Poets Without Products
Wherein the reader complaints about what is and what isn’t, in equal measure and to no real effect.
I get many books in the mail. Mostly shiny, mostly fine. Fine as in that which is levied against those who have committed an infraction. Or a felony. It must be something more than a misdemeanor that I am being held for, because otherwise there is no telling why I receive these fine volumes. Some are truly heart-breaking, Lulu-sized tombstones, if tombstones were inverted so that the inscriptions were what was interred, and the bodies, thankfully, lie outside. Tombstones as in that which provokes, shamelessly, sentiment teared sure as a thumb in the eye. I am not sentimental by nature, including human, but there is something somewhat touching about the diligence with which poetry is produced en masse. By the multitudes, that is. In blocks, that is. Suitable for framing. Touching as in also touched, framing as in set up to take the fall. My lament at this surfeit of feeling—always feeling, ever feeling—the mailbox fairly palps with perception—is matched by my sadness at the ones not yet. Those fetal samples that one wishes would hurry hurry hurry into adulthood, sometimes involving a difference only in size. By which I most decidedly do not mean that chapbooks are partial-objects, or even shorter versions of books they may or may not become, but that they are caught in a paradox, for the form is yet unformulated. There are a fistful of chapbook prizes, and some rightly see chaps (like short stories) as the difficult dive made more difficult as coming off the low platform. To me, there is something in the institutional form of the chapbook that is anti-product in that market way. Not many of any particular one will be made, most will be given away, and they are frequently unconsidered in the consideration of the poet résumé, or the odd inclusion of a minor credit in the short-form bio. Given that I have now established my sentimental bona fides, here are some of the latter,* a brief list of chaps and less than chaps—poetical non-products which will make us all happier, just a little, and more determined to do better, if only by way of the well-placed wolf-whistle and non-idiotic flatters of applause.
Amanda Ackerman, The Seasons Cemented (Hex Presse 2010, chapbook) A series of seasonal poems, aseasonally written (“Spring Poem Written in Autumn,” “Summer Poem Written in Winter,” “again, an Ignored Equinox (Spring into Summer)”, etc.) Everything one might want in a year’s worth of poems, cyclically put, plus buckets of fun. I.e., great lines: “Is that my face on someone else?” (“Winter Poem Written in Autumn”); great sequences: “And you hate filing. / And this had no mystery. / And you are greedy because you drew attention to yourself in public.” (“Winter Poem Written in Summer”); and good, clean epistemology: “I am so scared of the winter—or I used to be, when there was nothing to” (“Winter Poem Written in Autumn”). Amanda is somewhat quiet by nature, though not, as it turns roundly out, by Nature. More should be known of the work of Amanda Ackerman by more others and their others.
Divya Victor, Sutures (LRL e-editions 2009, chapbook) What scales do best is tip; the series here includes plenty of tipping, from “Doe, a deer / now when you pull up you will see pattern that is created. our goal now is to duplicate the pattern all the way down the wound…,” to “…one can learn to carry a forequarter easily by holding below the shank so that the full weight of the quarter is on because it finds herein the guidelines and thus this solves the problem identified in the figure blooming below / Tea, a drink with jam and bread.” As in life, no one gets out alive, though many will make much of the riff-raff, ruffle and raffle along the way (“it was said: please assume the brace position”). Victor’s work, of which I am a fan in the sense of adding mostly tippets of wind and tendrils of gasoline, is uniformly brutal and not without beauty. Actuarial, that is to say, in the best sense.
Carol Watts, This is Red (Torque Press May 2009, chapbook) A sequence of eight poems about surveillance and subsequent retinal saturation, circulating around a single CCTV that other things, like us, circulate around. I first met this collection at the Women’s Innovative Poetry & Cross-Genre Work Festival (University of Greenwich, July 2010), where the text was presented with a video piece taken from a/the CCTV. The particulars, such as people faces and plate faces were pixilated for privacy, which had the visual equivalent of putting the universal in the particular. The poems themselves have a similar pixilated sense, popping between the individual, often distinguished by what one cannot know or see from the public perspective (“You do not see the gold filling in his molar, or that her roots need retouching now she is grey.”), and the indiscriminate, often noteworthy by its similarly grasping attempts to make sense (“They are white and impossible to trace a favourite combination of letters & numbers.”). Collapsing most (un)naturally into the clutch of too-much sensation (“Where they cross there is shimmer, glitched emotion, as if you own it all. You do, don’t you.”).
