Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Dec. 22, 2009

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to the referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]

By Eileen Tabios

Crg Hill reviews DICK OF THE DEAD by Rachel Loden

Patrick James Dunagan reviews YOUR WILDERNESS & MINE by David Highsmith

Troy Jollimore reviews OHIO VIOLENCE by Alison Stine

Crg Hill reviews LANDSCAPES OF DISSENT: GUERRILLA POETRY & PUBLIC SPACE by Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand


Patrick Rosal reviews THE LONG LOST STARTLE by Joel Toledo

Emong de Borja reviews YOU ARE HERE by Mabi David

Denise Dooley reviews ELDERS SERIES #3 by Chris Kraus and Tisa Bryant

Jade Hudson reviews COLLAPSIBLE POETICS THEATER by Rodrigo Toscano

Eileen Tabios engages ANALFABETO / AN ALPHABET by Ellen Baxt

Denise Dooley reviews CLASSIFICATION OF A SPIT STAIN by Ellie Ga

Rebecca Loudon reviews WITH DEER by Aase Berg, Translated by Johannes Göransson

Gabriel Lovatt reviews WITH DEER by Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Göransson

Tom Hibbard reviews CHOOSE, SELECTED POEMS by Michael Rothenberg

Amanda Reynolds reviews THE LOST COUNTRY OF SIGHT by Neil Aitken

Virginia Konchan reviews IDENTITY THEFT by Catherine Daly

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews TORCHED VERSE ENDS by Steven D. Schroeder

Eileen Tabios engages WATER THE MOON by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Virginia Konchan reviews ZERO READERSHIP, AN EPIC by Filip Marinovich

Nicholas T. Spatafora reviews MANHATTAN MAN AND OTHER POEMS by Jack Lynch

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews NAVIGATE, AMELIA EARHARTS’ LETTERS TO HOME and CADAVER DOGS, both by Rebecca Loudon

Eileen Tabios engages HI HIGHER HYPERBOLE by Nicholas Manning

Amanda Reynolds reviews TO THE BONE by Sebastian Agudelo

Virginia Konchan reviews THE BOATLOADS by Dan Albergotti

Crg Hill reviews CARAMBOLES by Alexander Dickow

Jim McCrary engages A MAN ABOUT TOWN by Robert J. Baumann

Kristin Berkey-Abbott reviews LETTERS TO POETS: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT POETICS, POLITICS, AND COMMUNITY, Eds. Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax


John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews SUPER 8 and HALLUCINATING CALIFORNIA by Richard Lopez and Jonathan Hayes

John Herbert Cunningham reviews THE PROSODY HANDBOOK: A GUIDE TO POETIC FORM by Robert Beum and Karl Shapiro

Jeroen Nieuwland reviews POETRY AND CULTURAL STUDIES: A READER, Eds. Maria Damon and Ira Livingston

Jon Curley reviews TERRA LUCIDA by Joseph Donahue

Dana Ward reviews WOW WOW WOW WOW by Kevin Killian

Fiona Sze-Lorrain reviews ONE AND TWENTY by Paavo Haavikko, Trans. By Anselm Hollo

Virginia Konchan reviews TUNED DROVES by Eric Baus

Jeff Harrison reviews GHOST DANCE IN 33 MOVEMENTS by Anny Ballardini

Eileen Tabios engages TRUST by Liz Waldner

Lisa Mahle-Grisez reviews EROS & (FILL IN THE BLANK) by Charles Freeland

Jon Curley reviews TRUE CRIME by Donna de la Perriére

Virginia Konchan reviews INTERVENING ABSENCE by Carrie Olivia Adams

James Stotts reviews THE BRITTLE AGE AND RETURNING UPLAND by René Char, translated by Gustaf Sobin

Virginia Konchan reviews CLOSE CALLS WITH NONSENSE by Stephen Burt


Virginia Konchan reviews HAVE A GOOD ONE Anselm Berrigan

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews THE METHOD by Sasha Steensen

Virginia Konchan

Tom Beckett interviews Rebecca Loudon

"’That all of us may write better’: Gatekeeping, the Literary Establishment, and Marianne Moore as Editor of The Dial” by Kristina Marie Darling

On the Philippines' 2009 National Artist Awards

Martin Edmonds reviews PELICAN DREAMING: POEMS 1959-2008 by Mark Young

Tiny Poetry Books Feeding the World...Literally!

Yeah, yeah, Happy Holidays…am exhausted!


Right. Being editor means I can post a photo of moi boy and moi dog. Have you heard he's a soccer champ (under-14 2009 Napa Cup thank you very much) and is on the Honor Roll? The boy, that is. The dog, though, is a champion frisbee chewer and stuffed animal destroyer! Right.

So, to official bidness: Thanks as ever to GR's numerous, generous volunteer staff of reviewers. We have 55 NEW REVIEWS this issue! I like to track GR's progress, so here are some poetry-lovin' stats!

