Poetry, Review, Spring

Review: On Hours by Mark Rahe

On Hours Front Cover

Reviewed by Kenji Liu

On Hours by Mark Rahe is like the poetry memoir of a religious hermit, but one who doesn’t mind living a little closer to town than usual.

There’s a focused, contemplative quality to the narrator’s general orientation to the world, observing what’s directly in front of his face and never straying too far from that starting point. Each poem is complete in its capture of a particular moment, often ending with a quirky tangent that lands the narrative in a surprising place.

Many of the poems feature gentle yet remarkable shifts in relationship between observer and observed—a turn where an object is lightly animated, personifying a desire. For example, “The Cloud of Promise” seems to describe a plateaued period in the narrator’s life, for example by using a negation (“The door is closed. There is / no door”). But then the poem turns in the final line, declaring “This cloud is promising[,]” introducing an inanimate object that offers a way out of the preceding tension.

Like “The Cloud of Promise,” the poem “Down” interjects an unexpected quality that retroactively evokes new meaning. “Down” takes us down a tub drain with a visual and descriptive swoop, carrying the reader through a compost-pastoral to deposit us into “While my fan oscillates. // While my sweaty chest is bare of you.” — suddenly casting the previous stanzas in an erotic light.

For me, the highlight in this collection is “Man at Baseball Game, Alone.” It’s a great study in how the environment in a story is its own character, with peanut shells, wax paper, popcorn, setting the stage of what for many people is a day of relaxation. Then, with a single observation, the poem shifts:

The cuffs

of the father
are the return of a hand to your face.
The ballpark is the place

where he never bruised you.

After this painful turn, the preceding pleasantness of baseball game sounds are reframed as if a mute button has been released—suddenly “Everyone yells, everyone spills / trash.” The final sentence, “You came here to find / something gentle” becomes a plea.

The attention On Hours brings to the minutiae of life is basically gentle and non-judgmental, and many of the poems in the first two sections are almost a Bashō-like travelogue, though not because a lot of physical movement happens.

Still, these poems are not without want or need. The third section shifts into a few harder topics, such as death or alienation from a loved one—though it doesn’t stray too far from the quirk of the previous sections. Here, the collection’s matter-of-fact tone works by serving as a scaffold on top of which feelings unfold. The emotion of it is contained, but a kind of passion still radiates from underneath, demonstrating how affect can be evoked without being too obvious.

On Hours is relaxing, like following the familiar wanderings of your own mind during a warm afternoon. It’s low in drama, but high in interesting turns and shifts, making it a quick but rewarding read.

The characters animating Rahe’s poetry become interlocutors and sounding boards for the narrator’s tangential musings, all of which eventually return to land in just the right place.

***

KenjiCLiu

Kenji C. Liu is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey, now in Southern California. His writing and art arises from his work as an activist, educator, artist, and cultural worker. A Pushcart Prize nominee and first runner-up finalist for the Poets & Writers 2013 California Writers Exchange Award, his writing is forthcoming or published in The Los Angeles Review, The Collagist, Barrow Street Journal, CURA, The Baltimore Review, RHINO Poetry, and others, including the anthologies Dismantle and Orangelandia. His poetry chapbookYou Left Without Your Shoeswas nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. A three-time VONA alum and recipient of a Djerassi Resident Artist Program fellowship, he is completing a full-length poetry book. He is the poetry editor emeritus of Kartika Review.

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Interview, Poetry, Winter

Episode #113: W. Todd Kaneko, author of DEAD WRESTLER ELEGIES

Episode #113! Featuring an interview with W. Todd Kaneko, author of DEAD WRESTLER ELEGIES.

KANEKO_Photo2_Color_web_250

W. Todd Kaneko is not cool enough to be a rock star, not tall enough to be a professional wrestler and not virtuous enough to be a super hero. He is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays and stories can be seen in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, Barrelhouse, The Collagist, Paper Darts, Menacing Hedge, Blackbird, The Huffington Post, Song of the Owashtanong: Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century, 99 Poems for the 99 Percent, Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse Magazine and many other journals and anthologies.

