Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tremble & Shine
by Todd Colby
Soft Skull Press, 2004

You can buy it here

One of the things that irritates me to no end about some of the contemporary poetry that I read is that it vacillates from two poles: immaturity and poor snobbish experiment; both double over in false consciousness and leave the reader wondering why the hell the poet or poetess did’t have a thing to write about. I’m not saying that you can’t write about nothing, but if you are going to write about nothing, why not write about the nothing a la Emily Dickinson—you know, that dark void at the no-center of the universe that frightens us to death even when we are completely in love? Whether this failure of the imagination stems from the ennui of the workshop scene (which is my suspicion), or not, I find it as troubling as amusing. Sometimes I just want to cry out to young poetry books—get a job, get fired, go on a trip, take a lot of drugs, time to lose your virginity, lay off the dungeons and dragons, my friend— and then write your masterwork. Maybe I should take my own advice. No, I take that back; I’ve had a life strange enough.

In any case, Tremble & Shine is firmly not a book that suffers from lack of experience, though this fact is not necessarily immediate from the explicit subject of the poems. It’s more of a sense that Colby has a brain full of imaginative experience to inform and contort language. Colby’s poems are part neo-surrealist spooky—“when I wash your back with a bar of chocolate,” part Frank O’Hara in their candor—“ You love me-you know it, is etched in the atmosphere,” part Denis Johnson’s I have seen a lot of shit in my life—“you knew what you were up to / when you came into my life with the wrong attitude,” and part Sylvia Plath’s dark imagistic energy—“while the bing cherries soak in Robitussin, / my clothes sting Mrs. X—.” Note the excellent rhyme of ‘soak’ with ‘Robitussin.’ Where does Colby go, in the poem, from there?:

While the bing cherries soak in Robitussin,
my clothes sting Mrs. X—
the lady of the house, who just so happens to consume
chocolate in a sweater, in fact, she makes a wild look
but is really only indicating that it is good
to eat the cheap American chocolate—

as opposed to its outmoded and expensive one—
if expensive, to a sweet American, is a goal.
Clothes, what with the magical urge
to function in the harbor—arm over arm—
and feel the frozen fish cupped in your hands (a masquerade).
There is a half-life of a star that grows dimmer
for the stings I had installed near the wing of my heart, a louse.
The joyful fanfare is muted
by the joyless pangs of the dour and forgotten.
Her thin arms hesitate before the juice of the nude.
Holding a warm sack of glue that doubles as my keys—
rubbing a stick of Bodyglide on my neck bone—
getting ready for the pretty, a real prick.

My sense is that a lot of the poets, ones I referred to in the opening of this essay, would simply be too embarrassed to write this poem: it’s about sex; it’s about the body; it’s about—oh gasp—a relationship! “Pretty,” isn’t a narrative, exactly, but it does acknowledge an older poetic tradition making use of—another gasp—rhyme and understanding the power of the poetic line. Colby also appreciates the energy of the poetry door slamming shut in the last lines. Nevertheless, all of his poems maintain an "avant" flavor. Colby's language isn't raw but rather rugged, gritty and absurd as these lines that open the poem ‘Distorted Fins’: “a popular human scent is sandalwood because it / reminds people with sand and urine in it.”

I’m not sure what kind of life this poet has had, but it is one that can write, “I was a vandal then / marshmallows on / windshields and such, Iowa.” I’m sorry that this book came into my possession so long after its publication. Tremble & Shine is a haunting and humorous treasure and it's really worth having in your poetry collection.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Brief Weather & I Guess a Sort of Vision
by Anthony Robinson
available here from Pilot Books

My fiancé, Craig, had the pleasure of being an extra in an FSU student film about a gay lagoon monster. Craig and his friends played construction workers and had to do this thing—wave their fists in the air (kind of like that guy Arsenio Hall) and go “wooo woooo,” while an actress-stripper danced over them from a tabletop. Craig said he was really embarrassed and the student director of said student film kept telling Craig “Hey dude, we need more intensity from you. More intensity.”
Late one night on IM, I told Anthony Robinson, who I refer to as “Clipper,” about Craig’s one, and thankfully, only experience as an actor. Little did I know, it would end up in Brief Weather & I Guess a Sort of Vision. I’m going to quote this poem in its entirety because of its short length:

“Maintain Intensity like Sandra’s Craig “in the sack” a gay swamp-
monster can never have too many lovers. some people

think I missed the boat but tipsy over: you are a “lazy snaky fuck.”
fried asparagus with Joe in Texas friendship is grand

which makes me appear lazy or naïve & I know about war
but I just wanna fuck. I know about pain & suffering & being cold

two-thirds there but we missed the blizzard. M. is getting married
in June. Daffodils have given way to cherry trees, to new construction

546 E. 16th Ave. half an alley away from the bike cage the first kiss”

I tell the back story because I think that it brings up something important about all of Robinson’s poems; they are emotional bits (and by this I do not just mean pain. I mean a whole range of emotions like laughter, self-doubt, desire) fragmented together in gorgeous mosaics. This is, in my mind, the power of Robinson’s chapbook. Emotional urgency gets deliberately undercut in a line like “but I just wanna fuck” and then finds its way back into the poem in a line like “M is getting married / in June.” A clear statement like this one seems, actually, to center the poem and bring it home to a place of human loneliness.

Tony had to explain to me how the chapbook works—because he only emailed me the poems in manuscript form. Apparently the book is arranged as a flipbook wherein the notes to the poem are printed on the reverse side of the poem. This is a good reason to buy the book. So, here are the notes to this poem.

[Sandra Simonds and another ex of mine, Marci. Who wants to guess what they have in common? I did eat fried asparagus with Joe Massey in Texas, the week prior to writing this poem. The fucking and war lines are lifted wholesale from the Jane’s addiction song “1%.”]

Fuck, now, anyone who doesn’t consider me a complete narcissist will after reading this review! By the way, I have no idea what I have in common with Marci—if I’m reading this note correctly. I like how Joe Massey comes into the poem because the note speaks directly to the time of the poem’s creation which creates a sort of intimacy with the poet. The notes, as a whole, give the chapbook a certain formal quality that I enjoy because, in a sense, they are sort of fake notes—notes poking a little fun at notes. See Jorie Graham.

Tony’s work is the closest to carrying the Ted Berrigan torch that I have seen from a young writer. He mixes the very casual: “Despair is for sissies so I shall write little nine-line poems for weeks!” with the erudite: “In the clouds over Europe a girl is afflicted: / Weltschmerz, Schadenfreude & other German things.” No hiding your PhD from me, Clipper. Brief Weather is the kind of book that you go back to—like Berrigan’s Sonnets; the more you read, the more there is to find and enjoy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Breaks / Chris Rizzo

The Breaks

Chris Rizzo

Fewer & Further Press—you can buy the book here


Now that I have stopped drinking so much, I have time at night to do some casual reviews. Not really. I don’t have time but I can procrastinate studying for my comprehensive exams by actually reading some of the nice books that people send my way from time to time. So, I’m going to start with Chris Rizzo’s little chap called The Breaks. The first thing that I notice about this little gem is the back cover which lists the poems as one would songs on a mixed tape or CD. (as side one and side two). So, I’m thinking that the poems are going to be like songs.

Song one is called “I Can’t Get Started,” and is either inspired by Duke and Gershwin or written to both or something like that. I’m not sure; maybe it isn’t that important. What I like about this poem, and the book for that matter, is the energetic nature of the word play. He manages to pull off this word play while maintaining an emotional resonance in the poems. I think that this is very rare as this kind of play can have a tendency to distance the reader. It reminds me a lot of Harryette Mullen, who does the same. Here’s an example from that first poem, “onomatopoeia ataraxia, spool and aswoon, / between walls the attentions not gifted / puff sulk in the lower glower of away.” Now, I can honestly say that I have no idea what the hell that means, but the sound makes me want to keep going; the music that Rizzo finds in the language is amazing.

I’m putting the next song, “OOL-YA-KOO,” on repeat. It starts, “Here coo to press and yabba dabba do.” Now, how cool and weird and funny is that? I never thought that Fred Flintstone would appear in a poem that I actually like. (I was more of a Scooby-Doo fan, but that’s just me). Again, Rizzo’s ear is phenomenal and he actually pulls off using “Betty Crocker” as a verb: “Ghetti and Adidas, whet says drywall / when you Betty Crocker / in the noon, pull out the stops and cant / the levels, love your neighbor / to the bedrock.” This seems like a city poem to me but the city is a “bluing city of smalls.” Are we in Bedrock? Are we in Dizzy Gillespie’s version of bedrock or Albany? People are walking about. There might be a woman in a kitchen. “Scatological been done on the walk.” Is this New York? Nope. It’s the imaginatively sonic realm of The Breaks.

