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The final collection by award-winning poet Reetika Vazirani, published by Drunken Boat.

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Annotations of contemporary poetry edited by Lisa Russ Spaar, published by Drunken Boat.

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It’s impossible to compass George Albon’s essay Aspiration (Omnidawn, 2013), which moves surprisingly, compellingly through an investigation of poetics. Perhaps one could describe Albon’s query by saying that he puts together complex patternings in which “poetry” or “poetics” are largely metaphors. The larger project seems to be to disclose—or at least briefly illumine—those potentially able to embrace instances “where the momentous and the momentary can exchange signals.” This extraordinary essay (part poetics, part memoir, part anthropology) is one section of a book-length work-in-progress called Café Multiple. I’ve never before encountered anything quite like it, and I want quite urgently to read the whole thing.

Marie Larson’s chapbook Dromeda (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2013) beguiles the reader into a not-quite-recognizable world. There are pronouns, body parts, the suggestion of narrative, but the beings that break the surface of this construction are alternately grotesque and exquisite. The poems are carefully made and tonally restrained, but the shudder between beauty and the monstrous creates a kind of involuntary momentum within the sequence: “fricative uncertainty.” It’s useful to encounter poetry like this, a poetry that calmly frightens you. Beneath the mirage-horizon, the fata morgana, that Larson envisions, the surface bumps and jostles with thoughts that live like creatures: they have minds of their own. To quote the poet, “I say it impossibly.”

Cleaning up my office, I was happy to unearth Julie Ezelle Patton’s chapbook Notes for Some (Nominally) Awake 2 (No’s Knife Productions, 2010). Such exuberance! Such resourceful play! The text works extensively around Amiri Baraka’s name (and Leroi Jones shows up too), and in that way is a tribute. But with its wild punning, use of homonyms, visual play, and etymologizing, the work is also a paean to the living, breathing dynamism of language in all its agility. (I really don’t know how to effectively quote it; the parts all dance with each other inseparably.) Though there is plenty of irreverence in Patton’s play, one can’t finish reading this chapbook without fully appreciating that one definition of “Baraka” is “gracefully bestowed spiritual energy.”

Prageeta Sharma’s Undergloom (Fence, 2013), as multiple reviews have affirmatively noted, presses on issues of difference and systems of exclusion (racial, institutional, cultural). If this sounds like politicized writing, fear not: Sharma’s work jumps right over cliché and is alive. There’s a fierceness and courage to this poetry, but it unfolds responsively, alert to all the world presents. How is it that the poetry of Undergloom can simultaneously indict and nurture? Part of Sharma’s skill has to do with her wonderful, sometimes wicked, sense of humor. Yet her humor is of a piece with the aforementioned responsiveness: even indictment comes across as an undaunted questioning.

“Where are you/going, my complete/accidental body?” asks Rosmarie Waldrop in Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn, 2003). I returned to this book after hearing Waldrop give a reading from it and was moved to go back and study the whole book again. What captures me is the way the poems both live embodiment and observe it. The odd little remove between these two states is what brings Waldrop’s poems their unexpected emotional force (“or balance of message and/slow/says the body”). I find myself wondering: how does a poem create itself as so alive with body (and often the erotic) while at the same time so provocatively alive with the self-possession of the mind alive with its idea?

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Published Dec 18, 2013 - Comments Off

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