Friday, December 9, 2016

Mini Reviews: CATHERINE PIERCE, JULIO CORTAZAR, KRISTY BOWEN, RAQUEL SALAS-RIVERA, SARA TUSS EFRIK, ELENI SIKELIANOS and PATRICK PRITCHETT

EILEEN TABIOS Engages

THE TORNADO IS THE WORLD by Catherine Pierce
(Saturnalia Books / UPNE, Hanover & London, 2016)

SAVE TWILIGHT: Selected Poems of Julio Cortazar, Trans. by Stephen Kessler
(City Lights Publishers, San Francisco, 2016)

The Fever Almanac by Kristy Bowen
(Ghost Road Press, 2006)


oropel / tinsel by Raquel Salas-Rivera
(Lark Books & Writing Studio, Oakland, 2016)


THE NIGHT’S BELLY by Sara Tuss Efrik, Trans. by Paul Cunningham
(Toad Press International Chapbook Series, La Verne, CA, 2016)

MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY by Eleni Sikelianos
(Coffee House Press, Minn., 2016)

SONG X: New and Selected Poems by Patrick Pritchett
(Talisman House, Northfield, MA, 2014)



I consider the following "mini-reviews" in that I could have said
much more about them, but am just selecting some highlights
from these publications, all of which I enjoyed. Please click on
any image to enlarge.


THE TORNADO IS THE WORLD by Catherine Pierce

If I remember history, life has always sucked. Yes, amidst moments of positivity, of course, but if I remember history, life has always been troubled. Yet, is it me or does it seem like all this damage unfolding around the world seems to be occurring at a higher-than-usual volume? Thus, I -- and that can be a larger "I" than Moi -- was pitched to be empathetic to Catherine Pierce's new poetry collection, THE TORNADO IS THE WORLD. Indeed, look at that title. Such is today's world, its disasters and damage felt deeply even when one understand that this may not be unusual within human history.

And so the book opens logically with the poem "Disaster Work" which begins
Someone is on the plane
that noses 2,000 feet into the air, stops,
then drops. Someone is in
the tornado-flattened Texaco Station.
Someone is on the bus the  suicidal
or stroke-struck driver launches
through the guardrail and off the mountain.
But what makes one welcome then relish the reading of this collection -- and not feel so much deja vu all over again -- is Pierce's elegant writing with exquisite observations that often effect lovely metaphors. For instance, from "What the Hour Before the Tornado Feels like,"
The wind is sweet but serrated,
like cider slipping over to vinegar.

The collection is also enlivened by Pierce creating the tornado-as-persona. It freshens the disaster poem. For example, here's how "The Mother Warns the Tornado" starts:
I know I've already had more than I deserve.
These lungs that rise and fall without effort,
the husband who sets free house lizards,
this red-doored ranch, my mother o the phone,
the fact that I can eat anything--gouda, popcorn,
massaman curry--without worry. Sometimes
I feel like I've been overlooked. Checks
and balances, and I wait for the tally to be evened.
But I am a greedy son of a bitch, and there
I know we are kin. Tornado, this is my child.
And here's another of my favorites (click on image to enlarge):




These are meticulously-wrought poems so that, notwithstanding their content's reminders, one feels blessed to have experienced the poems. For Grace wrought from disasters, I am grateful. Thank you, Catherine Pierce.



**

SAVE TWILIGHT: Selected Poems of Julio Cortazar, Trans. by Stephen Kessler


For me, a particular essay was the highlight of Julio Cortazar’s SAVE TWILIGHT. It’s observant; intelligent; for the receptive reader, educational; and for the receptive poet-reader a guide for how one might live and write as a poet. It begins:


Thus, does Cortazar present SAVE TWILIGHT: “…here’s some poetry and here’s some prose. It would grieve me if despite all the liberties I allow myself, took on the air of a collection.” (By “collection,” I assume the normative poetry book as we know it—a collection of verses.) The multi-genre book, of course, is not anything abnormal or radical today. But it’s always useful to receive different explanations for such and, in Cortazar’s case, his own context: “…the only thing that really matters today in Latin America is to swim against the current of conformity, the received ideas and the sacred cows, which even in their highest forms play along with the Big System.”

Nonetheless, in reading the poems I actually found myself wanting the effect to which Cortazar’s friend alluded. That is, I wished for more differentiation between the forms of prose and poetry.  (Instead,) I found the poems to not require any particular significant mental or psychological shift after reading prose, and vice versa. No doubt it’s because of what its Publishers Weekly review references when it observes, “Cortzar’s verse is more traditional than his fiction”—fiction for which Cortazar is heralded as “one of the masters of modern fiction” (per the book’s  press release).

