13 August 2013


While this website remains online solely for archival purposes, I continue to write reviews and conduct interviews at Vouched Books, an online and real-life organization that promotes small press literature. I began contributing to the Vouched site on 28 March 2013, shortly after this blog went static. You can find a dedicated link to all my Vouched posts here.

11 March 2013

Index of Reviews and Interviews

From 12 March 2012 through 11 March 2013, I read books of contemporary poetry, then wrote and posted reviews of them on this site. In some instances, I conducted interviews with authors of these collections. I would like to thank anyone who gifted me a book; without you're help, this project would not have been affordable/possible. And, of course, I would like to thank all the wonderful poets for writing such terrific work and the editors of these presses for publishing them. Below is an alphabetized list of books with links to the original post. 

Alessandrelli, Jeff. Don't Let Me Forget to Feed the Sharks. Portland, OR: Poor Claudia, 2012.
Alessandrelli, Jeff. Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound. Spokane, WA: Ravenna Press Books, 2012.
Altman, Toby. Asides. Baltimore, MD: Furniture Press Books, 2012.
Baus, Eric. Tuned Droves. Lincoln, NE: Octopus Books, 2008.
Beer, John. The Waste Land and Other Poems. Ann Arbor, MI: Canarium Books, 2010.
Biddinger, Mary. O Holy Insurgency. Pittsburgh, PA: BLack Lawrence Press, 2013.
Biddinger, Mary. Saint Monica. Pittsburgh. PA: Black Lawrence Press, 2012.
Bloch, Julia. Letters to Kelly Clarkson. San Franscisco, CA: Sidebrow Books, 2012.
Brainard, Joe. I Remember. New York, NY: Granary Books, 2001.
Brodak, Molly. The Flood. Atlanta, GA: Coconut Books, 2012.
Chávez, John. City of Slow Dissolve. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2012.
Chopra, Serena. Penumbra. Denver, CO: Flying Guillotine Press, 2012.
Clay, Adam. A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2012.
Cohen, Julia and Mathias Svalina. Route. Brooklyn, NY: Immaculate Disciples Press, 2012.
Cooperman, Matthew. Still: Of the Earth as the Ark Which Does Not Move. Denver, CO: Counterpath Books, 2011.
Copeland, Brooklyn. Siphon, Harbor. Bristol, England (UK): Shearsman Books, 2012.
Courtright, Nick. Punchline. Gold Wake Press, 2012.
Cutter, Weston. Plus or Minus. Salem, MA: Greying Ghost Press, 2012.
Falck, Noah. Snowmen Losing Weight. Midland, PA: Bat Cat Press, 2012.
Fernandez, Robert. We Are Pharaoh. Ann Arbor, MI: Canarium Books, 2011.
Gannon, Megan. The Witch's Index: Spells, Incantations, Poems. Syracuse, NY: Sweet Publications, 2012.
Giampietro, Frank. Begin Anywhere. Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2008.
Gridley, Sarah. Green Is The Orator. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010.
Hall, Joe and Chad Hardy. The Container Store, Vol. 1 and 2. Denver, CO: Springgun Press, 2012.
