Friday, April 30, 2010



Shoulder Season by Ange Mlinko
(Coffeehouse Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 2009)

Poet Beyond Borders

Despite notions to the contrary blaring from conservative television, America grows through its economic, political and cultural interactions with the international community, importing and exporting not only commodities and resources, but also languages, customs, economic/political innovations, and, in surprisingly profound ways, transformative art. American music has incorporated the rhythms of Africa, South America, and the Caribbean into its jazz, rock, and folk music; America has infused the movement of dances from around the world into its choreography (is there a less insular art form than dance, motion translatable in ways that images and words are not?); and America has folded the indeterminacy of French literary theory into its poetry, to highlight how American art but in a few instances has been influenced from afar. Yet America also virulently excludes, flings up economic and cultural barriers, battening down its hatches. Though most of the political spectrum in the U.S. is currently recoiling from world citizenship, one side of the aisle has taken so many knee-jerk reactions in the last decade I can’t tell if that’s a kneecap I’m seeing or a bald face (lie).

In Shoulder Season, however, Ange Mlinko is no blind-folded superpatriot. Through poetry, she takes a Whitmanesque bear hug of the world thriving above and beyond the arbitrary borders of nation-states. As she says in a conversation with poet Jordan Davis, “I like poems that engage the world. I love shows of brilliance and virtuosity. I don’t share the American prejudice for modesty in poems.” In this her third collection, Mlinko is as unparochial in style and subject as one can get. In today’s political climate, steeped in bitter tea, Mlinko’s inclusivity is downright un-American. I’m going to report her to Sarah Hannity or Sean Palin or whatever their frickin’ names are.

Mlinko eschews provincialism. Her poems are teeming not only with references to places in the eastern United States, but also to myriad places in Europe and the Middle East: Paris, Gibraltar, Zurich, Venice, Breton, Azerbaijan, and Beirut, among many others. These references aren’t placed to impress; this isn’t name-dropping signify nothing. Mlinko’s details add flavor. In one instance, in “World Lit,” she quotes al-Harith passing by a secret cabaret, disclosed by the green light emanating from its transom:
if we cross that threshold
we’ll be in Agadir
with the hated Germans who go topless
as the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
(“World Lit,” p. 9)

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche is a church in Berlin that has gone topless since being bombed in 1943, a geographical reference then that both provides a humorous simile, but also speaks to how nudity, a common practice on public beaches in one culture is a grave sin in another. Mlinko’s poetic world is replete with these bridges, jarring cultural associations reaching across differences for shared spaces.

Mlinko’s global vocabulary shouts in the face of Americans who want their news to be as monosyllabic and black-and-white as possible. Thalassotherapy, synovial joints, cruets, pollards, orts, plewts, pentimentos, jacquards, urushiol lacquers, and langoustines abound. These are not strange words used for shock value; they reach beyond the common vernacular to encompass a greater means of articulation, fine gradations rather than rough, broad expressions. Americans might have to download a dictionary app on their mobile devices to parse these poems, but they better make sure it isn’t an Ameri-centric dictionary.

With a style at times colloquial and at times eloquent, Mlinko is not only plucky enough to employ a variety of rhymes (riff/if, Massachusetts/massages, clock/talk/rock), she unabashedly rips off similes and images that would make lesser poets cringe:
Love will be organized like notes from a piano
emerging like ants from the furrows of a peony
( “Peonage,” p.12 )

The sky was laced with Irish cream mist
( “A Not Unruffled Surface,” p. 13 )

You putter in the wooden shoes a lathe cut like gouda
( “X’d The Go-Go,” p. 36 )

I saw the chess players over their griddles, all the furor of thinking
swallowed like a song in a furred flute
( “Eros of Heroines,” p. 47 )

Only a poet who is in part the progeny of the New York school could have the cajones to pull off these at first glance inept comparisons.

As Mlinko romps across the globe, she closely maps the world of consciousness, of attention, as well. In the first two poems, Mlinko stakes out her cognitive ground. She acknowledges the natural world as a respite from the man-made world, or, rather, the world un-made by man (America’s leadership in this domain is only now being challenged by China). The natural world is measured against the war-ravaged streets of Beirut:
a little spa for the mind–seeing butterflies
set themselves down by the dozen like easels

on bromeliads, when out on the street the boutiques
are dilapidated, construction can’t be told from ruin
(“Treatment,” p. 1)

On the other hand, in the flipside to the opening poem, a sequel with the same title, she asserts that the projective construction of the external through the lens of the internal has its fatal limitations. When human destruction is indistinguishable from what has been made new, to retreat to the imagination is an immoral escape (as stated in the imperative “You can’t”):
The Mind is not a little Spa.
You can’t retreat to its imaginary
standard distance
when outside construction
can’t be told from ruin.”
(“Treatment,” p.2)

Intellect cannot be a retreat from a landscape the body is in the midst of despoiling.

One of the best poetry books of 2010, Shoulder Season isn’t a flawless collection. Some of the formal experiments fall flat, e.g. the two column poems “Engineering” and “This Is The Latest.” The two flush left columns with ragged caesura in between drag the poems down, a sluggish staccato that detracts rather than adds. If reading across and down the columns would have increased the number of possible readings, the form might have been justified. In one poem, “Thalassotherapy,” the italicized chorus lines–“What remains of the rue,” “What remains of the crabgrass,” “What remains of the butter-and-eggs,” “What remains of bog sage”–seem to be tacked on, an afterthought, the chorus a frail closure for each stanza, a forced connective tissue deployed in an attempt to hold the poem together.

Mlinko surged onto the poetry scene with Matinées (Zoland Press, 1999), vigorously followed up by Starred Wire (Coffee House, 2005). She was one of those few poets whose work arrived fully mature, stylistically urbane with finely-nuanced content. Have her poetics in ten years not changed, not developed? Perhaps. I’d argue that though they may not have evolved, their application as demonstrated in these poems has become increasingly robust. She now plies her aesthetic to a wider, ever-expansive canvas, carrying her aesthetic across larger spheres and concerns.

Pirouetting beyond fields plowed and sown by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Alice Notley, Ange Mlinko is creating her own space in the world of poetry and more. To encapsulate her fecund body of work, the word glee keeps coming to mind. And that may be the most American aspect to her work, its joie de vivre. This may be the Shoulder Season, yet no one has to go slumping through it without some ecstasy.


Crag Hill until recently edited SCORE, one of only two journals dedicated exclusively to concrete/visual poetry. In the last three decades his work has appeared in over 100 journals and anthologies, including several available on-line. His creative and critical works in progress can be found at He teaches English Education at Washington State University.



Much Like You Shark by Logan Ryan Smith
(dusi/e-chap kollectiv, 2007)
[on-line PDF here!]

Vast are the seas of poetry, including the mighty ocean of the contemporary!

The poetry-life in these waters is so abundant that it’s just not possible to see everything, even when the currents bring so much so close. So much gets away!

Still, the ever-flowing bounty of poetry creates energizing possibilities. Keep your eyes open, maybe poke around a bit, and all sorts of wonders can come your way, even if it’s later than you’d like.


Logan Ryan Smith’s Much Like You Shark is a chapbook length poem. It has approximately 450 lines organized in 23 unnumbered and untitled sections. No section is longer than a page and each section, regardless of length (some are quite short), has its own page.

The opening six sections (about 100 lines) of Much Like You Shark were first published in March 2007 as a super-limited (50 copies) Big Game Books / Tinysides chapbook. The entire poem was then published twice later in 2007, first as a limited edition Dusie chapbook and then as part of Smith’s collection Stupid Birds (Transmission Press). In early 2008, Much Like You Shark was again published, this time as an on-line PDF in a dusi/e-chap kollektiv post.

I missed every single one of these publications when they first appeared. And missed too Jared Hayes’ August 2007 blog-rave for Much Like You Shark (“Fuck! This book is the shit!”) and C.A. Conrad’s May 2008 enthused comments (“FANTASTIC BOOK!”) on Smith’s poem.

But a few months ago, while browsing the used poetry at Books and Bookshelves here in San Francisco, I came across the Tinysides chap that prints a long excerpt from Much Like You Shark. The chap’s cover – an intense toothy Great White – was an eye-grabber, and the title intrigued me. After all, the apex predator is a kind of neighbor, given that here in the City where I live The Red Triangle is just off-shore.

And so I read Much Like You Shark right there in the bookstore. The poem’s sharp energy (sorry about this) bit me hard. I bought the chap and as soon as I made it home found the full PDF version on-line. I’ve read the poem many times since, including via the Dusie chap hard copy that Galatea Resurrects kindly provided for this review. Smith’s poem continues to put me in a kind of poetic (you know it’s coming) frenzy.


Much Like You Shark takes the form of a dramatic monologue addressed to a shark. In the poem – and I borrow here from C.A. Conrad, who I think got it right – Smith uses the shark, or the idea of one, as a way to find the world and see himself. All this is apparent right from the opening lines:
Much like you shark
I meet the world harmlessly
but in bad weather and murky waters,
in the noise of the blue open
tree-lined city street chatter
chatter-box teething
little gums ringed with blood

like you
tiger shark . . .
The poem moves with similar rhythms and energy through its 450 plus lines. And it’s the poem’s rhythm and energy – its start-to-finish propulsive movement – that’s most impressive to me. It may not totally be “the even, liquid grace of a creature completely at home with its place in the Universe” (that, natch, is how scientists describe sharks swimming) but it has a lot of that feel, I must say. The words, the lines, the sections, just keep coming. Attention stays taut.

Smith creates the motion-energy of the poem, the sense and feel of something alive in action, through several methods. One key technique is varying the length of lines, stanzas, and sections. With regard to line lengths, the look in the opening stanza above, in which medium and short are irregularly mixed, shows up in many of the poem’s sections. The shorter lines, obviously, move quicker than the longer ones, and thus insert a bit of speed the text, but the main point is that you can’t predict what’s coming next.

Similarly, the twenty-three sections of Much Like You Shark vary, both in format and length. Five of the sections are single stanzas, and they range in length from as few as six to more than two dozen lines.

Smith mostly arranges the lines in the other eighteen sections into stanzas (i.e., groups of lines with spaces in between). But these stanzas vary widely in length. Smith for example will start with a tercet, then have a couplet followed by a quatrain. Or in another section he’ll book-end couplets with stanzas of five and eight lines, respectively. Only two sections have stanzas of the same length throughout (couplets are used) , and both of those are sandwiched between sections that contain no couplets at all. There’s also a section that begins with an indented block of prose followed by a mix of stand-alone lines and couplets.

The variations of form, the changes or shifts within and between the sections, are relentless. It’s energizing, the changes in rhythm and densities, making Much Like You Shark seem alive, as if it’s constantly in movement. Not knowing what’s coming, you keep your eyes on it.


There’s also variation and unpredictability in the substantive matters observed and reported.. “I keep my eyes moving,” Smith states (twice) in a section near the middle of the poem. He also has (as it’s put in another section) “heightened senses sensing.” As such, he brings in all kinds of things. Sometimes he’s “amongst the hammerheads” but other times he’s far from the water as in the report, in the ninth section, of everyday urban traffic:
the consistent circling
signs signaling
no left turns
and lights
Through either simple references or sometimes more elaborated description, Smith brings into his poem matters as diverse as a blackbird’s struggle with a hawk in a parking lot, shadows off the coast of South Africa, memories of standing on a shore, “glorified / doppelgangers,” migraines, glass-sided buildings, “saddle-weary city walker bloody / mary shit talker,” the shadow of clouds, the Atlantic and Missouri, and the shores of Japan.


