The 25th anniversary means a lot of celebrating to do. My magazine folder overfloweth. I start the day thinking I have too many above/ground press chapbooks. I decide to cull. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the chapbooks published in 2018 as part of the subscription package, so I start to do this. This is one of my December rituals. The problem is…I can’t give away or throw any of them out, as usual. I like too many of them immediately and the others I know I’ll probably enjoy when I have more patience, more time. So I have to put them on the shelves. Here are a few favs so far from the early months of the year. I shall write more about others later, all being well.
Adrienne Gruber, Gestational Trail (February)
There’s something beautiful and exotic about this suite of poems that are set on the West Coast Trail in BC. Gestational because the speaker of the poem is pregnant during this hike. For example, in Darling to Tsusiat Falls, we learn of another woman who hadn’t realized she still carried a fetus and delivered it. There are apt and unique descriptions: “Boots etch the sand” and “A potato singes my palm” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs. I love the sensuality of the work and feel compassion for the speaker, who wants “a cold crisp one so badly, dense with wheat and calories” in Cribs to Walbran and wipes “between thighs/wince until the paper comes out clear.” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs.
Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, gravitynipplemilk (March)
I enjoy Gary’s work and especially the collaborations. Admittedly we did a vispo collab together (Bone Sapling, AngelHousePress 2014). A Gary Barwin production often contains antlers and this chapbook is no exception. These are poems to smile over and exclaim! This chapbook is fearlessly silly and there’s something profound about the poems too: “mountains are nothing but light/nothing but light and argument” in Rain Song. It would be easy to dismiss the work here because of this delightful play, but don’t do it. I don’t know Tom’s work at all but I know that often behind the silly in Gary’s work lies a depth and compassion for the world that bears paying attention to. Such is the case here in this collaboration. These are contemplative, metaphysical poems with a heaping spoonful of humour: “we’re all a little greasy/carbon, fallen angels, gold---//it’s a lot of pressure/capitalism: “Take my life…please” in Dial the Dinosaur Option
Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Pleasure Bristles (March)
Another collab? cool, cool. When chameleonic wordsmith GB grafts his shapeshifting skills onto another surreal amiga, AB, styles change yet again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still loads of silly here, but there’s more macabre as well, more creepy: “how would you choose to live if/the world was a forest of large-headed clowns?” in Release the Tortoises. There are pale ghosts and detached hands, old gods who scream, red moons. These are dreamy moonpoems.
Alice Notley, UNDO (March)
I read the Descent of Alette last year and now I’m hooked on Alice Notley. I like the largeness, the largesse of these poems, not overly wordy but generous in their description and what they reveal about the speaker. They move from micro (description of emotion and states “Almost sticky grace envelopes you in Jan 8) to macro (philosophy): “Like fingertips or pebbled surface knowing a mirror’s essence” in Malorum Sanatio. Blurred vision causes a dream of “spontaneous irregular spirals” and vision and streetlamps to look crooked in Souls on Métro while the speaker is tired “of having separate senses”. There is a breathlessness in the unpunctated Alice’s Soul and the accumulation of the long poem Malorum Sanatio. It is incantatory with gorgeous bits such as “I had no form before I was madly born” and “I remember being this soul the spy and savior”.
These poems are haunting. They are compassionate. They acknowledge the world’s brutality and our shared sense of trauma. Sometimes, like in Green and Gold, they are heartbreaking and breathtaking: “I can a savior save you collage of fishers/Whose eyes are outer space magenta fiery for/ Green gold cerise”. I love the colour here and in Agonites. There’s something about the way the poet disorders conventional syntax here that is so masterful, so brilliant. I am full of envy. As she writes in Undo, the title track, as they say, “To let poetry inhabit your body is to heal yourself.” I am inhabited. I am not healed, but healing…I could go on and quote line after line, these poems are exactly what I need/ed: “we’re all poetry because we’re compressed and lyrical” in All The Souls In The Cigar Box.
Sean Braune, The Cosmos (March)
Biased perhaps because AngelHousePress published Sean’s the Story of Lilith but I really enjoy Sean’s word play, sense of humour and eccentric associations. This is part of a larger work called “accelerated reading,” “a frenetic reading practice of the text.” I find myself reading that way too and laughing over a line here, a line there, skimming a bit. In this chapbook and with this concept, the author gives readers his permission to skim. I appreciate that and so I do from this long poem that shows the absurdity of the cosmetics industry and advertising by isolating and remixing ad excerpts…
“one smooth swipe emma stone wears HD gladiolus love”
“you’re fearless you’re worth it/live in copper”
“light lime lemon-ade-rita fiesta”
“road trip picture it:/ you your girls four wheels and one wild ride outside your fashion comfort zone”
“now the world is my runway, klondike”
kate siklosi, po po poems (April)
It’s great to see younger poets making visual poetry and it’s great to see small press publishers, such as above/ground press (who published my own The Vispo Bible: Mark this year) publishing vispo. These are energetic, sophisticated and elegant Letraset works. Very few visual poets I know of work with Letraset because it’s becoming harder to find.
More later…in the meantime, shouldn’t you subscribe?