This is an amazing book of poetry, the first of Tyler Mills, whom I (full disclosure) have met, know only a little as a recent graduate of the doctoraThis is an amazing book of poetry, the first of Tyler Mills, whom I (full disclosure) have met, know only a little as a recent graduate of the doctoral program in Creative Writing in the English department where I teach. I had read 2-3 poems from her, shared by her fellow students, so just recently bought this collection, and read it slowly. The book is deeply unsettling. Violence lurks on every page, and much of it is sexual violence, gender violence. A meditation on the female body, seemingly always vulnerable.
And how does this reflection, this inquiry, take place? In part through calling out mythology, the voices of the ages. Just as James Joyce used The Odyssey to frame his own exploration of Dublin through Ulysses, Mills does as well, with somewhat different purposes. Ancient stories make their way into the present, familiar world: The myth of Philomena, raped by Tereus, her tongue ripped from her mouth. . . but where does the tongue go? "it murmurs somewhere," . . . Mills reminds us, and violated, Philomena "stays awake unwinding shadows from an image."
What stands against sexual violence, against trauma, is a song, the sounds of the lyre, a painting, language, poetry itself. The arts, images of truth, help us speak, and sometimes, as Mills makes clear, that speech is beyond language, a scream of rage and despair. But as she points out, "when language fails, there is sound." The framing quotation for "The Myth of Philomena" is from Ovid: "Imprisoned here, my voice will fill the trees." Sometimes, and often, here, what gets voiced is a lovely, finely etched series of images. The violin, and music, are central to Tongue Lyre, I should almost say of course because of the title, and the singing language is both terrifying and beautiful, lyrical.
"Rose," framed by Blake's "Oh, Rose, Thou Art Sick," is a kind of essay into images of the body, Mapplethorpe, others, naked, sexual, censored bodies. "What is it about truth, images of truth?" But this question is for some of the images Mills crafts, too, images we don't want to face, don't want to know about. This is a book of poetry about the uses, the necessity, of the images and the music of poetry, and it is amazing. ...more
I'm not yet convinced by Lin's work, or his group of writers, either, so far. Michelle Tea, Jenny Zhang. Eh. How to understand him? People sometimes sI'm not yet convinced by Lin's work, or his group of writers, either, so far. Michelle Tea, Jenny Zhang. Eh. How to understand him? People sometimes say Lydia Davis? But I love Lydia Davis, son, and you're no Lydia Davis. And some people reference Raymond Carver?! Not remotely close, seems to me. Richard Yates? Lin has a book by that title. "Tao Lin is a Kafka for the iPhone generation." Really? Kafka? But iPhone generation, yep!
So what is this sort of blog poetry stream about? The iidentification and exploration of psychological states, such as anger, worry, depression, despair, maybe, but instead of depressed Gregory turning into a cockroach, it's now a… depressed hamster? Ha! Well, maybe that's what's going on, but from the very first moment I engaged with Kafka I was thrilled (both haunted and amused) and this ain't happening with Lin for me yet. A lot of people feel amused by him and I can see that, the fact of just writing down all the mundanity of existence.
If you are twenty something you may like this a lot, feel like it is relatable, abut if it is not exactly slackerish, it is about being lost and apolitical and floating. I know that the depressed hamsters are supposed to be more than depressed hamsters. But sometimes a depressed hamster is just a depressed hamster and I don't have to work to make that significant. Uh, unless the narrator is seen as this comically uninteresting iPhone generation guy, and then it is like, a portrait of the new lost generation? Well, maybe, if you are generous.
This is, as far as I can tell, absurdist poetry with some lyricism in some very few places. But "revolutionary" as one reviewer put it?! Nah......more
The author and artist introduces and frames a story he relates to as a city kid as the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had been. I love Ferlinghetti'sThe author and artist introduces and frames a story he relates to as a city kid as the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had been. I love Ferlinghetti's poetry, and this one captures the joy of growing up in a hot summer when the fire department would sometimes open the fire hydrants and run the hoses and dozens of kids would come out on the street. In this poem, in the midst of all this color and activity and heat and water hoses, the poet connects with a girl and everything is suddenly still, and they are really the only ones there. Surprisingly romantic, young attraction, sweet turn of events. Just a moment, but it sort of captures the time of a young elementary school crush.
