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.



The Long Lost Startle by Joel Toledo
(University of the Philippines Press, Dilliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 2009)

Days after Ondoy, the first typhoon of several that devastated the Philippines in October, I got my first experience of brownouts in the middle of a metropolis of 11 million people, when a fire blew out a transformer in Quezon City. I sat in the dark with no fan or air conditioning, eating by candlelight, thinking of my loved ones both in the Philippines and back in the States, wishing them safe, recalling their voices and faces. It may have been the slowest, quietest night of my peripatetic, four-month stay.

As if to pick a scuffle with Grandpa Whitman himself, Joel Toledo asserts, in his sophomore poetry collection, The Long Lost Startle, “I can do with less electricity.” Hailing from a country where sources of power (both literal and figurative) are not dependable, Toledo has written a collection of poems that taps other kinds of energy—mostly meditative and mostly acquired through the poet’s powers of observation and reflection.

The night I sat in the dark in Quezon City taught me, I think, we all can do with less electricity, for the dark, if we’re patient enough to know it, can become a kind of solace, and certain things reveal themselves only in particular versions of quiet. Toledo’s book is, among other things, a reminder of this.

The Long Lost Startle, which follows his 2008 debut, Chiaroscuro (Unversity of Santo Tomás Press), doesn’t propose a radical return to nature, but the poems do have a strong connection to the natural world—its petty cruelties and sublime revelations, its noises, both grievous and sonorous, as one might “climb trees, collecting the carcasses of cicadas.” (I’ll return to a parallel image at length.) This is a voice that knows the sensations of the earth, its whims, its weathers, and its seasonal yields of agony, mercy, discovery, and joy.

In a poem, delightfully titled “Tree Five-Seven-Five” (I love the absurdity of a tree named with a number), Toledo composes a Roethke-like conversation with a garden critter.
Caterpillar hi,
could you please not forget your
left-behind cocoon

This poem is one of several visitations about time passing. The poem ends:
Climb aboard and see

how I lean over,
how I age in this weather.
I need company.

Rhyme (of both the end and internal variety) is virtually non-existent in the collection, and consonance and alliteration make rare appearances, so when such devices do appear, they must be well-timed, which they are. Such subdued sonic effects, too, lend themselves to a kind of unplugged aesthetic. The silence of the poems clears out space for the struggle to recover “the long lost startle” of the title.

The speaker of these poems is poised between the twin stillnesses of birth and death, gazing at them simultaneously as often as the poet can stand it. The commotion between those two extremes baffles the serenity of one and the terror of the other. And so the speaker of Toledo’s poems is keenly aware of his own aging. He has a remarkable empathy—an adult’s empathy—for the sadness of children: “Nothing we do/can console them…Meanwhile,/we do what we can.” In another poem, the speaker recalls the death of his grandmother and admits, “I am wild with fear. I am inconsolable.”

So where is the relief? In “The Same Old Figurative”, the poem insinuates the imagery of baptism, though the speaker is less interested in water as a means of salvation and more interested in the rains as an opportunity for immersion, study and attention, an opportunity, in fact, for work:
                  It is only in its breaking

that the rain gives itself away. So come now and assemble
with the weather, notice the water gathering on your cupped

and extended hands—familiar and wet and meaningless.
You are merely being cleansed. Bare instead

the scarred heart; notice how its wild, human music
makes so much sense. Come, the divining

can wait.
Let us examine the wreckage.

For Toledo, everything in the material (and perhaps psychic) world seems to move through ruin (a word which reappears throughout the collection). In the poem titled “Ruin”, Toledo writes: “And before the end comes, the complete/corrosion of all things beautiful.” Even the seeming permanence of the celestial is subject to extinction: “the stars and their kind shapes,/now gradually put out,/seemingly more distant, also perishable.”

