RAPID TRANSITby Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Walking After Midnight
(Spuyten Duyvil, 2011)
Hard not to like these talky, breathless, abbreviated “love” songs. “Let me sing. Yes I have done wrong dang it. / It’s how to teach light and turning moving on.” This is how “Home Movies” begins. Bill Kushner stitches content and form into enchanted, haunting chansons.
Kushner, in his 80s, is reaching back. Some poems are written from a child’s point of view. One asks why Daddy’s dead. Another promises Mom to be good. Some are about being gay and “bad, bad, bad.” The heart, the cock, and the brain converge in pseudo-poignant cascades.
Like other voices of the New York School, Kushner makes everyday events extraordinary. He runs fast and furious, his thoughts generating a mesmeric, authentic texture. Clichés (“What in hell,” “son of a gun”) ground the campy romantic sentiment (“sparkling fairy dust,” “darlink”).
Sorrow and delight hold hands. Memory and imagination are play-lovers and you are out there on the stage, too. Thanks. Thanks to Bill Kushner. This unblinking collection is a tour of whistle stops under a strobe light (with drawings by Pamela Lawton).
Negro League Baseball
(Fence Books, 2011)
Splintered ladders of personal auto-mythology tingle as Harmony Holiday slams the register in her debut book and accompanying audio CD. Referring to herself as a “blind spectator,” she rummages through ghost chamber memories to re-see.
The book’s inner sleeve contains a prologue by the author. In it, she refers to liner notes by Charles Mingus and wonders: “what value we place on documents.” Questions of fairness in creating the canon form an overarching theme. The semiotics of subjugation are caught in updrafts of insistence.
Holiday wraps historic antecedents with the incidentals of family life. In “Biography” “sequins from the ’40s style one wore to court” add a sepia tone. Setbacks and suspicions are confronted through the alternate constructs existing in this “document.”
Holiday’s worlds make room for readers. In “House to House” we are partners in a duet wherein “we build the speech through a value and into intuitive use.…”
Sometimes dense, surprising semi-sentences twist, as language is elasticized through unexpected syntax. “Little finally numbers upheavaled about before or defunct shrill rushes of integrity.…”
Serious, demanding, and commanding—it’s a winner (2011 Motherwell Prize).
Diary of a Poem
(The University of Michigan Press, 2011)
Self-reflective and revealing—these galloping, erudite essays, diary entries, and interviews are fulfilling on multiple levels. Adolescence, rock and roll, mental health, and above all, poetry are processed.
Primarily a poet, Andrew Hudgins first gained acclaim for regional, character-driven narrative poems and bittersweet humor. The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood accompanied The Glass Anvil in 1994. The latter book of critiques, autobiographic essays, and interviews is akin to this new one.
An exposition on gardening is by turns silly, pious, and scampy. In absorbing prose, Hudgins teases out metaphors for tomato husbandry. After beginning with zeal, he gradually becomes less obsessive about his “plot.” He understands that he has satisfied a universal urge to put down roots and generate sustenance.
A sonorous cast of religious diction is ingrained in Hudgins’s vision. Consider the repetition in the following revelation: “I learned to see beyond my self-reproach for falling short. … Imperfection, I learned, was not failure.”
I’m not usually a fan of narrative poetry, and Hudgins’s lyric work feels too “perfect.” But these prose bits of stylish wit hit the spot.
The Book of Interfering Bodies
(Nightboat Books, 2011)
You can feel the pull of dizzying disconsolation bubbling under cinematic surfaces. Daniel Borzutzky writes eerie, ambitious poetry and translates works from Spanish. Duende, “the dark sound,” as Lorca put it, runs under his skin.
Irreverent, yet fervent, Borzutzky’s pen slashes, burns, and resurrects everything in its path. Gory horror adds a lurid backdrop to this cri de coeur. “They knew poetry as a saw.” Chopping, hacking, bones and guts flying—even the body of the poem seems to be dismembered over and over.
Eventually, the hyper-hyperbolic excavation becomes exultation. Poetry is a crime. Poetry is terrorism. “Failure in the Imagination” sparks a leap of faith: “The duty of poets is to bring down the economy of the United States.” Hear ye. Hear ye.
The writing is relentlessly corporeal. Book and flesh are bound in Borzutzky’s alchemical, trans-substantative imagery. The “page contains a body.” Sonnets are “blood dripping from a stump.”
“Books die.” But this one writhes on.
ContributorJeffrey Cyphers Wright