Tag Archives: spring 2007


Caroline Bergvall
Optic Nerve/Carcanet (£14.95)

Garrett Caples
Narrow House Recordings ($12)

by Christine Hume

"Here is the great secret:" Tristan Tzara famously manifestoed, "Thought is made in the mouth"—and, I would add, comprehension hits consciousness more directly via listening, which is more continuous with thinking and feeling than reading. Two recent poetry CDs attest to the potency of the mouth as a site where sense and sensuality fuse and refuse to compete. In the mouths of Caroline Bergvall and Garrett Caples, voice pulls our attention toward itself as idiosyncratic sound as it gathers into provocative moods of communication.

Both Bergvall and Caples deliver voices that are deeply marked, accented, tuned to the relativity of meaning and expression. Yet for all their investment in context—situational and temporal specificity—their voices seem utterly unlocatable in very distinct ways. Both voices hold us captive by their uncanniness—in conflict and in contact with a present moment—and their capacities to mutate for each track, allowing language to decompose and reconstitute itself so that its phonemic, morphemic, and paragrammatic qualities air themselves viscerally. Bergvall is especially skilled at using interrupted, partially audible, phantom, and crypt words that percolate in an erotic aporia. Caples sometimes blurts or blurs language, sometimes buries it underneath a guitar as a libidinal articulation of displacement. The corporeal body, its mythological transformations and vulnerability, asserts itself in both voice and language. Body parts come at us in both CDs—sometimes in French, sometimes with diapers, often associated with animals. Both Bergvall and Caples play in the physicality of sound, as lexical inflections of an identity crisis. They rattle and unravel any sense of objective status of gender, nationality, or class. Yet the strategies and effects of their approaches to sound poetry couldn't be more contrary. Bergvall's austere and expertly engineered recordings create an addictive ritual out of her voice, which hypnotizes with braids of polyglot unconscious, whereas Caples' raw, lo-fi brio concocts a series of acoustic adventures, complete with a cadre of collaborators and dedications.

The first tracks of each album buoy up the radically different spirit and aesthetic of Bergvall and Caples. Bergvall begins Via by performing the sentence "Ambient fish fuck flowers bloom in your mouth will choke your troubles away" with the attentiveness of a spell. The words are spoken as if they are irritants on the tongue; they are unruly words simmering with insinuations. The initiating sentence permutates ten or so times, slipping sounds sonically through reincarnations—flowers become fodder, loose, goose, bouche, toche, touch—that land in a psychic stutter opening "a door, adore" on the poem's final perversion. Each sentence, each pronunciation tries itself out, it searches as it drives the saying out of the parking lot of the said. Bergvall's slow start amps up the tension by sharply articulated consonants and prolonged vowels that enact the sense of language blooming in the mouth, choking us, like an irrepressible sob. The passage's subtle, minute shifts in tone conjure sounds between languages and between semantics and music. Rhythm is foregrounded as a medium of somatic communication. Its phonetic rhythm sounds somewhere between lullaby and fucked-up love song. In less that two minutes we get a strobe-light of bloom and choke, of affirmations and negations, of ambivalence and annoyance—of elided sentence and list. The erotics of the language merges with a violent grammar to produce something brutal, obscene, and deeply affective.

Caples's opener, "For Tune," is a chant of coupleted four-letter words, beginning with "Fuck love." Like Bergvall's "Ambient Fish," this piece plays as both list and sentence, alternating between the two in a manner that manages never fully to commit itself to either. This use of ambiguous syntax creates tension and meaning, while it keeps our listening active and amused, keeps us sharp to the interpretive branchings of each word pair. Its word traffic is as much afterthoughts and emendations, precursors and predictors, as it is a narrative. In this way, and due to the intricacies of rhyme, the percussive one-syllable strikes, and the exploration of tensions between "fuck" and "love," the piece feels like an homage to early rap. This poem is bracketed by a tiny introduction of the standard of poetry readings that claims the poem's "unfinished" condition and a long applause that sounds inappropriately polite. If the familiarity of the introduction signals what follows will be a "typical" poetry reading, it only serves to mislead. It does however set the reader up for audible breaths and mouth noises, occasional stumbles or hesitations, dynamic glitches, scrappy recordings, and a "live" intimacy that characterize the entire CD.