In the face of such inevitability, how do we hold it all together? “We endure them despite their expected/tragedies.” The book is full of burdens and, still, it is a record of a figure who tries to stay steady in the middle of it all, annoyed—and even disconsolate at times—about what one person, as prone as he is to his own loss and affections, suffers, and amid such suffering, he persists, loves. Above all, the speaker refuses to be deprived of wonder. “And I am held//in awe of the things that move in the world,/or are moved,” declares Toledo in a tender tribute to his wife in a characteristic style of speech that resonates with its private ebullience.

As solitary as the voice seems (rarely does the speaker act or interact with others or his environment; instead, he is a rapt watcher, as if the observation, meditation is the work and the poem is work’s artifact), we can’t ignore the fact that the poems are expressly made in the context of human relationships. There are a good number of pieces in the collection dedicated to his children and to friends. So, it’s hard to fully disembody the voice of these poems.. That is, this is a book that footnotes a world of simultaneous solitude and companionship.

Although these are not elegiac poems, they’re not without darkness, duende, and small bursts, throughout the collection, of astonishment, a boldness of vision: “I notice, looking closer, the magnitude of noise ants make.” And with such attentiveness, the collection progresses toward praise. In the penultimate poem, Toledo writes:
                  …Yet these things
do not matter as much

as that rising sense of displacement, as if
where you are is not enough, as if there
in the very center of a split rock, you will find
a gentler heart, an almost throbbing heart,
the sun hitting it just right and you are
most welcome to listen.

The “as if” feels less like doubt and more like an intelligent questioning, a rational (and temporary) check to the realization that there could be something impossible and throbbing at the center of something hard and ancient. The collection has many beautiful and strange images, though the images, as the one above, often serve as doors that open into broader ponderings and abstractions.

Interestingly, these are poems that have the hardness of formal distance. Toledo inclines toward regular stanzaic form, a sense of order. There’s wonderful formal tension here, though. The long running syntax, punctuated by short stabs, livens the vertical pace of the poems. The line and stanza breaks help control—well—the voltage of such syntax. There’s an abundance of complex sentence structures, making use of appositives, adverbial and adjectival clauses, catalogs—as ways to sustain the energy of the poem across the breaks, across the enforced silences. Perhaps one of Toledo’s flaws is the uniformity of his diction from poem to poem—which is mostly arched—but which works beautifully when timed with the movement between meditation and exuberance.

You have to admire a poet who is interested in something akin to myth-making. The construction of images, constellations of language, that intimate both the material world and the absolutely confounding (and sometimes cruel) spiritual design that propels it. Toledo points us to “[t]hat keening sound beyond—/past the new wrecks of our bodies, down where the crickets/mutter their terrors.” I get the sense that he believes, if you observe the world long enough and with great care, if you can be still, then common beasts, works of art, memory, your very flesh and blood, can transport you to a metaphysical experience of the physical universe, an extraordinary vision of the shared, ordinary world: “And if I startle you, it is because I am speaking in the plural…”

I would like to point out, there are some poems in the collection that seem to take on not just the life of writing, but the culture of it. In “Craft”, you can imagine the litany of workshop critiques: “So they talk about detachment over and over,/like the idea is singular and repetitive and true,/as the higher voices that demand no less/than stillness and explains how/tiny movements are unnecessary and invasive, that all mistakes are acts of war.” And in “Clichés”, Toledo recalls, “We were taught/to mean, not be,” prodding the old MacLeish maxim.

Toledo considers the traditions that haunt him and his contemporaries in “Drunk Leaning Into a Poem”. He warns us, “The dead rise up and reclaim/their spaces in the tradition.” He continues with a more dire caveat: “The critics lurk ‘round the bend,/toasting the departure(d).”

The most provocative, personal, and artful commentary in the book about the current state of poetry is “The Irrelevance of Meter”. It is written in six fat sextets and ending in a one-line stanza, each line lengthening as the poem develops, as if the poem can’t be constrained by any regular metrical quantity. What the lines contain is evidence of a longing, a political and poetic one. There are:
crows that circled the coconut trees, cawing their cadence
of This will do, this will do, though by now you are conscious
that you have not been climbing trees for so long. What’s the use

anyway; you are cutting up your sentences and it is dark outside,
like the black rivulets of a raven’s feathers growing blacker, blacker
as you pushed its dead body closer to your face. Or during hide
and seek, moonlit nights when you were caught by your father
reading his magazines in the field, on the tree, yanking the branches.

