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Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 By Thomas Fink

Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009

By Thomas Fink

Footnotes to Algebra by Eileen R. Tabios
Every poem and every collection of an author can be seen as a Footnote to Algebra, gesturing toward the elusive algebraic equation that could somehow represent the totality of a poet’s oeuvre. However, Eileen R. Tabios has a more intricate explanation in her blog, The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys, on Aug. 14, 2009 as she discusses Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 (Kenmore, NY: BlazeVOX Books, 2009):

To collect a bunch of uncollected poems is, in a manner of speaking, another test of whether a poet has, as a saying might say, done it right. Does a collection hold together under the random manner in which it was formed? I always suspected that if Poetry is inherently a matter of interconnections (what we Pinoys also call pakikiramdam and what I lately have been calling algebraic as a result of three months of tutoring a 13-year-old boy in four years worth of math), such a book can hold together—also recall Gertrude Stein’s observation (I paraphrase) about how a word arbitrarily placed next to another word will rub together for some unexpected frisson if not generate some meaning. Many poets have written under such an inspiration—it’s not that ambitious, I thought, to create a book on that basis, too.

What the poet does not tell us is that there are section-headings, and these signposts not only echo concerns in Tabios’ earlier work but create—as Charles Bernstein characterized his 2001 book, With Strings—a “modular structure,” in which “a string of interchanging parts” inform “the book as a whole”: “Political, social, ethical, and textual investigations intermingle, presenting a linguistic echo chamber in which themes, moods, and perceptions are permuted, modulated, reverberated, and further extended” (131). While the first section, “New Poems,” which I take to mean poems that have not appeared in magazines, is an arbitrary ordering device, the next two sections, “Triptych for Philip” [Lamantia] and “Chant for Kari” [Edwards], are elegies for poet-friends, and other parts involve postcolonial (or in Tabios’ formulation, transcolonial) thinking (“A Filipino Accent”), poetry involving wine (“Wine Country Honeymoon”), poetry taking its beginning intention from visual art (“Ekphrasis”), and a lyrical series inspired by the work of Jose Garcia Villa (“Girl, Singing”). Yes, “poetry” may be “inherently a matter of interconnections,” but the principle of “a word arbitrarily place next to another” is not going to guarantee the collection of generative interconnections; the poet needs to have written the poems carefully and then to have thought vigorously enough to establish effective groupings. And she did.

Read the whole review here 

Check out Footnotes to Algebra Here 

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Evening Train by Tom Clark Reviewed in Elliptical Movements by Billy Mills

 

Evening Train by Tom Clark: A Review

Evening Train, by Tom Clark, BlazeVOX Books, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-60964-187-0, $16.00

The first thing to say about Tom Clark is that he is an American poet; this may seem too obvious to need stating, but it is fundamental to his art. The language, social norms and history of the United States are woven into the very fabric of his verse. This is made explicit in the first poem in Evening Train, ‘Moving House’, where the process of house removal is folded into the myth of Manifest Destiny, a people

…always moving out

ahead of the next wave yet not

riding the last wave to the crest

Clark writes poems that encompass memory (a central preoccupation), the natural world and our role in it, ageing and death, the interface between technology and social control: but all these matters are examined in a landscape that is specifically American and generally urban. Many of the poems set in the now reflect the geography of the city of Berkeley, where Clark has lived for many years. For instance, the almost surreal, apocalyptic poem ‘skyfalling’ is firmly anchored to a specific street junction in a precise social milieu:

Ninth and Bancroft, West Berkeley

insecure householder half dressed

emerges from behind barred gate

looks up into dark sky

one arm bent overhead as if to shield, crouching –

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Kristina Marie Darling interviewed at Heavy Feather Review

 

The Tension between Order and Chaos: An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling

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Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. Her most recent book, The Sun & the Moon, was just released by BlazeVOX Books.

I’m curious about the formal constraints that organize this book. Reading the linked prose poetry sections which are filled with recurring imagery and language, I was reminded of the musicality and looping patterns of sestinas. Can you please talk about your use of form in this book?

That’s a great question, and I love the comparison you draw between the prose poems and sestinas. I value the sense of unity that these inherited forms provide, especially within a book-length manuscript. Within my own practice, though, I often have a difficult time rendering my ideas, imagery, and language compatible with forms like the sonnet, the villanelle, and the sestina. I enjoy inventing my own formal constraints, since this seems to give me the best of both worlds: the unity and sense of order associated with writing in form, and the freedom to discover the poem or sequence as I write it. To make impulsive and intuitive choices, rather than striving for loyalty to the formal constraint.

