire of the Gaels’ we see the lines:
Her stories, etched on the
landscapes of the universe.

It matters not that the universe has no landscapes (it being the sum of space and time); the lines convey the intransience of the “stories” through imagery that signifies solidity and durability. A slighter poet would have taken greater pains to minutely describe what MacAodha, here, has achieved in just two lines. One of the distinctive aspects of her poetry is that it uses Gaelic words and imagery that, as mentioned earlier, most readers would find unfamiliar. The poem ‘Mise Eire’ is an appropriate example, with such phrases as: ‘Tell me of Cu Chulainn’, ‘the battles of the Tain Bo’ and ‘the progress of the firbolgs. / The De danaans on the hill’. It is of little import that a reader may not know what these lines signify. It is, of course, easily possible for such a reader to find out what they mean, but to do so, in my view, would not significantly add to an appreciation of the poem’s use of such language. Poetry is, after all, not prose and to expect it to operate similarly is to misunderstand the nature of poetic language. The lines are best approached in such a manner as to allow readers to decide for themselves what words like, ‘Cu Chulainn’, ‘Tain Bo’, ‘firbolgs and ‘De danaans’ suggest to them, rather than turning to a dictionary or an encyclopaedia with each line.

In ‘Oak Lake, County Tyrone’, MacAodha displays a more conventional lyricism:
The lake waltzes to and fro
like a child mesmerized
by magical stories voiced
by an old teller of tales.

Its edges flanked with an audience of
purple moss, pink cranberry flower
and the burnt orange of summer gorse,
all paying homage by showiness.

A clump of rushes moves slightly.
I think of childhood tales of
the watershee luring one off
to the silver world of faeries.

Yet, even here we notice a transcendence and mysteriousness, as the poem concludes with the “disappearance” of its speaker; a disappearance which parallels that of the daylight:
The light of the day now slipping
ever so peacefully behind the
peaks of the Sperrins. I shall go now
and take its essence with me,
to sooth my night quests ahead.

We are placed in doubt as to who, or what, this speaker is. Is it a sentient being within nature or is it an aspect of nature itself? Like all good poetry, we are left with more questions than answers. As a first collection of poetry, Where the Three Rivers Meet is noteworthy and I highly recommend it.


Jeffrey Side studied English at Liverpool University and Leeds University, and has had poetry published in various magazines such as Poetry Salzburg Review, and on poetry web sites such as Underground Window, A Little Poetry, Poethia, nthposition, eratio, Ancient Heart, Blazevox, Lily, Big Bridge, Jacket, Textimagepoem, Apochryphaltext, 9th St. Laboratories, P.F.S. Post, Great Works, hutt, ken*again, Poets' Corner, The Dande Review, Poetry Bay, Dusie and CybpherAnthology. He has reviewed poetry for New Hope International, Stride, Acumen, and Shearsman. From 1996 to 2000 he was the assistant editor of The Argotist magazine. He now edits The Argotist Online. He has two poetry collections out, Carrier of the Seed (Blazevox) and Slimvol (cPress).



(Salt, 2003)

It is possible that each critic, over time, comes to identify a number of poets or writers whose general laudation—the mellow radiance of expanding peer esteem—remains to him or her rather mysterious. This would be, perhaps, Cole Swensen for Simon Dedeo, or post-Gunslinger Ed Dorn for Ron Silliman. These poets—or in the case of Dorn, a specific period within a given poet’s aesthetic evolution—can represent for the critic cases of profound cultural disconnect. They are like the points in a glittering receptive network where one critic’s wires have, at a crucial juncture, been cut. Beyond this point of “no transmission”, we can imagine the critic standing—with opaque eyes fixed on poems so highly praised by one’s contemporaries—with a look of smiling perplexity or irritated bewilderment.

This is of course, within poetics, the humanist or liberal-democratic moment par excellence: it is the instant you realize, not only that others do not agree with you, but that you are entirely incapable of even beginning to understand their disagreement. M.T.C. Cronin is, for me, just such a poet. Her work is sometimes strong; but for me it is also, and much too often, wildly uneven. This collection—entitled beautiful, unfinished—was Cronin’s ninth book of poems, and upon its release in 2003 met with general critical approbation, coupled with a number of eloquent panegyrics. Peter Porter, for instance, writing in Melbourne’s The Age, remarked:
“I can stick to straightforward words of praise, such as brilliance of technical address and originality of utterance, when describing her verse.”

I remember reading this appreciation at the time, and was not surprised to see its recurrence on the book’s back cover. I feel less trepidation, then, in writing a generally negative review of Cronin’s work, given the fact that others appreciate her poems so integrally. Though this may seem hypocritical, I simply want to imply that it is important to note that it is very possible, in the criticisms I will here attempt to outline, that I have simply missed a 1 or a 0 in the fibred interactions of the informational system which is contemporary Australian poetics. Luckily, however, this is the flipside of the dreaded humanist paradigm: the reader may judge for herself . . .

I will begin with the good. The first sequence in the book, “Parable On the Erotic Struggle with True Muteness (How We Speak)” contains 77 solid, short poems, admirable for their tense torque, their contained energies, their play with ambiguous registers, parsings and forms of address:
Why can we not find out
                  more than television?
Sitting side-by-side
                  like two identical buildings
                  we cannot feel god
Cannot feel the pitch-black pain
                  of the joined

There is something of a Noelle Kocot to such lines: to these visionary Lettres d’un voyant mixed with the ephemera of urban and domestic ennui. As the title of the poem itself indicates, then, this is all overtly—and perhaps overly—earnest stuff; but, in this sequence, such inquiring solemnity functions rather interestingly. It is perhaps a result of the fact that Cronin’s play on a prophetic, ecstatic tonality, is here reigned in by the formal and imagistic compression of these tightly strung stanze. That initial statement on the epistemological limitations of TV, for instance, agilely, if only barely, avoids the status of observational common-place, via the hand-break torque instigated in that well-placed line-break. In this way, “out/ more” kicks the line into a state of semantic resonance it perhaps did not, in itself, contain.

But even from the very beginning of “Parable On the Erotic Struggle with True Muteness”, we begin to glimpse some of the less positive aspects of Cronin’s poetic, which I would like now to put into question. To take another poem from the series:
My daughter was five years old
                  before I told her
                  not to look at the sun
This astounds me
Does she believe
                  she can only grow old
                  on the day she was born

This is as good an example as any, for it is here that Cronin’s earnestness starts to sound rather more proselytizing, normative, almost pedagogical. The faux-mystical tournures of these pieces have, for me, something irritating about them, at once in their intentional as their contentional impulses. It is rather like listening to someone who, though they may very well be a prophet, adopts the tone of a prophet in order to convince others of their own prophetic capacities.