Frampton's woodcuts capture lots of motion and splashes of color and are beautiful. I will buy this one, for the poem and the art. I think the book title is unfortunate for anyone not knowing Ferlinghetti. I mean, it IS about his poem, but it is not a descriptive or engaging title for such a lovely, engaging poetic scene....more
This is a book of seven of Emily Dickinson's best known poems, maybe directed to tweens or ya, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault in sumptuous watercolThis is a book of seven of Emily Dickinson's best known poems, maybe directed to tweens or ya, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault in sumptuous watercolors. Spare and lovely poems and artwork. There's a kind of contemplative quality to it that I love and a kind of gently surreal sense of play, too....more
I read Talkativeness and Thin Kimono, two later books, before this one, and iced those two books better. This has more deliberate joking, as in the JaI read Talkativeness and Thin Kimono, two later books, before this one, and iced those two books better. This has more deliberate joking, as in the Jaques Tati cover and the allusion to s/m in the title (and no connection to any of the poems, of course). He writes about his work as farrier and also about his work as poet. Some poems are great here, and none of it is boring, but in those two other books, there is more exhilaration....more
This is pretty amazing. It's a sort of grief memoir by the wife of David Foster Wallace, an attempt to explore several aspects of her grief. She's anThis is pretty amazing. It's a sort of grief memoir by the wife of David Foster Wallace, an attempt to explore several aspects of her grief. She's an artist and writer, though this is her first book. She alternates postage stamp-sized collages with what seems to be purse poems, or free verse, I'll call it poetry. It's elliptical writing; she's not writing for us as much as for herself, sometimes angry, sad, mystified, all the things you'd expect, but not in any sort of analytical or any other kind of order. The writing never names Wallace, but is often directed to him. I wondered if I would be at a disadvantage since I had not read any of Wallace's works yet, but he is in some sense (at least as writer) somehow beside the point. This is a soul writing and art-making, and it is passionate and strange and sometimes distancing and sometimes intimate. It is never warm and inviting and clear about what is going on. It is a series of fragments, which matches her failure to make sense of this act. It is not about getting over grief, or conquering it. It is about living it and trying to make sense of it. It is an amazing book, rich with language and observation....more
It took me a while to read this collection of poetry--well, really it is two collections of poetry and a sort of poetic novella or longer prose poem.It took me a while to read this collection of poetry--well, really it is two collections of poetry and a sort of poetic novella or longer prose poem. And who cares about a poet is who was the son of wealthy physician, pampered, self-absorbed, horribly spoiled, who became a (by his mother's account) a selfish drunk, feeling sort for himself…? Well, Hagiwara was the first symbolist poet in Japan, who was writing largely a century ago, and as it turns out is one of the most influential poets in twentieth century verse. He wrote free verse, in largely colloquial language, though he also liked tanka, wrote prose poems, collections of aphorisms. And it's almost uniformly melancholy.
But the collective impact of this collection is lovely, lyrical, filled with longing (for love, for happiness) and close attention to detail. He is unique in that he fears or is put off by nature and feels most comfortable in the city. Maybe my favorite piece was the prose Cat Town, surreal, magical. He says, in an introduction to Howling at the Moon (1917) , "The inherent purpose of poetry is to contemplate the essence of the feeling itself trembling inside of the human heart.. Poetry is what grasps the nerves of feelings. It is a live, working psychology." He says: "I want to nail my gloomy shadow into the moonlit earth. Lest the shadow flowing me forever." Poetry he says later is a "sad consolation for me.. .. it is the sound of a blue heron calling in the marshes of life, the sound of a wind darkly whispering over the reeds on a moonlit night,"… and "Someone like me is no more than a blue cat's nightmare." This is Baudelaire and Rimbaud territory he is strolling through. A discovery for me in this 2014 new collection of his work!...more
I will read this again and a few times, I am sure. When I read it over the past couple days I sometimes laughed until I cried. When I read some of itI will read this again and a few times, I am sure. When I read it over the past couple days I sometimes laughed until I cried. When I read some of it aloud last night to friend Jen I also choked with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. Did Jen also think the stuff that I read was hilarious and wonderful? Not really. I mean, she likes me and was delighted, I am sure, to see me laugh like that. Do I think most other readers of this would laugh like that? I doubt it. Laughter is so idiosyncratic. One person's offense (or bizarre) is another's delight, and this is something that would seem to me unique to comedy. That movie about the word's dirtiest joke told by some of the world's best comedians, The Aristocats, is funny, they all contend, because it crosses the line and the more line-crossing (the dirtier), the better.
