Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Plethora of Poetry Books

I found this list of Spring 2010 poetry books and was both heartened to see the sheer number of books published (and this is not a complete list), but simultaneously horrified at how many of these books I had never heard of and had never read.  I wonder if we poets create too much work or too much work is published and there are simply not enough people (or people with time) to read all of these books!  I read a lot of books but still cannot keep up.  Here's the list:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Craig Morgan Teicher's Cradle Book Micro Review

I've been reading Craig Morgan Teicher's Cradle Book, and so far it's really enjoyable.  The author is married to the superb poet, Brenda Shaughnessy, so I learned just recently.  I know Shaughnessy's work better than Morgan Teicher's in truth, but I was curious about this little book of fables that are part poems, part little stories and now am interested to go back and read his other book, Brenda is in the Room, now that I know who he is referring to in the title.

I had no idea what to expect when I opened the book, and gradually discovered, I really like this little book.  I have a problem with fiction--I simply have no patience to read it and have no patience to write it.  If I do read it, I read it in one sitting at a rapid fire pace literally reading entire pages at one glance.  But the Cradle Book is perfect for me.  I can read these 1 to 2 page stories in a few minutes and then move onto another box of suprises.  These actually read like little prose poems.  The language isn't necessarily poetic, though.  Neither is the rhythm of the language.  I guess the frame of thinking, the philosophical mindset is clearly the mind of a poet, however.  Occasionally, especially toward the end of these pieces, some of the poet in Morgan Teicher did come out, though as in "The Virtue of Birds" which ends: "The clamor closed in like a gloved hand slowly tightening its fingers."  And the "The Line" which ends: "I will follow that line until there is no next thing."

The cover of the book says: "Stories & Fables" and fables are meant to make a moral point through animals, nature, etc.  Morgan Teicher has sort of modernized the fables and these have become more poetic and more sophisticated, as well as more modern and philosophical.  The lessons themselves are even more sophisticated.  In the end, I liked this book because it's a little different from the other work that I've been reading lately.  I also admired the author's desire and conviction to write what comes to him, versus creating some sort of packaged product that some publisher might like or some product that he knows the readers might be interested in.  Here are two poems I found online, but there are much more involved and interesting ones in the book.  Definitely worth picking up and reading.

The Wolves     
Wolves rule these woods. They have overthrown the old rulers, conquered all the creatures, and now these woods belong to them.  But do not be afraid if you pass this way. There is nothing here that can harm you, because, of course, the wolves are made of something less than air. Their bite is like a breeze. When they run a few leaves shake. Perhaps a flower bends when they howl. Pass through the woods whenever you like. What you have to fear is not in the woods.  

The Prisoner

I am telling the truth, though that is of little consequence to my captors. It is not the truth that they hope to force from my lips. And they will get what they want—certainly they will, for I can only endure so much, like anyone—but not yet. For now, I still have the will to withhold it from them.  First, I will make them abandon all dignity, pride and restraint as they torture me. By remaining silent, I will make them do the unthinkable, even if the price to pay is that I must suffer it.  For I have already told them the truth: that we are all capable of anything, any merciless act. They did not believe me. Once they prove I am right, I will tell them the lie they want to hear: that there are some things we will not do.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tony Hoagland's Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty Micro Review

I've been unable to put down Hoagland's latest book, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty and I've been trying to figure out why.  I think the things I don't like about the book, in the end, are also what I love about the book.  And it's precisely this sort of ambivalence that makes me respect Hoagland not so much as a poet, but as a human being.  What I mean by this is that I find Hoagland's speakers to be so honest, unabashed, unafraid of expressing how they feel that the speakers make me feel very uncomfortable and it is this teetering on the edge of something, or risk-taking that I ultimately respect and admire.

I very much disliked the first poem in the book called "Food Court", which talks about (presumably) a Chinese American owner of a food court establishment called "Jimmy's Wok" who has "practical black eyes."  Of course Chinese people are stereotypically described as being "practical", but I found the word "practical" to be a bit unfair.  It's like describing every Caucasian man from the Midwest as having a red neck.  On the other hand, I gave Hoagland credit for saying what he feels or what his speaker feels and observes.  Hoagland pushes the envelope between what is often said in private and what is said in public.  And if I think about the people I like most in real life, it's those exact types of people, not the staid, professional, or political people, but I'm attracted to those unafraid to rock the boat, to cause trouble, to say something important.

Many of the poems have a very powerful tone, a very masculine tone.  I visualize an orator, standing on a podium, speaking his mind about any topic, whether that being love, Britney Spears, or "small rectangles of food" they serve at parties (I could be biased because I've seen him deliver lectures, read his poetry, and banter strongly back and forth with poets like Dean Young and Reginald Shepard at Warren Wilson many many times).  I almost saw all the poems as actually being prose commentaries or prose Letter to the Editors.  I felt like they could actually benefit from such a construct, almost in the way Wenderoth's Letter to Wendy's used the fast food comment cards as a sort of overarching structure.

I found many of the poems simultaneously tragic and funny, and I liked the tragic honest self-reflective poems best.  Like the poem "Hostess", which talks about the speaker attending some event that starts with the description of the black dress of the hostess, that gradually moves into the dress as a trope for failure and ends like this:  "And that, by the end of the evening,/I had found my disappointment,/which I hoped no one else had seen."  It's moments like these, where the speaker dares to let himself be human and real, vulnerable, that I really liked.

What would be great to see in the future from Hoagland is more of a play on form, or formlessness, like the prose poem because I did wonder why his poems needed line breaks at all.  It'd also be great to see him work with the longer poem, even a book-length sequence on some subject he feels strongly about.  Or to reverse what he does so well--that oration-type of poem, to write poems that don't try to express any opinions, poems that almost seem to exist without a speaker behind them.  But then again, who am I to give Tony Hoagland opinions on what he should be working on!

At the end of the day, one of my poetry teachers once emphasized the need for poems (and books) to be "memorable" and I can't get this book out of my head, which tells me that Hoagland has succeeded.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Male vs. Female

I've been reading some books of poetry lately, just started to, at least.  I've been so busy lately.  One thing that struck me is that some poets feel, smell, sound so, well, "Male".  And other poets so "Female".  Just like stereotypically, certain men like watching certain television shows and certain females like watching certain television shows, I wondered whether I prefer certain styles or certain tones that skew a certain gender?  There are so many poets that break these conventions of course.  But if I were to scale certain poetry books certain ways, would that be deathly sexist?  For example, I think Ben Lerner feels very "Male" to me, but then again, so does Mary Jo Bang.  So does Dean Young and Tony Hoagland and Matt Hart and one of the Dickman brothers, I can't remember which one.  I feel slightly uncomfortable with these arbitrary labels, but this is how I feel when I read certain poets.  Then there are others like Alison Benis White (my favorite) and Rick Barot (also my favorite) who feel more Female.  Some of Haas' early work feels more female to me too and I love his early work.  This is strange and dangerous stereotypical territory to tread in, but in truth, I am not implying that Male poetry is more cerebral or intellectual at all.  It has something to do with tone.

I'm reading:

Terrance Hayes Lighthead
Timothy Donnelly The Cloud Corporation
Rachel Zucker The Bad Wife Handbook (again)
Tony Hoagland Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty
John Gallaher Map of the Folded World
Craig Morgan Teicher Cradle Book
Ange Minko Shoulder Season

Back soon with some micro reviews, hopefully.