B Jenkins
Fred Moten
Duke University Press, 2010

Riff-rattled and jack-legged, critic and poet Fred Moten conducts the ministers of the “Black Arts Movement,” fusing them into an orchestral procession. His “Ghostcatcher” runs underground and over the top, turning the outside in and insight out.

Double themes of racial heritage and personal history intertwine. Names begin and often end sequences in this innovative ledger of the known and unknown: Bessie Smith meets Rosetta TharpE. “B Jenkins,” the book’s title (as well as the first and last poems), refers to the poet’s mother who shared her appreciation of poetry and music with her son. Her native Kingsland, Arkansas, adds muscular grit to the musical “gliss.”

Where “experimentalism meets the everyday” and deconstructivism meets reconstruction, Moten synthesizes a shifting cultural x-scape. Pool halls, porches and trains dot the uprising draft as the poet “mimes his voice.”

Words blend and slide like notes in a brash and brimming rag. A brush may be loaded with paint or softly simmering on a cymbal.

Moten takes advantage of such uncertainty. African-American vernacular heightens the edgy impro-visions as he drop s’s or add them here’s and there.

Not limited to inspiration from the African Diaspora, Moten calls on a polyphonic nexus of awareness. In an interview at the end, he refers to “radical political comportment” as representing “something inextricably bound to escape, fugitivity, criminality.” There’s no escaping the choral radiance here.

My New Job
Catherine Wagner
Fence Books, 2009

Catherine Wagner is “living high alone and secret…” She is finding the secrets and grinding them out for us. Chatty, playful, and a little dirty, she shares life directly, erasing borders and penetrating personal spaces.

Kudos to the poet who includes the banal: “Sound of a woman talking on television downstairs.” Somehow this grounding allows us to lift off, to be subsumed and transported by Wagner’s images and thoughts.

The author becomes corporeal. Her persona is by turns whimsical, wistful and winsome as she charts a composite region. Our identity with her becomes trans-substantive. After a deftly scripted bath cum poem, we sense “Martin still on phone.”

Just as the poet addresses us, she similarly engages the poems: “That line break is coy.” Her jumps snag our attention anew without breaking the current.

Formally, Wagner adopted structural cues to produce five sequences. “Exercises” was written between sets of physical exertion. “Roaring Spring” is broken into 28 parts, ending provocatively: “I need to be fucked, but not by you // (repeat to all compass points).” Vulnerability and desire spread out.

Matching the tremulous majesty and speculation of Alice Notley with the bold actualization of Eileen Myles, Wagner “speaks” with gripping, hard-won lyric punch. “The snakeblack firework / loneliness hits // My cheerfulness is genuine and hysterical.”

“Galloping quimsuckers,” away! Wagner will make you “Come shudderingly and lightningingly.”

The Imperfect
George Tysh
United Artists, 2010

Silver-white foxprints in the snow, George Tysh’s poems are made of impressions filled with space. Bleached and sculpted they provide frames while leaving contingencies open to interpretation. He guides without directing.

Tysh exudes reserve. His patience in craft actually describes “endless impatience.” In “Living Daylights,” portals are limned. Serene “work in a dream” combines rigor, artifice,and intuition. A close ear follows the words as they morph and rhyme, echoing off each other: “sees / it seize / my inner seas.”

Asian and French influences color Objectivist conceits. Verlaine and Reverdy make spectral appearances in streets “haunted by a spirit,” before “the greater recital of the day begins.”

Activities are refracted and their refrains re-activated. Capturing morning’s cup of tea, “Leger” mimics Cubism. Each line begins and ends the same.

Oleander, orchids, amaryllis, and azaleas breathe inside the “lyric’s dark desire.” Elegant patios, pianos, and a Parisian café set the mood. Moments slip away as the “mirage of horizon” settles on the page.

Balancing all the cachet, Tysh admits the clash of the crass into his “chimerical notions.” Camellias are trussed clones clumped in a chrysolite vase.

Romantic yet corrosive, these “bouquets” are stripped of dross. They rise (or descend) like “iron cylinders.” They glide over their own reflections and we are “held by both.” Tysh distills delight and despair to garner “every centimeter of euphoria.”


MAR 2010

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