Of Jerry’s many works, there is one that in spite of being just a very small fraction of all his books was key for my own experience as a reader.
Anthologies are, with different degrees of intensity, the creation of a new field made out of preexisting elements; for the most part they define anew what was there before. Only once in a while an anthology can change not only what we know about poetry but the way we read beyond its own selection. Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Europe & Asia is that occurrence, a turning point that made visible what wasn’t before. Even more than an anthology it’s the blue print for a strategy, one that works his complexity up from multiple poetics to present at the same time, and without ever taking them apart, the particular and the whole.
Nothing can quite prepare readers for The Book of a Thousand Eyes, just out from Omnidawn. This is Hejinian’s largest scale book – yet it reflects the kind of intimacy – and affective and affecting charm – I associate with all her work. One key frame of the book is dreams – and there are many poems that have the quality of dreams – whether made-up or created in sleep – whose to say the difference? – Hejinian seems to say over and again. She also alludes to the Arabian Nights, as she has done before – tales that lead to more tales without closure. There is a great range of thinking in these poems; many topics are taken up, poetics figures significantly. The book is as much a primer in the possibilities of the imagination as an enactment of the imagination. Nonetheless, the poems are tightly formed, impeccably constructed, with a tonal precision and continuity that remains one of Hejinian’s hallmarks. I will be reading this book for years to come.
Robert Fitterman's Holocaust Museum (Veer Books, 2011) is composed of sets of captions from photographs in The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The absence of the images has a powerful effect, evoking the erasure of a people and a culture through the Systematic Extermination Process. Over the course of Fitterman's book, lists become litanies, with intricate and horrific repetitions rippling through what simultaneously seems like dryasdust clippings. Fitterman's work is exemplary in its apparently inexpressive, understated approach. Page after page of catalog entries without photographs, names without faces, deeds without doers creates a work more chilling than the original installation, from which the captions are derived. Loss – erasure and absence – is made palpable by the marked suppression of the missing photographs.
The problems with representations "after Auschwitz" are well-rehearsed, hovering, like an angry hornet, around the crisis for representation posed by this particular series of catastrophic events and processes. Images, no matter how disfigured, mask the unseen, unspoken, and inexplicable but always -- here's the hardest part -- imaginable, reality: imaginable in consequence of being real. Imaginable yet ungraspable. Imaginable yet apparently out images' reach. Imaginable because we have no choice but to imagine, no matter how resistant our imaginations may be to the task. Imgined, in other words, through the not that Adorno called negative dialectics.