Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ISSUE 12: TABLE OF CONTENTS

ISSUE NO. 12 TABLE OF CONTENTS

May 20, 2009

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to the referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION
By Eileen Tabios


NEW REVIEWS
Thomas Fink reviews 237 MORE REASONS TO HAVE SEX by Denise Duhamel & Sandy McIntosh

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews 237 MORE REASONS TO HAVE SEX by Denise Duhamel & Sandy McIntosh

John Herbert Cunningham reviews CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND: 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ABOUT NOW: COLLECTED POEMS OF JOANNE KYGER by Joanne Kyger, and THE COLLECTED POEMS OF PHILIP WHALEN BY PHILIP WHALEN Edited by Michael Rothenberg

Nic Sebastian reviews HARLOT by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Tom Hibbard reviews ENDGAMES by Márton Koppány

Amber DiPietra reviews OCCUPATIONAL TREATMENT by Taylor Brady

Rebecca Guyon reviews MOONGARDEN by Anthony McCann

Angela Genusa reviews MAXIMUM GAGA by Lara Glenum

Eileen Tabios engages OBSOLETE—AN ALPHABET OF POEMS INSPIRED BY DEAD WORDS by Katie Haegele

John Herbert Cunningham reviews CONTEMPORARY POETICS edited by Louis Armand, PRIOR TO MEANING: THE PROTOSEMANTIC AND POETICS by Steve McCaffery, and PATAPHYSICS: THE POETICS OF AN IMAGINARY SPACE by Christian Bök

Tom Hibbard reviews FRAGILE REPLACEMENTS by William Allegrezza

Kristina Marie Darling reviews THE HOUSE IN THE HEART by Willie James King

Garrett Caples reviews MARTINIQUE: SNAKE CHARMER by André Breton

Michael Caylo-Baradi reviews HUMAN CATHEDRALS by John Sweet

Thomas Fink reviews HISTORY OF THE COMMON SCALE by Edward Foster

Eileen Tabios engages DISCLOSURE by Dana Teen Lomax

Fiona Sze-Lorrain reviews THE HEAVEN-SENT LEAF by Katy Lederer

Richard Lopez reviews ALL ROADS...BUT THIS ONE by Jon Cone, Claudie Grinnell, klipschutz and Albert Sgambati

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews POEMS FOR THE MILLENIUM VOLUME THREE edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C Robinson

Eric Gelsinger reviews TIME MACHINE by Ric Royer

Jeff Harrison reviews NOSERING CELLPHONE by Lanny Quarles

Jean Vengua engages KATA by James Maughn and KALI'S BLADE by Michelle Bautista

Nicole Mauro reviews [LAPSED INSEL WEARY] by Susana Gardner

Kathryn Stevenson reviews TINDERBOX LAWN by Carol Guess

John Herbert Cunningham reviews THE CAMBRIDGE INTRODUCTION TO MODERNISM by Pericles Lewis, THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO MODERNIST POETRY edited by Alex Davis and Lee M. Jenkins, and THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO POSTMODERNISM edited by Steven Connor

Steven Karl reviews THE STARS ON THE 7:18 PENN by Ana Bozicevic

James Stotts Engages TODAY I WROTE NOTHING: THE SELECTED WRITINGS OF DANIIL KHARMS, Edited and Translated by Matvei Yankelevich

Eric Gelsinger reviews LETTERHEAD VOLUME 2, Eds. Eric Johnt, Bradley Lastname, Brian McMahon, Robert Pomerhn

Eileen Tabios engages PORTRAIT AND DREAM: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Bill Berkson

Ching-In Chen reviews THE ALPS by Brandon Shimoda

Christopher Mulrooney reviews THE NEW YORK POSTCARD SONNETS by Philip Dacey

Fiona Sze-Lorrain reviews INVERSE SKY by John Isles

Nathan Logan reviews THE AMPUTEE´S GUIDE TO SEX by Jillian Weise

Grace C. Ocasio reviews HORSE PLAYING THE ACCORDION by Elizabeth Smither

Dave Bonta reviews TEN POEMS ABOUT HIGHWAYS AND BIRDS by Sarah Bennett

Eileen Tabios engages OPEN NIGHT by Aaron Lowinger

Richard Lopez reviews T(HERE) by Jonathan Hayes

Tom Beckett engages CADAVER DOGS by Rebecca Loudon

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews 14 BOOKS from the 2008 LONDON SMALL PUBLISHERS FAIR

Jeff Harrison reviews INCONGRUITIES by Séamas Cain

John Herbert Cunningham reviews EMERALD ICE: SELECTED POEMS 1962-1987 by Diane Wakoski

Elizabeth Kate Switaj reviews SATELLITE CONVULSIONS: POEMS FROM TIN HOUSE, Edited by Brenda Shaugnessy and CJ Evans

Craig Santos Perez reviews RIVER ANTES by Myung Mi Kim

Denise Dooley reviews THE DRUG OF ART: SELECTED POEMS by IVAN BLATNY, Edited by Veronika Tuckerová

John Herbert Cunningham reviews LITERARY THEORY: A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED by Mary Klages and THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO FEMINIST LITERARY THEORY edited by Ellen Rooney

Ruth Lepson reviews HOUSECAT KUNG FU by Geoffrey Gatza

Angela Genusa reviews BARF MANIFESTO by Dodie Bellamy

William Allegrezza reviews DIPTYCHS: VISUAL POEMS by Nico Vassilakis

John M. Bennett reviews SUCURSAL DE ESTRELLA: POEMARIOS INICIALES Y FINALES by Alvaro Cardona Hine

John M. Bennett reviews LONGFELLOW MEMORANDA by Geof Huth

John M. Bennett review FROM THE ANNUAL RECORDS OF THE CLOUD APPRECIATION SOCIETY edited by Márton Koppány and Nico Vassilakis

Eileen Tabios engages LUNCH POEMS by Mark Young and DELTA BLUES by Skip Fox

Aileen Ibardaloza reviews THISTLES by Jack Cassinetto

Nathan Logan reviews THAT TINY INSANE VOLUPTUOUSNESS by Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney

Nicola Trumbull reviews NEVER CRY WOOF by Shafer Hall

James Stotts engages INSTANTS by Philip Metres

John Herbert Cunningham reviews GAYATRI SPIVAK: ETHICS, SUBALTERITY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POSTCOLONIAL REASON by Stephen Morton and GAYATRI CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAL: LIVE THEORY by Mark Sanders

Steven Karl reviews CLARITY AND OTHER POEMS by Thomas Fink

Helen Losse reviews FORMS OF INTERCESSION by Jayne Pupek

Steven Karl reviews LOST WORK BOOK W/ LETTERS TO DEER by Catherine Meng

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews A BIGGER BOAT: THE UNLIKELY SUCCESS OF THE ALBUQUERQUE POETRY SLAM SCENE edited by Susan McAllister, Don McIver, Mikaela Renz, and Daniel S. Solis

Steve Tills reviews THIS POEM/WHATSPEAKS?/ADAY by Tom Beckett

Ruth Lepson reviews (B)ITS by Joel Chace

Eileen Tabios engages PLAGIARISM/OUTSOURCE by Tan Lin


TAN LIN INTERVIEWED
by Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher and Gordon Tapper, with interview edited by Gordon Tapper


THE CRITIC WRITES POEMS
Elizabeth Kate Switaj


FEATURED POET
Tom Beckett interviews Reb Livingston


FROM OFFLINE TO ONLINE: REPRINTED REVIEWS
John Olson reviews COMPLICATIONS by Garrett Caples


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BACK COVER
Boy And Dog

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION



So I begin with the above picture because you are looking at the reason for the delayed release of this issue, as well as why 2009 will only feature two issues versus past years' four releases: my new son Michael flanked by Achilles and Gabriela! And a happy-as-a-cop-with-a-donut Abuelita and occasional GR reviewer Beatriz Tabios grinning from the back seat! Took two years of hard travelin' (with several issues edited at various airport terminals), among other things, but Moi is now a Mom! (Anyone interested in older-child adoption may want to check out Kidsave, whose "Summer Miracles" program is about to begin across the U.S.)

As to GR, thanks as ever to GR's numerous, generous volunteer staff of reviewers. Another record count:

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 11: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice)
Issue 12: 87 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews
Issue 11: 46 out of 72 new reviews
Issue 12: 35 out of 87 new reviews

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE.

*****

As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).

*****

The internet is multi-language, which is to say, I'm delighted to include in this issue our first non-English review: John M. Bennet's Spanish review of Sucursal de estrella: poemarios iniciales y finales by Alvaro Cardona Hine. I am open to more non-English reviews as long as an English translation of the review is available, as is the case with John's review.

*****

Last but not least, here is another photo -- for what is parenthood without photos and if I wasn't shy before at inflicting photos of moi dawgs on you, what makes you think I'd shy away now from MY SON!



