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Nate Pritts on 5 chapbooks

Ed Dorn. Chemo Sábe.

Laura Solomon. Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.

Evan Commander. Planet Carpet.

Justin Marks. You Being You By Proxy.

Christopher Rizzo. Zing.

 

***

Ed Dorn, Chemo Sábe.

Limberlost Press.  http://www.limberlostpress.com

 

It’s not death that hangs over Dorn’s last poems. Rather, it is a heightened sense of life & all that implies, the public & the private. Here, even as Dorn registers & tracks the cancer eating at him he’s able to look out & see something eating away America as well:

 

Blood pressure normal to perfect

as usual. My tumor is watching all this.

My tumor is hearing all this. My tumor

is interested in what interests me, and

she detests who and what I detest.

(The Decadron, Tagamit, Benadryl and Taxol Cocktail Party of 1 March 1999)

 

So this is not a sensational book about DYING! What we have here is something we’re lucky to have. Real poems that speak seriously about serious issues, that risk sounding preachy or sentimental:

 

American dumb missile arrives with punity

in the southern suburbs of Baghdad, ruined Cradle of Civilization,

just north of the Garden of Eden which looks, I must say,

rather abused and tacky now that Bill has had his way—

in the Celestial Light of public approval…

(Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment of Decadron)

 

Dorn was one of our most serious poets. He’s not seen that way. His life, his attention. We need more books like this, books, poets, so consumed with sickness that they can see it everywhere & don’t mind calling it out. Books that ask:

 

What’s going on? This is poetry calling!

Poetry is waiting for an answer.

(The Dull Relief of General Pain—Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Codeine in General)

 

***

Laura Solomon, Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.

Katalanché Press.  http://www.katalanchepress.blogspot.com

 

Loss is stupefying. If we are open to it, if we allow ourselves to feel, we are knocked out of our overeducated heads & into a now barren heart. This long poem is consumed by longing:

 

Bird to bird

Branches to branches

He’s dead now except he’s breathing

 

This is the truth of loss, that it goes on. The language here is open & the structure is like a fugue; phrases & ideas repeat. There’s a heart-wringing struggle to—a struggling towards:

 

The new blue thing is not like the old red thing

I know few things and they are not

the great and happy things I’d hoped

 

The emotion is so transparent. Though there is linguistic disjunction / estrangement, what works best is the child’s open heart, yearning:

 

Night and we don’t even know what

to do with our garbage

Brother ghost, put away your kiss

it is too wet with tears and you

are too dead for either kissing or crying

 

***

Evan Commander, planet carpet.

Forklift, Ink.  http://www.forkliftink.com

 

If you found yourself visiting a different planet, some Technicolor amalgam of pink spray-painted trees & odd lighting, you might easily be overwhelmed by every little thing. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be Evan Commander, walking around with his feet on this planet but constantly seeing who-knows-what. In “My Eclipse is a Readymade of You,” Commander writes, “I am not without wonder” & you have to question whether he means the ability to be awed by or the ability to awe.

There is such a precise logic in these poems that your mind has to agree with whatever is said, even if your mind is a tad off-balance & discombobulated. In the end, there is such pure human-ness in these poems that you can’t help but be stirred by them:

 

All together, I feel like I might rob a bank in this hat,

Like I might do something poorly.

I should’ve changed.

I didn’t. These shoes,

Worn out – I am worn out, […]

(Poem (Why The Dogwood Looks Real Good)

 

Throughout this work, there is a tremendous faith: in people, in connections, in a capital T truth. The struggle here comes from asserting/interpreting the self in a hostile world – not openly aggressive & violent but, let’s say, not conducive to the feeling self: “I found the center of my planet / only to have it turn on me” (Planet Carpet).

I think the most stunning thing about Commander’s work is its range & it’s ability to use the techniques of estrangement & derangement as a way of engaging the most bare & human of emotions: “I need a drink I am certain is you” (Poem is a Mess).

 

***

Justin Marks, You Being You By Proxy.

Kitchen Press.  http://kitchen-press-book-store.blogspot.com/

Justin Marks writes “My mistakes are honest/results of being too earnest” in “Quotation Marks,” a stunningly plain spoken revelation about the poetry throughout You Being You By Proxy. The poetry is fluent & inclusive, with a line strong enough to fuse the interior revelations of personal narrative to complex exterior observations:

Vague traffic sounds outside the window.

A light snow falling. In bed with a book,

not reading so much as letting myself drift.

(Settling In)


The voice throughout these poems is engaging in the truest sense; “earnest” as the poem says, but flexible enough to shift from simple to complex, to rethink itself as it moves along:

Thank you for

making me think like this,

and worse yet, making me see

how much I enjoy it;

how naïve I was

to say, whiteness without end.

(Little Happier)

That’s a bold move, to question the assertions of the poem — but it’s the right move. It allows a revision of the self that is crucial. It allows these poems, soft & deliberate, searching out:

Little things can bring

great pleasure,

but that can’t be all there is

to happiness[…]

(Quotation Marks)

 

***

Christopher Rizzo, Zing.

CARVE Editions.  http://carvepoems.org/wordpress/editions.php

 

In Zing, Rizzo relies on linguistic pressure to snap the reader from one impression to the next &, surprisingly, these moments leave us more firmly in the heart than the head. The sharp syntax develops not as a pathway to the intellect but as a counterpoint to recognizable human emotions. Refreshing:

 

[…] a long

sap streaked

gold a gash and jasmine

cumulus, ashy jasper

and julep, crushed

a twilit why

speaks wound up

before a vanity, an opened hand

a sting,

transparency, a swift quick

in swathes

a Bee-eater’s wings—

O tonight

she loves

me not.

(When A Rose Is Not A Rose Is Not A Rose)

 

The precision of the short lines, the over-packed pile-up of stressed nouns and verbs, the abstraction (“a twilit why”) all lead to one of the most basic realizations we can make. This is stunning work.

But there are fun moments here too, in the linguistic play itself (as in the beginning of “What You Will”: “Maybe a visage, a vantage no advantage—”) as well as generated through it, though it is impossible to separate what is happening from how it happens:

 

[…] it ain’t over ‘till the cuckoo sings,

‘till the cogs grind grist for a mill, a millionth time,

of a second, not a first place ribbon

in this city of lay-me-downs, and let the word wind

speak twice—that’s paradise.

(Zing)

 

If these poems present “a self//decentered//or a face/unfaced,” it is a tribute to Rizzo’s ability that he does this not simply through sterile manipulation of language & philosophical abstractions, nor does he rely solely on the current fad of surrealism-lite for his estrangement. This “Zing” is its own thing, “something/miracled, of rush and sequent consequence,/fleshly propulsion.” It lives on the road, a zing from head to heart.

 

—Nate Pritts.

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