Hastain, j/j. cadences. Triton Books, 2012.
Jaeger, Tyrone. The Runaway Note. Conway, AR: Toad Suck, 2012.
Karl, Steven and Veronica Wong. Don't Try This On Youe Piano or am i still standing here with my hair down. Atalanta, GA: Lame House Press, 2012.
Klane, Matthew. Isle of Wight / Israel. Iowa City, IA: Self-published, 2011.
Klane, Matthew. Sons and Followers. Iowa City, IA: Self-published, 2009.
Ladewig, Lily. The Silhouettes. Denver, CO: Springgun Press, 2012.
Lasky, Dorothea. Thunderbird. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2012.
Lucas, Dave. Weather. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
Magnus, Magus. The Re-Echoes. Baltimore, MD: Furniture Press Books, 2012.
Martin, Camille. Sonnets. Bristol, England (UK): Shearsman Books, 2010.
Metres, Phil. abu ghraib arias. Denver, CO: Flying Guillotine Press, 2012.
Mirov, Ben. Hider Roser. Portland, OR: Octopus Books, 2012.
Moody, Trey. Once Was A Weather. Salem, MA: Greying Ghost Press, 2011.
Moseman, Lori Anderson. All Steel. Albany, NY: Flim Forum Press, 2012.
Myers, Gina. False Spring. TX: Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2012.
Noftle, Kelli Anne. I Was There For Your Solmniloquoy. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2012.
Pafunda, Danielle. Manhater. Dusie Press Books, 2012.
Peterson, Adam. The Flasher. Denver, CO: Springgun Press, 2012.
Pilch, Jennifer. Profil Perdu: Art School Retrospectives, 1987-1990. Salem, MA: Greying Ghost Press, 2011.
Poe, Deborah. Hélène. Baltimore, MD: Furniture Press Books, 2012.
Olszewska, Daniela. cloudfang::cakedirt. Horse Less Press, 2012.
Orange, Tom. American Dialectics. Oxford, OH: Slack Buddha Press, 2008.
Rexilius, Andrea. Half of What They Carried Flew Away. Denver, CO: Letter Machine Editions, 2012.
Rohrer, Matthew. Rise Up. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2008.
Savage, Elizabeth. Grammar. Baltimore, MD: Furniture Press Books, 2012.
Schapira, Kate. How We Saved The City. Ithaca, NY: Stockport Flats, 2012.
Schickling, Jared. The Pink. Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX, 2012.
Schomburg, Zachary. Fjords, Vol. 1. Boston, MA: Black Ocean, 2012.
Seigel, M. Bartley. This Is What They Say. Louisville, KY: Typecast Publishing, 2012.
Short, Kim Gek Lin. China Cowboy. Grafton, VT: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2012.
Solomon, Laura. The Hermit. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011.
Sturm, Nick. What A Tremendous Time We're Having! Northampton, MA: iO Books, 2012.
Wagner, Catherine. Nervous Device. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2012.
Ward, Dana. This Can't Be Life. Wasington D.C.: Edge Books, 2012.
Williams, William Carlos. Spring and All. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing, 2011.
Wolfe, Rachael. Sauce. Lincoln, NE: SP CE Books, 2012.
Yau, John. Exhibits. Denver, CO: Letter Machine Editions, 2010.