With much Love, Fur, and Poetry,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
May 20, 2009

237 MORE REASONS TO HAVE SEX by DENISE DUHAMEL & SANDY MCINTOSH

THOMAS FINK Reviews

237 More Reasons to Have Sex by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh
(Otoliths, Australia, 2009)

There are at least 237 reasons for Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh to collaborate on a long, hilarious list-poem. I’ll keep my list to two. For one thing, both have written powerful list poems before, Duhamel as early as “Assumptions” in her debut collection, Smile! (1993) and recently the chapbook length, Mille et Un Sentiments (2005) and McIntosh in the title-poem and several others in Forty-Nine Guaranteed Ways to Escape Death (2007). Further, these are two of the funniest contemporary American poets to comment in their work on sex and death. When one of them found the article, “Why Humans Have Sex,” in The Archives of Sexual Behavior, with a set number of reasons, it was a matter of time before these poets conjured up “237 more reasons.”

While one job of the poets may be to make the reader laugh, mine as critic is to dampen that humor for the time being with ponderous analytic seriousness. I must make the “instruct” in Horace’s “instruct and delight” gain temporary priority over “delight,” unless one finds such instruction delightful. (When I proposed, then taught a course called “Humor in Literature” in the eighties as a new assistant professor at City University of New York—La Guardia, I encountered much annoyance about analytic dampening. I haven’t taught the course in the last two decades.) Today, a fine way of realizing my aim is to introduce a formulation of desire as lack by the intellectually burly French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan even before citing anything from the Duhamel/McIntosh collaboration:
                  From the outset we see, in the dialectic of the eye and the gaze, that there is. . . a lure. When, in love, I solicit a look, what is profoundly unsatisfying and always missing is that—You never look at me from the place from which I see you. . . .
                  The objet a is something from which the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated itself off as organ. This serves as a symbol of the lack. . . . It must, therefore, be an object that is, firstly, separable and, secondly, that has some relationship to the lack (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. New York: Norton, 1998. 102-3.)

“The objet a” is sometimes known as the little other (petit a), in contrast with the big Other (Autre), which indicates an otherness beyond the ego’s assimilation. Particular features of the little other entice the subject, often on an unconscious level. Sentences 86 and 87 of Duhamel and McIntosh’s collaboration provide examples of a subject being aware of what lures them without losing the attraction: “I’ve always had a thing for good boys in letter sweaters”; “I’ve always had a thing for letter carriers in blue sweaters” (16-17). A mere list of object a’s would not produce much of a poem; the two sentences are related because of a double meaning of “letter” (a key-word in Lacan’s celebrated “Seminar on ‘the Purloined Letter’”) and a repeated item of “sexy” clothing, and this goes beyond simple listing. While one object of desire wears clothing that communicates status within a school and no appreciable societal utility, the other’s uniform signifies a job not usually invested with glamour but a useful conduit for communication. This implied contrast suggests how arbitrary—hence how absurd—the workings of an objet a can seem. The idea that a differing structure of symbolic or metonymic chains would cause one person to fall for the postman/woman and one to fall for the student-athlete is funny enough, as presented, to make one see chaos take the place of pseudo-coherent narratives about predestined “soul-mates.”

Duhamel and McIntosh also exploit and mock the pandemic range of fantasies about celebrities seeping into ordinary folks’ erotic selections:
62. I pretended you were Tom Cruise playing air guitar in Risky Business. (14)
63. I pretended I was Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch.
64. I pretended I was the couch.
113. You promised me we could name our first daughter Chastity, just like Sonny and Cher had. (19)
154. There was Vaseline on the camera lens, so you looked like Warren Beatty who will only be filmed in soft lighting. (24)

Falling for a non-celebrity, one frequently makes an objet a out of a fragmentary association between that person and a star’s isolated trait. Perhaps, for the speaker in number 62, the juxtaposition of movie star looks and silly “air guitar” would involve a lowering of inhibition that seems to make the previously unattainable accessible—through pretending. In the next sentence above, ardor is derived from the identification of a role-model’s action with one’s own. Although the incident on the Oprah Winfrey Show made many star-gazers doubt Cruise’s sanity, a number of them must have been touched that he risked utter ridiculousness to express his passion publicly. Again, the very absurdity of his couch-jumping would narrow the gap between the speaker, inflamed by the televised example with a passion for an available object, and the star. In number 113, an odd chain of metonymies involves the speaker’s longing for association with celebrity through naming; physical attraction to a celebrity or his/her stand-in seems irrelevant. (Lacan makes much of metonymic “sliding” from signifier to signifier as the trajectory of desire.) The reference to Warren Beatty’s control of his represented image in number 154 demonstrates a parallel between the highly mediated desire for a non-luminary with the elaborate development of fictions that package celebrities as widespread objects or images for a desiring public.

Thus, mistaken identity can be important to sexual decisions: “14. I thought you were somebody else. 15. I thought I was somebody else” (9-10). Those who focus on attributes of fantasy that render someone an objet a may find that, after sex, less than pleasant traits come into view and displace the objet’s charms. In the second sentence, someone strives for intimacy with another in order to reinforce a particular self-image, only to find that the image s/he sees and seeks in the mirror has changed; the other person no longer fits. The fickleness embodied by these mini-“Dear John” letters is funny to the unattached reader, but not recipients of “reasons no longer to have sex.”

Some of Duhamel and McIntosh’s sentences show how a desire for power can drive erotic activity:
122. I wanted to protect myself into the future, one frame at a time, like our father Genghis Khan. (20)
123. Then you said, “Everything is about sex except sex, which is actually about power and money,” making me feel richly powerful.
150. Sure I was a money-grubber, a gold-digger, but that didn’t mean I didn’t love you. (24)
151. They told me: “She’s just using you! She’s taking you for a ride!” And I answered: “So what?”

Lacan writes:
. . . [Man’s] desire finds its meaning in the other’s desire, not so much because the other holds the keys to the desired object, as because his first object(ive) is to be recognized by the other.
(Ecrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2006. 222.)

Acquiring a sense of power often involves meeting externally-based criteria. In number 123, the speaker is both seduced and considers himself/herself empowered by the other’s repetition of a cultural truism. The placement of an equals sign between the lust for pecuniary power and love in number 150 may be a defensive rationalization, or it could reflect a sincere conscious belief in the fusion of intrinsic and extrinsic value, a social “truth” that could have been inherited in childhood. Further, in the next entry, the “So what?” (that confirms the part of the prior statement about extrinsic value) indicates how the speaker places a higher priority on sexual satisfaction than on being loved intrinsically. Perhaps his ego is strengthened by his ability to put his power to use.

Some entries present “reasons” featuring the elimination or reduction of personal insecurity, a compensation for powerlessness: “73. There was a lull in conversation and I’m frightened by silence” (15); 236. “We did it again because we were no longer beautiful” (31). However, the decision to welcome eros risks further insecurity, as when the speaker is plied with alcohol in the ambiguously raunchy number 132: “I hate losing control, but when I put my lips to the keg and you turned the spout, I knew I’d be losing” (21). While only a handful of sentences—for example, 85, which immediately derails the quest, and 174—acknowledge a drive for higher (spiritual?) value in erotic encounters, numerous sentences sprinkled throughout the chapbook implicitly deny intimacy as a goal. In so doing, the speakers cushion themselves against a possible devastating failure of intimate contact by justifying sex as a pragmatic solution to an ordinary situation. We hear of someone’s “vibrator . . . in the repair shop” (9), a “Blue Light special on condoms,” the arrival of “the K-Y Jelly’s expiration date,” the other’s appearance with a “worn out” vibrator, the need for “an excuse to smoke a cigarette” (12), a “class” taken “in Tantric Sex” that would have been wasted without application (14), and the other’s promise to “take out the trash” (30). We are far from the objet a and recognition of actual desire.

Indeed, the chapbook’s title merrily prevaricates: pseudo-reasons, non-reasons, partial (and secondary) reasons, and reasons at several removes (from credible version of origins) comprise a majority of the 237 entries. While this confirms the massive skepticism of psychoanalysts like Lacan and his followers about the truth that can be expected from ego-driven consciousness, the poets anticipate this and not only encourage an ironic perspective on the potential for accuracy but allow various speakers to signal their own evasiveness, their resistance to “analytic truth,” with humorous flourishes. The text’s rendering of the sprightly evasion of psychological insight is insight that can lead readers to ferret out unstated relevance. However, delight and instruction in this prose-poem include an aesthetic component that is not dominated by psychological inquiry; the rationale for placing one sentence before another has as much or more to do with the play of language as with any thematic component:
82. I was in the union and under the impression I was being paid scale.
83. I was looking at the numbers on the scale and thought I’d better take the first union that came
along. (16)
100. I was intrigued by the cello you were clasping between your thighs.
101. You’ve got to admit it is well strung.
102. I loved the way you plucked the high notes. It made me whoop and holler! (18-19)

Yes, yes, Lacan’s most oft-quoted chestnut is about how the unconscious, tinged with the accidental that makes a transcendental Signified so elusive and splits the subject, and a language have comparable structuring. And his analytic method can make the analysand aware of the sliding from signifier to signifier without expecting the concrete realization of a self as mirror-image. But did Lacan sustain poetic humor half as well as Duhamel and McIntosh? Methinks not.