Still, pleasure can be found in the verse. While I got tired of reading about the protagonist’s various romantic and/or love affairs, these two show the poet’s prowess viz insight and admirable use of metaphor:







**

The Fever Almanac by Kristy Bowen

There’s such a strong sense of self-awareness—of awareness—in Kristy Bowen’s The Fever Almanac. That awareness limns almost each line, attaching a mysterious fraughtness to the words. Which is to say, it makes the poems ever more powerful:

In bars, I lean too close
to men with poor intentions,

fall prey to whiskey’s sinous hymn.
Sometimes the moths, their given

names, actias luna, automeris io,
are too much, too many. Evoke

barbed wires, plums flush as the lining
of a heart…
     
(from “glosssalalia”)



You are always surprised by want,
soft as the inside of your arm.
How it bruises, speaks of
twilight, whispered litanies
In a season of winds, we hold what we can.

     (from “december”)



Beneath the pinks of our dresses
in our collarbones,
there is famine.

     (from “starve”)


The knitting together of disparate elements are achieved seamlessly to create the landscape offered by these poems. It makes the poems’ world—and worlds—authentic, believable:

A girl holds a pear in her hands
and all is choreography.
The coil and knot, the heart’s
negative, turning.

Maybe it’s witches, maybe rain.
How the bones glow
like an x-ray. The gestures
of hunger, thirst.
Hands chipped to mouth.

Her blue dress speaks
of siestas, the skulls of sparrows.
Their histories folded in drawers.
Flowers taking root in
the belly and blooming

     (from “sweet”)


When the reader finally lifts her head from its pages, there’s that threshold of being stunned that takes just a some time to cross before the reader returns to her world. But that world, too, is changed. Such, is the power of Bowen’s poems

Dark collects in my mouth.
Even my dresses are dangerous.

     (from “dark”)



The dry first word
was surely need, or
a sound as if underwater.

Our open mouths listening.


     (from “precision”)


I felt these poems which quickened me into wider vision. I am grateful for these poems.





**

oropel / tinsel by Raquel Salas-Rivera


Raquel Salas-Rivera’s oropel / tinsel is a bilingual edition: Spanish poems translated by poet herself. It immediately grabbed me into its enchantment—and it is enchanting—with the Translator’s Note that most definitely is also a quite effective prose poem. Here:


Because of that opening though, my first read focused on the translation issue of allowing Spanish words to remain untranslated in their English versions. Let me put on the record that I find the poems admirable for their energy and wit, but let me focus on this translation topic.

As a Pilipinx poet, the issue is not new to me and my community of such writers as some of us long have taken for granted the idea of letting Pilipinx words infiltrate English. In reading through Salas-Rivera’s poems, I was struck by certain elements that, as I considered them further, doubly-struck me for not being about the politics et al of such a move (letting the words remain in their original) but more harmoniously about how they organically work in the poem.  For example, Salas presents a poem entitled “mi love.” It doesn’t take much for an English reader to apply “my” where that “mi” resides. As I did so, though, I encountered another layer of enchantment: I looked at that “mi” and recalled the musical scale of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.  I began singing that damn scale out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. For a moment, I was outside of myself just singing that purity to the world—a purity absent of any particular message. Except that, per the title, I sang, too, out of love. Such, is the effect of that tiny but resonant move to leave “mi” alone instead of translating it to “my.”

Here’s another effect: letting the Spanish remain in the original, one can argue, elides the untranslatable. For instance, here’s how this poem begins:


Now, I’m a poor Spanish speaker but doesn’t “que rico” (apologies for not replicating accent) mean—or isn’t one of its  meanings—“delicious”? But if you insert the English translation in place of “que rico” in either title or the poem-text, I don’t know that delicious would be appropriate. But que rico, if only for its sonic quality, fits into the poem’s energy and validates the choice.

Now, it’s time to move on to re-reading the poems for pleasure beyond translation, beyond technique. I recommend, Dear Reader, you do the same.




**

THE NIGHT’S BELLY by Sara Tuss Efrik, Trans. by Paul Cunningham

A Note on the back of Tara Tuss Efrik’s chapbook, THE NIGHT’S BELLY, states that the project “draws on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the story of Sleeping Beauty (or Thorn Rose; Little Briar Rose), Little Red Riding Hood, Odd Nerdrum’s Baroque-style Kitsch painting “Twilight” and possibly even Polanski’s Rosemary Baby.” I confess that I was first intrigued because of the reference to Odd Nerdrum, an artist whose works have bedeviled (pun intended if you look at his images) me over the years. How then would words reflect that dark mood that I sense from Nerdrum’s works, as well as from the others that inspired Efrik? Knowing Nerdrum’s paintings in particular, I thought that perhaps this is where the image is a thousand words and it may be more tedious to read through “thousands” of words to get the impact one immediate gets from images, including cinema.