As he addresses the shark throughout his poem, Smith makes a number of assertions about himself and the world. Two of these are particularly memorable. The first is an explicit criticism of his and our way of being, of the human condition:
how sickly we all seem
crowded in the street
at a party
or in the bar
with our sick glances
and sidearm touches
how stupid we are
not owning what we hold
Related to this criticism is a recognition of forces within that can’t be controlled. Two excerpts from different sections, one short and one longer, point to the centrality to Smith of desire:
like you shark
I find my desires
overcome my will
I will
be consumed
by my needs

[ . . . ]

much like you shark
when they find my
bloated body
crumpled up
in the gutter
and they roll me over
to cut open my gut
they’ll find
a bunch of rot
and junk
a lot of things
I had no business putting in me
but I’ll speak now
I’ll speak for you and me
since it’ll one day be our innards
they’ll be judging:
I cannot claim that I didn’t know better
and I never meant to hurt a thing
but I cannot explain
than you can cause time to stop

Time to stop.
I like this focus on desire, the acknowledgment of its power and mystery. I think of Andre Breton (“the marvellous precipitate of desire”) and the theories of the 19th century French utopian Charles Fourier, who championed the role of the passions.


Perhaps not surprisingly given the instincts and behavior of the animal that serves as the poem’s central trope, there’s much that is violent in Much Like You Shark. Particularly explicit and forceful in this regard are the lines in the poem’s next to last section:
and when I rip your face from your face from your nose
and your skull
and your skin from your arms your forearms and biceps
your triceps and wrists
and when I rip the muscle from your legs the calves
your thighs and ankles
when I tear into your stomach your liver your intestines
This is unsettling, to say the least, and thought provoking. Throughout the poem – as the excerpts above illustrate – the “I” has referred to Smith (or the voice of his poem), and the “you” to the shark that’s addressed. Here, however, there seems to be a shift in that the “your” with its forearms, biceps, legs, ankles, etc. can’t be a shark, obviously. What’s getting ripped apart is us, or perhaps – remembering here the earlier reference in the poem, mentioned above, to doppelgangers, some other within Smith himself.

I can’t fully connect the meaning of this climactic rampage to the rest of the poem, and the same is true of the short (five line) final section which follows. There, Smith flashes to a moment after the above-described attack:
when standing again
we’ll watch the terns
turn and scurry

as we stupid birds
get pulled under

The conclusion here may look or read as if its neatly wrapped, but I don’t think it is. First, a poem-concluding uplifting affirmation this is not! It’s suggestion of foolish life drowned, is anything but that. Plus, the pronoun “we” disorients: I can’t pin it down. Does “we’ll” and “we” in these lines refer to Smith (or the poem’s voice) and the shark? Or the poet and his readers (including me)? Or is it instead different facets of Smith’s mind or personality? I like this uncertainty, especially here at the end: it sends me back to the poem for yet another reading, to again (yep) swim through Much Like You Shark.


Steven Fama among other things tends the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica. Previously here at Galatea Resurrects, Steve wrote about Jessica Smith’s bird-book (click here to read) and John Olson’s The Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat (click to read, if you please).



From the Canyon Outward by Neeli Cherkovski
(RL Crow Publications, Penn Valley, CA., 2009)


The Pleroma by Vincent Ferrini
(Tiger Moon Productions, Bangalore, India, 2008)


Thirsting for Peace in a Raging Century: Selected Poems 1961-1985 (New & Revised edition) by Edward Sanders
(Coffee House Press, Minn., 2009)


Let’s Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War: New and Selected Poems 1986-2009 by Edward Sanders
(Coffee House Press, Minn., 2009)


Body Clock by Eleni Sikelianos
(Coffee House Press, Minn., 2008)


Leaves of Grass, 1860: the 150th Anniversary Facsimile Edition by Walt Whitman, ed. by Jason Stacy
(University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 2009)


The singers of successive hours of centuries may have ostensible names, but the name of
each of them is one of the singers,
The name of each is, a heart-singer, eye-singer, hymn-singer, law-singer, ear-singer,
head-singer, sweet-singer, wise-singer, droll-singer, thrift-singer, sea-singer, wit-
singer, echo-singer, parlor-singer, love-singer, passion-singer, mystic-singer, fable-
singer, item-singer, weeping-singer, or something else.

- Walt Whitman

… if people want to get religion into poetry, fine; but poetry itself is a religion. And it too is a tradition—even when poets make breaks into Schools and Movements.

- Vincent Ferrini

A Greeting

Walt Whitman adores you. Whoever you are, whatever your occupation; nationality; whether you walk to work, ride a bicycle, take public transit, or drive yourself in your automobile, Whitman travels alongside you with the adoration of a lover pouring out from him. He expresses his expansive love for you in his great Song, Leaves of Grass, and would be delighted for you to join him with your own Song. Acknowledging his role (as it is everybody’s) as self-progenitor, Whitman puts out the call for poets of the future, filling his poems with a vast passion for the company of others. His poetry is as personal as it gets yet simultaneously never solely concerned with just his own person but fully embracing and expressing the concerns of others as well. He wants you to be his lover in and of words: the pact of the page.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Whitman’s 3rd edition of Leaves of Grass, significant in that this is the first enlarged edition Whitman saw through the press bulking up the volume to over two thirds its size from the original 1855 edition—which also lacked titles upon individual poems (in this edition Whitman is still testing out possible titles, for instance what will later become “Starting from Paumanok” is here titled “Proto-Leaf”). With every edition Whitman saw through press over the years (and there were many until his death) Leaves of Grass and its author personae, Walt, experience an ever evolving state of presentation. As Jason Stacy, editor of this facsimile edition notes, although “The critic Roy Harvey Peirce believed the third edition to be the culmination of what Whitman began in 1855 and only tinkered with after 1860… Whitman undermines easy narratives like this: ‘Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold! / Already you see I have escaped from you.’” Stacy argues what’s probably the best interpretation over the merits of the various editions: every edition offers a different variation of Whitman’s schematic, every edition, therefore, counts.

The 1860 edition offers an interesting read given the historical relevancy of the times in which it went to print. Stacy’s introduction gives an easy-going yet rigorous encapsulation of all the relevant details, for both Whitman himself and the country, while also highlighting aspects of the design and layout (which Whitman oversaw himself through publication at the publishers in Boston) including Whitman’s numbering of his verses, so as to form an “American bible” in celebration of the “organic democracy” he believes nascent in the land and people of the United States. Stacy extrapolates upon the belief systems Whitman drew from, painting a broad background for present day readers:
Whitman incorporated popular scientism into his American bible and, in the clusters “Enfans d’Adam” and “Calamus,” drew upon the theories of phrenology—an early form of psychology based on indentations and bumps in the skull… to support his argument that nature had written union into existence itself via organic compacts…he situated the third Leaves of Grass in the heart of an American discourse…

Near the end of his Introduction, Stacy insists “Whitman’s new bible insisted that readers do their own part to bring it alive. That is as true in the twenty-first century as it was in 1860.” There is little point arguing against this claim and nothing demonstrates it better than the monumental pull and influence Whitman has had and continues to have upon poets to this day. Whitman’s omnipresence (especially in the Americas) is evident in the work of poet after poet. To demonstrate the relevancy of his ongoing influence, rather than focus on reviewing Whitman’s poems in isolation, this writing takes up recent publications by four additional later poets of varying generational/geographic and stylistic/formal concerns in order to explore and celebrate the great swath of poetic lineage that Whitman stands as progenitor of.


Vincent Ferrini, a mainstay of the artistic gut and hub of Gloucester, Massachusetts, passed away Christmas Eve, 2007. His final volume of poems The Pleroma was released shortly after his death. A fascinating book, which successfully reads less as a thoroughly well thought out construction than a hodgepodge assemblage of documents, The Pleroma (a “Gnostic term used by Jung,” which Ferrini understands as “the period of fullness before birth and after death”) offers up a tribute to the poet and man in the form of poems and letters sent to editor/publisher, Terry Reis Kennedy, and which in Kenneth Warren’s words serves as “the culminating point for the autobiography, bibliography, phenomenology, poetry, psychology and religion that informs Ferrini’s whole utopian narrative… the final telling of his desires, defenses, fusions, inflations and inspirations.”(“Preface”) In short, it is not to be missed. The immediacy and warmth of Ferrini’s writing leaps from off the page with glimmering delight, proving that the twinkle of the poet’s wrinkled visage as seen in the photograph on the book’s cover is the bedrock for the illuminated seer-like awareness his writing demonstrates for his place in the span of things.

This last publication of Ferrini’s is both a terrifically inspiring introduction to the poet for those unfamiliar and a well-spring for further meditation to readers who have long been under the spell of his ever-humorous, deeply searching cosmic vibe.
The Choir of the Forest

Long before Christ,
there was Krishna
& His cowgirls.

Whose time
are we in?
What’s the problem?

The solitary leaves
have their own

blinded by
the Soul’s

the Earth
in love
with Itself

the Peace

Ferrini passionately lives in the moment(s) of his writing. His belief in what is said via his poetry is paramount and insurmountable as is his openness to all he encounters. Occasionally, his writing has a rather pell-mell appearance, arising as it does from an experience in which he is so completely a part that he is incapable of dispensing with arrangement of words and phrases as they arrived in the process of writing. For Ferrini, to an extent, Writing is Being. This makes it difficult to imagine anything but the possibility of acceptance or rejection. There’s nothing to debate: readers will take it or leave it. And Ferrini appears nonplussed with either inclination. His writing unabashedly unmasks expectations with the encouragement usually come of familial support and love, gazing ahead and pushing Whitman’s call for future poets, embracing with sudden intimacy the call for poems to serve and benefit all.


THIS hard period
the fisherman and their families
are deluged with
will pass away
and a time will come
when the nations of the world
will farm the oceans
to feed the people
of this Spectacular celestial LIGHT
and exploitation
be a useless word in the dictionary
and sooner than


Eleni Sikelianos’ book-length The California Poem clearly aligns with many of Whitman’s grand themes with its long breath lines of land and politics, the poet’s life and lore spilling over with immediacy into the writing. In her latest collection, Body Clock, she takes up the Whitmanesque theme of the body—the writing began during her pregnancy as a measure to mark the passing of time, the image of the body literally as a kind of clock, and the book is dedicated to her daughter. Her initial impulse when writing, as she explains to Selah Saterstrom, was, “Could I quit my capitalist tendencies, stop worrying about how I “spend” my time? Walter Benjamin’s (and many other authors’) idea that idleness is one of the writer’s indispensible engagements was in my mind.” ( Sikelianos exults in the exuberant spirit of Whitman’s, “I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass!” (“Walt Whitman” aka “Song of Myself”) embracing the opportunity of being in the moment, exploring it in all its appeal.

With Sikelianos, the masculine prerogative which works so well for Whitman’s bombastic declarations is allowed to evolve further along as she writes her own experience doing and moving, forthrightly and nonchalantly occupying the space of writing.

I love it
when women eat sweet ribbon, sweet
rabbit, sweet meat, when women

are the scene
of several utopias

when the body melts back into shadow
beginning with the feet

Women are as much carnivorous and prowling poetic predators as any men. Yet Sikelianos doesn’t bother to push the fact of her being a woman, she simply accepts it as the given identity round which the writing commences, her pregnancy being no different than any other state of affairs an individual passes through and comments on in a lifetime. And she does so while still keeping the writing personal, held close to, literally of, her and hers:
in the quiet sleep of animals
from the balcony of a belly
say your speeches
no cow licked you
I do

This celebratory and sensual acknowledgment of the body is central to poets writing in the Whitmanic lineage. As Whitman bluntly states, “If I worship any particular thing, it shall be some of the spread of my own body.” (“Walt Whitman” aka “Song of Myself”) Whitman’s robust and intimate enunciation of the masculine has been well recognized and critically regarded. Sikelianos follows up on his meanderings and returns with lines of images celebrating the feminine, expanding upon practices Whitman may have been first to develop and implement, but clearly never exhausts, “The body’s stain returns to the body, a / backward pleasure / like dusted wings that refold / a lucky wounded symmetry or / the lips of the cunt closing.” (“ACHILLES ON A BALL”)

Ferrini, too, if a tad overzealously, celebrates the body, as in these lines he attempts relate a lesson to a female reader of the strength and acceptance of her own beauty.
Feel the heat flowing
up and down.
Put both hands between your legs,
sliding over the cut.