*****

Thomas Fink’s recent chapbook is Generic Whistle-Stop (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2009). He is the author of Clarity and Other Poems (Marsh Hawk Press, 2008) and four previous books of poetry. A Different Sense of Power (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2001) is his most recent book of criticism, and in 2007, he and Joseph Lease co-edited “Burning Interiors”: David Shapiro’s Poetry and Poetics. His work appears in The Best American Poetry 2007 (Scribner’s). Fink's paintings hang in various collections.

237 MORE REASONS TO HAVE SEX by DENISE DUHAMEL & SANDY MCINTOSH

KRISTIN BERKEY-ABBOTT Reviews

237 More Reasons to Have Sex by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh
(Otoliths, Australia, 2009)

Most of my poetry students register deep suspicion when I first bring up the possibility of a list poem. They say, “A list? That’s it? I can just make a list?” Then we look at some list poems, and they see that it’s a far harder task than they first thought.

At first read, 237 More Reasons to Have Sex, by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh seems like the kind of book that would make the composition of the list poem look like an easy task. A closer read shows how complex and multifaceted a list poem can be.

The idea for this chapbook-length list poem came when one of the poets discovered this quote by Cindy Meston at the end of an article where she wrote of her research that discovered precisely 237 reasons for humans to have sex: “Originally, I thought that we exhaustively compiled the list, but now I f ound that there should be some added . . ." (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Volume 36, Number 4, August 2007). By e-mail, Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh began exchanging more reasons for having sex, and thus, this chapbook was born.

Some of these reasons seem straightforward, and perhaps rather unpoetic: “#5. My vibrator was in the repair shop.” or “#15. I thought you were somebody else.”

I love the way that these reasons are often responding to each other (and thus, some of the poetry enters). For example, reason # 16 reads, “I thought I was somebody else.” Hmmm. I love a piece of poetry that makes me stop and consider the world differently. Often these series go in startling directions: “#22. I thought you frenched the bed so I wanted to French our kiss. #23. I’d already rented the French maid’s costume, so I figured I might as well do it. #24 I yearned to play the English butler because I liked the way the butler did it.” I love the humor that’s present in so many of these poems/reasons.

I had a chance to speak to Denise Duhamel at a local poetry reading, and I asked her about the writing process that they used in the creation of this book. She said that they wrote back and forth at a furious pace, finishing the rough draft in about two weeks. Then they shuffled the order of the poems until they got the one that makes the most sense. And yet, as one reads the complete book, it’s hard to imagine that it ever would have progressed in any different order than the one that is presented.

Many of these poems make me think of sex in completely different ways, and I don’t mean in terms of position, but more in terms of symbol and meaning. Here’s reason #171: “I dreamed that night, and in my dream I watched her collect my dreams and pin them to her skirt like butterflies to a shadow box.” Reason #146 says, “The sun through the stained glass turned your face violet, my favorite color.” If I was still in graduate school, I could write pages that would explicate the symbolism and meaning. Since I’m writing a book review, I’ll let readers ponder the possibilities. In our sex-drenched culture, it’s refreshing to come across creative work that makes me see the topic anew.

Of course, the poems address more than just sex. They give us new ways to see our bodies, like #66: “I didn’t know you could see my pink taco through my skirt.” This, before # 67 which says, “And your snapping castanets, as well,” and after # 65, which says, “Perhaps it was your introspective and touchingly solipsistic Mexican Hat Dance that did the trick.”

The poems also have all sorts of delightful references to other literature, like #4: “Because of the plums / so delicious, so cold / Forgive me.” I first read this book just after Easter, so #175 spoke to me that week: “Then I rolled the stone away from our bedroom door and—Lo—you had risen and were making our tea.” There are numerous references to pop cultural markers, and the poet Nin Andrews surfaces periodically.

This book is the wonderful treat that rewards the reader who plows straight through, as well as the reader who wants to dip in and out and spend some time meditating. I often give my students the assignment to write about love in a way that makes us see love in a way that we’ve never seen before and let them wrestle with how to stay away from cliché. This book could lead to a similar assignment about the topic of sex. Of course, this book might lead students to despair, since it’s difficult to imagine that we can much new to the topic after this delightful collection by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh.

*****

Kristin Berkey-Abbott earned a Ph.D. in British Literature from the University of South Carolina. She has published in many journals and was one of the top ten finalists in the National Looking Glass Poetry Chapbook Competition. Pudding House Publications published her chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard, in 2004. Currently, she teaches English and Creative Writing at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and serves as Assistant Chair of the General Education department. Her website, which has connections to the blogs that she keeps, is www.kristinberkey-abbott.com.

BOOKS by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, JOANNE KYGER and PHILIP WHALEN

JOHN HERBERT CUNNINGHAM Reviews

Coney Island of the Mind: 50th Anniversary Edition by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
(New Directions Publishing, 1958/2008)

About Now: Collected Poems of Joanne Kyger by Joanne Kyger
(National Poetry Foundation, 2007)

The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen by Philip Whalen, Edited by Michael Rothenberg
(Wesleyan University Press, 2007)

In 1948, Jack Kerouac said “Ah, this is nothing but a beat generation.” And so it became but Capitalized.

The 1960s were a time of profound change: and this was reflected in the number of poetic movements taking place. On the East Coast, more specifically New York City, were the New York School of John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara and the Deep Image School of Jerome Rothenberg later taken over by Robert Bly. On the West Coast, specifically centred in San Francisco, were the San Francisco Renaissance under the tutelage of Jack Spicer, and the North Beach Beats centred around the City Lights Book Store owned and operated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reviewed here are three prominent practitioners of that initially San Francisco later world poetry movement -- The Beats.

While the street usage of the term implied being broke, destitute, exhausted, etc., “Kerouac (in various interviews and lectures) was trying to indicate the correct sense of the word by pointing out its connection to words like ‘beatitude’ and ‘beatific’ -- the necessary beatness or darkness that precedes opening up to light, egolessness, giving room for religious illumination.”(Alan Ginsberg, foreword to The Beat Book, xiv) He goes on, at p. xv, to list “a number of consistent themes which might be summarized as follows: An intuitiveness into the nature of consciousness, leading to acquaintance with Eastern thought, meditative practice, art as extension or manifestation of exploration of the texture of consciousness, spiritual liberation as a result. This led toward sexual liberation, particularly gay liberation, which historically had a part in catalyzing women’s lib and black lib. A tolerant nontheistic view developed out of exploring the texture of consciousness, thus cosmic anti-fascism, a peaceable nonviolent approach to politics, multiculturalism, the absorption of black culture into mainstream literature and music,...So art’s viewed as sacred practice, with sacramental approach to each other as characters.”

Anne Waldman, in her Editor’s introduction to The Beat Book, asks “What makes the legacy of the Beat writers so fiercely durable, their image tenacious and provocative? What is the wisdom that this controversial literary generation imparts through its writings?” and answers “I think the nominal ‘Beat literature canon’ endures and has such force because it holds together, through communality, a discourse that manifests a visceral relationship to language...This impulse to write is gathered and centered in magnanimity through language. Candid American speech rhythms, jazz rhythms, boxcar rhythms, industrial rhythms, rhapsody, skilful cut-up juxtapositions, and expansiveness that mirrors the primordial chaos come into play constantly. This is writing that thumbs its nose at self-serving complacency.”(xix-xx)

One of the most important practitioners of Beat poetry was Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He “was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919. After spending his early childhood in France, he received his B.A. from the University of North Carolina, an M.A. from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. In 1953, Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin began to publish City Lights magazine. They also opened the City Lights Books Shop in San Francisco to help support the magazine. In 1955, they launched City Light Publishing, a book-publishing venture. City Lights became known as the heart of the "Beat" movement. Ferlinghetti is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, including A Coney Island of the Mind (1958). In 1994, San Francisco renamed a street in his honor. He was also named the first Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 1998. In 2000, he received the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle.” (www.poets.org)

The reader is immediately drawn into A Coney Island of the Mind through strong alliteration, rhyme and rhythm set in lines that sculpt the page:
In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see
                                                      the people of the world
exactly at the moment when 1
                                    they first attained the title of
                                                       ‘suffering humanity’
                  They writhe upon the page
                                                in a veritable rage
                                                      of adversity”(9)

He then proceeds to take this description and blast it upon today:
We are the same people
                                    only further from home
on freeways fifty lanes wide
                  on a concrete continent
                                    spaced with bland billboards
                  illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness
The scene shows fewer tumbrils
                  but more strung-out citizens
                                    in painted cars
           and they have strange license plates
and engines
                  that devour America”(9-10)

We discover here another identifier of Beat poetry: the way that the language of the street (‘strung-out’) runs alongside more exalted poetic language without blushing or having an inferiority crisis.

