Thursday 27 January 2011

Lit mag junkie

That's me. I'm a lit mag junkie. I stand at the entrance to the AWP book fair looking as though I'm gazing at a fountain of Belgian chocolate. I set a $100 budget limit each conference and blow it every time (though admittedly that involves books, too).

Are you a lit mag junkie? What is it that drives us? A certain combination of literary delights and outstanding production values? Finding a special section that's just what we always thought should be in a lit mag, were we designing our own, like an insanely large section of short reviews?

This is on my mind partly because I'm going to that magical book fair next week and partly because I've discovered (thanks to Cathy Wagner) a brilliant, newish mag, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion. It's edited by the outstanding poet and critic Calvin Bedient, whom I remember unimpressing markedly in my one meeting with him while I was an undergraduate at UCLA. Sadly, I remember the poem I showed him--sadly, I remember the meeting in fine detail--and have to acknowledge I understand his reaction.

Anyway, enough about youthful embarrassments. There's a generous sampling online of the annual printed issue, and I look forward to holding one before long. In the meantime, fellow lit mag junkies, come forward and tell me your favourite journals past and present, the qualities that attract you to some and put you off others--&c., &c. I know I'm not alone.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Steve Spence's A Curious Shipwreck, first selection

I've just started reading Steve Spence's first collection, A Curious Shipwreck, and am really enjoying its great momentum, humour, and intelligence. Here's a first selection.

Something to declare

This film has everything, a beautiful
actress, a tragic shipwreck & a
lost fortune, yet some fear that
its failure will bring the financial
system to its knees. As I ambled
out of the door, cruelly cool & whistling,
she started to cry. It’s a little
masterpiece of elegance &
economy, irony & dirty-mindedness.

“Some of these worms are
extremely successful”, said Dr.
Livesy. After a tiring day among
the wildlife you need a base to
return to for some pampering.
As for Captain Teach, he had
long signalled his intention to
stand down in the hope of
keeping his enemies at bay.

It’s rare to meet a genius at any
point in one’s life yet whenever
he came into the room you could
immediately feel the temperature
rise. When a mood of excitement
surrounds a market, all sensible
people circle the wagons. This is
the kind of rank hypocrisy which
gives pirates & piracy a bad name.

Steve Spence
Shearsman, 2010

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Rae Armantrout's Versed, second selection

Here is a selection of passages from the second section/half of the book, titled "Dark Matter." Versed has entranced me with its meticulously honed lyricism and intelligence; I recommend it most highly.

Time is made from swatches
of heaven and hell.

If we're not killing it,
we're hungry.

last two stanzas of "Simple"

The impossible woman,

part igneous,
part surge.

from "Resounding"

Each actor's face
seems to have survived
the same brave battle

to remain in character.
They're posed
on the rubble

used to indicate
the past.

It turns out
this is heaven.

the second section of "The Racket"

In dreams, the words
speak themselves.

last stanza of "Left"

The spread
of vicious talent contests
mimics the selection
of those best adapted
to the stage
of service industry capitalism.

first section of "The Light"

The present
is a sentimental favorite,
with its heady mix
of grandiosity
and abjection,

second section of "Apartment"

Once we believed the bees,
moving as attention does,

settling and lifting
from blue identicals,

were the picture
of eternity.

first section of "Still"

God was momentum then,
that impatience
with interruption,

from "Hoop"

I'm looking for a
heart to heart,

a rhyme

between the blankness of my

and the blue emptiness

second and final section of "Someone"

Rae Armantrout's Versed can be purchased from The Book Depository for just £7.24, with free shipping.

Monday 10 January 2011

J.L. Williams' Condition of Fire, second selection

This time, now that I've read and enjoyed the full collection, I'm offering some favourite passages. As I mentioned in the last post, it's inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses and the islands on which he wrote it.

What if you could change into anything?
What if you could live, and live, and live?

last stanza of "Proserpine Under a Tree"

Like many teenage girls it took
disaster for Io to realise
she was beautiful.

first stanza of "Io"

A winged creature flies toward the sun,
his [Marsyas'] entire skin in its mouth
like a paper doll.

last stanza of "Marsyas"

Sisters falling through sky
on sudden wings.

last stanza of "Metamorph"

They burn our naked feet
but we walk slowly.

last stanza of "Beach"

this castle for winds

from "Foundling"

Four monstrous footprints leading up the mountain,
the last one deepest,
as if pushed off for flight.

last stanza of "Banshee"

The sea's noise
is the speeches of drowning stones.

last stanza of "Morphemes"

and over there, on the run, history.

last stanza of "Caesar's Balcony"

In darkness,
beaten by moths,
you realise you are the light.


In darkness,
stared at by the starving,
you realise you are fire.

first and last stanzas of "Apotheosis"

J.L. Williams
(Shearsman, 2011)

Friday 7 January 2011

J.L. Williams' Condition of Fire, first selection

Fellow American expat J.L. Williams will be launching her first book,
Condition of Fire, alongside my second, Divining for Starters, on the Shearsman reading series on Tuesday, 15 February in London. Here's a short selection. The book is inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses and the islands on which he wrote it.

Helios Retires

How pale the sea,
the pale of rain in pools.

Will the doors with the white whales ever be opened?
Will the horses that pull the sun
ever be harnessed?

J.L. Williams
(Shearsman, 2011)

Monday 3 January 2011

Rae Armantrout's Versed, first selection

While Rae Armantrout's reputation in the States is firmly established, she is not well known in the UK, so I'm going to post selections of her latest book, Versed (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), partly in the hope of attracting more readers on this side of the pond. Versed won both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry last year.

The book is divided in two sections, Versed and Dark Matter. These selections all come from the first section. This is only a small selection of the excellent passages and poems--I had such a difficult time paring back what to share!

Metaphor forms
a crust
beneath which
the crevasse
of each experience.

from "Versed"

Day hoists its mesh
of near

(its bright
skein of pores).

from "Fetch"

Carried by light,
images remain

while sensation
is so evanescent

as to be always beyond

from "Outer"

Time flows
because no set
of proofs

can be complete.

from "Relations"

Songs as empathy
evacuation engines.


Any statement I issue,
if particular enough,

will prove
I was here

from "Locality"

Moment to
moment's stretched

from "Stretch"

of strangers' headlights
tracing the curve at dusk

is inexplicable

the end of "Bonding"

Symbolism as the party face of paranoia.

Chorus of expert voices beyond my door, forever
dissecting my case.

"But the part is sick
of representing the whole."

from "Own"

Rae Armantrout's Versed can be purchased from The Book Depository for a mere £7.24, with free shipping.