But many of us who saw that movie agreed with the comedians that the joke was funny, and the more absurd, the better. When I was first dating my wife we saw a farce by Michael Frayn, Noises Off, and we laughed like that together, "til we cried," as they say, and I was relieved we had that in common. Having a similar sense of humor is a good sign, definitely. But a farce is ridiculous. Would everyone think it is funny? Surely not. More of us laugh at Twain and Sedaris than would laugh at Craig.
Thin Kimono (not about a thin kimono or anything like that) is not a series of dirty jokes, and it is not (I think) a farce, though it has farcical elements--it may just be in part making the art of poetry a farce). Thin Kimono is (maybe) absurdist poetry, which is to say it has absurd and/or surreal aspects to the way it makes meaning, but is also for me decidedly poetry, by which I mean language and meaning play is central to its enterprise. Yes, there are jokes in it, the world it depicts is sometimes crazy, but it's fresh and inventive and original language use. I loved reading Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano" and, for instance, the story in it of Bobby Watson, his wife Bobby Watson and their children Bobby Watson, Bobby Watson, Bobby Watson, etc. The play is absurd but raises issues about language and reality in funny ways. A Night of Serious Drinking by Rene Daumal is clever and rich and funny, but absurd. The surrealist Comte de Lautréamont insisted art should be as "new .... as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella" which is to say it should have surprising juxtapositions. Think, in different ways, of Dali or Duchamp. Make it new, Pound said.
But Thin Kimono is poetry. It reminds me at times of images you read in Neruda, strange and wonderful and crazy juxtapositions. Some of James Tate (who champions Craig in a book cover blurb), John Ashbery, Russell Edson. Charles Simic's work. Thin Kimono is often funny, but there is also a deeper, sadder element that runs through it. He has a poem about an owl that wakes him in the night that makes him weep, and not with laughter, but it's also not clear why. . . maybe in part just the shock of beauty. . . and that's what it is for me and these poems, too:
I'm awakened at 3 a.m. to the sound of an owl. It takes me a minute to find my glasses. I press my face to the window. A silver flash crosses the yard. It settles into an owl shape on a nearby post.
My nose and eyes are stinging. A stinging behind my face. Like some kind of problem behind a billboard. Why would a man look at an owl and start to cry? My body is trying to reject something. I have no idea what that is. The owl is sitting in the moonlight. The yard is completely still.
One poem, called just "poem" may begin to get at what he is about; in it he says,
To those people who are always talking about "surrealism" can I suggest opening your fucking eyes?
If you do this you will see mothballs. And a green nightgown.
One stanza, with maybe political (or fashion?) commentary:
It’s Wednesday, I’m gonna get me a belt buckle with a bald eagle on it.
A woman in a dream he has:
She silently mouthed the word pop twice—pop, pop—and I felt myself twitch sharply in my bed. I knew I could wake up if I wanted to, but it just wasn’t my style.
ADVICE FOR THE POET
Never aim your bicycle at a chicken. Never set your glasses on an anvil.
And some more commentary on poetry:
It's a poet's job / to be dragged by an ankle / through town.