Whitman had a profound influence on the Beats -- not just in Ginsberg’s Howl. We can see that in Ferlinghetti:
and its America
                  with its ghost towns and empty Ellis Islands
and its surrealist landscape of
                                    mindless prairie
                                    supermarket suburbs
                                    streamlined cemeteries
                                    cinerama holy days
                                    and protesting cathedrals(13)

Ferlinghetti, like all poets before or since, has moments where his sensibility escapes him and he passes off crap like poem 28 as poetry:
                  Dove sta amore
                  Where lies love
                  Dove sta amore
                  Here lies love
                  The ring dove love
                  In lyrical delight(43)

This has completely nothing to do with the poetry that came before or the poetry that will come later to complete Coney Island. It just appears in some cutesy page of its own where even the structure indicates that it just doesn’t belong.

The essence of Beat poetry is captured in the seven poems beginning on p. 49 which, as the previous page informs us, are intended for jazz accompaniment. The issue is one of orality rendering these poems in a continuous state of flux. We can sense this in “Junkman’s Obbligato” where, on p. 56-7, we read:
I wish to descend in society.
I wish to make like free.
Swing low sweet chariot.
Let us not wait for the cadillacs
to carry us triumphal
into the interior
waving at the natives
like roman senators in the provinces
wearing poet’s laurels
on lighted brows.

We can hear the hard bop in the background, the wailing of the saxophone, the thumping of the bass as the rhythm of the words carries us inexorably onwards, all in a spontaneous improvisation, an eruption of words and music filling the emptiness of some smoke-filled club, the blue haze of cigarettes and other things, where junkies shoot up in back rooms, all punctuated by the sound of the cash register. The impetus behind this poem is Eliot’s Prufrock as is made clear from the one on p. 57: “Let us go then you and I / leaving our neckties behind us on lampposts”.

We turn now to one of the female Beats, Joanne Kyger who, as Linda Russo writes at p. 25, in a short but potent introduction to About Now, was “born in Vallejo, California, in 1934, Kyger attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, studying with Hugh Kenner, among others. She arrived in San Francisco in 1957 during the Howl censorship trial.” Describing her poetics, Russo says “Bringing Eastern and Western influences together, Kyger, like many of her generation, was a transpacific Walt Whitman. And she incorporated the lessons of Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ to articulate mind, breath and line in a manner distinct from Ginsberg’s improvisational ‘first thought best thought’ or Whalen’s inward ‘graph of a mind moving.’ Her vivid and carefully crafted poems posit connections between self and world...For Kyger, this ‘everything’ includes not only her immediate environment, but also a substratum of history, memory, and myth, a familiar ‘underworld...furnished with raw understanding.’”(26) Kyger’s writing can be divided into two, perhaps three, phases. Of the first, Kyger charts outward journeys and inward turns of mind.”(27) Of the second, “This narrative inclusiveness held sway in her poems through the early 1970s..., but Kyger’s later work trims the exposition, is the writing of a poet who ‘loves to fuss / and prune with the mythology / of under and...over tones.”(27) And finally “Kyger’s more recent poems place her among our most diligent of ecological poets.”(28)

Anne Waldman, in The Beat Book, adds that “She moved to San Francisco’s North Beach in 1957, where she was actively involved with Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and other writers of the San Francisco Renaissance...In 1960 she traveled to Japan where she married Gary Snyder. She belonged to the American expatriate scene in Kyoto...Kyger traveled to India with Snyder, Ginsberg, and Orlovsky. She returned to San Francisco in 1964...A long-time student of Buddhism, Kyger developed a dry, witty, incisive form of poetry, drawn from daily journal writing practices, among other sources.”(238)

Kyger’s first book, The Tapestry and the Web, was published in 1965. The first poem, untitled but indicated in the Table of Contents by its first line “My Mother”, is juvenilia which is readily seen in its first stanza:
My mother
Picked me from a Siennese fresco
I was riding a white horse
                  and wearing a red-scarlet gown
Placed on my head was a small black crown
                  and my yellow hair was falling down(33)

The rhyming triplet that comes out of nowhere and goes the same direction is clearly immature. Thankfully, it predated the poems in The Tapestry. The difference between this and the first poem in The Tapestry, “The Maze”, is amazing. Examining the first two stanzas:
                  I saw the
                  dead bird on the sidewalk
                  his neck uncovered
                  and prehistoric

At seven in the morning
                  my hair was bound
                  against the fish in the air
                  who begged for the ocean
                  I longed for their place(42)

we see that the writing is more assured, more lyrical, the imagery more controlled and influenced by surrealism. It’s not that she has abandoned rhyme; it’s just that she has learned to use it sparingly, much more effectively. In the “Tapestry” found at p.77 (there are several poems with that title), the use of a single rhyme in the poem makes that poem what it is: “coquettish towards / the sound of the / huntsman’s horn the / capture / then of the / unicorn.” In this first book, Kyger has not yet adopted Beat poetics and is still under the influence of Jack Spicer. This can be seen in the final series of poems titled “The Odyssey Poems”, influenced by Spicer’s serial poetry concept, which explores Homer’s The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope.

In 1970, Kyger released Places to Go which, while retaining the classical references to Odysseus and the Greek gods such as Hermes, shows dramatic development, the influence of the Beats clearly showing through this classicist veneer and mixing with Spicer. The opening poem, “The Pigs for Circe in May” is an excellent example:
                  I almost ruined the stew and Where
is my peanut butter sandwich I tore through the back of the car
                  I could not believe
there was One slice of my favourite brown bread and my stomach and
                  I jammed the tin foil and bread wrappers into the stew
and no cheese and I simply could not believe
                                                      and you Never
                  TALK when my friends are over

This is known as camping in Yosemite.(104)

By the time of “Meandering”, Beat poetics has supplanted Spicer almost completely and the classical references have been abandoned:
This isn’t what I wanted to say, I didn’t want
to say anything, derived from 1
                                    Reason, Glory, and Splendor
I was thinking of shrimp over noodles
                                    I wish to allow great unimpeded
                  Grandeur like a rising storm
            to take over
and do the dishwashing.(165)

In their capitalized form, have reason, glory, and splendor become the gods of the American dream?

The division 1968-1974 opens with the poem “Lord Ganesha”. Although her trip to India took place several years previous, it is only now that she begins to open to the experience. We read: “The Syllable GA represents mind and speech / What is beyond is the syllable NA and by / adoring him in the combination GANA you become / Brahman. The teaching is known as the secret / of VEDANTA.”(176) Several poems in this section reflect Kyger’s journal approach to poetry which continues into the next section, 1974-1978. Beginning with the book The Wonderful Focus of You (1980), the poem “(Out the Window)” begins “April 4, 1975. Time of wonder / on how it goes together. And pausing to see / The same landscape only changed / by progression of time.”(325) Exhibited here, as elsewhere, is her humor as she opens up the quotidian to new experiences. In “Saturday Full Moon September”, which adheres to the journal approach to poetry but not as blatant, Kyger ponders her purchase of marijuana: “I seem to have paid $40 for half a lid of grass, / maybe Columbian, full of seeds / which I must plant in order to make any even claim / to responsible finances.”(331)

Just Space (1990) opens the section 1979-1989. This highlights the confused organization of this book. The full title of Just Space is Just Space: 1979-1989. But what about the poems in Man/Woman: Two Poems (1980) or Phenomenological (1989)? Are these included in Just Space or are they separate? There is just not enough information provided to justify the division by period. Do the poems in Places to Go span the first two divisions as seems to be the case? If so, then why are the poems in Joanne (1970) contained entirely within the second division -- even though the ‘Books by Joanne Kyger’ at the start of this collection lists the publication of Joanne preceding the publication of Places to Go? This arrangement defies logic and leaves the reader adrift, lost at sea. Fortunately, this strange arrangement does not affect the poetry which we can still sit down in our easy chair and enjoy

As the 80s moved into the 90s, Kyger became more and more involved in Buddhism. In fact, according to her poem “On Moving to the Naropa Campus Fall 1991”, she immersed herself in it:
Many many                   a thousand
                  hands in positions
           of compassionate
Awakening(552)

and “Dharma: the suitcase of many meanings”, possibly one of her most beautiful poems:
And it is a beauteous evening, calm and fair with broad sun
                                    sinking behind the front range
                  and the derangement of attire
             is reaping frustration for the pure soul
                                    whose heart is acceptable for naught
But cuts across the reflex of a star(553)

It is this awakening to Buddhism that probably led to her awakening to ecology. In the poem “First Nation”, we read:
Back in               First Nation time, morning of the world time
the sun has yet to arrive, keeping all in a silver keening.

