With Thursday well upon us, it’s time to commemorate another deserving vintage selection. This week’s pick is of a more serious nature and one that asks us to reflect on a darker, but important, part of American history. Spend a few minutes today with Eric LeMay’s audiovisual recollection of the AIDS epidemic and discover what it was like through the eyes of an adolescent in “Gaetan Dugas, A Personal History.” LeMay’s piece first appeared in our journal in DB 15, Spring 2012.
Eric LeMay is the creator of many digital art pieces like the one featured here, and the author of three books: Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese, The One in the Many, and In Praise of Nothing: Essays, Memoir, and Other Experiments. He has taught writing at several universities including Ohio University, where he is currently on the faculty of the writing program. He also serves as an associate editor for the New Ohio Review and the web editor for Alimentum: The Literature of Food. He is also a host on the New Books Network. To view more of his work, visit his website at ericlemay.org.
Bhanu Kapil, Ban en Banlieue: Nightboat Books, 2015. Kapil asks, “what are sentences for and how long might they go on”? With Ban en Banlieue, she has created an astonishing work of disintegration, unstitching, scattering, dismembering the “book” by constructing among its remnants bodied being. “My finger was like an animal, sensing with its delicate, representational snout”, that finger moving over the pages of the abandoned “Anglo-Indian novel” Ban that was this new work’s first incarnation. The destruction/de-construction/remaking-as-healing compound rebirth out of death. The death of young Ban collapsing as the 1979 riots in London break open, riots that that would result in activist Blair Peach’s death from police beating. The exile-death of the emigre/immigrant passing from one culture to the next. The gang rape, dis-embowelment, and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in South Delhi, in December 2012. Kapil’s numerous ritual re-enactments of Pandey’s death as memory, as healing, as love. A feral book, a book refusing form and limit, Ban en Banlieue is record, renunciation, list, digression, annunciation, performance, collaboration, ritual, and event. It begins again and again. “Is this the charnel ground. Yes, it is.” Kapil insists on the body as site and source, the book as body opened again and again: “To speak from my organs is a fiction without end.” She makes a truth out of dispersal. “What did Ban mean? My question was innocent. I was innocent. But Ban, in a sense was waiting for me, in the darkness of the border, no longer proximal but centered, arms waving in a blur, waiting with everything that was wrong.”
Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, As Water Sounds: Bootstrap Press, 2014. A collection of lyric confidences, the poems move among the roots of days, “a thousand specs of dust / trapped in the light of a window / travelling outward to meet you.” The speaker of these poems, given over to that movement, rides on a language of wandering: a delicious quiet which carries me into the teeming density of the world never forsaking a fiercely gentle attention.
I need to change my focus
fallout, drive to an avenue
lined in crepe myrtles
the shadows are heavier at 3 o’clock
and carry weight like iron
their humor is overlooked
Thibodeaux’s language holds me in these moments, listening as if I had forgotten how, or perhaps why. “B-side” lyrics for her home-place Louisiana, tangled beauty and catastrophe, the poems ask, “What else lives inside the machine?” Katrina’s aftermath. Barataria Bay’s eroded wetlands. Deepwater Horizon. Police violence. Poverty. Hunger. “A silence rigorously functional.”
Carrie Hunter, Scienza Nuova: Little Red Leaves Textile Editions, 2014. Hunter revisits Giambattista Vico’s “new science”, drawing on his assertion that from ancient pagan traditions lies the ascent of reason in our political wills and metaphysical minds. Enmeshed in late stage capital’s manifold violences, the poet interrogates its mythologies, ancient and contemporary, via juxtaposition and punctuation-disrupted syntax: “Life and resurrection theme. A bird’s stomach. Often grinning. How we survive gets in the way of survival. Roulette as mythology. Roulette as roulette.” These prose poems, posed aslant upon the page, tilt at the alternating erasure and cooptation of women’s stories and lives, the feminine’s play within the cycling of Vico’s three ages: “The first age on tiptoes. Before we lost our language. The sound of meaningless/-full conversation, clitoral.” In each of these fleeting narratives, the proximal role of language: “what I wear when I want to be somebody else. What I wear when I want to pretend I exist as a thing. The negation of the one half of the duality I don’t like. Using a narrative to make something not a narrative.” In these poems the male snake is reclaimed as female, the origin of body/mind/will re-situated in the cycling embrace of the ouroboros-as-womb, this chapbook offers a richly multivalent revisiting of Vico, reason, mythology, and gender.