See the pleasures in the mirror.
Part your overjoying lips,
fingering your vagina’s character,
dare to be amazed
at the hidden bounties
rising to a heavenly height.

Still looking deeply into the mirror
behold this Other You
you are repossessing…
           (“At Psyche’s Art School”)

While Ferrini’s language may inadvertently be sexualizing the moment of her “repossessing” he is assuredly not attempting to possess the woman, her body, or its image for himself. The purity of Ferrini’s embrace throws out the problematical thorns which any would-be commentator might wish utilize as gloss for criticism. His belief in an eternal situation in which what matters is only what remains real in the moment, overrides such criticism: there simply is no room for it. His ideal is the same supreme equalization Whitman consistently sought to remind and embolden in his own readers.
Great are Yourself and Myself,
We are just as good and bad as the oldest and youngest…
             [ …]
Great is Youth—equally great is Old Age—great are the Day and Night…
           (“Leaves of Grass”)


Early on in his writing, Ed Sanders, embraces the beauty of an organic wholeness, finding freedom to write poems that sing out, announcing and celebrating the freedom of sexual bliss without concern for what may shock or draw scorn, lines such as:
             in to the oily crotch
                         place dick

             come into the cool grey
bark the hair-grey color of Persephone

             how difficult it is
                         to be fucked
             in the volcano!

I have given myself to the elm
I have soaked the dryad’s shawl
What a wonderful world,
a palace of gentle sexual aggression.

Let me sing
of the need to fuck
            “Elm-Fuck Poem”)

when the prick sputs
the hot come
                         into loins
& the lamb looks back
with her eye
                      & glazes me
in the freak-beams,

            “Sheep-fuck poem”)

or religious heights of unabashed sexual glee awash in anti-orthodox classicism:
Bent over           Bent down
& I flipped it to the
buns, and knew the
god-rose in the snatch
felt the god-butt
knew her &
spurted thru the
blessings, droplets
of spangled jissom
in the Red Halls of
Demeter, the Goddess.

           (“Holy Was Demeter Walking th’ Corn Furrow”)

The recent republication by Coffee House Press of a revised version of Sanders’ Thirsting For Peace In A Raging Century Selected Poems 1961-1985 (from which the above lines were taken) accompanied by his Let’s Not Keep Fighting The Trojan War New and Selected Poems 1986-2009 provides rich opportunity to read his work anew taking delight from his lively informed discursive ear. As Joanne Kyger writes in her introduction to the second volume, “this…Investigative Poet, in the bardic tradition, knows how to publicly present poems to bring about the rebirth of the voice, with songs… Poetic reality enters into a public presentation of verse.”
The Question of Self-Publishing

For 25 years William Blake
            kept the copper plates for
                         the Songs of Innocence

to print a copy or two on a need
& then he hand-painted the colors
                                                 with Catherine’s help

Walt Whitman helped set & print
                                     his own Leaves of Grass
             in the Brooklyn vastness

Woody Guthrie
a mimeographed edition of his songs in ‘39

& Ginsberg mimeo’d some “Howl”s
                                     in ‘55

& how about Chekov’s Tales of Melpomene in 1885
                         which he paid for
or Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility
of 1811?

                                    & so it goes
                                    & goes so well

Sanders picks up and continues the overarching celebration of freedom found in Whitman’s poems; cajoling, declaring and demanding the reach of the poet go on: that poems lunge out towards readers, firing up and challenging expectations of what’s possible.
Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allowed the eternal purport of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.
            (Walt Whitman, “Salut au Monde”)


Whitman is the giver of first permission. Writing from out Whitman’s allowances, Neeli Cherkovski found his lifelong love of poetry amid poets in California cities, as a youth hanging with Charles Bukowski in Los Angeles and later with an infinite number of North Beach poets in his adopted San Francisco. Cherkovski’s latest collection, From the Canyon Outward comes near to being nothing short of a hands down wonderful demonstration of a poet at the grip of his powers. Here is nothing but the certainty of a quiet assuredness.
Meditation Nearing Sixty

sixty years in July, It’s a bit embarrassing
I was never meant to be old
like this, just like I wasn’t meant to serve in the military, or
to sit on a jury, or to
fend for myself as other men do, the sun is climbing
in my window, it is burning a hole in my solitude, it is asking me
onto the deck and into the garden, here in the garden
I can play with my dog or read from Lorca, or
simply stare at the bushes
and the trees, I have watered my plants through two desert wars
and taken the measure of the misery
we’ve caused, the pain and suffering
we, ourselves, come in with and go out with,
I find the shadow of the blackbird warring with the bluebird and
when I listen to Beethoven, or “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis
something like hope rises
out of the doom and I think
it is good to make music, it is good to write poems, it is fine
to make paintings and to sit alone
for the afternoon
in meditation:
sixty winters, sixty dreams, one day
of reckoning, one father, one mother, one sister, one lover, one
dog, a garden, a redwood deck, a work room, a bedroom,
a guest room, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a TV room
all the ordinary stuff of the middle class…
a new born child clutching
a dream of the one poem
that rises from our common desire

In this lyrical drift of lines Cherkovski weaves in much that concerns many of Whitman’s, and those of the other poets here under discussion, poems: utter equalization of ages and time, making the most of the moment, cataloging-lists as poetic tool, and the irrevocable damnation of the waste brought about by humanity’s bent for waging war. That, while even in the welcome gladness of a serene swooning afternoon calm, there is beneath any sense of peace the persistent glare of the resistant human endurance for inflicting pain unto others and amid such unfortunate circumstances acceptance—yet of a sort that does not fail resist—is still to be found.


             The Feather of Justice

I believe in the Feather of Justice
The Egyptians
called it the Maat Feather
It’s light
             It’s perfect
                         It belongs to eternity

I believe
in the Feather of Justice

It measures our lives
                         in the World of Forms

It calls the evil
                         away from the good

It’s in our cells
It’s in the path of the sun

& sometimes the universe
cuts the Feather
                         to make a pen
                                     for the bard

I believe in the Feather of Justice
La Plume Égyptian

I’m thirsting for peace in a raging century
Thirsting for peace in a raging century

(Ed Sanders, “Thirsting for Peace in a Raging Century”)

In the face of violent human conflict, the only relief that comes at times is to wake to the fact of the possible endlessness of the situation. Sikelianos writes (rides) it out with grim, biting humor which refuses not to always keep pushing against the hanging gloom.
(This was on a bottle of shampoo.)

The water evaporates from the glass,
the child outgrows her shoes, the wood
erodes, the paint chips, the painting fades,
the leg breaks, the war

What is the body’s container?
From soldiers we learn about each other.
Nothing is contained.


unstoried soul a stoned dark doll a
soul doesn’t tell stories
it’s a baby playing in
the poles of the universe              —did you mean puke?
War is how we know each other.

To live is to struggle. The further the poet confronts and questions what’s happening around her, the quicker looms the darkness behind any shimmering light-filled peacefulness. Poems are the rubble piled against the bitter war-wrought bantering death and destruction of the times in which the poet lives. And yet poems, as Whitman reminds, are not always to the benefit of all, no one and no art is purely good.
Nor will all my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit—

Everybody (even a poem) is only human, after all. Among the job of poems, and thus poets, is to serve remind how delicately thin the balance between light and dark is. Cherkovski, in lines such as,
I take my rage by the throat
and embrace it
on the couch
in the front room
under a yellow lamp,
next to a wall
of books,
feeling helpless, yet
not entirely without hope
for a resolution made
out of a dot symbolizing
one of everything,
no more, no less
            (“The Rage”)

tackles just such edges, pulling down pleasant masks worn to fool himself and others into easy comfort. The serenity of relaxing with one’s own person and time does not come easy, but it is “not entirely without hope” if greeted with challenge. In like spirit, Ferrini celebrates a vibratory splendor assured that there is a larger order to which all belong whether or not they’re aware and struggling towards engaging with it.


Paradise is the Process
we are all ways

For Ferrini, as for Cherkovski, the realization of abiding peace is at the center of poetic engagement. It’s no surprise that Whitman inspires such shared brotherly endeavor, no doubt Ferrini’s poems such as,


I am happy
Everything’s on time

find him much at home with the North Beach poetry crowd, among whom it’s difficult to imagine nary a negative nudge against Whitman that wouldn’t be drowned out by a thousand cheers, if not a forceful shove or two.


Poets, like everybody, have to stick together. The poetryworld racket doesn’t receive much care or real interest, for that matter, from the rest of the day-to-day world. “It’s a tough life” as the Kris Kristofferson tune puts it, and all poets are always reading the same mail: bills and rejections—on all fronts. In the closing lines of “for Ted Berrigan
It is an
utter &
complete disgrace
that there was
no free national
health system
to which you could
have consulted
                         & easily

America, where bad
teeth cost as much
as a Honda

where poverty
the curse of Chatterton
& Edmund Spenser
still eats
the marrow
                         of poets

Sanders picks up the rattle-bag in favor to a fellow poet long ill-served by society not because poets are special beings somehow above others who deserve special benefits, but because poets are just as human as anybody and everybody deserves the chance to live a decent life and be cared for by the powers that be. The fact that poets often get the shitty end of society’s stick only results in them being granted the opportunity to voice concerns of those who are less privileged. This is not just petty grousing, under “poverty / the curse of Chatterton / & Edmond Spenser” untold numbers suffer and it is the alleviation of such pain towards which the writing is directed.

Reading and writing poems effects cultural change in society via effecting change in individuals, person by person, reader by reader, the poet learns from leaning out, risking and asking of her own person, willingly surprised at what she may find and bring to the awareness of her readers. The act of voicing a shared concern does not allow for any suffering to languish in isolation. Sikelianos brings Whitman’s spirit to bear in present Song, strong and clear, encouraging by way of her work his emphasis on the power of words to startle and jerk readers into active awareness of and care for the world around them. That her first intended future reader in this instance is her own daughter only increases the intensity and power of the endeavor.
Head: let the skull bones slide apart
& the brain grow big

type: orb
shape: universal

stepping on the rind of the earth
below which that trash heap Hell

It seemed impossible to tell
what country we lived in

some sad gray faces pass

a brown dwarf, a
             failed star

in the blended light of a planet & its sun
the dust & the photons rise

             Butter Princess, I saw
a huge cross of lights laid out in the land
& it was some city
between Sioux Falls & Detroit

In the end, nothing but the work yet to be done matters. And, as Allen Ginsberg (an ever faithful student of Whitman) reminds us, “what's the work? To ease the pain of living. Everything else, drunken dumbshow.” (“Memory Gardens”) May Whitman’s influence continue through each future generation coming to read and write songs of their own, that the world’s measure of joy be continually altered, increased thereby to the benefit of all, thing to thing.

As Exit

“The words of poems give you more than poems”

- Walt Whitman


To all the creatures of our precious cosmos!




Patrick James Dunagan has lived in San Francisco on and off for the last decade or so. His writings have appeared (or are expected) in: Big Bell, Blue Book, Box of Books: Vol II, Chain, Forklift, Fulcrum, Galatea Resurrects, Jacket, Octopus, ON2, Otoliths, Pax Americana, poem, home: An Anthology of Ars Poetica, Puppyflowers, Try!, and Vanitas. Recent chapbooks include From Chansonniers (Blue Press, 2008), Spirit Guest & Others (Lew Gallery Editions, 2009), Easy Eden w/ Micah Ballard (PUSH, 2009) and her friends down at the french cafe had no english words for me (PUSH, 2010).



The Last 4 Things by Kate Greenstreet
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, Idaho, 2009. Includes DVD)

What happens when you place things side by side, when even ideas become objects to put next to windows? Kate Greenstreet's The Last 4 Things connects the dots and accepts the multiplicity, the many other ways the dots could have been connected. As readers, we are pursued by the work—by the collection of inner voices, which may or may not be a singular voice; by the exterior world with familiar and somehow unfamiliar doors, dust, and teeth; and by the sense of perpetual activity, a poem that is always holding a thought, many objects, and many ways to understand the connections between thought and thought, thought and object, object and object.

