Flux, the new collection of poems by Japan-based poet Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, reveals a myriad of fluctuations and transitions in style and theme. From the poet’s diverse choice of form to her penetrating eye on the collection’s wide range of subject matter, the poems here reveal the constant change in the stream of time. Particularly effective are Joritz-Nakagawa’s prose poems. These stream-of-conscience social commentaries condense one women’s lifetime of sexual experiences to their very essence, with Joritz-Nakagawa constantly crossing the boundary between prose and poetry. Her poems reference modern racial tensions and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, while quoting the disparate words of the singer Morrissey and Albert Einstein, in a shifting perspective of form and fancy.
Bill Berkson is a poet, art critic & corresponding editor for Art in America, who for many years taught literature & art history at the SF Art Institute. Director of Letters and Science at the Art Institute from 1993 to 1998, he taught art history, critical writing & poetry & directed the public lectures program there from 1984 to 2007. He is the author of many books of poetry & prose including Portrait & Dream: New & Selected Poems, published by Coffee House Press in 2009. Bill will read from his latest poetry collection, Snippets(Omerta, 2014).
Elizabeth Block is the author of the novel A Gesture Through Time, written under fiscal sponsorship of Intersection for the Arts, in San Francisco. She is the recipient of a Doris Roberts/ William Goyen fiction fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood foundation and many other awards and residencies. Also a filmmaker, her films have traveled extensively throughout the United States and elsewhere. She has published her work in many genres and media. Elizabeth will read from her new poetry collection, Celluloid Salutations (Blazevox, 2014).
by Kristina Marie Darling
Kristina Marie Darling sets the imagination ablaze in her newest work Vow. With a chorus of dark melodies, words come as beautiful colors, gripping scenes happen in mere words, and the haunting promise of the vow becomes exposed. This absorbing collection creeps down the corridors of the mind, illuminating the spaces that a broken vow leaves behind.
“So we bury our vows one by one. We are pieces of an altar collapsing from the inside.”Writing in a coolly detached rhythm, Darling’s understated voice takes hold of each moment, “I dream another me exists in the burning house, reading aloud from what I have written.”
A collection that sits a little more on the unconventional side, what’s especially enjoyable is the meaningfully placed white space and text placement. The non-traditional format supports the creative power of the book and even inspires thought on the concept of the imagination as a whole. Consider that the expectations we have for something—someone—are rooted deeply in our imagination. Darling meditates on just that, using media as metaphor for the way our minds idealize such a commitment:
I had always imagined the day would look like: velvet backdrop onto which the landscape is projected like a sad film. Somewhere in that picture, a declaration.
Joe Safdie's new book exists in a place where poetry joins with other forms of thought & knowledge - "history, myth, politics, autobiographical narrative, criticism, prose," as he lists them elsewhere - to make a new hybridity in place of what has been kept apart & alien for far too long. In doing so, he joins a select company of poets for whom nothing human is foreign & everything observed or imagined can enter the field of the poem. That he does it with boundless humor & grace is also worth noting.
Poet Joe Safdie is at his best as he refreshes and renews the ancient story of Orpheus, which opens his new book Scholarship. Eloquent in his personal yet classic presentation of history, myth, politics and autobiography, he writes with an accomplished yet easily accessible voice that segues through time to the news of the moment, presenting an intimate and politically astute personal view of the ordinary events that make up the classic past and immediate present of poetry.
Postmodernism’s bifurcating canyons are notoriously intimidating to all but self-appointed practitioners. For mere bitcoins of close attention, Joe Safdie’s Scholarship will generously guide you both up and down river, and reward you with the knowledge you need to strike out on your own. Never will the sight of a well-stocked library be so alluring and welcoming as when you’ve finished this long-awaited book of poems by one of the most insightful and subtly witty poets working on (and beyond) the West Coast since the 1970s.
The great Jack Clarke used to load hermetic epigraphs, quotations, and borrowings onto and into his texts. They were (still are) detonations of a sort, opening shafts for difficult thought down and through the rubble of poetic protocol and complacency. Poetry as Scholarship . . . Joe Safdie, whose first full book you hold, is of this secret, somewhat unlicensed poetic company – off on his own, under the Po-biz radar, he follows in Clark’s wildcat tradition, working patiently, with older, tried and true tools, unconcerned with the fads and foibles of the Field. He’s been bringing strange minerals back from below since he learned some of the how as one of Ed Dorn’s closest students back in the day. No doubt if Dorn were here, the back cover of this book would have been occupied by his words, celebrating and calibrating this magnificent work.
Joe Safdie lives in a coastal community north of San Diego with his wife Sara and his cat Cody, teaches English at a local community college, and petitions the emperor to lift his exile. (Who is the emperor? Good question.) He’s published the chapbooks Wake Up The Panthers (with the assistance of Kayak Press), Saturn Return (Smithereens Press), Spring Training (Zephyr Press), September Song (Oasis Press), and Mary Shelley’s Surfboard (Blue Press); other poems, essays, reviews and opinions about literary matters are floating in the virtual universe and occasionally assume form.
