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BOOK REVIEWS 2

List of Reviews

 

When Language Goes Ñam-Ñam on Your Brain: Urayoán Noel’s Hi-Density Politics

Review by Jared Demick

 

Another Side of Vallejo: Against Professional Secrets

Review by Jared Demick

 

The Word-Gadzooking Bazooka-er: Edwin Torres’s Yes Thing No Thing

Review by Jared Demick

 

Anne Portugal’s absolute bob

Review by Felino Soriano

 

“The Noise That Stays News”: Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems

Review by Jared Demick

 

Sawako Nakayasu’s Hurry Home Honey: Love Poems 1994-2004

Review by Hayley Mollmann

 

Ruxandra Cesereanu & Andrei Codrescu’s Forgiven Submarine

Review by Felino Soriano

 

Peter Waterhouse, Language Death Night Outside: POEM. Novel

Review by Jared Demick

 

 

When Language Goes Ñam-Ñam on Your Brain:

Urayoán Noel, Hi-Density Politics

(Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX, 2010).

Review by Jared Demick

 

When I first set Urayoán Noel’s Hi-Density Politics

on my table, the book jittered.

Upon opening the cover,

my fingers were pulso-pulsed with vibrations

as jiggly palabras ¡KAPOWED! kinetic,

canonballing through the cerebro-cañon,

 

Politico-loco dazzle-tracts are what Noel serves con este libro,

diasporic flume-rides through español/French/English/computer,

pondering ¿Por qué? the city is de-sited yet desmasiado cited,

¿Por qué? the hug feels so bullety.

 

Noel’s previous libros, Kool Logic/La lógica kool (2005) y Boringkén (2008),

showed in interest in changing how we speak

pa’ que to change how we walk por el mundo,

 

but Hi-Density Politics es más unhinged, más shazam-a-bam,

Noel doesn’t walk, he hopscotches

on el mar de grammar,

free-riding on the syntactickling omnibustle,

offering sobresaliente salient zest-thoughts.

Check out this bit from “hi-din sites”:

“we’re mute instruments

din from within

as energy, as instincts of a specious species

per di do en el es pa cio

es paz en el caos

is the “s” that never plurals

is the dry-erase mural

that remains

the shared singular of sing

the continente’s ting

counting gente”

 

Noel juggles tantos styles:

 

En “trill set”, he speaks Vallejo’s poems

into voice-recognition software set to English.

con absurdly sabrosos results:

“If cleanliness me being a bully

any idea Nice Mono Sun and violence without

a worm by them I inevitable guileless glucose

deporting on East Muslin us he owned Mark Chelsea”.

 

Then there’s “me, o poem! (a cameo poem)”,

con its tech-obsessed palindromes:

“ME DO MODEM

LOAN AOL

EL GOOGLE”.

 

There is also “african noel.coachella valley snow,” a found poem;

“guánica,” which was made from a BlackBerry’s voice notes function;

& a number of self-translations from Spanish y French.

 

Sin embargo, the most hubbubbling poems

took the form of call-&-responses 

como “the commonest many fester,”

poems that don’t want to only be eye-candy,

pero wish to be performance-projectiles también.

 

 Este libro ain’t no Babel, it’s rabble-

rousing meant to ñam-ñam

on the coagulated idiotologies mierda-frying our lives.

 

 

Another Side of Vallejo:

Against Professional Secrets, Trans. Joseph Mulligan

(New York: Roof Books, 2011).

Review by Jared Demick

 

Against Professional Secrets offers English-only book-gobblers

 an opportunity to catch sight of Vallejo

outside his heavily-mythologized habitats

of Trilce & Poemas humanos.

 

In these scrambled strands of jotted thoughts,

Vallejo’s no longer the convolution-contortionist of uni-verses,

he’s also a man deep in soul-jujitsu with his social context,

probing his mushrooming aversion to Europeeing avant-gardism

& his Catholic devotion to the Marxmens’ vanguardism.

 

These notes could also be called A Peruvian in Paris,

for Vallejo feels that his Peruvianess

has no place in Europe’s noose-hold on the Earth.

The poet that couldn’t wait to leave provincial Peru

can’t stand the cosmuckpolitan “Old World,”

leaving him to be a floating exile waiting

for the recipe to a ¡Utopia Now!,

an outta-sight Jeztzeit, an Eden Redux.

 

Interesting though how little of Europe appears

in these notes. Like in his poetry,

Vallejo quickly pogos into the abstract.

The result is a Frankenstein-funked up mishmash

of directionless politics

(what exactly is “the free and universal triumph of life”?)

and cryptickling poetry

(“I know a man who used to sleep with his arms.

