Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Imagined Sons chosen for Editors Select in Notre Dame Review

Imagined Sons has been chosen for the Editors Select feature in the new issue of Notre Dame Review, where the book is described as "extremely moving."

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's The Heat Bird (Burning Deck, 1983)

Visiting Providence in April (a city I love more with each visit), I visited a wonderful bookstore, Paper Nautilus Books. Because they stock both new and used books, I was able to find an out of print, early collection by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, The Heat Bird. It's an impressive book, and the passages I quote below are less powerful out of context, but nonetheless compelling. 

The book is a single long poem in four sections composed of short passages which feel like independent poems in their own right. The first section is "Pack Rat Sieve":

              ...the horizon is just a change where
from going deep you go wider, but go


                                                            All this time
she was trying to recede until things would resemble
each other, as she had imagined the void to be a room
of fog, so the figure of a man or a house on stilts
should clearly loom from its field.


              There is a woman who can whoop with laughing 
like a wolf at the stars, one to one, without
any bridge, but she is not that woman

* urge to go look at the plain, your back to the town
and the ferris wheel.

The second, much shorter section is "Farolita":

                  Toward town, in low sun, she sees light
in flapping laundry. It was just movement at first. She has
heard the processions walk by. At first you think their
singing is a moan in the wind.

The third is "Ricochet Off Water":

The only quiet place was in the well where they
kept the melons. There she could hear most distinctly
people's cries in China.


The big hill is solid in dim light. A lit cloud
rolls down behind it. She was standing in the dirt yard
trying to decide between them.


Then she steps across what she can't remember.

And lastly, the title section, "The Heat Bird":

across stones in the river which cover
my sound, I startle a big bird who must circle
the meadow to gain height. There is a din
of big wings. A crow loops over and over
me. I can see many feathers gone from its wing
by sky filling in, but it's not the big bird
I walk into the meadow to find what I've already called
an eagle to myself.


                               Twice I am not sure if light wings
between some bushes are not light through crow feathers
but then I really see the expansive back swoop down
and circle up to another cottonwood and light
It's a buzzard with a little red head. You say
that's good. They're not so scarce anymore. It sould
have been more afraid of me


Fresh wind blows the other way at dawn, so
I'm free to wonder at the kind of charge such a mass
of death might put on the air, which is sometimes clear
with yellow finches and butterflies.


Like a critic I thought form was an equilibrium
which progressed by momentum from some original reduction
of fear to the horizon.


                                           In an apricot tree
were many large birds, and an eagle that takes off
as if tumbling down before catching its lift. I thought
it was flight that rumpled the collar down like a broken neck
but then as it climbed, it resembled a man in an eagle dress
whose feathers ruffle back because of firm feet
stamping the ground in wind.


                       If I am far from you isn't the current
of missed events between us an invention of potency
like a summer storm at night, or when I see you


When I touch your skin, or hear singers in the dark, I get
so electric, it must be the whole dam of my absence pushing
I think, which might finally flow through its proper canyons 
leaving the big floor emptied of sea, empty again
where there used to be no lights after dark


                                                               The eagles'
wingbones began to stretch open with practicing, so
luminous space in their wings showed against the sky
giving each a great delicacy in turns

You can learn more about Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge at The Poetry Foundation by following this link.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Cathy Park Hong's Engine Empire (Norton, 2012), second selection

So much of the experience of this book lies in the whole over the parts, such that I feel a little awkward posting passages. Take it from me that the book's strength can't be surmised from the piecemeal.

I'm a titbit, a dollop easily bored,
a trolloping doer, I loll and gag,
fired from the tear gas factory, the denture factory,
now the heart-ticker factory.

from "The Engineer of Vertical Frontiers"

the sitting room is quiet, sprayed
with air freshener the flavor of aged
             card catalogue


           a sea full
of whales huge as ocean liners
singing the call-note of our
relieved tears.

from "Ready-Made"

When your former employer let you go,
they said, you are now free to pursue what you want to pursue.
So here you are.

end of "Who's Who"

I hail an aerocab,
turn up my personalized surround sound
track: wistful to anthemic
to voice
a song strains after a longed
sweet spot of identification.

beginning of "The Quattrocento"

I see too much

yet go, go into the unknown,
             smell the salt, rancid
scent of water, seagull,
blades of grass and listen.

from "Get Away from It All"

The sheer sapphire cliffstone towered so high,
the whole ocean seemed frozen inside it.
Under its shellacked panes of ice were marblings of color
I'd long forgotten: tangerine, topaz,
canary and rose.

