Samantha Giles’s brilliant, scary Deadfalls and Snares (Futurepoem) maps military detention from various inside-outs, constructing registers of alien phenomenology through exacting, deformative forms. The grammar of self-violence and self-mutilation she invents in the first section to re-present torture at Abu Ghraib (and its internal drive to spectacle) is riveting, as are the creepy truncations of appropriated discourse on hunting and skinning animals in the second section, shot through with sinisterly contentless redacted phone conversations. The book’s final section syncopates grids of curiously blanked photograph descriptions with critique of the Western subject-perpetrator’s crushingly de-ethicized gaze. Each of these parts is prefaced by recombinant, revelatory writing-through of Moby-Dick’s “The Whiteness of the Whale” chapter: these pieces discordantly jam together phrases containing “white” for an oversaturated white-out, activating the contradictions immanent to Melville’s commentary on the many angled symbolic violence of whiteness, particularly its capacity to void. This book is right on time as Iraq re-enters cataclysm (if ever it left).
What a pleasure is Rodney Koeneke’s Etruria (Wave)… In an era of content frenzy, this book’s restrained, personal range of reference is refreshing and real. Koeneke’s expert command of certain prose and poetic styles – and his unabashed literary flourish in a number of different registers – is set off by his own hallmark tendency to elongate sentences, phrase for luscious phrase, into labyrinths whose every corridor brims with wit and forbearing. The resulting parallel Etruscan universe is learned, wise, and obliquely melancholy while also light and funny, its idiom from the precisely historical to the precisely contemporary by turns natural, savvy, and camp. Here is a preternatural social sensibility that remains poignant even as it confronts what today passes for the sentimental; here is an elegant figural technique that never disappoints. In the opening bravura poem, Koeneke notes sidelong, “I am no O’Hara” – but to tell the truth, I’m not so sure.
Holly Melgard’s Friends & Family (bon aire projects) archives Joey Yearous-Algozin’s verbatim transcription of three years of voicemail addressed to his partner Holly Melgard. Catching hold of the ultimate ephemera, this compulsively readable act of medium translation is also a virtuosic performance of genre-bending that runs the gamut of conceptualism, confessional lyric, documentary, life-writing, novella… HMFF not only flaunts its intimacy, but tenderly weaponizes it, the reader entrapped as solicited eavesdropper in an all-too-familiar contemporary circuit of oversharing as the text movingly exhibits white, working class precarity, bringing Melgard’s own complex class affinities and more especially her affective labor as daughter into relief. The book knows itself inserted into that economy of affect: the flipside of its macho propriety over Melgard’s messages, its gendered debasement of the love object in abject disclosure, is Yearous-Algozin’s over-identification with his lover. One can’t help but imagine that such a listening to and (word-) processing of her messages enacts a therapeutic commoning and lessening of their burdens.
Inter Arma (Fence), Lauren Shufran’s neo-Ovidian masterpiece (this term used advisedly), ingeniously retrofits Amores’s tropology and metrics for the twenty-first century, reinventing the stress position to bear on neoliberalism’s brutal muting of the law. Through the metaphoric vortices that swirl around the duck-cum-detainee-cum-soldier she conscripts as lyric subject, Shufran piteously and wickedly compresses the cruel cages of factory farming, indefinite detention, and military masculinity – her audacity and wit convincingly moving her speaker beyond bathos. Here burns an homological alchemy of desire, hate, fear, and murderous aggression that reveals the complex intersections of homophobic, genocidal, and carnivorous urges: Shufran’s an anti-Aesop of geese on hunger strike, of a Private macho to get fucked in barracks in his Gaga-drag, of sheep fallen so far past pastoral they’re water-boarded in a wishing well, knitting Afghans of their own wool. A superplus tour de force that rigorously reconceives all border zones, the human/animal to the proper/figural to the Western/Arab.
Lastly, I make note of Hervé Guibert’s The Mausoleum of Lovers: Journals 1976 – 1991, trans. Nathanaël (Nightboat). I have just begun this long book (its length hardly the reason one would note the unobtrusive heroism of Nathanaël’s gorgeous, vigilant translation) and am completely hooked, turning the pages slowly as though that could make it last longer. What stands out already is Guibert’s extreme fluidity as a writer – capture of nuances of thought and feeling – his sense of relation, his compassionate interest in himself and his self-knowledge (especially his sense of his younger selves), his care for the flesh of the world, his constant awareness of the mortality of all bodies…
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