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 11: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice)
Issue 12: 87 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 13: 55 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews
Issue 11: 46 out of 72 new reviews
Issue 12: 35 out of 87 new reviews
Issue 13: 38 out of 55 new reviews

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE.

As of Issue No. 13, GR has provided 712 new reviews (covering 326 publishers in 16 countries) and 62 reprinted reviews (to bring online reviews previously available only viz print).


As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).



With much love, poetry and fur,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
Dec. 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009


CRG HILL Reviews

Dick of the Dead by Rachel Loden
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2009)

Seriously Laughing, Laughing Seriously

There’s been perpetual debate about the affiliation of poetry and politics. Some commentators argue that poetry must be apolitical or compromise its universality, others that poetry is innately political, a language act in defiance of speech and other quotidian acts of language. There’s also much debate about the role of humor in poetry, many contending that there is only room in poetry for irony. To laugh at or with a poem drops the literary value of that poem. In the face of these debates a poetry emerges every now and then that is uncompromisingly political and unabashedly funny, often at the same time. Rachel Loden’s Dick of the Dead is just such a poetry, a collection that massages the brain and tickles the funny bone. This book is immensely pleasurable yet it is also seriously serious. Dick of the Dead, as the last line puts it, “makes me furiously glad and fills me up with serious pleasure” (83).

Stylistically varied, Dick of the Dead through verse and prose pokes us with the inexplicable exploits of Richard Nixon and his cronies, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and other annoying political and historical figures. This is an acutely social poetry, Loden prodding the many light beams and dark shadows of our history–politics, major and minor events apocryphal and documented, film, other poems, folktales—into gray shapes we must confront before we can move beyond them.

These are abundantly constructed poems and seamlessly so. They are not organic, self-exploratory lyrics, but vehicles built of multiple, often unexpected, components. For example, the poem which features Cheney as the speaker, “Cheney Agonistes” is assembled out of nine different sources from Peter Pan ((“But now if I’d been Blackbeard’s boatswain//(as I should have been) Pan and the lost boys/would have long since walked the plank.”)) to a report in the Independent, a UK newspaper, that Cheney has a man-sized safe to keep his papers out of public scrutiny (“…I do my work. I am the man/inside my man-sized safe…”) to Senator Lindsey Graham predicting victory in Iraq at the 2008 Republican Convention. One source, Bush’s near-strangulation encounter with a pretzel, is the springboard from which Cheney spews his disgust for the president (“I have to work for everything I get—not like/that Kennebunkport parrot, whose tray of pretzels//sates his meager appetite…”).

Decidedly unself-referential, many of the poems are rewritings of other poems or carry strong allusions to others. Pound’s “In A Station of the Metro” is recast into “The USNS Comfort Sails to the Gulf”:
Huge red crosses on the whitewashed hull:

Many of the poems are created out of quite unlikely materials. For example, “Affidavit” is a poem based on a macabre crime in which the husband beheaded his wife as reported by one of the investigating officers, Palo Alto police detective Mike Denson. For Loden, then, a poem can start anywhere, with any thing.

Serious poetry is often derided by its detractors as being humorless. This indeed is a book of serious poetry—some of our history is a rank albatross hung about our necks, but it has many, many instances of comic relief, of irrepressible humor, to clear the air with laughter. The first poem, “Miss October,” in the guise of a would-be Playboy model, includes these lines about Hugh Hefner inevitable demise, his
Last vial of Viagra
Safely under glass

At the Smithsonian.

Or maybe that is too close to the possible truth to be funny.

You have to wonder also about the playfulness of the title—Dick of the Dead—and its humorous connotations. Is it a play on the fact that when males die, they have erections, i.e. Dick Nixon engorged past, present, future (will he ever go away?)? That perverse thought is perhaps echoed in the poem “A Quaker Meeting in Yorba Linda” when Mrs. Nixon is quoted as saying to Tricia and Julie: “Girls your father is sprouting from the grave.”

The humor comes through in many of the poem’s titles: “My Angels, Their Pink Wings,” “I Was a Communist for the FBI,” “Fury’s Ukulele,” and perhaps the most preposterous and pompous (a title that might even make Billy Collins blush),“A Redressed Poet That Seems Living, How to Make Him Sing.”

The book has even got me to laugh at one of the lingering embarrassments of my young adulthood, an event that permanently soured me on the integrity of our country’s leaders: Watergate. I’ve laughed, too, at Richard Nixon, but this laughter has been more complex, not simply in derision, now streaked with pity, finally recognizing and accepting his utter humanity, gloriously flawed. Or I’m just tired of laughing at him

These aren’t punchline poems, however; many have a humor with a bite, a wryness with a sharp edge. In the first poem Nixon appears in, “In the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments,” he is a ghost with a simmering grudge. Envious that Leonid Breshnev has a statue, even if it is legless in a graveyard of statues, he rues the fact that there is no statue of him “astride an American city,” though they both held the “world on a razor/of our mutually assured destruction, and yet--//comrade! you remember—we felt strangely free.” The last line of the poem perhaps suggests a legacy the Nixon ghost is not quite conscious of as he observes Elks conventioneers visiting his library in Yorba Linda: “a queer uneasiness they cannot place,” a gut-sense that even three decades after his fall, even for his supporters all is not as it seems.

“Sympathy for the Empire” conflates Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a poem that rouses a cold snigger, dripping with bitterness. In the end, one has to ask who is this man (Rumsfeld) who thinks he knows what is right for all of us, his desk adorned with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords”?

Loaded with political references from the last century, with a perhaps more than we would ever want from the ignominious Nixon and Bush administrations, sprinkled with pop culture allusions, reanimating other poems, this is a collection that by engaging us with the social world around us, funny, sad, irritating, painful, we cannot help but look at the world in the same way again. Along with Kevin Davies' book The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, Dick of the Dead has to be one of the best books published in the last couple years.


Crg Hill until recently edited SCORE, one of only two journals dedicated exclusively to concrete/visual poetry. In the last three decades his work has appeared in over 100 journals and anthologies, including several available on-line. His creative and critical works in progress can be found at http://scorecard.typepad.com. // During the anemic Carter administration, Crag Hill kicked the "i" out of his first name. Continuing to be underwhelmed by his elected leaders, he threatens to kick out the last vowel, too soft, too soft, he says. Something in the Scotch-Irish in him thinks he'll be well-represented by the guttural "Crg."



your wilderness & mine by David Highsmith
(Blazevox, Buffalo, New York, 2009)

Turn me loose set me free
somewhere in the middle of Montana
give me all I’ve got coming to me

- Merle Haggard
“Big City”

she spat)

- “aberration”

Everybody needs the company of others. Poets, often despite themselves, are social beasts; even in hate seeking the consistent comfort of care. We need each other to behave according to expectations imposed by rules of our common ends, yet what’s in common often does not extend past the bare minimum of social surfaces. Bound by our mutual desire to be accepted by the group we attempt to enwrap others within restrictions we pile upon ourselves. When the poem doesn’t achieve its own standard, developing its own environment beyond such arbitrary, irresolute restrictions it is of little use aside from continuing the constant prattle of regularity one finds round any office water cooler or hollered about down at the local schoolyard.

What is wanted is work that disappears into itself, resistant to becoming tangled in fear of being misunderstood; denied; withheld. Such stuff struts without acknowledging self-awareness, there is no singular individual will clearly at work behind its moves. The reader is challenged against her expectations by poetry of this order. “No ego pumping here” reads the posting. Those looking for group identity in poetry by which to propel a comfort and acceptance of and for themselves often fail recognize poetry of such order.

David Highsmith writes poems from out the natural circumstances of which they arise, not worrying whether to follow any ‘correct’ set of rules to match expectations of some supposed audience. There’s generous looseness in the breadth offered up in this latest collection. Opening with the 75 haiku-like sections of the sequential long poem “October Fires” where each numbered verse stands equally well alone as together, meditative and crisply honed:
go shopping, body, teach us
in our very legs
your innocent character

and closing with the probing rhythmic prose of “Something You Believe In”:
Poetry, too, says something you believe in. It says your taste is true, that truth is either a private or a public matter, that matter is either incandescent or somewhat murky, that mute rage is both idle and reputable. The poet knows that rain is falling, and demonstrates the skill to navigate within a storm, between the worlds of sleep and those of copper wire. What wonders is both wonderful and offensive. The poem advances its formation, its armor, and its weaponry. The poem voices the sound of rubber chicken, of novelty lost. Its sound is a deep hacking cough from within a tomb. Within a tomb, a mummy wonders about snipers, sit-ups, and clean sheets. These are the concerns of poetry, its linen wrapping. Poetry homogenizes and elucidates our bother, our dull routine, noxious and dead to honor. It wonders at parts of speech, sourdough, hearts, shellac, tremors, rumbles, stingrays, the possibility of love and the impossibility of satisfaction. It is asphalt and cold to touch. It is the surface upon which we hope to move. It dreams what you dream, that a verbal city is loot for the taking. Whatever knows you in a poem knows you better than you know yourself, it knows that the whole is true, that time is the intangible squeeze, Beatrice on the Brooklyn bridge.

Highsmith centers the moment of writing exact in extraction of its sources. This is no small theatre of spectacle. Beatrice takes Dante off of Virgil’s crude, beautiful hands (he is, after all, “pagan”) and ushers him into the daunting vision of the uppermost glory of the unfolding rose of light. What may not be witnessed in this life, Dante records in as inhuman ability as allowed. The image her appearance makes here is not mistaken. She stands forth on Hart Crane’s symbolic harp, above Whitman’s waters beacon to the desire that the words of the poem have not missed the mark.

Throughout the collection, Highsmith advantageously scatters a variety of approaches to the poem. There is a sustained exploration of couplets, from the zany comic adventure of “xanadu”:
We know no grief or pain, it’s another day
In Xanadu & Scooby Doo, I think of you

and the Dadaist leaning Americana of “blue ridge shuffle” with its finalizing “as if a cat had anything to do with it” humors, to the lengthy “inbound volume” with its questionings made to a possible addressee:
won’t you be my chocolate bunny, won’t you be my
national park, bleak reprieve leads into March

Highsmith aptly demonstrates comfort moving from such fringey, stylistically jumpy linguistic play within the line to a more accepted “workshop” standard conception of the short lyric.
film noir

gathered at her bedside
would not leave him alone

what left him alone
made for restless nights
an accessory’s babble of love

she recalled the thrill of being held
b.c.u. in a window beyond
what he called body

he was her life, a silhouette
through venetian blinds, anatomy study
to slacken the impertinent

she was his sad simplification
his hard edge, what bothered her
would not leave them alone

The visual conception fairly easily ties together the title with the content of the poem. Varying points of explication are readily available. Such work pleases the conservative reader. Yet even poems such as this share in the irreverence dealt by their more cagey counterparts while not being adverse to showing off a bit of clear, controlled awareness of “craft.” Highsmith has too much imp in him.
french class

another night of night school
et les jeux sont fait

we “lick the windows”
of a textbook magazin

regard un morceau de pain,
un peau de lapin

practice despair
to interrupt the timorous traffic

embrace le clameur de la rue
as we strive

to suffer desire, to imagine a sound
sensed above the rattle of Peugeots

The result is a collection that’s fun and surprising to flip about through reading at random and even while on the go, as well as, alternately, for extended lengths of time, dwelling on the more ambient moods and turns of phrase, following out the trickling lead given by this or that bit which strikes the fancy. It’s much more than that “there’s something in here for everybody” feeling, you aren’t left to take or leave a poem because it just doesn’t “work” for you. Every poem here “works.”

Highsmith hits strides in the longer poems where the riffs strike up melody and there’s an ever present scat-like occurrence where sought after meaning holds no ground as granted sound steps to, pounding along with rhythm of a panther stalking prey.
sustained with basin, another sunken treasure
achromatophilia beneath straw, cautiously
thrown, savanna to no object, unleashed

& coils into snakeroot, a notion of risk kindles
a carpet of grass, shale pit, layered inference
to sidestep eons, flight preceding echolocation

snapdragon to clam, bivalve, a fissure to stump
this sterile banter, hind limbs on which an
animal stalks, our history, the corollary static

to codify events, a thin rail west, a river’s route
slim spur of columbine, a beauty yet to come
wide continent resplendent beneath assertion

(“haystack draw”)

At these points the poem is nothing but pure linguistic animal, devouring and regurgitating language propelling itself ever further on vocabularies stretching to iridescent heights of sonic bliss. All with a gleam to the eye and a smile hinted at back of the lips. Poetry is a pleasure worth being around for and happily Highsmith isn’t averse to acknowledging it.

One wonders why more poets aren’t accepting of this instead of the usual picture: stilted selves so often seeming, awkward to the eye and heavy sitting on the page. The poem is the only true fact the poet leaves behind and facts, damn it, matter. It’s worth being reminded of how absolutely open the lands are that await a dizzying soul to step forth and do some exploring. Life is pure adventure when you’re welcoming of it, more attention needs be paid to allowing for the poem to take like part in such crucial and necessary excursion.

for Rachael Rakes
Brooklyn – San Francisco, Oct. 25-30 2009

~ ~


David Highsmith lives in San Francisco. His involvement within the poetryworld of that city began in the 1970s. He is the proprietor of Books & Bookshelves which stocks quality wood furniture at acceptable rates along with holding one of the premiere inventories of small press poetry books while also serving as a delightful venue for an ongoing reading series hosting local and out-of-town poets of little to broad renown. He is a generous bookman. Be generous back and may poetryworld continue to spin round. Ask him about his other recent publications, the serially structured CONGREGATIONS (Plan B press) and PETROGLYPH (Painted Bison Press) each is worth notice.


Patrick James Dunagan lives and works in San Francisco. Recent publications include: From Chansonniers (Blue Press, 2008) and Easy Eden w/ Micah Ballard (PUSH, 2009). Things are looked to be forthcoming in Forklift, Pax Americana, and ON.