I suspect Toledo, here, in referring to the archetypal provincial pastime of climbing trees, is critiquing the predominant ethos in contemporary Philippine poetry to expunge “local color” and references to Philippine life, particularly provincial living (as much of the country’s poetic production and criticism comes from the urban center of Metro Manila). The poet feels foreign to his very experience, which is homegrown, provincial, constantly recalled, even amid the urban chaos, in the body. Another poetry is demanded of him (one that puts distance between the poetry he produces and the poetry residing in his marrow and gut); “you have not been climbing trees for so long” because the critical gods have admonished him against acts of nostalgia, have warned against the pitfalls of mining the past. This poet, however, takes a step toward arguing against those gods: What’s the use, then, of “cutting up your sentences?”

There’s been an appropriate reaction against the trafficking of caricatures and shallow portrayals of Filipino life, but it seems our poets have inherited a rampant and incongruous fear of exoticizing oneself in a poem, a fear instilled by critics and the culture of writing workshops. Rather than challenging poets to re-see or see more deeply into these references, critics and workshops have asked poets to excise such images or avoid them all together. Succumbing to such fear, as a result, has led to a widespread silencing and erasure of the sensual experiences specific to our homeland. Out of fear of self-exoticization, whole lexicons, common and proper nouns, landscapes, backroads, and trysts go unrecorded. They vanish. And let’s face it, our literature is complicit. I suspect Toledo has had enough of such erasure (as have I).

(Notice, at the end of that last passage, Toledo gets an extra clever barb in, the image of the boy “yanking the branches”, implying there may be a little jerking off going on—and not just in the trees, not just in the provinces.)

The poem ends, if not with urgency, then with a welcome confidence and seriousness:
                  …surely the sounds are coming back, surely
you remember that cursed uncle, his unlamented passing,
dark stain of bird bodies impeding the sunlight, and how memory
makes no sound, gathers nothing in its alleys but moss and moving
figures, voiceless brilliances and darkness. You struggle to hear it,
the sadness, but it is the flicker of Christmas lights and you must see it

for it is beautiful and it illuminates and it leads to other dazzling ruins.

For our sake, and for the sake of Philippine poetry, I do hope “the sounds are coming back,” that the strange and familiar racket of our stories is, surely, irrepressible. For the sake of Philippine poetry, Joel Toledo may be one of the poets to bear that din. In that regard, The Long Lost Startle is an excellent foray, poses excellent questions, an excellent augur—startle, found.


Patrick Rosal is the author of My American Kundiman, winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, winner of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award. His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Brevity, and Language for a New Century. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright grant as a Senior Research Scholar to the Philippines.



You are Here by Mabi David
(High Chair, Quezon City, 2009)

Inside, Outside, and Here: Reading Mabi David’s You are Here

Lyric poets who incorporate historical material in their work contend with a number of pressures. First, there is the dominant mode of the lyric poem -- a mode that employs, in relation to history and the historical material, several readily discernible strategies. In this mode, history is a trove of narratives -- we get an anecdotal poem that starts with encounter, ends with insight, and at various stops expresses wonder. Variants of this mode include the persona speaking as a historical figure, the politically engaged persona with an engaging real life, and the persona describing atrocity, then delivering shock value. Another set of pressures, and this time specific to the Philippine poetry scene, comes from the old yet persistent debate on art for art’s sake and art for the masses. The challenge for the poet, of course, is to rethink these pressures, through poems and a poetics that reassess the potency of the dominant lyric mode, and go beyond a simplistic view of the political as extricable from art, or art as totally subsumed by politics.