One day they amputated them and he stayed awake forever.”)

Ironically, while Vallejo fights for universal

comprehension and understanding,

his writing works best when it offers brain-bafflers,

when it approaches the abyss-squawk of his poetry.

 

Joseph Mulligan’s translations caress Vallejo’s Spanish,

but he wisely refuses to let Vallejo’s ghost give out orders.

Instead, he sleuths out the scoop in the Spanish

& then makes estas palabras resonate in English.

He even finds correlations in connotations

between the languages. For example,

un sol a medias changes costume into half-baked sun,

a richer phrase than the literalist slavery of halfway sun.

 

While the rushed, unfinished atmosphere

of many of the jottings in Against Professional Secrets

might not always have the same razzle-dazzle as Vallejo’s poems,

this volume helps U.S. poetry gourmands

understand that Latin American poetry

has contexts outside of Pablo Neruda’s

placement on a Barnes & Noble shelf,

that poets like Vallejo were conflictingly responding

to contemporaneous social pressures, not only fashioning

“exotic” pieces meant to spice up future anthologies.

 

 

The Word-Gadzooking Bazooka-er: Edwin Torres, Yes Thing No Thing

(New York: Roof Books, 2010)

Review by Jared Demick

 

Edwin Torres is a cyclowning centerfugue

fulla Romanticker-tape

pararaids that loogey logic,

pogo on the logos,

cheverote palabra-ha-ha pegote, sabes?

 

Actually, he’s Edwin Tour-es:

“Next stop the word stampede.

Unbuckle your seatbelts!”

 

In Yes Thing No Thing, Torres

amps the shenaniganing,

boca-rockin’ it y’all!

The book tensely oscillates betwixt

abstract, brain-cannot-eye-it thought-streams

& squiggle-squark pop of sound sparklers,

collectively zooming into

glossy-O-lalicking

palabra-vistas.

 

Torres does sketch out stories,

but he’s at his best when

gadzooking words,

goosing them,

gandering them,

panda-unbearably flaring them

into gyrating matrices going

¡BoNk!

on the noogeyed noggin’.

 

¿The highlights?

“Oh Water Man” & “Futopo”,

riverrun rapid voz-flows

that demand to be read aloud

so the words writhe through the air

like sound-wavy pollen,

an AuroarAHH!!! Borealust

of the imagination.

 

 

 

Anne Portugal, absolute bob, Trans. Jennifer Moxley

(Providence: Burning Deck, 2010).

Review by Felino A. Soriano

 

“bob (joker, operator, bundle of energy?) is let loose in the circuits  in the manner of a video game.  He tests the ways a poem inhabits sense or nonsense, speeds or slows, slides into forms or undoes them.”  From the book’s back cover, written by Xavier Person

 

Conceptually, absolute bob is completely neoteric to this reader.  The structured electricity of each poem|chapter is predicated on understanding the unraveling disposition of each piece of writing; ultimately, the reader must begin at the genesis of understanding existential need to investigate surroundings, wholly:

 

“Now that he has popped

up on the earth

cause til now he’s

the last one to watch

 

and dig nothing but

sky found below and

inside the column

the lift off

of working this way

to have them at hand

the house floorplan

which you’d better be aware of”

 

from chapter 1, page 7

 

you’d better be aware of is a prophetically angled teaching and gives alert to the conceptual nuances and gradating themes of this collection of poetry.  Established other thematic energies are laced throughout each poem in addition, namely lack of traditional punctuation (which lends to the altering transition into experimental subjectiveness this book holds very, very well) to the scarcity of vernacular used to divulge movement and ambulatory status; the often short-existence of various lines accounts for suspense; but too, delivers something akin to understanding that the character can become lost, thus pauses to investigate where to travel, and why.

 

The volumes last chapter highlights the poet’s musical dexterity:

 

“Right now he only has two basins filled with water

at three-quarters of an hour from two rivers

the remainder of the volume outside the sphere

he made a note of the place

of the air of the water

gigantic expansion

and interruptions

far fewer now”

Chapter 24, page 115

 

absolute bob is well-developed; it is a volume of poems that are not indiscriminately collocated with non-related foundations of thought, as many modern poetry collections sponsor.  A coherency is present, which is the causational focus of being posited as an interesting and very interactive display of slyness and attention to engage the reader.  As Xavier Person keenly analyzes “a poem inhabits sense or nonsense”, and each poem promisingly displays both portrayals, creating poetry deserving adequate confabulations.  

 

 

“The Noise That Stays News”:

Charles Bernstein, Attack of the Difficult Poems

(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011).

