Take a poet’s life work and distill it into pure essence—it will look like When I Was a Poet by David Meltzer (City Lights Books). Having fully lived, the Beat legend stands at the abyss and peers down (and back). In these poems we grow. “Grow to know / Death’s musk / on the cusp.”
These double-stressed lines are simple to the point of lift-off. In elegizing, chronicling, assessing, and questioning, Meltzer kindles the word pyre so we can see ourselves, naked and candle-smudged. He writes what the light has “sewn together.” Here, hear, “The poem angels sing, arising.”
A blazingly astute assessment of postmodern poetics, Oren Izenberg’s Being Numerous (Princeton University Press) examines the role contemporary poetry plays in representing being and what constitutes value of being. Two rival schools of praxis are delineated in styles, references and intent.
The “POSITIVE or STAINED” vs. the “NEGATIVE or WASHED.” Persona-driven, new romantic New York School faces the alternative: the decentralized coding of the Language poets (who the author finds give much “formal and theoretical shape to the poetic present”).
Izenberg recognizes the slipperiness of categorizing poetic movements. As the title implies, he draws from numerous sources, critiquing precursors like Stevens and Stein, O’Hara and Oppen. Yet, despite unfixed rules, he notes that current practitioners line themselves up in one camp or another with ease. Framing the schism, Izenberg pinpoints the common, noble goal: “transform the empirical person into the valued person.”
“Performance has always been at the heart of my work.” Eileen Myles projects up from the page, suspending language in a perpetually moving state. Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) is a coming-of-age, coming out paean—animated, salty, and fresh. Whether she’s worshiping broadsides by Bill Knott or calling Patti Smith a “Romantic messy boy,” she presents the real underground.
From a working class Boston to the hip haunts of St. Mark’s, Myles’s “distracted” style exudes immediacy. Hanging with heroes or down and out on speed, she takes us, like Virgil, on an epic tour. Sex, drugs and rock and roll share the stage with bohemian Pulitzer Prize winners on a poet’s burning pilgrimage. Inferno is an avant classic of vintage instants (OR Books).
Matter of fact and seemingly off the cuff, Erik La Prade’s False Confessions feel faux false. There’s a resigned honesty supported by a grim filigree of personal filings from barnyards to junkyards. The blatant nostalgia in a few poems is saved by a sense of humor that reminds us how quickly our culture is moving.
“Recovery,” a long poem, deals with the present and its consequences for the future. These poems do what E.M. Forster recommended: “only connect.” La Prade connects “the mystical, or sensitive to nature as well as the practical” and in doing so offers us options on how to do that. (Propaganda Press).
Brazilian Valdir Cruz has made portraits of Yanomami people, Macuxi, Kaxinawa, and more. In two new books of black and white tritone photographs, Raizes and Bonito, he trains his lens on nature in different provinces. Promoting ecology artistically, Cruz’s compendium references multiple inspirations, from Audubon to Curtis.
Rare trees, withered and gnarled, keep reaching. A lightning-scored and bark-stripped torso stands against the odds, acquiring personality and transferring time. In several water scenes, light hovers on a pool of reflective depth. A school of fish is freeze-framed in its fractal pattern.
A focus on singularity and struggle couples with striking form and scale. Cruz captures monumentally the “eyeless thing” looking at us (Imprensa Oficial).
Stonecutter, a very smart new magazine, had its debut at Zinc Bar on June 12, with readings from contributors Alan Gilbert, Jen Bervin and others. (Congratulations editor, Dublin native Katie Raissian.) In the inaugural issue, New Directions author Eliot Weinberger recounts an 8th century Irish tale. Jocelyn Spar writes about the “wild ride” of French photographer Alix Cleo Roubaud’s diary (from Dalkey Archive Press). Travis Jackson assembles great collages. And the venerable Robert Kelly re-asserts: “there should be joy in the system.”
ContributorJeffrey Cyphers Wright