Sunday, May 9, 2010

Have you read this yet?

James Jesus Angleton, head of the C.I.A.'s counter-intelligence division during the Cold War, and founding editor of long-out-of-print Yale-based literary journal Furioso:

What he brought to spycraft was the intellectual model of the New Criticism, which, as one contributor to Furioso put it, was propelled by “the discovery that it is possible and proper for a poet to mean two differing or even opposing things at the same time."

( Gladwell, The New Yorker)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Seth Landman's (Blurry) Whale

Sometimes a book is only truly read when it's read twice, or more than twice, because reading it just once is just not enough, is only half-reading it, as if the definition of the number one, in this special case, is half-of-one. I'm not talking about the Da Vinci Code. With the Da Vinci Code, reading it once is one-half too many. You only need to read half of the Da Vinci Code (the second half) to have fully read it. In this case the definition of the number one is actually two, so that to equal one, you only need half-of-one.

Scratch that. Don't read the Da Vinci Code at all.

I'm surprised by myself. I meant to write about Seth Landman's The Wild Hawk the Sea when I set down to write. I am still going to write about The Wild Hawk the Sea, which is out from Minutes Books, and which I just finished reading a second time, now having completely read it.

With fifteen poems, none exceeding a page in length (I don't know why that's relevant), The Wild Hawk the Sea is impossible to summarize. Sure, there's a ruminating "I" running through it, dislocation, derangements of various ilk, surprising or mysterious juxtaposition, but those are words that fall away.

Let your uncertainty sniff out the truth. Steer yourself in tricky ways. Tricky steering is not only necessary, but it also looks good from above. If the Spanish Inquisition got its hands on this book, they would take up other lines of work. Or, with tenuous conviction, they'd give Landman a few half-hearted thwacks, while in their skulls much more resonating thwacking would be occurring. What I'm saying is inside my skull there is thwacking. What I'm not saying is I am the Spanish Inquisition. The Wild Hawk the Sea has a whale on the cover, at least on my copy. And I won't even mention how many Wakefields there are inside. Also inside is this great poem:

Portable Flowers

Portable flowers came to my mind,
and I thought, as in all other things,
do I need to say my? Music alone
had helped me up until this moment,
and now these flowers, little performers
in the vase of my massive, golden brain
creep in and open a curtain I knew
not existed. And here on earth, a melody
doesn't end; I'm squatting on a mountaintop
now; now bawling at something vast in a
wildflower; I'm wholesome on horseback,
late sunset, hawks carving up the clouds.
Oh, this is the warmest afternoon, and
it drives away the chill in my heart,
though perhaps in feeling more myself,
for the first time in so long, I'm really on
a great bluff, cultivating a gloom more my own.

Also, following all that up with the business side of sides, Landman's poem "The Coast," which is in The Wild Hawk the Sea, first appeared in the pages of notnostrums. His life is here and here and here. Not here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jessica Fjeld's THE TIDE

You’ll notice there are poems in nn4 by Jessica Fjeld. These poems are from a chapbook called THE TIDE which came out this month from Pilot Books, a fantastic little operation run by Betsy Wheeler and Meghan Dewar. THE TIDE made its debut at AWP a couple weeks ago, so there’s basically no excuse for not owning it at this point.

notnostrums had the good fortune of sharing its table with Pilot (along with Factory Hollow Press) in Denver, so THE TIDE had been staring at me all week. It was brutal having it that close and not having the time to read it. It taunted me, kind of in playful way, almost harmlessly in a way, but also sort of destroying me as I knew what lay within arms reach but wasn’t able to have until after the din of AWP receded.

I never had any doubts about buying this book. I’ve been an admirer of Fjeld’s poetry for several years, ever since I read her first chapbook On Animate Life: Its Profligacy, Organ Meats, etc. which won a Poetry Society of America award in 2006. I was anxious about THE TIDE selling out, and therefore anxious about THE TIDE. And why shouldn’t I be anxious about THE TIDE? It’s a dangerous thing.

If you see the title and think of a vacation you took, a beach you once sat on for a week, a sandbar, flat stones, little crabs, the moon or gravity, you are not thinking what you will think after you’ve read this book. You will think much more interesting things.

There’s been a surge of poetry collections that put forward a centralized aspect, whether it be a character or a geological phenomenon, or both (i.e. Christian Hawkey’s Ulf): CAConrad’s The Book of Frank, Matvei Yankelevich’s Boris by the Sea, Emily Kendal Frey’s Frances (and others; those are just the ones I’ve read in the last couple months). Fjeld’s collection functions similarly inasmuch as the “center” of the collection, the thread that’s indicated by the title, is actually and merely the exterior membrane of a vast array of images, ideas and propulsions.

Lacking page numbers, and with pages that fold out revealing hidden poems, THE TIDE is as complete as it is unafraid to be disorderly. It is a perfectly manufactured tide. At first I was a good boy and read the book from left to right, but then I found myself jumping around, unfolding pages at random. In this way I saw the amorphousness of THE TIDE, its delicate and effusive shiftiness.

The tide in THE TIDE is a transitive character. At times it claims the active voice of the poet, inviting first-person observations made strange by its unique perspective, that of a tide, then made doubly strange by the poet reclaiming her own voice, leaping away in the next moment from what we expect of a tide’s report: “Little porpoises come up alongside me. Porpoise!/I would like to show you the copper wire/I’ve been catching on a magnet.”

The act of doling out and taking back occurs throughout these poems, and it’s exciting to watch Fjeld poise herself between impetus and impulse. I would call it struggle, for indeed this is poetry, but a soft struggle, one entered into willfully, joyously, mischievously, as eager to depart as to remain:


I remember what it feels like. The sound is so

loud I can’t hear. The rain is so hard I can’t

see. What I have in my hand is a chipped

tortoise shell.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

I was helping someone "put together" their living room this weekend, which involved thinking about what could go on a big blank wall. I thought they should put a big old map on the wall. The bigger and older the better. National Geographic sells big old-looking maps, but that's no good. Old-looking or old-seeming is not a substitute for old. What's good about old can't be achieved by the semblance of old, I feel. When an old person says "check yourself before you wreck yourself," that's cute. But if I said to you those same words, cute it would not be I dare say. There's an endearment in what is old that is inimitable, which is why National Geographic should check itself for real!

A camel was spotted on the road not galloping.

Monday, April 12, 2010