OHIO VIOLENCE by Alison Stine
(University of North Texas Press, 2009)

The poems in Alison Stine’s first book are eerie, creepy, ominous: they have the feel of those quiet moments in horror movies when, though nothing has quite happened yet, you just know that something absolutely awful is about to. The wind blows, birds cry, clothes flap on the line, and the tension rises to an unbearable level—as often as not to be relieved (if ‘relieved’ is the right word) by the discovery that, to borrow Heidegger’s words, ‘the dreadful has already happened’:
. . . They have found
her bones in the park, scattered circuitous
by animals amid the fretted leaves, the forest
giving up its secret in layers of stench:
the heavy sweet, the vinegar. Now a slender
leg. Now a finger, a skull smashed like a star
on the spot that was once soft, that someone once,
years ago, took great care to guard. . .

                   (“After the Body”)

‘The Dreadful Has Already Happened’ is also, of course, the title of a poem by Mark Strand, and Stine’s poems share some of the weirdness that animated Strand’s early work, though the setting, as suggested by the book’s title, is interestingly her own: a Middle America whose gestures at heartland wholesomeness are entirely incapable of concealing the grim reality lying beneath. (Perhaps the true presiding spirit of Ohio Violence is the David Lynch of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, those squeaky-clean all-American towns in which the possibility of grisly death ever lurks in the woods and fields that lie just beyond the parking lot.)

“This is football country,” declares the opening poem, “Fields Beyond Fields”; later, Dale Earnhardt makes an appearance, as does Elvis. But it is not the lives but rather the deaths of these figures that fascinates this poet:
. . . I heard when Lisa Marie
                  at nine found him dead or dying, marble skin

                                    in the bathroom, blood leadening, forehead

taking on the tub mantle, she got in her
                  golf cart and circled Graceland again

                                    and again until the cops came. It was early

morning. It is only a story, but I think it is
                  true. . . .

                   (“In Graceland”)

This concern with truth and fiction—the question of whether a story is true, and of what it means if it isn’t—pops up frequently. “We lay in the fields, and I // swear to you, nothing happened,” Stine writes in “Fields Beyond Fields.” As if worried that the reader might such denials too comforting, she later confronts us with the question: “Does it matter if it didn’t happen?” (“When the Hand is a Knife.”) Well, one might say, it matters to us—particularly when the ‘it’ stands, as it so often seems to here, for our lives, our very existences:
From brain to body blooming,

                                    it is all about chemicals; it is always

                  about them, too much or too few
inhibited, the nerves frayed,
                                    the blood lines blocked. At birth,

the chord can twist the neck; it can
                  choke . . .

                   (“Elegy for the Interrupted”)

It is not clear exactly who “the interrupted” are. They might be just about anyone; indeed, they might have been us. One comes away from Ohio Violence newly impressed with the contingency and instability of the hazardous universe that is our home; and impressed, as well, with the ability of these stark, memorable poems to distill that universe into language and to make of it a sad and haunting song.


Troy Jollimore’s first book of poems, Tom Thomson in Purgatory (MARGIE / Intuit House) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2006.


CRG HILL Reviews

(Palm Press, Long Beach, CA, 2008)

Landscapes of Dissent: Taking Poetry to the People

Though passionate, well-written, I wonder whether Landscapes of Dissent has earned its space. Is its appearance premature? Is it documentation of a vital political/poetic avenue or is it a call to similar action? As documentation, it scratches the surface, touching briefly upon the work of but four guerilla poetry groups and a smattering of others. As a call for action, it falls short—a small press book (oh the irony), a microscopic audience at best (then again, it is in the small press community one is likely to recruit guerilla poets). Its call might be louder if it mapped out a wide campaign, if the book suggested coordinated local actions accumulating in a wide-spread wave of public poetic interventions, a guerilla poetry tsunami rushing the beaches of Culture.

The book is clear about its parameters, considering work outside the traditional venues of art galleries and books*. Focusing on places/spaces in which poems usually do not appear, Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand are more interested “in how poem’s form and content are not the only sites of political possibility. A poem’s physical location also matters… What if, rather than in a book, a poem were lodged in public space?” (8-9). Where and how the poem appears or is performed is the armature of the form and content.

In tune with the Situationists, the authors argue that “psycho-geography” (10-11), the study of geography, of place, as it shapes our psychic space, subverts the barriers between art and everyday life. Boykoff and Sand quote Henri Lefebvre who posits that “Space is a social morphology: it is to lived experience what form itself is to the living organism, and just as intimately bound up with function and structure” (17).We are what surrounds us, what rounds us. But this is a two-way street: what rounds us we can use to surround us on our own terms. Guerilla poetry heightens that reciprocity, pushing our shared spaces into action.