This is also, for me, the type of poetic ambiguity which William Empson rightly rejected from his pantheon of seven avatars. Of course, it is not primarily important whether or not poetry “signifies”—whether it has a direct semantic thrust, a denotational over a connotational imperative—but perhaps it is important if poetry pretends to signify: that is, if it presents its data in the form of sagacious tidbits, which in the end turn out to be rather specious. If it dresses itself up, then, in the clothes of ecstatic profundity, it perhaps needs to assume the full gamut of readerly assumptions that go along with this (fundamentally synthetic) pose.

It is not unsurprising then—given this semi-instructional tone—that Cronin regularly quotes the likes of Wallace Stevens and Pablo Neruda. The ideational vein of ecstatic wisdom seems to be the effect she is gunning for here. The problem though is not that these shoes—those of the Whitmanian parabolic teacher of the reader (and equal, of course!)—are too big for Cronin to fill, but that these shoes are, today, almost completely rotten through. Their laces have fallen out. Their leather has been walked away. Let’s see how Cronin, however, assumes the ideational scepter, and to what effect :
I have grown my wisdom
on summer days

and watered it with both rain
and melting snow

I have helped it
up ladders

and sat with it
still upon a tired step

I have tasted [. . .]

Etcetera . . . I will quote more soon, but suffice to say, it turns out there are a lot of things one can do with one’s wisdom. On a more simple level: “my wisdom”? This particular “poet-as-cultural-seer”, this transcendental Avatar, might have passed Dijon mustard in the beard of Victor Hugo: but those were different times, and the mec was, frankly, the most famous megalomaniac in France. Moreover, the entirely untextured distiches plod bravely on here through their slough of rhythmic despond, tirelessly erecting their muddy metaphorical contraptions. “I have helped it/ up ladders”? Is this the “originality of utterance” Peter Porter is talking about in his blurb? I have “sat with it/ still upon a tired step”? The personification of “wisdom”, in contemporary poetics, must either be seen as complete Blakean parody, or as something so charged with negative cliché as to be rendered ineffective. In any case, this critic stands beyond the receptive void, mouthing unhappily: Non intellego.

There is a narrative thrust, however, to this poem, and we soon learn that the speaker’s initial “wisdom” is, unsurprisingly, advanced only to lead to its eventual rejection. We expected nothing less . . . For, of course, the truly wise poet must be even more “wise” to realize that his or her initial “wisdom” was not wisdom, but ignorance, which would lead to later wisdom in the realization that prior “wisdom” was, in fact, ignorance:
I was shocked but don’t know why
I should have been

when I looked in a mirror
painted over

and I let my wisdom die
with the relaxing cells

that slow upon my body
and quickly fall aside

I use it to discard myself well
in the world

and when the world
is not mine

I will have no need
of the glorious shelter it will erect

“Contraposition” makes up part of a section of the book entitled “Seven Mysterious Songs”. I’m not sure where the mystery of them lies: they seem to me rather clear instances of contemporary moralism veiled in a linear narrative device. Genette, in brief, would be bored. Poet feels wise. Poet realizes poet is not wise. Poet realizes subsequent ignorance is in fact different type of wisdom. Blake did it better.

But for these criticisms to have value, we must take account of the fact that Cronin gives a very specific framing for her writing in this work: it is not to have the status of other poems, she suggests, but rather the status of the “parable”. As she says at the very start of the book:
There is not one thing I will say
                  outside of parable

Does the status of the parable excuse some, even all, of the elements I’m outlining? The pedagogical tonalities? The predictable narrative progressions? I personally do not think so. Why? Not only because this type of tonality is also present in Cronin’s other, less “parabolic”, work—which I do generally like a lot more—but also because the poems of this collection do not, for me, resemble anything truly parabolic. For, as the adjectival form of the word suggests, the parable incarnates a dynamic curve, an arc which does not progress linearly from one affirmation to an evident next, but rather, as in the circular paradoxes of Epimenides or Zeno, is valuable less for what it says, than for its oblique ways of saying.

Whether, then, one likes Stevens or not—I personally really have to be in the mood—at least his best work attains these contorted parabolic heights. But to try another Cronin extract, this time from a piece adopting rather the mode of the “song” than the “parable”, entitled “Canto of an Ant”:
did you know that there is an ant
that follows all the people
it is called the following ant

this ant knows that sand
is not less time than time
that water is not less time
than time
that wood is poor flesh
and that the moon
needs more air to be full—

Often, in Cronin, I have the impression that materiam superabat opus (the workmanship’s better than the subject). But not here. The lines are flat and untextured. As for the content: “This ant knows that sand/ is not less time than time”. I must honestly say that I am not interested in what the ant knows, and that these pedestrian verses would have to hold some truly interesting contential impulse to justify their extreme prosodic monotonies.

But let’s do them their justice, and try to get at them in more detail. Sand and time, as poles of this metaphorical hinge, are perhaps linked by the notion of the hourglass. But beyond this . . . What becomes evident here is that we are not, as readers, supposed to ask such questions. We are expected rather to take the status of the text as astute fable, read it, and move on.

More than anything else, then, this all seems to me like a type of ineffective tonal posturing. So much for the status of the contemporary poetic parable . . . Then there is the material here which—I do not know how else to put it—simply makes me cringe. From “Canto of Faces”:
There is no need to explain
our friendship

Life is about its preciousness
each person

I cannot really contend with these moments. Honestly, I just wish that, in the midst of the treacle of this 100-Cars-Oprah-Special, Alice Notley would stride in to discourse eloquently about art, politics and fucking . . . “Life is about its preciousness”? I cannot see how this is not rather gratuitous: the sort of rhetorically vacant phrasing we’ve come to expect more from our contemporary politicians. “Life is about its preciousness” is, in this way, almost akin to “Democracy is about its freedom”. It’s the type of axiom that almost entirely empties out each of its semantemes, until the complex word “life” —cf. Louis Zukofsky—comes to resemble nothing so much as a pink Tiffany ring.

To close such examples, I will take a poem from later in the book, entitled “all babies are buddhas”:
all babies are buddhas

we tend to grow out of our knowledge,
rather than into it.
and then remember one day,
it was truth we wanted,
for no good reason.

This is indisputably Hallmark territory. It has babies. Smiling babies. It has a cute message. It has a feel-good ending. Exeunt.