Like fluorescing cuttlefish,
the colors pulsed, swirled and bloomed
into contracting rings. The ice breathed.


One day, I decided to steal some.
I pocketed one grain.

The snow glowed bluely in my hovel.
My little lamp.
Then one night I don't know why I swallowed it.

And this is what I saw.

from "Fable of the Last Untouched Town"

At the date of posting, you can buy Engine Empire for 25% off at Foyle's for a mere £7.49 (it's worth it, it's worth it!).

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Cathy Park Hong's Engine Empire (Norton, 2012), first selection

I heard Cathy Park Hong read in Seattle during the AWP conference, and in my journal I wrote exclamation marks next to her name. After the event, I told her how much I enjoyed her work, but as her books weren't on sale at the event, I kept her name in my mind for later reference. 

Last Wednesday, I traveled to London to my first meeting since being elected to NAWE's (the National Association of Writers in Education) Higher Education Committee, and as it ended early and was near the British Museum, I found myself in the wonderful London Review Bookshop's poetry section, and there it was--Hong's latest book, Engine Empire. The first section is a narrative largely in ballads, titled "Ballad of Our Jim"; here are some favourite passages.

Day's gone immortal.

The bleached ruin of light lasts and lasts, no night
to repair our minds, no white clip moon to give us rest,
Only pitiless noon where our sleep-starved consciousness 
patters faintly behind our squinted eyelids. 

from "Ballad of Tombstone Omaha"

We stop speaking. Our lips curl back so we're just teeth.
Our Jim sings as if all his body's reed.
No thought flickers behind his linseed eyes.

from "Ballad Beyond the Forts"

We shuck our boots near an alkali pond
where no fish breathes its poison, only white alien worms
float like dander from a sunken
corpse turned angel.

from "Ballad of Arrival with Hatajo of Mules"

We scream: Do it, boy! Shoot!
He aims cold, slays them all, 
exciting us no end.
He says: I'm done finishing your games. 

end of "Ballad of the Rube Parade
with Their Quiver of Spades"

Jim sings: I'm tiring, I'm tiring.

His grim instinct wilting.
Dispiriting Jim, climbing hill's hilt,
drifting Jim, sighing in this lilting,
sinking light.

end of "Ballad in I"

He rides into a shadowed plain,
where a storm of grasshoppers
hoving wings to wind,
black the sky thick as larrup. 

beginning of "The Song of Katydids"

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Oystercatcher Pamphlets: Amy Cutler's Nostalgia Forest (2013) and Alan Baker's all this air and matter (2013)

I've read two fine pamphlets this week from Oystercatcher Press. Amy Cutler's Nostalgia Forest (2013) juxtaposes passages from Paul Ricoeur's Memory, History, Forgetting with illustrations from dendrochronology manuals (i.e. tree reading) and hence can't really be excerpted. Cutler's intelligent and playful combinations of words and images render the pamphlet an unusually engaging and gratifying experience. You can purchase it directly from the publisher by following this link.

The second Oystercatcher pamphlet I read and enjoyed was Alan Baker's all this air and matter (2013), interweaving dailiness and an array of larger concerns about language and living. Some of my favourite passages follow below, and you buy the pamphlet from Oystercatcher here

and we, this morning,
as if the world were a place of healing,
and touch the ultimate cognition


should it be sign of something more
when the square of sunlight on the hall floor
takes shape again at dawn?


           and certainty in abeyance


she will say that the sea
     rested on her shoulder
    and its surge was her heartbeat


woke to surfaces and the words
                      that make up the world


living, "the process of becoming alive"

meteorologically speaking
           occlusion and changeability


the pathways of sleep
   lead away from all that
              into the calm melancholy
      of morning:


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Guardian's Poem of the Week, from Imagined Sons, with a splendid review

I'm delighted that one of my birthmother's catechisms is The Guardian's "Poem of the Week," selected by Carol Rumens, yet perhaps more moved by Rumens' overall account of the book, wonderfully appreciative and astute. Describing the Imagined Sons prose poems, she writes, "Funny at times, fast-moving and psychologically astute, these tiny monologues are held together by a narrative voice as seemingly self-possessed as it is candid." Of the catechisms, she says, "Etter reinterprets the form as both a psychological and a melodic device. The intense, same-question repetition pushes the speaker into a corner, where poetic self-defence may be disarmed, the creative play of the prose poems distilled to a barer essence." Concluding with her analysis of the catechism that asks, "Who do you think you are?," Rumens comments on the last line, "It's a cadence of renunciation, singular and resonant, in a text otherwise charged with restless energy and novelistic powers of invention."
Heartening and gratifying....


