Reviews

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”

Potential loss

What is the relationship between serial and elegy? What poetic form might accommodate the dailiness of grief without erasing or domesticating what has been lost? How might a poem lament the dead and honor the differences made by loss without foreclosing the possibilities that loss has made available? What potential does loss hold? Might poetry hold space for such potential?

Possibility is neither forever nor instant.
                                            It is not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy.[1— Audre Lorde

'It has a place for me as living'

On Susan Landers's 'Franklinstein'

Photo courtesy of Natasha Dwyer.

Franklinstein began as a mash-up of two classic US texts: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. It was an inspired move, to juxtapose the plainspoken, aphoristic words of a founding father with the modernist novel written by a Jewish, lesbian expat who sought to dismantle and redefine concepts of “the new world” and literature itself.

Grief and compensation in Sophie Cabot Black’s 'The Exchange'

Photo of author (left) by Alexander Black, courtesy of Sophie Cabot Black.

The ordering myth of Sophie Cabot Black’s The Exchange is that of Abraham and Isaac, from Genesis 22. The Lord asks of Abraham a sacrifice, in return for the promise of chosenness, a future. God demands Abraham kill his son Isaac as an offering to be burnt; Abraham is prepared to obey. At the last moment, an angel stays Abraham’s hand. Having passed the Lord’s test, Abraham is permitted to offer a lamb, instead of Isaac, as blood sacrifice. The story is traditionally read as a model of righteous submission through substitution: exchanging the animal for the child, one body for another body, a richer abstract future for a painful particular sacrifice, the symbol for the instantiation, the word for the deed. 

The ordering myth of Sophie Cabot Black’s The Exchange is that of Abraham and Isaac, from Genesis 22. The Lord asks of Abraham a sacrifice, in return for the promise of chosenness, a future. God demands Abraham kill his son Isaac as an offering to be burnt; Abraham is prepared to obey. At the last moment, an angel stays Abraham’s hand. Having passed the Lord’s test, Abraham is permitted to offer a lamb, instead of Isaac, as blood sacrifice.

Existence plus alphabets

'Meaning to Go to the Origin in Some Way' and 'Participant'

Think in stitches. Think in settlements. Think in willows. — Gertrude Stein[1]

How do poets make sense of landscape? Sense as in meaning, but also as in sensation, the lived experience of engaging with a particular tract of land at a particular time (day, season/weather, human dateline)? The two books here, based on living around and walking through 46.7325ºN, 117.1717º: The Confluence, South Fork Palouse River and Paradise Creek, Pullman, WA, USA, are exemplary, in freshness, thoughtfulness, and depth of engagement.