Monday, 5 October 2015

Matthew Siegel's Blood Work (CB Editions, 2015)

Some favourite passages from Matthew Siegel's Blood Work:

...I take my benadryl with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid....

from "[Sometimes I don't know if I'm having a feeling]"

I wear this living skin--
wear it in the sunlight,

in the forest, in the city--
wear it like a suit

of metal, a suit of gauze--
my face of abalone, of straw

assembling, trembling
apart in the water.

from "The electric body"

I enter the field. The field contains me.

last line of "The edge of the field"

And my father pulls off into the gas station
to fill his empty tank. The flow of gas sounds
like the flow of blood. The same pressure.
The same insistence. The same rush and fill.

last stanza of "On the way to the airport I fail to tell my father
I left some meat in the refrigerator."

I was getting stoned in the kitchen with my mother
when my sister, wrapped in clouds, filled the room
with lightning.


Each vertebrae in my spine tingled like radio static.

from "Weather of the Body"

No, I am not hurting in this moment.
I am memory's lips sewn shut.

from "Overlooking the City"

I've got too many needs for a month like November. 

from "Living with You"

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Mona Arshi's Small Hands (Liverpool University Press, 2015)

Some favourite passages:

     He starts undressing me under the sweetening stars.

Please girl, he mews; this might be the last time
     I will see how the thin light enters you.

end of "The Lion"

I want to tell you about the elegant savagery of my spider.

from "Practising Your Skills"

She smells of . . . preening oil, salt, top notes of earth.
My mother is turning bird.

from "The Bird"

Brave things are happening
            in the garden when I'm not looking.

The junction of each branch
                            holds its sobriety.

opening of "April"

Wait fast ghost, you should see how the living room is
choked with living things and your mother is upstairs
sitting on your bed, nurturing scraps in the poor light.

last section of "Notes Towards an Elegy"

I traced a stitch raised by your absence.
     I concentrated on this panel of sky
and wound myself into a ribbon of silence.

opening stanza of "The Rain That Began Elsewhere"

Fat drops of rain
in your tiny pink purses.

from "Ode to a Pomegranate"

                                      I contemplate window glass,
quietly fracturing on its own terms.

end of "Woman at Window"

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin, 2015), first selection

Some favourite passages from this brilliant book (some parts of which are easier to excerpt than others, including the excellent section II): 

from section III:

For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person. After considering Butler's remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actually demand your presence, your looking up, your talking back, and, as insane as it is, saying please.

from section IV:

The sigh is the pathway to breath; it allows breathing. That's just self-preservation. No one fabricates that. You sit down,  you sigh. You stand up, you sigh. The sighing is a worrying exhale of an ache. You wouldn't call it an illness; still it is not the iteration of a free being. What else to liken yourslef to but an animal, the ruminant kind?

from section V:

Sometimes "I" is supposed to hold what is not there until it is. Then what is comes apart the closer you are to it. 

This makes the first person a symbol for something.

The pronoun barely holding the person together.

Join me here in nowhere.

Don't lean against the wallpaper; sit down and pull together.

Yours is a strange dream, a strange reverie.

You can purchase Citizen: An American Lyric from Foyle's Books here. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Forrest Gander's Core Samples from the World (New Directions, 2011), second selection

More favourite passages:

To be defiled is to be recognizable to yourself, she thought.

last line of "Evaporation 3"

Where do you think you come by your pattern?

from "Moving Around for the Light, a Madrigal"

Smoking is the Bosnian national sport. Everywhere the poets meet to read or discuss poetics, we look across the room at each other through soiled gauze.

from "Bosnia-Herzegovina: Life Is Waiting"

Hospitality's other face, hostility
And then stepped back, measuring him for a haymaker.


Each a stranger to the other's strangeness
And she strokes her horned toad in the direction of its spines.

from "Evaporation 4"

...a meadow softly-furred
as a bumble-bee....


        A song sparrow stops

                                                 anting its wing to fulfill

what silence wants, and look: the child's face,

                                                                her wet lips, her even teeth--

 from "Lovegreen"

...a languorous sine curve of a journey that ends with the brake-smoking descent into an abyss where the beleaguered town of Andacollo has been flung.


