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Going with the Flow by Peter Siedlecki reviewed on GALATEA RESURRECTS #23

 

GOING WITH THE FLOW by PETER SIEDLECKI

JENNIFER CAMPBELL Reviews
Going with the Flow by Peter Siedlecki
(BlazeVOX Books, New York, 2014)
Going with the Flow is a book addressed to anyone who has concern over his own “going.” A poet-philosopher studying aging from the inside-out, Peter Siedlecki explores the concept of old age in a vein similar to Plato’s dialectical method. Standout poems such as “Deciding to Retire,” “Child’s Play: A Retirement Poem,” and “On Receiving a Mailing from Forest Lawn” represent various iterations of the theme. There are moments of great humor, along with expressions of frustration and resignation. As in Plato’s Theory of Forms, the poems reveal the temporal in an attempt to understand the immutable archetypes that provide order and structure to the world. In the title poem, which is the first poem in the collection, Siedlecki offers the reader the first of many contradictions: is aging “a sad death of summer” that happens in gorgeous “blazes of color”? Inconsistencies are brought to light by the poet; the aging man wants “to connect to antiquity” yet concedes “I will die, and you will wail / and misremember me as perfect.”
Even as the poet leads the reader through his study with logic, he grants in “More Theology”:
          We have reasoned god out,
          with our “Thees” and “Thous”
          only because reason is what we have 
          to turn into whatever we need,
          the bricks and mortar
          of which we build
          the most absurd structures.
In fact, some poems are structured primarily from questions, in a modern Socratic method—“Untimely Death” is an effective example of this technique:
            
            When is death timely?
            when it comes like a chemical
            to kill the hideous worm
            devouring the victim from within?
            Or when, in the midst of dark storms
            and hideous worms, it comes to stifle
            the dear memory of lilacs?
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The Speed of our Lives by Grace C. Ocasio Reviewed on GALATEA RESURRECTS #23

THE SPEED OF OUR LIVES by GRACE C. OCASIO

EILEEN TABIOS Engages
The Speed of our Lives by Grace C. Ocasio
(BlazeVOX Books, Kenmore, N.Y., 2014)
There’s a freshness to Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of our Lives—a freshness I see in other first books, and that I sometimes don’t see in the umpteenth collections by well-published poets.  (I did confirm: while Ocasio previously released a chapbook, The Speed of our Lives is her first poetry book.) By "freshness," I mean a presentation of poems whose presence, I sense, were not determined by applied strictures, e.g. a project-based perspective, or a focus on a particular form.  
The poems in The Speed of our Lives range over a wide variety of subjects and concerns, a range not hidden by its organization in four sections (entitled “Sheroes,” “She Revolutionary,” “Princes and Privates,” and “Patriots”).  While the sections are certainly apt, I ended up not focusing on their categories so much as being moved to engage each individual poem on an individual basis.  I believe this  results from the strong story-telling impetus to each poem so that I reacted to each one based on its story instead of how it relates to other poems.  
Nor does story need to unfold as narrative—for example, this list poem I found redolent, thus, enjoyed:
FATHER’S FAVORITE THINGS AND PEOPLE
Charlie Mingus’ albums
social tea biscuits
brown wool coat
The Yankees
Valencia oranges
books by Chester Himes
Brut After Shave Lotion
Cadillac Coupe de Ville
striped shirts
Harlem’s Better Crust Pie Bakery
New York Giants
Duke Ellington
muenster cheese
James Van Der Zee’s photographs
books by John Hope Franklin
carrot cake
Louis Armstrong
English Leather Cologne
cow tongue
Brooks Brothers gray and blue suits
sweet potato pie
cowboy jeans
Billie Holiday
collard greens
Jackie Robinson
black-eyed peas
New York Jets green cap
hog’s head cheese

When I look, thus, at The Speed of our Lives as not just a poetry collection but a collection of stories, I see the range of subjects.  To quote one of the blurbers, Ann Deagon, there are “poems embracing myth, history ancient and modern, happenings worldwide and close to home, characters from many cultures. The first section alone focuses on Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Pocahontas, Anne Frank, Audrey Hepburn, Angela Davis,  Michelle Obama, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Alondra de la Parra.”  These poems are about something(s) or someone(s).






 

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Rain Taxi interviews Burt Kimmelman

 

ARRANGEMENTS OF LANGUAGE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BURT KIMMELMAN

kimmelman2by Eric Hoffman

Burt Kimmelman teaches literary and cultural studies at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the highly acclaimed author of eight collections of poems. Kimmelman’s poetry has received praise from such notables as Robert Creeley (“a rare evocation”), Jerome Rothenberg (“a strict & powerful accounting”), Alfred Kazin (“artful, fastidious, learned”), and Susan Howe (“a singularly locating force”). In addition to his poetry, Kimmelman has also produced an impressive body of critical work, including numerous penetrative essays as well as two full-length books, The Poetics of Authorship in the Later Middle Ages: The Emergence of the Modern Literary Persona (Peter Lang, 1996) and the ground-breaking study The ‘Winter Mind’: William Bronk and American Letters (Fairleigh Dickinson, 1998). It was this latter effort, first encountered over a decade ago during research on my biography of George Oppen, which led me to contact Kimmelman, initiating a conversation on poetry that continues to this day. A small cross-section of that conversation is here provided, albeit in the less casual format of a formal interview, occasioned by the recent publication of Kimmelman’s Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2013 (BlazeVox, $18). This interview was conducted via e-mail primarily from April-May 2014, with a brief follow up in July.


Eric Hoffman: Burt, a fair amount of your work experiments with formal verse, in most cases with syllabics. What is it about working this way that appeals to you? Do you believe that working with syllabics encourages invention?