Two other versions of "Ambient Fish"—on PennSound, a flash version on EPC—testify to the on-goingness of Bergvall's work, often context-specific, always open to language as an object of desire, sought out and subject to the transformative power of failure and attempt. Many of these pieces are products of much performed and textual revision, and all but one are published in books, sometimes in the spirit of documentation. Though, as in Caples's work, the performance is both tribute to and transgression from textual versions, showing improvisation as an aesthetic and as compositional technique. In fact, one of the most acute differences between the two CDs is that Bergvall's work has clearly always had performance in mind, whereas Caples embraces textual primacy—he renovates the poetry reading, kicks the conventional off stage, without approaching the realm of performance art.

Caples offers us a generous 26 tracks, between 44 seconds and seven minutes, that pack a kinesthetic, gleeful carnival of digital tricks, including at least one veritable song. The strepitant spirit of the CD accretes a riveting intensity studded with gems of sardonic wit. The comic here calls out our complicity in power structures, displaying the unacceptable in a ludic timeliness. What this highwire act of mixed comedy and edgy seriousness foregrounds is the complex balance between performance, which recognizes the audience as "other," and individual artistic gesture, which lives in an altogether other-world. Most of the pieces make more of a gesture toward narrative than "For Tune," but they do so by employing enigmatic phrasing and an almost three-dimensional aural coherence.

With the exception of "Ambient Fish," Bergvall's eight tracks are more expansive, conceptually-driven projects. The splintered and ringing "About Face" anatomizes an art historical perspective on the face as it defaces words to accommodate traces, seams, and fractals of other language events. This track, like most of the CD, trades on using repetition as a temporal structure of the aural imagination (in the same way that an image is a spatial structure of the visual imagination). The titular piece, "Via," sets 47 alphabetically arranged English translations of the first canto of Dante's Inferno noting translator and date; under it—or rather inside it like auscultation—runs a faint musical cannibalization of Bergvall's voice. The succession of effects is always ballasted by the context-alerts of names and dates, never allowing us sensual immersion into its minutely shifting linguistic densities, and thus producing in us a full longing concentrated by the fact that we are not lost on a path in the dark wood, we are passing inscriptions of those who once were.

Perched on opposite ends of an aesthetic see-saw, these two CDs promise us a plurality in audio poetry culture. Anyone who doesn't love them must have a low opinion of joy, that is, thought made and mused in the mouth.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


André Gregory
Theater Communications Group (13.95)

by Justin Maxwell

André Gregory's Bone Songs is a layered, melancholic work driven by its language. The publication of the play itself—Gregory's first, though he is an acclaimed director and filmmaker—is one manifestation of this complex layering, since Bone Songs is the theatrical avatar of Gregory's performance "After Dinner with André," which is Bone Songs collaged together with "fragments from my [Gregory's] life, childhood and first marriage, as well as thoughts about love, death, time, and just about anything else that pops into my head in the moment faced with each night's particular audience."

The complex identity of the text mirrors the complex identity of its characters. With a heartbreaking plurality of identity, characters from different points of the same lifetime are able to explore the dangerous terrain their life has covered. While the characters are clearly differentiated from one another, they are primarily defined by their relationship to each other. Older He and Younger He offer two perspectives of one man's lifetime, and they are coupled with the same dynamic form in their respective spouses, Older She and Younger She. The Explorer, possibly the next stage of life for Older He, is a haunting and tortured character—his songs and soliloquies are like spells; he is a warlock of the human capacity for grief.

