Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poetry, Published In 2011

Listed and pictured below are seven books of poems published this year that ROCKED my poetry-reading world. These are chosen from among forty or more books published this year that I bought (or in a few cases, were given) and read thoroughly, plus several dozen others that I sampled heavily, mostly during extended browsing at Small Press Distribution. In other words, I no doubt missed a lot!

As it happens, my top four books of poems published this year were written, respectively, by two contemporary and two deceased poets. They’re so grouped, below, and within those categories alphabetized by last name, and I go on about them, or most of them at least (please forgive my prolixity, if it seems too much).

Following those four, I list and comment more briefly on three others that warrant special mention given what they did – and continue to do – for me. These final three are listed in order of the poets’ age, from youngest to oldest. For all seven titles, I’ve tried to size the various images in a way that corresponds to the relative sizes of the books pictured.

I publish this list to honor the poets and their work, and because writing about poetry means thinking about poetry and such writing and thinking invariably makes that poetry even greater than the great it already was and is. It’s deeply enjoyable and satisfying to have that happen, and I wish I could do it more often. Well, maybe next year, and with that, and thank you, dear readers of this here glade, for taking a look, and here’s my list of seven, starting with . . .

My Big Four of 2011

Rae Armantrout
Money Shot
(Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011)

It’s no surprise that Money Shot floors me. Two and one-half years ago, I fell hard for “Sway,” one of the book’s 60 plus poems, when it first appeared in print (click here to read about that). And about eighteen months ago, I wrote (click here if you please) on Armantrout’s use of questions, which fascinates me to no end. So, I was primed for this new collection.

Then, early this year, just after Money Shot was published, something happened to kick-start my enthusiasm for its poems. I happened to travel to San Diego for a few days on business, and I took the book with me, figuring it might be illuminating to read it down there, where Armantrout has lived and worked for decades. I know that Armantrout’s not primarily a poet of place, but local details naturally enough show up in a good number of her poems. I was hoping for some frisson between the locale and the new poems.

And yes indeed, a special treat – and fun – it turned out to be. I sat down in my hotel room, opened the book, and in the first poem – “Staging” – came to the lines:
Prolonged sigh
of traffic

and the downward
curve of fronds.
and could while reading them could at that same moment both hear a similar sort of sound (cars and trucks moving along outside) and see, across the street, the green tops of palms. Ah! -- and by the by, Armantrout’s “prolonged sigh” is a beautiful descriptive phrase, the way the sound at the end “sigh” fades in a way that mimics the dopplering back end of passing traffic.

Now, as it turns out there are more poems without than with local particulars in Money Shot, but still the book as a whole has scattered throughout a number of easy-enough-to-encounter in-San-Diego details. For example, it mentions bougainvillea, a mourning dove (beautifully described with vivid, concise, specificity), “smog colored” embankments, “the gray plump tongues of a succulent”, the international border, houses on a hillside, and more than once, the ocean. I didn’t see every one of these things while on my trip, but did come across many, and just knowing all this stuff was more or less near at hand, right there, gave an extra kick to the reading of the book. I had another work trip to San Diego a few months later, and did it all again. Poetry-place frisson-squared!


Although several poems in Money Shot – which was written two or three or so years ago – concern the national fiscal crisis, the poems in the book with the strongest pull for me are those extra-charged by matters directly related to mortality and thoughts of death. This has been a particularly powerful characteristic of much of Armantrout’s poetry since she was, about five years ago, diagnosed with, and (so-far-and-may-it-ever-be) successfully treated for, a rare form of cancer (Armantrout very recently published a three-part essay concerning that experience, including her surgery and short ICU stay – Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here).

Several poems in Money Shot directly allude to or arise from what I’ll call a certain sharpened perspective brought on by Armantrout’s near-death experience. “Win,” the next-to-last poem in the book, begins with an event that, while bizarrely funny (and no doubt true), brings mortality directly to the fore. There then follows powerful images of apart-ness, here-and-now-ness, and movement through time, with Armantrout in the end able to find, what seems to me at least, a modicum or even more than that of acceptance or even comfort:


Card in the mail:

“Win a free


On the table top,
a scatter,

grains of salt



It works for me.