Attack a chore and stay there
         Imports are tossed
                  on the compost                   This
                  is about weeding the unwanted
                                 and uninvited

plant life out of the ground
                                    A very short stop for roots to stay(639)

No one took Buddhism further than Philip Whalen. The Beat Book provides, on p. 284-5, an excellent bio:
Philip Whalen was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1923...From 1946 to 1951, Whalen studied at Reed College on the G.I. bill, rooming in a house with Gary Snyder and Lew Welch. While at Reed, he discovered the writings of D.T. Suzuki and developed a lifetime interest in Asian religion, particularly Zen Buddhism. After receiving a B.A. in literature and languages in 1951, Whalen took up residence in San Francisco, where he joined Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and others for the famous Six Gallery reading on October 6, 1955. [This from Wikipedia: “The Six Gallery reading (also known as the Gallery Six reading or Six Angels in the Same Performance) was a poetry-reading ( or "-jamming"), which occurred at the Six Gallery on Friday, October 7, 1955 at 3119 Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Conceived by Wally Hedrick, this event was the first important public manifestation of the Beat Generation and helped to herald the West Coast literary revolution that became known as the San Francisco Renaissance.] In1967and again from 1969 to 1971, he lived in Kyoto, where he wrote Scenes of Life at the Capital. Back in the United States, Whalen moved into the San Francisco Zen Center in 1972, and on February 3, 1973, was ordained Unsui, Zen Buddhist monk, with the Dharma name Zenshin Ryufu. In 1975, he served as head monk at the Tassajara retreat center. He was a regular visiting faculty member at the Naropa Institute during the seventies and eighties...On September 14, 1991, Philip Whalen was installed as abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center, San Francisco.

As to his poetics, Paul Hoover, in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, states, at p. 80:
Whalen’s poetry embraces the world with a Whitmanesque openness and gentleness. Yet the wit of Whalen’s writing reminds critic and poet Michael Davidson of the eighteenth-century satirists Alexander Pope and John Dryden. Davidson further observes that Whalen’s ‘emphasis on the situational frame resembles the ‘personism’ of New York poets like Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan, whose poetry insists on the temporary and contingent in art. ‘Poetry’, Whalen has said, ‘is the graph of the mind’s movement.’

This is added to by Leslie Scalapino in her introduction to The Collected Poems titled “Language as Transient Act, The Poetry of Philip Whalen” where, at p. xxxii, she states:
Whalen described (to me in conversation) his discovery of Williams’ poetry: It opened for him the possibility of freedom from an ‘academy’ notion of a poem, which he viewed as being narration of subject matter in a preconceived ordering bound up. Rather, he realized that a reordering of every level can take place in the line and in the sound structure of the language itself. Whalen was also influenced by Stein and Pound. He made the distinction to me that his direction was more the phenomenological undertaking of Stein then the visionary direction suggested by Blake that was taken up by Ginsberg.

Whalen expanded on the idea of poetry as ‘the graph of the mind’s movement’. As quoted by Scalapino, at p. xxxvi, he described it as “A continuous fabric (nerve movie?) exactly as wide as these lines -- ‘continuous’ within a certain time limit, say a few hours of total attention and pleasure: to move smoothly past the reader’s eyes, across his brain: the moving sheet has shaped holes in it.”

This is the way to honor a poet. Do not just put out a collected or a selected without fanfare. Give a proper introduction, a good initial analysis. You’re issuing a collected or a selected because this poet has paid her/his dues and has earned respect. Do not just throw it out there as if it were a fish left to flounder on the shore.

The one improvement that could have been made is in the organization of the poems. The editor, Michael Rothenberg, included an Appendix A which lists Whalen’s various books and the order of the poems included in each -- a very valuable addition. The poems that a poet has selected for publication in a book and the sequence in which those poems have been presented is important (even if the book’s editor may have had more or less influence on those decisions). Why not put that up front in the table of contents where the reader can immediately see it? Why not reinforce that by including throughout the book indications of where one book ends and the next begins? But enough of that. Let’s look at the actual poems.

Even Whalen’s early poetry showed significant promise. Take “The Sealion”(18-19) from 1950. The first stanza introduces us to this regal beast, its slow progress against the waves. In the second, a note of discord is introduced: “Two with rifles / Wheezed up to the cliff edge: / ‘kill it for the bounty.’” The fourth and final stanza adds a note of irony: “Their boot prints marred the beach / for six hours.”

“Sourdough Mountain Lookout” is one of Whalen’s early masterpieces. A pastiche more than a collage, he introduces quotes from Heraclitus, Empedocles, and The Buddha demonstrating the perambulations of mind as he wanders through this landscape he created beginning with a quote from Tsung Ping (375-443). During the course of this wandering, he provides a description “Morning fog in the southern gorge / Gleaming foam restoring the old sea-level / The lakes in two lights green soap and indigo / The high cirque-lake black half-open eye”(40) which opens before us an ancient, meditative Japanese print.

“A Dim View of Berkeley in the Spring” is the quintessential Beat poem. Capturing the angst of the era, it elevated the quotidian into poetry:
Leap, shout, a pattern of release that actually comes
Much later in some parked car
Trying to make out with some chick who
WON’T, she wants a home of her own to do it in
                   (Who can blame her?)
Then going back to the house with a stone-ache
Or gooey underwear, the tension
Relieved so they can sleep or built high enough
To be dreamed off or jacked away in the shower at 3 a.m.

Where’s the action? What’s going on?(78)

In 1959, Whalen wrote “Address to the Boobus” in which he began to explore a kinetic collational style of poetry:
with her Hieratic Formulas in reply

O Great Princess
Keeper of the Mystic Shrine
O Holy & Thrice More Holy

Prussian Blue            Dark Blue            Light Blue            French Blue

Blyni & Pyrozhki            Sapphire            Aquamarine
To Take Out            Turquoise            Zircon
                                     Lapis Lazuli

                                    Malachite, a sea-color stone

O Hidden!

                   (vested maenad baccante)
among the leaves bright & dark(143-4)

Words resonate with hidden power returning us to their mystic origins, the place where merely their sound was sufficient to invoke the gods. This is a style he would explore throughout his career. Take the 1961 “One of My Favorite Songs Is Stormy Weather”, for example:
paper                   As I walked further I grew happier
syrup                   and less nervous, although I am an
rubber                   atheist I pray all the time
kapok
chewing gum
frankincense         Acorn         Allspice         lime-flower tea
myrrh         Almond         clove         jasmine
fruit         Avocado         nutmeg         gum Arabic
&         Apricot(237)

It is the visual that captures -- a new dimension of concrete poetry.

This concept of the power of the individual word, the idea of the sacred contained within the secular, almost a pagan offering, went so far as to inform Whalen’s more ‘lyrical’ offerings. In 1963, he wrote “Spring Poem to the Memory of Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928)”:
Old woman, here in the dark of the moon
Honey milk seed falls at your feet

When will she go up the sky again?

Spirit of milk follow her and swell her body
                  bring star showers(282)

The spirituality of nature provided inspiration to Whalen. In “Night and Morning Michaelangelo”, which recalls Pound’s “In The Metro”, that emotion is beautifully captured:
Black thick dewy leaves, inchoate and opaque
Sun crystallizes them, an apparition of Green Jade
                  varying transparency, all
                                    translucent greens(292)

Shortly before this, Whalen had begun to experiment with ‘picture poems’ -- probably influenced in this regard by Kenneth Patchen. This led to Whalen introducing concrete poem ideas and Cubism into his regular poetry leading to the creation of “Life and Death and a Letter to my Mother Beyond Them Both”(297). This is one of the most amazing poems the reader will ever read -- but is impossible to quote from. It can only be experienced in its entirety.

By 1964, Whalen had perfected his pastiche technique resulting in huge landscapes of poetry. In “The Best of It”:
I wrote ‘46’ a few days ago


                  EXCELLENT
                              HOW
GOLD                                                       IT SHINES
                  HEAVILY
                  WELLS FARGO BANK
                  & UNION TRUST COMPANY
Earthquake washing-machine
_________________________

California Belt Line Railroad crash hump freightcars
             midnight road and cool

________________________________

What other word can I comb out of my moustache?(390)

Written in Kyoto in 1966, “Ten Titanic Etudes” provides an interesting window into Whalen’s development. These ten sections owe their inspiration to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. Whalen creates this cubist perspective while infusing his poetry with Zen. Part IV, in which he captures the essence of Buddhism – impermanence, the idea that everything is ever changing - provides the best insight:
NOW the light is all different, the air
Moving, no longer in the way
                                    SEE THE CHANGING(511)

Shortly after this point, Whalen became less prolific. Initially, he saturated himself in writings influenced by Eastern philosophy. But, once he gained comfort in the knowledge he sought, he returned to an exploration of a wide range of subjects reflective of his earlier career. Not that he ever left the east, he just felt comfortable being able to expand this vision.