Fittingly for a verse play, it is the breathtaking language of the work that holds the publication together. The language of Bone Songs and the universality of its generically named characters allow it to escape the solipsistic gravity that claims so many narratives based on personal experiences. Although the He characters blur with Gregory (especially in performance), the characters in the work are whole unto themselves and don't serve as his direct surrogates within the play. Thus we stay in the experiences of the characters; as they tell their story we think of them, not Gregory.

Bone Songs is primarily set in Antarctica, and the personal terrain of the work matches the physical terrain of this locale: foreboding, difficult, and beautiful. The Explorer sets up this dichotomous relationship: "words like 'love' and 'seeing you' are things we learn in school, but no one tells what happens next when you're far out at sea..." Here the personal and the physical merge, each elucidating the other. This abstract setting, described in only the sparsest fashion, isn't a land that Gregory (or anybody else) calls home. With section titles such as "Waking the Spiders on the Floor: Things You Should Have Said but Never Could," the play takes us to a little-understood land where each memory is as stately and threatening as an iceberg.

Despite Gregory's focus on character and setting, neither people nor landscape really drives Bone Songs; instead, the play is built around tone. The audience feels its way through the events of the story and the experiences of the characters; we are drawn in by the telling of their stories. The rhythm underlying the tone is contrapuntal in its warmth, and the beat of the play's language is sexual, almost a chant—but a mystical, spell-casting chant, not a prudish Gregorian. Even when Younger She denies her partner physical contact, the rhythms of the language keep their sensuality:

No. No.
Let go.
Only whisper to me,
whisper to me.
Tell me, if you must,
but without a sound how much
and if and when and why.

The sentences are short and made breathy by the line breaks, while the "w" and "s" phonemes augment this and simultaneously add an intimate whisper to the iambs that dominate the language. This level of detailed attention to the smallest points of language makes the work consistently powerful.

Because the performance of Bone Songs also incorporates spontaneous monologues by Gregory (here collected at the end of the text in a final segment called "Fragments"), the play's poetic strengths are coupled with the raw spontaneity of live performance. For a work of such well-constructed language to incorporate the unplanned elements of the performance successfully and then have them live on the page is impressive indeed. The spontaneous elements of the performance layered into the conscious reading coupled with the surreptitious aliveness of Gregory's language gives the greatest threat to all that ice—there is something warm, something profoundly human, that could melt away the cold.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


edited by Alan Michael Parker
Tupelo Press ($19.95)

by Stephen Burt

Is a poet we read in translation in some sense a fake poet, or a poet made up by her translators, or an artifact, for us, of our assumptions about her culture? What do poets get, and what do poets need, from explorations in distant cultures, where assumptions about what poems can do, how poems get put together, and how the life of a modern poet should work may look quite unlike prevailing assumptions in Buffalo, Boise, Boston, Brooklyn Heights? Why does literary history include influential poetic hoaxes, from Ossian to Araki Yasusada? Why do hoaxes sometimes bring out the hoaxers' best work? And why have so many American readers and poets (few of whom read Portugese) fallen for the Lisbon modernist Fernando Pessoa, who wrote the great majority of his poems under a panoply of "heteronyms," personae who came with their own biography and their own widely variant styles?

Alan Michael Parker, best-known as a poet (check out Love Song with Motor Vehicles, published by BOA Editions in 2003), has a neat project that might help us answer those questions by showing how each illumines them all: he asked 22 American poets (himself not among them) to make up a poet who wrote in a language not English, write a short biography for that poet, translate one of that poet's (made-up) works, then compose an essay on the translation. Familiar ideas of much-discussed places and times (Holocaust-era Europe, and Vietnam during what's called, there, "the American War") crop up, of course, but so do oddities that give the poets involved permission to do something quite unlike their normal styles of late. Thus Annie Finch has fun with Rose Elbow Souris, a Bulgarian Dadaist; Anna Rabinowitz "translates" long-lined fragments of Egyptian hieroglyphics, preserving their fragmentary formality; and Barbara Hamby's medieval Gertrude of Brandenburg pursues a forceful (if perhaps anachronistic) erotic line.