Gracious wood grain

what I like best:

an illusion
of passage.

Another Money Shot poem, “Errand,” has as its opening:
The old

is newly cloaked
in purpose.
and those lines surely suggest a more focused intention and spirit.

Similarly, the poem “Exact” begins with what sure seems to be an extremely time-sensitive self-command, one directly related to (and which also wryly comments on) Armantrout’s poetic predilection to both look hard wherever she’s at and put that world into words:
Quick, before you die,

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.
That reference to mortality is reinforced at the end of the section, with lines that I read as a blunt suggestion from Armantrout to her readers, one grounded in a not-so-occult thought of not being around:
If you love me,

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.
Intimations of mortality also seem to give an extra push to the following lines, from the end of the poem “Garden” and which link the hypnagogic – the state between sleeping and being awake – to the most eternal of all border zones:
[. . .] it’s the liminal,

the area between
sleep and waking up,

the border
we think we remember

between existing
and not

that we still want.
And as a final example here – others from the book could be cited, but I think the point will have been made – a close encounter with the now we’re here and now we’re gone ultimate reality of life seems to give the concluding image of the poem “This Is” a richer meaning:
This is a five star trance.

To have this vantage
from the cliff’s edge,

to get drunk on indifference,

to stare

at a bright succession
of crests

raised from nothing
and flattened.
These are beautifully written lines, especially the flow, varied but smooth rhythms, and the way the sound of the final word, “flattened,” with its stronger front-end phonemes and relatively weak ending sound, brings to mind, or echoes very closely, that which it describes. Plus as a general matter I’m a huge fan of trance, so Armantrout’s presentation of one here – a “five star” one no less – makes me turn cartwheels until I’m hypnotized.

Now, the final image – from cliff’s edge, the crests raised and flattened – perhaps most obviously suggests a seascape, of the type common along parts of the San Diego coast (as in La Jolla). It might also be seen as depicting an acute self-aware mind, poised at the edge of some accumulated base of thought, observing successive waves of ideas rise and fall, unconcerned with catching any of them. And these lines – and here’s where Armantrout’s experience may come in – may also represent what a patient on a gurney or hospital bed sees eyeing a cardiac monitor. Once again, a matter of mortality, giving an extra-sharp focus to a poem.


Another of the great characteristics of Armantrout’s poems – and this no doubt is a primary element in her work – is the energy that emanates from the juxtapositions within poems, particularly between sections but also even between lines within sections. Ideas and approaches to ideas, or really most anything in and/or as words, are placed or situated near one another, and the arcs and the connections between them – often not obvious, many still occult to me even as a re-re-re(etc)-read – are a HUGE part of the extraordinariness and the beauty of the poetry. The reader MUST get involved, and sometimes the point must, or should, remain in tension.

As an example, and as the final matter here on Money Shot, read if you please both sections of “This Is,” the last section of which I set out above. Here’s the entire poem, including the finale:
This Is

“If you can read this,
you’re too close.”

This has been specially
handcrafted in Mexico.

“Hi, you’ll do”
on a tee-shirt

made by young girls
in Thailand?

America poses
in whose mirror?



This is a five star trance.

To have this vantage
from the cliff’s edge,

to get drunk on indifference,

to stare

at a bright succession
of crests

raised from nothing
and flattened.

This poem’s first section, is rich with shifts in thought or modes (more broadly, juxtapositions). It moves from a (presumably observed) quotation (possibly on a t-shirt) to another observation (a tag or stamp on a consumer product, I’d guess), to yet another observed quotation on a t-shirt that broadens into a specific question, followed by a broader question, all of which bring to mind various matters – which I’m sure you can formulate as well as I – related to geo-political, economic exploitation.

