when you awake
Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2006
Diane Ward’s chapbook when you awake is comprised of fifteen prose sections set in a conversational tone. The speaker is telling a story, explaining, giving instructions to the reader/listener. The poem opens: “well, it’s not just passion fading now. watch the images, the long line of ourselves, wait.” The reader is very much a part of this piece, a part of the “we,” the “you” instructed to “get your fur up.”
As someone associated with Language Poetry, it is not a surprise that there is a preoccupation with language, its implications, constructions, limitations, and ownership throughout the piece. Ward writes: “we are caravans, taught to stand behind who’s in front, hierarchical lines, we made them.” And later: “natural world as shadows of ownership. whose hummingbird? allen’s hummingbird, rivoli’s hummingbird, anna’s hummingbird and the morning dove as in long-anticipated loneliness, shutdown, not as a new day.” In the second prose block the question arises: “what if the language doesn’t do it anymore, if atom means that which cannot be split.”
This is a text that examines what it means to be alive now, a text/speaker that is conscious of the intersection of the personal with the social and political. One of the concerns throughout the piece is environmental, specifically the destruction of natural resources through human abuse and the problems created when humans view the natural world as something to be dominated and owned: “the connected uses of human are shifting, creating narrative or a mass migration of our stuff. don’t the ones with the most stuff do better. or is it don’t do better. if they get stuff it will be better.”
When faced with pollution/chemical smells in the air and plants growing slowly and less successfully, when faced with ideas of death and problems of the outer world at large, Ward acknowledges the tendency of people to escape into themselves : “insufficient desire to be laid in the grave, so we tried routinely to email, eat, care for the past found in shady places, behind bushes.” The physicality of the blocks on the page, the references to borders, frames and “thinking framed thoughts of ourselves,” all seem to be a movement inward. However, the piece concludes with what appears to be a movement out, a possible awakening. Floating away from an empty thought bubble, the poem ends with the action: “to burst.”
Octopus Books, 2006
Genya Turovskaya’s chapbook The Tides is comprised of three long poems. Mostly set in a timeless era of harbors and life at sea, the poems are given a more contemporary context with the mention of cell phone ring tones and men walking on the moon. Turovskaya’s influences are varied, as the poems are not interested in borders or schools. The first poem, “Pax,” opens in a very language-y way and then becomes more lyric. The lyric includes dreams and surreal images: “those first birds / were birthed // viscous & moist // from the black egg / I squatted down / and laid.” “Pax” goes on to experience a sort of derangement of the senses: “my clothes do not love me back // nor my shoes / embrace me”. Romanticism is also present in the collection with traditional romantic themes and characters: “the emissaries are sailors on the sea, are tramps on dry land” (from “Anchorage”).
There is an appealing strangeness to the poems—the reader is largely unable to predict where the poems will go from one section to the next. In “Pax,” the poem almost comes to a pause at the end—stuck on the idea of beginning again, using heavy repetition even when the speaker claims “I will not repeat.” The second poem, “Anchorage,” shifts from more vague ideas to end on a strange solid image:
we made it out of the fog
swimming to shore with a bag
of winter oranges
lights tinkled around its body
and its eyes
In “Pax,” Turovskaya asks: “do you approach / recede // the battering tide”. Her collection The Tides is not so much interested in battering or brutality but creates a sense of back and forth, an adventure at sea, the sense of a tumultuous inner-state. The Tides is a wonderful little collection full of rich poetry, a promising debut from Turovskaya.
Phylum Press, 2004
Dan Featherston’s chapbook United States is a minimalist poem in fifty parts. The book opens with two epigraphs: Walt Whitman’s “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,” and Robert Duncan’s “What / if lilacs in this dooryard bloomd ?” One would expect the following poem to be overtly about the United States, either the history or politics. However, what follows in the opening sections are brief imagistic poems that could be almost anywhere: first, an image of hands warming around a fire in a trash can; second, “Hanged man / dangled down / through high / blue quietude / & noon”; third, a hibiscus flower shriveling inward. The associations of these images—poverty, violence/death, and natural beauty—are continual themes throughout the poem.
The sections are independent of each other and focus on different things, ranging from subtle to blunt in subject. There are straight forward lyrics, nature poems, poems focused on sound and word play, early Creeley-esque poems (“as if / & as / we can”), etc. Some sections have their own titles which sometimes serve as the setup for the poem’s punchline, or create a sort of call and response. Section 31 is titled “Legalese tautology” and “material / evidence” is the entirety of what follows. In 33, “Conspiracy theory of wind”: “Each nation unconsciously acts out the secret drama of its flag”, the poem takes a more unexpected path from the title. In 30, “Infinite Justice,” the title serves as a point of departure:
There are numerous effective images throughout the piece, from concise nature pieces to pieces more overtly political: from section 25, “Moon walk”: “Red white blue flag / flutters falsely free // Exorbitant cold war tree”. In 7, nature and human interference mix: “River raised one / drop the junked / car sunk under”. In 23, “Photograph of a Hiroshima watch,” the poem whites out:
What time it was
what time it is
when skin is
a shadow past
Chapbooks can sometimes be hard to find, especially when they date back a few years. As for this chapbook, there is good news; in 2005, Featherston had a full-length collection, also called United States, released from Heretical Texts.
Fewer & Further Press, 2006
Aaron Tieger’s chapbook February consists of minimal lyric poems with concise language and sharp images. The first poem is dated 2/1/05 and the last poem in the collection is 3/1/05. In between are titled and untitled pieces that are not marked by date. Whether or not the poems were written daily over the course of the month, they recall A.R. Ammons’ daily poem project/journal Tape for the Turn of the Year both in spirit and in form—Tieger’s short lines could also fit on adding machine tape.
It is hard also not to think of Schuyler’s poem “February” written at 5pm on the day before March 1st: “It’s a day like any other.” Many of Tieger’s poems act almost as diary entries or recordings of the day’s events, as in the opening poem:
Waking early from
dreams of waking early
through blinds sky
slight violet brighter
than last week
cats all over
your face on
in a month
can’t get back
Despite the sparse language, the poems are full of images and actions, populated by the people Tieger knows (“Chris Rizzo Valentine ”), not to mention the cats, references to the weather, and recollections of the past. In “Two Cafés,” Tieger recalls “a view / no longer there”, and later: “Memories float / down streets / of missing signs…..Cafés / disappear / every few years.” There is also a great attention to sound, like in this untitled piece:
Sweet violet dog violet pansies pansy
blue violet yellow white cream violets
Love lies bleeding
love in idleness
Call me to you
meet me in the entry
Jack jump up and kiss me
kiss her in the buttery
Bird’s eye bullweed
February is a nice little collection of Tieger’s poems displayed beautifully in a clean and narrow design from Fewer & Further Press.