At times the anachronisms seem not quite conscious, revealing either stereotypes about faraway times, or obsessions of our own: some "versions" have the bland awkwardness of translationese. A skeptical reader might look at made-up poets' bios and see, not what the contributors think original, but what our era in general believes, and may not know that it believes, about Eastern Europe, about ancient Semitic cultures, about Latin American revolutionaries, and so on. Part of the value in Parker's project has to do with the assumptions it reveals. Quick, which national culture would you choose if you wanted a poet who seemed especially ascetic? Especially ecstatic? Especially mysterious? Especially relevant to a recent war?

Yet that's the least of the reasons to check this book out. Here are some better reasons: Readers of Rosanna Warren, who made up the lonely French poet Anne Verveine in prior books of Warren's own, will want to compare the Verveineiana here to other poets' parallel inventions. If you read Flemish or French or Portugese, you'll want to look at the poems "composed" in those languages, and printed in facing-page translation. If you want to see smart meditations in lyrical prose around the absences (historical and post-religious) that haunt modern poems, you'll want to read Mark Strand's essay on the made-up Bulgarian poet Marin K., whose death in wartime echoes that of the real Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, and whose damaged corpus of poetry Strand says he chooses not to translate at all. Instead, we get six beautiful paragraphs of Marin K.'s "own" autobiographical prose, followed by Strand's reflections on the whole meta-project of writerly pseudonyms, disguised as reflections on autobiography: "When I noticed in these fragments was Marin's desire to locate himself anywhere but where he was born, and to find an alternative to a banality that he felt was imprisoning." Is that why some of us cotton to pseudonymous poetry? Or is it, simply, why we write and read poems?

If you simply want to see a few good poems in English, one which might stand on their own stripped of the life stories which here provide their contexts, and yet which reflect their roots as fake translations, you will find at least two such poems here: Andrew Hudgins's Alan Lutiy pursues an incessant wordplay—somewhere between late Beckett and Kay Ryan—that suggests the made-up poet's history as a war criminal trying to evade his past—"Away! / wailed the wayward / undissuaded," "Lutiy" says in Hudgins's English: "Always away!" And D. A. Powell's Joao Pudim incorporates our stereotypes about erotic, languid, confusing, coastal Brazil, then gets past them for the playful sadness of a fine sonnet with some of Powell's own prior themes built in: "oh, you could make believe anyone love you / now that the anchor has been pulled / from the coralline bottom of a glassy sea / called mere mer or murmur or hold." Perhaps Powell will discover more poems of Pudim's? If he existed, and Powell had rendered more of him, I'd stand in line for his book.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


Clark Coolidge

by Noah Eli Gordon

Drawing from the lexicon of sexualized international intrigue, Clark Coolidge's Bond Sonnets (available as a free PDF download here) was originally published in The Insect Trust Gazette in 1965. Although these eighteen sonnets, featuring mostly five-word lines, merely hint at the aural, lexical, textural, musical, and referential breakthroughs of one of our most accomplished and prolific experimental writers, they do offer a fascinating counterpoint to much of the later work, and hold their own among numerous 1960s examples of the cut-up's spike in popularity. A footnote in poet-critic Tom Orange'sArrangement and Density: A Context for Early Clark Coolidge reprints an excerpt of a letter from Coolidge that confirms Orange's suspicion of the work having arisen via a procedural operation preformed on an Ian Fleming novel: "The Bond Sonnets was an entirely chance work, generated by a random number system from the pages of (I think you're right) Thunderball." While laconic syntax and semantic interruptions lay waste to any linear or narrative reading, the appropriated diction infuses these sonnets with "the intensity of hard Bond," which is to say, the perfect balance between secret agent and binding agent.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


Jerome Rothenberg
Ahadada Books ($12.95)

by Lucas Klein

In his monumental essay "Paz in Asia," Eliot Weinberger chronicles the great modernist poets and translators who never went to Asia—Ezra Pound, Arthur Waley, Bertolt Brecht—and those who did—Victor Segalen, Kenneth Rexroth, and of course Octavio Paz. While the number of western poets who have been infatuated with or otherwise drawn from Asian culture in their poetry is ultimately incalculable, a continuation of that essay written today would have to include "the ultimate 'hyphenated' poet," as Charles Bernstein has called him, "critic-anthropologist-editor-anthologist-performer-teacher-translator," Jerome Rothenberg.

