27 April 2012

A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World

Toward the conclusion of A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions, 2012), the speaker of the poem “How to Stop Migration” tells us that he “was once called a nature poet / by [his] mother” (78). We may never know if Adam Clay himself was called “a nature poet” by his mother, but it's easy to see how one could use that distinction to categorize him, at least superficially. Take, for instance, the following images in the poem “A Memory, Forgotten at the End of a Season”:
                                               You hear the birds swarming, 
             you hear the birds flapping their wings
just to stay alive. I know their colors from their song
                         but not their names. 
                                           It is foolish to predict the weather, 
                         which isn't anything that can be held—
                         but still you try to hold it, stubbornly silent, (50)
Yes, trafficking in avian and meteorological imagery leads one to believe that Clay, indeed, is a “nature poet”; but if we label the poet as such, it's important to realize that something unusual is afoot within his natural world: this is not simply a mimetic experience. The speaker of the poem deduces the “color” of a bird through its “song,” exhibiting an extrasensory perception where sound gives way to sight. Likewise, the speaker acknowledges that calculating and documenting nature's trajectory “to predict the weather” is a “foolish” endeavor, but one that he undertakes nonetheless. Moreover, he does so by attempting “to hold it,” as if weather was something he could grasp. Again, the speaker experiences a derangement of the senses, communing unnaturally with nature so as to produce an oddly dislocated landscape.

But Clay does not alienate his audience by immersing them in a completely foreign world; instead, it seems, he bends the contours of the familiar so they are both recognizable and misshapen. For example, in “Natural History” we encounter the following passage:
Centering yourself along unrecorded boundaries,
it's only when you come upon
a creek in the woods that the concept of remoteness 
             dawns on you 
                          as something more than distance. 
The tree is a metaphor for something, as is the creek, as is your sightline. 
              You value landscape for the way it is both certain and changing. (6)
The recognizable but misshapen, or a landscape “both certain and changing,” offers the excitement of difference coupled with the comfort of the known. This not so much a paradox, but the poem's ability to hold within itself two contradictory positions in order to create a beautiful tension, or in Clay's words: “Centering yourself along unrecorded boundaries,” which contains both an anchored focal point and an unmapped margin.

And what of the tree and the creek, which are both “a metaphor for something” else? It would not be a overreaching to claim that they are, in the poem, not only constructions of the poet's mind, but reflections of the poet's mind. Given the aforementioned dislocated landscapes, then, it should come as no surprise that the speaker of these poems declares:
         I am beginning
to think a fragment
is as complete as a thought can be. (38)
Fragmented thought produces fragmented landscapes. But even this fragmentation proves to be ephemeral, as we wait “in anticipation of a fragment breaking down” (43), when all our broken discoveries become “more like a dream // than reality” (54) and reveal that the poems, the words, “the symbols add up...[to] nothing” (72) but the echo of a “splash unseen” (73). And so this nature poet fractures, then dissipates, into a complex landscape where the “weather grows less stable / than us” (3).

25 April 2012

Half of What They Carried Flew Away

In a 2011 interview on Book Slut, Andrea Rexilius mentions that the conceptual genesis of Half of What They Carried Flew Away (Letter Machine Editions, 2012) stemmed from, in part, essays she taught in a composition class “on ways in which marginalized voices speak up to interrupt, or just to enter, and comment on or critique or call out or make visible a perspective previously shut out or unheard within the cultural narrative.” Not surprisingly, then, the tropes of boundary, crossings, and transformation employed by Rexilius echo those found within Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, a foundational text for marginalized voices in the twentieth century.

Joan Pinkvoss, in her introduction to the third edition of Anzaldua's book, describes Borderlands/La Frontera as an “inclusive, many-voiced” (i) text that highlights identities “caught between los intersticios, the spaces between the different worlds” (iii). Similarly, in Half of What They Carried Flew Away, we find:
Furrows are created by circumstance. A type of fluid to recognize transformation. The above does not impose. Inner changes played out in outer terrains. Nothing happens to the image. These borders they live on, interrelated. (35)
The confluence of “inner changes” and “outer terrains,” or the “border” on which they “interrelate,” comprise a zone of transformation wherein identity becomes “fluid.” Rexilius's collection concludes with:
I do not know what it is I am like.

I am above all flight from flight.
I undertake not to represent, interpret or symbolize, but to make maps and draw lines

I am neither a woman nor a man in the light. (89)
The speaker draws maps, escapes along lines of flight, is “neither a woman nor a man,” and admits that “I do not know what it is I am like.” To this extent, the non-gendered voice explores a mutable concept of self and participates in a “shaman aesthetic” wherein the storyteller transforms “into something or someone else” (Pinkvoss xviii); or, in Anzaldúa’s words, enters into “a place of contradictions” (19) located “at the juncture of cultures [and] languages” (20).

