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Hurray and congrats to Susan Lewis​, her book Heisenberg’s Salon was just reviewed at Hyperallergic​!!!

 

Expect Catastrophe in Poems Built from Tension

In Heisenberg’s Salon, Susan Lewis reveals the irrational lurking within every gesture, symbol, structure, and sentiment.

However defined, prose poems usually confound me. They often come off as series of conventional paragraphs—what looks to me as bricks of text arranged in walls of white—no more poetic than any other prose. The prose poems that comprise Heisenberg’s Salon, Susan Lewis’s new collection, refreshingly generate cadence, rhythm, arresting rhymes. In short, they read like true poems because they are. But in the spirit of a volume that nervously veers and upends, let me depart my focus on form for an observation of atmosphere: These poems are tense!

They are also intense. Lewis refuses causal, casual, transparent notions of relations between concepts, people, or situations. She senses the irrational lurking within every gesture, symbol, structure, and sentiment. She does not exult in confusion and skepticism but dutifully communicates them— a radical and welcome honesty.

These poems visit seemingly commonplace scenarios, often with an unnamed “she” and “he” sharing confidences or company, which leads to some unexpected catastrophe. Or rather, unexpected if one is not prepared to share Lewis’s frightening logic that catastrophe is one of more usual developments we can come to expect.

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MOCK TROUGH RASPING CROW review in Litter Magazine (UK)

 
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Steve Spence

"Mock Trough Rasping Crow" by Billy Cancel. 104 pp. Pub. BlazeVOX Books. ISBN: 978-1-60964-293-8

 I first came across billy cancel (or Will Morris/Billy Asbo as he was then known) in Plymouth some years back as he was a regular at Language Club events for some time when he lived in the South West before he moved to New York. I was very impressed with his work ‘on the page’ and with his live performances which were something special. Whatever ‘it’ is he had and clearly still has it in abundance. I was slightly surprised then to discover that despite sending his work to magazines very little of it seemed to be getting into print. Things move on and we lost contact until quite recently when I discovered that he’s been publishing and performing on a regular basis and following a series of chapbooks his first full-length publication (108 pages) is now up-and-running. And what a collection it is!

Mock Trough Rasping Crow is a book in eight sections. Each poem is twenty lines long and each includes a title, emboldened and in italic, as either the opening line or a section of the opening line, eg:  ‘in the event of fire we will all hang out   same way   we tolerate’. The visual element of these individual pieces is important as they look splendid, perched on the page in their varying shapes and layouts. They remind me of what I experienced when I first looked at J.H. Prynne’s Collected Poems, for example, and are also reminiscent, visually, of the poetry of Christopher Brownsword, another fascinating, under-recognised poet. The cover artwork – also by cancel – is a beautiful mix of colour, shape and text, a collage which combines the aesthetic with the everyday, an aspect which I’m sure the late Tom Raworth would have appreciated, as he would have appreciated the poetry enclosed within the book’s covers. I mention this because I can recall seeing Will read at the Language Club on an occasion when Raworth was the main guest reader and Raworth in his down-to-earth and amiable way, being very impressed with Will’s material. 

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Hurray and congrats to Robert Wexelblatt! His fine book was reviewed in Offcourse!

 

Robert Wexelblatt, Petites Suites, BlazeVOX Books, 2017; 347 pages, ISBN: 9781609643027. A review by Ricardo Nirenberg. 

Here there are, listed in the index, twenty-two petites suites,and each consists of three or four pieces (unindexed), very loosely related to one another.  Analogously, Baroque and modern composers have put together sequences of dances — sarabande, allemande, courante, minuet, gigue, and so on — related by being in the same tonality, or, sometimes, by sharing a basic theme.  A rough computation shows that there are about a hundred such pieces —or dances— in Wexelblatt's new book, having an average length of about three-and-a-half pages: that length will not accommodate more than a single, fairly simple governing idea, and the execution requires a sure sense of rhythm and a spare and nimble hand.  Two things I find astounding: the inexhaustible variety of Wexelblatt's imagination, and how often the result succeeds as a work of art.

No small part of the success is due to the author's skill in pulling great endings out of his sleeve.  Sometimes, as in the second piece, the final phrase (below) works as the moral of the fable: for twenty years a group of women had met periodically for the fun of excoriating people they didn't like, especially men who had been part of their lives; until one day they took to criticizing each other, and then there were no more reunions: "They scattered to lives which now felt colder, smaller, and irremediable." (Page 18)

In the piece that follows, one of my favorites and twice as long as the average, the ending doesn't work as the moral of the fable, but rather as an unexpected and profound revelation of character.  Paul Vareille, a widower in his seventies and a famous painter, meets a young and pretty waitress at a bistro in Nice.  They strike a conversation, he learns that she's an art student and that her name is Chloe Chatuchat; she gets only his first name, and calls him Monsieur Paul, not guessing that he is Vareille, the famous master.  After a few more meetings and conversations, it is evident that both relish the chaste contact with the other, suffused in a vaporized eroticism.

Before we go on to comment on the ending, we must pause and ask ourselves: what sort of name is Chloe Chatuchat?  Sounds French, of course, but although Chloé is a common French given name, Chatuchat is very improbable, even ridiculous, and the author knows that: he didn't pick it by chance.  It sounds awfully close to Clavdia Chauchat, the name of Thomas Mann's main feminine character in The Magic Mountain, that mysterious, seductive incarnation of the Goethian Ewig-Weibliche.  By calling her Chauchat, Mann may have wanted us to think of the homophonous chaud chat, of a warm cat and feline graces (remember, too, that chator chatte are common vulgar words for the female genitals, and thus "elle a la chatte au feu" means "she is in heat.")  Wexelblatt throws a t in the middle of Chauchat and gets Chatuchat.  This destroys the sexually aggressive connotations of the "warm cat," but, while keeping the cat, creates a chaster if equally seductive association with the French verb chatouiller, to tickle.