Review by Jared Demick

 

Charles Bernstein’s latest book of essays, Attack of the Difficult Poems, is a hootenanny of a smorgasbord, approaching poetics from many directions. These directions include, among others, teaching poetry outside the confining parameters of the creative writing workshop or the memorize-the-Canon survey class, investigations into the ghosts of sound/voice still Caspering around written poems, the avant-garde and popular culture’s connections in second wave modernism, the legacy of Jewish culture in poetry; alternative forms of translation, and a mock recantorium of his poetics.  What bonds these diverse concerns is the contention that difficult poems are the only poems worth fighting for/about.

 

Bernstein’s prose has an unpretentious wisdom that offers ironic jokes and provocative questions rather than fist-shakingly-sure answers. He’s less, “THOU SHALT DO THIS!!” and more, “Hey, this is going on, why don’t we talk about it?” At its best, his prose has a searching playfulness in which each sentence reinvents or undercuts the previous one. A great example is the start of his talk “Poetry and/or the Sacred”: “Every time I hear the word ‘sacred’ I reach for my checkbook. Every time I reach for my checkbook I get a warm glow that haunts me with the flow of international capital. In God we trust—all others need a major credit card. I’ll give you credit for that—just don’t bank on it. Is nothing sacred anymore? Of course nothing is sacred: some things never change. But I’d put it this way: at least nothing is sacred.

That’s a start. Either nothing is sacred or everything is. If the sacred is the hot air inflating a poem, it doesn’t mean that poem won’t fly, though just as likely it may snore. Now is the allusion there to a blimp or a Blimpie’s. No more priests—in every sigh of every woman, child, and man. Not something to rise up but something in which to descend, a gravity Simone Weil talks about that is a condition for grace” (171).  Here’s Bernstein-to-the-Max: ironically and campily tossing out puns on clichéd expressions, a clown twisting empty phrases into shapes that suddenly articulate significant insights. This is what makes him such a compelling essayist: he not only questions social and aesthetic phenomena, but also the ways in which he voices those questions. Bernstein constantly emphasizes, what he termed in “Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form” (an essay from an earlier collection), communicative action over communication behavior. As a result, when reading these essays, my eyes never told my brain, “We’ve seen all this stuff before!”  

 

For Bernstein, poetry and poetics are collective endeavors requiring constant conversation for sustenance. This is most potently expressed in his hyperawareness of the tangled connections between historical and contemporary poets. In “A Blow is like an Instrument: The Poetic Imaginary and Curricular Practices,” he declares, “[a]rtworks are not just monuments of the past but investments in the present, investments we squander with our penurious insistence on taking such works as cultural capital rather than capital expenditure” (8). Whether he’s addressing homophonic translation practices, literary hoaxes, or the implications of the Greek alphabet’s creation, poetry’s past becomes fertile ground for invention (as opposed to innovation’s “Go, go, go!” amnesia), the only anodyne in a contemporary culture that has come to accept instant obsolescence as it’s defining condition.

 

The other way to relieve this condition is to concentrate on how we say things. In “The Art and Practice of the Ordinary,” Bernstein states: “normalcy of language (that is to say, standardization) is not a natural fact of human beings but a highly controlled social institution to which people are forced to conform. If you wish to unlearn normalcy, you will seek a level of inarticulateness which is very ordinary. Inarticulateness, stuttering, oddness are parts of the most ordinary experience, and in poetic language they may refuse coherence” (179). According to him, poems aren’t difficult because they love to superiorly lord over the reader. They’re difficult because they include aspects of everyday life that rarely reach the page. Shack up with a difficult poem, Bernstein says: the relationship will be intense, but lovely. For my part, I suggest shacking up with this book of brain-pilates essays.

 

 

Sawako Nakayasu, Hurry Home Honey: Love Poems 1994-2004

(Providence: Burning Deck, 2009).

Review by Hayley Mollmann

 

Sawako Nakayasu’s best poems in this volume are the ones whose weight rests on verbs or prepositions.  She sometimes leaves letters off words, or words off sentences, or punctuation off paragraphs—resulting in beautifully breathless passages that communicate not exactly love but a frantic, passionate, need to make and maintain connections.

 

Hurry Home Honey is divided into three sections, and the first, “Balconic,” is thematically the strongest, with a motif of balconies as objects that can connect or divide two people.  There is some beautiful imagery here; from scenes of weddings on balconies to the human body as a balcony.  Nakayasaku uses a lot of surrealism; which often works for me and adds depth and meaning to the poetry, but quite a lot of the time I’m simply left not knowing what to make of the surrealism.  When I read, “Door #2 / Nine thousand Romand soldiers,” I just don’t know what to do with that.