In China Notes & the Treasures of Dunhuang, the Deep Imagist ethnopoet and editor of Shaking the Pumpkin and Poems for the Millennium has published a slim book of poems written in the face of a trip throughout China. Originally two separate publications, the poems present a China at once more real than that imagined by, say, Pound's restrained translations or his historical polemics, and yet very aware of their own exoticism of a historical and geographical subject. In "Beijing: Tibetan Temple," for instance, Rothenberg gives us:

the buddha
in the lama temple,
carved from a single
trunk of sandalwood,
reaches for the roof

an old monk
at the door,
in red,
looks like the oldest
man on earth

Or in "A Closing Note," the final poem of China Notes,

"I am what I am,"
I think, & tell Wai-Lim:

"making our way through China
"like fabled poets of the past,

"we stop to muse upon
"the dead & living,

"you & me both"

Poets like buddhas
with long ears

Despite, or perhaps adding to, Rothenberg's conscious presentation of a poetic China distinct from his forebears, the specter of Ezra Pound shows up on practically every page (the Wai-Lim in the above poem is Rothenberg's travel companion, translator, poet, and author of the seminal Ezra Pound's Cathay). Rothenberg even seems to try to make up—or at least account—for Pound's fascism, writing through Japan's holocaust of Chinese citizens in "The Nanking Massacre," with lines such as these:

not the distant flowers
but the sword brought down
a thousand times a thousand

While "The Nanking Massacre" presents a particularly horrendous version of what often gets called "cross-cultural relations," many of Rothenberg's poems also strike at the international hybrid nature beneath China's monolithic cultural image. The cover, for instance, shows a picture of two buddhas, one Indian and one Chinese, transmitting wisdom. The image comes from the grottoes of Dunhuang, a northwestern Chinese desert city that was once an international center of trade both commercial and religious. In the second section of his book, Rothenberg writes a poetry for this ancient city, now a remote tourist destination for its medieval caves painted with Buddhist iconography that has remained vivid over the centuries. Through repetition, his poems seem to point not only to China's interplay with India, but also to the American poetics of Allen Ginsberg, such as in this section from "Treasures of Dunhuang (3)":

a paralyzed buddha
a vicarious buddha
a tyrannical buddha
an apostate buddha
an anarchical buddha

an anarchical buddha
a disobedient buddha
an obstinate buddha
a pragmatic buddha
a thinking buddha

If this mantric methodology works best when read aloud (a reading is viewable on YouTube), other sections reveal a more accessible transcendence:

three rabbits
at the center of
a lotus

chase each other
touch & form
a triangle

around which
dancing angels
fly & point

In the end, Rothenberg's China is not the China of urban sprawl, pollution, cheap fakes, and corruption we read about in the papers, nor is it the nationalist argument of development, Great Wall souvenirs, and five-star hotels familiar to casual visitors to China, nor is it the mystical myth of mist-enshrouded mountains and pithy poets from earlier translations. Instead, Rothenberg pushes the western poetic appreciation of China further into the future, cutting through the earlier myth-makings of China while creating a new one, where China is polyvalent, vivid, and above all, a vortex.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007

Vinea Press

Ioana Ieronim

Saviana Stănescu

Nicolae Tzone
translated by Sean Cotter and Ioana Ieronim

Mihai Ursachi
translated by Adam Sorkin with the author
All published by Vinea Press
($14 each)

by Robert Murray Davis

American poets find it difficult enough to reach an audience; poets translated into English find it almost impossible unless their work and lives have been subject to political censorship and persecution. Since 1989, poets in Central and Eastern Europe don't even have that going for them. Fortunately, U.S. publishers such as White Pine and Northwestern University Press continue to publish some of this work in translation, and now Vinea Press (named in honor of the Romanian Dadaist-Constructivist Ion Vinea) joins the effort in trying to present Romanian poets in English.