We have explored the writings of three poets who were considered part of the Beat movement that exploded onto the scene from a small art gallery, the ‘6’, in 1955 to become one of the most influential poetic movements of the 60’s. It vied for influence with a number of other movements that arose during the 50’s and 60’s. Near home, in North Beach, San Francisco, was the San Francisco Renaissance spearheaded by Jack Spicer, Robin Blazer and, a refugee from Black Mountain, Robert Duncan. On the east coast and, more specifically, New York City, was the New York School of John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, et al and the Deep Image school of Jerome Rothenberg. What set the Beat movement apart and what united the three poets considered in this review, was the elevation of the quotidian, the use of journals, letters and other forms of everyday writing and the predominant influence of Buddhism.


(Editor's Note: Some of the poem-excerpts may not be shown accurately in terms of their formats, due to Blogger constraints.)

*****

John Herbert Cunningham is the host of Speaking of Poets – a half-hour radio show on Sundays on CKUW 95.9 FM. He resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he writes poetry, reviews and interviews. He publishes regularly in half a dozen literary magazines in Canada and the same number in the U.S. He is also a multi-instrumentalist with the free jazz group ECMW – Experimental Creative Music Workshop. He is currently studying the alto sax, the Chinese flute and the darbouka.

HARLOT by JILL ALEXANDER ESSBAUM

NIC SEBASTIAN Reviews

Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum
(No Tell Books, Reston, VA, 2007)

Sex and Religion in Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The urge for sex and a yearning for the divine are the dark and tormented existential bases from which this complex work springs.

The book’s dedication is the first indication of the complicated ride ahead: For Rahab (the Old Testament prostitute of Jericho who gained biblical favor by sheltering Israelite spies), Tallulah (the driven flamboyant 20th century actress with a voracious sexual appetite) and Joan of Arc (the 15th century soldier-maiden who generated powerful competing myths of virginity and harlotry).

These poems contain the beginnings of an interesting exploration of the religiosity of sex or the sexuality of religion. A tension-filled mix, and it seems fitting that one of the book’s epigraphs (“Every harlot was a virgin once”) should be by William Blake, a devout Christian who argued against the repression of bodily desires in the name of religion; who considered that the urges of the body participate in the divine. And indeed, in reading the Harlot poems, the first thing that came to my mind was Blake’s simple but hugely powerful poem, The Sick Rose:
O Rose, thou art sick!
The Invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of Crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

This piece has been interpreted in many different ways, but the relevant optic here is the one that sees the rose -- symbol of freshness and innocence -- as human sexuality (thy bed /Of crimson joy is a masterful phrase) and the corrupting worm (also a recurring symbol in the Harlot poems) as the shame and guilt we attach to sexuality under the influence of religion.

Harlot is both an acknowledgement of, and a challenge to, this worldview. Even while infused by guilt and a sense of sin and damnation, these poems champion female sexuality, they reclaim it.

The manner of reclamation is through a steady, incremental reconfiguring and recalls the relationship of Hester Prynne, heroine of The Scarlet Letter, with the scarlet letter A she is made to wear publicly by her judgmental Puritan neighbors, as a consequence of adulterous behavior.

Hester accepts, then gradually appropriates her A. She refigures it, metaphorically through her steadfast lifestyle and literally through her elaborate embroidering of the A -- “so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy” ... “that the capital A might have been thought to mean Admirable, or anything rather than Adulteress.” Decades after her scandal has subsided, Hester returns of her free will to live in the same community that chastised her, and although none now compels her to it, chooses to continue wearing the scarlet A. It has become a central symbol of identity to her, as she herself has become increasingly complex, nuanced, and human to those observing her. As a result, “The scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma ... and became a type of something to be sorrowed over and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence, too. “

The poems in Harlot employ the beauty and power of language to assert ownership of and to recast female sexuality, as Hester used her life, her needle and her imagination to appropriate the scarlet letter. All the poems contribute to the complexity of the portrait under construction, but key elements of the mechanism Essbaum uses are powerful lists and litanies -- labels and incantations -- that challenge, refigure, recast, situate, define and always redefine their subject matter, as in the compelling poems Minx, Harlot, Whoreheart and Aphrodisia.

Add to these a deeply-felt religious backdrop and the net result is a picture of a complex, shifting, tormented, and ineffably human landscape. These poems do not represent some sophomoric debate about good versus evil or right versus wrong. The woman -- especially the religious woman -- who chooses or is compelled to base her identity in her sexuality can never be easily labeled or defined. What these poems claim for her is complexity and nuance, religiosity and -- above all -- humanity.

Men are a central phenomenon in these poems -- men as both lovers and as metaphor for the lost divine. The virgin Magdalene in Young Magdalene’s Prayer dreams of
A king, as divine
As her desires are deep.

The Christ-lover is all powerful, there is almost no existence without him:
I draw closed like a curtain in your absence (from De Profundis)

and in An Oracle Concerning the Melancholic Concubine:
When he abuses you

in his absence, when his somnolence blacks you out.

Identity lines are continuously blurred. Is ‘he’ in the poems the present-day lover, or the yearned-for Christ? Is the narrator a sexually-alive Christ-obsessed present-day woman, or is she the passionate biblical Magdalene, erstwhile ‘fallen’ woman, would-be bride of Christ? Is the continuing compulsion, the deep wanting that drives these pieces simple sexual appetite, or is it longing for God? Or both?

The Magdalene theme infuses this collection, appearing explicitly in two pieces told from Magdalene’s point of view (Young Magdalene’s Prayer and Magdalene’s Hymn) and implicitly elsewhere throughout, such as in And It Came To Pass, Crux, Bad Friday and Nightboat.

The poems cycle into a chronicle of passionate but failed sexual and religious relationships -- and indeed, what earthly man could ever realistically fulfill the role of Christ to a would-be bride of Christ, what hope for close approach to God is possible for a supplicant who believes she is damned from the outset? For these poems are haunted by a restless certitude of sin, of damnation and guilt, largely unleavened by hope of redemption:
Born again,
but with a birth defect, and broken –
for what the devil claims he rarely abandons (De Profundis)

That it ought to be know I was born this way,
With indiscriminate tendencies (The Thirty-Four Sorrows)

I am but a wasteland of worry (Bad Friday)

Into my living death, Lord, come (Despair is the Only Unforgivable Sin)

the hushed,
dim sinning of the linens (Post-)

The strophes of bleak prophecy that constitute Surely Come the Days contribute likewise to this theme, and it is also underlined by the merciless energy that goes into blistering self-excoriation, as in A Force is a Push or a Pill:
my shoddy, my so-for-nothing
self

Yet always at the base of it all are the irresistible dual compulsions that sustain forward motion -- towards God and towards sex -- born in pain and living on pain. And it Came to Pass, the first poem in the collection, lays out the nature of this yearning in shocking alliterative lines:
I wanted you
Like a wound

Aches for the dagger digging
Into it, so bloody

And brutal and black.
I wanted you like that.

The Solitary Anguish of Irreparable Regret puts the brutal despair of the dilemma in a nutshell: the narrator’s nature draws her irresistibly to the divine, yet it is her nature that keeps her from attaining the divine:
Because I want to sit down next to you,
I do not sit down next to you.

On the way to this conclusion it is interesting to observe the respective roles that woman and her lover play in the repeating cycle of lovers in Harlot. There is no victim, and no aggressor. Or rather: each is victim and each aggressor, turn about. The lovers are co-dependent peers, partners, they array themselves foot to foot: equally powerful, and equally powerless. The Assignation, for example is set up in aggressive couplets of action and counter-action -- she did/he did style:
She will dream of her maneuvers
And his rocket. How she flipped him like a lever,

how he plugged into her socket,
how he strangled her waist with the corset

of his straitjacket hands. How she surged
with urgencies

In the world of Harlot, you dish it out, but you have to be able to take it, too. One of the most striking themes in the collection is the narrator’s clear-eyed recognition of her vulnerability and her own stark need. These are facts to be faced among the facts of existence, two sides of the same coin -- she is used, but she uses. In Why Hast Thou? for example, we read:
I am the axe maid. I hack and hew.

But bleeding, I bleed freely.

In Judas Hausfrau we see the always-morphing narrator as nonetheless decisive and powerful:
I am tall
in my sins

while in Song of Bird, Dirge of Branch she acknowledges her naked vulnerability baldly:
And I want you more than I want to breathe.

and
I warble desperate melodies,
The harlot’s psalm, a martyr’s hymn.
I am naked in my beggary.