Before we're haunted by the movement towards happening and away from clear and linear sense, we are invited into the most intimate landscape—the mind—and we are tempted to think through the poems instead of about the poems. Greenstreet entices us into the home, memory, cameras, and a series of collected dreams and wishes. It's almost as if these places are one in the same place; at least, distinction matters less so we are enabled to disappear. We start to think things without concern for truth value, to drop our rationality and follow the language, and to resist conclusions.

In the way Greenstreet pulls the reader, The Last 4 Things is honest. It is all honest. It is all a type of portraiture that resists setting the gaze in one place or limiting the perspective to one frame. Instead, it is writing towards truly seeing what is already seen. This honesty is, like all thoughts contained in the text, completely and incompletely like in “4 December,”
I found a small dark rug on top of a junk pile on the curb and dragged it upstairs. Scrubbed it with a stiff brush and water. “Things are right in front of us,” he says. “Why make them up?” (60)

It's easy to see this kind of honesty, this kind of portraiture. It's harder to see that “up” is down. Harder to see that this is Greenstreet tilting her head, closing and opening her eyes, or standing upside down to see and interpret what is seen and how what is seen is seen. “Gloves, hands, the representation of hands—these are the spaces / I have in mind” (66). Readers too, desire to move into the spaces that are both real and unreal, familiar and unfamiliar. It's more than vision—it's language, memory, and thoughts considered for their multiplicity, for the way they unfold.

When I sit at the table with a friend to describe the book, its ideas, I am unsure what to say. I say, “It's about ideas.” And my friend bites into her burrito and asks what kind of ideas. And I remember the line, “Things that aren't possible come to pass.” I say that. She says nothing.

Then, I sit with my students and we watch the DVD included in the book. They discuss the “film” like it is high art—like it is the combination of all ideas happening at once. And one student says, “That isn't so new.” We all ask what he means. He clarifies, “Of course it is everything at once. That's all it ever can be.” I think he is saying something here and I know I should push him to be explicit, but maybe that is what works about Greenstreet's poetics—there is something there and, in its “somethingness” it is more clear than if we said it concretely. I don't ask the student to clarify, but I ask him to “press harder” (67). He knows I mean just as much and as little as what he meant before.

As readers of Greenstreet's work, we are faced with the pleasurable task of having everything at once: memory and happening, things and ideas, poetry and stories, diaries and fantasies. And because it is always this way, there are always so many turns and directions, nothing feels completely strange. We are with the poet in understanding and wanting; we are with her when she says, “I wanted words, the look, // but everything they meant / seemed wrong” (6). Because we are with her in this investigation of putting words to ideas, we will follow her through “page after page of places” (33), things, people, and thoughts. We follow her and let the sense of the work gather.

It would be easy and clear to say, “Greenstreet explores the possibility of narrative.” It is a narrative that is after in all sense of the word. It is after meaning—both in being post-meaning and in actively seeking meaning. It is after childhood, both in remembering “Once we went under a tree...(55) and in reclaiming an integration of imagination with the admittance of difference, “'This is what I look like now'” (62). And it is after forgetting and remembering.

There is an insistence to record with dates; specifically, to record the memory of thoughts that refuse to unravel or complete their thinking. Like in “6 January”:
And then you have the little being. The little being in the world. Everybody loves their little baby. It's a lot of work, yes, but you're in a trance—you're in a trance of love. You get sick of it, sure—but you're still in the trance. Unless you hate the baby for some reason. But that didn't happen to me.

--Would you call these nightmares?
--No, they're just regular dreams. Afterwards, you forget. (80)

As a reader, we can't help but wonder what happened? Did she not hate her baby or did she not have the baby to begin with? And the refusal to give us more than what is given is part of the game of the book: we are watching a mind indulge and resist itself at the same time. We are watching everything at once: additions, omissions, perspective, forgetting, etc. Sure, we could read “6 January” and a lot of the poems as poems about poems— where the “baby” is the poem and the writer is coping with the complicated relationship of authoring something, but I think that would that would limit the work and would ignore the ghost inferred by Greenstreet's repetition of invisible, disappear, and lost. Clearly, something has happened.

If the sense of ghosting is considered, then we are returning to the poems being after something. There is grieving and sobering up, there is defeat too. “She stays behind and gathers meaning” (66) because there is nothing else to do when something has happened. There is nothing else to do “[b]ut remember when I asked if you were carrying an umbrella / and I asked you what you felt and I think there was a blind / person sitting near you” (52).

I am in the same position I was in when I was sharing burritos with my friend. I am in the position Greenstreet's entire book documents: I want to interpret the text, but I am too busy celebrating the simultaneity of all of these threads Greenstreet is pulling. Thankfully, she is here with me, in the enclosed DVD and I've come to depend on her inchworm reading. Matching the reading voice in our head and Greenstreet's candid voice on the DVD, “[We] come such a long way to think” (5) and the fragility of thinking is revered in this collection. “We're never any closer” (5) but we are clutching the stream of images in the DVD and the struggle to give language to what is unsayable in the poems.

I am worried that I am making this sound more abstract than it is. Really, it is the most forthright book I've read in a long time. Greenstreet admits to the terrible profundity of her own subject, of her own textual desires. She asks, “are we traveling?” (43) and we know we are traveling through the mind, through the attempt to give language and shape to the mind, but Greenstreet admits “[a] stair is missing” (43). This is nothing new. Like my student said, “Of course it is everything at once” and it's no surprise to be missing a stair to understanding everything at once.

Still, Greenstreet is after it all. “Let us know our end. Let us know our end and the number of our days” (43). Could it be easier than this? Could Greenstreet have written about a more human subject? She is writing about desire and any reader can appreciate the complexity of such a basic thing like wanting something.


Kristen Orser is the author of Folded into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm (Greying Ghost Press); Winter, Another Wall (blossombones); Fall Awake (Taiga Press); Squint (Dancing Girl Press); and E AT I, illustrated by James Thomas Stevens (Wyrd Tree Press). She is certain about being uncertain and she might forget to return your phone calls.



Poesie der Entschleunigung: Ein Lesebuch by Robert Lax, Ed. Sigrid Hauff
(Pendo Verlag, Munich & Zurich, 2008)


Robert Lax (1915-2000) for me epitomized the legendary small-press writer whose books appeared not because a publisher thought he could make money on them or someone at a university press had enough power to get them printed but because his publishers loved Lax's profoundly innovative work.

His work's first loyal loving publisher was Emil Antonucci, a Brooklyn graphic designer whose Journeyman Press produced classic Lax chapbooks in the 1950s and 1960s. Then came Gladys Weigner and Bernhard Moosbrugger, Swiss, whose Pendo Verlag in Zurich issued modest perfectbound Lax books from the 1970s into the 1990s. This imprint has survived Moosburger's passing thanks to Sigrid Hauff, a Munich litéraratteur, who edited and introduced this new anthology of Lax's best writing-in English translation, Poetry of De-Acceleration, or Speeding Down. Hauff also wrote A Line in Three Circles. The Inner Biography of Robert Lax (Norderstedt/Germany: Books on Demand, 2007).

Though Ms. Hauff's introduction is entirely in German, all the Lax texts appear with the original English on the left-hand (verso) pages, and brilliant indeed they are, making this German book the best selection of an American poet's work. My own new favorite is not a severely minimal poem, which was Lax's forte, but a prose text titled "21 Pages," which begins: "Searching for you, but if there is no one, what am I searching for? Still you. Some sort of you. Not for myself?" Nothing known to me resembles this.

Why is it after decades of a self-congratulatory National Endowment for the Arts that so much of this first-rank innovative American writer is still published abroad? What truth is implicit in that fact?

For many years, Lax's larger books reprinted a blurb attributed only to the New York Times Book Review: "among America's greatest experimental poets, . . . the last unacknowledged-and, alas, uncollected-major poet of his post-60s generation." Crediting the NYTBR annoyed me, whose words they were, who sneaked the encomium into a 1978 review of Thomas Merton's Collected Poems. Never has anyone else connected to the NYTBR acknowledged Lax's (or most other American avant-garde) poetry. Never. That's never.

One virtue of James Harford's Merton & Friends (Continuum, 2006) is crediting me, thanks, though the book's dust-jacket mentions only the NYTBR, dammit. Otherwise, Harford's book is a charming memoir that connects the legendary Trappist Merton to his college buddies, Lax and Edward Rice. The last published the influential liberal Catholic magazine Jubilee in the 1950s and 1960s to which the others, including Moosbrugger, contributed.

This Catholic emphasis accounts for why a fourth, equally influential college buddy in Merton's circle is slighted—Ad Reinhardt, a Protestant, whose minimalist paintings were likewise concerned with higher spirituality, whose prose was as concise as Lax's.

May a respectful publisher, perhaps Continuum, someday release a book anthology remembering the best of Jubilee, which I would review, much as I'm now gladly re-reviewing Robert Lax.

This article is part of Richard Kostelanetz's PERSON OF LETTERS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD which is forthcoming via Kindle.


Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz's work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art,,, and, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.



Mondo Crampo by Juliet Cook
(dusie kollektiv, 2008)

Silveronda by Lucy Harvest Clarke
(if p then q classics, Manchester, England, 2009)

The Contortions by Nicole Mauro
(dusie press, 2009)

Goodnight Voice by Dana Ward
(House Press, 2008)

Gutter Catholic Love Song by Joseph Wood
(mitzvah chaps, Lawrence, KS, 2010)

my day aimlessly walking vancouver, wash by james yeary, illustrated by nate orton
(abandoned bike inc, Portland, OR, 2010)

(Hey Tiger Chaps, Kansas City, Mo., 2010)

When Eileen asked for people to review, I emailed her and said, “Yes, send me books.” She did and here now was a box full of slim volumes…all of them by women. The books, and standards and levels of production various and original and, of course, the spectrum of texts imagined. And then it was, just then, that I began to see, it seemed on every web page or blog or online publication or whatnot was in front of me on screen…was a constant textural barrage about THE REVIEW OF POETRY. In some form or another it seemed everyone one was suddenly commenting on the review…was it necessary, productive, possible…what about the positive or the negative…who should or shouldn’t do it, why do it, did it matter inside or outside the academic the street the MFA the FFA the FAA. Could a man review women’s poetry books? Should they? I was beginning to believe that perhaps I should box up the books and send them back to the mount st poeta from which they came. My first glance at one of the books and my first thought was holy crap, am I old enough to be this persons father, grandfather. Is this going to be like me reading my kids diary for chriss sake? Maybe they are right…I have no fucking business even trying to read these publications….really. Stop it. You’re going to make a further idiot of yourself. Yeah, right.

To begin, this set of chapbooks , obvious not academically produced by look or details or whatnot. Produced with thought though. Goodnight Voice by Dana Ward; The Contortions by Nicole Mauro; Mondo Crampo by Juliet Cook; Silveronda by Lucy Harvest Clarke.

First things first. Grandpa out here wants Dana and Nicole and Juliet and Lucy to send to him some of what they are smoking because whatever it is I need it. I am your elder out here. You got to respect that you know. If it wasn’t for guys like me running mimeo machines 40 years ago…blah blah blah. Okay sorry for that. But geez, this group of publications, every one of them has juice…lots of juice. Each of them knock me out with the immediate reaction to what they are doing with the language…it is on fire, it is knockabout, it is fucked up. It makes me laugh out and keep reading. Oh and sometimes uncomfortable either feeling old or ignorant of some nuance or other. Some shit I don’t know about..but that is not a drawdown at all. And even if I cannot truly know exactly how and with what they were created…that is okay for now. I mean if it has anything to do with drugs, I repeat, you must share. If it has to do with Google or IPad or IPods or whatnot…well don’t know if we can get to same place or not. I still use email I confess don’t have the Smartphone or stuff like that. So what.