The poets in the first four volumes released by Vinea represent as broad a spectrum as possible of recent Romanian poetry: there's Nicolae Tzone's long-line surrealist poems; Mihai Ursachi's sometimes vatic and sometimes Biblical utterances; Ioana Ieronim's allusive meditations on love and on the experience of the new world; and Saviana Stănescu's even more allusive, sometimes intensely autobiographical poems, which elude the label "confessional" as they simply note details rather than agonize over them.

Although three poets cannot be said to constitute a trend, Ursachi, Ieronim, and Stănescu have lived in the U.S., know English, and in the last two cases have even begun to write in English. Ieronim and Stănescu, the editors of Vinea and based respectively in Bucharest and New York, clearly realize the importance of American readership—and perhaps envision New York as replacing or at least rivaling Paris as the Valhalla of the Romanian émigré artist. Of course, poems are more significant than trends or schools, and these four poets constitute no school. An illusion of order can be imposed by moving from present concerns and methods backward, not in time but in terms of the authors' sources of inspiration.

The ten poems of Saviana Stănescu's "Tristia: Letters of a Barbarian Woman" contrast the classical male Ovid who carries a pen with the female voice who carries a dagger and asks him to "teach me the amateur the barbarian / the language of your thoughts"; she later contests his view that he has "authored" her,

you've claimed the copyright
of my thoughts and registered
ownership of my desires
as the writer
of my body text

Most of Google Me! depends not only on new technology but on the new world. In the concluding poem, "roMANIA," Stănescu admits that "I wear [my country] all the time / like a hat glued / to my brain" and begs to be left alone because "I want to start / Living." In the title poem, she begins "I had to move into another language / Mine was too small too poor too lazy / Too beautiful but self-destructive / In an old-fashioned romantic way"; perhaps she'll "live a full life / In English without subtitles."

Like Stănescu's poems, Ioana Ieronim's have only question marks at their ends when they have terminal punctuation at all. And New York City is also central to her new vision, in which a poet "from Ovid's city on the Black Sea" gathers disciples from all over the world to search for Eurdiyke "ALL the way back" and to "re-emerge // in this vertical territory of co-incidence, this home to voices / from whole continents... one timeless ditty / in the depths of wilderness in the heart of New York." Throughout the title sequence, New York stands for an energy that is both vital—its pulse reaching "deeper / into the planet's slow / sleepy body"—and threatening:

man's buildings rooted down into the rock
cut the life line
in the palm of the sky
in which charlatans as well as wise men
are reading—the end of the world of course

Ieronim's love poems are not grouped per se, but in the end they seem even more satisfying than her formal sequences. In "The Threshold," lovers "reenact the world's beginning"; her "Valentine," is enjoined to "look out of the window as if for the first time / and look at me as if for the first time." More passionately, in "Charm," "our bodies have burnt several lives," and the poet wonders whether they will leave "this paradise of / Oneness... / painlessly / wrapped in oblivion." Perhaps "Being Read" can be seen as addressed to any reader rather than to a lover, but in the end the distinction is not clear, for "Never have I thus felt this book to be mine / never this terror /of being read // the terror of being."

At least two of Mihai Ursachi's poems deal with migration—not to America, where he actually spent nine years as a political exile, but to the Sun, which in "Migration" is an idyllic place to build a hut and sounds rather like Yeats's "Lake Isle of Innisfree." "No new song seems possible on our planet... let's take our rucksack and shove off for the Sun," away from the sluggish Bahuli that runs, clogged with oil, through his home in Iaşi. Elsewhere, Ursachi is even more expansive, linking himself with artists, languages, media, and catastrophes in all ages because "every speck lost in the extragalactic / void, in the worlds of Anti-Being, carries within it the seeds, the glory / of my march to the stars."

