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Jen Tynes on some chapbooks

The Knife-Grasses by Julie Doxsee

Octopus Books, 2007


The first five lines of this chapbook-length poem create an interesting lens through which to read the rest of the book:

Here are the

lullabies sick

voices dump

right in the

cochlea: fragments

Short, double-spaced lines create a sharp lyric, an attentive lullaby that is both charming and warped. The voice in the early half of this poem seems child-like in the sense that it seems low to the ground, intimate with its details and very much shaped by the sensual experience. The details are harsh and/or rough: “cigarettes soak &/ heads lift to bruise,” “your skull/ bloats as it cracks a little open,” “the bent-up nail pried/ halfway out of pine/ siding from the/ rotten doghouse.” The descriptive and lyrical experience seems synonymous with the narrative identity; the world is “dumped right in the cochlea.” Implied in the title seems to be some sort of preposition – in, of, from “the knifegrasses.” Awareness of subjectivity and perspective evolves. Page 9 reads, in its entirety, “I have a pile of logs/ and nothing to compare its shape to.”

In the later pages of the book, there seems to be more distance and division between the person and the environment, but there is still a kind of synesthesia, and a fluidity between noun and verb. “The animal/ sperms from a/ tree perch” and “Ears half-/ swallow.” The animals referenced in the poem become smaller and less exotic (from buffalo and kangaroo to cats and dogs) but more present and explored. How do cross-eyed dogs and catwalks shape the line?

The second person address in some of these later pages takes on the imperative tone, and the instructions given seem to rearrange the place. The speaker is able to rearrange it. The Knife Grasses seems concerned always with identifying the valuable, recognizing the impermanent; these later pages seem interested in making decisions based on this knowledge. The language, exacting, sensual, and complex, illustrates both the limits and expansions of the intimate space, the side yard and the under-spoken.


The Second Is Thirst by Jane Gregory

Cannibal Chapbook Series, 2007


The “idea” is both damnation and salvation in these poems. Most read as monologues to familiar, specific others, and the conversation is sharply funny, darkly inventive, suggesting maybe that the most vital and prominent invention comes out of the necessity of despair, loss. In the first poem, “Dear Diary, What I Like About You Is How Accurately Your Symptoms Follow Your Disease,” Gregory writes,

                                          For now, let logic

be the engine that tears off the plane you’re on

and rips open the psych ward in the hospital

Peter hanged in.

The complicated relationship The Second Is Thirst describes between idea and reality, hope and understanding, life and death is mirrored sometimes in the syntax of lines which convolute, retract or redivide, enjamb. All its practical plans, like most, are haunted. “The Little One, Inside the Brain,” a poem about one-third into the book, discusses making a homonculus. “The Idea Being” quivers between discontent with the living, breathing world and a truly mournful sense of missing-ness. About the dead and the dead-to-be, these poems seem to make time fuzzy, to move not with ease but with the required energy, back and forth.

Many of Gregory’s poems use long or prose lines and, along with their theatrical sense of “agenda,” suggest intersection with the essay. In attempting to tell us what we really need to know, they tell us, honestly, this: “Eventually we settled on rescue. This required a sign/ and therefore more rocks. The point is to write this out for you, and pitch it/ as the holiest kind of nonsense so that you will take me there and scare me,/ and then show me home.”

32 Pedals & 47 Stops by Sandy Florian

Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2007


Florian begins 32 Pedals & 47 Stops with an epigraph from William Faulkner: “Only when the clock stops does time come to life.” The pages that follow read like a series of flash fiction or prose poems, theatrical observations that shift between the personal and the impersonal, creating an effective jar—a jarringness, but also a holding space—that continues to catch the reader by surprise:

A Russian man dressed in an old coat with a curly collar stands in the cramped living room of a two-room flat. His wife, dressed in a torn, polyester, black dress, sits on the couch in front of a coffee table in the same two-room flat. The coffee table is round. The coffee table is scratched. The coffee table wobbles on four unstable legs. Upon the coffee table, a photograph lies face-up among some old albums. Blemished by fingerprints of somebody’s grubby hands, the photograph reveals an image of a boy who draws wonderful birds with human hands and feet.

The prose sometimes reads like stage directions that grow wonky and idiosyncratic, a spy journal that telescopes inward, a literary spin-out. A presence or character named “The Moment” also jars: from the center of these parts of prose, The Moment encases the scene, a frame after the fact, a skeleton that becomes a shell that cracks. The relationship between creation and destruction is often explored in these moments and stories. Narratives explore how pairs (siblings, couples, literal and figurative twins) mirror and dismantle one another. The story of a wedding develops through the later part of the book and ends the series with a breakdown of language that resonates the movement of 32 Pedals & 47 Stops:

Let Me Not.

To The Marriage of True Minds.

Admit Impediments.

Love is Not Love.

Love is Not Love.

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