I have, perhaps mean-spiritedly, mentioned the word “moralism” when speaking of Cronin’s work. The poem-as-lesson is a rather disturbing sub-genre, and though Cronin plays with it in more interesting ways than the oppressive, disguised didacticism of a Ted Kooser or Galway Kinnel, it seems to remain there, in Cronin, beneath the surface, a Victorian vision of poetry as principled soothsayer:
It is important
not to be obsessed
The destination of your voice
should be what you can move
How not to covet even
what makes your vision clear

Please, poet, don’t tell me what to do . . . And if the “you” is in fact—in a gesture invented by Apollinaire—used to refer to the poet herself, this demarcation perhaps needs be rendered clearer. As who erected the rhapsode to such a normalizing apogee? In what city?

Specifically, also: “how not to covet”. The word-choice is revealing. But striving after explicitly biblical effects is notoriously precarious. Paul Claudel, Fanny Howe and Henri Meschonnic do it, and scintillatingly, but they do not throw out the odd Hebraic verb: it is at the base and foundation of every aspect of their poetics.

In closing, I wanted to remark that I do know I sound exceptionally harsh in this review. I hope readers, and Cronin herself, will not feel that I am being entirely unfair. Though I was born in Australia, I’ve been absent nearly six years, and perhaps I am disconnected with particular veins of contemporary Australian poetics. This is, I sincerely assure you, entirely possible.

Forgive me, then, M.T.C. Cronin, Peter Porter, Barry Hill. My incomprehension is perhaps entirely my fault. But, in any case, it is there, and it seems fruitless to deny it. The critic waits to be set straight.

Only, please: not with parables.


Nicholas Manning teaches comparative poetics at the University of Strasbourg, where he is currently completing his PhD. His first full collection, entitled *Novaless*, will be released in August 2008 from Otoliths. A chapbook of new poems is also forthcoming from Ypolita Press. Editor of The Continental Review, his poetry and criticism may be found in such places as Jacket, Verse, Fascicle, The Argotist, Free Verse, among others. He maintains the weblog The Newer Metaphysicals.



ENDGAMES by Márton Koppány
(Otoliths, 2008)

ENDGAMES is the purr-fect title for Márton Koppány’s collection that delivers an ACE of a serve to poetry’s attempts to write itself. I call the works (tennis-related) Aces since each delivers a sense of completely having said it all (whatever that it is) on the page. There’s no need here for the reader to mentally dither as to what the work means or where it’s going (much as one goes back and forth in tennis). Each work delivers its world complete, and one’s job as a reader/viewer is not to “complete” it with one’s subjective response (as is encouraged by some deliberately open-ended poem) but just to witness it … and marvel. Here’s one example, the poem “The Secret” in its entirety:
{([ )}]

The concept seems simple enough until I realized there’s no synchronicity in the order of the marks. That is, my eye first saw (my assumption of the poem to be):
{([ ])}

as such would manifest the parenthetical nature of the marks. But, out of order, they suddenly denote something else. And that something else is unknowable like a secret. Like, perhaps, Poetry.

Form manifests Content.

Inevitably, in my experience of attempting or witnessing others’ attempts to expand the possibilities—or explore the barriers—of text, the visual becomes more of a presence than in verse. For example, Pages 18 and 19 of “Graffiti 1-12”, which face each other, serve as a diptych. Page 18 is a page that is blank except for a black, rectangular border with nothing within the border. Page 19 is the same thing, except that there’s a handwritten “and” off-center and in the bottom half of the page. That’s another “Ace”! When one faces a blank page, or blank wall, one is often tempted to fill it in—e.g., viz graffiti. But to say “and” is to mark it by simply capturing the sense of something else without defining it. So that “and” also simply manifests the blank page/wall by inscribing the purity of blankness as possibility.

Elsewhere, Koppány uses collage and photographs to deliver more Aces. For example, “Ellipsis No. 5” features a chair standing on one leg, or with the number of missing legs the same as the periods that punctuation-ally manifests the ellipsis. “Ancient Ellipsis (Fragment)”, meanwhile, is the photograph of a boulder, presumably old and hearkening itself as a left-over from a once-larger mountain of stone. Thus, one sees not just the left-over boulder but the missing element of which it once was part, an element now able to be evoked only through the conceptual ellipsis.

I could highlight so many more examples of how each work is dead-on, with every single letter and image absolutely essential to the work. Instead, I want to share an excerpt from Karl Young’s essay (I call it “essay” since I think it’s more respectable than a “blurb”) on the book’s back cover:
Earlier works such as these depend on Koppány’s background in the dangers of language and existence: When a Hungarian Jew who lost most of his family to the Holocaust; lived much of his life under Soviet domination; now lives in an environment of Neo-Nazi resurgence, is extremely careful with his use of language, it should not be seen as simply a style or affectation. At the same time, attributing political motives to his economy of language reduces it and him to propaganda, the genre farthest away from his poetry.

Becoming aware of that background makes me look at these works in a new light, for example “Endgame No. 2” which, in its entirety, is the line
it is too late

The line is first typed out, then the second word “is” has a line striking it out in favor of a new handwritten word above it. But that new, handwritten word is, again, “is”.

So what makes this work poetry and not merely politics? Young says it as well as I can:
An exploration of the danger of existence without complaint reveals a larger personality. A completely infectious sense of humor which ridicules no one and degrades nothing makes sense of the inescapable circuits in which his work moves.

(Such also reminds me of one of the most inspiring books I’ve read, Victor E. Frankl's MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING. In fact, in a recent (synchronistic) conversation with the excellent poet Sharon Mesmer, I was reminded that Frankl, writing about his experience in a concentration camp, once said, "As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.")

Certainly, I appreciated “Endgame No. 2” even before reading the back cover information which presented it in a different light. For it is Koppány’s witty playfulness (not decimated by his personal history) that makes his poems so effective. For me, fully transparent here in noting my relationship to the hay(na)ku, that play is most generous in his “Singing Iceberg” which presents a musical score for the letters “n-o-F or-m se-a-a-a-a-A rch? C h-e-c-k-k-k”. I read music a little and so was able to sing this work out loud. In fact, the ending “k-k-k” is featured by Koppány to show the “k”s in descending size order, with the first “k” the largest, the second “k” smaller, and the third “k” smallest of the three; this implies that whilst singing the letters one’s tone should lower in volume, too. This would be a great poem to deliver at a poetry reading! And this sound-poem was inspired, according to the “Author’s Notes” by one of Crag Hill’s hay(na)ku:
Scientists Discover Singing Iceberg

monitoring earth
movements in Antarctica

they’ve found
a singing iceberg.

sound waves
cannot be heard

humans, a
frequency of 0.5 hertz

they resemble
a swarm of

or an
orchestra warming up.

the iceberg
stuck fast, it

like a
rock in a

she said.
“The water pushes

its crevasses
and tunnels at

pressure and
the iceberg starts

The tune
even goes up

down, just
like a real song.”