When writing The Sun & the Moon, I was unsure at first what form the book would take, since the sequence began in fragments. I was drawn to the little prose boxes you see in the book because they worked in tension with the chaos and violence in the content of the manuscript. As I drafted the book, I wanted to see how long I could sustain the tension between order and chaos, between the uniform appearance of the poems and the way that the images and motifs slowly changed shape. I hope that the relationship between form and content will spark the reader’s curiosity, and add to the possibilities for interpretation.

The sections that I felt most drawn to were Appendix B and C—though they were made more meaningful by the first section. Appendix B seemed to act as a kind of document, as if a diary destroyed in a fire by soot, water damage, erasures. Appendix C functioned for me as if some kind of relationship field notes—can you again, please speak of how these structures and forms operate in your larger project? How did you arrive at using these forms and structures?

I appreciate your careful reading of the book’s Appendix B and C. Appendix B actually consists of erasures of the earlier section, but I love your comparison to a diary that has been destroyed by soot or fire damage. I arrived at these fragmented literary forms after seeing just how visually uniform the first section appeared. So in this respect, your comparison between the invented constraints of the prose poems and a sestina sequence is especially perceptive.

Read the Whole Interview Here 

Her most recent book, The Sun & the Moon, was just released by BlazeVOX Books.

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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed at NDR

 

Dear DarwishAs its epistolary title suggests, Morani Kornberg-Weiss’s Dear Darwish is a book about bridging divides through writing. As an Israeli-American writer addressing Mahmoud Darwish, a renowned Palestinian poet, Kornberg-Weiss seeks to negotiate an “end” to the longstanding conflict between the two authors’ peoples, even if it means raising a white flag of surrender, as the book’s illustrated cover depicts (93). From the very first pages of Dear Darwish, the speaker adopts a respectfully subservient tone to address the late literary figure, formally asking “permission” to use his words and proposing humbly that they “work together” to forge a common “IsraelPalestine” narrative, in which the “share[d]…blood” on their hands teaches both sides finally to live together rather than die divided (18-19).

Despite the speaker’s explicit peace-making intentions and admissions of mutual guilt, she takes great pains to extricate herself from the conflict’s underlying motivations, even positioning herself as a helpless victim through the analogies of a “hostage,” a puppet, and a “kill[ed]…messenger” (21-23). Kornberg-Weiss clarifies that her poems’ proactive diplomacy should not be taken as an avowal of personal responsibility; on the contrary, both she and Darwish inherited their bloody hands at birth, entering the world already “torture”-bound prisoners whose only sin was simply “learn[ing] to live / with the darkness” (26).

Read the whole review here

Preview Dear Darwish here 

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Requited by Kristina Marie Darling reviewed on Drunken Boat

 

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Drunken Boat’s very own Matthew Hamilton reviews Kristina Marie Darling’s Requited.

 

Imagine coming home one day and finding out that your wife packed all her belongings, and the only thing left of hers was a note, laying there like a cold memory, that read, “I’m not happy anymore. Take care.” Imagine an empty space where the word Love should have been above her signature. Imagine scratching your head as you struggle to understand why this has happened to you. Imagine your emotions freezing inside of you like an impatient winter storm.

 

For me, Kristina Marie Darling’s poetry collection, Requited, could not have come at a better time. As someone recently going through a divorce, after reading this collection, I feel confident saying that I understand the frozen space of a damaged heart, of an experience so hurtful it often leaves me reeling in angst with every thought I have of my soon to be ex-wife from the moment I read her letter.

 

But poetry is good for the soul, and Darling’s words spoke to me like a skilled therapist speaks to a client, or a priest speaking to a parishioner in the mysterious confines of the confessional.

 

These graceful prose poems, no more than five lines in length, describe a love affair that is like a “rose garden in the dead of winter,” which sets the pace for the rest of this 41 page book with its blizzardy cold conditions. Of course, this is all metaphor to how the narrator is feeling, miserable to say the least. She is a dead flower with “cold blue lips,” “a heroine counting unfaithful stars.” And these simple, yet profound lines will pervade the reader with sympathy and understanding, especially for those readers that have experienced, or are currently experiencing, a failing relationship.

 

Read the whole review here 


Preview Requited here

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