An historical material is a privileged object because it continues to be transmitted through time. Its transmission is subject not only to chance operations, but also to a system of power, an archive. In the Foucauldian sense of the term, an archive is not merely a repository (of the state, or of a culture), but is the “the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.”
As it was is as it should be, so that historical preservation
in that city means mutability, the untempered erosion of its ruins,

the bombed-out church refused repairs since the war
as constant reminder of the horror, its half-steeple in steady

decline, a mouth to the elements crying its aged warning, dribbling
granular and gray on the shoulders of the frightened faithful.

(from “Itinerary, Day Seven (Sens de la visite)”)

Certain historical materials result from a tension between erasure and recording. Their once being-at-the-verge-of-erasure is a necessary condition for their recording (or acquisition) and their consequent transmission (or exhibition). The evidence of this erasure has value, if not for memory, then at least for the spectacle of the memorial. Institutions that mediate the transmission of the historical material (distorted by the institutions lenses) require it as it was for it to have value, as spectacle, in this storied age.
                                    If as it was is as it should be,

what ashy leftover to leave as immutable script on this storied age,
by what eternizing rubble do we make handy our brief holiday tale

(from “Itinerary, Day Seven (Sens de la visite)”)

But how can a person respond in this storied age without resorting to the spectacle of the memorial? What forms of response (or resistance) are available to the everyday as it faces the enormity of history? Let’s return to the fact of dominant lyric mode -- the anecdotal, epiphanic lyric.

The impulse to write a poem that treats history as a trove of narratives may in part be engendered by the very size of history. A spatial imagining of history overwhelms our human capacity -- names, places, dates, stories, simultaneities, causalities, events…. an angel of history, even, who Walter Benjamin describes would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed but has his wings caught with such violence he can no longer close them. Inherent to this style of poetry, is a notion of form as separable from content, and the notion of a stable persona (at least socially, if not emotionally) vis a vis the poet’s “voice.” The historical material remains as subject matter -- apart from, yet seemingly affecting the persona through the persona’s deployment of time-tested ruses. The problem with this thought of form apart from content and the singular consistent voice is comparable to an act of detachment, however intimate this “voice” may sound. In this mode of utterance, the historical material is an object of contemplation, external to the persona.

In David, however, what we find is the complexity of a person -- one for whom boundaries between inside (conventional subjective space) and outside (conventional objective space) blur, where history and the historical material permeate the person, and hence constructs her; a person constructing and at the same time constructed as it moves within the forces of a historical field.
Look at you, listening. Listen to yourself as you listen to your
self speaking out of an actor’s mouth, feeling more spoken of, also

at, the unique experience that brings you here becoming an alienation.
Being narrated, the narrator is wrenched from his story. A third

body, nailed to that chair in that discriminate, you are in
the audience but not of it, differentiated by their taste for your tragic

distinction. It looks back at you, looking at it. This strange sensation
History has a cruel prepositional gaze: it fixes you. It mounts you,

its students come for you, your transparency a visible thing to look at,
over, then through, to not forget what must not to be forgotten, that grief

a tunneling predicate fixing everyone in their place in that auditorium.
Look at you looking back. Heroic composure. What elegance. You can

leave now, disappear from view, become unnarrated Narrator, Or
you can stay. This event is endurable. Either way, first person, singular.

(from “Itinerary, Day Five (Tribute to the Survivors of the Battle for Manila, Fort Santiago)”)

A certain displacement is at work here for the you. The you listening to himself speak, looking at himself, himself a part of the audience, but by virtue of his experience apart and distinct from it, a self objectified and hence transparent as a subject from the students’ and audience’s point of view. Displaced, yet still in a position, Either way, first person, singular.