Farzana Marie, Load Poems Like Guns, Women’s Poetry From Herat, Afghanistan: Holy Cow! Press, 2015. Translations of work by eight contemporary poets, the collection celebrates their refusal to accept silence, their resilience, determination, and the bright lamp of their language against violence, both cultural and personal and as a consequence of nearly forty war-ravaged years of conflict. Nadia Anjuman, poet and budding literary scholar murdered by her husband just before her 25th birthday, often worked within the tradition of the ghazal:
Slow down, heart that leaps to greet sweet spring,
my broken wings will temper this temporary thrill.
Though melodies drain from memory, stale with silence,
songs waft up from soul-whispers still.
One thought of the day I will break the cage
makes me croon like a carefree drunk until
they can see I am no wind-trembled willow tree–
An Afghan woman wails and sings, and wail and sing I will!
The Dari texts scroll right to left, paired oppositely with their English translations, and vary widely in form from traditional ghazals to free verse. I was fortunate to hear Somaya Rameshi read her work in Dari recently, itself a beautiful spoken language. Rameshi founded the group Naw-Andishan (“New Thinkers”), a social-cultural organization, and, having been put forward by her peers to promote the concerns of young, progressive Afghanis, she was elected to the Herat Provisional Council. Her work speaks of the lost generations of women poets and artists, denied the right to express themselves.
I spit myself onto a page
a painting that sent
the alphabet to its death.
In this way a thousand-and-nothing ancestors
of a generation of nothing-becomers
Ginger Ko, Motherlover: Coconut Books, 2015. Composing a language of feral otherness–“guts lined with wet fur that have never seen light”–Ko’s poems grapple intimately with violence and erasure in lieu of love: the ‘caresses’ dealt to “a daughter…used to remaining unmentioned // As legacy at funerals”, a woman marked by a sense of her own horror–“I am disgusting, raised to be a bride, to hate myself for it, I come to you full of brides.” These poems tear open their pages in lines sharp-edged with imagery both ferocious and strange: “my splitjaw gapes” — “this thick butter of fire” — “a dick-shaped shooter of ice” — “a bit of sky in my lungs”. The final section, “Prairie Lighthouse”, alternates (or skips) days and nights, “Day Marks” and “Night Signatures” as the speaker of the poems shifts between the effort to sustain the the work of the quotidian and the dreamlike traverses of nights in which the desire for escape tugs against the allure of love. A prairie lighthouse, she’s moon above the snowmelt river and “the dread…at the roots of tall grass.” These poems haunt and wail, refusing to lie quietly like “good” daughters or wives, but churn “with a fever that burns you / Down to the ribs and beaming skull”, an astonishing debut.
We are pleased to announce that The Literary Review, an international journal of contemporary writing, has re-featured Eric Barnes’s ‘Flea Market’ from Issue 19 of Drunken Boat! You can read Eric’s short story on TLR’s website: http://www.theliteraryreview.org/fiction/flea-market-from-drunken-boat/.
Eric’s ‘Flea Market’ is an eerie piece of writing, full of violence but also somnolent introspection. It explores the hollow stage after death in which we must sort out the possessions of our loved ones which get left behind. But what happens when we have no family or relations to leave these things to? The central protagonist of Eric’s story is someone who has little possessions of his own and far too many painful memories to contend with. These snapshots at the flea market offer him a strange consolation; each one is a borrowed interface with the world from someone who no longer resides in it. The story explores the obsolescence of human life and the permanence of it through family keepsakes alone. It also explores the comfort of borrowing someone else’s memories to fill the void where our own should be.
Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and the forthcoming Something Pretty, Something Beautiful from Outpost19, along with numerous short stories published in Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, North American Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and other publications. More at http://www.ericbarnes.net. He has been a reporter, editor and publisher in Connecticut, New York and now Memphis. By day, he is publisher of three newspapers covering business and politics in Memphis and Nashville and, in 1995, he graduated from the MFA program at Columbia University.
DB News Brief Contributed by Sally Oliver
When life gets you down, you may find yourself singing the “Three-Legged Blues.” Whether you’re having a rough day and you want to wallow in it a little, or you just appreciate how hard times can inspire us to create beautiful art like this, take a few minutes today to read and/or listen to Jane Hirshfield and David Fredrick Lochelt’s bluesy verse. “Three-Legged Blues,” which was written by Hirshfield and performed by Lochelt, was published in DB 10, Summer 2009.
Jane Hirshfield is an award-winning poet, essayist and translator. She has published eight collections of poetry as well as a collection of essays and two anthologies of poetry by female writers. Her many awards, honors, and fellowships include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Center Book Award, and her 2012 election to the position of chancellor for the Academy of American Poets. For a complete bibliography and more about her work, check out her Poetry Foundation page.
David Fredrick Lochelt has been a professional musician for more than 40 years and sings as well as plays guitar, harmonica, bass, banjo, and fiddle. His wide range of styles include traditional country, lyrical stories, political comment, and latin beats. You can see his full bio and check out his albums on his CDBaby page.
Karen Green. Bough Down (Siglio Press 2014). Karen Green’s bleak meditations on the suicide of her husband and its aftermath along with her collage drawings, placed opposite each spare prose entry. An address to the wonder and bafflement of grief, episodic and crouched close to the edge: being inconsolable has no reliable egress except patient detailed iteration, which doesn’t work but staves off dissolution. The things of the world conspire to reflect her state of mind: “Now I need more tape, which makes a screaming sound, to wrap up my parachute drawings.” Green’s syntax of graphic intimacy lost moved me.
Jacques Ranciére. The Flesh of Words: The Politics of Writing. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. (Stanford University Press 2004) I’ve been reading Ranciére pretty steadily for some years. I found this slim volume at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris in December and read it on the EuroStar as the flat green landscape whizzed by. “From Wordsworth to Mandelstam: The Transports of Liberty” is subtle and revelatory, an unfurling inquiry into the relation between poems and the political frames that informed them. Ranciére breaks open these frames to look around, inside and outside: poem and world are made again to collide.
William Kentridge. Six Drawing Lessons. (Harvard University Press 2014). The South African artist gave these Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 2012; as much demonstration as lecture, with textural visual enhancements. Kentridge is an animated thinker, generous and provocative. Fragments. Time. Event. Object. Image. Transformation. Plato, Mozart, Picasso, Rilke. He questions ceaselessly, and is instructive on how his process works: “The task is to show how—through this cacophony, the cacophony of excess—we pull a meaning out.” How to make an art that intersects the present without evading history’s facts.
Jennifer Moxley. The Open Secret. Flood Editions. 2014 An open secret is a paradox; Moxley’s work embodies the ways language both hides and reveals. She’s a master of candor: all seems present, beyond mere narrative and almost beyond revelation but at each tiding I feel something is yet to occur. I love candor. What I love about Moxley’s candor is it is never quite entire, allowing deception and humor to prevail, despite apparent guilelessness. One reads into and for the open secret, which does not quit its telling. The poems are knowing but they carry their knowledge lightly, offering surprising gifts.
The fifth book? Several vying: Beckett’s Echo’s Bones; Ben Lerner’s 10:04; Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; Ovid’s Metamorphosis; Daniel Heller-Roazen’s The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation; Carla Harryman’s W-/M-. Each is in various stages of reading; some will never be finished but will be returned to the piles of books that seem to accumulate overnight; which in fact, do, thanks to Amazon’s collusion with my impatient appetite. I think of these book assemblies as a chorus. And yesterday, a tiny book, Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement, arrived, sent by poet Jeremy Hoevenaar: poems whose words seem to be alighting, air to page.