I share Hill’s hay(na)ku in its entirety because it also describes what been going on through Koppány’s ENDGAMES— Koppány looks at words, letters and punctuation marks and deconstructs them into poems by dancing through their “crevasses/ and tunnels at // high / pressure” (I first typed “pleasure” for “pressure”).

With my eyes, ears and mouth fully satisfied with the experience of Koppány’s ENDGAMES, I closed the book absolutely in love with his Devotion.


Eileen Tabios does not allow her books to be reviewed in Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to Anny Ballardini’s review of her I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved in JACKET, as well as Allen Gaborro’s review of her The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes in the Philippine News.



Derivative of the Moving Image by Jennifer Bartlett
(University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 2007)


The Marvelous Bones of Time: Excavations and Explanations by Brenda Coultas
(Coffeehouse, Minneapolis, 2007)


BEAUTY [IS THE NEW ABSURDITY] by Jennifer Scappettone
(Dusie, 2007)


Dog Girl by Heidi Lynn Staples
(Ahsahta, Boise, 2007)

What 20th century innovative artists came to see is that the form that the experiment takes is not preliminary to the answer, not preliminary to the creation of the art object. It is the answer. It is the art. Just as the essay is not the result of the investigation, it is the investigation going on in writing that, in the radical mode of any lively thought, does not, at any given point, know entirely where it’s going. This means that its openness to its inability to conclude, its refusal to know, rather than to sense, suspect, consider, theorize, contemplate, hypothesize, conjecture, wager… forms it as an experience of being in the world where uncertain and unpredictable life principles (in contrast to prescriptive rules) always exceed the scope of logical inference or imagination.

--Joan Retallack
“The Experimental Feminine”

Jennifer Bartlett’s first full collection, Derivative of the Moving Image, bears the weight of its presentation of nostalgia and sentiment well. That is to say, although this is an often personal poetry, so full of psychological dimensions rarely does it escape from out the subjectivity of the poet, it does at times, however, escape and the results are quite fine.
From a Paris Hotel Room

It was the spring after my sister died that I begin to notice
the moths. They would follow me from room to room beating
against the window shades or showing themselves in the one
tiny patch of light as I dressed for the day. Some days, some
hours, I would count as many as twenty and still they held no
significance for me. I saw them as many see the trees that line
the highway, just passing objects.

One afternoon when the rains came I let the girls take off all
their clothes and run naked in the yard while I danced around
them in my blue nanny dress. I don’t know why I did that. That
night the moths were so large that they woke me like a burglar
might. I put bowls of sugar around the house to keep them
from the books.

Occasionally, the elder of the two girls will touch my arm and
speak of my sister as if she remembers her. She tells me that
my sister is dead.

Then the moths. They like to linger in hot places like the roof
of the car. The smaller ones cling to my hands as I water the
garden in the morning. When I ask others if they notice the
creatures with the same consistency most deny it or act as
though it is ordinary. The few that show an interest describe
them as hideous monsters. I argue them to be more beautiful
than butterflies.

Is this the New Confessionalism? No, it isn’t, at least not precisely so. There is far too much of Bartlett present here yet she manages not to overdo her self-importance. It isn’t gushy or indulgent. There is just the right amount of restraint and the prose-like line she employs stays the hand of sing-song woe. These are some heavily seeming symbolic moths but Bartlett isn’t over-stressing that symbolism. In fact, she’s more likely sharing in Bernadette Mayer’s assertion of what confronts you being a woman and a poet:
Remember that woman I told you about who came to take a picture of Lewis and he said I was a poet too, and she looked at me and Sophia and Marie carefully crawling on me and she said, oh really and when do you get time to write? There's no use ever actually saying you're a poet, it's a disservice to yourself except for the wonder you can sustain among the moths, but you'd better say it anyway.
(The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, 59-60)

Bartlett may or may not have knowledge of this passage, but she does nonetheless convey a sense of “the wonder you can sustain among the moths.” Bartlett embraces the desire to tell the reader where she’s been, where she is, what is happening, what she remembers, to set her story down propels the book along. The strength required to keep that energy going, to not get bogged down by all the shit the world is ever tossing before the poet, is her greatest achievement here. The poems keep going, keep her going, and keep the reader going as well.

Death appears a frequent trope yet isn’t mere literary decoration. As V.B. Price acknowledges in his Foreword, “[Bartlett’s] poems deal, in part, with the crushing circumstances of untimely and unexpected deaths in her family and of the emotional traumas…that afflict us all time to time.” She draws heavily upon biographical occasions in what amounts to a spiritual search for ordering principles to be found in the practice of poetry. In acts of faith committed by herself, or those around her, Bartlett locates within the poem an understanding of life’s rather particular and at times peculiarly conscious circumstance.
Ghost Boy

I think about death all the time now. She slides her body
between us, even on the most vivid days. We are as simple as
this, moving through rain, your thin hands reaching for fireflies
to save them from the heat. Why do you desert me? You know
my limbs are fragile; like paper dolls I could tear at any second.
I cannot bear one moment without your eyes in my direction,
your breath writing notes across my skin. Or: lying across water
we face opposite directions. I am the drop of a hat on your bed.
Blue, I think it was.

From her memories, as in these lines from “The Yellow One,” emerge such instances which reinforce the balanced desire between the world that is and a possible other,
the getting there a pilgrimage in itself
much like the one taken each year in New Mexico
seventeen miles from desert
                  to piñon grove into the village
with twin churches. This procession led into
the larger church with its collage of abandoned crutches
suspended over a hole of healing dirt that
                                     (a miracle in itself)
                                                 replenished each day.
When William Everson came here he ate the dirt,
                  this obscure, drastic gesture
leading him closer to God in that instant
                                    than all poems.