 

“Clutch: hockey love letters” is also a mixed bag.  It contains some more of the breathless, run-on poems that are the jewels of this collection, but it also has some poems that attempt to use brackets and lines in its typography, which don’t quite work for me.  “Crime to be Quick” seems to lack a theme, and has poems that are more spaced out, less desperate, and they’re not as strong as some of the previous poems.  However, there are also some standout prose poems in this section.

 

A lot of material here meant nothing to me.  (Though, it may very well speak to someone else.)  But the pieces that did say something to me were charged with urgency and powerful (surreal) meaning of what it takes to overcome the distance between people.

 

 

Ruxandra Cesereanu & Andrei Codrescu, Forgiven Submarine,

Trans. Andrei Codrescu

(Boston: Black Widow, 2010).

Review by Felino A. Soriano

 

In his introduction to Forgiven Submarine, Mircea Cărtărescu writes “This poem is moving like a soap opera and fascinating like copulation.  It is a confrontation between yin and yang, between aggressive masculinity that hides its candor, and feminine reticence that compensates with cold fury.”  This description, one of opposing but naturalized apposition is an epitomizing aspect of unabridged accuracy.  For introspectively, searching for metaphor as to what submarine truly exists as, is a foundational characteristic not only contingent upon the reader’s willingness to explore, but also, it is fundamentally examined as a necessary role.

 

Prior to delving into the written aspects of this book—an element of creative pressure caused immediate interrogation: the collection’s cover art; a painting by Radu Chio, so overwhelmingly attacking of the visual faculty, I found an immediate and joyous response, elongated.  The cover art expresses sentiment of Cărtărescu’s description of opposing forces existing in unison, and is a beautiful contribution to the written dynamics contained within. 

 

The language in Forgiven Submarine is exploratory through explanatory logic, composing uncovering attributes in the metaphysical sense, relaying environment with vernacular that is near apparitional, and therefore hitherto, unseen:

 

“one day while combing my hair I heard the clock in the tower

and my hair changed into feathers

I was in love that day and the clock tower tolled loudly

and loudly beat my heart and my feathers were shiny and black”

pg. 69

 

Repose of fluidity exists across the spectrum of the volume.  The language is like a hand whose purpose is ongoing caress, teeming with affection but not overtly contextual in the purpose or imagined preconceived assumption of its touch.  Perhaps this is what I enjoyed most about this volume: the ability to allow the reader to

 

“wake up from the unearthly and the uncanny

come here into the real presence of the now and here:’

page 91

 

 

Peter Waterhouse, Language Death Night Outside: POEM. Novel,

Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop

(Providence: Burning Deck, 2009).

Reviewed by Jared Demick

 

Peter Waterhouse’s POEM. Novel is a word-machine propelled by repetition. It’s a word-machine propelled by the need to say everything just right. It’s a word-machine propelled by the need to stop words’ evasive maneuvers. Yet, like Gertrude Stein, the repetition’s no fascist-freak, techno-beat BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. It’s because each sentence is doubt-plagued, unsure if it got it right the first time. The eternal fretting over the unsaid.

 

There are some narrative traces here, but it’s really a battle-royale: Word vs. World. Waterhouse observes how the brain refuses to be language-encased. The breathless robot sentences swarmsquall around a topic, each one tiger-lurking closer and closer until the topic couldn’t possibly escape...until it somehow does. The metastasizing sentence-spread shows language’s jealousy of the world’s ability to simply be, to not have to stand in for something else all the time.

 

Waterhouse’s philosophical plumbings come up with meaty poetry. A stark, freshly starched lyricism quietly resides within the herky-jerky: “The leaf changing color against the evening sky said: splinter in the discoloring evening sky; yellow leaf for the long night; headlights awaiting the morning sun; leaf sign for good days; leaf blown by the wind, for the sky too is a leaf.” Waterhouse’s poetry doesn’t need to Mardi Gras-gyrate before our eyes; instead, it evokes how the everyday world constantly touches you with its presence. Receding moments leaving inscrutable glyphs.

 

In fact, the everyday is this POEM. Novel’s beloved hero. Moments blur into moments blurring into moments, etc. Due to the book’s shifting perceptual fields and its language-heaps (to borrow the title of a Robert Smithson drawing), it invites other reading methods besides front cover-to-back cover. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been dropping into Language Death Night Outside at random points, reading a few pages, and reemerging invigorated by the intense contact with the ordinary. Such contact is disconcertingly rare these days.

 

The Jivin' Ladybug- A Skewered Journal of the Arts
 
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