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems 1934-1952 (New Directions, 1971), third and final selection

Today's the day I depart for the Dylan Thomas Centre to give a workshop using Thomas's notebooks and a reading. I finished rereading the Collected Poems just in time--though I think I may have drawn the reading out for the sake of making it last. Here's the last round of splendid passages.

My silly suit, hardly yet suffered for,
Around some coffin carrying
Birdman or told ghost I hung.


Now shown and mostly bare I would lie down,
Lie down, lie down and live
Quiet as a bone.

from "Once Below a Time"

No Time, spoke the clocks, no God, rang the bells,
I drew the white sheet over the islands
And the coins on my eyelids sang like shells.

last lines of "When I Woke"

O keep his bones away from that common cart,
The morning is flying on the wings of his age
And a hundred storks perch on the sun's right hand.

last lines of "Among Those Killed in the Dawn Raid
Was a Man Aged a Hundred"

Under the mile off moon we trembled listening
To the sea sound flowing like blood from the loud wound
And when the salt sheet broke in a storm of singing
The voices of all the drowned swam on the wind.

from "Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed"

...the wall thin as a wren's bone


...the splashed mothering maiden
Who bore him with a bonfire in
His mouth and rocked him like a storm....


For I was lost who have come
To dumbfounding haven
And the finding one
And the high noon
Of his wound
Blinds my


The world winding home!
And the whole pain
Flows open
And I

from "Vision and Prayer"

And he who taught their lips to sing
Weeps like the risen sun among
The liquid choirs of his tribes.

from "Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait"

        Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means


And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs,
           Before the children green and golden,
                       Follow him out of grace, 
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand....


Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
                       Time held me green and dying
            Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

from "Fern Hill"
(which I would have liked to copy entire)

Sanctum santorum the animal eye of the wood
In the rain telling its beads, and the gravest ghost
The owl at its knelling.


                                              All tell, this night, of him
Who comes as red as the fox and sly as the heeled wind.

from "In Country Sleep"

And on seesaw sunday nights I wooed
Whoever I would with my wicked eyes,
The whole of the moon I could love and leave....


Whatsoever I did in the coal-
Black night, I left my quivering prints.

from "Lament"

And the daughters of darkness flame like Fawkes fires still.

last line of "In the White Giant's Thigh"

You can buy Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems from Foyle's Books for a mere £7.49 here.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Kei Miller's The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet, 2014)

I don't think these passages can demonstrate how strong this book is, but here's a taste nonetheless:

Allow your knees
and then your forehead an intimacy
with stone; know your ground.


this kneeling crowd--the tarmac
soft against the substance of its faith.

from "Groundation"

And foot
by weary foot, they found a rhythm
the measure that exists in everything.

from "Establishing the Metre"

...maps which throughout time have gripped like girdles
to make his people smaller than they were.


And how much life is land to which
we have no access? How much
have we not seen or felt or heard
because there was no word 
for it--at least no word we knew?
We speak to navigate ourselves
away from dark corners and we become,
each one of us, cartographers.

from the title poem

...nights are loud
with the shrugs of lizards.

end of "For the Croaking Lizards" will discover that when victims live long enough they get their say in history....

from "Place Name: Shotover"

And at night there is almost nothing between
The things we say, and the things we mean.

end of "Distance"


Thursday, 19 June 2014

A rave review of Imagined Sons at Writers' Hub

Poet and critic Valeria Melchioretto has given Imagined Sons a rave review at Writers' Hub. Here's one passage: "The emotional intensity of the limbo between hope and disappointment renders these poems unforgettable. The images conjured are a balancing act between the mundane and the utterly bizarre and the notion of the uncanny is never far."
The emotional intensity of the limbo between hope and disappointment renders these poems unforgettable. The images conjured are a balancing act between the mundane and the utterly bizarre and the notion of the uncanny is never far. - See more at:
The emotional intensity of the limbo between hope and disappointment renders these poems unforgettable. The images conjured are a balancing act between the mundane and the utterly bizarre and the notion of the uncanny is never far. - See more at:
The emotional intensity of the limbo between hope and disappointment renders these poems unforgettable. The images conjured are a balancing act between the mundane and the utterly bizarre and the notion of the uncanny is never far. - See more at: