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Stuart Bartow pierces the veil of received ideas and notions

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stuartlawnbookStuart Bartow’s poems are a proper antidote to two polarities in American poetry, vapidity and pretension. Squashed between those polarities, the spirit of inquiry goes begging, but not in Bartow’s work. He connects the dots. He does not come across as contemptuous of the butterfly effect, as does the American press in its adamant refusal to connect the dots—a refusal shared by many poets, perhaps in the misguided conviction that it contradicts modernist ideas about poetry.

When the American press called George W. Bush incurious it might well have been talking about itself and a large body of our poetry, which prefers to play it safe, keep it light, and by all means spurn the rhapsodic.

The sonnet is in some ways a form of self-discipline, a way of accustoming oneself to thinking concisely. There is something in its fourteen-line structure that requires you to organize your thoughts into a kind of algorithm that then helps you address enigmas, whether in your daily rounds or in your poetry. Stuart Bartow’s nonce sonnets , published here in Arabesques for the first time, reveal his rigor as a poet and as a seeker after elixirs for the elements of his experiences. Succinctness is not merely about saying something well and sharply, it’s about going to the quick: it’s about quickness.

The poems in Einstein’s Lawn are varied. Some of them are prose poems. There are couplets, metered stanzas, rhymed stanzas, and concrete poems. Because he is writing about Albert Einstein and physics, he has taken care to provide notes lest we’re unfamiliar with the God particle, Glaucus or Absolute Zero.

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Sober Cooking by Lynn McGee

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I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  Looking Glass is dead.  Toohulhulsote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.

— Chief Joseph

sobercooking-png“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”  

—Black Elk

Anyone who has read the words of these indelible Native Americans has savored the purity, the utter artlessness of their speech and the thought processes it reveals. They are poets of plain speech in ways William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost would have admired. And for all we know they may have influenced those poets.

Lynn McGee is this kind of poet. The purity and lack of artifice in her poems opens our minds to anything she has to say, and from the very first poem of Sober Cooking she tells us that she is not the kind of poet who, like the press, writes incident reports. She is, rather, the kind of poet who grasps the amplitudhedron, who knows that everything is a facet of the same jewel:

Rifling through the deep bin of ginger root,
I find one that is both plump and gnarled,
heavy with moisture
and gleaming, slick when sliced.

How long will I see your absence,
in the small steps of my life?

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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 ( 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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