The most evident instance of a shaman aesthetic within Half Of What They Carried Flew Away occurs during one of the book's few image-laden passages:
They needed a language to communicate with themselves.
They put bones, pieces of bark, feathers into a tape recorder.
The meaning of the word forehead came out.
They come to the open between each breath.
They breathe out, grow gills and a river pours out.
Storms dissolve in their saliva.
They look up at the vast terrain, They've crossed over. (84)
The transformation of bone, bark, and feather into forehead; or the human body, replete with river water, growing gills: these physical alterations for the sake of “communication” signal an arrival at Anzaldúa’s “place of contradictions” where nature and culture, among others discourses, intersect.

Of course, there are differences between these texts. For example, Anzaldúa claims that the U.S.-Mexican border “es un herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third—a border culture” (25). Not only is this border inextricable from the body, but it is a body bleeding, scabbing, and bleeding once again. In contrast to Anzaldúa’s border as flesh, Rexilius writes:
A sea they say an origin.
I say sea, a place of incest. Holding something at bay.
Place where land and water meet. Bilingual place.
Place of water. Bodiless body. (21)
The confluence of elements, the border between land and water, is a “Bilingual place” just as Anzaldúa posits la frontera to be; but Rexilius's location is “Bodiless.” The speaker reinforces the absence of  a body later in the collection, when she writes: “I have been told, it is unfair to say the word 'body' again. That's fine. It's easy enough to ignore” (35). One writer believes the body to be the epicenter, literally, of the new mestiza consciousness that must be “enacted” and “forever invoked” (89) in the flesh, whereas the other writer chooses to “ignore” the body.

Why, then, does the speaker of Rexilius's book promote material absence at a border? The answer, perhaps, can be found through a question Half of What They Carried asks of its readers: “What is the emanation of the image?” (23), where the image is a body inscribed. For the speaker of these poems, what emanates from the image is “contamination[,] a condition” (25) which produces “a cruel second nature” that places “limits” on one's “distinctions” (26). Accordingly, when a writer “decrease[s]...the images” within her writing, which for the most part Rexilius accomplishes, an “expansion” (49) results through abstraction. Abstraction, conceptualized in this manner, engenders a more protean and, thus, more egalitarian text that creates a fluid subjectivity. Subjectivity, as such, moves with less difficulty across borders, clearing a space for marginalized voices and a critique of dominant narratives.

16 April 2012

Once Was A Weather

Trey Moody's chapbook Once Was A Weather (Greying Ghost Press, 2011) contains a sequence of prose poems, each one titled “A Weather.” We frequently speak about the weather, but rarely do we consider a weather. By preceding the word “weather” with the indefinite article instead of the definite article, Moody challenges us to consider language's minutia and its effects upon the reader; in many ways, such an engagement echoes Louis Zukofsky's belief that the poet must give “some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve” (Prepositions 10).

Such an attention to article usage, between the definite and indefinite, signals a highly attuned relationship with language: word combinations are not chosen in a slapdash manner, but “weighed” with the most exacting precision. In the below video, Moody reads a poem from his “A Weather” sequence for the Route 7 Reading Series at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah on 12 April 2012:

Zukofsky's resonance can be heard at the poem's outset, when Moody asks “Why a,” thus confirming his interest in article usage and a willful, Deleuzian “stutter” between “every position of a or the” that constitutes “a zone of vibration” (Essays 109) Of course, to not consider such linguistic matters, at least for the poet, eventuates failure; Moody makes this clear when he says: “Why weather becomes a lack—language suffers, like you.” While this sentence can be interpreted in several ways, we can read it to mean that “Weather,” when stripped of both indefinite and definite article (i.e. an “a” lack, or a “the” lack for that matter) suffers because it refuses to enter a vibratory zone; thus, its “Music wanes.”

Here's Moody reading another selection from his “A Weather” sequence for the Neon Lit Reading Series in Las Vegas, Nevada on 13 April 2012:

Indeed, these prose poems are “Complex countertops” that frustrate the reader if their access point is meaning, or “Information's information.” But the “lack of insight” is only lack if readers attempt to enter the poem, primarily through the meaning-door; if a reader, like the “Wind,” simply “listens,” then access to these poems becomes much easier.

