Friday, June 16, 2017

Lit Preview: Larva & Hedge by Pilar Fraile Amador


Entry into the surreal world(s) of this two-book masterpiece may be a bit daunting, but an important clue is left for us, by the poet, in the grass.

Nocturnal trees fell over you
 
pleas of my grandmother weeping esparto
in a house made of silence.

Like the esparto that marks our first tastes of larval life, the poet’s language sprouts up on two sides of the same sea. And like the esparto grass, it is polymorphic, woven into a variety of movements and functions that determine the reader’s position. Moreover, it grounds us in context. Esparto is particularly important in Spain (where the poet is from), especially in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It is a grass endemic to the western Mediterranean that grows on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula and across the strait of Gibraltar in northern Africa—a transcontinental species. There is, I suspect, a subcutaneous political awareness in these books (especially Hedge), but let’s begin at the beginning.

Larva starts with whispers of small things. Close, impressionistic fragments of language trace circles around the “hidden places” of the body. A dissolution of canny logic gives way to feral reason stretching backward for lost enlightenment. An effort to escape the looming presence of death itself. This book ends where it began, having circled back to the inescapable need of all living things. Larva lays a temporal foundation for what follows.

The loose lineations of the first book bleed into the tight, post-apocalyptic blocks of Hedge. There is a perspectival ambiguity here, following a narrative We neither man nor woman, hunter nor domestic, but perhaps young, fragrant, post-human, salvatory. Otherworldly creatures are kept to be slaughtered. And all seems hedged in by some invisible force, some wet protective (re)membran(c)e through which “bones go on falling from the sky”. On the other side of the hedge, the world seems to go up in smoke and flame. Here I know and understand the hedge as a border, marked by groans of global nationalism, war and fascism, exodus, and xenophobia. These alien figures, on both sides of the hedge, are an uncanny reflection of our nomadic present.

along the border of the hedge. the men have climbed
up with harsh liquids. they’ve made wounds in the
trunks. they’ve poured flammable rocks inside.

The men here embody violence and the women, passive measure. But it’s the We, the young and unindoctrinated, that the reader follows on their journey to traverse the Hedge.

Larva & Hedge, marvelously translated by Lizzie Davis, is an explosion of the microscopic and a journey into the post-apocalyptic. Its strange music having built up to blazing crescendo—surreal portrait of a world on fire—concludes with a whimper of an epilogue, dancing over and around the hedge, leaving the reader with an acrid taste. Recognition, perhaps, that the hedge itself transforms both subject and object into the abject. 

Excerpts from Lizzie's translation of Pilar's poetry can be found in TBSR no. 6. Also here and here


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review of "Breakfast"

April 12, 2017

Though this humble reviewer woke on the wrong side of the bed (lingering headache / overwarm / dry scalp) we also woke with a healthy dose of quiet reverence for the absolute transit of things. In yesterday’s lecture on Claudia Rankine’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” we finally lighted on the potent truth that Rankine’s relationship with and nearness to death keeps her from the illusion of life as it’s been sold to us through market capitalism. That nearness to death, nonetheless, does not prevent us from being excited for this morning’s much anticipated, much talked about “Breakfast”. 

Inspired by yesterday’s “Dinner,” this morning’s “Breakfast” featured mid-career performances from the Blackberries (6 oz.),  Greek Yogurt (Greek God / four scoops / non-fat / plain), apple-cinnamon-raisin Granola (Creative Snacks Co.), and the never-on-schedule (but always on time) Cinnamon, performing live. 

Unfortunately we must confess this morning’s “Breakfast,” while featuring an all star cast and stellar production value, failed to live up to this humble reviewer’s humble expectations. 

The Blackberries looked to be in good shape. The Greek yogurt, brand new. Interesting to note: what distinguishes Greek yogurt from plain yogurt is process. The whey is strained, leaving us with less liquid and more protein. A denser/richer product than its more common counterpart. The Granola (prepackaged) tumbled out of its matte-finish, plastic confines eagerly. The Granola’s publicist held a brief press conference after taping had commenced to address questions of wholesomeness. She assured the anxious public that the Granola was in fact, “...artificial flavor, color, and preservative free!" NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP HERE! Announced the publicist before leaving abruptly. Together the trio was mixed and mastered in a remote, New England studio. 

After our first bite, satisfied to see this project actualized, we breathed a sigh of relief. After all the press chatter, blog buzz, and delays, “Breakfast” was complete. And we could now enjoy it while watching reviews of other things on youtube. But after our third bite (we must be honest with you reader) the bowl fell flat. What really had us frowning was the hardness of the raisins which stuck to our teeth and gums like a very very hard and sticky thing.  Eyebrows were raised. Fortunately, after spoon three, it dawned on us that Cinnamon was meant to be present. And so, Cinnamon arrived later than expected for a live performance, reminding us of the health benefits of this wildly touted “Breakfast”. Cinnamon reassured us, all proceeds go to charity

Alas. It wasn’t until the penultimate spoonful that it happened. The explosion of bright berry flavor we so desperately wanted had finally come through. Perhaps too late. This is what we were missing. This is what we wanted more of. 