[Editor's Note: Am inserting here a photo of Grandpa McCrary with partner Sue gallivanting somewhere in Mexico:

Note the lovely, ah..., befuddled look...]

So here is Goodnight Voice by Dana Ward. Cracks me up the cover has not the title or author…ha ha…but does have nifty drawing of tea party goings on. And wasn’t there a kids book Goodnight Moon (I read my kids Go Dog Go so I don’t know) And it is hand sewn folded…old school for sure. The first lines
The title is Kerri Says…
“I think that I’m somebody else
&that thought is city block common
At every turn dogs pigeon shit lovers too
Where the arm can be slid in and out like a sleeve…….”

So the title is un presumed in that it is simple, Kerri Says…who don’t matter and what why but the two words are immediate and local…I as reader have no need for reference…,it is here is Dana and here is Kerri somehow. Then stated a ‘thought is city block common’ rocks me here. What that does to bring so much into a reading without garbling up the page with ‘need to know’ reflex from me. It just is what it is….that concrete block common. It is like here is a ‘poem’ to call it, that I am invited to walk through, and I can walk with it and keep my head down and mouth shut and just…walk with it…see where it ends up. Oh “Our Pernod” Kerri says”…that’s the last line I see. Perfect. And she continues through this collection of 18-20 poems with a fresh taste for the lingo of her head brought out. How can you not take in the title poem: Goodnight Voice which begins:
“As a simple container of impulse I hew
To her book
Want to version its sudden fluidity
Through it back boring & make something false I could
Care for, I could be that kind of poet…”

Here is the text with enough original and thoughtful and living contained in it and obvious to we who find it that, I think, encourages with an easy feeling to continue. To read. What else is there. I wish Dana Ward all she can.

Reading Nicole Mauro’s The Contortions, to me today, is like trying to read E. Pound a long time ago…what the fuck I gotta learn Greek? And then I heard a tape (Google that if need be) of the voice of Ezra and I was moved greatly. And then I realized that if I listened I didn’t have to know ALL the words to ‘enjoy’ the poem. So too with the first text in this book, Kilter, which is about 30 short lines long. If I were to have to stop and look up unknown words I’d be fucked. Words like oscurations, ologizing, ohphsizing, cavitations, antrum, and fundus. Maybe these kids today have some machine that you can use, I donno. So what, I can imagine, yes? Or not…well that is not what I want to consider just know. Do I get the drift that Nicole is indicating? I think I do. Kilter. What a great word that. Then she does a series of text responses (?) to inkblots and the first one, number 1, begins: “O fuck”. And why not use that to open anything. Sets a lot going. Number VII ends with the lines:
“…Begin again or continue
past. I long for longer
bygones, a box
for the attic.”

Mauro seems to be taking a very familiar combo and making it not so. It is to be recalled again and again for us all that those boxes of memories in the attic…along with what…dead rats and crazy sister dead in a trunk? Sure and why not…she is fucking writing off inkblots. It is a very original riff done well. The book ends with The Ending of Days which is ‘found text’ actual TV Guide soap opera updates…you know Bobby has Jasmine at gun point in the basement which is flooding and Bret has just shot himself in the ass, etc. Mauro does a call and response…but it seems to me like an example of a how to write a poem exercise deal you might find in a ‘teachers handbook’ than anything else. Not that it is poorly conceived, oh no, but just a bit too much for me. But then again I have read the little texts in TV guides about those daily shows for years and I suppose I suffer for that. Nicole Mauro is a good writer. Because I have just now read this book of hers, I will look for more of the same. You too.

Now comes MONDO CRAMPO by Juliet Cook. What is this here…red cellophane cover over zerox of someone’s underwear. A book held together with…are those grommets? Didn’t I make ‘books’ with these same materials for mom in grade school? I see London I see France. That is my first response to finding this in the stack of books received. I can’t help it and don’t apologize or analyze either. So what, again. Point is this book has introduced itself with unique style and agenda and attitude that is hard to resist. Where to begin….aside to Juliet: I flipped open the book to Donut Holes poem and read:
“Now every time I roll up a tube of red lipstick,
I’m going to think about dog penis.
I ‘m going to confuse myself with puff poetry.” (She wrote ‘pastry’)

I would be somewhat misdirecting the reader if I admit that my reading was not just what the author meant anyway…wouldn’t I. One of those questions not gonna be answered here. I should insert a link to some Ken Goldsmith essay but not gonna do that either. Here is what I say….reading Juliet Cook is a total delight and I need no more or less information that what is before me to say that. I do not need to know how she does it (except as requested above), where she does it (what program?), on what she does it (Ouija Board) what font, what device etc etc. All I can do is read it and rejoice and laugh. Bust a gut we used to say. This text comes out my nose about every third page. And what do I know. The freaking CONTENTS page outdoes the majority of what comes down my pike termed poetics these days. This book joins a short list, whip me for that if you must, of the likes of Lenore Kandell, Joanne Kyger, Ann Waldman, Anne Boyer, Shannon Compton and some more women to read and reread. The one who can write out Ovarian Follies:
“I was cutting & pasting the contents of my latest diorama.
It was the pinking shears and re-painted papier mache phase
when I felt them twinging, pinging, plotting, besotting
and then my ovaries jumped ship.”

Thus begins a classic modern text, quite adorable as Ed Dorns Gunslinger in its own way. Cook can take apart any part of her own or the global anatomy and using her graphic ability to write down exactly what sounds and looks perfectly at ease in a stanza, for example, the text called : Clean it Yourself. With a title like that, maybe a bit reluctant to ‘enter into a dialog with the text’. But why not. Am I not to be reamed like a freakin sewer pipe? Skewed like a freakin butthole? So what, read on:
“You’re drinking it up so ‘artistically’
In your latest cum guzzling fantasy.
When you strutted in here, you were svelte enough, but now?”
HA HA I say.

“YOU ARE SO BLOATED!” she continues in the poem. I give up. I can only read it as it is.

More titles Fuzzy Womb, Dim Sum Womb, Smoosh, Kitten Fur, Undressing, Backstage and the postscript…Prune Juice. Eeeeewww. Can I even quote this? But wait. Here is the last ‘sentence’ in the book: “…A speech impediment walks into a breast implant.” And with that Juliet Cook closes the book called Mondo Crampo, picks up her half empty pint of IPA and walks off stage. The itty bitty crowd (that is me)howls and howls and howls. For more. Please.

I am going to give a long quote from beginning of Lucy Harvest Clarks SILVERONDA, which is one good example of some very good poetry being published by small press in the U.K. today. This from poem indicated in contents as: “with map”
“-with map stick sliding on map
-electric rave in woods
how you circum so
circum nomad
-a car crash to be fling
go elope
guilty template
-bullet hole domes
to regenerate
-cold glass alignment
-the stretching contorts
to tether
-all will and above
-remembrance though
and its flowers
it hands
-under trees under
stinking ghosts
-a falling wheel…”

I don’t think reading this again and again that I have anyway to respond except to give you this much from the book. What follows for some 81 pages are, after all, varieties of the above. In placement, in visuality, in ‘subject’ or attitude. I cannot for the life of me give you more than that. I am sure that many, many pages could be given over to ‘close’ or ‘critical’ readings of Clarke’s writings. Hope someone, well maybe…not even sure of that. What I think….a lot more people should read this than will perhaps. If I could I would hang it on doorknobs, stuff it in mailboxes. But can’t do that. You can take the above quoted lines and run with them. Be not confused or afraid. You can wet your pants in joy or fear. Have at it. Let your eyes flicker and follow what the author gives you. Great return for little effort. Remember to breath. I look forward to more.


Three chapbooks received. These, I see, are produced with more intent to physically and visually call attention to the actual materials used i.e. how the cover is folded or manipulated. Could one call them ‘art books’ without laying some horrible pre-conception on them. Oh well.

Gutter Catholic Love Song by Joseph Wood

The unique design of a folded cover with drawing attached hand sewn holding 13 full pages of text broken into 5 line stanzas. The obvious or first response after reading them all is that Wood has given us a heavy dose of his attempts to collect time passed. Here midway thru the chap book, an example:
…a flagellation in silver stain, above the alter ten
Stigmata drip your eye sockets, you’ve grown
Tired of playing the lyre to piss-poor gamblers, you
Stand, flip the craps table, dice fall to the ground
Like broken teeth, halos shoot like Tyson upper cuts…”

As the text continues, so do the images and language of daily stuff…politics, religion, sex , drugs and rock and roll. Not to diminish any of those. Joseph Wood powers through the days of the week and more, leaving behind a record that seems unique and to be looked over. If you can find it. Google Mitzvah Chaps.

my day aimlessly walking vancouver, wash by james yeary, illustrated by nate orton

A slim volume, with holes in the cover, stapled and zeroxed together. Ink drawings of Vancouver in detail or nuance you might not expect. Pieces picked up, gathered from the street are taped inside on some pages. Details, smudges, rubs, graffiti, quotes, overheard lyrics and more. Maybe it is, after all, all collected…as yeary (maybe?) says: what else can you say about a city? You can, as these two have, walk thru it, take note, gather it up and reproduce your ‘notes’. The poetics, if it can be said, of this kind of publication, lives within what is found on the pages…no matter the look, no matter the context, no matter the dirt from the street picked up. That is the magic.

Thanks james and nate.


Alex Savage is a funny guy. He can write something called: Gettin' Baked with Kenny G. and make it work you over on the floor. Join in I guess. And lots of other 'routines' in this collection which have guts and guffs. Like a whole page list of stuff Christopher Columbus did or maybe like "Christopher Columbus wanted to go home." or "Christopher Columbus bought queso." or "Christopher Columbus loved to hold and be held." It goes on. It is all very very whatever and that is okay. Alex Savage is a younger poet. He will grow older along with his talent one hopes. Yes he will. Thanks to Anne Boyer (publisher) for bringing him to print.


Jim McCrary blogs at



Selections by André Breton, edited and with an introduction by Mark Polizzotti
(University of California Press, Berkeley 2003)

Martinique: Snake Charmer by André Breton, translated by David W. Seaman with introduction by Franklin Rosemont
(University of Texas Press, Austin, 2008)

Hypodermic Light: The Poetry of Philip Lamantia and the Question of Surrealism by Steven Frattali
(Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, 2005)

Tau by Philip Lamantia / Journey to the End by John Hoffman, ed. Garrett Caples
(City Lights, San Francisco, 2008)

André Breton was surrealism. Both king and court jester, he was the ultimate hall monitor expelling recalcitrants who fell afoul of his mercurial whim. Philip Lamantia was surrealism’s most well-known American exponent. We will call on Wikipedia to provide a working definition of this nebulous term:
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members.

Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact. Leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement.

Surrealism developed out of the Dada activities of World War I and the most important center of the movement was Paris. From the 1920s on, the movement spread around the globe, eventually affecting the visual arts, literature, film, and music of many countries and languages, as well as political thought and practice, philosophy and social theory.

The latter paragraph is undoubtedly incorrect. As will be shown later, Dada developed in Zurich shortly after World War I was declared arriving in Paris as a result of such personages as Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp as well as Andre Breton. Again relying on Wikipedia for a concise working definition:
Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1922. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature—poetry, art manifestoes, art theory—theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti-war politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. Its purpose was to ridicule what its participants considered to be the meaninglessness of the modern world. In addition to being anti-war, dada was also anti-bourgeois and anarchistic in nature.