For the guerilla poet public spaces are an infinity of potent pages, whereas the book is bound, a moribund commercial entity. These spaces outside books and galleries and museums embody texts to be interacted with, to be nudged and jolted. As illustration, Boykoff and Sand cover the work of four dissident groups, poets who resist the power of public policy, who engage in oppositional strategies, and who themselves have views not heard in the dominant political discourse. These groups utilize public spaces in unconventional ways to present their poems: “These are guerilla acts: the poets did not receive outside funds or permission. They stake claim on the space” (28). Unconventional venues necessitate unconventional audiences. Boykoff and Sand apply the term guerilla poetry “to poetry in public space to see what happens when poetry reaches an audience that will be less predictable in its response. This audience has not intentionally sought to experience poetry” (30). The audience becomes inadvertent.

The four spotlighted groups are PIPA (Poetry is Public Art), PACE (Poet Activist Community Extension), The Agit-Truth Collective, and Sidewalk Blogger, all poets active in the traditional venues of poetry, magazines and poetry readings, but who choose to bypass these venues. The swift undercurrent of this book is its insistent call to resist “legitimacy, legality, and legibility” (29), to undercut commercialism wherever possible. These four groups selflessly spend their energy finding new ways to cast consumption back on itself

PIPA is a loose-organization of poets who “intentionally or non-intentionally, choose to break poetry out of the frame of the page and test its assimilation and/or intrusion into public spaces” (31). Though PIPA has no centralizing principle, Kristin Prevallet asserted in an interview that public art “is a way of thinking about poetry as a conceptual project as opposed to a poetry project whose end result would be a book or a small press literary magazine” (31). In one PIPA project participants picketed the 2004 Republican National Convention and anti-Iraq-war demonstrations with slogans such as “Permanent Cultural Vibration,” “Lose the Illusion of Your Exemption,” “Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what Bush is doing to your country.” The slogan project “allowed poets to consciously contribute to an extant form where citizens use poetic resources without deeming what they make ‘poetry,’ updating, in a sense, the Situationist project of generating slogans for the May 1968 uprisings” (34). In another PIPA project, “Debunker Mentality,” a coterie of New York-based poets mobilized to articulate the space/s mainstream media had avoided following September 11, 2001. When and where the media was incoherent or worse, mute, these poets blanketed the city with posters with poems framed by critical questions such as “Why is it unpatriotic to dissent?” which they spread around the city. One participant, Nathaniel Siegel, expressed the raison d’etre for such actions, insisting his duty as a poet is “‘to not simply reflect the time I am living in: my job is to live and to live through my interactions with others’” (47). This is poetry of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Based in Philadelphia, PACE participants (CA Conrad, Linh Dinh, Mytili Jagannathan, and Frank Sherlock) hit the streets with their poems. Performing their poems against the backdrop of commercial spaces such as street malls, their inaugural event taking place on Christmas eve, PACE poets experience their affects on their audience first-hand, poet, poem, and inadvertent audience in direct contact, unlike many of the other actions described in this book. The poem is the vehicle to make this interpersonal connection, challenging both the poet and the passerby to cross the distances between them, to wedge narrow personal spaces with broadening public spaces.

Boykoff and Sand themselves have been involved with the third group, the Agit-Truth Collective. In their first project they added hand-made signs to highway markers, urging “Where is the dead/end of our imperialist fiasco.” These signs disrupt the site and the sight of unsuspecting viewers, forcing the reader to interrogate the question and the context within which it is asked. All the signs are overtly political, jamming political discussion into the streets, so-called neutral spaces we passively travel through to the places we live and work. Walking to the store is not a mundane, apolitical venture when you are confronted with signs emblazoned with images from Abu Ghraib declaring “You have the right to remain liberated.” Active in Portland, Oregon, the collective engages in interventions that Hakim Bey argues creates temporaryautonomouszones, or TAZ, “an uprising which does not engage directly with the state, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (73-74). Agit-Truth Collective carried out one such action in three stages on a Portland bridge. In the first stage passing cars were met by a dancing George Bush shaking a sign reading “Honk if you ♥ totalitarianism.” Next, a participant wearing earphones held up a sign ordering, “If you don’t honk we are writing down your license plate number.” In the final stage, two Agit-Truthers with clip boards pretended to take down license plate numbers.

Sidewalk Blogger is the fourth guerilla poetry group discussed. Inspired by the “Freeway Blogger,” Susan Schultz deploys the placement without permission of highly charged political statements in spaces. Inserted on fences and often among commercial signs, Sidewalk Blogger implores the audience to “Keep out of Iraq” and to “Im/pe/ach.” Sidewalk Blogger also strategically chooses where to place these signs. For instance, near the exit to a Marine Corps Air Station, she placed a sign which read “Out of Iraq.” Again and again, place is part of the poem, part of the grammar, of the expression. Place/meant.

Many readers may argue that the work documented is not poetry. Boykoff and Sand anticipated this question and marshaled Philip Metres’ concept of “lang/scape” as part of their answer: “To call such language acts poems,” he writes about the kinds of interventions described in this book, “is to interrogate not only page-based definitions of poetry, but also definitions of poetry that privilege difficulty, complexity, and ambiguity above all else.” The difference between graffiti–propaganda–and the works such as the Sidewalk Blogger is that graffiti closes down the interpretive field while guerilla poetry strives to open it up wide.

