I have taken on far too many things recently: trying to get a manuscript out and revised, trying to actually pay a lot of attention to my kids (including all weekend), trying to maintain being paid at my part-time job, volunteering to be the special ed contact at my school (and, so far, appearing to fail miserably at that!), trying to actually write new poems, trying to read a lot of stuff (including fiction), trying to translated Old French poetry, and, last but not least, trying to watch all of the ALCS and the World Series and watching my childhood heroes prove the Curse is without a doubt finally a thing of the past. Go Sox! Growing up, I never had a Boston Red Sox hat, but now I do because my parents bought one for me! I do have a Carl Yazstremski autographed softball, acquired during a chance encounter driving by a car dealership when I was in middle school and playing softball (badly).
Anyway, have had several books stacked up and am trying to read and pay attention to them: Donald Revell's new book of essays, The Art of Attention; April Ossmann's new book, Anxious Music; Dean Young's new book, Embryoyo; and Stuart Dischell's new book, backwards days. I also want to (re)read some late Gluck, possibly Meadowlands or Vita Nova, and I have some sort of apparent deathwish to read Z. Herbert (he terrifies me). And, lately, I've decided I want to read WC Williams' Paterson and re-read Beowulf (this time the Heaney translation, and my desire has nothing whatsoever to do with the bizarre movie coming out).
April's book has one of the best poems I've ever seen about avocados in it, and is filled with poems that dance remarkably among and between the quotidian and larger philosophical abstractions.
Revell's book is filled with prescient, often Williams-esque, observations about art: including a sense of understanding the eternally present as a mode and method of art, grasping and making the slight, but difficult shift between the world as it is experienced by all, and the world as it exists for the poet--not a representation, but an envisioning of the actual within the real.
Stuart's book I am really looking forward to as I know it is a book that makes glasswork of terrible things.
Dean's book has been excellent. I am curious about the cover with its picture of the embryo (as well as the title) from a man who admitted pregnant women terrified him. Shock therapy? Although Elegy on Toy Piano was really robbed of the Pulitzer, Embryoyo is, actually, even better. Dean's work (and Koch's, and Ashbury's) is often about the ways in which language and experience surprise us. I came to this conclusion while reading Karen Elizabeth Gordon's grammar handbook, The Transitive Vampire, which is filled with grammatically perfect sentences that make substitutions one would not expect--eternal discovery.
So eternal discovery, what happens if I say . . .? are all part of their poetry. Surprise and transformation: so the poetry constantly feints and dodges and uses grammatical structure to yield different kind of "sense"--a scrabbling of the brain to understand non sequitur, but not just non sequitur, but why that non sequitur feels and seems meaningful--what it does make sense after all, what elements cause it to have emotional impact. The risk this type of poetry takes is in creating verbal barriers that inhibit the expression of emotional content. Because one needs to damper emotional content to some extent, and when you're working with substitution and digression, emotional expression can become lost. I think that in this particular book, Dean is able to fuse most successfully, poem after poem, a sense of eternal surprise and discovery and transformation, a pleasingly disorienting sense of substitution, with a deep vein of emotional content. The following poem I've read and re-read and it keeps knocking me out:
No Forgiveness Ode
The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night, Tybalt's stabbed
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn't it
electricity's blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
fuckup. So in the meantime: epoxy,
the dog barking at who knows what,
signals mixed like a dumped-out tray
of printer's type. Some piece of you
stays in me and I'll never give it back.
The hearts needs its thorns
just as the rose needs its profligacy.
Just because you've had enough
doesn't mean you wanted too much.