While Ieronim and Stănescu refer to their pasts, they seem less aware of time than Ursachi, who died in 2004 at the age of 63. This comes most clearly in his "Poem in Memory of the Three Peach Pits," where he speaks of youth in which "We didn't set great store by poems," and in the much later series of "Meditation" poems, in which "poetry continues to exist / only when it ceases to exist," one of his former companions has "affliction upon affliction," and the woman whose vagina was like an iris has long disappeared except from memory, which translates her into a muse, so that the poet is "eternally unborn." But in "The Third Meditation, or the Morning of the Magi, with a Reply to Dan Laurenţiu," the woman is apotheosized into "She Herself, the One whom we love," weaving "sublime news," and "dawn announces itself, / its trumpet stronger than death" with "out of the abyss / the star of life is born."

Given Nicolae Tzone's habit not only of dating his poems but in some cases timing the process of composition (e.g., "August 22, 2003, 4:20-5:58 p.m."), one might be tempted to recall Truman Capote's comment on Jack Kerouac's prose: "That's not writing; that's typing." Read as a whole, however, Tzone's volume reveals not just a Whitmanesque poet in the heroic mold but an experimentalist intent, as in "nicolae tzone is writing a poem maybe even this poem," on capturing moment by moment all of his thoughts. The line "i was a great poet today from nine to ten" is probably a more honest observation than most poets would care to make of themselves. Similarly, "absolute masterpiece (1)" is "a secret poem... forever inaccessible to mortals / and gods alike it's only the unborn who can read it / learning how to smile and be reborn"; and later he calls it a "bloody settling of accounts between rival poems." Elsewhere, the "refined virile poem travels / from woman to woman," for woman is "the orchestra maxima."

The reader may not follow all of Tzone's leaps of association—and probably isn't expected to—but over the course of the volume, the author not only teaches the reader how to approach his work but in a sense creates his reader. This is also true of Ieronim, Stănescu, and Ursachi. Given the talents revealed here to American readers, one hopes that Vinea Press will publish more of these elegantly produced volumes by other poets.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


Graham Foust
Flood Editions ($12.95)

by Chris McCreary

Graham Foust's third collection, Necessary Stranger, begins with "1984," a poem whose very title brings with it a sort of ambiguity. Is the narrator of the poem simply speaking about an earlier time in his life when he came to a sort of consciousness? Is the title a reference to Orwell's novel? Is it maybe a reference to the title track of Van Halen's platinum-selling album? (After all, the next two poems, "Jump" and "Panama," take titles from that album as well.) Or is it all of the above? The pleasure with "1984," and with Foust's poems as a whole, is that such points of reference are often allowed to float freely, evoking a range of meanings without limiting the poems.

As in his previous books, Foust consistently works in a compact form that features often enjambed lines holding close to the left-hand margin, and he employs a terse but carefully chosen vocabulary. Within those basic parameters, though, he explores a number of modes. The title of "Shift Change, The Old Pink. Buffalo, New York," suggests that it is an occasional poem, and in a sense it surely is, but Foust doesn't exactly rely on conventional narrative strategies:

I'll have
whatever shadows

you say
I've been having

for the last
blank elixir

of your unborn

With its off-kilter line breaks seemingly replicating the stumbles of boozy speech, the poem is reminiscent of Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man." (It's worth noting, too, that Creeley provides an extensive blurb on the back of the book.) "Apnea," on the other hand, recalls Rae Armantrout, both in the resonance of its multiple sections and its replication of hazy post-dream landscapes ("Mouth what // hovers above / my face, you hang me awake").

While the poems explore a number of different registers, there is a sense of thematic connection to the collection as a whole. One recurring concept is the suggestion of being one step removed from daily experience due to the influence of various forms of media: in addition to Van Halen references, for instance, there may be shout-outs to alt-rock gods Pavement and Jesus & Mary Chain. While music certainly informs the poems, visual media seem to be what most dictates how the speaker processes reality: in one poem, he refers to "a day like / a day like / television," while another states, "here's to music / to be in the movies to."