To further extend the relationship between Zukofsky's poetics and Moody's “A Weather” sequence, consider the following excerpt from Charles Bernstein's introduction to Prepositions +; to his mind, sonic elements:
Do not accompany meaning, neither are they arbitrary nor conventionally associated with meaning: they make meaning. When words are heard as sound, the poetic mode of expression has taken hold. The result is…an acoustically charge poetry…derived from the newly invented. (ix-x)
Yes, sound in both Zukfosky and Moody create meaning and thus produce an “acoustically charged poetry” emitting an atmospheric music ready to be absorbed by the reader.

15 April 2012

Sons and Followers

The fact that Matthew Klane's chapbook Sons and Followers (Self-Published, 2009) praises a “mawky wormbent / whiskey babble” and focuses on men “yammering animal / hosannas” might lead readers to believe that the speaker of these poems embraces an uncouth and primal use of language; such an assumption, though, would be anything but the case. In fact, the poems within this collection challenge us to abide by a strict imperative:
Build your speech
piece by piece.
Be precise—
Be deliberate—
the mortices,
your force-of-habit.
In other words, this first stanza of the poem “Beecher's Bible” asks us to construct a specific linguistic system that, through an overtly conscious engagement with its component parts, produces a well-wrought end-product. The importance of these instructions cannot be undervalued, and the collection repeats the message in varying forms from poem to poem. Whether addressing a poet's need to direct the rhythms of a poem via the metaphor of the horse and wagon:
The hollow clop of
the whip
the wagon.
Or the use of a particular diction via the metaphor of the sheepherder:
we shepherd the words
chattel, dominion, value,
fair sex.
Sons and Followers forwards a belief that while poetry contains a certain “naturalness,” poets must construct, pace, and herd their words within a particular poetic or language usage in order write passages that contain an economical beauty, such as:
sky's the limit, it's
cyan silo's airy cupola,
acres of billowy
Klane's constructivist stance is not limited to his poetics though; it also seems to guide his conceptualization of bookmaking. (Given that he is the editor of Flim Forum Press, it's only natural he would put pressure on the collection's materiality.) The cover of Sons and Followers, for instance, contains no title or author name, merely the image of a vertically-aligned, black rifle in the lower right-hand corner against a lavender background. Such an omission leaves readers absent of some basic information regarding the artifact in their hands. Midway through the collection, the poem “Master Narrative” provides us, perhaps, with the conceptual underpinning of this decision:
Life is
rebellion and retribution.
Rifle the referents,
then, purge definition.
The verb “rifle” reminds us of the pictographic representation of the noun “rifle” printed on the cover, and thus coaxes us into developing a relationship between the two instances. Specifically, the choice to exclude the book's primary identifiers from its front cover acts as a “rebellion” against bookmaking's master narrative, thus robbing (i.e. rifling) the collection of its most elementary “referents,” purging it of self-“definition” and forcing us to rethink the production of the artifact itself.

11 April 2012


Route (Immaculate Disciples Press, 2012), the most recent collaborative chapbook by Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina, contains two poem sequences: “Black Metal & Ice” and “Two Sisters.” The poets composed the first sequence as a series of twelve, relatively short prose poems; they wrote the second sequence in prose as well, but as one long piece without internal titles dividing it into smaller subsections.

The poems in “Black Metal & Ice” tend to be “Fragmentary & obscure” exploring the “infernal regions [and] southern most caches” (13) of the poets' minds in order to create a shared “terra firma” (13), or solid ground, which is populated by such images as “a man of straw & scurrying alarm & a letter iced with waiting & livers of goats” (10). Take, for instance, the opening poem “Natural Death,” which provides an example of one such ground:

The boys twine a garland for judgment & the girls another for the heroic age. Scientific bodies presume something similar to the sound of breaking glass, the power of laying the storm. It is precisely the persons most intimately concerned with blood who are quiet detractors, who damage the explorers' reputation. The storm. The storm abandoned by blood. Outwintered by secrecy, all who meet drop their faces to the earth. The crew, betrayed by large maps, returns to exile. And if they were to die a natural death, pleased with their last words, the after is still the storm. (7)
Although the subjects of the poem “die a natural death” and they are “pleased with their last words,” the poem concludes pessimistically, at least in the sense that a “storm” still rages. The intimation of cataclysm brought on by a storm lingers throughout the sequence in the form of “famine,” (9), “The isolation of a heavy meal” (11), and “a bad heart” 12); indeed, it would appear that “Defeat is certain” (16). But the poets, ultimately, provide readers with a possibility of hope. Within these fractured and “Misshape[n]” (18) vignettes, “Occasional relief crosses” their “unknown surface[s]” (12) and results in a “victory” (18) of poetic impulse, the imagination, and collaborative spirit.

