amongst books

amongst books

Monday, May 21, 2012

above/ground press 2012: notes on four chapbooks

Rae Armanrtout's Custom.

This chapbook is composed of four poems, three of which are series poems. In minimal language, Armantrout juxtaposes philosophical musings with tangible and fanciful images. She has a delightful sense of irony: "Someone says, "Dream bigger," handing us/an RPG." America appears as desperate and out of control.  Bored souls hang from the ceilings. There is some syntax play, such as a poem that ends with the adverb "when." Also common expressions are tampered with, such as "Let volumes speak volumes." There is a feeling of strangeness, of not belonging, throughout the chapbook: "someone else's terrain." What we see on screen or in a role playing game vs what is happening in reality, how that changes our expectations to reflect the fantasy. "On screen/men discover/that their mothers/are imposters,/that their world's/unreal." There is a lack of progress, "zero surface tension," "lines of ants," "a string of stragglers on death march," an actress rooting for a lone cloud. "We maintain a critical distance."

Sarah Mangold's Cupcake Royale.
In Cupcake Royale Mangold juxtaposes the language and imagery of cake with the trappings of everyday life:  colour coded medications, compost, stir-fry, sweater-folding. The main form used in the chapbook seems to be accumulation, not necessarily of objects; sometimes short, declarative sentences in the form of objective observation, instructions, same grammatical categories, incomplete thoughts. Somehow it comes across as subversive, this juxtaposition of cake with the everyday: "I'm somewhere in the middle/injectable drugs/vanilla      buttercream". 

Fenn Stewart's An OK Organ Man
In this chapbook, Stewart's wordplay is prevalent, including puns, foreign languages, alliteration, assonance, repetition, words of three syllables or more & anagrams. By taking text from 18th century philosophers  such as Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, John Locke etc., Stewart has ensured that the chapbook will have an old-fashioned, antiquated feel which is juxtaposed with a general feistiness or rebellion against the conventions of the era from which she is pilfering & gives the work a certain cadence evocative of times gone by. "under what conditions -- say, heroic butchery -- / might I make manifest this trepidation? / what is it but a segment/ or a fluke of sin". The chapbook also contains a level of metatext about language itself: "this ruddy syntax," "for language, beasts, and creatures are conducive," "but really, I'm/your girl for discourse".  

j/j hastain's we / cum ::: come / in the yield fields / amongst statues with interior arms (above/ground press, 2012)
in this chapbook j.j. hastain offers us prose poems that treat abstract concepts as tangible objects: "Liquid light or herds of manic." Much of the work deals with gender as fluid, as a non binary construct: "Gender here, our interactive contour." The text is full of unique & dream-like imagery, poignant observations, provocative paradoxes: "Extracting blossoms from a slaughter house." "A single ant carries the large body of a splayed moth." The poems are chock full of sensuality, poems formed of sentences of varying lengths & styles that careen drunkenly & wildly along. The work is visually strong. I can easily imagine some of these poems being illustrated with paintings or as surreal films" Like the rust colored sunflower that (while soft on its exterior) when cut turns the water it depends on bright pink." The author is a skilled soundsmith, each sentence deliberately muted or  cacophonous, depending on hastain's intent.


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