Although there was a connection between Dada and Surrealism in the sense that, for the most part, each supported the other and each were counter-cultural, the important Surrealist precursors were Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, in literature, and, to a large extent, Hieronymus Bosch in the visual arts. Thus, it would be more accurate to allege, at least for literature, that Surrealism developed out of Symbolism than out of Dada. Even then:
The real revolution of this period, however, ultimately had little to do with Dada, or with any of Breton’s previous literary models. In the spring of 1919, before Dada came to Paris, and just as his first book of poems, Pawnshop (Mont de piété), was coming off press, Breton turned back to his psychiatric studies and to the startling imagery that he’d heard from his traumatized patients during the war.(Polizzotti, 14)

Born in Normandy on February 19, 1896, Breton began studies in medicine and psychiatry which were interrupted by World War I as well as his lack of interest in those or any subjects. His training did, however, put him into a position serving on a neurological ward in Nantes during the war where he came into contact with soldiers suffering from shell-shock (or what would be known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). From that position, he struck up friendships with Alfred Jarry (the creator of the pataphysical concept) and Jacques Vaché. The latter’s suicide at age 24 would have a profound effect on Breton plaguing him psychologically for the rest of Breton’s life. He, along with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault in 1919, founded the literary review Littérature. At first infatuated with Dada, he invited Tristan Tzara from Geneva to Paris but later turned his back on the Dadaists going so far as to disrupt one of Tzara’s readings leading to a riot. In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto , originally conceived as an addendum to a collection of automatic writings but which afterwards achieved more prominence than the writings it intended to introduce. Disappointed when Freud, who was sent a copy, showed little interest in what Breton considered an application of Freudian theory, he then courted the French communist party as he considered surrealism a meeting place of Arthur Rimbaud and communist theory. He was spurned by them as they considered him not orthodox enough according to the Stalinist view then in vogue. He then turned to the Trotskyite version spending time in Mexico with Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. He died on September 28, 1966.

Selections opens with an excellent concise biography and analysis written by Mark Polizzotti – something befitting a person the stature of Breton and something which all other publishers should take note of. This, in itself, is worth the price of the book – and that’s only the beginning. The only thing that one could still wish for were that this was a bilingual editiion.

Polizzotti expounds on Breton’s predecessors in the following passage:
The intricate collage of Breton’s poetry begins, as if following a classical apprenticeship, with the imitation of his predecessors. His earliest pieces were wittingly obscure sonnets styled after the nineteenth-century Symbolists, whose verses he discovered in his early teens. It was from the Symbolists, with their penchant for abstruse formulations and sensual decadence...that the young man early on adopted a taste for hermeticism that never entirely left his writing. He absorbed the precious aestheticism of such now forgotten writers as René Ghil and Stuart Merrill, the dark and fusty enigmas of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and Jean Lorrain. He became a passionate devotee of Stéphane Mallarmé, perhaps the most arcane poet France had yet produced, whom the young Breton considered ‘God made manifest.’ And at almost the same time, he was enthralled by the liberating insouciance and perpetual adolescent revolt emanating from another literary deity, Arthur Rimbaud, ‘a veritable god of puberty such as no mythology had ever seen.’(1-2)

When it came to his own poems, “whether dredged raw from his unconscious or based on a very deliberate appreciation of his environment, generally followed the prescription he first sketched at age seventeen: that the true merit of poetry is to ‘unsettle the walls of the real that enclose us.’”(4)

Polizzotti quotes Breton in regard to his early poems inspired by Rimbaud:
These lines were the closed eye to the operations of thought that I believed I was obliged to keep hidden from the reader...I had begun to cherish words excessively for the space they allow around them, for their tangencies with countless other words that I did not utter. (10)

Polizzotti adds his own assessment:
If there is one overriding aesthetic of this period, it is the collage, an assemblage of ‘indirect loans,’ disparate fragments borrowed from life, literature, advertising, slogans, and any other element deemed useful...In his 1918 trilogy of poems, Breton uses the minutiae of admired literary figures as sign-posts, guides for the text, even as accomplishes – just as he named his friends in many of his prose writings throughout his life. Even Breton’s daily existence at this time was a collage, a sundry patchwork of military duties, long-distance literary activities, periodic exchanges with his friends Aragon and Soupault, and, more than anything, his infrequent but much-awaited encounters with Vaché, who was now back on the frontlines.(10)

Polizzotti addresses the import of the Surrealist Manifesto by first referring to Breton’s mock-dictionary definition:
SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure form, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concerns.(20)

He then adds this quotation from Breton: “Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful...It is a call to man, ‘that inveterate dreamer,’ to reject the ‘lusterless fate’ promised by centuries of Greco-Latin logic.”

‘Age’ was written in 1918. It clearly shows its indebtedness to Rimbaud:
Dawn, farewell! I’m coming out of the haunted forest; I’m braving the roads, torrid crosses. A foliage that gives blessings is ruining me. August, like a millionaire, has no cracks.(52)

Compare this to Rimbaud’s ‘Drunken Boat’.

Two years later, Breton wrote ‘Black Forest’. Here, he is indebted to Apollinaire, in particular, the Apollinaire of Calligrammes, published posthumously in 1918, for the layout of the poem:
Tender capsule            etc.derby
Madame de Saint-Gobain finds time goes by slowly when alone
A cutlet wilts

                                 Outline of fate

Where            shutterless                       this white gable
                      Log-haulers are favored(53)

The difference between these two early poems is astronomical. We can clearly see the collage technique that Breton also borrowed from Apollinaire, an indebtedness to Picasso’s and Braque’s Cubist experiments in the visual arts.

Breton, in ‘For Lafcadio’, from 1918 as well, telegraphs his technique at the end:
Better to have it said
that André Breton
collector of Indirect Loans
is dabbling in collage
while waiting to retire(54)

In 1920, Breton published The Magnetic Fields (Les Champs magnétiques). Polizzotti describes this period, on p. 15: “That June, while awaiting discharge from the army, Breton spent hours in his hotel room with Soupault, ‘blackening’ sheets of paper with a rapid flow of words jotted down without premeditation or vigilance – words that, he hoped, would form a verbal record of his unconscious.” Here is a brief segment of the result, ‘Honeymoon’:
To what are mutual attractions due? There are some jealousies more touching than others. I willingly wander in such baffling darkness as that of the rivalry between a woman and a book. The finger on the side of the forehead is not the barrel of a revolver.(58)

It is clear from ‘Choose Life’ that not all was purely automatic in The Magnetic Fields. Here, Breton revised the automatic at least to the extent of adding a refrain “Choose life”:
Choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
Its scars from escapes
Choose life choose that rose window on my tomb
The life of being here nothing but being here
Where one voice says Are you there where another answers Are you there
I’m hardly here at all alas
And even when we might be making fun of what we kill
                                 Choose life(69)

He was, also, not reluctant to play with typography once the automatic writing had been recorded as can be seen in ‘Angle of Sight’ on p. 73.

Written and published in 1924, Soluble Fish is the poetry collection attached as an appendix to the Manifesto of Surrealism, the reverse of what Breton originally intended as the Manifesto was to be merely a preface. This is another example of ‘psychic automatism’:
In those days the one thing people were all talking about around the place de la Bastille was an enormous wasp that went down the boulevard Richard-Lenoir in the morning singing at the top of its lungs and asking the children riddles. The little modern sphinx had already made quite a few victims when, as I left the café whose façade some thought would look good with a cannon, although the Prison in the neighborhood may pass today for a legendary building. I met the wasp with the waist of a pretty woman and it asked me the way.(76)

The Manifesto itself is provided in an appendix where the thread of Breton’s musings runs from man, “that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny”(143), through the word ‘freedom’ which, he writes, “is the only one that still excites me”(144),to madness where he “is willing to admit that they are, to some degree, victims of their imagination”(145) while complaining that “we are still living under the reign of logic” to Freud and psychic activity ultimately arriving at dream where he states that he “believe(s) in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality.(150)

The poems contained in Soluble Fish deserve more attention than they received at the time of publication and even today where they remain overshadowed by the Manifesto. We must accept that not all is unconscious although it may have begun in that manner. A case in point is ‘Free Union’ which begins:
My wife whose hair is a brush fire
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is an hourglass
Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger
Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude
Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow(89)

It is hard to accept that this blason is the result of a completely unconscious process. Certainly it doesn’t follow the ‘accepted’ course of the medieval blason which would move directionally rather than jump from hair to thoughts to waist and back to mouth. Certainly, the imagery is not one of extolling the visual virtues of some fair maiden nor do they produce the reverse blason that Shakespeare became so renowned for from his ‘My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun’. The imagery here, while somewhat guided, moves, to a certain extent, with the immediacy of thought but of thought applied, not of thought unleashed.

“Surrealism’s recent changes of course, notably its rejection of pyschic automatism in favor of Communist politics and, more internally, its excoriation of some of its own members”(23) was signalled, almost as an apologia, by the publication of the Second Manifesto of Surrealism, which reads in part:
Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point. From this it becomes obvious how absurd it would be to define Surrealism solely as constructive or destructive; the point to which we are referring is a fortiori that point where construction and destruction can no longer be brandished one against the other.(153)

It is this Manifesto that contains these famous words:
The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as one can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level.(154)

Polizzotti next includes poems from Fata Morgana written while in southern France awaiting embarkation to America and escape from the deteriorating European situation of WWII. He includes a quote from Breton regarding the “epic work...a poem which ‘states my resistance, which is more intransigent than ever, to the masochistic enterprises in France that tend to restrict poetic freedom or to immolate it on the same altar as other freedoms.”(30) The excerpt begins:
The bed hurtles down rails of blue honey
Freeing into transparency animals from medieval sculpture
It tips and nearly spills onto the slopes of foxglove
And is lit in flashes by the eyes of birds of prey
Loaded with all the emanations from Otranto’s giant feathered helmet
The bed hurtles down rails of blue honey...(111)

In 1948, Breton published a self-selected anthology titled Poèmes which Polizzotti says was “for all intents and purposes...Breton’s final poetic word.” He continues:
The war had taken its toll on this level as well, for the later poems in the collection occasionally sound an unfamiliar note of fatigue...As the poems become more conscious, more directed, and more far flung geographically, they lose some of the adventurousness from the pre-war years. Instead, Breton’s true sense of exoticism emerges on home ground; his earlier writings evoke a Paris in brilliant electrical darkness, proliferating in fantastic human and animal creatures.(34)

Of Breton’s legacy, Polizzotti says “Only after his death on 28 September 1966, at the age of seventy, would the lasting impact of Surrealism begin to be recognized, as students adopted his phrases during the May 1968 riots and the disquieting aesthetic of Surrealist art infiltrated the visual idiom of everyday life.”(36)

Martinique: Snake Charmer is, in part, about Breton’s flight from France in late 1940. He and his family stayed in Marseilles for a few months while awaiting embarkation to the safety of the U.S. having passed briefly through Martinique on the way. The trip was quite eventful, to say the least. Franklin Rosemont, in his introduction, describes some of the events:
On December 3 [1940], the eve of Vichy premier Pétain’s visit to the city, Breton was arrested and held for four days. The official report described him as a ‘dangerous anarchist sought for a long time by the French police.’

In February-March 1941, Vichy regime censors forbade the publication of two of Breton’s books, the Anthology of Black Humor and the poem Fata Morgana, with drawings by Wifredo Lam.

Eventually, with the unstinting help of Varian Fry and the American Rescue Committee, Breton succeeded in obtaining a U.S. visa and was able to secure passage for himself, his wife, Jacqueline, and their daughter, Aube, on a transatlantic steamer, which left Marseilles on March 24.(3)

The trip across the Atlantic was itself memorable given that Breton, along with others such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, were described as ‘scum’ and “slept on crude mats in the hold.” Nor was their arrival in Martinique that much more pleasant. “When the ship arrived at Fort-de-France, Martinique, after a month at sea, it turned out that word of the ‘dangerous agitator’ had already reached the island’s Vichy authorities” and Breton “was promptly sent to the Lazaret concentration camp, a former leper colony. Released a few days later, he remained under constant police surveillance throughout his few weeks on the island.”(4)

Martinique begins with a Preface in which Breton states “in Martinique, in the spring of 1941, our vision was split in two.”(39) He goes on to make it clear that Martinique is a collaboration between he and André Masson:
in the following pages, we decided to devote one section to lyrical language and another to the language of simple information. We were both wildly seduced at the same time that we were wounded and indignant. Hence, our use in deliberate opposition of these two forms, which our unified voice shelters from dissonance, but which furthermore are bound together here by a conversation between us. In this dialogue, even as our spirits yielded unreservedly to the magnetic force of this ideal and real place, our conversation maintained a simultaneously sinuous and familiar turn, reassuring us that it is less important to view this world as artists than to respond to it as human beings.(40)

The first piece, ‘Antille’, is by André Masson. It begins: “At night, the house-fires admire themselves in the land’s glance. A grand ballet of palms, set in place by silence, motionless, rustles in the fresh dancing air.”(41) Here, personification brings the scene vividly closer to us. “On the lawn of your lips the protruding tongue of the hibiscus”(42) is but one of the memorable lines to be found in this brief but magnificent poem.