The question “where are you?” or perhaps more accurately “where is the you” is an important question/poetic in David’s poems. Not merely in the literal sense of displacement that persons (people in foreign land or in historic events) experience, but a displacement that subjects one to an experience of being in complex subject positions -- narrator and viewer, at home and alienated, subject and object, where the public realms of history, place and work permeate the private sphere:
                  you are touched

by their pathos, here where you stand,
                  a mere 50 years, one century
                                    later, with your research – are you

enjoying the view -- in the same sweltering march
                  culled from note cards and catalog, are you
                                    finally in their shoes,

finally as if
                  you were there, is it miserable enough
                                    or real enough or are the facts

representative enough, is it like
                  you were there -- is it finally your
                                    history -- “You cannot go in

(from “Repository (Lamplight on, cone of curiosity)”)

In “Repository (Lamplight on, cone of curiosity),” where a forward momentum is sustained though the poem’s long sentences, enjambed through indented tercets (a formal means of deploying a force of displacement), we encounter a researcher, trained to objectively respond to and analyze historical materials (the sphere of work), experiencing these historical/work materials penetrating her person-al realm. The poem begins, through an epigraph, with a famous line from Hamlet, “Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.” But how might we speak to it, what language can possibly be used when the personal introduces difficulties while objective means do not suffice?
                  We’re any of your relatives and/or friends
killed during the battle for the liberation?
                  If so, please

name your victim, your relation to your victim,
                  the approximate location of your victim’s death,
                                    your victim’s manner of death

[please check]: by
                  crossfire or
                                    shelling or

bayoneting or
                  burning or
                  torture or “others,”

(from “Repository (Lamplight on, cone of curiosity))

How speak to it? We are faced here with the limits of speech, as response, and also as a way to comprehend, to make it comprehensible, at a limit of speech as a possibility for locating the person. If we rely on the “voice” as the means for the lyric, then this limit is insurmountable. Yet there is, in historical as well as geographic displacement, a reminder of the artificiality of speech. In the poems titled “Soliloquy,” we find characters in travel encountering this artificiality/materiality (in the first poem quoted below, the character with a foreign companion, while in the second poem quoted below, in a cocktail in a foreign land).
gone, getting it
                  “right” and getting him,
getting him to get you,
                  wandering into

where words, i.e., to hold
                  a thing in your freezing
hands, is not the currency,
                  but that someone holds

you, you are held in place,

(from “Soliloquy (When my friend)”)

                  What I can swallow
                  is the delicious bubble

such settings serve as shape to
                  speech, liquid
                  in the atmosphere, precious
unlikelies one can can string, be
                  brimful of.

(from “Soliloquy (My friend, who frequently)”)

Relying on speech for locating, we encounter other means for understanding location. How speak of it? Perhaps a response should be made, not through speech, but through writing that creates spaces -- the space of here. Surrounded with forces of displacement, where are you? You are here. The ambiguity of here is important. What the person needs, to be able respond to these forces, is not a certainty of location, not a certainty that builds clear boundaries between inside and outside, but one where these boundaries are blurred, under erasure, in the Derridean sense of the sous rature, enabling us to tackle the it without resorting to dualities. You are here, a mutable, emerging here with its ever-changing referents, a here where inside and outside are in complex interaction constituting and also constituted by among other things, the person. Perhaps in here the indistinguishable despite its ominous tone of erasure, offers salvation. The person prays/sings/writes/travels from mantle to sacramental to multiple to indistinguishable:
Sweep of fronds on the streets, let us
make of the path a green mantle

Though there are no words for what
we enter, let entering be sacramental

If there be nothing on the tables
then let it spread, let it be multiple

Let us with strangeness and hunger
beside them be indistinguishable.

(“Prayer For Palm Sunday”)


Emong de Borja is from Pateros, Metro Manila, Philippines. His ongoing writing projects include a chapbook of poems, a series of reviews on locally published poetry books, and an essay on a possible poetics of sincerity. He works as an IT consultant in the areas of information security and service management.



Elders Series #3 by Chris Kraus and Tisa Bryant
(Belladonna Books, Brooklyn, 2009)

Belladonna* has long hosted a lush, challenging conversation at the limn of the new avant garde. The Elders Series is structured for teetering push and force – a writer chooses an admired writer, and excerpts of their work are printed alongside their mutual interview/conversation; it is a hell of list (http://Belladonnaseries.org/eldersseries.html).