Bartlett aligns herself with the gravity of Everson’s person and his poetry (finally a lay Catholic mysticism mixture of bear, Pacific coast, and Jung.) It matters. Who one is and what one does is deserving of representation within the poem. This is not a current trend of many poets working today. Too many shy away from placing, as Keats would have it, a “living hand” in their poems. Bartlett, however, would appear have none of that and has no truck with drawing parallels between a centuries dead poet like Li Po and her own lover.
I am in love with him
only because he is so much like you,
a man likely to fall into a river
trying to embrace the moon.
(“Li Po’s”)

That “only” reveals her hand in the romance. She’s chasing down poetry via the myth of a dead poet in the dalliance at hand. And why not, Li Po is a marvelous figure to embrace and make use of in just such manner. Bartlett’s strength comes of her unabashed openness towards writing out her thoughts and actions. She isn’t one to shy away from laying explicit autobiographical tracings throughout the poem.
Whose Music Excels the Music of Birds

The news of her death came to me late
as if from a messenger who, lost in his wandering,
                                    forgets all text.
You broke it to me over the phone at work
during one of our fights,
                                    our shameless meanderings
as to whether we did or did not love each other,
                  the fact of a lingering ammunition,
a second kind of ending that day.
          I was trapped in the moment—
a toss-up between the brutality of movement
                  and the impossibility of stillness—
the suddenly malevolent Christmas shoppers
                                a swarm of glowing distractions,
the noise of their footsteps and chatter
a seemingly violent music. It disturbed them,
                  this dangerous experiment against composure,
                                    a girl running past
in the too obvious display of grief.

Complete in my autobiography of dirty feathers
                  I fled to exit,
                                    beating wings inside out,
toward the snow I somehow knew
was beginning for the first time that winter
                  to collect on the statues,
the art trying to fend off its white heaviness.

I sat down in it as if attempting
                  through my own body
                                    to imprint the cold record of hers.
I remembered the footage of a young poet
in cat-eye glasses describing her Peggy Guggenheim Foundation
                                    washer and dryer,
hands twisted downward full of smoke
                                    with a room of casual onlookers
watching as she sat at her typewriter composing a music that
                                                   excels the music of birds;
                                    a language not able to make
the usual distinction
                  between the words and the singing.

To hazard a guess at the identity of the “young poet / in cat-eye glasses,” both Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton seem obvious contenders, although a Google search for images of them doesn’t turn up a shot of either wearing eyeglasses. Of course, a woman of their day wouldn’t wish to be photographed wearing eyeglasses. So it goes unanswered, yet again raises the question of whether or not Bartlett is writing the New Confessionalism. There is no need to bother with labeling it, but surely the single significant criticism of her poetry is the over-reliance given to falling back upon narrative, and the narrative is personal to the core.

Jennifer Scappettone writes from the far opposite corner of the spectrum from Bartlett. Her chapbook BEAUTY [IS THE NEW ABSURDITY] is decidedly experimental, seeking to compress, and at moments indeed crush out, the personal, in so far that it is to be seen as implicit statement of poetry. As she asks, “Can one in honesty hearken to some bed that held the old scene in dewy harmony, or has it all been ocean.” (“Note”) There is irony here. These pages of heavily inked lines between which lines of poetry float, as if seen through open venetian blinds make evident by physical presentation alone the “Beauty” addressed. She’s asking for repulsion.

Scappettone wants to tear back the veil of paradise, painted castles afloat in pinkish air, epic fields of harmonious ocean swells to be swept asunder, or rather simply ignored. The facade that any life is drives her to declare [Editor's Note: The excerpt below is featured within a block of underlined lines, something not replicable in Blogger format]:
                                                      omnicorporal beauty you must

                  swear to me upon a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin chamber,                   at the round table, by a sea-coal fire, upon Wednesday in Wheeson week

                  whose frequency makes of ugliness a duty til Daybreak

we will be capsule sleepers fleeing prison buzz amidst maws of glass sung after all

                                    hims, & our etceteras own                   allowed

There is beauty here, isn’t there? “Our etceteras” do indeed “own.” After all, isn’t the absurdity located precisely within our various approach. Willing future cadavers that we are, tossing off poems, getting each time no closer to what fatefully (or perhaps just finally) is just what it is: ourselves, merrily at it, that thing we are.

Jennifer, please write more poetry and love it for the thing it is—Beauty.

Heidi Lynn Staples’ Dog Girl treads ground between Bartlett and Scappettone.

alone is the woman on the surface and alone is the woman on the edge alone the profound water; but most alone when one body knocks together two persons,
and the tale of death is told.

She isn’t against tackling the abstract and nailing it down with emotion, pinning “beauty” up and pointing out the silliness of it, yet all the while backing an eternal desire for the nature these notions are built to entertain. She runs her own show and delights in doing so.

What makes a man, makes amends,
She said, as she pooled the deep’s up higher.
What makes a woman, wakes the ends
Of the birth, he said, as he pooled balm.

She said, as she pooled the deep’s up higher,
I don’t corpulent your spray, you’re a purse
Of mirth, he interrupted, as he pooled balm.
Of nit! I was engorging Thursday, she said.

I don’t corpulent your spray, you’re a parse
Of good nude, he interrupted again, of lark!
Of nuke! I was engorging Thursday, she said.
He jumbled stout of dread, pooling the deep’s fifth hum,

Of good jukes, he repeated, of lark!
She didn’t have dawn dawning close. Sheep bees and a fly.
He galumphed brackish in head, pooling the deep’s lover her,
Speak seems, he said. Uvula va-va-voom, she said.

Sound is her forte. Some readers may think of Stein or find it overly cutesy. These anonymous are encouraged to read the book twice through at least, and then some…Staples piles weight into her measure. Listen for awhile and get yourself some.

o yes, i have strummed love
flung lit spin and shout, bright clasped rain
yes, my favor friend a true-love
and none day we’ll be fright as lain.

o once up in a spree, eyes met a true-love
i gasped him if i may
behold beheld become opposite of grave
o met was a whole nude day.

he spelt with me attention, fold me up
and dawn, he’s how i burnt thru speak
my fond, o before wife looked so grave
now he of he’ll not let life sleep.

he as rave of grave,
he as a lep of sleep,
and of lep of his lips,
of lips kiss of kissing seek.

not of seek sick, of lips
slip up. yes, it’s us strong
has an always, o lisp of lips,
i of you as the dock is longing.

yes, once up in a spree, we of green
a bout, hour’s reelings, wind and a walk
we risked, lit as quiet a seen.
he said, let’s grow flower a little stalk,

lover this way, he all lit me love,
and i remember it too with this very decay;
he said, let’s grow flowers here, love
together till our days away.

Staples lives in Ireland. Her work busies the ear in picking up haunting vibrations of pure joy and it is impossible not to suspect much of this she owes to the hum of eternity alive in the romanticized voice of the Irish. As Robert Creeley puts it, upon discovering his name is Irish,
and the heavens opened, birds sang,
and the trees and the ladies spoke
with wondrous voices. The power of the glory
of poetry—was at last mine.
(“Theresa’s Friends”)

These poems are at play with, and in, the language itself. They hum, burp, bump, bop, strum, fly along; and what else would any one have them do. Poetry is for pleasure, wherever it is to be found, it’s the very thing necessitates the reader onwards.

1. You play your mean bicker too proud. It really runs on my verve.

2. When you sleep, I watch you and think about ruining a wife as cross as your juggler.

3. To fold neatly and put your dirty socks back in your stock war.

4. To halve and to hound; there’s a big difference between.

5. That sounds too carps.

6. You’re not wall as dad.

7. Did I ever tell you that I/new when we wed weed weave flowers gather flowers ever?

8. If you had a sun, would heat be the center of your epic thirst?

9. Or the sinner of your shun as perverse?

10. Or the son your always haunted.

There’s aplenty in DOG GIRL to return to. Staples brings out a collection that tackles head on what it is a book of poems should be and do, insisting that each page be ready to stand up and be reckoned with. The only slight bits here (often colored so by title choice) are but seemingly so.

There once was a white with a mouth
And a caul with a north for a south
The cold snapped err its ice
White as laboratory mice—
A quiet thrall bid a sprout broken

This is a calendar of talent. There’s little leftover to be asked of it.

It’s not too much to assert that Brenda Coultas’ new collection The Marvelous Bones of Time easily assumes position as a new classic of American Literature. Comprised of, as Coultas herself frames it, excavations and explanations, this new work is concerned with people and place. The first half, The Abolition Journal, looks back at the historical record concerning abolition in the 19th century in and around where she grew up in southern Indiana along the Kentucky border while also weaving in contemporary commentary, gossip, and jokes. Coultas writes by assemblage, situating the reader by offering up her own perspective of the area (both historical and current) drawn from numerous sources, personal and public.
Looking from the free state
there is a river then a slave state
Turn around and there is a slave state,
a river
then a free state

I was born between the free side and the slave side, my head
crowning on the bridge. I fully emerged in an elevator traveling
upward in a slave state. I have shopped in the slave state and eaten
barbecue there. I have walked along the riverbank in the slave
state and looked out at the free state.

Lincoln looked out over the river and saw a slave state and he was
Born in one (Kentucky), like me, but was raised in a free state
(Indiana), like me. We were white and so could cross the river.

Question: are there any abolitionists hanging from my family tree?

This is writing that seeks to discover in the words asked a further questioning which points ever outward. Coultas is mapping out a story but isn’t sealing it off with closure. The poetic identity laid out is one that invites the reader to be active participant and take up where Coultas leaves off. The “I” here is amply spread around.
The palmist heard many voices, a mournful ocean coming from
                                                      my right hand
                                    And felt a deep sadness.

She heard,
“I went to the underworld and this is what I found”
She heard,
“I have her body.”

                  Then I heard the word and the word was “Autonomy.”

The autonomy is to be shared. Coultas is seeking the personal in order to charge it with universal appeal. By sorting out her own understanding of the historical record via her experience with it, as both text and lived fact, she opens the larger opportunity for a cultural sorting. At times she punctuates the exchange of perspectives with cutting humor.

There was a war between the Kentuckians and the Hoosiers. The
Kentuckians were throwing firecrackers and the Hoosiers were
lighting them and throwing them back.

There was a Hoosier fishing on one bank and a Kentuckian fish-
ing on the other. The Hoosier was catching lots of fish while the
Kentuckian had none. The Kentuckian said “I’m not getting any
bites over here.” The Hoosier said “Come over and try this side,
I’ll shine my flashlight beam and you can walk over on it.” The
Kentuckian said, “No way, I’ll get halfway there and you’ll turn
it off.”

Have you heard about the new state farm?
They put a fence around Kentucky.

Why do ducks fly upside down over Kentucky?
There’s nothing worth shitting on.

Do you know why they built a bridge across the Ohio River?
So Kentuckians can swim across in the shade.

The unsettling history of the battle over abolition may appear to remain inescapable for people caught up in the past as much as in the present, but appearance shouldn’t completely decide the matter. Although old resentments die hard they do undergo alteration, Coultas looks at the idea of boundaries, revealing how superficial they are and meaningless given time.
As we land, the only African American passenger on board tells
us he was born and raised in Los Angeles and brought his family
to Kentucky to visit friends, and they refused to leave. He plans
on commuting to see his family every vacation until his retirement
from the post office in a few years. “Owensboro,” he said.
“Heaven,” he said.

Owensboro is right at the border along the river separating Kentucky and Indiana. The ravages of the past may remain for those with direct ties to the land, but for the outsider coming in with fresh ideas all that is seen are the upside qualities to benefit from.

In the second half of the book, A LONELY CEMETARY, Coultas explores the always burgeoning Americana territory of ghost stories. She’s diving deep into familiar territory culturally but a somewhat unusual realm for poetry. These are not Jack Spicer’s poem-producing ghosts but rather ones from off television shows about ghost chasers and true-life encounters with the supernatural. These spooks fly about the pages, at times deserving of a scene of camp-fire telling.

Robert told me this story, but he can’t remember if he overheard
or dreamed it. Every day for a month a butcher knife, the old-
fashioned kind, appeared stuck into a tree in the same position. At
first, the neighbors removed the knife so that neighborhood kids
wouldn’t play with it, but in the morning another knife would
appear. There was an oily substance on the blades and there were
random letters carved into the handles. At the end of the month,
the knives stopped appearing. That weekend four neighbors were
stabbed to death. A homicide detective working the case heard
the story. He thought there might be a clue in the weird letters on
the handles, so he collected the knives and found that the letters
made up the names of the four victims.

Coultas delves into the everydayness of the supernatural. Her presentation is exceedingly fine in removal of the superficial and its refusal to allow the poet’s own commentary any excessive intrusion. Coultas undertakes an investigation that is of interest to her, uncovering all she is able to come across and reporting back her finds in the form of poetry. With subtlety and great care that the language be precise, she offers the stories she has collected with the supposition that perhaps they be heard and entertained for the evidence they are: pointers toward a fleeting world hovering just about our own.