Collaboration proper begins with ‘The Creole Dialogue between André Breton and André Masson’. The process of collaboration appears to be that they took turns writing paragraphs or groups of paragraphs. The difference in style is discernible from the first two stanzas:
“Look at this white spot there above us, one might say it was a gigantic blossom but it may as well be the underside of a leaf; there is very little wind. The night here is full of trap doors, of unidentified sounds. But what is most beautiful, because it is least believable, is still the break of day. It is totally unforgivable to miss it.”

“The forest surrounds us; we knew of it and its sorcery before we arrived. Do you remember the drawing I called ‘Delire végetal’ [Vegetable Delirium]? The deliriousness is here, we touch it, we experience it. We are one with these layered trees, bearing in the elbows of their branches miniature swamps with parasitic vegetation grafted to their supporting trunks; rising, falling back down, active, passive, festooned from top to bottom with garlands of starlike blooms.”(43)

Even if we didn’t know that Masson was also a painter, we could guess that the first paragraph was by Breton and the second by Masson. Breton’s is much more jagged than Masson’s which has a painterly smoothness, which is much more interconnected while continuing to create science fiction landscapes. This ‘conversation’ is accompanied by extensive notes, as is the rest of the book, explaining the sometimes rather obscure influences. Wisely, these notes are endnotes rendering them unobtrusive although the quantity of them and their sometime unimportance to Martinique itself give one the impression they are present merely to show off the erudition of the translator more than as support for the work which is all notes – endnotes or otherwise – should do.

The subsequent prose travelogue alternates between the two as well. But this is a travelogue written by madmen. An excerpt from what is presumed to be Breton’s ‘The Dark Lantern’ will demonstrate:
Rain sets its hurricane glass around the bamboo grove, in sconces of vermilion flowers clinging to branches with suction cups, where, not a minute ago, dance steps spun, taught by two butterflies of pure blood. Everything unfolds in the depths of a bowl the way Japanese flowers do; a clearing opens; heliotropism jumps in on its shoes with curling toes and spiraling fingernails. Heart-stopping, flights up the sensitive tree, a feather crest, causes to swoon the fern whose burning mouth is a wheel of time. My eye is the closed violet at the centre of the ellipsis, at the tip of its tail.(59)

The next, ‘Bearer with no Burden’, preceded as it is by a sketch of what appears to be a fruit tree with legs and breasts, is assumed to be by Masson:
Like a spirit returning at regular intervals because its habit is periodicity and belongs to it alone, young black women pass by, often unaccompanied, carried along by the same rhythm; each is the very one Baudelaire was thinking of; his image of these women is so unforgettable.(61)

The reason for Masson’s incredulity at the sight of unaccompanied women was that it was still unheard of for European women to transgress unaccompanied the terrain occupied by men.

‘Troubled Waters’, a lengthy prose work, is more in keeping with the realist memoire and bears littel resemblance to anything that could be termed Surrealist. It is Breton’s account of his stay in Martinique.

‘A Great Black Poet’ is written in the same vein but begins following Breton and his family’s release from Pointe-Rouge, Martinique’s jail converted from the former leper colony of Lazaret. Breton describes his encounter with the first edition of Tropiques, the literary journal edited by Aimé Césaire and his wife, Suzanne, and with Césaire himself.

Martinique concludes with the poem ‘Formerly Known as Liberty Street’.

Martinique does not present any counter-argument to Polizzotti’s claim that Breton’s best work had occurred prior to his leaving France. It is a fascinating read but not one that adds anything to the annals of Surrealism. But it does herald Breton’s arrival in America where his and the Surrealist influence will be imparted to American poets, the chief of whom would be Philip Lamantia.

Born in San Francisco in 1927, Philip Lamantia initially has his poetry published in the magazine View in 1943, when he was fifteen and in the final issue of the American Surrealist magazine VVV the following year. Affiliated initially with the San Francisco Renaissance of Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser, he later became involved with the Beat movement and, in fact, appeared at the historic San Francisco Six Gallery on October 7, 1955, when poet Allen Ginsberg read his poem Howl for the first. He then embraced the Surrealist Movement in the United States when several of their representatives, including André Breto, fled to the U.S. to escape WWII. He died in 2005. During his life, his poetry was greatly underrated and virtually unknown.

Frattali seeks to remedy this oversight. Frattali says of his book: “perhaps examining the work of one of its more obscure figures will prove to be a useful means of reconsidering the [Surrealist] movement as a whole, as though one were to be led into a large and famous public building through a little-used side door.”(2)

Frattali divides Lamantia’s poetry into phases committing a chapter, and a color, to each phase. The first is Red: The Erotic Vision. This process is just a little bit too cutesy and should have probably been reconsidered. He describes Lamantia’s poetry in this first phase as:
work governed by the spirit of Breton. It presents us with erotic poetry which takes the erotic itself as the point of departure for a visionary impulse and makes of it a vehicle for encountering a range of metaphysical questions. Many of these pieces are in fact early and are written in an unfashionable ‘poetic’ idiom – incantatory and dream-like – and are often centered on an idealized woman...We are reminded that certain elements of European Surrealism, particularly in France, were a kind of modern rebirth of Petrarchism, and we find in such poems a special baroque complexity which codes desire and its transformations in an ornamented and deliberately conceited idiom.(3)

The erotic theme is well-researched and informatively written. Frattali begins with the assertion that
European Surrealist poetry, in dealing with the erotic, approached an ultimate degree of mannerism and stylization, a kind of baroque style...Perhaps it is natural that these anti-realist tendencies should be especially marked in the genre of erotic poetry. In dealing with this charged subject, the poetry strives to exceed normal expression, to create an overflow of meaning that is caused by and also creates a surplus of images and of figures.(11)

He goes on to indicate that this ‘superabundance” may not be to an American audience’s taste as “it follows an aesthetic quite at odds with much contemporary American poetry, for it in no way models itself after natural speech. Instead, it resorts to the hieratic, the enigmatic, and the incantatory, seeking in the radiance of its figures a light beyond the merely rational and a warmth other than that of ordinary passion.”(12) He then goes on to examine Lamantia in this light:
In Lamantia’s case, erotic celebration is a vehicle for exploring a range of experience, both literal and imaginative, which takes him into areas of metaphysical concern, ideas of transcendence, of self-hood and of alterity. We find an array of striking associations and images, combined with a sense of exultation, which we can compare with Breton. Or, in a somewhat different vein, we find passages in which an affinity with Desnos seems to show itself in a style more somnambulist, a bit less rhetorical, and perhaps closer to song.(12)

Frattali compares this surrealist form of love poetry to that of the medieval troubadour before quoting from Giorgio Agamben on the concept of trobar in Language and Death:
It is difficult to understand the sense in which the poets understood love, as long as we obstinately construe it according to a secular misunderstanding, in a purely biographical context. For the troubadours, it is not a question of psychological or biographical events that are successively expressed in words, but rather, of the attempt to live the tropos itself, the event of a language as a fundamental amorous and poetic experience.(16)

He calls this “the opposite of the Puritan model” going on to describe the difference as one of ‘inner’ v. ‘outer’: “one first has an experience, an ‘inner’ experience, and then professes it in words, perhaps aloud. And yet writing of the kind that Agamben describes is not merely performative; it is itself a becoming, and a becoming other.” The comparison of this troubadour love to that of the surrealist which follows is quite fascinating, particularly when he arrives at the statement: “These erotic poems, therefore, do not describe the beloved. They respond to her and to the libidinal excitement and psychological challenge she represents.”(18) Certainly, he means by this that the beloved is objectified as an other. However, all love poetry, whether written by male or female, objectifies the persona of the beloved. Frattali essentially states this otherness when he compares the surrealist to the Platonic:
Platonism sees such personal beauty as a lure toward the apprehension of a Beyond. The Surrealist response, with its mythology of the Marvelous, bears some relation to this at the level of thought: the Beloved is an emissary from elsewhere, ailleur, and embodiment of something more; the Marvelous is a door opening to an unthought-of realm. Yet at the level of writing, the response amounts to a disintegration of rationality in a flight of images which, following Lyotard, we might characterize as figural.(18)

He concludes the opening chapter with explications of several of Lamantia’s erotic poems.

Frattali ascribes the colour black to Lamantia’s second phase describing it as:
poetry dominated by the influence of Artaud, probably one of the few such bodies of work written in English. In this phase of his career, coinciding roughly with the decade of the 50’s, the poet’s writing exhibits a Gnostic vision, in which there dominates a sense of the fallen, residual nature of the world and of language itself. The body is often viewed as a charred remnant or dross. There is an exasperated impatience with literary language, a kind of sparagmos of the poetic world, and the explicitly political poems become angrier. Comparisons may be made with Cesar Villejo, with the Lorca of Poet in New York, and with some of Neruda’s pieces in the Residencia sequence

He begins the chapter with a very brief digression to Levinas’s concept of the il y a, the ‘there is’, the response to which is one of horror and therefore something similar to Kristeva’s ‘abject’. He then turns to Surrealism and says:
The typical subject of Surrealism, therefore, is enigma, which it nonetheless presents frontally, boldly, and as though in a joyous wondering. In the erotic mode, this presentation is prompted by the desire for union and lured by its glimmering possibility. Despite the enigmatic context, there is a boldness of representation: the enigmatic is, paradoxically, exhibited, placed directly before us. We are intended to see more than we normally would, to see into and to see beyond the merely factual. In reading Surrealist texts at their most exuberant we might almost feel that we witness the fecundity of the heart of the world, a fecundity that exceeds both being and non-being, an excess and a surplus at the root of all existence and all genesis.(44)

To this gnosis he ascribes woman as the Beloved. He then goes on
At the heart of Surrealist vision is a special type of horror, a special type of shudder; it is not a rustle but a clamor, the clamor of Being itself. Yet as long as the imagination maintains as its central point the body of the Beloved, this horror, or at least its portrayal, remains somewhat muted, covered, as it were, by the erotic.(45)

He applies this to Lamantia’s use of language:
We find this torment of reason and of language in Lamantia...In the style, in particular, of some of his work, we observe a language quite different from what we saw in the erotic poetry. There it had verged upon non-sense, or perhaps an excess of meaning, and yet it was buoyant and fluent nevertheless, a voluble and ecstatic speech. Yet in this later phase, as likewise in Artaud, we find a halting and aphasic idiom marked and abraded by a too-harsh contact with the evil of the world. To speak this way is to speak in gnostic terms. In such a vision, the poetry’s key element, which had previously been light or perhaps water, becomes darkness.(45)

This materializes as
recessive and harsh, a charred remnant, and crossed with waves of negative affect which disrupt syntax, rhythm, and stylistic register. The inscription of a sentence no longer follows from the natural impulse of desire toward its object, however much diverted from baroque hesitations and redundancies; rather, the unit of utterance is as much the phrase as the sentence; expression falters and continually reorients itself toward an object, Being, which it can approach only reluctantly, or from which it shrinks in an attempt to create an alternative condition, which yet it cannot imagine or have access to through any of the objects in the world. There is, in fact, and quite naturally, a sort of hostility toward objects, as likewise toward nature as a whole, and images sometimes seem chosen for their grotesque inappropriateness, or even to be chosen at random.(46)

Frattali refers to this denial of desire towards the object un-American
The evil of the world, which capitalism has multiplied and decorated, consists in this very fecundity. (There are new models of cars every year.) This evil must now be called forth before itself, and us, in a series of denunciations. There is a certain paranoia implicit in this, and yet vigor as well, a vigor of rejection. It is quite simply the rejection of the society of consumption in terms as insulting to it as possible. For the frenetic activity of this society, which we usually call ‘consumerism,’ seems to be the perfect embodiment of the false, the wasteful, and the decadent.(50)

In further support of this concept, Frattali makes a comparison between W.C. Williams Patterson and Lamantia via Artaud
We might recall the spectacle which William Carlos Williams celebrates in his excursions to the park on Sunday in Patterson. Williams reaction to the vulgarity and candid sexuality of the sunbathers is appreciative, even admiring. Yet Lamantia has an opposite response. In this he would be joined by Artaud himself, whose intense discomfort with sexuality has to do with the assent it imposes on the human subject during moments of passion and jouissance, an assent which runs violently counter to his gnostic quest for freedom(51)

From this, he discusses language as violence
Yet it is the schizoid breakup of this voice which creates holes, gaps, and fissures through which social existence itself is made manifest, not merely in the form of its scattered linguistic traces but also in its underlying spiritual nature. We see, in fact, an irruption of the social and the historical into the space of writing as they mark themselves upon it in the form of a pure violence. We also witness an attempt at resistance, though the self which must resist is fragmented.(54)

The comparison to Williams and the concept of language as violence are mentioned at the beginning of Frattali’s explication of the title poem ‘Hypodermic Light’ which is one of Lamantia’s major works. They have been included at they are applicable to much of the poetry explicated in this chapter. He concludes this chapter with an explication of several other poems. Such explications would register more should he have included excerpts from the poems to which he refers. There appears to be an expectation on his part that the reader will have ready access to Lamantia’s collections – an expectation that is completely unfounded.

