Reviews

Wonky structures

On Alice Burdick's 'Book of Short Sentences'

Photo by Zane Murdoch.

Maybe Alice Burdick was beginning to get very tired. I don’t know. But the next to last poem in Book of Short Sentences is unlike anything else she’s ever published. The poem, “Don’t Forget,” is direct, uninhibited, and visceral.

There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life. — George Eliot[1]

Between the Devil and God

Li Zhimin’s 'Zhongalish'

Photo of Li Zhimin (right) courtesy of the Kelly Writers House.

Best known in China for his translations of J. H. Prynne into Chinese, poet and scholar Li Zhimin is known in the US primarily as a fixture at Chinese American Association of Poetry and Poetics conferences and as an editor of the poetics journal Espians. In his English-language book of poems, Zhongalish: Think and Feel Globally, Li continues his cross-cultural work by exploring the lyric subject as a linguistic construct, as well as examining the mutual influence of Chinese and American “avant” poetry practices generally.

'The government of love'

A review of Elizabeth Willis's 'Alive'

Image of Elizabeth Willis (left) courtesy of Kelly Writers House.

The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric. 

The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric. As the title suggests, the poem responds to an easily imagined questionnaire ranking priorities and concerns with a list of wishes and worries, two of perhaps the most private and maligned categories of our Just Do It culture in which both wishes and worries are judged as failures of will.

The joy at the heart of us

Elizabeth Willis's 'Alive: New and Selected Poems'

First of all, what would it mean to be fully alive? One thinks of the archetypal unicorn, the ever-present poet that can’t quite get enough of something, but what? In Lacanian terms, we might think joy, jouissance. In terms of Romantic literature, we might think love, or romance, or the spark of God that is, indeed, the last romantic that our world could know, now that we are moderns.

First of all, what would it mean to be fully alive? One thinks of the archetypal unicorn, the ever-present poet that can’t quite get enough of something, but what? In Lacanian terms, we might think joy, jouissance. In terms of Romantic literature, we might think love, or romance, or the spark of God that is, indeed, the last romantic that our world could know, now that we are moderns.

All volta

A review of Lyn Hejinian's 'The Unfollowing'

Image of Lyn Hejinian (right) by Gloria Graham, 2005.

The poems in Lyn Hejinian’s The Unfollowing are to the sonnet what the prose poem is to verse. They are fourteen lines long and, more importantly, poems of love and loss. In the press materials, Omnidawn publisher Rusty Morrison tells us that the poems are “a sequence of elegies” although “they are not sonnets but antisonnets.” 

Part 1: To close the streaming eye 

All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Marked by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim — such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way. 
Charlotte Smith, “Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening”