Saturday, July 19, 2008



Oranges & Sardines, Summer 2008, Vol. 1 Issue Edited by David Krump, Andy Nicholson, Meghan Punschke and Didi Menendez
(Didi Menendez, Summer 2008)

Oranges & Sardines is a new literary/arts journal containing poems, visual art folios, reviews, interviews, and columns. Published by Didi Menendez, the journal takes its title from Frank O’Hara’s poem “Why I Am Not A Painter”.

O’Hara is an appropriate inspiration since the journal, as with “O’Hara’s poem[,] joins poetry and visual art”, according to the Letter From The Editors by Andy Nicholson and David Krump. Right away, the concept interested me, especially when Nicholson and Krump quotes O’Hara’s
“Insofar as we are thinking of painting, its interpretation depends on use…Techniques of painting have been explored so thoroughly in recent years that their usages now seem to have evolved almost symbolic weights and meanings, not as absolutes, but as stances.”

before continuing on to say
“Artistic techniques are not absolutes but stances… // Any theme, any style, any mode of exploration should ot be seen as an absolute but as a use, and when techniques become usable outside of affiliation and identity, it becomes all the more imperative to read each poem from its unique perspective, to give each poem a chance to build its rhetoric, its interests, its way of moving through the world.”

My empathy for the journal's vision comes from how visual art techniques have been a primary influence on my poems. In part, this reflects my opinion (only an opinion!) that, in the latter part of the 20th century, visual art explorations have been more interesting than developments in contemporary poetry approaches. Nicholson and Krump also allude to visual arts’ history:
“As painting then had passed through the maturity of various styles—German Expressionism, Surrealism, American Expressionism—and was on the cusp of a new synthesis of these techniques in the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, so too has contemporary poetry passed through the maturity of various literary styles—from Confessional to Language poetry—and currently has the opportunity to reenvision American poetics.”

And Nicholson and Krump conclude—and it’s a wonderful point so I want to repeat it: “Any theme, any style, any mode of exploration should not be seen as an absolute but as a use, and when techniques become usable outside of affiliation and identity, it becomes all the more imperative to read each poem from its unique perspective, to give each poem a chance to build its rhetoric, its interests, its way of moving through the world.”

Of course I think their conclusion is laudable—it should be obvious to any follower of Galatea Resurrects that we here are open to many readings of a poem, including a reading that does not situate any individual poem within its “theme,…style…[or] mode of exploration.” For instance, I forget the first poem(s) I read by Charles Bernstein but I remember enjoying its/their lyrical qualities, versus as a representative of Bernstein’s poetic approaches, e.g. LANGUAGE POETRY (it’s how I came to cite Bernstein’s “Log Rhythms” in an art review I did on Susan Bee HERE).

And so, with Nicholson and Krump’s very inviting Letter From The Editors, I eagerly pressed onward through the pages of Oranges & Sardines. Fortunately, the experience doesn’t disappoint. Specifically:

I like how Jim Knowles reviewed The Headless Saints by Myronn Hardy in that he starts by noting how he defines what he likes or dislikes: “Poems that really grab my attention are usually sharp and sparse, but combine all kinds of ingredients and make it look easy.” In something subjective like criticism, laying out the basis for judgement before sharing said judgement is a good idea. And, by the way, Knowles recommends Hardy’s book: “There is image, story, reality, the eery, the surreal, and the unexpected takes in this work. It has the magic and travel, but the lines are still sparse and surprising. Very nice.”

A favorite among the poems is, not surprisingly, J.P. Dancing Bear’s three poems. I say “not surprisingly” because the poems begin—were begun—with a first line sourced from another poet’s work. While perhaps not a new approach (and I recall Alice Friman doing something similar by beginning poems from a standpoint of doing the opposite of a quoted line), the transparent conceptual underpinning allows homage to another poet’s inspirational line, while moving Dancing Bear to craft anew a different poem that expands the quoted line’s (and the source poem’s) life. Here’s the beginning of “Lines Cast” whose first line is by Diane Ackerman
where you work the oracle of my thoughts
and thumb the stopwatch of my blood
in my red wheelhouse, my pink kitchen.
Neurons fire to beacon
with your touch.

Highlights for me are the presentations of the visual arts that give each artist a satisfying representative of images, combined with interviews or autobiographical statements. It’s fascinating to see how artists’ thoughts, including intentions, are manifested visually in their works. The interviews on their own offer good reading; here are excerpts from two artists responding to the same questions:
How does a concept for a painting come to you?

I get thought dysentery and I need to purge. I conceive of an idea. Sometimes I thumbnail it in my notebooks. Sometimes it is simply action streaming depending on what type of music I’m listening to, maybe some manic foible of day to day life. I agonize over which part of the vortext I most currently occupy…

Would you make love on a freshly painted canvas?
This is contingent on whether I’m alone or with somebody, though in the past it has never really mattered.

How does a concept for a painting come to you?

I never know what will hit me or when, but when it does, it burns a hole in my brain until I get it on canvas. I spend a lot of time in the great outrdoors getting off the beaten path. At times, my world seems a abstact arrangement of colors, texture, line and movement as I hold a rose to the light, stalk the moon or wait for sundown with a storm rolling in.

Would you make love on a freshly painted canvas?
No. Oil paints are too toxic and hard to get off!

In short, the journal is full of lovely, fascinating, humourous, witty moments. The first couplet in Steffi Drewes’ poem “Meet me in Marin” made me laugh:
Dear, what have the bridges
done to your eyes? Let me drive.

Oranges & Sardines is quite clearly successful by its own terms. In Talia Reed’s column entitled “The Real Estate Value of a Room of One’s Own,” Jennifer Hill-Kaucher is quoted as saying, “I don’t think Americans know what to do with poetry—for them, poetry is the middle child of the arts. Most people can relate to a painting, they enjoy theatre, love music and dance. Suggest an evening of poetry to anyone on the street and you’re likely to get a funny look and an excuse about them having to floss the cat.”

But Oranges & Sardines is such an enjoyable read that there’s no sense of laboring as one goes through reading the poems. Sure, that’s because the poems are wonderful, but their inclusion in such a beautifully-produced context replete with visually attractive images could make (one hopes) a non-poetry aficionado return to more poems in the future.

Which is all to say, Oranges & Sardines as a whole is much greater than as the sum of its individual parts—isn’t that what editors/publishers strive to achieve in creating groupings of individual, previously-unrelated works? Groupings like a literary journal? I am delighted to welcome Oranges & Sardines to the world.


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.

1 comment:

Didi Menendez said...

Thanks for the review!]

Didi Menendez