Reviews

A memoir of exchange

Michael Gottlieb and the praxis of essay

Are there passages I have marked, underlined, annotated, or starred in Memoir and Essay to return to, to quote, to point out to others? Insofar as the narrative evidences personal knowledge and judgment regarding others whom I have known and cared about, I want to hold it and let go of it at the same time, I want to know and to forget.

Writing the nothing that is

A review of 'Visiting Wallace'

Visiting Wallace, edited by Dennis Barone and James Finnegan with a foreword by Alan Filreis, is presented as a collection of seventy-seven poems “inspired by the life and work of Wallace Stevens.” That’s problematic, because Stevens mostly hid his life in his work. An elegy by John Berryman included in the book puts the matter this way: “Ah ha & he crowed good. / That funny money-man. / Mutter we all must as well as we can. / He mutter spiffy. He make wonder Henry’s / wits, though, with an odd // … something … something … not there in his flourishing art” (10).

On returning

A review of 'A Book of Unknowing'

The goal of a quest is often return: in John High’s A Book of Unknowing, a mute girl and a one-eyed boy move through a war-marked landscape, orphaned and adopted and orphaned anew. They seek to return not to pre-lapsarian purity but to the vivid articulation of “a brilliance of green across meadow in this / day when we find so much arrangement in myriad trees. Coming to terms with fine / bladed yellow grass” (99). That is, aware that “in order / to get out we have to go through / language,” the characters in High’s poetic sequence “come to terms” with the hardy arrangements underlying innocence and loss. Traveling the “wounded way / back to our beginning” (116), they return to an advanced childhood in which they parent themselves and forgive all, having found “how / a question might endure alive internal workings / in mutual air moving / toward a quiet believing and awe” (111).

This arrival is gorgeous, paradisiacal without the Billy Graham bromides of Beatrice browbeating Dante and that pilgrim’s attendant forgetting of earth. Rather, this arrival remains committed to the world High has been at pains to show, in which “sometimes what / we live in order to affirm / a truth” brings us ashore with scarred clarity. The book’s singular language permits its culminating vision, and High’s breathless neuro-cinematic syntax unifies his story and ideas. Yet the ambitious content at which High arrives is more than a linguistic effect: it shows a place not just made of the book’s guiding questions but made for them to continue in, allowing his readers, as well as his characters, to recover and retain “a sense of awe & condolence” (129).

A catalogue of poetics as community

A review of two Slack Buddha Press chapbooks

In the very place where the machine he must serve reigns supreme, [the worker] cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family through spending his time in this way.
— Michael de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

La Perruque Editions, the chapbook arm of Cincinnati publisher Slack Buddha, takes its name from philosopher and social critic Michael de Certeau. In his book The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau introduces the term “la perruque” to describe the act of individuals using company workspace, time, and materials to pursue their own creative endeavors — all while maintaining the appearance of working for their employer. It’s a humorously subversive name, one that speaks to the basic condition of many contemporary poets and visual artists (even as I type this now at my office, I’m glancing back over my shoulder to see if my boss is about to round the corner).

How surfaces can be tweaked and spun

A review of 'New Depths of Deadpan'

1.

Although I haven’t read it since I was fifteen, I vividly remember how the hero of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, a human being raised among Martians, was able to mentally take hold of anything — a bad guy, an ashtray, a car — and effortlessly turn it out of existence, so that it was “ninety degrees from everything else.” I had forgotten all about this until I was reminded of it on almost every page of Michael Gizzi’s New Depths of Deadpan. Lines begin someplace intelligible and just — turn, until they seem to be perpendicular to everything in existence. “These here blew in from the French / Revolution to stack up over this canary yellow hum cover” (29) Gizzi writes, or, “A popular corrective to self-focusing // would be love, and your beloved // a tugboat with a dab of Cornish hysteria” (62).