The Elders Series # 3 features Tisa Bryant hosting Chris Kraus. Both write fiction, both identify as autodidacts and work from a rich grounding in theoretical and experimental work (Kraus edits the Semiotext(e) series, Bryant ascribes much of her education to the Dark Room Collective), both pull from noir with the urgency and eerie sense surrounding their narratives.

Tisa Bryant's XXX plots a series of encounters in the city space of a brain town. Going into Boston to a film, the narrator navigates buildings, memories, the habits of girl watchers, the talking head audience of a Q and A, strangers on the street. These are adversaries of Looking and Judgement. “The crowd beckons and invites and terrifies; she allows for every possibility, walks aimlessly towards something she didn't know she'd find, but yet expected.”

Retaining an openness to encounter is the narrators' main battle, and stays open by sustaining an energetic language of response. She is taking everything in – (she is named Iris, and she is indeed all I's and Eyes) – and what the story gives us is the joyous perpetual churning of how she processes it.
So how'd you know about my birthday, sweetness?”
... I must bash. I am a basher. Gutterance and quell. Quarry.
“How did i know? Let's just say, I saw you coming. Now could I please just see you go?” Everything. About. Me. Hardening.... This repartee is the best of public art.

Bryant's chrome descriptions let setting as character give voice to the questions -- who is shown and who is acting? who gets to build the connective tissue? at what point is intellectual sparring play, and at what point is it defense?

Chris Kraus's story "Catt: Her Killer" is austere and gorgeous in its conventions:
"Since meeting her killer, she spent several weeks in this delirium. And when she woke up she fled."

Kraus is a good foil to Bryant here because you can both feel where they share concerns and witness a totally different approach. Through noir stylings and a sifting expository time frame, her stylized investigations sneak through the lines with a major technical grace. The story has to do with shifting real estate and shifting power, and with the buying and selling of artists, and with fish farmed on cheap soil. No character is more interesting than the narrator, and this might well be the very reason the narrator pays them so little attention. Kraus's interests are slippery. The story overall is so airy and well executed that it mostly hits home as sense memory, after it is finished.

Belladonna* has caught flack for the elders series (see Kate Eichhorn at http://Belladonnaseries.org/eldersseries.html). But I think it provides an interesting answer to some of the most aggravating conventions walling off Contemporary Fiction – those arising from a shift in book review journalism towards biographic investigation. (witness this disaster.... http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/6256085/Lorrie-Moore-interview.html)

If reviews are now celebrity profiles, the record skips again and again on the chinked groove of biography and rarely reaches as far as experimentation or authorial intent. But these investigative pairings might offer a solution. Bryant and Kraus makes for an exciting duo, especially in the glow of their conversation, because they are trying for things in such different ways and able to grill one another. Their stories grill each other, too, through their proximity, and the scrutiny bisecting the little white book is all kinds of refreshing.


Denise Dooley lives in Rogers Park, Chicago. She writes poetry and fiction; recent work can be found at http://www.shampoopoetry.com/, http://www.sundress.net/wickedalice/, and http://www.tacks.freehostia.com



Collapsible Poetics Theater by Rodrigo Toscano
(Fence Books, Albany, N.Y., 2008)

To say that Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater (CPT) is a mere reflection on what has become an all-consuming Globalism (in poetry, art, industry, and the society mirrored by the interconnectivity of these arenas) would be a vast understating of what appears to be the project’s objective. Instead of modest polarization into rejection of what is (for an acceptance of what can be) or an acceptance of what is and a satire of where we seek to change, Toscano’s work is an attempt to define the inner relationship driving our decision either way. While there is a concentrated call to institute modern/revolutionary art, which results from the tiring constraints of the previous craft, Toscano means to designate a more inclusive counter-ground: a theater where movements/words of "players" can be seen as driven by the strings of a revealed (fatigued yet still driven) Capitalist culturalist, hand -- which guides our conceptions and represses our identities. CPT is a new vantage point, through which we can see what has become our mechanized adoption of corrupt values or our mechanized rebellion. It symbolizes more than a reaction. It formulates a realization. CPT is a theater/poetry anti-school-conversation, a view of the school, the delusive force-feeding of popular culture, from an outside (a newly constructed space where we can see all socially-argumentative sides tugging and how we have been tugged).