The above are conjectures, needless to say; what follows are well-known facts, mostly.  In 1942, Henri Matisse was in his seventies, confined to bed or chair after an abdominal operation.  He placed an ad in Nice-Matin, looking for a nurse "jeune et jolie", young and pretty.  In those days that did not raise eyebrows, apparently.  Monique Bourgeois, a twenty-year old nursing student, responded to the ad (much later she commented: "Jeune, je l'étais.  Mais jolie ? On me disait que non ..." Her parents told her she was plain and good for nothing).  She had never heard of Henri Matisse before, but was interested in art, so the old painter showed her some tricks of the trade; he also taught her that she was beautiful, with a "majestic inner poise and strength."  She nursed him and sat for at least four portraits — never in the nude.  Their relation was intense, chaste, and erotic.  Mlle. Bourgeois became a novice in 1944 and a Dominican nun in 1946; by a strange coincidence, the type of thing the French like to call "l'hasard objectif", she was assigned to a convent in the town of Vence, and Matisse had moved to Vence in 1943.  Their collaboration continued, and culminated in the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, which Matisse considered his greatest achievement, and which opened in 1951.

Now for the similarities and differences.  Wexelblatt doesn't tell us where, exactly, Paul Vareille's farmhouse was located, but Vence and its alentours is a good guess, since, in the first phrase of the story, we read that "he sometimes drove his big old Mercedes down into Nice or up to Grasse for a meal": look it up on a map.  The relation between an old painter and a young and pretty woman who is interested in art is, of course, the obvious similarity between the two stories; one difference is that Mlle. Bourgeois had no idea who Matisse was until she met him, while Mlle. Chatuchat knew and admired Vareille's work, though she didn't know his face; so when, by chance, she learned that Monsieur Paul is the great Vareille, she felt mortified.  But she recovered, and when he apologized, "she put a finger to her chin and looked stern," then tells him she will pardon him if he paints her portrait, to which Vareille naturally assents.

The crucial difference, though, between Mlle. Bourgeois and Mlle. Chatuchat is that the latter "was used to being noticed"; she knew she was pretty, while the future nun had been inculcated from childhood that she was plain and good for nothing.  This comes out brilliantly at the end of the story:
"When the picture was finished, Vareille offered it to Chloe, but she wouldn't have it.  She insisted that he keep it as a souvenir, write her name and the date on the back, and hang it in the farmhouse."

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CHARLES BORKHUIS ON DEAD RINGER @ Dichtung Yammer

 September 2, 2017

EXCHANGE WITH CHARLES BORKHUIS ON DEAD RINGER

Thomas Fink and Angela Bisceglia

 

Thomas Fink: Dead Ringer (BlazeVox, 2017), one of your two new books of poetry, is not the title of one of the poems or even one of the six sections in the book. It possesses a fertile ambiguity (i.e. resemblance or telephone feature) that brings out the life in an old cliché. What motivated the selection of this title?

Charles Borkhuis: Well, like most jumps of the literary imagination there is the flash of an off-center fit or happy dislocation, in this case from title to book. I like your association of Dead Ringer to the interruptive ringing of a telephone, perhaps while someone is reading Dead Ringer. Who is on the other end? A loved one? A wrong number? Do I answer or not? What was the last word I was reading? This can be a provocative and enchanting spark of irritation and illumination like the scream of steam, or the bubbling over of reality into the throes of uncertainty. The insistence of the moment repeats itself, incessantly ringing time by the neck, at once an invitation and a meditation. I once wrote a play called Sunspots in which a man receives a phone call from his dead wife. But that’s another story, or the same story that keeps ringing.

I’ve heard that in the 19th century sometimes the dead were buried with bells in their coffins, so that if they had been mistakenly interred alive, they might wake up and ring the bell. Poe might have been delighted by such an ending. These days one could imagine a cell phone placed on the chest of the deceased because as Robert Desnos says in the last lines of The Great Days of the Poet “… one never knows.”

On another level, Dead Ringer refers to someone who is the “spitting image” of someone else. And that’s a delightful linguistic wordplay in itself. Why “spitting image” and not the more obvious “splitting image”? Does that refer to someone who is close enough to get hit by my spit or someone spit out of my mouth? Origins are always somewhat uncertain because they keep spitting and splitting. I don’t know and don’t want to know past a certain point. I’d rather let the linguistic associations have a good time crossing paths in the subways of my effluvium. Another detour perhaps, another double, or phone ringing in a dream. Pick up sticks. The theme of “the double” appears throughout Dead Ringer, especially in the first section of the book, The Dopplegänger’s Double, which brings up the question of identity, mistaken or otherwise. The Dopplegänger’s Double might be the bounce back of oneself in the mirror, which is to say the flesh and blood you, whoever that may be.

Some people have said that at times the voices in this book appear to be written from the pov of a dead man, or someone in the bardo state, or a ghost haunting the everyday world. This is not altogether untrue and brings to mind some film noir voiceovers in which a character tells a flashback story of the incidents leading up to his death. And here I am reminded of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau quote: “I can truly say that I did not begin to live until I saw myself as a deadman.” I would just add that gallows humor does not go idle in this book, but perhaps taken to another level, it offers a certain amusing upliftment. Mortality, after all, can go in many directions. Alfred Jarry on his deathbed reportedly asked for a toothpick. Just for the record, Dead Ringer was a 1964 film with Bette Davis and Dead Ringers was made in 1988 with Jeremy Irons.

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Photos on flickr