And all that happens before we even get to the first section’s final two juxtaposed words: “Irascible. / Insouciant.” There seems to be a shift to a more general perspective with these, and giving each word its own line (and sentence) seems to both emphasize their thingy-ness while making it easier to see and hear the common orthographic and sonic elements of the two words which turn out to be near antonyms of each other. That last fact seems to be Armantrout trying out responses to the geo-economic mess previously alluded too – pissed-off or lighthearted – without explicitly adopting either.

And of course that entire first section is followed by the second, concluding section, already discussed above, which as I read it presents something entirely different. As I say, the energy of juxtapositions, and you the reader, must get to work. I’m not sure, but maybe the second section, with its trance and beautiful zen-like indifference (which I find a very positive quality) serves as a counterpoint to the charged ideas and pointed engagement of the first section.

I’m still working this one through, even after going after it a couple dozen times at least. That’s part of what makes the poems in Money Shot so fine: their mysteries persist.


Joseph Massey
At the Point
(Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011)

This collection represents a gorgeous and often breathtaking deepening of everything that was great in Massey’s first full-length collection Areas of Fog (2009). So, it’s poetry that arises from a specific place (Humboldt County, California), written with an almost preternatural strength and concision, and is focused primarily on moments, or the consciousness or apprehension of moments and the challenge of putting any of that into words.

For me, the intensity and quality of Massey’s minimalist approach, which results in works that seem soldered together by a master welder (solid, seamless, done with care and with no wasted materials, all of which sharpens the focus on the words themselves) that turns his poems, which are grammatically straightforward and easy to read, into extraordinary and exceptional works.
Afternoon—this morning’s haze
still holds, italicizing hills
that seem to float
over the highway, the horizon.
This excerpt, one of thirteen sections from the poem “The Lack Of” (which itself is one of three longer, multi-section poems in At the Point) provides a solid mini-example of Massey’s way with words. The concision’s obvious here, so too the alliteration, and perhaps you saw what’s to me the key element: the present progressive verb “italicizing.” I mean, how perfect is that verb? It’s just marvelous, I submit: hills in haze can indeed appear slightly blurred, as Massey’s verb suggests – hills – and I believe it’s utterly fresh to say it, convey it, the way he does, and it seems natural too, unforced and not showy. When, as he does here, Massey adds a suggestion of levitation, the image becomes, for me at least, mind-blowing and truly lovely. Such moments abound in At the Point.

As mentioned above, the challenge of apprehending the world, and the related challenge of putting it into words, are key concerns in Massey’s poetry. The basic idea, which seems valid to me, is that there’s a triple-whammy difficulty: the world’s always changing moment-to-moment, the poet-perceiver has limitations both universal (common to us all) and particular to him, and in addition to both those things getting anything into words is hard too. Moments of unalloyed perception do make it to the page, and they are wondrous, but often what is described involves the struggle to get a moment, or series of moment, into poetry: thoughts get interrupted or lost, dissolved, overwhelmed, or erased.

Massey’s poem “101” – it’s one of almost three dozen in At the Point – is a beautiful poem that contains much about these prime concerns, particularly the challenge of catching or keeping moments, or the ideas in one’s head, given what happens moment-to-moment in the world, and the stunning results when moments-in-time do make it, via poetry, to a page. The poem’s title, I think, alludes to the setting of the poem – 101 is the numeric designation of the main freeway that runs through Humboldt County – but maybe also suggests that it’s a kind of primer (think of how colleges traditionally number foundational courses, e.g., English 101) on the core principles with which it is concerned. Here’s the poem:

This revision
                of the hills

—sun sieved through low clouds
                and rain, the weight

given to green
                and clear-cut patches

–engulfs what I’m

or what you were

And then an egret

                on the side of the road
nosing litter.

