The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2010

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JUNE 2010 Issue


Bold safaris into the syntax jungle, ontological forays through the neuro-impulse relays, the poems in Trance Archive fuse sci-fi and surrealism. Linguistic lattices, they circle the “riddled” rings of sound, echo, and meaning.

Andrew Joron
Trance Archive
(City Lights, 2010)

Andrew Joron defines, refines, and redefines what a poem is made of—“pen,” “ear,” “scrawl,” “signature,” “commentary,” or “double of me, melodious labor.” His poems are “traps of silence,” but in the end they “trap light in sound.” His phrasing is studded with heteronyms, homonyms, and antonyms. Quotes and the notion of plagiarism are mutually spliced and diced.

André Breton’s “crisis of the object” leads to an “emergency everlasting” expressed in fractured narratives and recombinant “simulacra.” Joron’s method of frontloading the background, of interfacing with the interspersions, propels him through lexicological vortexes, searching for the “uncorrupted Text.”

Reflecting Jack Spicer’s idea of poetry as transmissions from outer space, Joron follows language to its originative beacon. “O the radio tower reminds me / of the skeleton of my lady.” Here, decaying signals and signifiers overlap, creating new signs out of cancellations.

Joron has written, “All poems are elegies.” Within dense, ghost-striated passages, he wrings from abandoned absence the “blue banners of the invisible.” Tracing loss, he listens to the leaks, under the “spell of rhetoric… / the spill of— / Signatures pouring through gaps in the blood.” Smart and startling.


Joanna Fuhrman
Alice James Books, 2009

Someone’s done her homework with a vengeance. Joanna Fuhrman has taken cues from literary lions, capturing them in her catchy style. Blending classic tropes with up-to-the-minute slang banter, she has a rich, engaging voice.

Fuhrman expounds with New York School haute patter. She channels Anne Waldman’s insistent rhythm trance. Dialing down her infra-realism, Fuhrman admits exotic mundaneness. “I covered my head with a floating chuppa and sewed a colorful bikini / out of a discarded hijab.” Shifting cadences, texture, and metaphors continuously surprise.

In a long, anachronistic entry, “The Summer of 1978,” she free-form riffs on her youth while summoning the muses. “I am William Carlos Williams dancing.” “I am Li Po singing.” “It was 1968.  The clock read 10:43.” Frank O’Hara gives it up!

Toughness matches delicacy, lick for lick. In “Knots,” the poet rescues her vulnerable persona at “the edge of the seen,” even as a Post reads “SLAIN DANCER.”

As much as Furhman builds up a dazzling surface, she also excavates the page. Searching for a “denuded screen,” she erases contexts by flinging herself at the divine.

“Song with Borrowed Shoes” is a cut-glass bouquet.  “I’m tricky—a songless cricket.” Alchemically, the poet turns “Patience” into “crowbar / penitence.” Follow these songs, tricky ones. 

Update on the Descent
Ellen Hinsey
University of Notre Dame Press, 2009

There’s nothing funny about the Divine Comedy. Likewise, there’s nothing funny about Ellen Hinsey’s Update on the Descent. Referencing Dante and integrating excerpts from the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavian war crimes, the poems patrol the edges of haunted human nature.

Socially investigative and morally exegetic, Hinsey never crosses over into didactics. Her dialectic is composed of inventive arrangements that blend prose and aphorisms into prayer-like equations. In “Transcript,” she alternates between italicized questions and reasoned responses. Between the horrors of war, she struggles to find “sanctity,” “mercy,” “knowledge,” and “love.”

Why were the men separated from the women?” The question alone projects depravity without itself descending into dementia. Distancing techniques maintain a necessary veil. Hope isn’t clear but remains vitally mysterious. Hinsey insists we look into our dark side and scour it. Like Anna Akhmatova, she shows deliverance in being a witness.

Deep in texture, Hinsey mines “history’s trove of notorious gestures” to probe our collective “radical Will.” Presented as notebooks, testimony and philosophical dilemmas, a steady, tolling tone shifts from funereal to ethereal.

A sacramental, choral gravity pervades “Part Three / Midnight Dialogue.” Disembodied voices of “Correspondences” and “Annals” issue an undeniable “Type of Challenge.” The poet is “straddling the twin banks of a river that has no shores.” Powerful and original, Update on the Descent is an urgent, probing book.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2010

All Issues