Yet, Efrik’s words—as translated by Cunningham—are effective. They are effective due to their energy and forward-moving propulsion that makes you want to read and read and read. The abundance of detail is helpful. And the diction is deft (“His sweet butter feeds me lies.”) For instance,

I build our family. I lock us up, nail the windows shut pull down the blinds Outside beautiful mouths and junk, outside cheap Chilean wine and staring, predatory eyes, outside Assyrians and crazed Irishmen, outside cuntholes and hard cocks, outside glossy dog penises and graffitied gates, outside piss and shitty Polish whores, outside druggies and shattered kneecaps, outside all of that. I make myself unreachable. Here is mu property. Disease. My wondrous prison drives me mad. The prison bars like meat, the reddest of red, it drives me mad.

(That reference to “glossy dog penises” made me pause. I have three dogs (or they have me) and the gloss is a detail I know (1) to be true, and (2) most don’t pay attention to. A digression: Efrik’s observation and then articulation of it reminds me of when Philip Lamantia once introduced me to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I suppose I should have been in awe of Mr. Fellinghetti but I focused on something else instead: his pocket watch. I mentioned it to Philip after he left and he looked at me with a smile and said, “Just like a poet. Noting the details.” From the dog’s penis to a pocket watch—it’s all relevant to a poet. Efrik is a poet.)

So what else can a reader want then from such macabre inspirations? Only exactly these words by Efrik. No more, no less. 





**

MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY by Eleni Sikelianos


Eleni Sikelianos' MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY, on one level, can be viewed simply, albeit in an elegant way. It's (about) as one of its blurbers, Rae Armantrout, says: "You want to be happy, don't you? In deceptively simple sentences, it tells you how to 'make yourself happy.'" Sure.

Still, perhaps (compelling) poetry wouldn't arise if things were so simple. For instance,


suggests a key to happiness indeed:

make no razor
mark   let no
razor mark be made
upon you

--except that the prior stanza also states, "To make yourself happy make / no error / ever." See that emphasis? Ever.

And of course we all make errors. To be human is such. This means inevitably, to live is to "make" a "razor mark" and as well to suffer a "razor mark" to "be made upon [us]."

So much for happiness.  Which made my reading experience of MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY even more enjoyable, a more happy experience (I couldn't resist, but of course).

But what further elevates this book besides one's meditations (I first wrote "mastication"--drat those dogs) on joy is the book's second part, a series entitled "HOW TO ASSEMBLE THE ANIMAL GLOBE."  I'm going to open that book's section at random for an example:


And from that one excerpt you can see the the wisdom, the punk, the rhythm and the energy that made me respond with a metaphorical fist in the air and OH YEAH THAT'S WHAT I'MA TALKIN' ABOUT!

I find it incredibly joyous when multi-layered, multi-genre works affect so viscerally, not tied down (if you will) by whatever intellect forged their creation. Thank you, Eleni Sikelianos, for this book -- it made me, you know, ...


**

SONG X: New and Selected Poems by Patrick Pritchett


Patrick Pritchett's SONG X blew me away when I first read it at its release in 2014. I thought then to review it but couldn't because it was so much and so ineffable that any articulation about it came out as a banal brick (never has that saying about poetry being impossible to articulate been more true). But the words—and the music—stayed with me so that I picked it up again recently, two years later.

Perhaps, I thought, I'd try to review it again. But I couldn't because just the second poem in the book forced me to pause, to put the rest of the book away for later as this poem, "Autumn that is Burning," would not let go easily of my inhabitation of it. From the first stanza, this

…autumn
as though burning
were the only word
to pronounce this wind

takes one away immediately to a space of silence (where the matter of reviewing became so small), a space of contemplation.

The second stanza brings you to nature, the outside world, only to swiftly return you to yourself—all in the space of two lines:

In the beginning of autumn is a field
of thinking about autumn.

These are followed by another acute observation:

About the fall and the desire
of things to fall

which explains: “the borders of autumn and its recessions are one.”

I easily see (image-in) and feel the subsequently referenced “twilight” and “general weariness” … which makes me glad the poet also describes autumn as “burning.” Burn to clarify. Burn to clear away—so that one continues on. Continues living, continues reading, continues loving—but reader, I am still stuck in this second poem so that a book “review” for now cannot continue.

What I can share is that I read the entire book two years ago and its presence remains palpable, even now. Even now, its music and dark light burns.

*****


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well).  She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Joey Madia for New Mystics Reviews, Book Masons and Literary Aficionado; and EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza for "Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations" (Barbara Jane Reyes Blog). She released three books and two chaps in 2016, and is scheduled to release at least three publications in 2017. More info at http://eileenrtabios.com


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