All that said, Foust does not shy away from a more direct slice of life. One of the collection's most striking poems, "Summer Camp" presents a relatively straight-forward, static moment. In its entirety, it reads as follows:

Haunted crotch-
shot, a slow
cloud scorched across,

ashen. Face was knocked
on into water
over rock.

I am in
a meadow, shitting

While the disturbing images that are juxtaposed are striking, one should note, too, the carefully polished sound qualities within the poem, especially in the stanzas before the "I" is introduced. Dispassionate yet humorous, this poem—as well as the rest of Necessary Stranger—goes down so smoothly, the only danger with this book is reading it too quickly. These poems deserve to be revisited and savored.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007


Noah Eli Gordon, Vinea Press, Jerome Rothenberg, André Gregory, and more...


Reconsidering the World: An Interview with Noah Eli Gordon
Interviewed by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
A prolific younger poet discusses his writing process and the 2007 publication of four collections of poetry.


Vinea Press
Reviewed by Robert Murray Davis
Four new translations of recent Romanian poetry present a broad spectrum of styles and voices.


Necessary Stranger
Graham Foust
Foust’s third collection of compact poems examines the mediated experience of our current culture with a dispassionate yet humorous voice. Reviewed by Chris McCreary

China Notes & the Treasures of Dunhuang
Jerome Rothenberg
An ethnopoetic explorer delivers two slim volumes of poetry in one excellent collection, inspired by a trip throughout China and the specter of Pound’s imagined Far East. Reviewed by Lucas Klein

Bond Sonnets
Clark Coolidge
An important collection from one of America’s most prolific and experimental writers offers eighteen sonnets riffing on the secret agent/binding agent theme. Reviewed by Noah Eli Gordon

The Imaginary Poets
Edited by Alan Michael Parker
Twenty-two American poets each invented a poet who wrote in a language not English and then “translated” one of that poet's works. This book is the result. Reviewed by Stephen Burt


Bone Songs
André Gregory
The legendary theater director has written a unique play that is sometimes called "After Dinner with André" in performance. Reviewed by Justin Maxwell


Rockdrill 8: Via
Caroline Bergvall
Surrealism’s Bad Rap
Garrett Caples
Two offerings of oral poetry deliver voices that are deeply marked, accented, and tuned to the relativity of meaning and expression. Reviewed by Christine Hume


Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead
Alan DeNiro
DeNiro's marvelous characters walk the thin line between other-worldliness and corporeality in his first collection of stories. Reviewed by Rod Smith

Hala El Badry
Badry’s excellent work is both specific and panoramic in its portrayal of a single man living in post-WWII Egypt and the rich history of his village in the early part of the twentieth century. Reviewed by Rudi Dornemann

The Meteor Hunt
Jules Verne
This recently published and more accurate version of the text shows why Verne is still admired by readers today. Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller


Are We Feeling Safer Yet?: A (Th)ink Anthology
Keith Knight
Knight’s single-panel snapshots of politics and current events take an unflinching look at war, torture, and poverty with wit, humor, and style. Reviewed by William Alexander


Neck Deep: And Other Predicaments
Ander Monson
This collection of unconventional, autobiographical essays showcases the wide range of a writer who swashbuckles across genres. Reviewed by Jessica Bennett

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Francine Prose
"Can creative writing be taught?" An acclaimed novelist and essayist poses this question in a world gone mad with MFA programs. Reviewed by Eva Ulett

The Affected Provincial's Companion, Volume One
Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy
This book is not only a witty appraisal of dandyism but an anti-apocalyptic enticement to forge one's own life and world. Reviewed by Maria Christoforatos


The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time
Marshall McLuhan
Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots
Timothy N. Hornyak
Two books reconsider aspects of the world through a new lens of understanding: McLuhan’s recontextualizes Renaissance rhetoric for the postmodern era, while Hornyak’s revises Western ideas of robotics through the lens of Japanese history. Reviewed by Ann Klefstad

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2007 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007