Geoffrey Gatza is an award-winning poet and editor. He is the author many books of poetry, including Secrets of my Prison House (BlazeVOX 2010), Kenmore: Poem Unlimited (Casa Menendez 2009), and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press 2008). He is also the author of the yearly Thanksgiving Menu-Poem Series, a book-length poetic tribute for prominent poets, now in it's tenth year. His visual art poems have been displayed in the gallery showing Occupy the Walls: A Poster Show, AC Gallery (NYC) 2011 occupy wall street N15 For Ernst Jandl - Minimal Poems with photography from the fall of Liberty Square; and in Language to Cover a Wall: Visual Poetry through its changing media, UB Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY) 2011/12 Language for the Birds. Geoffrey Gatza is the editor and publisher of the small press BlazeVOX. The fundamental mission of BlazeVOX is to disseminate poetry, through print and digital media, both within academic spheres and to society at large. He lives in Kenmore, NY with his girlfriend and two beloved cats.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Why write Apollo? Talk about its premise? What's the goal of the book? What are the main conversations?
Geoffrey Gatza (GG): I was drawn to write Apollo after falling in love with chess. While studying the game, I realized Marcel Duchamp, arguably one of the 20th century's most important and influential artists, was an intriguing figure in the chess world. Apollo traces the central strategies and themes of Duchamp's work. Movement, displacement, doubling, isolation, pun, and metamorphosis are the tactics used by Duchamp to estrange the ordinary. More than just a collection of poems, this book is a readymade, taking the form of a souvenir ballet program detailing a one-night-only performance of Apollo by Igor Stravinsky to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, in which Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 caused a sensation during its exhibition. At its heart, this book is about Marcel Duchamp but it is also about chess. It was thought for a long while that Marcel Duchamp gave up art to play professional chess. However, this was found to be not true with the revelation of his last major artwork, Étant donnés.
Using the form of a ballet, this work calls attention to the acts of performance, movement and choreography as well as the rhythms and balance of dance. These ideas are also found in chess. The conversation between dance and chess runs through this work. Each character is represented by a chess piece and their movements are conveyed and correlated as dance, thus the reason this book takes the form of a ballet. Marcel Duchamp, his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, Dorothea Tanning, Leornona Carrington, and Gertrude Abercrombie perform the ballet. Max Ernst leads the orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie performs a special solo.
The ten sequences in Apollo are performed in poem sections unfolding with specific functions towards the production and appreciation of the creative act. Duchamp famously said, "The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." This book establishes a more active role for the reader, who is asked to participate in creating meaning from the text. The work becomes collaboration between the audience, the poet, and the tradition that they've all inherited. The diversity of these works echoes the complexities of the subject, but together they posit something specific, the heightened relationship between the interior self and the exterior world.
LK: Is Apollo a conceptual poetry collection?
GG: Indeed, this is a conceptual collection; conceptual with a lower case 'c.' I say this to distinguish this book from some of the Conceptual poetry being written by Kenny Goldsmith, Vanessa Place and Divya Victor.
The whole book is an art object, taking the form of a souvenir program of a ballet performance that never took place. In the proper spirit of the performance, I sent out invitations to the ballet, giving an address and performance space that did not exist. The text of the book needed to move beyond the ordinary form of poetry, so a Stravinsky ballet was chosen to act as the template/stage for the work to happen.
Opening with an introduction narrated by Duchamp's female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy sets the stage for the evening's performance and as hostess for the evening, tells the story of Tiresias. The first tableau details the birth of Apollo and how Apollo created the game of chess for Caissa in an Ovidian style of mythic writing. This is followed in turn by the myth of how Duchamp gave up painting for other forms of more engaging art.
A dada chess poem and a photo ballet of a chess game are used to illustrate the moving perceptions of chess. Highlighting Duchamp's work, forms a relationship with it, and gives relative weight to the subject.
Three long poems look at the work of three prominent female surrealist painters. Dorothea Tanning's painting, Birthday, is contemplated in "The Twelve Hour Transformation of Clare," a story of a woman who disappears into words. Leonora Carrington's work is thought through in "Recipe for Water," a poem of time and contemplation of relationships within a mystical space. The Ivory Tower by Gertrude Abercrombie is enacted in a retelling of the Lady of Shallot.
Duchamp Draws Rrose Sélavy is a three-act play that sets up an imaginary scene between Marcel Duchamp and his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy. They play a game of chess in the final moments before Duchamp completes his last major piece, Étant donnés. At the end of the play, the audience is trapped in the tableau of Étant donnés, left in a museum. To complete the book, the ballet takes the form of a complaint letter to the director of the Albright Knox. Detailing the true story of how I was kicked out of the museum for carrying an umbrella, the ballet ends on the outside steps with the author anticipating the redundancy of death.