The following fourth of July, Dave told me this. Because of
Hurricane Katrina, he, his pregnant wife, and his young daughter
moved to Natchez to stay with relatives. Unsure how long they
would have to stay after the storm, they rented a house about a
mile from his wife’s aunt and uncle. Dave and his family, plus his
mother-in-law, moved in. On the first night, Dave fell asleep
holding hands with his wife and daughter, grateful that he had his
family with him, safe for the moment. In the middle of the night
he awoke and saw a ghost of a man dressed in pants, shirt and tie,
sixties or seventies style, walking up the stairs to their bedroom.
                  Even though the ghost was fully materialized, Dave knew
that this was not a living person, and suspects that the ghost
enacted this ritual every night because it recalled his daily return
home during his mortal life. When the ghost realized that Dave
could see him, he was shocked. In his mind, Dave told the ghost
that he must leave, that he (Dave) had his own problems, serious
ones. The ghost became very sad; the intensity of the sadness akin
to Dave’s despair.
                  As the ghost left, Dave pleaded with him to come back, say-
ing that they could work something out. Dave followed him out
the door to a grassy patch across the driveway. There was a shim-
mering oval in the grass; floating within the oval was a knife. The
ghost walked into the oval and was slowly absorbed.
                  The next day, Dave was in his car drinking coffee, listening
to the radio for news from New Orleans. He met his new neigh-
bor, an older lady, who told him that the house he was renting had
been empty for years. She recalled the former occupants as the
perfect family: a doctor, his wife and daughter, nothing unusual
about them except for the doctor, whom she described as having
an aura of sadness surrounding him.
                  Later, Dave found out there had been a shooting in the
house and the doctor had been badly hurt. He did, however, sur-
vive. The shooting was ruled a self-inflected accident. There were
rumors that his daughter had had a drug problem and that she or
her mother had shot him. But what role did the shining weapon
play? What message did the doctor wish to communicate?

As with any good ghost story, there are more questions than answers. Coultas leaves the reader delightfully scared and bemused, startling expectations and never imposing anything in excess. Her humor suffuses the book in a glow of warm bits, “I asked the cards if my poem would be successful. The reader said, ‘who is that man with the dark glasses and pot belly? Is there any reason why I should be seeing Allen Ginsberg over your shoulder?’” She brings poetry into the world and the world into poetry.

Coultas saves American poetry from itself by embodying America itself. She is an answer to this country’s 19th century masters: Dickinson, Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville. If you don’t adore the work you are not only wrong but are on the major shit list of all non-Bush Americans. This is our poet. Wake the fuck up.

                  I have only
the poet’s arsenal
with which to build this
hope chest.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at the library of USF. Poems recently appeared in Cannibal, Morning Train, and One Less Magazine. At present, working on a collaborative collection of re-writing each other's re-writes of other people's poems with Micah Ballard. Lots of walking and talking.



Passing Over by Norman Finkelstein
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2007)

Norman Finkelstein's magnum opus Track, one of the finest long poems of the past fifty years (and sadly in need of a single-volume collected edition), is the culmination of years of thematic development, a rigorous honing of poetic voice and tone; all in all, a remarkable achievement. In the recent publication from Marsh Hawk Press, Passing Over, we are made witness to this process of poetic refinement in works that increasingly point the way toward the masterwork that is Track: from the formal lyricism of “October” and “A Tomb for Ernest Bloch” to the increasingly terse and calibrated serial poems “Mara: The Shape of Absence” and “Passing Over.” Yet the overall concern of Finkelstein's poetry, composed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is that of Judaism; in particular, Jewish-American identity and the Jewish artist in the modern world.

Finkelstein's poems, then, both enact at the same time they describe the idea of the Jew as possessor of the word and the Word, for the Jews, historically, are known as the people of the Book. It is the Torah that has helped preserve Jewish identity in the face of the diaspora, the scattering of Judaica from the Holy Land and the oppression, persecution and rampant anti-Semitism Jews have faced in seemingly every society in which they have sought refuge. Finkelstein's poem “October” portrays this identity of the Jewish intellectual poet in modern America, struggling to create, as spiritually akin to the Rabbinical scholar, pouring over the Torah:
                  Surely he gave his consent,
but he has no memory of the books arriving,
of years sheltered from the weather,
                  of studying all the codes (3).

In “Aliyah,” Finkelstein writes of the “corrosive Word” which “calls to the soul” and urges on to “Go up to the Book,” which contains “the world of the strong fragments” where “love curls around the tongue / until it gives birth to truth.” The Book provides a “promised place,” the place where the diaspora is reconciled form the “wreckage of history” and where one finds him or herself “speaking that ancient language / that somehow is always new” (7).

The trio of elegiac poems, or “tombs,” written in memory the composer Ernst Bloch, literary critic Northrop Frye and philosopher Gershom Scholem, are among the more powerful of these early works, addressing Finkelstein's theme of Judaism most directly. “I was waiting for the words to open a space,” Finkelstein writes in “A Tomb for Ernst Bloch,” signaling the incantatory power of the word, or World. Bloch, a German-Jewish Marxist philosopher, was “married / to the old narratives” and was “betrayed” by the “future” which he “must have loved . . . like a mistress.” The Word, while it possesses an “old power,” is futile, subject to the disappointments of time and “doomed to hopeless repetition.” The present, Finkelstein argues, is “dark with promise, dense with the past”; because of this, “we're always eager / to imagine easy prophetic responses.” The promise of the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, “a day of absolute stillness” where “everything is returned” (9-10), seems ever more impossible. Thus, Bloch's betrayal is our betrayal, our urge to disguise the future in the expectations of the past, to expect God's revelation to fulfill a longing for the imagined simplicity of a bygone era, to expect of the future a spousal devotion when in fact it is full of passion and betrayal.

Northrop Frye, that great explicator of William Blake, failed to respond to Finkelstein's poems, as Finkelstein observes in his “A Tomb for Northrop Frye.” He must have been “busy deciphering that great code,” Finkelstein writes, referring to the system of metaphor Blake derived from Milton and the Bible. Finkelstein imagines Frye, after his death, of having gone to that
Great Assembly where the critics sing in chorus,
changing the poems they still hope to write,
where a thousand briefcases bulge contentedly
with moldering off-prints, dog-eared copies

The heaven of poets, in other words, in the “Universal Library / that Milky Way of Books” (11-12). If, in the beginning was the Word, as the Greek Johannine gospel declares, then in the end is the Word. From language comes consciousness and from consciousness the world. Thus the Word is the world and the world is the Word.

This theme continues in “A Tomb for Gershom Scholem,” a poem written in response to the death of philosopher Scholem, widely considered the founder of modern Kabbalah studies, and an authority on Jewish mysticism, an influence on thinkers as diverse as Umberto Eco, Jacques Derrida Giorgio Agamben and George Steiner. Finkelstein writes that “we cannot speak of it without speaking of you, / and the books and papers reach back toward that Infinity / from which the books and papers are said to come.” In Finkelstein's words, the word has become that tangible event that makes sense of the insensible, that gives meaning to the meaningless and structure to the structureless. The modern writer, the user of words, and especially the poet, who uses words in an incantatory and creational sense, thus imparting to them that air of mystery from which they were born, is the true judge of history, the only credible diagnostician of its illnesses, the mastery of ceremonies at the celebration of text as world, world as text. And therefore body as text. A theme taken up in the poem that (quite appropriately – the book is masterfully arranged) follows “A Tomb for Gershom Scholem (“who was a kingdom unto himself” (14)), “Inscriptions of the Body on the Text,” describes bodies and texts as “inscribed.” They “curve” and “mingle freely” and are “forbidden.” The poem as body acts as “an embrace,” a “secret kiss” (15).