Toscano opens his book with a statement of urgency: “Alienable Dividuals. Entities. Seek a freedom in, not from.” As is suggested by the concept of anti-individualism (“Alienable Dividuals”), Toscano is toying with the idea that we are currently, blindly, acting as portions of a whole -- in an almost geometrical relationship with one another (a notion he develops through four equally participating voices [amid cuboid quatrains]):
(1) How’s it that we’re four distinct entities here?
(4) How’s it that we’re singular and one-at-a-time ?
(2) How’s it that we’re each one quarter of a whole?
(3) How’s it that we’re each four times more than the other?

For an explanation as to why we are in social-political Geometry with one another, according to Toscano, one need only look as far as our unconscious, daily activity. As Toscano opens “TRUAX INIMICAL,” there is a distinct (social-psychic) mechanization in what seems to be our computer usage:
(1) Scrolling
(4) Pointing
(2) Clicking
(3) Selecting

The poetic sequence (which in performance lasts around 16 minutes) goes on to build on this concept (Toscano often calls these para-thematic repetitive refrains, “clocks”). These options/anti-options become more overwhelmingly inclusive of interactive "entities" (fractalizations of “people”). Until, through recognition of the patterns of relation, and through a panning out (an intervention into spectatorship), we understand this mechanical structure to represent ourselves and what we expect out of art. It seems one of Toscano's overriding objectives is to display an unrealized, global, participation in not only the way we answer artistic questions, but additionally in the methodology by which we (ourselves) question. His design is to help us shift outside of these patterns; that we might, through a new consciousness, recognize our roles within them.

The ways in which Toscano means to reveal the mechanical mold of the contemporary artist are perhaps even more clear in (within the context of “Eco-Strato-Static”) the suggested need to read “Group B” and “Dance” “In the approximate rhythm of their twinkling” or by drawing out a “spokesperson” (accomplished through dangling “…a giant mic from a giant crane” [as though fishing out the means to stardom by hooking others on the self]). Indeed, what is displayed by the externalization from this symbolic or perhaps actual reality is reflective of the poet's/artist's plight, that he/she must sell himself/herself (at times, regardless of worth).

In general, value or the attaining of this value is something pivotal in Collapsible Poetics Theater. The nameless figures struggle to be complete, free from their congruence with one another, but only manage to contribute toward the function of a whole. While they are referred to in the introductory piece as numbers (which almost makes them seem like mechanical components), they are later referred to as equally ambiguous “players” (as though they are simple components of a mathematical calculation). Additionally, different characters are indicated by left alignment or right alignment (which in the case of “Eco-Strato-Static” may signify a mirroring artistic leniency) and Bold, Italic, or normal text (which might again be a signal to archetype). The relationship between voices and their ambiguity (as demonstrated through the externalizing of the reader) becomes a yearning for identity that often reinforces the productive necessity of their ambiguity (as opposed to the desired "characters" in more traditional plot-character matrix structure).

While this "value" or lack thereof is something that Toscano directly grapples with, he is also content in slyly pointing out the function of reactionary art. In “BALM TO BILK,” voice 1 counters voice 2 “you can’t… ‘blick’ that.” Mainly, this is because "art without purpose is purposeless:"
“…any formula
based purely on affect
outside the realm of
objects, object’s origins, relations
logic, counter-logics
nth degree determinations of—”

Voice one additionally asks “where are the imbedded social demands in this stuff?" Yet, down the page, voice 1 begins to speak with the terms of voice 2 (as voice 2 speaks to the logical yearnings of voice 1). What results is a counter artistic ground where one can see both functional sides of what (in actuality) is activating the construction of the artistic "self." The reader is led to think about herself as one voice or the other and (upon re-examination [external viewing of the artifact, in which both these views are contained]) to think about herself completely differently (or more inclusively).