This poem, so perfectly balanced among other bits of genius, just moves, flows, so smoothly and beautifully from start to finish, beautifully presenting the mind-action described. The poem’s final image – “And then an egret . . .” – has become a kind of talisman for me, with Massey’s words often enough coming to mind when I catch my attention shift when caught by something unexpected and unusual. Now that’s a sure sign a poem’s hit deep.

The last part of the egret image in “101” – the bit where the bird is “nosing litter” – serves to illustrate another key element in Massey’s poetry: the marked tendency to notice, to bring in, the detritus that surrounds us. Expired fliers flagging on telephone poles, shrubs woven with trash, hydrangeas festooned with plastic, a condiment packet coagulated yellow on a creekside path, unspooled cassette tape on a beach, and scrap metal rusted orange are examples of the sort of stuff that appear in the poems of At the Point (and there are also natural things not generally considered the height of beauty, such as rotted leaves, overgrown grass, and even “steam lifting from a turd”).

All this stuff in the poems hearken back to certain poems of Lorine Niedecker and William Carlos Williams (Massey in some ways is a poetic descendant of each, although plenty of others including William Bronk, Emily Dickinson, and Frank Samperi give him life as well). But the focus on trash and waste also suggests a deep concern, and seems to comment on, the human tendency to mess up the environment.

Further, and thinking here as well of the less than pristine parts of the natural world that turn up in the poems, such as rotten leaves and overgrown grass, it seems to me that all the typically not-so-beautiful stuff is a sure sign that Massey keeps it real. He’s a purveyor of no-punches-held honest realism. His poems are rooted in a particular place and heavily focused on what’s actually there. The images and poems in At the Point are sharp, crisp, and rich with life as-it-is, both in terms of what’s shown and the difficulties of getting any of it into words.

And then an egret // on the side of the road / nosing litter.


Aimé Césaire
Solar Throat Slashed: The Unexpurgated 1948 Edition
[A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, co-translators]
(Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011)

This was a book I’d waited for, wanted to read, for quite some time. I enthusiastically posted about it almost two years ago, when I first heard it was in the works (click here to see, if you please) and then thirteen months ago was privileged to publish five poems from the book at this blog (click here to see that).

The basic background of Solar Throat Slashed is that in the decades after first publishing the collection in French in 1948, Césaire greatly re-worked his book, eliminating 31 poems entirely and cutting text in another 29, leaving only 12 poems untouched. As such, many of the original poems had been essentially lost or never seen, particularly in English. This masterful translation and edition by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman presents Césaire’s book – written at the height of his engagement with surrealism – in its full resplendent glory.

Césaire’s unexpurgated poetry here is the event. It is wild, full of confidence and boldness. There is blasphemy and sexuality and plenty of other staggering images. Co-translator Eshleman’s word for the work is “fulgurating,” meaning I believe the force and flash of lightning. I will add that it can resound as thunder to boot.

Here’s “Preliminary Question,” a short (12 line) poem that shows well the bold, forceful, headstrong way that Césaire takes with words in this book. It also, not coincidentally, is a capsule self-portrait of the man and poet, and so perhaps will serve to introduce you to him:

Preliminary Question

As for me should they grab my leg
I vomit up a forest of lianas
Should they hang me by my fingernails
                                                   I piss a camel bearing a pope and vanish in a
row of fig trees that quite neatly encircle the intruder and strangle him in a
beautiful tropical balancing act
The weakness of many men is that they do not know now how to become either a
stone or a tree
As for me I sometimes fit sulfurous wicks between my boa fingers for the sole
pleasure of bursting into a flame of new poinsettia leaves all evening long
reds and greens trembling in the wind
like our dawn in my throat

Woosh! And how!! If you please, take less-than-a-minute and listen to co-translator Eshleman read the poem (this is an excerpt from his reading of selections from Solar Throat Slashed at UC Berkeley this past November):

Aimé Césaire, “Preliminary Question”
[read by Clayton Eshleman]


And now, how about a propulsive poem of (forgive the pun here) unbridled confidence and optimism? Here’s Césaire “Horse” as read by Eshleman at Berkeley in November, with the poem’s text immediately following for those who’d enjoy reading along. The energy and imagery, the words, yes the words of this one, make for an extraordinary and amazing ride!