Our final verdict:
6.7 / 10

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Broome Street Review no. 6 is here!

The Broome Street Review's sixth number is here, finally! After a substantial delay, I am glad to say this beautiful journal is now available for purchase. 

Our AWE issue features new work from: 

An interview w/ Jamaal MayClare Arlington Boyle

TBSR no. 6 also comes with HEDGE
a limited edition chapbook featuring excerpts from Pilar Fraile Amador’s forthcoming collection Larva & Hedge, as translated by Lizzie Davis


To PURCHASE a copy, visit the shop
https://www.broomestreetreview.com/purchase


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Poets on Poetry: Signe Swanson and Julia Madsen


Signe
Can you tell me a bit about your personal journey to where you’re currently at as a poet? How did you get started writing ↦ present day?

Julia
I've often felt uncomfortable talking about myself, in my writing or otherwise. In the Midwest, and perhaps Iowa in particular, where I’m from, there's this thing about extreme humility and humbleness. It's very Protestant I think. But lately I've been trying to break out of this, in my writing at least. I always think of this quote from Richard Hugo's “Writing Off the Subject” where he says “to write a poem you must have a streak of arrogance, not in real life I hope. In real life try to be nice.” Right now, my writing and film work is centered on where I’m from and the landscape, people, and stories that were there with me. I would go into more detail, but at the moment I’m a little protective and afraid to jinx it, so to speak. It’s been inspiring to do this work, and has felt productive in a new way. I would say that my work has moved toward documentary poetry and the personal essay.

I grew up in a rural Amish town with a population of roughly a hundred. My old computer would barely turn on, for the longest time we didn’t have television, and there were no video games or anything like that. It was very quiet. Silence was everywhere, sometimes peaceful and other times it would eat you. But it was a productive locus in which to read and write. A slowness rotating in the field. It’s how I mainly occupied my time.

As an undergrad I became particularly obsessed with poetry. I would check out something like thirty books of poetry from the library each week, trying to read as much as possible and writing when inspired. That kind of obsession. A lot of self-teaching. But at Brown, of course, I came into contact with electronic writing, which was pivotal for my thinking, writing, and creative practice in general. I’ve always had a strong interest in film and visual work, and my experience at Brown really incited me to pursue this. I took a brilliant course on essay film with Carole Maso that planted the seeds for the project I’m currently working on, which is essentially an essay film. And of course working with C.D. [Wright], Forrest [Gander], and Cole [Swensen] was absolutely insightful, and I am so grateful and appreciative for the time I had with them. C.D.’s documentary work in particular continues to echo and reverberate, it’s like a steam train that’s always coming down the tracks, rattling skulls and windows and anything else that might break. That’s the power of her language.

Signe
Something I have at times struggled with is how accessible to make my poetry. I feel like poetry missed me before coming to Brown because it was an abstraction too removed from the immediacy of my home culture, and I sometimes fear that as I grow to be deliberate with language I lose something with people at home who have thick accents and use a lot of idioms, haha. Have you ever felt this way? Could you speak a bit to the experience of working class language as it relates to poetry?

Julia
I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve come to poetry, and are thinking about important issues like class and voice – issues I certainly think about as well, and I think it’s safe to say that, as you know, there are no definitive answers. But this is where, to my mind, the role of the documentary and documentary poetics comes alive. I am so inspired by the work of documentary poets like Mark Nowak, who focuses on class and capitalism. I love Shut Up Shut Down and the way he uses the archive as a means of gathering and amplifying working class voices. In my practice, documentation involves inquiry and question asking. It involves research of all kinds, including talking to people about their daily lives and experiences. I’m genuinely intrigued by people and their stories and the way they tell them. In interviewing people from home, there’s something very grounded in the experience, perhaps different from the abstraction to which you are referring. Although, as I’ve already touched on, this is somewhat of a newer practice for me. In the past my work has been more theoretical, conceptual, etc., and in many ways it still is. I think that all of these registers are important for me to feel like my practice is running on all cylinders, so to speak. But certainly there are rarefied, sequestered, removed, and privileged aspects to the history of poetry that I’d like to think can change and are changing. 

Signe
In relation to the last bit, I’ve definitely struggled in the past with relying on place in my poetry. I think a lot of first-generation college students at Brown feel an attachment to place and local identity in a way that reflects class anxiety, or at least that was a big part of my freshman year experience. This semester I’ve been really interested in the poetics of place, namely reading William Carlos WilliamsPaterson, Charles Olson’s MaximusPoems and Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston, all of which instrumentalize working class language/identity in a kind of unnerving way. How do you conceptualize place as a poet?