Toward the beginning of this project, I also wrote several posts not related to poetry. On this site, you can also find reviews of Gus Van Sant's Last Daysthe first two albums by Perfume Genius; concerts by Radiohead and Girls; Denver-based establishments Jelly, Great Divide Brewery, and the Clyfford Still Museum; an excerpt from an interview I gave about photography for Open Letters Monthly; and an alphabetical index of poetry reviews I wrote on various blogs before creating this site.

Isle of Wight / Israel

Matthew Klane is a man of many hats: in conjunction with Adam Golaski, he edits Flim Forum Press; and, along with James Belflower, he runs the Yes! Reading Series in Albany, NY.

Klane, though, is more than an editor and promoter of poetry. He is also an accomplished poet who excels at writing minimalist, sound-driven verse. He authored the full-length collections B____ Meditations {1-52} (2008) and Che (2013), both of which Lori Anderson Moseman published on her Stockport Flats imprint.

In addition to his “official” book releases, Klane has self-published several chapbooks, one of which is Isle of Wight / Israel (Self-published, 2011). Originally intended as a gift for his friends when he left Iowa City to move back east to Albany in 2011, Klane produced the chapbook in a limited-run of 100 copies.

The poetry of Isle of Wight / Israel, like most of Klane’s work, is a minimalist writing highly attuned to the sonic aspects of verse and, among other thematic concerns, focuses on the nature of language and poetry. Take, for instance, the poem “The Sonnet”:

I set a pretty peal
of chimes

        T dillo dee

I’m witty and full
of Rhyme
I’m quick I’m sly I’m wry
I’ll write
my bonny-tippled
riffs ripples
sequences different
minnow skittling
of Thyme
surprise! surprise!
a dish of filberts
a mince pie
if I strive to fill it more
the Isle of Wight
will burst
“full / of Rhyme,” the poem “The Sonnet,” as with the entirety of the Isle of Wight, does “burst” with Klane’s musical “riffs” and “ripples” in “quick” minimalist verse. Indeed, as the poet writes in the “Indices into the Midst,” he composes the poem’s in this chapbook from:
Sound stringing
splendid meridian
of mingled
Yes, the poems in Isle of Wight exude a “Sound” predicated upon a certain “finesse” of language that most definitely is a product of a well-tuned ear.

Of course, Klane, it would appear, has a knack for sound because he, in some respects, leaves himself open to the vibrations of the world around him: he is a receptor of sound, transmitting their energies to an audience through poetry. Or, as he writes in “Higher Power”:
I lie in bed
my eyes open
ears open
hear me
The “Higher Power” of the poem’s title, one could argue, is poetry itself and the force of sound that enters into and emanates through/from the body (i.e. the eyes, ears, and mouth) while reading and writing it.

But this collection of poems and their corresponding sounds are not merely art for art’s sake, or sound for sound’s sake, etc. More than anything, Isle of Wight, a self-published chapbook gifted to friends, connects people to one another. No more clearly does Klane highlight the communal intention of this collection (and poetry in general) than in the concluding poem, “Absent-Mind”:
we wind our way
through this
on a quest
of words absurd
and fertile

that we should meet?
Although the poem ends with the interrogative statement, “strange / that we should meet?” we are already well aware of the answer: no, not so strange at all. In our lives and in this world, poets and writers connect through their “words absurd” as “we wind our way / through this / abyss” in the shared “quest” for poetry.

04 March 2013

Plus Or Minus

We’re suckers for the hearts we wish to draw
but can’t or won’t through insistence or fear,
habit or worse, and so, we draw the hearts we see
ourselves loving with. And those we crave
writes Weston Cutter in the poem “We Are The Hearts We Draw,” from his chapbook Plus Or Minus (Greying Ghost Press, 2012). The speaker’s inability to draw a certain heart addresses, to some extent, the chapbook’s central concern: lamenting our unfulfilled wish to love better or stronger those around us.

But the melancholia that imbues these poems does not only stem from the speakers’ inability to love, but also from an inability to be loved. Take, for instance, the poem “Yours, Alaska.” Toward end of this direct address to the forty-ninth state, the speaker says:
                                                     so your
salmon don’t love you enough to visit or
return your call, so the languages with
all those words for snow are dying inside
your grip
While Alaska has many “languages” and “all those words” with which to express itself, the state fails to attract the beloved, who never visits or returns calls. The terms of endearment are left “dying inside” the mouth; or, in the poet’s case, upon the page.

In some instances, the inability to love, or the beloved’s reluctance to reciprocate, appears to be a matter of inexperience. In “Exposure to Various Flow,” the collective voice says:
                   The difference was that none of us on those boats’s edges
had taken our loves up to the top floor of any of those skyscrapers
       whose reflections we floated past + boated through—
               the difference was the captains had,
            did, and while we’d talk kissing and bases the older men
would laugh at us and, arms across their chests, kindly not tell us
what we didn’t know.
The youthful speakers talk rather innocently of “kissing and bases,” missing, it would seem, a fuller expression of love in the “top floor of any of those skyscrapers” above them. The older gentlemen eavesdropping on their conversation won’t tell their junior counterparts “what [they] didn’t know” under the assumption, one would think, that they’ll learn first-hand (eventually) through experience.