He holds degrees from Arizona State University (MFA, Creative Writing) and the University of Washington (BA, English). A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, his work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He is currently an Associate Editor for DMQ Review and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Originally from Seattle, he now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the writer Caitlin Horrocks.

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Poetry, Review, Spring

Modern Geographies and Other Intimate Objects: Feliz Lucia Molina’s Undercastle

undercastle_cover 

Reviewed by Feliz Molina

For those in search of celebrated 90s nostalgia, imitation Elvis, karaoke, and intimacy of touchscreens, Feliz Lucia Molina’s Undercastle provides a dedicated homage to the collective static of a transient life that hops from “palm tree electric/ post-heart” California to Manila of “mega mall hording leftovers from America” (redacted), accumulating these object-memories. For as much as the collection lingers on memory, it is also as much about the obstructions and possibilities of technology and reference in the present—the self that cannot untangle itself from time, space, and distortions. This resonant effect is preempted with a trifold of postmodern wisdom in the forms of Emmanuel Hocquard, Hélène Cixous, and Alice Notley whose gathered presence suggests that linguistic static is significant to this work and that its poems will try anyway to “enter that world” despite interference.

Though this opening sets us up for obstruction, the subtle humor and conversational engagement of the ensuing poems establish an arc that welcomes a reader like a fellow passenger onboard a flight that makes pit-stops at “Strip Mall Heaven” with “Saint Lucia patron saint of contact lenses” and the “Hologram Lover Hotel” of the titular poem, “Undercastle.” For a collection that deals so thoughtfully with place, these landmarks serve as points of hyperreal observation in which the literal and the metaphorical become indistinguishable manifestations of anxiety and desire. If anxiety is provoked by the relentless capitalist and consumer-driven culture that makes the Sunglass Hut feel suspect in “Dear Jean Baudrillard,” then surely there must be longing for that which makes the world bearable. Molina names desire as the impulse that cuts through the interferences and what makes this particular brand of longing unique is its inextricability from interference. In “Marginalia as Balcony or Swimming,” Molina writes, “We were users and swimmers and lovers,” lending credence to all forms of labor that make up a life or living.

While desire is a strong impulse throughout the collection, what prevents Undercastle from falling into the trappings of the overly sanguine is the occasional lightness with which it imbues its deep longing. In “Teddy Ruxpin,” a young girl is perturbed to find that a sibling has put an MC Hammer tape into her stuffed teddy bear. What ensue are a girl’s quietly funny and unexpectedly sweet attempts to reconcile her upset with a moment of sexual awakening, culminating with her masturbating to MC Hammer’s “Turn This Mutha Out” as it blares from her beloved bear. This admission is no simple corruption of the famed childhood toy of the ‘90s, not when its tender prose seems to logically point us to the inevitability of this gesture. Similarly, “Instant Ramen Instant Message” expresses such deadpan humor in its description of “Skype nannying,” which includes one hundred and seven nationalities of children and showing off a fourth tallest TV tower in Europe located in Berlin. It’s a poem that’s very much about how a community or home forms despite the challenges of distance, which is the twinned difficulty of globalization and spotty internet connection. For as grand as these problems may seem, Molina offers us the final words “a small red heart,” a gentle offering for a patchwork life.

In addition to the charged sincerity of the text, there is also the strikingly eerie yet gorgeous cover photograph of Undercastle taken by Japanese photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi, which features the poet and her partner in an entangled embrace wrapped in a plastic bag with the air suctioned out of it. It’s a concept that might make a claustrophobic heart queasy, but its gesture is also resonant with the collection’s brave tenderness. It takes a great leap of faith to give one’s body to stillness and the terrifying enclosures of plastic. We too need to be this bold and strange and intimate.

***

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.

