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Making her final passage, a poet leaves behind an exquisite logbook, by Djelloul Marbrook

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Crossing The North Sea, Susanna Roxman, Dionysia Press Ltd., 2013, 87pp. £ 7.50. $11.75

crossingthenorthseaThe poet and critic Susanna Roxman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susanna_Roxman) died September 30, 2015, leaving behind a body of work we ought to mine with diligence. Her work deserves the kind of attention we too often lavish on writers who are better at working the levers of our culture than working their craft. Our obsession with money as a measure of success inclines us to neglect all too many deserving artists.

The Anglophone world is like a body out of touch with its parts. It seems at times neurologically incapable of collective introspection. We read the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books or any of the major Australian, New Zealand or Indian reviews and they seem only distantly and sometimes condescendingly aware of each other’s literary lives. The exception perhaps is North America, where because of their proximity, Canadians and Americans are aware of each other, but their relationship is marked by Canada’s struggle to preserve its identity. Read More

A behest from William Blake

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Things done for themselves—preverbs. George Quasha, Marsh Hawk Press, 173pp, 2015, $16.
This is an important book. When you think of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, the God particle, the amplitudhedron and medieval Arab alchemy, you should think of George Quasha, and that’s why it’s important to say this.
When you think of his concept of the preverb, you may enhance your mind’s journey by thinking of the late artist I. (Irene) Rice Pereira, whose concept of things ever coming to be is an alchemical fit with Quasha axial theory.
Quasha, in these poems (a preface he calls pre focus and an epilogue he calls pre), invites us to reconsider the nature of the book. He does this, he says, at a kind of behest from William Blake. The book, he says, is ever coming to be, and so it demands a collaboration not only between writer and reader but all that preceded it and may proceed from it. The book is an elixir in an alembic.
Pereira, in such works as The Simultaneous Ever-Coming-To-Be (1961), The Transcendental Formal Logic of the Infinite (1966) and The Poetics of the Form of Space, Light and the Infinite (1968), suggests that art is not static and therefore categorical definitions are inherently misleading. It’s a pity she and Quasha never had the opportunity to chat.
No book is really the same when you return to it, or when it returns to you. It has morphed and your evolving sensibility is prepared to encounter it on new grounds and make something entirely new of it. Too much sentimental blather has been heaped on the tactile experience of a book, as opposed, say, to an e-book, but not enough has been said of how we encountered the specific book, its heft, its design, its typography, its pagination, even its odor. The lesson here for e-book publishers is that they remain in an exploratory stage when it comes to seizing advantage of the e-book’s changeability, its fey quality.

 

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Struggling to achieve the music of not overly excited speech

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Habitation is Sam Hamill’s witness to a perverse, tumultuous and glorious world, and it ought to have been received upon its publication with respect and rejoicing for its importance to Anglophone letters.

These collected poems are Hamill’s witness to a blasting and triumphant life at which he has not blinked. Although he’s very much a poet of the American Northwest, he’s also, via his translations and experiences, a poet of the Far East. But his oeuvre doesn’t rest well in those categories. He often reminds us of the Stoics Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and Zeno, and of Catullus, the neoteric republican poet.

Hamill’s free-verse poems are testament to a slippery truth about free verse: practiced with integrity, it demands more discipline than rhymed and conventionally metered poetry. It requires improvisational meter unique to its original impulse, not impulse harnessed to preexistent form. It is poetry consumed by its first-heard music. It resembles jazz in this respect.

The poet’s choice of title is easily understood, but a strong argument could be made for Habitation as The Book of Awareness. Hamill is, above all else, the poet of awareness. The implications of this for him and his work are immense and sometimes unbearable. His witness makes him more an outlier than most poets, a man destined to look too hard and fixedly at the accommodations we make to fit in. And that is perhaps why he founded Copper Canyon Press with Tree Swensen in 1972, a press once synonymous with independence, excellence and a maverick streak.

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A Neglected Meditation on Philip Larkin: Using Luminol to See What Stains Appear

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Philip Larkin, An Outsider Poet:  Transcending Solitude, Sex and The Ordinary, Fadhil Assultani, Mira Publishing House (UK), 84pp, 2013.

In the book’s introduction by Amir Taheri, Philip Larkin is called a poet of chamber music. Taheri points out that Assultani and Larkin share a malaise about belonging. Larkin stayed put, Assulanti emigrated to England from Iraq. They come at belonging from different perspectives. Larkin seemingly belonged, but his resolute outsiderdom, his commitment to a not-so-cosmopolitan place, raised for him the specter of unbelonging, just as Assultani’s foreignness, in English eyes, cast him in a comparable light.
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A Book of Rooms by Kobus Moolman

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a book of roomsThemes such as childhood, fear, age, race, culture, freedom, romance and innocence are cemented in the ideologies at play in A Book of Rooms, the seventh volume of poetry by prolific South African poet, Kobus Moolman. Broken into four sections titled “who”, “what”, “why” and “when”, the poems, each beginning with the catch phrase “the room of…” lure Moolman’s reader into what appears to be a long narrative poem experimenting with biography and history. Natal, a region in South Africa, is repeatedly referenced as the speaker’s hometown. In obvious terms, the better one is acquainted with South Africa’s troubled past with apartheid, the better one gets at appreciating the deftness and simplicity in language that Moolman applies to his verse. Each poem depends on vignettes and images that make the reader a participant and witness in the experiences captured.

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