During other moments in Plus Or Minus, though, lovers are kept apart for nefarious or malicious reasons. The chapbook’s opening poem, “Casabianca,” narrates one such instance:
                      Love’s a man
watching his favorite bridge
                      catch fire, gust
for gust’s sake, wind because
                      what else is there,
fire grows with elemental breath
                      and if only love’s
burning boy could look back,
                      see the man
at the burning bridge’s edge,
                      say: love is wind
feeding fire, or love’s fire, or
                      love is opening
+ closing some pain.
But “love’s / burning boy” cannot look back and “see the man / at the burning bridge’s edge” proclaiming this fire to be a metaphor for passion, of “wind / feeding fire.” No, when he looks back all he sees is “an old arsonist friend walk away” on the “bridge’s far side,” wave to him, then head “for the stranded / man’s home.” We can only presume the arsonist will either burn the man’s house down, or steal the lover within it. Either way, the stranded man will lose his love to death or someone else. The metaphor of love-as-fire transforms into a new metaphor of fire-as-impediment to the beloved.

And so, given the seemingly insurmountable odds of attaining love, Plus Or Minus concludes with the poem “Virginia is for Lovers,” in which the speaker asks of the Union’s tenth state:
                                    where’s your responsibility to us
lovers, Virginia, those of us who came to and in and on
and for you, looking for something to feast on or fill up with
or be emptied by, for, because of, etcetera
Far from an encouraging response, though, the collection’s final line answers this inquiry with the line: “just like you I’ve never let anyone leave satisfied.” So we wander through this the country searching for love, but lacking the language, knowledge, and feeling to satisfy ourselves or our lovers.

25 February 2013


Toby Altman lives in Chicago, IL where he co-curates the Absinthe and Zygote reading series and co-runs Damask Press. He is the author of the chapbook Asides (Furniture Press Books, 2012) and his poems can or will be found in Rhino, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Gigantic Sequins, Bodega, Birdfeast, and other journals. Toby took some time last week to answers a few questions for me over email regarding his newest collection:

At a reading in Philadelphia during July 2012, I believe you mentioned that you adapted the form of Asides (i.e. a numerical list of propositions) from Wittgenstein's Tractatus. To that end, I wondered if you could address two separate but related issues. First, how do think, at least to your mind, poetry and philosophy relate or interact with one another? What are the effects of their confluence? Secondly, how does the numerical list function within you collection? Or stated differently, how did a numeric list of propositions enable you deal with the subject matter of your chapbook in a manner that other forms would not permit?

I’ll only be able to answer this question in the most gestural terms. Though, perhaps there’s an advantage in the loose pleasures of the gesture when tackling these kinds of abstractions. Perhaps we should think about philosophy as a form of pleasure—or, more precisely, as a technology for organizing pleasure. It’s in this capacity that philosophy has, historically, encountered poetry: as a disciplinary apparatus, designed to organize and moderate the body for political life.

Politics is a logistics of the body: a matter of organizing the shivers and excesses of embodiment. For philosophers in the Platonic tradition, poetry interrupts their logistics, introducing unmanageable bodily heterogeneity into the political community. If the basis of political community is the organization of embodiment, then poetry—which amplifies and unmoors the body—will not just be bad politics, but anti-political as such. The pleasures of poetry actively make war on the political order.

This is—potentially—a damning accusation. The long tradition of political poetics, which begins with Aristotle, might be seen as an attempt to rescue poetry: to justify it to the city without denying its potency over the body. If my own work tends to identify with the concerns and methods of philosophy over poetry, this is in part because I sympathize strongly with the Platonic critique of poetry. I want a poetry which amplifies and unmoors the body, a poetry which is not only useless but actively anti-political. (This position does come dangerously close to a libertarian individualism: maybe it is a form of leftist libertarianism. The challenge will be to insist on the anti-political pleasure of poetry, without negating communal bonds and obligations). 

One last word about the numbers. The chapbook is intended to be both one continuous thought and a series of discrete thought experiments. The numbers are designed to indicate the continuance of a single, unified thought through the discrete poems.