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Poetry, Review

On Race and Art: Failures, Difficulties, and the Attempt

racialimaginary

Reviewed by Muriel Leung

Over 40 writers and 12 artists contributed essays and artwork to the discussion of race and the creative imagination in the forthcoming collection, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (Fence Books, 2015) edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. In 2011, Rankine penned an open letter for the New Media Poets website on race and art and gathered writing from a wide array of writers on the subject that eventually became this larger project of creative responses to a complicated and divisive issue. That the focus is on the “imaginary” points us to its double usage—at once referring to the imagination that powers an artist’s ability to invent as well as the tenuous definition of “race” in the fraught political history of its understanding in the U.S. As Loffreda and Rankine state in their introductory letter:

What we mean by a racial imaginary is something we all recognize quite easily: the way our culture has imagined over and over again the narrative opportunities, the kinds of feelings and attributes and situations and subjects and plots and forms “available” both to characters of different races and their authors. The racial imaginary changes over time, in part because artists get into tension with it, challenge it, alter its availabilities. (Loffreda & Rankine 2014)

By compiling these letters, essays, and art, the collection’s editors create a space for a necessary conversation that presses upon the urgency of both white artists and artists of color to speak on the stakes and consequences of the “racial imaginary.” They discuss the familiar trappings of artists creating art about race that, despite malicious, neutral, or benevolent intents—factors that are arguably futile but nevertheless occupy a great deal of space in debates about race and art—perpetuate and cause injury. The purpose of this collection is not to embrace the watered down politics of diversity and tolerance in the name of a totalizing “humanity” that erases how differences become violently declared in the embodied experiences of people of color in the U.S. bur rather highlight the various failures in attempts to talk about race and art and how these failures can ultimately be more generative than silence.

The scope of voices across this collection showcase a brilliant eclecticism of views on race and art with each artist possessing shared determination to (1) speak thoughtfully and honestly on race and the creative imagination (2) challenge harmful reproductions of racism, sexism, classism, and other institutional forms of violence in writing and consequently in our lived experiences (3) shift the conversation on how we talk about race and art away from a set of prescriptive tactics and more towards openness and possibility that does not preclude the responsibility with which we regard each other’s humanness—or as Loffreda and Rankine state, “history is not an act of the imagination.” It is perhaps this last objective that is often greeted with contention for what some would argue as a challenge to the presupposed limitless quality of art-making. For every argument that eschews the significance of responsibility in art-making, there’s a perspective that directs us to the debilitating detriments of this thinking. Such is the case in Ronaldo V. Wilson’s account of being accosted by police at a Los Angeles gas station for being a black man driving at night and the negotiations one makes at the moment of this violent occurrence; how every instance after is an attempt to grapple with this trauma, “of constant interpolation, slipping in, where one slips away, examining how one escapes and begins to process the story of survival, from contrition to understanding.” It is what Hossannah Asuncion calls the dilemma of “choosing a violent failure or a violent failure—to say something or to not say something” in her struggle to write about race. The stakes for an artist of color are written into flesh, through embodied experiences with race in the U.S. It is a privilege to evade the responsibility of examining race in one’s own art. Or as A. Van Jordan questions, “If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race, what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?”

It is important to note that this collection honors the rage, frustration, sadness, and determination of the artists of color represented, especially as these responses converse with the admissions, accounts, and critiques of white artists. Rachel Zucker opens with the French origin of the term “essay,” which means “to try” and as such, her essay reads as an attempt through footnotes and admissions to ascertain where her reasoning fails as she grapples with her identity as a Jewish woman writer and when “This essay is starting to feel like a white apology.” Frequently, white artists in this collection point out when their tone exacts their racial privilege as is the case when some critique the way they fall into the trap of congratulating themselves over even broaching the topic of race when the artists of color must contend with greater pressures to do so everyday. Kristin Palm ponders “where, in [the writing] community, is the room for stammering and stuttering? For humility?” Her question alludes to the fear that most white artists evade the topic of race because of the absence of accountability structures. Yet this “stammering and stuttering” feel necessary and can be productive if white artists are open to engaging with their failures to speak.

