Mark Scroggins, Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles (The Cultural Society, 2011), 42 pp., $15.00; Red Arcadia (Shearsman Books, 2012), 82 pp., no price listed---Scroggins takes no prisoners in these two books that collect some of his most incinerating blasts (I also recommend Anarchy, his 2003 Spuyten Duyvil book). Although John Zorn is the putative inspiration for Torture Garden, the rancor, to say nothing of the volume, of these tight, compact poems (five words per line, seven lines per poem) belie their size and remind me of some of the soundscapes of John Giorno. But there is more than rancor here. Like Ralph La Charity, Scroggins is attentive to the consonantal force of American English, especially its Anglo-Saxon line, and exploits it with relish. Here are the last four lines of the title poem: “crumbling cinders forearms hands and knuckles/of shadows with hollow eyes/crowds against the bounds white/flesh diamonded against chain-link fencing.” (p. 16) Uncluttered for the most part by articles or prepositions, these quartz-hard poems, dedicated to critics, poets (full disclosure: including yours truly) and friends, offer sustained criticisms of our policed and self-policed states. “Speedfreaks,” one of his New York City poems, sums it, which is to say us, up: “Panglossian crystal six-sided world breath/ blooms white in the air/open herringboned cobbles hyperexpensive rattle/of baby carriages dogs forced/into jackets wedged in cabs/four-to-a-seat Horebor of Sinai/sirens Hasidim on cell phones.”
Laura Elrick, Propagation (Kenning Editions, 2012), 103 pp. $14.95—Somewhat after the manner of Rusty Morrison’s the true keeps calm biding its time, Laura Elrick’s Propagation deploys repetition with a difference to mimic the shifting structures of trauma. However, Elrick, drawing on the rhetoric of art, poetics, media and psychiatry, expands the field. Trauma is here the internalization of normative development, the ways the different, the other, the disturbing—in short, violence—is absorbed and domesticated. Specifically, Elrick’s “affective physics of discourse” explores, at the level of the poetic line, word and syllable, the socio- and psycho-linguistics of the “turn” to affective criticism in recent years (I’m thinking in particular of Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings).
Ralph La Charity, Farewellia a la Aralee (Dos Madres Press, 2014), 53 pp.—In the vatic trajectories from Whitman that inform significant figures of modern USA poetry—Ginsberg and Dorn, Olson and Eshleman, etc.—Ralph La Charity has made a place for himself as a Cincinnati-based raconteur-cum-surrealist. From early works like the scathing Seatticus Knight (Black Heron, 1985) to more recent self-published chapbooks flawed man drowns (2010/11) and beneath each Us & All (2011), La Charity has served up his exuberant, often exorbitant, blend of nonlinear neologisms and pun-riddled yawps. He has co-founded and performed in jazz/performance poetry bands and recorded his work on records and cds. Farewellia brings all his varied skills together. The first half of the book, dedicated to the memory of Midwest/Southern poet/film-maker Aralee Strange, compiles poems composed and performed (a cd is included with the book) by La Charity, some of which are culled from the aforementioned book and chapbooks and some of which are, in the best sense of the term, occasioned by the memorial.
Mel Nichols, Bicycle Days (Slack Buddha, 2008), 32 pp. $6.00—I meant to write about this modest but compelling chapbook when I was reading through Hank Lazer’s 2002 Lavender Press book, Days. Lazer’s book is a different kind of travelogue/journal, and so the differences between his and Nichols’ work were interesting. Bicycle Days is less “ironic” than some of Nichols’ more recent, dare I say “flarfy,” performances, but as the term “modest” hints at, her more recent work has a confidence and force that is largely absent from this chapbook. That’s not a criticism.
Emily Abendroth, NOTWITHSTANDING shoring, FLUMMOX (Little Red Leaves Textile Editions, 2012), 26 pp.—Tempted as I might be to read this as a screed, I want to emphasize, at least at first, its formal qualities. Specifically, Abendroth deploys a kind of send-up of the Socratic Method, statements and responses (vertically opposed on the same pages in the first part and horizontally opposed across the recto and verso pages in the second part). But this description belies the shifting rhetorical and syntactical registers on the same page, in the same stanzas, and often enough, within the same sentences. The thrust of the book is broadly ecological, both animal and human, marine and land. At the same time it is also a critique of science, of culture, of, that is, ideology: “The specimen thought, this is how important it can be to posterity/ to make an anomaly conform.” (9) Although she starts with the abuse and destruction of marine and animal life, Abendroth, in the second half of the book, yokes together experimental formalism and social conformity (“This was the trickery of parataxis, the charade of proximity as pure equivalency”), economic crises and the “health” of racial stereotyping (“Although the stocks collapsed, Tynisha remained inflated. Elated even.”), so that the sentence serves as a microcosm of the formal strategies that organize the book as a whole.