There's quite a bit of food for thought in your previous answer, but your conclude with the claim that the "numbers [within your chapbook] are designed to indicate the continuance of a single, unified thought through the discrete poems." But in Asides, you write:
(16) Imagine a world in which numbers were believe to have bodies. (It is irrelevant for your purposes whether they do have bodies.) Would mathematics be more like arranging the pieces on a chessboard or composing music?

Now imagine a world in which numbers are believed to have souls. Here, addition would certainly be a kind of celestial music.
I was hoping you could address this passage with regard to how this proposition functions, in and of itself, as well as within the context of your collection (i.e. the titled sections are number 1-6, and the individual propositions are number 1-28). What is your investment in mathematics, numerology, etc.? What is your take, generally speaking, about the manner in which poetry has engaged numbers (whether functionally or as a manner of categorization)?

I’m glad you put some pressure on this point. I confess I didn’t fully think through these issues while I was working on the chapbook (it’s old work, dating from my time in college). So the notes that follow on the relationship between numbers and bodies are not authorial; they represent an attempt to read the chapbook beyond the terms and intent of its composition. 

I’d like to start by noting a paradox in the body’s architecture. As Elaine Scarry notes, the body is “effortlessly grasped”—almost perfectly self-present to its possessor: “the most vibrant example of what it is to ‘have certainty’.” But, “the” body is also a linguistic fiction even for the person who possesses it. “The” body is constantly in the process of unmaking itself, slipping into non-being: as it ages, as it sloughs off dead skin cells and hair. As a structure of feeling, the body is perfectly self-present; as a structure of narrative, the body is persistently absent, shifting, unthinkable. This paradox should not be solved or sublimed: it should be withstood. 

Roughly the opposite is true of numbers. In poetry, the use of numbered sections binds the reader into an organized process through the poem – imposing sequentiality and narrative. The device veers, sometimes dangerously, toward certainty: a certainty that forecloses the rifts and aporias of language. But in math, numbers are formal devices, meaningless in themselves. Numbers tend toward self-presence and certainty in narrative; in math, they tend toward the absence and insignificance of pure form.

Now let’s imagine with 21 y/o Toby that the categories of body and number might become unmoored, and populate each other. First, the narrative certainty associated with numbers might leap into the body. The undecidable aporia of bodily decay would be replaced by the certainty and sequentiality of numbered sections of poetry. This would be a religious fantasy: a fantasy of impossible plentitude and presence. (And, as all the sentimental language about “souls” and “celestial addition” implies, this poetry has a more-than-casual relation to the devotional). Or—second, maybe the narrative uncertainty of the body would leap into numbers, denaturing and unsettling the steady progress they imply: an atheistic plentitude of uncertainty. Either way: here is another paradox to be withstood. 

You mention that Asides is an "old work." That being said, what do you think about the chapbook looking back on it through the perspective of today's Toby Altman? How has it held up, to your mind, over time? What about the chapbook still resonates with you? What seems more distant? Finally, when I heard you read in Chicago last autumn, you read (if my mind serves me properly) from a series of sonnets you're working on. How do those poems relate to Asides? Are there aspects of your chapbook that have filtered into your new work, or does the newer resist the poetics and issues of your older work?

The language of this chapbook is embarrassingly lush; it uses the rhetoric of religion, often uncritically; it veers into sentiment and confession, particularly toward the end; it’s restless in invention, maybe obsessively so. These are the basic characteristics of the work, and I feel intensely ambivalent about them now. (Which is to say, I feel about them).

The dissatisfaction I feel with this chapbook is habitual. I never remain invested in a body of work long. I don't think I have—or want—a single poetics: rather I try to work with (and through) a range of strategies, discarding and absorbing methods of writing as my interests change. I turned to the sonnet, in part, because I wanted a way to constrain my voice—which, left to its own devices, tends toward ecstatic hyperbole. I tried to treat the sonnet as an Oulipian constraint: a way of restraining and retraining my voice. Predictably, I’m already a little tired of the restraint. My most recent work attempts to reconcile all these warring impulses—another fantasy of impossible plentitude and presence.