Oh yeah…he made me look up the word ‘hollyhock.’

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review of /nor (New Ohio Review), Spring, 2007

Review of /nor (New Ohio Review). Spring, 2007.

Available here:

1. From: The New Form?

Is it just me, or is everyone writing the new American epic? Look at the table of contents in this beautiful literary journal (and I will expand on the ‘beautiful’ word choice anon) and you will get my meaning. Kristen Prevallet is from “The Distance between Here & After,” Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson are from “Figures for a Darkroom Voice,” Carla Harryman is from “Adorno’s Noise.” I could continue. So many “froms” must reflect editorial decisions that I must applaud. These editors believe in the American epic and lo, that epic cannot fit into the space of a literary journal.
I’m not sure if there is a whole from which these froms have come. If your from came from a whole, please email me for I would like to know. Derrida awaits. From personal experience, all of my from poems have come from nothing and I just wrote the word ‘from’ for ease of classification. I will assume that’s just me.

2. The Beauty of the Thing

My sister is getting her PhD in Art History at Mc Gill University (the Harvard of Canada) where they teach you something called “Thing Theory.” We don’t learn that kinda shit in the Deep South. I don’t know anything about “thing theory” but oh look…there’s a wiki entry. Yeah, thing theory totally relates to /nor.

Side Note: Editors—keep this beautiful thing a going. Way too many journals like /nor come out with one issue that’s excellent and then the staff changes at the university and BAM—it’s back to the same conventional poems.

P.S. It’s a beautiful thing to get a review copy in the mail—that by the way ends up in your boyfriend’s pickup truck—and then finally gets to your office the next day. In my hands, this object has become a thing. The thing! Jesus, god, it’s alive. It’s alive.

3. Connect These American Poets from /nor with Their Lines of Poesy

A. Jarnot, Lisa:

B. Clay, Adam

C. Mister, Andrew

D. Tharp, Shannon

1. o dog and treadmill / power have / to push the cat and wheel

2. your plague paraphrased in a single word / still unspoken

3. the sky’s the color of urine, the color of the spine of Robert Creeley’s collected poems.

4. lost things go / somewhere. // Or place / is belated.

Side Note Two:

Look, my friends soon to be (maybe) Dr. Sandman has got to read a whole lot of Marjorie Perloff in PhD school. So she has absolutely, positively no desire TO READ HER OUTSIDE OF CLASS IN A LITERARY JOURNAL.

4. An excellent magazine, my friends. Keep up the good work.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Review of Joe Massey's November Graph

Sandman’s Review of Joseph Massey’s November Graph

Chapbook Available at http://www.longhousepoetry.com/


Connect the Dots…Today, my ex-boyfriend called me a “Media Whore” for publishing a poem in a magazine for which he has no respect. November Graph is dedicated to “Shannon.” I wish it were dedicated to me. It will become a sensation, a collector’s item, and how I wished to be a small part of its genisis.


November Graph is sitting on the edge of something—a antique chair with a red velvet cushion. It’s a car with two wheels on one side of the cliff and two wheels on the other: “toward / a row / of eucalyptus.”


Phenomenology can be disappointing when put into hands that cannot craft the hands that craft them. This is not an example. The white space is carving a place for the world to shatter the world. Listen:


half a humming-

bird’s body
swallowed by

one of the few
fuchsias left.

Which makes me think: Speech slurs. Birds swerve. Words are swallowed. We say what the world cannot. The body is only ever half the body. Half-life-- and so the world moves forward, edges, off the cliff.


And then there is the fact that “words / occur / to gather.” Why so much buzzing in these poems that are so un peopled. I mean the buzzing language of the world devoid of nature that is the nature it comes to. This buzzing that is carved out of the white space. The foliages “flinch (es)” and that is human. The house is abuzz with the music of the world and it moves—no, it “sifts” out—over the world.


Make sense now of this:

Robert Creeley “Hanging on the weather’s edge…” The epigraph to Massey’s little book. An animal torn from the fog. Go little book.
This is a poetry review blog. The spirit of this blog---wild, fun, crazy, poetry reviews. Soon to be Dr. Sandman will review your book if she likes it.