This collection does not make much of love. Strange Woman “searches the sky for a god that will reach down and love her” while the Clockmaker’s Mistress conceptualizes the act of loving as passive acceptance of the mechanism of her own destruction:
I loved you
like the wild plum loves

the teeth sinking into it,
wetly, willing, quiet as quartz

we read of Minx:
But if she says she loves you, she lies

and the narrator writes in an imaginary post-script in Post –:
Also. I forgot to love.

The hopeful reader looking for a redemptive arc in this collection is disappointed, but perhaps this cursory treatment of the role and power of love explains why this collection does not go there. A hopeful reader might also look in a collection like Harlot for not just the rescue of the erotic but for the (more audacious still) positing of the erotic -- literally and metaphorically -- as a ritualistic, mystic path to the divine. Sex as religious worship, sex as connection to the divine, building on the mystic tradition which seeks direct apprehension of the divine through the restoration in the self of a primordial state of being -- pre-verbal and pre-thought. There are some glimmerings of this direction of thought in the collection. For example, the narrator in And It Came to Pass describes herself as:
a postulant in the Church of the Kiss

and The Assignation speaks of:
How the cloister
of her thighs wept liturgies and hours

but in the end, Harlot doesn’t complete a full arc from sex as damnation to sex as potential redemption. Overall, the emotional cycle seems to move from deep compulsion to depression to defiance and back, consistently underwritten by intense passion. At the end of it all, as we read in The Nothing That’s Left:
we become great riddles to ourselves
and the devils that indwell

us.

There is little joy in this enormously courageous collection. But immense passion. Whatever the final answer -- and even if there is none -- we must never stop rising up in passion. Again, from The Nothing That’s Left, the last poem of the book:
and – god damn it – I will bleed
until there is nothing that’s left
but the nothing that’s left.


*****

Nic Sebastian hails from Arlington, Virginia and travels widely. She has two sons and a husband who travel with her as they can. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Lily, Autumn Sky Poetry, Mannequin Envy, Avatar Review, Anti- and other poetry journals. Her first collection, Forever Will End on Thursday, will be published in 2009 by a poetry press with a twist: http://verylikeawhale.wordpress.com/the-essbaum-sebastian-nanopress. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale (http://verylikeawhale.wordpress.com).

ENDGAMES by MARTON KOPPANY

TOM HIBBARD Engages

Endgames by Márton Koppány
(Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia, 2008)

THE LEGEND OF MARTON KOPPANY:
ENDGAMES AND THE SUMMER OF THE RIVER




"What was the significance of the tragic poets?"
--Lewis Mumford

Born of maritime winds carrying cargos of spices, sandalwood, bronze and ivory, a hope-filled feverish vision seemed to come over the city of Milwaukee for a brief time during the sunny summer of 2008. Of course, these cargos were symbolic and perhaps merely illusions. In reality they represented art shows, books, bookstores and book cooperatives, publications, neighborhoods, politics, elections, economies, crowded beaches, concerts, festivals, plant-life, farms and farmers markets, bicycles, coffee shops, hiking trails, animals, people.

These are not uncommon elements. What was surprising was their alignment into an exhilarating feeling of radical transformation, the uncovering of a way that urban living could actually regress into a life much more centered on ideas and the vivid impressions of nature. One shaping event in particular was a small Woodland Pattern book center exhibit that lasted only a matter of the month of April, containing photographs, artworks, collages, blueprints and designs for construction projects. I was able to view it only once, but fortunately a substantial booklet from the exhibit remains: "Seeing Green: Art, Ecology and Activism in Milwaukee."

The exhibit, curated by Nicolas Lampert, with work from local artists, according to the booklet was intended to serve "as a hub space, informing the viewer and the public of the many environmental projects taking place throughout the city." One of the artworks, without attribution, is a cluster of little blue diggers-hotline explorer-like-claim flags across a rocky section of beach with a limitless Surrealist waterscape background.

Another work is an artist's conception-style work by Chris Cornelius for a proposed Nature Center, titled "Oneida Maple Sugar Camp." "This is a new structure for the Oneida Environmental Services Division of the Oneida Reservation in Oneida, Wisconsin. The building will be primarily used by the students of the Oneida Elementary School....The building utilizes cordwood masonry as its primary wall enclosure system."

Several artistic photographs from the exhibit seemed to reach a new level of insight: a lake surface superimposed on a rejoicing man; unfamiliar timeless crooked alleyways; last snows; imperious birds; metal rain barrels. One yellowed black-and-white photo showed grimy crumbling old-fashioned water-cistern buildings from the city’s industrial past. One simple artwork I recall from the exhibit not included in the booklet was a small nature shack with a wind-gust of stars connecting it to galaxies just above in the night sky.

A handout with the exhibit booklet was an advertisement for a two-day suburban “Going Green” conference working for “sustainable communities and farms.” Canvassing for Barack Obama one weekend in early autumn near an arts festival, I coincidentally knocked on the door of an organizer of this conference.

The project or image that connected with the widest and highest-pitched object emotion for me was the idea, from several sources and no source, of turning the Milwaukee River into an ancient water-way, like the Nile, that would revive boat transportation, in-town fishing, reedy wildlife, perhaps coffee-shops along the bank, a river lifestyle tied to the origins of civilization, ornamented with Japanese lanterns, but steered by a new awareness, an access for urban dwellers to a mysterious purifying escape that meandered vitally right below their overcrowded repetitive hustle and bustle. “The River” was a subject of conversations; impulses were felt, dreams were dreamt about the way a complex modern urban life-style might once again look to a river for its main source of interest and sustenance.

Amidst a stack of miscellaneous saved materials, newspaper articles, copies of “Rain Taxi,” catalogues for bygone film festivals, “Bloomsbury Review,” artworks for the Day of the Dead; I retained two valued publications, the May issue of “Riverwest Currents” from a revived working-class Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, in which the unexpected victories in aldermanic elections of Nik Kovac and Milele Coggs were reported. Kovac had wrapped up his campaigning at an open house for the one-year book co-op anniversary of People’s Books on Locust Street. The office was open because twelve-year alderman, Mike D’Amato, had decided not to run for reelection.

The other publication was from a group called “Milwaukee River Work Group.” Titled “Milwaukee’s Central Park: Land & Water,” the undated issue is called a “Vision Paper.” It’s vision is drawn up as:
Create a Central Park along the Milwaukee River upstream of North Avenue footbridge to Silver Spring Drive. Preserve the wild aspect of the natural area while improving the habitat. Improve water quality. Restore native plant species while removing non-native invasive plants. Improve public access to this urban natural resource.”

Among the excellent photos in this twelve-page newsprint tabloid-sized publication (distributed free in the window of People’s Books) was a front page birds-eye-view of a wooded section of the picturesque muddy-looking river with downtown skyline in the background. Inside, school-outing classes and fisherman were shown wading in the river, shallow in many areas, cleaning, catching turtles and even small sturgeon in benign nets. The most inspiring photos are from an article titled “River At Risk” with some interesting new living constructions along cement wharves and especially a large group of canoers enthusiastically paddling with the current on a scenic open-water section of the river.

Meetings of the Milwaukee River Work Group are called “Visioning Sessions.” Inside the May issue of “Riverwest Currents” is a report on an MRWG Mountain Bike Visioning Session for establishing a mountain bike path along the Milwaukee River. In the MRWG Central Park issue the lead article is headlined “Imagine…Milwaukee’s Central Park.” It begins
“You walk along the Milwaukee River on a recreational path winding six or so river miles from the city limits at Silver Spring Drive to the harbor at Lake Michigan; a soft pedestrian trail uniting suburban Glendale and Shorewood to their Milwaukee neighbors. This river path then zigzags through Riverwest, along Brewers Hill and the Beer Line B, past Park East through downtown and the Third Ward to the lake front. The cool river water bubbles over the rocks through a protected park bringing our neighborhoods and communities together.”

If only people could get into canoes and paddle back into time, seeing the river and its environs as Father Marquette and Father Joliet saw this area in the 1600s, perhaps, necessarily, in a way even more understanding than they, taking out the imbalance from their eyes.

* * *



Thrown into this exhilarating pluralist chalice, in early spring, was Otoliths Books release of a collection of Márton Koppány's visual works titled Endgames. Several superficial associations made Koppány's work seem a part of the collective visioning summer-session. Koppány, a native of Hungary visited Milwaukee long ago, where, so the legend goes, miraculously he met Karl Gartung and Anne Kingsbury immediately upon disembarking from the Greyhound bus and his works were on exhibit at Woodland Pattern soon after.