Julia
Oh, I love all of those books you mention! I’m really glad to hear that you are thinking about the role of place alongside such tomes and compendiums of fluorescent poetry. Susan Howe is another poet I admire whose work has focused on place and documentation. I’ve watched so many brilliant essay films on place—Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg come to mind. And of course Robert Smithson’s work on location. Place is such a character, isn’t it? A place has history and is haunted by history. A place ages, changes, develops, degrades. As a first-generation college student I absolutely understand feeling an attachment to place and local identity, as you mention. I think that this is an attachment out of which evocative art can be born. It’s a sort of passion. There’s so much beauty in local identity or what one might deem commonplace. There’s much to uncover and/or recover, as well as that which simply cannot be uncovered or recovered. The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre and Postmodern Geographies by Edward Soja have been pivotal for me in thinking theoretically about space, place, and social issues like class. Baudrillard’s America and Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, too. A lot of my work on place comes back to something very simple, I think, and that’s the American Dream. David Lynch’s films are useful in meditating on this. The places I am drawn to seem to simultaneously (and curiously) uphold and show flaws inherent in the American Dream.

Signe
A more general question: how do the various communities you’re in, influence your writing process?

Julia
I could begin by talking about my family and community back home—a community that certainly influences me visually. So many moments and images from childhood and home crop up in my mind when I’m writing and working. It’s both settling and unsettling. There are dark moments. I suppose I could broadly define this as the Midwestern Gothic. It’s hard to describe the feeling of sleeping alone in an old creaking farmhouse with nobody around for miles. And what if a stranger rings the doorbell in the middle of the night? That’s happened. It splits the silence. And of course worse things happen—you don’t need to look far to find what the fields and snow and silence covers, you just have to look. Being back in academia at the University of Denver and the poetry community here has been so helpful in thinking about the importance of our stories, even when we think that they’re somehow not good or interesting enough. It has allowed me to sharpen my instincts.

Signe
While reading “LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW BEGINNING WITH COMMERCIAL” I started thinking about private versus public thought and experience. How do you see the line between public and private manifesting in culture and in poetry’s reflection of culture?

Julia
I am very influenced by the Situationist movement and theorists like Guy Debord and The Society of the Spectacle. When I think of the public sphere I tend to think of mass media and Debord’s focus on the social relationships between people that are mediated by images. In the poem you mention, there is, to my mind, a blurred distinction between public and private in relation to mass media, the latter of which relies on the visual, the spectacle. The image, broadly speaking, is endlessly fascinating to me. It is both outside and inside—our capacity for vision is a complex relationship between the outside world and the function of our brains. The poet Ronald Johnson has a great interview with the filmmaker Stan Brakhage where they discuss the evolution of sight from the reptilian brain—something about how light created the capacity for sight. I love the image of light pouring onto the ancient, reptilian brain. And this is perhaps how mass media attempts to get ahold on the life of the mind, our innermost thoughts and desires. This is how mass media can liquidate us.

Signe
What do you think technology’s role is in poetry: now and in the future? Do you see technology impacting the accessibility of poetry?

Julia
I’m thinking of a quote right now from C.P. Snow, that technology brings you gifts with one hand and stabs you in the back with the other. Which reminds me of Derrida’s essay on technology as pharmakon, both cure and poison. To illustrate his point he discusses written language and documentation as a technology and prosthesis for memory that actually enables us to forget. And then there’s Heidegger digging deep into the meaning of techne as poesis and “bringing forth.” Both technology and poetry are acts of bringing forth, of revelation. How can they work together to bring forth stories, images, voices, etc., in innovative ways, and how can they work to disseminate these in ways that might increase poetry’s accessibility? I think there are many answers and the question itself excites me!


•••

Signe Swanson is a second-year student at Brown University, where she is studying Literary Arts and Comparative Literature. Her writing is influenced by her experiences with place, class, and translation.

More of Julia Madsen's work can be experienced >>> here


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Views from the Tower: Election 2016

by Andrew E. Colarusso



Many of us, people on the outside of what's inside, are feeling today like we've been let down. Like we've been told (again) that we are collectively unwelcome in a nation that consistently demands our labor. On more than one occasion I've heard it said that election disappointment felt like the heartbreak of a first love lost. Thankfully, hearing it from others validated and gave expression to exactly how I felt on Wednesday morning, leaving my home to face a seemingly different America. My chest was constricted, my psyche excessively sober, and somewhere, elsewhere within me, I felt torn, returned to the irreparable fracture of an inherited nullity. The loneliness, I'm ashamed to say, felt familiar. Heartbreak—and in that way specific to romantic heartbreak. I perceived my own feeling as selfish, even detestable. Why? Why should I feel this heartbreak when, cognitively, I recognize there is much political work to do in the wake of a devastating verdict? 