Aimé Césaire, “Horse”
[read by Clayton Eshleman]
[text of the poem is below the video]


For Pierre Loeb

My horse stumbles over skulls hopscotched in rust
my horse rears in a storm of clouds which are putrefactions of shipwrecked flesh
my horse neighs in the fine rain of roses and sentiments that my blood creates in the
scenery of the street fairs
my horse stumbles over the clumps of cacti that are the entangled vipers of my torments
my horse stumbles neighs and stumbles toward the curtain of blood of my blood pulled
down on all the pimps shooting craps for my blood
my horse stumbles before the impossible flame of the barrier howled at by
the vesicles of my blood
my horse rears before the great pillar of hyacinth perfectly pure that rises to the glory of
the lord and descends to the depths of the shit of my blood
my horse rears before a beryl lamp made from fireflies peddled by my blood
I saw too a great horse of ardent peace that dashed forward pawing the ground from a
season of rains of mollusks of an anger of hair of a harangue of pyramids of a camisole of old
corks of a confusion of mushroom spittle
great horse my blood to be spilled in public squares
my blood in which from time to time a woman in solar perfection shoots out all her
tuberous stems and vanishes in a tornado born on the far side of the world
my blood for a foot freshly repainted as a gibbet
my blood that no canonization has ever soiled
my blood the wine of a drunkard’s vomit
my blood that no paid off judge has ever heard
I give it to you great horse
I give you my ears to be made into nostrils capable of quivering
my hair to be made into a mane as wild as they come
my tongue to be made into mustang hooves
I give them to you
great horse
so that you may approach the extreme limit of brotherhood
the men of elsewhere and of tomorrow
on your back a child of the furrow with barely moving lips
who for you
shall disarm
the chlorophyllian crumb of the vast crows of the future.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
Body Sweats
(Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011)

Freytag-Loringhoven – aka Baroness Elsa or more simply the Baroness – was in the words of the volume editors, a “neurasthenic, kleptomaniac . . . man-chasing proto-punk poet, . . . an agent provocateur within New York’s modernist revolution.” Some of her poetry was published in avant-garde little mags in the late teens and early 1920s (e.g., The Little Review). She died in 1927, at age 53. After that – and I exaggerate here, but not by much – her work for all practical purposes mostly vanished.

I first heard of the Baroness many years ago, reading Kenneth Rexroth’s breezy book-length survey, American Poetry in the 20th Century (1970), which has two long paragraphs about her. Rexroth calls Freytag-Loringhoven’s poetry a “radical revolt against reality” and “extraordinary enough.” He points out that very little of the Baroness’ verse was published during her lifetime or since, and expresses hope that it, and her unpublished work, would someday find print. Rexroth also wrote – and this is the best part! – that he once asked Marcel Duchamp if the Baroness was a Futurist, and that Duchamp responded – it doesn’t get better than this – “She is not a Futurist. She is the future.”

One might expect that a poet labeled decades ago by Duchamp himself as “the future” would have been widely published long before now. But it was not to be. A few selections of Freytag-Loringhoven’s work appeared in Jerome Rothenberg’s Revolution of the Word anthology (1974), and Clayton Eshleman’s magazine Sulfur 6 (1983) published eleven of her poems. Since then, her poems have appeared only rarely.

The point is this: UNTIL NOW, approximately eighty years after she wrote, and despite publication in recent decades of (among other things) her autobiography (1992), a critical biography (2002), a small catalog regarding her works of art (2002) and a roman à clef based on her life (2005) there’s NEVER been ANY book of the Baroness’s poems, let alone a comprehensive collection. And that’s EXACTLY what Body Sweats brings us (it’s subtitle: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven).