With “Terminable and Interminable” and “Imaginary Photographs,” Finkelstein's style shifts to the serial form, which makes up the majority of the remaining poems in the book. The serial form, practiced by poets as diverse as Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley and George Oppen, is used to profitable effect by Finkelstein, who appears in these poems (and in Track against which they are helpfully contrasted) to be primarily influenced by the serial form as practiced by Oppen. (“Terminable and Interminable,” for instance, adopts Oppen's mid-1960s tendency to include individually titled sections to each individual poem of the series). “Imaginary Photographs” utilizes the serial form to great affect: the poems register like a series of photographs in an album; much like Oppen's Discrete Series each poem has it sown page, providing its own image-event. It is the natural culmination of Pound's “In a Station at the Metro”; the photograph as captured image, conveying emotion:
The moment is registered
by the camera
stored in the file
awaiting the emotion
changing an event
to which it corresponds (33)

Yet at the same time the poem laments, it celebrates: for each captured image conveys its emotion as much by what is says as what it cannot say:
Writing against life
experienced as a scrapbook

he takes a photograph of himself
and puts it in the album

wishing the dark pages
could dwindle into wings (35).

The people in photographs, as in poems, “find themselves . . . clinging to an instant / of supposed significance // when they would as soon pass away / into the oblivion of objects.” So the poem, Finkelstein argues, like the “backgrounds of snapshots,” become a part of the “detritus of our lives.” “Have mercy on the photographs / holding fast to the objects,” the poem implores, for, despite their seeming insignificance, the photographs reflect so powerfully upon our lives they perhaps tell us more about ourselves than we are prepared to know. “Buy them in the albums / put away in the attics,” the poem instructs. “Do not / look at them” (39).

If, as the saying goes, each man destroys the thing he loves, then, so, too, is each man destroyed by the thing he loves, a theme addressed in the serial poem “Mara: The Shape of Absence.” A meditation on love's destructiveness, the poem contains some of Finkelstein's finest lyric moments; indeed, it contains some of the finest lyric moments in poetry.
First, there is repetition, then there is love.
Or repetition is love: the circumscribed life.
Circle-written, I name you bitterness,
Joy beyond any legitimate limits (49).

How much there is to be savored here, in both content and form! The alliteration is magnificent: the long, airy “i” sound in “circumscribed life” followed immediately by the hard, consonant pounding of the four syllable punch “Circle written,” itself a kind of repetition, introducing the “bitterness” of these lines. If love is repetition it is both in the airy freedom of the “circumscribed life,” and the “t” laden masculine “repetition” that is “Circle-written,” and within “legitimate limits.” The love that, circular, knows no beginning or end and is therefore beyond limit is both “Joy” and “bitterness.” And how is love both? According to Finkelstein, Mara, meaning “bitter” in Hebrew, is derived from The Book of Ruth 1: 19-22, where Naomi asks that she be referred to as Mara, “for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.” But this Mara might also be the Mara of the Buddhist tradition, whose punishments are unceasing and thus, their eternal repetition, however painful, is still the promise of love which, ever continuing, cannot be contained and is without limits. The poem's speaker is intentionally ambiguous: it alternates between the speaker, Mara, and Mara's lover. What is more, all three might be the same.

Note the care with which Finkelstein utilizes the lyric tradition, the attention he draws to the act of composition, which contains its own form of endlessness, its own promise of joyful repetition:
When I still composed in the old way,
I would wait endlessly for the succeeding line
and still it would never arrive.

Now, as then, I go on without it.
Mara: the shape of an absence,
endlessness as a kind of bouquet
given to no one on a day like any other (49).

There is “No temple but the poem” and “No resting place but the word” (58). The Jew as poet, the poet as Jew, is reconciled by the possibility of the word, which presents them with sanctuary from the world. In a chilling passage, Finkelstein invokes the Ha-Shoah, a moment when it seemed that the endlessness of painful repetition might cease, the word (and World) might forever be silenced:
They shaved our heads
and made us run
but I won't
come to you like that.

I won't come to you
out of ash and horror
and when I speak
I want to speak with you.

My pleasure, my regret,
I have no song for your
and when I speak
you speak to yourself (59).

The book concludes with the long title poem, which begins with both an incantation and a recitation: “The poem as servant of memory / is notoriously unreliable” The poem “is a prelude / to a ritual of remembrance / performed around the spaces / which oblivion has seized” (67-68). As poet and Jew, Finkelstein, aware of the near-oblivion which has seized his people throughout history, finds the poet the protector of language (both preserving and infusing language with both meaning and life) and the role language plays in the preservation of Jewish memory, “as if the survival of symbols / meant the survival of a people.” The rituals of the Jewish passover, recounted here in loving detail, are a “play of death and rebirth,” “somehow set forth / like food on a plate.” The ritual is meant for the present, for “one who stands apart / forever in transition // between the darkness of the past / and the promises of fulfillment / that would reside in the future” (78). The Passover ritual bodies forth those from the past, “welcome in wandering / sustained by fragments” (73), both the fragments of the matzah bread and the fragments of the Torah which preserved Jewish culture in the face of diaspora and slavery, “which is why the old men stay up all night / heading from Egypt to morning / -- as if to learn how the tale will end” (5).

Yet the tale has no end, as wickedness has no end. Suffering, as the Buddhists insist, is a fundamental aspect of existence.
Rabbi I ask you
when can I stop remembering

When can I acknowledge
it was me it was not me

it is mine it is not mine

When have I filled
my Passover duty” (82)?

The “Words / remain / after all is consumed,” the poem concludes. So, too, will Finkelstein's words, which comprise some of the finest, most insightful, tender and unflinchingly honest poetry written in recent years. The joy of one is the joy of many, the suffering of the one is the suffering of many. These poems account for some of that suffering, some of that joy, and speak equally well for both.


Eric Hoffman lives and writes in Manchester, Connecticut. He is the author of three previous collections of poetry, Things Like This Happen All the Time (2000), Threnody (2006) and Of Love and Water (2008). His article on George Oppen, "A Poetry of Action: George Oppen and Communism" appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of American Communist History. Currently, he is editing a special feature on Oppen for Big Bridge. His poetry has appeared in The Argotist and is forthcoming from Cultural Society.