The neighbor said, "But seriously, who is it you're writing these for? Surely you have an audience in mind." I thought about it carefully, I did, but ended up repeating almost word for word what I had already said, which was that the poems were written for me, or for readers who were exactly the same person I was. I said I couldn't imagine any other person. I said I could see how that probably sounded disingenuous, or solipsistic, or both. And just then a small dinner roll fell from the table, rolled across the living room steadily, not slowing at all, or wobbling. It rolled across the room and passed through the doorway into the bedroom and the door slammed shut behind it.
From "I Believe": I believe in tacos and mortification
From “Bluebirds” …
I slump over in my chair. It’s like I’m covered in bluebirds. Little brilliant ones.
And when I say this, “little brilliant ones,” I lisp a little like a man who’s been punched hard in the mouth but still wants to talk bluebirds.
Windsor: I wish to speak plainly about a one-eyed horse I know. His name is Windsor.
I love his "Bear Photo" poem which talks about simile and anthromophism and what we imagine bears to be doing and thinking. . Craig is a farrier (he shoes horses) and he often writes about that work; as he says in an interview, "No, I don’t know of any other farriers who are poets, but there probably are some. The main similarity between these vocations—the common general theme—is that each camp thinks the other is ridiculous. My poetry friends think shoeing is quaint/unimaginable (think Society for Creative Anachronism: chainmail, jousting, fiber arts), and my shoeing friends think poetry is quaint/unimaginable (again: chainmail, jousting, fiber arts, etc.)."
On poetry and the meaning of one of his poems: "People were asking me what it 'meant.' It’s like asking what a Jackson Pollock means. I suggested we concentrate on the mood and tone of the poem rather than the 'content.' Even if a poem has no immediately obvious content/meaning, it will still impart its tone/mood."
So Craig's work is not about "about."
And he says, speaking of bicycles and typewriters, "It makes me think of a bicycle-related quote I came across recently (while trying to find something completely unrelated to bicycles on the Internet), attributed to Corvus Corvax: “My single-speed is sacred. Usefulness comes from what is not there.”
This is an amazing collection of poetry that in part chronicles the move of her family from South to North, from Alabama to Chicago. And we see her stThis is an amazing collection of poetry that in part chronicles the move of her family from South to North, from Alabama to Chicago. And we see her struggles and joys with growing up black, with sexuality, with soul music. Too many favorites to list here. But as with other works by Smith, this is visceral poetry, poetry of the body, unashamed and explicit and marveling. And compared to earlier poetry one might also describe this way, this collection reflects her deep study of form. Language play and dramatic effects have always been part of this five time National Poetry Slam-winner's work. She's the best live poet alive, mesmerizing. At turns hilarious and angry and tender, always, she is here a student of formal considerations in a way she was not early on. Blood Dazzler had more rage about it, of course, a white hot flame, while this is more reflective again about her life in Chicago, about growing up. The performance poet with each book becomes also a page poet, a much deserving National Book Award nominee.
I read this one poem at a time over a few weeks, and I complete it as I complete Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, a National Book Award winner for 2014 in Young adult Literature. Both books deal with the move from South to North and growing up. Woodson's book is lovely, but it is pointed to young people, and she has now been anointed the Poet Laureate for Young People by Poetry magazine. The audience for Jimi Savannah is not primarily kids, though I suspect the author would say we should not attempt to "protect" kids form language and experiences they already know well, and I'd agree, and will use poems in this book in conjunction with Brown Girl Dreaming in a YA course this summer. Some of the language just leaves me breathless. I can't wait to hear her read again here in Chicago. ...more
What I like about this collection is that it talks about grief over time and not just in that crashing first days and weeks experience. This is a collWhat I like about this collection is that it talks about grief over time and not just in that crashing first days and weeks experience. This is a collection that covers ten years and not just ten hours, as the title might suggest. It begins with the sudden death, ten years ago, of his father, that's the heart of it, the foundation of the book, the backdrop of everything, and moves through his wife's miscarriage and the birth of his son. Through all this we get the sense of his father. I think the first and last sections are great and would have been enough, really. There's also a few very fine poems recognized by The Best American Poetry series… and much of it is published and in great places, but I just thought it was too much, too long, could have been a tighter collection to make it stronger......more