He started to imagine fighting sadistic force with poems as insubstantial as contrails over a city.

from "Chile: Pigs of Gold"

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Red squirrels, Wallington, Northumberland, August 2015

Scotland and Northern England have the largest populations of red squirrels, so during our trip to Northumberland, Trev and I made two attempts to see them: first, at Woodhorn, with their dedicated feeders; and two days later, at Wallington, with a secluded animal hide and feeders every which way around it. At Woodhorn, no success. At Wallington, I suspected it would be the same again, but after just over ten minutes in the hide, we saw first one, then two red squirrels--chasing one another, in two nearby feeders simultaneously, etc. We watched them for over ten minutes before they went on their way. As I forgot my camera in the car, here are a few of Trevor's photos of the squirrels:


The one photo that shows both the squirrels at once--


I've got to get . . . more . . . food . . . .

Whenever I return to Northumbria, I'll want to time my visit to see the puffins at the Farne Islands and make an early-morning visit to Wallington's animal hide....

Monday, 24 August 2015

Forrest Gander's Core Samples from the World (New Directions, 2011), first selection

Some favourite passages:

From the seat behind her, the boy pokes his sister's head with a plastic fork
And getting no response, tests it on his own head.


It sounded like the chimmuck of a rock dropped into a stream
And the piston-driven breathing of sex.

from "Evaporation 1"

What does it mean, a cauterized topography?


The sense of epoch loosened, unstrung.
Each one thinking it is the other who recedes like a horizon. 


In the open pit at noon, men waning in brightness.


The air burnished, almost mineral, like a thin peel of mica.


The distance flat as horsehair plaster, all depth sponged away.

from "A Clearing"

What is taken as evident wafts away.


(Here, as everywhere, male bonding is acted out as a kind of coalitionary self-destruction.)


The riders have not given up, but the storm is barreling theatrically toward them, their clothes snapping in wind like a fire.

from "Xinjiang: The Pamirs Poetry Journey"

And who was it the surgeons narcotized

before excising a chunk of muscle and cancerous

flesh over my shoulder

blade and grafting the hollow

with a sheet of my own skin the breadth

of a paperback, assuring me later

the wound will fill in with blood and

flux so now,

twenty years later, this salsa de chile de arbol

makes my scar throb?


To welcome the

strangeness of


not versions

simply of

my own



Synthesized with a common

helplessness. Fined-down

by the exorbitant demand of work,

surrounded, inundated with chatter

as the zócalo is

when grackles descend en masse

whirring, wheedling, scrawking.


The world shifts

on a hairline crack. All last summer

you and I met for lunch in a clearing

we didn't know the locals call

The Girl's Grave.


Returning again

to the ever-iterated assertion

of myself.



is only what continues

to be entered into. 

from "The Tinajera Notebook"

The band is striking up another standard nightclub number and a fifteen-man choral group in tuxedos tries once again to croon and gesticulate their way into the audience's tequila-tinged susceptibility to schmaltz.


Just once a year it blooms. In a few hours, at dawn, the flower will be wilted on that tendril like a tossed pair of panties.


And Mexican time seems to have a different rhythm, flexibility, and capaciousness that time in the United States. Here, we continually feel time slipping away, we throw ourselves into work to get something done before time passes, the hours evaporate, we don't know where the day has gone. But in Mexico, some quality derived from the realities of Mexican life provides for an intuition of temporal layers, of one thing touching on another, of reflections and shifts in perspective, the interplay of presence and possibility, a dimension both quotidian and hallowed, the anguine twining of the visible and the invisible.


But in Mexico, what is erotic is the transition, the ongoing slide form one strand of presence to another, approach and access, never the arrival. Mexican time is another form of curiosity--   

Friday, 21 August 2015

Seals on the Farne Islands, Northumbria, August 2015

We saw many seal heads just above the water--a couple dozen in a glance, and apparently they sleep like this!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Fountains Abbey, August 2015, first selection

I was awed by Fountains Abbey. You can learn more about it here

I'll post a second selection of photos, to give you a better sense of the Abbey's breadth, in a couple days.