In an unfortunately insidious way, nothing had changed between Tuesday and Wednesday. What an electorate expects and desires in their candidate is a representative of its best interest. It's part of democracy. And though our Democrat (who ironically resembles a republican elite) won the popular vote, the electorate decided on the Republican (who's ironically run, in my opinion, a campaign built on democratic rhetoric). Republican voters had already decided they were tired of the otherness parading itself in the halls of governmental authority, in media, in all channels of power—buying into the notion that a black President meant the end of American racism. These voters felt their tax dollars no longer served their best interest and found clarity in a figure who voiced the worst of their frustrations (despite himself not having to deal with any of these frustrations on a daily basis). Racism, sexism/misogyny, chauvinism—all of these things, despite their never having disappeared, have reared new ugliness into the American socio-political landscape. This election was certainly a reminder of what skeletons remain trapped in the closet of American democracy. 

But why this heartbreak? And why my negative self-perception of this feeling? Well, I think this has to do with the erotics of national identity. As Audre Lorde reminds us, the erotic is a form of power. 


THERE ARE MANY kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. 

The erotic, as you likely already know, is a term derived from the Greek embodiment of desire, eros—it is a term specific to sexual/romantic love (as opposed to other expressions of ancient Greek love: agape, storge, and philia). More broadly, eros is desire writ large. It is to want. That we feminize the erotic is a truth often unacknowledged. And as a man (conditioned to reject the feminine within me), I was rejecting what came from my proper spirit. 

We all live in this country in hope that we might be invested in the poetic project of inalienable rights and the pursuit of happiness. And for many of us this translates to a desire (an erotic) to be American, to be received as American, embraced as American. This heartbreak is the feeling that one is helpless in the face of patriarchal oppression, that no amount of sweet talk or apologizing can seem to fix, that the sincerest desire of the heart is ignored, unrequited, disparaged—left to fester in what Lorde (and later Spillers) refers to as the pornographic. I return regularly to this passage by Lorde:


When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd. 

We are not without power in this. It has everything to do with a desire for fulfillment in the face of structures and continuums designed to rob us of that well-spring of power. This election was no accident. Things may get worse before they get better. In fact, some of us may never be American, may never receive or be received by America (as it so happens, some of us were never constitutionally considered human). But one thing is certain, we are not without power and we should not be made to feel anything less than divinely constituted and whole. We will not be moved.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Kissing the Frog(s)

Kissing the Frog(s)
On Love and Pokémon, 
Schopenhauer and the Masuda Method

Luckily we were met by ordinary devotion. 
—D. W. Winnicott
Did you teach him how to surf, is perhaps where it started. It’s 1998. Sheldon A. Brookner. P.S. 135 on Linden Blvd. Brooklyn, New York City where they paint murals of Biggie…You’re sitting at a collapsible cafeteria table, rapt in classmate conversation, each of them bubbling with excitement over something. Some new thing. You’re not sure what. Curious, you ask: what’re y’all talking about? 

You dunno Pokémon?

Shortly thereafter you acquire as a gift from your father Pokémon Blue, the one featuring on its cover the giant blue turtle with the cannons on its back. As it happens, your parents only learn about the games overtly Bio-Darwinian themes (evolution, genetic signatures, and later, breeding) after you’re knee deep in the game’s consuming (consumerist) time-suck. In fact, the game becomes controversial (just as Harry Potter would) with Christian conservatives and you begin to feel compromised. This will happen later with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Remember Hot Coffee? No,  of course you don’t. 

But back to Pokémon— On that day, you crack the box open reverently and slide the blue cartridge into your beloved Game Boy. The same day your father, ever the big man, gets into an amusing confrontation with one of the local bloods. You don’t find it funny, but later see the irony in your choice of Blue version over the more popular Red. Little Orphan Annie is blaring from trunk subs as Jay’s Ghetto Anthem climbs the charts. You notice more and more unmarked white vans making their neighborhood rounds. 

And while all of this is happening, Professor Oak (the game’s Dantean/Virgilian psychopomp) cordially greets you, welcomes you to the world of Pokémon, asks your name…

Sunday, August 28, 2016

[Sitting] Endurance Against the Odds [of Publication]

In light of Colin Kaepernick's recent protest, choosing to sit during the national anthem, I wanted to bring out this old piece I shared as a guest speaker for the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop in spring of 2014. In it I posit that the act of sitting down, for black people in America, is nothing short of revolutionary. It has been since (and well before) Rosa Parks, and continues to be in light of circumstances. For those of you that don't know, this happened also in the 1970's NBA with Rucker Park legend Charlie Yelverton.

***