Joseph Mosconi, But On Geometric (Insert Press June 2010, chapbook) Calligrammes meets Geometry I, with all the pleasures and forehead-slapping suggested thereby. The best pieces are slights of hand and mind, where the geometric diagrams are considered and refigured replete with puns and bleating signification. All are nice to look at, all sport lil’ Nina-like insider highlights. Mosconi also has a new book that turns Creeley to Word Search (OMG!, July 2010), proving he is a poet in play. But On Geometric is part of Insert Press’s very fine Parrot series, which includes a raft of interesting Southern California writers. There are thus far six Parrots, all proud and pretty birds, happy to perpetuate the tradition of chapbook as art object.
Ariel Goldberg, The Questions (leaflet by Ariel Goldberg September 2010) A crude Kinko’d booklet handed to me on the Sunday of the Bay Area Labor Day 2010. In the true spirit of show, don’t tell, Goldberg gleaned the texts from anonymous questions posed to members of PFLAG (Parents and Family for Lesbians and Gays) by international students at a corporate language school. The 34 questions are often linguistically and culturally awkward (“Does your friends know? Where do you like your partner?”), splaying too much of not knowing enough and the punctum-point of wanting to know (“How do you understand their mind?”), and no more (“When someone looked them how they feeling? Good or Bad? Why? (If feel bad.)”). And, as these things tend to do, the collapse (again—oh, there is a theme, or at least an Ariadne-type thread) of the human exception (“Do they mind peculiar judgment?”) into the rule (“How do you find your lover? How to proclamation to the person who you love?”). Apparently the work was rejected as a chapbook by a queer-themed chapbook series, which goes to show how some people can’t see the wood for the trees. (Nb: Would also make an excellent series of postcards to indisputably arrive at their destinations.)
Mairéad Byrne, performance of Har Sawlya. (Heard at Greenwich festival July 2010, series of sound recordings with projected text) Taken from a work-in-progress, a growing set of Byrne’s homophonic/sound translations of Irish poems by Máirtín Ó Díreáin (1910-1988), with English reading directions put to the side: “querrida wirra [sigh] // on ole ditcha wirra ̴ [exasperated] / caw rock imm leena ↑ / egg ear-a faskeah leh duh lanav nayofa—”). Ó Direáin’s poetry celebrates traditional life on the Aran islands (Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer) on Ireland’s west coast; Byrne’s project is to keep the celebration going via animation. Byrne’s performance was lush and gravely, production purely by way of presentation, not object. At least not yet.* Though I sorely ache for there to be, for these were unabashed things of unabashed beauty. From sound to the sense of sound to the wry asides which lent the air of the sense of sense itself, it was a glorious moment for Greenwich and Galway and all tongues who would lay it on.
So from large Lulu-square type things with staples in the middle to letterpressed thick cream covers to words tossed from mouth to ear to this kind of mouth-to-mouth invigoration, the non-product proves its non-product productivity. Or, more accurately, its utilitarian inutility. Not that it needs me. I’m just standing here to cheer the market-useless. It is nice to be enthusiastic. We feel much better about ourselves. Or at least you do, and, thereby, me too. And really, what is poetry for if not self-edification, and what is self-edification for if not the soothing of the itch of one’s solitary suffering, and what is solitary suffering for if not to provoke a gentle lapping lineated chorus of “there, there.”
There, then, there.
* Ranked by chance and a bit of whimsy.
* She is recording all 30 tracks recorded by Ó Direáin in 1969 for Gael Linn. I.e., there may be a book and CD, just book, just CD, or some multimedia recombinatory.