The editors of Body Sweat – Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelaszo – present the poems in nine different categories (e.g., love poems, poems of the city and consumption, nature poems, sonic (sound) poems, visual poems, poems on death and suicide, and poems of aesthetic consciousness). That works pretty well.

In general, I think the spirit of the Baroness, her desire and gusto, as well as something of her poetic approach – comes through in the title and opening phrase of “One Dozen Cocktails — Please” which begins, “No spinsterlollypop for me . . .” (and no, that’s not a typo, the two words there run together, which is a very prominent Freytag-Loringhoven trait). Yes, Baroness Elsa in life and poetry was wild, and though she may have died many years ago her verse, heavy with portmanteaus, dashes, and (mostly) staccato lines of one, two or a few words each, all steeped in Elsaspirit – remains very much alive.

Here, just for a taste, is the first stanza (of seven) from TEKE HEART (BEATING OF HEART), a pure DADA sound poem:
Pulpqvemank – alvdch – n – n –n – qvn – n – n
Snijrre husta –
Aja – ja – hacha – huk – huluk –
Orkmmmm – orkmm – mmm – – –
Hirre – héta
Hetta – hett

And here are, again to just give a taste, the opening lines (and salvos!) from “Ultramundanity,” a two and one-half page work (90 plus lines) that the editors categorize as a poem of philosophical contemplation:

More conventional, but still all-Elsa, is the following gorgeous wintry city or nature landscape, presented here in its gorgeous entirety:


Country –

Cliffs –


Sky –


Crimson –
Emerald –
Light –

Away –

Slate-vapormist –


Toadstool –


There’s a lot to love in this poem, including its Dickinson-feel, very effective verbs (with “Train / Clogs / Away” being particularly evocative), the portmanteaus, the stanza that is almost entirely made of color and light and, above all, the enthusiastic surrender to – the basking in – common moments abiding majesty.


Finally for your possible enjoyment, here’s Freytag-Loringhoven’s poem-rendering of George Antheil, the Dada/Modernist composer/musician, well known for his pioneering percussive piece, Ballet Mécanique (1924):

Thou walkest tossest slick head as very proud horse
Blast thine very slick head – I love it – trim polopony
Play kick of polished smooth steelhoof causes waters valleys
                  mountains, clouds trees grass birds flowers
Elephants fireflies snakes frogs cats dogs baboons china-tin-glass
                  brassware steam engines machine wheels to motion –
Clash – crash sounding asunder jigging sun – fragment jazz twirrlin
                  awhizz – rainbow crystalkaleidoscope intermingling –
                  sharp-hitting – noiseflicking swish
Pleasure wheel of hail stinging brilliancy
Assembling anew shape recreated to importance of elevated form by
                  potency beseeching unconcerned
Hiding hidden adolescent masked.

This poem, if you will allow me a year-end cliche and bad pun all in one, hits all the right notes. It’s unbelievably grand, to my eyes and especially to my ears. Why? Well read the poem again, aloud, especially its middle lines where animals and machines and natural objects rush and jam, which the Baroness – in her marvelous way – summarizes as “fragment jazz twirrlin / awhizz – rainbow crystalkaleidoscope intermingling – / sharp-hitting – noiseflicking swish.” It sounds, it feels, it just about is – in words – Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique. Check out the following version of the tune:

George Antheil, Ballet Mécanique
[via computer-driven robotic ensemble,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2006)]


O Body Sweats – finally, after all these years, the poems of the Baroness! Now, it being a comprehensive collected, there are a few not-so-great poems in the book, and also a few in which Fretyag-Loringhoven’s common-to-the-times anti-Semitism rears up. Still, for the achievement of most of the poems, and the achievement of this poetry finally being widely available, this is an important book, one that heavily rocked my poetry-reading world this year. Yes!


