This has been a great week for books, awful week for health. I’ve been down with some form of virus. Literally down. This morning I was on the floor for a half hour because of a nosebleed. Too much antihistamine. My nose had dried out so much it fell off. I had to glue it back on. I listened to Patrick Simonin interview Ed Norton at the Cannes film festival while I waited for the glue to dry.
Four books arrived during the week. Rather than wait to review them individually, which would take some months, I thought I’d go ahead and discuss them as a group. That takes a lot of weight off. It doesn’t feel so much like a huge homework assignment. And I can get word out much quicker.
The first to arrive was Brian Lucas’s Circles Matter published by BlazeVOX [books]. This is a relatively slim volume of 94 pages. The poetry is rich in phantasmagoria. Lucas is a neo-surrealist in the manner of Will Alexander and Andrew Joron. His language differs from Alexander’s lexical richness and trance-like splendor. It feels more deliberate, more precise, a little closer to Joron’s highly concentrated word play. Like Joron, Lucas’s poesis seems to have some of its roots in science fiction, two-headed machinic assemblages rotating in all directions.
Lucas constructs worlds “imbued with meaning, and physical dimension,” but with the flavor of phantasm , “images of cities and ghosts,” places outside time, places that aren’t geographic at all but seem “startled out of ordinary mind.” The Coleridge of “Kubla Kahn” comes to mind, and Tarkovsky’s Stalker, in which Stalker brings two clients to a site known as the Zone, a place that doesn’t appear to be different from the rest of the industrial area in which it’s filmed but seems, nevertheless, imbued with magic, with some ineffable quality of strangeness. It is promised that one’s desires can be fulfilled in the Zone. The Zone, then, serves as a metaphor for the movie itself, or for the circularity of Lucas’s communicating vessels, in which redemption from the despair of the banal and vapid is to be found in the wells of the marvelous.
There is a vigorous eclecticism of form in Circles Matter. It seems ironic that the title has a geometric reference, though it is evident that Lucas is mindful of the circularity of time and space and infinite correlations among things. There are a few prose poems in the collection, but most of the work is presented in short paragraphs à la René Char, or short stanzas with indented margins. Lines are often generously spaced, which promotes a feeling of weightless anticipation. Linearity is ruptured. Lucas doesn’t describe, he manifests. He presents the reader with a world of fantastic scope and color and he does so with conviction. His words have the feel of something real, minerals gathered from the surface of another planet.
I was especially taken with two sentences on page 22: “There are few things more spectacular than a flame. One of them is the impulse to make that flame.” If flame is to be taken as a metaphor for poetry, or for the creative act in general, that impulse is truly mysterious. What, for instance, led the first Cro Magnon artist to bring a flame into a cave to paint bison and horses on its walls?
Dire Straits, poetry by Ed Foster, published by Marsh Hawk Press, arrived in the mail that same day. This is, I believe, Foster’s fifteenth book of poetry.
Foster writes with great economy. His words feel chiseled and dovetailed into place. Like Zukofsky, Foster evinces the meticulous care of a seasoned cabinet maker. But it is out of this economy that he finds the richness that he is looking for. He has been strongly influenced by the poet William Bronk, a fellow New Englander, whose stark, gnomic lines of lucid abstraction play on the dynamic of inner and outer penetrating one another. Foster, who likes the muted registers and stunning clarity of the black and white photography he often includes in his books, is engrossed by the dialectic between art and life and the complexities and ambiguities of human emotion. This is his strait. His narrows. He doesn’t just articulate ideas, he struggles against them. His poetry has an edgy undercurrent. It doesn’t settle. It searches for where the words begin.
And wouldn’t you know it, who arrives in the mail the next day but William Bronk. Bursts of Light: the collected later poems, edited by David Clippinger, published by Talisman House. Bronk seems to have grown in popularity of late. I see more and more references to him. To me, he is a fascinating mystery. His poetry has the directness of approach I find among the objectivists, and Bronk’s poetry has been compared to Oppen’s in a cogent essay by Henry Weinfield (“The Music of Thought in the Poetry of George Oppen and William Bronk"), but it is even more stark, the poems don’t hesitate to get right to the point. Nor does Bronk seem at all interested in lyrical affect. I could be totally wrong about this. There is most definitely a prosody according to other sensibilities, and I have seen essays discuss his lyricism online, such as Thomas Lisk’s “William Bronk’s Path Among The Forms," but to my sense the lines are exhilarating precisely because they’re so blithely disencumbered of lyrical apparatus. His poems are bald. So wonderfully bald it’s invigorating. He says everything with such confidence. Maybe that’s because Bronk is one of those old WWII guys. One of those let’s get down to business guys. I think I’m going to really love reading this book. Because I’m old and I’m tired of obfuscation. I’m tired of affect. Bronk is a welcome tonic.
New Poetry From Spain, edited and translated by Marta Lopez-Luaces, Johnny Lorenz, and Edwin M. Lamboy, also from Talisman House, arrived in the same package with Bronk. I look forward to this because it’s an area I’ve neglected over the years. According to the introduction, by Marta Lopez-Luaces, “This anthology focuses on the poetry written in Spain after 1975. All the poets included were raised under Franco’s dictatorship, which lasted forty years…. the social reality after Franco’s death in 1975 was very different from that in which all of these poets had been raised. A new conception of the self had to emerge after the transition to democracy, and this was expressed in the word of many poets as a liberating, though painful, transformation, a transformation that affected the very concept of language. Naturally, the radical reinvention of language produced a reinvention of self.”
Cupcake Royale, a chapbook of poetry by Sarah Mangold, arrived a few weeks ago. I thought I’d add mention of it at the end as a nice desert. The poems in this collection are modest as cat whiskers, droll as a giant Norwegian rabbit. Mangold does not like to pontificate. Never has. She favors the highly disjunctive, fragmentary lines found among poets such as Ted Berrigan and Tom Raworth. The world is presented as a simultaneity of sensation, a collage of wildly dissociative phenomena. Subjectivity is decentered beyond the margin. Mangold does not seem present. The poetry is not about her. The poetry is available to the eyes in whatever sense you want to take it. I feel nudged, a little, by the choices she has made. She likes the odd and quirky, the neglected and marginal. A cupcake, not a multi-tiered wedding cake.
Cupcake Royale was published by above / ground press in Ontario, Canada and can be purchased via Rob Mclennan, rr #1, Maxville, Ontario, koc 1to. It is $4.00. Which is probably less than a cupcake.