The Racial Imaginary shifts the balance of the conversation from modes that tiptoe around white privilege without challenging the power structures in place that make race such a volatile point of discussion. In the organization of the collected writings and artwork, we are led through a series of artists acknowledging that their thoughts on race are always in progress. The collection’s refusal to propose a fixed idea of race—by doing so would reinscribe the injury of homogenizing its very complicated notions—concludes with Dawn Lundy Martin who forges an analogy between the mixed company onboard her Greyhound bus trip and the ways different racial identities can coexist alongside one another. Or more eloquently stated: “You’re all in this shitbox together.” This gesture is composed of as many collisions as there are connections, and here, in this undeterminable space, is where the collection’s offerings end so that the dialogue it has started may continue off the page.

***

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.

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Fall, Poetry

Episode #110: Oliver de la Paz, author of POST SUBJECT, and a review of Sheryl Luna’s SEVEN

Episode #110!  Featuring an interview with Oliver de la Paz, author of POST SUBJECT, and a review by David Campos of Sheryl Luna‘s SEVEN!

Oliver de la Paz, author of POST SUBJECT

Oliver de la Paz, author of POST SUBJECT

Oliver de la Paz is the author of four collections of poetry, Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby (SIU Press 2001, 2007), and Requiem for the Orchard (U. of Akron Press 2010), winner of the Akron Prize for poetry chosen by Martìn Espada, and Post Subject: A Fable (U. of Akron Press 2014).  He is the co-editor with Stacey Lynn Brown of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (U. of Akron Press 2012)He co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry and serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Board.  A recipient of a NYFA Fellowship Award and a GAP Grant from Artist Trust, his work has appeared in journals like Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, Tin House, Chattahoochee Review, and in anthologies such as Asian American Poetry:  The Next Generation. He is the music editor for At Length Magazine and he teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.

The book trailer for POST SUBJECT:

***

seven

Sheryl Luna earned a PhD in contemporary literature from the University of North Texas and an MFA from University of Texas, El Paso. Her first collection, Pity the Drowned Horses, received the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and was published by the University of Notre Dame Press. It was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Colorado Book Award. Her second collection, Seven, was published by 3: A Taos Press in 2013

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2014 Favorites, Poetry, Winter

2014 Favorites: Scott Wiggerman

It’s that time of year!  We’ve asked guests and contributors we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2014 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.

This post features poet and editor, Scott Wiggerman, co-editor of Wingbeats II.  He writes:

In no particular order, here are some poetry books published in the past year that impressed me in various ways:

boss

  1. Victoria Chang’s The Boss (McSweeney’s, 2013)

Once I got into the rhythm of Chang’s unpunctuated quatrains, I couldn’t put this book down. “The Boss” is a shifting character in every poem in this fascinating collection, sometimes literally a boss at work, sometimes a parent, sometimes the poet herself: “the square / root of 4 remains 2 just as the square root of / the boss is always the boss.”

  1. Max Early’s Ears of Corn: Listen (3: A Taos Press, 2014)

I came for the poetry, but quickly realized that this book was the perfect introduction not only to the culture of the Laguna Pueblo, but also to its language (many pages include a gloss to Laguna terms). An important, fascinating, and beautifully designed first book published by one of the best of the new small presses.

newtestament

  1. Jericho Brown’s The New Testament (Copper Canyon, 2014)

Indeed, Brown’s book does play off the Bible (and myth), but it’s also a testament to persistence despite the many obstacles that America places in terms of race and sexuality. Gorgeous writing throughout: “Because I am what gladiators call / A man in love—love / Being any reminder we survived.”

  1. Brian Turner’s My Life as a Foreign Country (W.W. Norton, 2014)

While not technically a book of poetry, Turner’s language is so poetic that I’m including this memoir in my list. Nor is it a typical memoir—Turner jumps in time and place, from Bosnia to Iraq to Cambodia, and from the perspectives of his forbearers, as well as “the enemy.” Strong and resonant, the book proves that one cannot leave war behind.