I wish the final section, “Your Turn,” had more development. By no means am I calling for prescriptions here–true guerilla poets are local, autonomous, and unconventional, yet as a call to action the section could outline a range of activities and perhaps suggest a time span within which these activities are accomplished. Then these actions would not seem sporadic, effective but ephemeral, their deconstructive/constructive forces dissipating, drops in a cavernous bucket rather than a rolling wave. One of the book’s final arguments: “Contrary to this techno-centered vantage [Critical Art Ensemble], we believe keyboard activism will never supplant boots-to-the-pavement dissent” (114). A bold statement but that may or may not hold up. In the meantime, as I ponder who to pass this book on to–it has no business languishing on my bookshelves–get out of your studio, your comfort zone. Find some way to take your poetry directly to the public.

* I recommend finding a copy of another, older book that also chronicles boundary-breaking appearances of poetry in public spaces, The Poetry Reading: A Contemporary Compendium on Language & Performance, edited by Stephen Vincent & Ellen Zweig, Momo’s Press, 1981.


Crag Hill until recently edited SCORE, one of only two journals dedicated exclusively to concrete/visual poetry. In the last three decades his work has appeared in over 100 journals and anthologies, including several available on-line. His creative and critical works in progress can be found at http://scorecard.typepad.com. // During the anemic Carter administration, Crag Hill kicked the "i" out of his first name. Continuing to be underwhelmed by his elected leaders, he threatens to kick out the last vowel, too soft, too soft, he says. Something in the Scotch-Irish in him thinks he'll be well-represented by the guttural "Crg."



Housecat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children by Geoffrey Gatza
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2009)

In his previous work, Geoffrey Gatza has written innovative poetry with a wide range of reference and stylistic approaches. He is also the editor of the journal BlazeVox and directs its press. Though Housecat Kung Fu is subtitled Strange Poems for Wild Children, this book of children’s poetry is not confined to pre-teens. Borrowing from Barnum and Bailey Circus, the back cover bio trumpets: “children (of all ages).”

Like much children’s poetry, Gatza’s book features animal imagery (often put to allegorical use) in 27 of the 32 poems, comical wordplay, goofy surrealist imagery and narrative effects, and bits of moral edification. The illustrations are also amusing and well done, but rhyming poems like “Lorikeet Landing” are the exception.

Readers of various generations attuned to the “strangeness” of innovative adult poetry will have much to enjoy here—for example, the title-poem, which opens the volume:
The smell of buttered toast overwhelms this poem.

How do you explain your moment of wild abandon
to anyone other than those who were there to feel

the momentous weakness of time’s grasp on change;
on growing up. It’s a poor heart that never rejoices (9)

The title is but a decoy for a very brief philosophical poem. The opening line’s first five words beckon us to recall a marvelous experience, but the rest of the line cancels the invitation with an absurdity. Perhaps “overwhelmed” by a smell, the writer nevertheless chooses words for a poem, and a reader/listener must be able and willing to reactivate a past olfactory experience to share this feeling.

In the question without a question-mark that occupies the two couplets, the poet may be suggesting a communication barrier between adults and children, as though opening a book of children’s poetry by calling that very enterprise futile. If not, he may be posing a challenge, not an impossibility. The lengthy object of the infinitive “to feel” complicates the sentence further: “time” as the immaterial medium of “change” is neither “weak” nor “strong”; it “flows” while “containing” continuity and change and does not “grasp.” However, we can read “time” as human beings’ imperfect conception of duration and flux, a paradigm disrupted by “change.”

Disrupting any expectation of further difficulty, Gatza concludes with a clear statement of moral/psychological instruction typical of children’s poetry. The impulse to “rejoice” is one common denominator of the generations and can help readers overcome the conceptual difficulties involving time and change.

Two other poems, “The Inner Peace of Animals” and “Fredric Squirrel,” include a sizeable dose of didacticism, but Gatza makes us question whether he is mainly trying, while entertaining his audience(s), to teach the lesson literally articulated or whether he is parodying his sub-genre’s convention. In “The Inner Peace of Animals,” “a very old lion” is visiting “an old leopard/ who lived in a bird’s nest” to inquire about “the most important lesson of living.” The leopard provides a rather general answer:
                  Do no evil, do only good.
Purify your heart. Fulfill the talents of your soul!

The lion had expected to hear a very long explanation.
He protested, “But even a cub can understand that!”