We are now given the ‘go’ sign, green, although ‘amber’ might be more applicable to this description of the third phase ‘Green: Becoming Visible’:
quieter, more reflective, and continuing into recent publications...a return of a utopian vision, but this time the focal point is not so much the Woman as the physical world and our ecological relationship to it...Here lines become longer, and the surrealist baroque yields, to some extent, to a more visually oriented imagism. This phase marks something of a break with surrealist style as we usually think of it, and yet it also reminds us that this understanding is sometimes too narrow and that surrealism has at times forced itself to confront the real more directly.

This reminds one of the Breton of Martinique. Up to this point, Frattali has provided a fascinating portrait of Lamantia. However, he takes up the first six pages of this chapter with philosophical musings on perception culminating with the philosopher Lingis leaving the impression that this was an essay written for another purpose but which he decided to stick in here as an afterthought. He eventually arrives at an interesting statement regarding Lamantia which extends his statement in the introduction (quoted above):
In Lamantia’s poetry an increasing sense of the visual and the factual develops gradually over time. The gradualness of this development is a matter for speculation yet we might note that such writing, more attuned to the facticity of the world than the more overtly surrealist work we have looked at till now, requires a language responsive both to the external as well as to subjectivity, and to the non-linguistic signs by which the visible is made available to us in perception. The new item in such writing is the precise visual detail.(79)

This description could be equally applicable to Breton’s Martinique and , more particularly, to ‘The Creole Dialogue between André Breton and André Masson’ contained therein. This last quotation leads into an interesting statement regarding Breton and Surrealism:
The objective of Surrealist writing for Breton, was the search for the Marvelous, which he defined as the beautiful, though, importantly, he preferred uncon-ventional (sic) beauty and in particular chance revelation of such beauty. The ultimate purpose was to foster an expansion and a heightening of awareness beyond the constrained perspectives of everyday life. It was this reawakening of perception and insight into the real which was the fundamental objective, however much this was pursued by means which were themselves so startling as to sometimes overshadow this underlying purpose. Yet a clear style was not in principle ruled out. More to the point, the visual, as opposed to the dreamlike, was always considered a possible means of revelation. For what was always sought, after all, was a revelataion into the nature of the real, and the clarity of the visual, as in photography, can place that reality before us with particular sharpness.(79-80)

Frattali equates Lamantia’s thought in this phase with the liminal experience of ritual:
Though he undergoes initiation, what he is initiated into is not occult. Everyone may participate equally in these truths, which, because they are based upon perception, are not mysteries, although the full substance of the vision is perhaps given only to those privileged to enter into the rituals in the fullest sense...

...The rituals and everything connected with them are the result of an attentiveness which does not merely occur, however much the experience it is based upon might strike the observer with an extraordinary force by virtue of its sheer beauty, dignity, or uniqueness. Rather such attentiveness and such receptivity presuppose instruction, albeit of a special kind, and this instruction, which these aboriginal societies have preserved in their rituals and lore, must be preserved. The ability to impart it and the disposition to receive and to understand it are cultural achievements that must be carefully guarded. The speaker recognizes this ongoing project in the native groups he visits and whose hospitality he accepts, and this recognition, as much as the magnificent natural setting, contributes to the tone of reverence which is a distinguishing feature of this phase of his work.(84-5)

It is again unfortunate that Frattali fails to provide source references so that the reader can determine what it is that gives rise to these expressions. We come to a couple of important statements in furtherance of this discussion. The first is that “If the image of the speaker created by the early poetry was that of an erotic supplicant, or perhaps victim, the figure that confronts us now is that of a shamanistic observer, participating and yet also witnessing.”(87) This, and the preceding discussion of ritual combined with the fact that Frattali is making these statements in reference to poetry written in the late 50s makes one wonder why this is not reflective of an ethnopoetics and why Jerome Rothenberg’s name goes unmentioned. There should at least be a statement comparing and contrasting Lamantia’s and Rothenberg’s work during this period. What we do get is “In this work, the exploration of awareness pioneered by Surrealism is enacted in a new way, outside of the exclusive and restricted context of writing alone and the equally restricted context of the individual and his or her desiring subjectivity, and for that purpose not merely of enlarging awareness but of enlarging it in a particular way – the fostering of a greater receptivity of individuals, especially Americans, toward other cultures and toward the environment.”(87) This sure as hell sounds like ethnopoetics to this reviewer.

The fourth chapter, ‘Elsewhere: The Unique and Incommensurable Experience’, is a grab bag of poems, none of them excerpted, that Frattali was unable to assign a color to. He states in his introduction:
Not written under the sign of any color but rather that of a place or a dimension, the elsewhere. Like the erotic vision, it is not confined to a particular volume but is an ongoing and recurrent impulse. Elsewhere marks out concepts of transcendence that are found in the work, sketching a range of limit experiences for reason, which by this means delineates the extreme edges of its world.

As this chapter consists of explications of unexercepted poems, it is of very little interest.

It is unfortunate that what initially promised to be a much needed exposition on the work of one of America’s leading surrealist writers never achieved what it aspired to as a result a failure to include any excerpts from Lamantia’s poetry. Why Frattali chose to proceed in this unwarranted manner is never addressed? Explications are not that interesting or useful when what is being explicated is never present.

It is a good thing, then, that City Lights has published Tau so that we have an opportunity to see some of Lamantia’s work. Tau has been combined with John Hoffman’s Journey to the End. Referring back to that historic event at San Francisco's Six Gallery on October 7, 1955, this latter is what Lamantia chose to read, John Hoffman being a friend who had recently died. As such, it is very fitting that City Lights chose to release the two together. In ‘A Note on Tau’, which opens this book, Garrett Caples states that “While Lamantia’s desire to pay homage to the life and work of his friend is understandable, and the self-effacement of his gesture characteristic, the fact that the didn’t read even one of his own poems is curious and, in later years, when pressed for a reason, he tended to be evasive.”(1) Apparently, Lamantia was undergoing a crisis of conscience at the time. It was not unusual for him to destroy his work: “Lamantia still wrote much more than he ever published, and had even burned a great deal of unpublished work somewhere around 1960, an event alluded to in the title of his third book. Almost a decade of activity, from 1946-1955, was apparently destroyed at this time, apart from a few poems scattered in periodicals.”(4)

Following his death on March 7, 2005, his wife, Nancy, while going through his belongings, stumbled upon this manuscript. Caples describes it as “a collection of seventeen poems, many untitled, only four of which were even published.”(5) At p. 11 he continues, “In terms of his own poetry, Tau clearly develops out of what Lamantia sometimes called the ‘naturalistic’ section of the two-part Erotic Poems, printed before, though written after, the visionary automatic surrealist poems of the second section. By Tau, naturalism has been dispensed with, leaving behind only an apparent austerity in comparison with the flow of images in his earlier work.” Caples concludes:
the formal preoccupations of Tau would increase through Ekstasis, Narcotica, and Destroyed Works, and my sense is he viewed none of this work as surrealist. Yet is is hard to withhold the designation from the Artaud-influenced texts of the latter two volumes, or indeed to certain poems of Tau, which opens with an invocation of the concept of ‘Mad Love’ so celebrated in Breton’s book of that name.(14)

The opening of ‘Mad Love’ is somewhat pedestrian. Lamantia doesn’t get going until the middle where he begins to play with typography:
O Mad Love where untempered
You remain, tunnelling trains of art –
Deflecting horizonless

           on this voice – these sounds –
A heart whose wails you dream
Into actuality swims halfway
To your always perilous oblique and

Interesting how the emotion of the poem erupts out of ‘Mad Love’ evolving into a mezzo-soprano release of energy (think the passionate anger of ‘Carmen’). Frattali would include this in his ‘erotic’ category with the erotic unleashed in the shifting of the lines.

Another poem showing the influence of French Surrealism is ‘Going Fourth by Day’:
To such the sign from circumvolutions
He can cast diced divagations
To the four winds. Nothing and the sun
Will speak for him. He speaks from the sun.

On temporal levels, on this level Now,
The personaged past interpenetrates
On the weird slung head
And screams screams
On all sides of the snakes of Tau.(24)

This is Lamantia’s most Bretonesque poem. It fulfills Frattali’s requirements for ‘the Marvelous’. But this is also, in a sense, a descent into shamanism, the elsewhere marked by ritual and incantation.

There are also poems that seem to be touched by the softer strains of Spanish Surrealism as derived from Lorca. The untitled poem on p. 28 is one:
Out of crystal beginnings
He watched the sunbleached sky
Trail before moonscaled ceilings
Where light ript the darkness down,
           - his love loveless in a cloud

That last, indented line becomes a refrain.

And then there are those that echo the voice of Artaud:
She sped to me a winter word
When wound in welts & wounds of dawn
Black lights flayed on growning ground
The sun blocked on us & swooned a summer artichoke
In winter’s spleen
A rant of graves in a thorn
Of that her sleep, that spent a shrieking vein.(32)

Interesting that within this one winds an echo also of both Robert Frost and Baudelaire. But then, strange echoes constantly strain against the confines of Lamantia’s imagination. The numerous compressed words made us think of Hopkins sprung verse. And then there is ‘Question’ that seems Shakespearian in tone:
Not I, but it, should die
when it twists against sinuous walls
diminishing me in a jaw of stains death made:
not I, but it, to stammer in voids, shriek hells,
and once it dead, I live!(36)

This shouldn’t be that surprising as Shakespeare was a master of ‘the Marvelous’.

This concludes the discussion on Philip Lamantia, André Breton and Surrealism. Although the book containing Lamantia’s Tau also contains an essay on John Hoffman as well as Hoffman’s Journey to the End, this played no part in American Surrealism even though Lamantia chose to read it rather than his own work at the 1955 Six Gallery reading. Therefore, it will not be discussed other than this brief mention.


John Herbert Cunningham is the host of Speaking of Poets – a half-hour radio show on Sundays on CKUW 95.9 FM. He resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he writes poetry, reviews and interviews. He publishes regularly in half a dozen literary magazines in Canada and the same number in the U.S. He is also a multi-instrumentalist with the free jazz group ECMW – Experimental Creative Music Workshop. He is currently studying the alto sax, the Chinese flute and the darbouka.