Three More Great Ones From 2011

Pam Rehm
The Larger Nature
(No Place: Flood Editions, 2011)

This book brought me to a lot of places. For example, Rehm’s gorgeous “November” – five very-brief sections (four or five lines each, with only a few words per line) presenting observations of the outdoors, mostly of nature – sent me back for a full-on re-reading of Lorine Niedecker, after I learned – and this happened after I had fallen for the poem – that it was very influenced by the great Wisconsin poet. At the same time, Rehm’s lengthy (more than two dozen sections spread over more than a dozen pages) “The Depths Of The World,” which an end note explains takes its words from William Blake’s Milton, sent me back to that prophetic and in places very wild poem.

Niedecker and Blake: now that’s a pair!

Rehm’s The Larger Nature also includes, as the second through fourth poems of the book, a lovely series of brief, single page poems, that examine ideas and facts regarding change, self-identity, as well as aspects of continuity within each of those things. It sounds heavy, and I guess it is, but in this poem – as in the others in the book – Rehm’s care with words and thought – lexical discretion and a total avoidance of any suggestion of piling on such that the subject becomes soft – makes it work.

I must also point to “The World’s Welter,” a relatively short poem that stunningly captures the struggle of an (presumably Rehm’s) imaginative mind, including when thoughts act up and feelings get involved. Here again, a Big Subject, under Rehm’s elegant command, becomes very personal, very real, and very moving.


Will Alexander
Compression & Purity

(San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2011)

The surprise here isn’t that I went to the dictionary to look up an unfamiliar word or words in just about every poem in this book, a volume in the fabled publisher’s Spotlight series, edited by Garrett Caples. An out-there vocabulary has always been a key part of Alexander’s poetic approach, and this new volume fits right in that way. In fact, I typed up a several page list of definitions as I went along, not including words such as “carking” and “sigil” which I knew from previously published Alexander work. Among the new-to-me words in Compression & Purity are “algid,” “clepsydra,” and “merismatic,” and if you know those, well, a gold star for you!

No, the surprise in Compression & Purity is that in addition to the expected traditional and wondrous Alexander conflagrations – multi-page clusters of phrases that rave and burst around and on a particular subject, often taking the form of a dramatic monologue – there are several poems that are really short. There are, for example, two poems with only three and four lines, respectively, another three with only five to seven lines, and at least one not much more than a page in length (and the pages are small in this pocket sized book). These short poems are no less great too, and it’s fun to see the change of pace.

Compression & Purity also includes two prose statements that serve as poetics (and personhood) explication. “My Interior Vita,” which at five plus pages is the longer of the two, includes much that’s fantastic, including the following, in which Alexander, using terms that surely would place high in the metaphor of the year contest, describes the place, as a poet receiving signals back from mystery imbued with oneiric wings and spirals, he hopes to forget: “my prosaic locale with its stultifying anchors, with its familial dotage and image reports, with its dates inscribed in trapezoidal feces.” Wow!


Michael McClure
Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems
(Berkeley: University California Press)

I did not need the “Selected” part of this book: I’ve long been an avid reader (and re-reader) of McClure (click here for my February, 2010 post detailing the 17 reasons why I love his work). I am lucky to already have everything the selected portion of the book presents, including the poems from early and/or out-of-print and thus hard-to-find publications. However, there’s no doubt the selection (edited by the late Leslie Scalapino) is smart and an important gathering of McClure’s work, and most will find it essential for that reason.

For me, Of Indigo and Saffron is very special because the “new” part of the collection – the final 108 pages, containing 65 poems and titled “Swirls in Asphalt” is in fact constitutes an entire, and rather generously sized, new book! And best of all, that new poetry’s great!

It’s pure McClure, first and foremost, with the approaches (finely-calibrated awareness coupled with enthused engagement of the world around him) and optimism (while not ignoring the horrors of the world) that he’s so convincing with, and great as well because of a relentless focus on the “moment,” the “instant.” I use quotation marks because in fact one or the other of these words, or some other word or words denoting something RIGHT NOW, appear in most of the poems. These poems sustain and energize, and I feel deeply privileged to have them, to read and re-read.


All right folks, thanks for taking a look, and best wishes to you and your poetry reading!