Elena Rivera, On the Nature of Position and Tone (Fields Press, 2012), 35 pp.; Linda Russo, picturing everything closer visible (Projective Industries, 2013), 15 pp.—Rivera and Russo unearth and re-investigate the culture/nature problem in distinct but similar ways. And this has to do with the ways that nature is constructed in these two chapbooks. In both, the natural comes into existence as an object of knowledge (however defined) only in relation to artifice—first and foremost, to their writings but also to their places of residence — and to the artificial structures of culture. Rivera, who lives in New York City, wrote her chapbook as a kind of “sensual response” to her one-month residency at Djerassi, a multi-disciplinary artist commune southeast of San Francisco.
Jackqueline Frost, The Antidote (Compline), 81 pp.—The spelling of the author’s name is “right,” that is, editorially, [sic], a disavowal of an intervention into the current norms governing given names. And the given is, in this articulation of a participant in the Oakland/San Francisco commune, a pre- Nonsite Collective, post-Occupy coalition of activists, compulsion and responsibility.
Harmony Holiday, The Negro Baseball League (Fence, 2011), 86 pp.—In some of her novels (e.g., Song of Solomon or Paradise), Toni Morrison reconstructs the infra- and super-structures of urban Negro culture after Reconstruction and during Civil Rights legislated integration. The failures of voluntary separatism-cum-Jim Crow segregation which, for Morrison, trump their successes (social and cultural, if not economic or political, independence), are largely, if not exclusively, gender-inflected. Specifically, one can read Morrison’s entire corpus, up to and including A Mercy and Home, as responding to the revamping of masculine, proto-patriarchal tendencies during the dream of black cultural nationalism. So what to make of Harmony Holiday’s dream encapsulated in The Negro Baseball League, a collection of free form (as in free jazz) poems that paint a somber vision of cultural separatism?
Joel Felix, Limbs of the Apple Tree Never Die (Verge Books, 2013), 90 pp. $15.00—Imagine that Russell Atkins had a child with Charles Olson, midwifed by Laura Riding. That might be Joel Felix. His first book is a moving meditation on the impossibility and necessity of poetry, on history as “enslavement without end,” and the possibility, however unlikely, that there remains, its brutalities notwithstanding, a truth-telling residue in language.
Mendi and Keith Obadike, Four Electric Ghosts (1913 Press, 2009, 2011), 189 pp.; Big House/ Disclosure (1913 Press, 2014), 102 pp.—Despite the first, rather interesting, thirty-four pages of storytelling, Four Electric Ghosts is essentially a catalog of what appears to be an Afro-Futurist-inspired opera, at least in terms of its setting and design (disclosure: I’ve not had the opportunity to see any of the Obadikes' theatrical productions).