Reviews

'Like a postponed present'

Reading reality in Mandelstam's 'Voronezh Notebooks'

Osip Mandelstam’s mugshot after his second arrest by the NKVD, 1938. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In describing life under the Stalinist regime in Russia, Nadezhda Mandelstam writes in her celebrated memoir, “To lose one’s memory — provided it was an honest one — is to lose touch with reality.”[1] These words are especially profound from a woman famous for saving her partner’s words, the poems of Osip Mandelstam, by committing them to memory. And today, as we grapple with what it means to understand reality, Nadezhda Mandelstam’s words come to mind when not only memory ebbs, but facts themselves seem elusive.

In describing life under the Stalinist regime in Russia, Nadezhda Mandelstam writes in her celebrated memoir, “To lose one’s memory — provided it was an honest one — is to lose touch with reality.”[1] These words are especially profound from a woman famous for saving her partner’s words, the poems of Osip Mandelstam, by committing them to memory.

The posthuman humane

On James Pate's 'Flowers Among the Carrion'

Image at right courtesy of James Pate.

“Poetry tends to be smarter than philosophy and critical theory.” So writes James Pate in the terminal essay to his Flowers Among the Carrion: Essays On the Gothic in Contemporary Poetry. The occasion for this observation is a discussion of poetry’s relationship to materialism, especially as corporeal experience, simultaneously carnal and consciousness-haunted, constitutes the substance (as distinguished from the subject) of Feng Sun Chen’s work. 

“Poetry tends to be smarter than philosophy and critical theory.”[1] So writes James Pate in the terminal essay to his Flowers Among the Carrion: Essays On the Gothic in Contemporary Poetry. The occasion for this observation is a discussion of poetry’s relationship to materialism, especially as corporeal experience, simultaneously carnal and consciousness-haunted, constitutes the substance (as distinguished from the subject) of Feng Sun Chen’s work.

'Spastic messiah / erotic daughter'

On Petra Kuppers's 'PearlStitch'

Photo at left courtesy of Petra Kuppers.

“Initiate, I greet you. / Claim back the beloved’s bodies, for ourselves,”[1] Petra Kuppers writes in PearlStitch, her sensual, rhizomatic new book.[2] “We stand, and sit, and lie down my hand resting on your foot your hand in mine / head on shoulder” (51). Kuppers’s second full-length book of poems — which combines queer, crip, anticapitalist, anticolonial, and eco- poetics — intertwines ritual with epic, eros with documentation, and speculation with life writing. 

“Initiate, I greet you. / Claim back the beloved’s bodies, for ourselves,”[1] Petra Kuppers writes in PearlStitch, her sensuous, rhizomatic new book.[2] “We stand, and sit, and lie down my hand resting on your foot your hand in mine / head on shoulder” (51).

Haven't worked out the particulars

On instructions, position papers, and finding our way

Photo of Andrea Lawlor (right) by Steve Dillon.

Like so many of us who feel most at home in books, I’ve turned to books in Trump times. The one morning ritual that has stuck with me since November 9 is finding a poem over coffee that I can cling to for the rest of the day. I make it my guiding light, looking back on it throughout the day and receiving its text as instructions.

'The lip of a paragraph'

On Renee Gladman's 'Calamities'

Photo of Renee Gladman (left) courtesy of Wave Books.

On the last page of Renee Gladman’s Calamities is a thick line drawn upon its lower portion. Beginning from the leftmost part of the page, it extends out to the right where it is cut off by the righthand side of the page. The line is one of Gladman’s principal preoccupations; its depiction here, as one abruptly stopped by the edge of the page, seems to me to epitomize the unrepresentability of a line.

On the last page of Renee Gladman’s Calamities is a thick line drawn upon its lower portion. Beginning from the leftmost part of the page, it extends out to the right where it is cut off by the righthand side of the page. The line is one of Gladman’s principal preoccupations; its depiction here, as one abruptly stopped by the edge of the page, seems to me to epitomize the unrepresentability of a line.