Indigo Moor’s THROUGH THE STONECUTTER’S WINDOW (Northwestern University Press/Cave Canem Prize) is hewn with a sculptor’s hand–gorgeous, chiseled lines that evoke scars crisscrossing the body “like soldiers/who died where/ they fell.” Art here is a means of redemption for the prodigal, and every “tight twist to kudzu” feels like a return home–with all the difficulties that entails.
Elizabeth J. Colen’s WAITING UP FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (Jaded Ibis Press) is subtitled “conspiracies.” The poems conspire with longstanding theories of faked lunar landings, invasions by extraterrestrials, and who was behind the London Tube bombings, the death of Princess Diana, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Colen is not timid about addressing the perversities of American culture head-on. “What have we learned? Disaster will strike,” she writes; and later, in “American Fear,” “this is what we wanted:/ the TV’s on; we’re in it.” The subjects are dark, generating perhaps more discomfort than comfort, but Colen reminds us that the human heart is still quite functional: “the world could end tonight./ That’s why I’m eating this piece of cake.”
If contemporary life seems at times troubling, Carrie Oeding’s OUR LIST OF SOLUTIONS (42 Miles Press) offers solace against the bright ennui of suburbs. “They have traded fortunes, exchanged reason to live,/ sworn oaths never to leave/ without first dying or chaining the dog outside,/ and found each other.” Oeding gets beneath the surface niceties of backyards and barbecues, serving at times as a gracious if sardonic host: “She grins and says,Soon one will come around/ for you, like my teeth rounding this apple.”
Another charming host is Christopher DeWeese whose debut collection THE BLACK FOREST (Octopus Books) takes us on a Wordsworthian journey through state parks and a thousand landscapes of the imagination. “You can hear brambles/ scratching thin scars/ against the wind. DeWeese’s lines are short and playful, capricious without being cavalier. “The longer I’m on this regimen,/ the more it seems like/ the goal isn’t so much/ to be remembered/ as to be the one remembering.”
Speaking of remembering… “I thought I wouldn’t know what to tell you about grieving,” Collier Nogues writes in ON THE OTHER SIDE, BLUE (Four Way Books), but she in fact knows too well about loss. In “In My Father’s Father’s Airstream Trailer,” Nogues lays out her family’s pedigree of condolence: “I have a tourist’s love of family, of being near the more articulately faithful.// My mother was grammarian, librarian, detention master, expert teacher of remedial fiction./ My living uncles are all pastors.” One could not ask for a more compassionate elegy. “How I Take Care of Her Now” is more than “help with what// her hands won’t do.” “Fixing her dream is how I am helping.”
This summer I’m reading Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven. The poetry sounds pretty much like it has since Views of Jeopardy in 1962. Still, Gilbert charms with his insistent precision, his tragic grace, like Giorgio Morandi painting pictures of bottles, over and over in a bare room, trying to get it right.
I recently picked up Mary McCarthy’s A Bolt from the Blue. Her midcentury essays, unsurpassed in their piercing observations, offer a remarkable view into New York literary culture.
Although it’s not Twain’s best work, I’m having a ball revisiting Pudd’nhead Wilson for its savagery and sheer ridiculousness.
My between-times book—the one I turn to in waiting rooms or on the bus—is Harvey Levenstein’s Fear of Food, a new history of “why we worry about what we eat.” Levenstein offers tales of bad science, venal politics, and powerful food manufacturers in the early twentieth century.
Finally, as an antidote to the oppressiveness of late summer, I’m devouring British author Penelope Fitzgerald’s Three Novels. Her lightness and lucidity—ah. . . !
My Drunken Books
Batman: Knightfall, vol 1, written by Chuck Dixon and art by Doug Moench/Jim Aparo et al. (DC Comics, reprinted 2012)
A cross-over series whose epic storyline mirrors the size and gravitas of its new villain seeking entry into the Batman canon. I’m a bigger fan of Gail Simone’s interpretation of Bane in her Secret Six books, but regardless of whose version of this roided revolutionary/mercenary you prefer, you’ll be at a loss to imagine another nemesis ever having the dark knight’s back in quite the same way.
Slot by Jill Magi (Ugly Duckling, 2011)
‘Wrenched from the tendency to ignore, I want memory wrenched from the
tendency to protest,
from the ruin of argument, saying,
“Come crowd yourself with me in rooms of the ruin.”’
Intuitions in Literature, Technology, and Politics: Parabilities by Alan Clinton (Palgrave, fall 2012)
Here’s part of my blurb for Alan’s forthcoming study: “I know of no one as capable in summoning the divergent works/worlds of James Merrill, Larry Eigner, Alan Turing, John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, Louis Zukofsky, and Hannah Weiner, no one more trustworthy in wiring us to their astonishing simultaneities.”
Stanzas in Meditation: The Corrected Edition by Gertrude Stein, ed. by Emily Settina and Susannah Hollister (Yale, 2012)
May I sing with me? Been absorbing this majestic long poem on my Galaxy’s Kindle app, which (miraculously) preserves Stein’s line breaks when you slip the S3 into horizontal viewing.
Homemade Poems by Lorine Niedecker, edited by John Harkey (CUNY Center for Humanities, 2012)
Easily the best of CUNY’s series of Lost & Found Chapbooks, and already tucked away in my desert isle suitcase.