Those Godawful Streets of Man by Stephen Bett reviewed in Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
Those Godawful Streets of Man by Stephen Bett
reviewed in Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
Reviewed by Richard Stevenson
I love what Stephen Bett is doing with language in his latest opus. I call it word jazz: poetry generated as much by sound association as image association; what Charles Olson called Projective Verse—proprioceptive poetry that lives in the moment and leaps playfully through word association nets not so much to create a thing, as to arrest the movement of the mind as it moves through microcosms and macrocosms of the cityscape, reflecting on and refracting what the poet finds.
Let me lay my cards out. I’ve been in a long love affair with English language haikai poetry (haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, zappai, renku); Kerouacian “pops” and Ginsberg’s “American Sentences”; trad to avant garde ‘ku; imagism; found poetry; realist and neosurrealist styles. So, after a bout of jazz poetry and performance in homage to Miles Davis, and performing cryptocritter/alien poems at kidlit conferences and local bandshell/gazebos (Frank Zappa for Tweens) with my jazz/rock troupe Sasquatch, I’ve been getting low and digging wit, irony, humour, epiphanies, bumper snicker spam-ku, scifaiku, for a good ten years or more.
Hence, I love the paradox of the so-called “wordless poem,” erasure, minimalism in all its modes, modern and post-modern. Bett’s his own man here. He’s absorbed the lessons of Donald Allen’s New American poets—the Objectivists, Beats, Black Mountain, New York and San Francisco schools, etc.; the Canadian Tish poets’ experiments with vernacular phonological phrasing in open form; the studious avoidance of the “burnished urn” Modernist reliance on myth, metaphor, and intellectual conceits, dense allusion, tight boxed containers.
Not that Bett’s poems aren’t marvelously allusive; the bric-à-brac of pop culture is all here: movies, cell phones, the Web, selfies, Tweets and all manner of squawks from the Interface. But there is nothing overtly confessional and the stitches and strophes are as comfortable and companionable as a Tetley Tea bag or
new silk pyramid of the latest craft tea. The allusions are to pop culture events: post-modern texts, not obscure texts. The reader is invited in—to squalid coldwater flats of yesteryear newly converted for the addicted and down-and-out of the lower east side of Vancouver, with sparking bare wires spitting between poles, maybe—but, no matter: the urban experience touches everyone and the reader will supply his or her own meta-narratives where the minimalist directive of the poet’s overarching narrative allows.
This is minimalism for readers who like their poems fat: rich, but sans impasto or ornament. A book of raw wire in the city: edgy, tense, sharp, angular, dangerous— in the electrified, computerized grids of cityscape we inhabit, and in the boxes we place each other in and peer out from; pole to pole down the dirty low-rent boulevard, in back alleys, out to suburbia, as we attempt to touch through wires and wireless interfaces, en face, live and in person in an age of celebrity cast-off culture and relationships.
At the heart of the book and appearing late in the accumulating narrative—the overall alienation we 21st-century zombie citizens feel facing globalization and its feral children—is the story of a dissolving relationship, the man too earnest and accepting; the woman raging and fading into madness. But nothing is cloying or mawkish or sentimental, or even confessional; instead we shift easily from a sort of Special Victims Unit episode of macro family skeleton news:
Then there was cousin
down the shop for smokes
Wife and baby daughter
at home for five
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READ THE WHOLE REVIEW in the Pacific Rim Review of Books (10th Anniversary Edition)
Special Storytelling Resources : Honor
The 2016 Storytelling World Resource Awards
This section features the 2016 winners and honors selected from the numerous nominated stories, books, and recordings. Beneath each award title is a short descriptive phrase about the resource contents. The major evaluative criterion was "story- listener appeal" for the items selected in Categories 1-6, and "usefulness for storytellers" for the resources honored in Category 7.
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Kristina Marie Darling's s Women and Ghosts
She participates in a conversation spanning centuries with both real and imaginary women: the women reading this text, and the women in Shakespeare’s plays: Ophelia, Juliet etc. Especially pleasing for me is the fact that previous exposure to these texts enhances my experience, but the book is so delicately rendered as to be accessible to even those who have not read the plays.
Rain Check Poems
Simon (Senses Himself) tackles ideas of leaving, longing, and missed opportunity as he creates a sense of urgent questioning in his fourth collection. Owing much to the New York School and displaying hints of Romanticism, Simon's poems are replete with moments of wild juxtaposition that let him reinterpret personal scenes with depth and humor. For example, he combines enjambment and anachronism in the title poem: "O Fates! O Body!/ Rude sirens cause a scene." Simon's formal technique is highly conversational and associative, and the poems are notable for their sparse use of punctuation. Through this mechanism, many lines do double duty as they interact with preceding and succeeding lines. This lends itself to a sense of confusion and a feeling of messy in-between-ness; readers are lost in the fog of existence and the poet's reveling in both how simultaneously maddening and liberating it can be. In "Mendocino," the feeling of love amid ancient redwoods and "cloud banks out of Blake" leads to a sensation of being "an ellipsis/ in a long line of ellipses." Despite the seeming insignificance of the self, what is being experienced still feels vital and important. It's a theme that recurs throughout the collection's mostly brief, occasional poems. Simon manages to be earnest and dreamy while still feeling grounded in the immediate material of life. (Aug.)