Burt Kimmelman: I first set eyes on Donald Allen’s watershed anthology, The New American Poetry, in 1965. A decade before the Allen book, Charles Olson had published his ground-shaking essay "Projective Verse" (1950); that essay was given pride of place in the poetics section of Allen’s book. So, for a fledgling poet like myself, the question of writing free verse was not a no-brainer so much as moot (I had written some sonnets, haikus, a couple of concrete poems etc., and did get great pleasure out of set form, but was not at that time in a position to have any particular form work for me in any kind of creative or generative way). Olson's astonishing essay (to say nothing of his amazing poetry, an exemplar I took to heart) explained, so to speak, how to leave free verse behind for something rigorous but not formal in any sense except the sui generis sense—as Robert Creeley had said, “form is nothing more than an extension of content.”

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Stan Mir and Mark Wallace on the Conversant - Discussing The Quarry and the Lot

 

STAN MIR AND MARK WALLACE

Mike Wallace and Stan Mir
Mark Wallace and Stan Mir

Stan Mir: What would you say some of the most formative experiences have been for you as a writer?

Mark Wallace: One thing that occurs to me to say is that I grew up not liking poetry, or thinking that I didn’t like it, like almost everybody in America is trained to think. Fiction was what I was mainly doing, and when I went for a graduate degree in creative writing, I did it in fiction, a collection of short stories. I think the thing that changed me about all of this was while I was at SUNY-Binghamton in the creative writing program; Jerome Rothenberg showed up and taught there for one year. And that one year that he was teaching there, Robert Creeley gave a reading. I didn’t really know Bob Creeley’s work. I didn’t really know anything about contemporary poetry at all, and I had one of those classic, cliché light bulb moments when Creeley was reading, “Oh, I get this, I love it. I want to do it.” Before that I had played around a little bit with poetry here and there, but not seriously. I think there was something about the contemporary nature of what Creeley did, the angular rhythm, which shook up my conventional idea of poetry. I had read the Romantics in college and just wasn’t interested. So I think that is the moment, and I started writing poems instantly after that. I walk into a reading and I walk out with a completely different perspective. And later on, I worked with Bob a bit, because he was at Buffalo.

SM: So did that influence your decision to go to Buffalo?

MW: Oh yeah, very much so, because I was getting a creative writing degree, an M.A., at Binghamton. It was certainly on my mind that I would go and study poetry with him. That year that I was at Binghamton and Rothenberg was there, we also had a big literary festival, I can’t remember the name of it. That was the first time I heard Charles Bernstein perform, the first time I heard Steve McCaffrey perform and do his “Library of Cruelty” piece, where he dresses problematically, orientalist, but it was still brilliant and the festival had a fascinating mixture of unique performances. I met all of those people, and of course, Charles was not at Buffalo at that time. He wasn’t a professor at all. I had been at Buffalo for two years before he became a professor there. He came in, I think, in my second year, as a visiting professor for one semester. I had class with him my second year, and then my third year he was there permanently. I forged a very good working relationship with him, and have tremendous admiration for Charles, not only for the quality of his work, but for the extra steps he goes with the students who want to work with him. So if you want to talk about formative moment, that’s one, where I suddenly got very interested in contemporary and experimental work. Right around that time there was a Boundary Two issue that collected a lot of Language Poets, and someone I worked with there, who was a theorist, a professor named William Spanos, who basically was a Heidegger scholar but was also into some contemporary poetry, was then the editor of Boundary Two. He didn’t put together that issue, but he was responsible for the Creeley issue and the Olson issue. I read the Language Poetry issue very heavily. I had only met Charles once before, but studying with him later I learned more about that context.

SM: Before arriving at Binghamton and encountering Spanos and McCaffrey and Bernstein, had you ever experienced any type of art that worked the way their art was working, maybe in terms of fiction?

MW: That’s a good question, and I’m trying to figure out what the answer is. I had taken a postmodern fiction course taught by Spanos, and we read Gravity’s Rainbow, and If on a winter’s night a traveler, and other books of course, and I felt very open to the idea of new approaches. But my collection of short stories that I wrote for my Master’s thesis is essentially conventional realism. My earlier writing was more influenced by people like Jack Kerouac, which probably doesn’t come as any surprise.

I was also involved—although I’m not a musician —with a lot of friends in the D.C. music scene. I was involved in the punk rock and new American rock scene. I was a big fan of the Minutemen and stuff like that while I was in college. I wrote and published reviews in college. The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime and the Meat Puppet’s II, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade were albums released and big back then, so I was already interested in non-mainstream practices. I’m not sure when I became aware that there was a similar kind of split going on in the world of literature.

Read the whole interview here 

Explore The Quarry and the Lot by Mark Wallace here 

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This Visit by Susan Lewis reviewed by Lisa M. Cole

 

I see many parallels between Susan Lewis’s This Visit and State of the Union, another book by Lewis that I read a few weeks ago. There is plenty of sharp and clever word play and rhyme. I also see a lot of influence coming from the school of Language Poetry and its poets. There is a distinct commentary on language itself, as the first poem in the collection, “My Life In Dogs”, has “language languishing.” For this and other reasons, This Visit reminded me of Charles Alexander’s book Pushing Water, which I reviewed in March of last year. 
Many of the same themes are addressed in This Visit, as were addressed in State of the Union: there seemed to be a slight political bent, as well as a focus on the human condition, and even God and morality, in lines like, 
They too must age, decay
& slowly quieten. 
& can only live
more or less. & choose,
more or less. 
& search furtively or not
for the nonexistent exit. 
Later, “the grenade of your despair” is paired with doll heads littered on the floor, which is certainly an image that sticks with the reader.  










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