Friday, March 03, 2006

Good news—the Bookery's been bought! It will be re-opening sometime in late spring under new management, and it looks like I get to keep my job managing the poetry section. We are all relieved.

AWP is coming up fast, and it's going to be absolutely jam-packed with people I know, both virtually and for-reals. Mostly I look forward to seeing friends and browsing the book tables (though I've bought so many books lately I can't really justify adding to the pile). Many if not most of the panels look frankly insipid, as usual, but there are a number that could be compelling and which feature favorite poets of mine. There's one called "Thinking in 'Song'" about lyric as a mode of cognition whose panelists include Brenda Hillman, Annie Finch, and Hank Lazer. It might be fun to visit a panel called "Literary Citizens" if only because Kinky Friedman, candidate for governor of Texas, is on it. Paul Hoover, Maxine Chernoff, Rusty Morrison, and others host a panel subtitled "Experimental Forms and Accessibility" that might address the question asked here by Sarah Fox and re-posed here by Ange. Are those of us whose principal pleasure in poetry derives from "abstraction and ornament" doomed forever to the margins of "the daily lives of non-intellectuals"? (Personally I'd be happy to make a start with the numerous intellectuals or at least self-described literary people who either don't read poetry or don't read living poets.) There's an embarrassment of interesting panels competing with each other at 9 AM on Friday: in this corner Peter Gizzi, Traci Morris, Joshua Clover, Juliana Spahr, Karen Volkman, and Susan Wheeler talk about "The New Poetics"; in that corner a panel coyly asking "Do We Want to Genre?" featuring Claudia Rankine, Susan M. Schultz, Peter Conners, Michael Martone, and Joyelle McSweeney; in yet another corner there's "On Beauty and Ethics: Attempts at Writing Beyond Postmodernism" with Catherine Wagner, Elizabeth Robinson, Bin Ramke, and Karla Kelsey. That last has the most gut appeal for me in terms of topic, but it's still a difficult choice. Maybe I should just sleep in and stumble out of bed just in time for Jordan and Jonathan's Kenneth Koch panel. There's a small-press panel that afternoon with the provocative title "Accidental Dominance" with Rebecca Wolff, James Meetze, Kazim Ali, Anna Moschovakis, and Joyelle once again. Finally on Saturday at 10:30 AM there's the panel on blogs and boards that I'm participating in, alongside Tony, but if I get up early enough I might make it to the 9 AM panel "Where the Poet-Critics Are" featuring Charles Altieri, Jeanne Heuving, Jennifer Moxley, and Dale Smith. Then of course there are readings galore, plus various "off-campus" activities, plus one wants to hear a little music and eat a little barbecue. I'd better get over this cold that's been hanging around by Wednesday.

The other day the mailbox was full of treats: the long-awaited Pavement Saw #10, the "Low Carb Issue," which has a couple of my poems in it, plus appealing work from Jenny James Robinson, Robert Perchan, Susan Thomas, David Kirschenbaum, Christine Rhein, Kristy Odelius (I love her ear—check out this poem over at Moria), and others. On the other end of the production-lushness scale I was gifted with the second issue of 1913: a journal of forms—an impossibly gorgeous magazine that stints neither on ornament nor abstraction, featuring numerous translations from the French on one side and new lyrics on the other from the likes of Emily Wilson, Fanny Howe, Hank Lazer (plus an interview with Hank dealing with his most recent book, The New Spirit, Geoffrey Nutter, a couple of essays by Maya Deeren, a kind of cut-up from Ben Doyle, prose and poems from John Taggart, baroquery from John Latta ("Oh, blunt speech, come to / Me in your green greatcoat!"), translations of the Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes by Jen Hofer, Sally Keith, Cort Day, and many more: a veritable feast of forms. Also received from my father, who's a member of The Academy, a copy of Barbara Jane Reyes' Poeta en San Francisco, winner of the Academy's 2005 James Laughlin Award and so compelling that I actually sat down and read it in one sitting moments after receiving it. Like so much of the recent work I find most vital, it's a work of triangulation: an attempt by the poet, in this case a Filipina-American with a long memory of imperialist oppression, to locate herself and her community in a field defined both temporally and spatially by that memory and the ongoingness of war and xenophobia. One of the book's tropes is a critique of the representation of colonial war, specifically that of Coppola's Apocalypse Now (neither he nor the film are ever named as such, but the film's catchphrase "Charlie don't surf" recurs as an emblem of the irony that helplessly reproduces what it would establish distance from; there's also a remarkable passage about the making of the film that's derived, I believe, from the documentary narrated the filmmaker's wife Eleanor). The work of cognitive mapping is foregrounded by by the titles of the poem's three main sections: "orient," "dis orient," "re orient." The book is tightly specific to the author's Filipina-Catholic-San Francsican experience but also has a magisterial and inclusive sweep, capturing ranges of squalor and ecstasy that I more usually associate with Beat writing, but here de-romanticized, always returning us to the social text most vivid to the migrant, the Trajector (in this reminding me of Shanxing Wang whose book I mentioned the other day). I also appreciate the book's formal variation, which ranges from numbed-out prose to what presents itself as translations from or into Tagalog to fragile lyrics to dictionary definitions to enraged almost flarfy catalogs, as here:
[lakas sambayan 2003]

stone torch in nation's fist fractures

dictator's face wings flutter yellow paint

streaming from this giant's lachrymal ducts

inventoried war crimes swiss bank accounts

dialysis paparazzi copycats bless american way

iron tanks cannot deter nuns wailing

novenas guarding ballot boxes with rosaries

remember the agong as woman's breast

remember generala silang brandishing bolo knife

riding bareback where confluence of fishmarket

freeways prefab housing squares meet basketball

courts liquor stores cornrowed b-ballers sport

saggin sean john bling bling knuckles

lowering rice pockets scraping tha pavement

vinta colors billow island monsoon sky

street chrome exhaust pipes black smoke

pimpin boyz flip they caps sideways

faraway spectacle this commissioned stone face

no rushmore mere quick dry cement

block amnesia exile nation cannot dismantle
There's a rhythm there, almost a metric, like that of a hip-hop sewing machine folding discourses together—deliberately, as the last lines imply, anti-monumental. It's a map to navigate with. It shines a light.

3 comments:

Maison Paras said...

This may seem rather inconsequential but "Philippina" is actually spelled as "Filipina". Just had to point it out. Thanks!

Josh said...

Corrected, thanks Antonio.

jane said...

Hey, I'm so happy both for you and Ithaca (and the world, I guess) that the bookstore's been resurrected. It makes such a difference in one's psychic economy of the local.

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