Yes, replied the wise sage, but even an old lion cannot do it. (33)

Does Gatza agree that wisdom is simple but hard to put into practice, or is the “old leopard”—using the listener and not himself as a negative example—indulging in brinksmanship to plump up his ego? In the work of an Ezra Pound-influenced poet who strives to make every word count, the repetitive “wise sage” must signify an undercutting of the leopard’s authority, perhaps even implying pseudo-wise pseudo-sage. Though the lion wrongly focuses on the explanation’s length rather than its content, the “teacher’s” advice is easy to dispense; it would be far more challenging to present a means to accomplish these goals. And do we trust a platitudinous “leopard” who has colonized the home of a much smaller, less powerful creature? Is such an action an example of doing “good” through empathy with an “other” and fulfilling one’s own spiritual talents or is it a politically suspect appropriation and an evasion of one’s natural modes of fulfillment?

“Bergamot Bunny” is more obviously a parody of somewhat purple, didactic, abstract verse, especially when one considers the puncturing of the bunny’s musing in the penultimate strophe with a narrative of disaster in the last one:
During this time of transition, I wish
to do what is not expected, to be here
but also with you, there, under wild
Perspectives of the soul, adrift, riding under
unruly waves, every moment reminding
of our immediately slight insignificance . . .

That is until last year when most of his machinery,
and ship, tragically, was destroyed by a tidal wave.
After that he vowed to voyage only in warm dreams. (47)

Following two tercets that could reflect the hand of a cannier kids’ poet, this passage involves the grownup parody of sophisticated awkwardness. Like John Ashbery in Three Poems and later seventies work, Gatza sports a clunky idealizing rhetoric hovering near cliché yet happily marred at various turns. For example, the preposition “under” attached to the object “Perspectives” “is not expected”; it feels “wilder” than the expected “within” or “from,” because the vantage point somehow subjugates (not intersects with) the perceiver, as do the waves under (not on) which he is “riding.” Further, the adverb/ adjective/noun combination preceding the dreamy ellipses has a jarring effect: is the slightness understandable at once, or is it simply compelling, and is the last word redundant of its predecessor, or does the adjective undo the noun’s impact, suggesting greater significance? Even before the “tidal wave” destroys the bunny’s “machinery,” something has jammed its verbal machinery.

Manifesting an elegant compression in direct contrast to “Bergamot Bunny’s” expansionist tendencies, “The Raccoons of Chinatown” joins allusions to Chairman Mao and (American urban) Chinatown restaurants with surprising wordplay:
The raccoons of Chinatown

                  fear not the long march

The raccoons of Chinatown

                  Do fear the great wok,
                  chili garlic sauce and the
                  cleavers of Chinatown chefs (43)

The lightning pun of “march/wok/walk,” to cite Gatza in “Lorikeet Landing,” produces “the honey of a wild spelling bee” (11). Also, note the complexity of troping in the middle of an otherwise reasonably transparent narrative, “One Heck of a Tree”: “little green men wear crayon sin caps” (12). “Rayon” is a logical material, but the addition of the letter “c” at the beginning turns these diminutive grownups into kids. And the odd idea of headwear producing a negative moral state is complicated by the fact that a “sincap” is a squirrel, and a “syncope” is a loss of consciousness or a rhetorical use of deletion.

Children’s poems often make liberal use of surrealism to explore affective states, and Gatza’s “Elephant” does so with poignancy that can move readers “(of all ages).” Seeking emotional sustenance through memory, the elephant at first “reminisced on nothing wafers” (16) and could not satisfy its hunger. To further its quest, the speaker strove to transcend carnal presence, mere appearance, in order to recognize and assert the “inner self”: “so I took off my nose and unzipped/ my skin and folded it neatly by the reflecting/ pond. . . .” This is preparation for the spiritual act of “deep prayer/ to the memory machine,” but the elephant’s psychospiritual opportunity turns out to be mediated by consumer capitalism: the machine “cost 50 cents/ more than I had/ in my ear” (17). Forced to choose between quantity and quality of memory, the speaker elected for “three dollars of leaded/ memory” over “a half pump/ of super premium”; this pragmatic decision is interrupted by a disorienting shift in surreal impact: “green smoke// chugged a printout face from/ its furry eye and responded// ‘When Elephants fly.” Yes, this is a deux ex machine, but we can delight in how commerce gives way to the potential for “flight,” a trope for liberation, especially for an animal so influenced by gravity.

I wish that Housecat Kung Fu had been around between 1993 and 1996, when there seemed to be a dearth of “wild,” “strange” enough children’s poetry in my local library for my two daughters to absorb. Though I remember giving them premature smatterings of Mallarme, Dickinson, and Yeats, Gatza’s admirable crossover poetry would have launched their poetic education splendidly.


Thomas Fink is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Clarity and Other Poems (Marsh Hawk Press, 2008) and two books of criticism. He is also co-editor of a 2007 collection of essays on David Shapiro. Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs published his chapbook, Generic Whistle-Stop, in 2009. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2007 (Scribner’s). Fink’s paintings hang in various collections.