  1. Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order (Copper Canyon, 2014)

A long time since Kooser’s last book of poetry, but this was worth the wait, and his brief but precise poems, often centered on time and aging, seemed perfect companions as I turned sixty this year. Deceptively simple, Kooser’s perceptions never fail to connect: “the tree makes its exit with grace, / going down slowly, one piece at a time.”

haiku-in-english

  1. Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W.W. Norton, 2013)

Editors Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns are to be commended for what is my favorite anthology of the year, a first-rate overview of the centennial of American haiku, from Pound and Lowell, through Snyder and Kerouac, to contemporary masters that most people don’t know (but should). Here’s Allan Burns’ one-word haiku: “leaflight.”

My favorite readings of this year? Two of my poetry idols, Jane Hirshfield and Sharon Olds, at AWP in Seattle—wow! Hearing Olds read “Douche Bag Ode” is something I won’t soon forget. Wang Ping reading from Ten Thousand Waves (Wings Press, 2014) was another AWP highlight. Joy Harjo at Poetry at Round Top was spectacular—a reading which included live and pre-recorded music (all Harjo)—and I loved getting to dance with her at the after-party!

Favorite websites? As someone who writes in form a lot and as someone who has been getting more and more into haiku, I’m often excited by the work in tinywords, The Road Not Taken, A Hundred Gourds, and the always quirky Right Hand Pointing. The Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” and the Writers’ Almanac are two indispensable sources of poems that come right to my inbox to start each day. And I love Diane Lockward’s wonderful monthly Poetry Newsletter, the basis for her recent book of prompts, The Crafty Poet.

Bookwoman in Austin, Texas

Bookwoman in Austin, Texas

Favorite bookstore? Just one year old, Malvern Books in Austin is truly an independent bookstore; in fact, they only carry titles from independent presses! Even more significant, they’ve quickly become one of the places to host poetry readings and events in Austin, though BookWoman, one of the country’s last remaining feminist bookstores, runs a close second.

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ScottForWebsite

Scott Wiggerman is the author of two books of poetry, Presence andVegetables and Other Relationships, and the editor of several volumes, including Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, and the brand new Wingbeats II.  Recent poems have appeared in Decades Review, Frogpond, Pinyon Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Good Men Project website, and the anthologies This Assignment Is So Gay andForgetting Home: Poems about Alzheimer’s. He is chief editor for Dos Gatos Press in Austin, Texas, publisher of the Texas Poetry Calendar,now in its seventeenth year. He frequently runs writing workshops, many of which feature exercises from the two Wingbeats volumes.

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Announcements, Comics

Announcement: we’re covering comics on The Blood-Jet!

Color

We’re expanding our coverage to include more comics (sequential art or graphic novels or whatever fancy name you want to call them) on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour!

Why comics?

Rachelle (the host/producer) grew up reading tons of them and then took a class on the graphic novel which renewed her interest in the medium.  Recently, she started teaching a graphic novel class and noticed an infectious  enthusiasm from her students that she didn’t see anywhere else.  She wanted to know more about the medium of comics, the writing and drawing processes involved in comics creation, and the writing and pop culture communities that rally around this medium.   The Blood-Jet Writing Hour wants to be a part of these conversations.

What will The Blood-Jet Writing Hour cover?

We’re interested in comics creators’ writing and drawing processes, the relationship between poetry and comics and how the image is distilled and rendered, and how participating in fandom communities relates to the creative process.  We’d love to cover poets who are interested in the poem-comic, or the visual poem and want to cover the work of Douglas Kearney, Kenneth Koch, Bianca Stone at some point in the future.  (Email us if you’re interested! See below.)

So, what should we expect in the next few weeks?

Plenty!  Coverage from guest bloggers on Comikaze Expo, a comic book convention in Los Angeles, interviews with cartoonists like MariNaomi, Yumi Sakugawa, and more.  Stay tuned, and we hope you enjoy our upcoming content.

 Hey!  I like comics and poetry and all of the things you mentioned.  Can I contribute something?

If you’d like to write an essay that explores the relationship between comics and poetry, or if you’d like to interview a cartoonist, or write a review of a graphic novel, please email us at bloodjetradio {at} gmail {dot} com.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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Fall, Poetry, Teaching

Episode #109: David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman, editors of WINGBEATS II

Episode #109!  Rachelle Cruz interviews David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman, editors of WINGBEATS II.

Music by El Amparito.

Scott&DavidatAgentsConf

David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman

David Meischen has been writing poetry and teaching the writing of poetry for thirty years. He has had poems in The Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, and other journals, as well as Two Southwests (Virtual Artists Collective, 2008), which features poets from the Southwest of China and the United States. Meischen has participated in four collaborative poetry and art shows, most recently Ekphrasis: Sacred Stories of the Southwest (Phoenix, AZ, Obliq Art, 2014). Also a fiction writer, Meischen has recent stories in The Gettysburg Review, Bellingham Review, The Evansville Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Fiction, 2011, and the Talking Writing Fiction Contest, 2012, he has finished a novel in stories and is currently seeking an agent. Meischen is a co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press; he lives in Austin, TX, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.

Scott Wiggerman is the author of two books of poetry, Presence and Vegetables and Other Relationships, and the editor of several volumes, including Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, and the brand new Wingbeats II.  Recent poems have appeared in Decades Review, Frogpond, Pinyon Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Good Men Project website, and the anthologies This Assignment Is So Gay and Forgetting Home: Poems about Alzheimer’s. He is chief editor for Dos Gatos Press in Austin, Texas, publisher of the Texas Poetry Calendar, now in its seventeenth year. He frequently runs writing workshops, many of which feature exercises from the two Wingbeats volumes.

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Fall, Poetry, Review

Feeling is First: Lessons on Resistance in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

citizen

Reviewed by Muriel Leung

Body, language, memory, and feeling reverberate through the landscape of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which aptly begins, “When you are alone and too tired…” From the onset, Rankine establishes the racialized body as an avatar marked by fatigue and affective distancing both as an involuntary response to and means of survival in a world flooded with transgressions. The sense of removal that Rankine’s speaker experiences takes place through a range of experiences from microaggressions (being confused for another black colleague at work, a woman drives to the other side of a parking lot after catching the speaker’s eye) to forms of more explicit violence (Jena Six, Trayvon Martin, the racial profiling of black male bodies). In each moment, Rankine examines where the body fails to catch up with language, when language fails to catch up with memory, and how feeling is mediated when these assorted aggressions puncture the world. Citizen is a call for synchronicity of these parts, proving to be especially necessary in the volatility of current debates about race and institutional violence in the U.S.

Through variations of prose and hybrid text and images, Rankine’s poems are equal parts meditation, questioning, and fury. These parts shape the arc of Citizen, moving us from episodic moments of quiet transgressions to historical accounts to the abstract—and necessarily so to order these variations along a spectrum and not hierarchize the events. By establishing the relationship between the daily concerns of navigating the world as a black body to institutions that propagate violence, Rankine reshapes how the majority of this world views racism. She offers that it is neither just isolated instances nor the issue of authority, but rather what permeates through all these moments, erects dangerous silences, and traumatizes. Rankine writes, “The world is wrong” and then takes the reader through the motions of the body experiencing that moment of transgression: “He said/ what? What did she do? Did I hear what I think I heard?/ Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your/ mouth? Do you remember when you sighed?” The culmination of this line of questioning is a bodily response that distances in order to cope; the sigh is a slight gesture that is ultimately insufficient but what must suffice in that particular moment. Of this contention, Rankine writes as well that “to breathe you have to create a truce—/ a truce with the patience of a stethoscope.” The clinical conclusion of these lines suggest that even in moments of supposed reprieve, the efforts to combat transgressions necessitate a distancing of self from situation as a means of survival.

Sleeping Heads (2006), Wangechi Mutu

Sleeping Heads (2006), Wangechi Mutu

Similarly, Rankine’s use of images throughout the text operates as a means of bridging those affective gaps and becomes a different language in conversation with text. From digital media to traditional paintings, Rankine exposes the reader to a wide range of artistic objects to destabilize the trappings of the distinction between high and low forms of art. She features Hennessy Youngman, a satirical art commentator and YouTube personality, in image and textual discussion, alongside contemporary artist, Wangechi Mutu’s mixed media collages, and concludes Citizen with a traditional oil painting by 19th century artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner. These images speak when speech is not enough or is silenced and often invigorates speech in times of silence. For instance, Rankine gives us two versions of Turner’s painting, The Slave Ship (1840). The first is the painting in full view with the ship in the background and a blurred commotion in the waters in the foreground. The following is the painting zoomed into the commotion, revealing fish and the scattered remains of the bodies of slaves thrown overboard a slave ship. This move on Rankine’s part forces the reader to confront the stakes of the assorted violence that takes place throughout Citizen, to recognize that no transgression is truly benign; that we should stare into the face of this terror, be charged with discomfort, and acknowledge racism’s terrible truths.

The Slave Ship (1840), Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Slave Ship (1840), Joseph Mallord William Turner

Citizen is a powerful follow-up to Rankine’s acclaimed Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and continues the earlier text’s conversation on American racial politics with boldness and incredible insight. Rankine demonstrates once again that we have an obligation to language, to respond to violence in order to make oneself visible. “Language navigates this [hurt],” Rankine writes, and it is “Your alertness,/ your openness, your desire to engage actually demand/ your presence, your looking up, your talking back as/ insane as it is, saying please” that makes up our responsibility to each other.

***

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.

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Fall, Poetry, Review

“A Riot of Surface”: Hannah Brooks-Motl’s The New Years

 

hannahbrooks-motl

Review by Leah Silvieus

Hannah Brooks-Motl’s debut collection of poetry, The New Years, deals with the tension between skating well on surfaces (to borrow a phrase from Emerson, whom Brooks-Motl references frequently throughout the book) and pressing through surface into the meaning-making of memory. Brooks-Motl divides the book into three sections: “Winter Then,” “Properly Speaking” and “Village & Sea.” None of the poems have titles, and the scarcity of end-stops throughout the collection conjures a dreamlike world that drifts from one thought or moment to the next, from seaside hotel to prairie to snowed-in car. The melancholy that suffuses the book is not merely the result of the speaker’s being alone but of acknowledging the distance that the act of remembering necessitates:

We love the new year like an object
Or decide to, filling our hands with the unpleasant snow
To type a thing we must be cold (39)

To remember, in some ways, is to relinquish one’s possession of the past. Allusion is not the original text itself. In fact, allusion emphasizes the reader’s distance from the original. Likewise, memory cannot be the past moment itself. The memories we have today will become ghosts, surface, perhaps even nonsensical:

Ahead of me, there are ghosts
Do I know them
Their names, particular looks, and a certain
Singing nature
It’s possible I have spoken
Nonsense […] (82)

At times, The New Years risks skating away from the reader on its own surfaces. The book generally resists, however, by grounding itself in literary allusion (e.g. “My dear wild boar,” a phrase culled from a letter from Jenny to Karl Marx) and striking images that unite elevated diction with colloquial speech: “What good to speak now to love’s endlessness—like litter over the / prairie.” (74) Perhaps what grounds the book foremost, however, are the candid moments from the speaker’s past that sear through the winding discourse about memory:

The embarrassment once of not knowing what “counterpane” meant
A word a lover used in an email
I wrote back a description of the hotel where I was (14)

Celebrating a new year, in theory, is about specificity: the glowing countdown to the year in Times Square, the televised countdowns of the 100 best music videos of the year, the news highlights. But when viewed in the plural, how quickly the new years blur. What was the top song of 1991? What did the hosts serve at the New Year’s party I attended in 2005? Did I even go to a party that year?  What we remember, we remember in incomplete or sometimes even mistaken glimpses, Brooks-Motl points out. The New Years gains its footing precisely by admitting there is no footing, and in the end, skates away, but not without a haunting final address and inquiry to readers about where we are going, which in some ways, is also a question of where we’ve come from:

The head is your spring and being walked
Through the hills, a black field—
Where is your soft, suburban grotto
To go to, again
Is it handsome (83)

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Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her at http://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

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