Endgames is visually similar to some of the “Seeing Green” photos. Also it adds the dimension of Koppány's experienced work with visual writing themes and ideas. Characteristically Koppány's works use punctuation marks, especially periods, colons, question marks, brackets, handwriting, parentheses, formally arranged in outlined rectangular spaces, similar to Freud’s ”Mystic Writing Pad” mentioned by Derrida in his discussion of the “scene of writing.” But for this collection Koppany has added pieces of photographic-style visibility that it seems to me are intended in general to symbolize the idea of reality. The works effectively remove dimensional barriers between language and nature. One work early in the book titled “The Proofreaders Garden” has a flock of scriptive markings flying in formation across evening skies above a terra firma represented by a single oversized on-center green period. The book-cover design is made up of three hand-crafted periods, an ellipsis of black-and-white. In a work titled “Odysseus,” a crouched surfer warily plies his way on a wave, ducking his head between two periods of a colon, one above, one below.



One notable work in Endgames, titled “Forecast,” like others part of a series of variations, is an outlined rectangular collage, starting with three panels: a bottom green panel, a partial black panel above and a partial cloud-photo panel above. The black panel seems to stand for a conceptual unknown, a darkness, not of mystery but of being blocked out, excluded, perhaps, by social or political power. The cloud panel seems to stand for the indisputable truth of reality. At the top of the work, like a heading, is the same ellipsis as from the cover, the three periods, only the one period in the reality panel is yellow and the two in the blocked-out panel are white, though in this work the colors (of the periods) do not seem particularly relevant. A series of small gray punctuation marks also comes down in the cloud reality panel like drops of rain. The most prominent aspect of the work is a green apostrophe (mark of possession) that is rising up out of the green bottom panel or foreground, like a whitecap, like the first-gatherings of a coming storm. It would seem, then, that the storm is in part due to the action of reality grinding away at the enforced darkness of social power, its instinctive imbalance. The green, averse to the divisiveness that mars the work's composition, acts similarly to reality. This prophetic work has appeared in several places on the internet.

There are many works in this loose collection--with screens in Andy Warhole-like quartered panels; with unarticulated or unarticulateable photographic visuals, sketched bridges, new-moon-periods, conceptual periods, the eiffel tower, brackets inside parentheses inside brackets (“The Secret“). Another of the standard Koppány-type works is outlined space, a “space of inscription,” a canvas, with brief sentences typed on it. Since we know that visual works commonly deal with logos, these sentences then should be more than mere words. They should be like laws or commandments or requisites, which seems to be the case. Though I liked these in Endgames I thought that similar works at the online journal “Eratio” in Koppány's e-collection Waves were better. In Waves, on page 7, inside a bordered space is the phrase, “a little time to solve it.” The next page is “a little time to accept it.” The next page is “a little time.” One series in Endgames I liked began with the shadowed text, “I must lose it to find it.” Some of the series have handwritten corrections, which stand for a less conceptual more actual and temporal writing. Some are blank space.

The sense I get from Koppány's works is a message of many scattered periods of varying validity, of ellipses, of periods substituting for discovery, the resistive tendency to impose a superficial grammar upon life’s inexorable flow, its deeper ever-moving structure. But there can be no stopping, even on the surface, as long as there are generic ellipses, major ellipses, missing words and missing content, on the level of equality and headings. For Freud, in dreams (mise en scene) speech is latent content. So that what these ellipses symbolize and what reality is working to bring about (symbolized in dreams) is more than a representation, more even than a text or logos, rather a “voice,” a person, an identity.

Koppány's works contain a wisdom or knowledge that is valuable in itself. But, as I stated previously, Endgames also relates to the environment, for it is the fears and apprehensions involved in human and social interactions, especially between often hostile nations, peoples, races, that produces these blocked-out spaces of darkness, this political power, this secret power that is the root cause of our disdain for and littering of the wonder-filled habitat of freedom in which we dwell.



* * *

Perhaps these notes sound irrelevant and insignificant. As the Che Guevara poster in the window of People’s Books implied, vision is a part of being realistic. Where would we be if the Wright brothers had given up plans for a flying machine and become successful shop keepers. The most impressive of man-made edifices, the ones so-called realistic people want most to claim for their side--television, AT&T, air travel for example--were all begun by idle eccentric minds. Even Capitalists have to be rejected by society before they can be considered authentic Capitalists. Perhaps this is less true than previously.

In any case, as the manic caffeine-enhanced elation of summer waned in August and September and the primaries and Presidential election began to take center stage, as Barack Obama’s own vision was elaborated, as years of corrupt unrealistic stock-market greed and the effects of abuse of its infrastructure began to spread in the financial world, as banks like Citigroup and companies like General Motors began to list and call for bail-outs from the government, as things began to look bad for everyone else, a strange thing happened. Probably the most unlikely vision of all of them, the vision of urban farming--tomato vines in front yards, gardens on garage rooftops, cold frames and aquacultures, heating with compost--put forth by an ex-pro basketball player named Will Allen and his little-known organization Growing Power on Silver Spring Drive inside the city limits, down the street from the National Guard base, received a "genius" grant from the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation for a half a million clams, greenbacks, simoleons, spondulicks. Amazing.

I had stopped in at Growing Power, with its colorful hand-painted Diego Rivera-like mural on its side, in summer. There wasn‘t much I could see of its two-acres without an appointment. A low, long breezy building, with many partitions, clotheslines, lunch tables, box elders, trailers in parking lot. A simple pipe-supported porch roof in front, sheltering vegetables and fruit on folding tables. It looked like a rehabilitated custard stand. Some kids hanging around. Potted trees. I caught a glimpse of animals being groomed in the back. Examined some small plastic bags of potent fertilizer. Bought some apples. Talked to a nice young Spanish girl at the cash register. Picked up some print-outs, took a couple of photos. That was before the grant was announced.

By the time poets David Meltzer and Michael Rothenberg arrived in October for their anticipated Woodland Pattern poetry reading, the Milwaukee River was somewhat forgotten. Wesleyan University had published Rothenberg’s fantastic collected poems of Philip Whalen, which contained such exciting reading. The weather was still warm and fine. As the two started out from the Plaza Hotel coffee shop with guide Chuck Stebelton for meetings and panel discussions, the sunlit mid-day air was one hundred percent clean and the sky unblemished azure. I had hoped to show Meltzer and Rothenberg the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church--locally dubbed "The Flying Saucer"--in South Milwaukee.

The way that visions relate to their fulfillment is complicated. Real dreams don’t come true all at once. Visions are abbreviated and exaggerated versions of reality. A fad can portend something that will be part of the future but go out of style itself. The tech bubble burst, but it was only a birth-pang of the great changes that technology is bringing--in low times, in high times. Nature-trails along a river, even the river itself may prove to have been a will-o'-the-wisp. It can be maddening. Being part of a bookstore cooperative, believing people need to be awakened, pumping your effort into an idea, talking about ecology or justice--it's like a Max Beckman artwork: an unhappy and discouraged, somewhat gross woman lying on her bed in a confiningly tiny room. The phlegmatic limits of disinterest can become nearly palpable.

Koppány portrays it well again and again in his Endgames artworks: A space of inscription that is entirely opaque (except for notation about email). An unbordered space with the words "it is too late." An ocean with a Salvador Dali moustache-boat adrift on its indeterminate middle. Panels of writing surface with a pencil or piece of chalk resting on them. A chair with three legs missing. The letter "a" submerged in water. A question mark with periods for eyes. It's easy to have visions, talk about them, work for them. Perhaps the hardest part is to know when they have arrived.



With some spare time before the Meltzer/Rothenberg reading, I parked at the Michigan lake front and jotted down some description.
Oct. 11, 2008

hazy evening
with the water moving
sailboats
slow-moving motor boats
bridge in the distance
hazy sunset
long breakwater forming a harbor
with a windowed lighthouse
evening, people bicycling
yelling in spanish
black soccer team picnic
park & recreation equipment
people at picnic tables, guy playing the guitar
young trees along the shore walkway
light green, yellow, orange, dark red sunset
art museum in the background
moon coming into view
warm October evening
joggers, strollers, roller skaters
dogs with families strolling
the last kite fliers of the day
soft drinks, snacks, ice cream, candy
"segways rollerblade and bike rental"
sight-seeing boat
wind socks hanging down
lights going on in the marina

(Then, of course there are poetry readings in January in the dead of winter, which are the opposite of visions, where either nothing is representation or everything is representation and the opening and closing of doors and quiet footfalls of attendees on wooden floors can be heard in distant lands and God himself sometimes shows up on a Saturday night just to hear some good poetry.)

*****

Tom Hibbard has had many poems, translations, reviews and essays published on and off line in places such as Word/For Word, Big Bridge, Fishdrum, Jacket, Otoliths, Milk, Cricket, Moria. A poetry collection, Place of Uncertainty, is available online at Otoliths Storefront. Bronze Skull published a chapbook of Hibbard's poetry in 2008 titled Critique of North American Space. A long piece on "Linear/Nonlinear" appears at the Big Bridge archive. Upcoming publications are a review of a Jacques Derrida tract in the spring issue of Jacket (reprinted from Word/For Word) and two poems in the online "Green" issue of Jack.