There are more overt ways that Toscano seeks to create an inter-reflexive relationship through alternate perceptional ground. CPT’s aesthetic-political outlays are consistent with Walter Benjamin's theories on what art has become through film: a form removed from what was once a creative distance (between art-viewer and art) or room for personal interpretation (for the sake of willingly adopting imposed viewpoints and interpretations). Likewise, our cries for individuality are no more than systematic assimilations into a corporate whole. There are no individual poems, no individual artists. Now, differing voices are not different; they unintentionally, syntactically, construct global meaning (they are unaware slaves):
(1-2) I
(3-4) Fly
(1-2) In
(3-4) The
(1-2) Deep
(3-4) Of
(1-2) The
(3-4) Night

In intention, the separate constructors are meant to be seen as vital, but useless through their adoption of roles. Only through the window of the page, where this relationship can be externally objectified, can the interconnectivity of these different voices be understood. What is argued, through coherence to a global idea, is not only the importance of "a global idea," but also the utilization (as suggested syntactically) of the individual (perhaps the utilization of the individual for the global idea).

In other cases, the voices interact with other voices' perceptions. “Eco-Strato-Static” is a poem where a voice mentally drives the actions of a different voice, as though one voice is the process of thought and the other the externalization of that thought. This internal relationship gets cloudy, as at one point there is a complete disconnection:
Start acting like you have an innovative product.
What’s happening?
I’m acting like I have an innovative product.

It seems that even the disconnection of one aspect of a person to another creates a complete counter-conversation. After losing track of the mental portion, the previously quoted poem regains its bearings and argues with itself. Therefore, the externalization from even the relationship between the artist's mind and the artist's action reveals multiple independent aspects of the individual (a common necessity as a machine, but desiring, individual, components).

In a sense, Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater contains counter-ground for itself. It continually pushes itself, on the page, past what can be conceivably accomplished in performance. The poetic activities piece “Clock, Deck, and Movement” becomes a purposely over-complicated construct of direction. Where directions might previously be conceptualized as simple inclinations, exhibited in performance, it seems Toscano means for the performance to exhibit the implications of "the cues themselves." Perhaps how controlling they are of the piece one begins looking for in the physical embodiment of the work.

The movements of bodies is also crucial to the idea of function. Kit Robinson, after seeing the performance of "Clock, Deck, and Movement," stated, "The movements involve articulations of separate body parts and investigations into the relationships between parts of the body. For example, thrusting the rib cage forward while bending the knees with one leg forward, or twisting the torso while extending one arm upward and outward with three fingers pointing outward." It seems that Toscano means for the positions of bodies to suggest the limitation of bodies. Perhaps this is yet another way he intends to demonstrate our adherence to global movement. We mean to be moved in one way, but through the way we are resisted by "the current configuration," we do nothing but contort ourselves. Only when we are able to see a body alternate to the one we inhabit can we see what is the futility of resisting the limitations of the body.

Eventually, what often results in the Collapsible Poetics Theater is a collapse of the known world into itself (much like a curtain, surrounding us at all times, bunching up as it streams to the floor). A vision is made available through newly gained perceptional grounding. We realize, more clearly, political, economic, cultural, and personal relationships not yet manifest (or denied, in hopes of retaining comfortable, un-collapsible, reality).


Jade Hudson was raised on a wheat farm in central Kansas. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing English from Wichita State University, where he founded and oversaw an undergraduate Creative Writing organization, tutored the handicapped, studied under the widely renown Albert Goldbarth, and graduated a McNair Scholar with honors. Jade is a current poetry master's student at the prestigious Miami University of Ohio. More recently, Jade won runner up and honorable mention in the 2009 Academy of American Poets graduate competition, judged by Thalia Field. He hopes to eventually earn a PhD in Creative Writing and work as a tenured professor of Poetry.