“Two Sisters” follows a more straightforward, but still relatively oblique narrative about, yes, two sisters. The poem begins with the sisters floating on an umbrella “in the ocean's chop” (21) where they “read all the great books & perform them in the bruised sea air” (22). We soon discover, though, that the siblings are on a journey to “the city to find the man who paints the pictures” (25). After arriving at and traveling through the land where they encounter temples, scientists, and caves, the sisters' desire for adventure is “sated” and “they leave in the brick boat” (30).

But even with this loose narrative structure, “Two Sisters” is more painting than story:
Sitting on the chapel steps, the man who paints the pictures braids the pictures together for a bed sheet. When he sleeps the pictures tell each other how they met. They become families, winding themselves into linen. (25)
The above excerpt can be read, to some extent, meta-poetically: the prose poems are braided together by two poets, perhaps from “pictures” or dreams that come to them while they sleep, the fragments of which are found upon waking in the bed sheets and linens. The leftover “pictures” found upon waking allow for them to “crawl inside [the] echoes” (29) that remain and preserve the memory of “how they met.” But more important to this collection, it would seem, is the braiding-effect that the collaborative process offers. While exploring “the dim frontier” (23) of poetry, integrating multiple perspectives into a poem creates a more expansive vision because: “The smaller sister sees everything from the feet to the waist” (24), whereas “The larger sister sees the pictures from the waist up” (26). Through braiding their visions, the poets offer us a more complex and complete picture.

09 April 2012

Open Letters Monthly Interview

The April installment of Open Letters Monthly went live one week ago, and editor John Cotter interviewed me about photography for the issue, in addition to including some photographs and a collage. Below is one of the images and part of the first round of Q-and-A. The entire interview and be found here.


OL: You have a tendency to frame one object in your pictures by way of a second object, to comment, in effect, on the moon by way of the barn, or on the sea by way of the Jersey Ferry. You do this by not only foregrounding the first object, but by representing it only partially. I’m put in mind of the East Asian dictum about showing the power of a mountain (or, in Hiroshige’s case, a wave) by depicting in only partially. I note this in your poetry as well, or at least in Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, where your long footnotes frame the poems above them. To what extent do you think about this process as you work?

JW: Well, I guess I don’t think too much about anything when I’m taking photographs. Not that whatever I shoot is random, but I don’t actively consider the subject matter in a literary manner. Instead, I look for abstract lines or interesting color patterns that, to my mind, would make an interesting composition. By interesting, I mean formally compelling. For example, the partial image of the boat foregrounded against the Atlantic Ocean that you mention. I framed the bow in such a way that an abstract line forms from the far left edge of the photograph and points to the layered background, guiding the viewer’s eye along a particular path. By opening up the camera’s aperture as wide as I could, I was able to keep everything out-of-focus accept for the New Jersey boating license tag; this formal characteristic, coupled with its distinctive color and its proportion relative to other elements, attracts the viewer’s attention first. Then, as I mentioned, the eye follows an abstract line toward the bow, then toward the layered background. I love that background because there are at least seven different layers of coloration. And since those layers are out-of-focus, the viewer processes them, primarily, as a sedimented color scale, not as a land/oceanscape that represents (not that it isn’t representational; that just isn’t the primary concern).

08 April 2012

Siphon, Harbor

Brooklyn Copeland's first full-length book Siphon, Harbor (Shearsman Books, 2012) opens with an epigraph from Lorine Niedecker that reads: “My life / by water— / Hear.” The excerpt, which is the opening stanza of the latter writer's poem “My Life by Water,” is an apropos introduction to the collection for several reasons. For starters, the poetry of both Copeland and Niedecker share an affinity for place-based writing, specifically the natural world's watery environs. In the introduction to Collected Works, editor Jenny Penberthy tells us that “Niedecker wrote of watery, flood-prone Black Hawk Island near the town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where she lived” and that her “attachments to the place ran deep” (1). Copeland's attachments to the Middle West run deep as well, evidenced in the acknowledgments page of Siphon, Harbor, which informs readers that particular bodies of water, such as Morse Reservoir in Hamilton County, Indiana; Long Lake in St. Joseph Country, Michigan; the White River on the north side of Indianapolis; and Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, Michigan (73), are all referenced within the book.

Although these locations serve as site-specific markers, they also act as something more. In an interview she gave recently at TriQuarterly Online, the poet notes that she “came home to [Morse Reservoir] from Oxford, England, and was both so sad over the breakdown of [a previous] relationship and so comforted by the reservoir that the poem is in fact me reflecting and working toward renewal.” The reservoir, then, is both a physical and psychic location from which reflection and renewal spring: a material place that, through meditation, produces insight and regeneration, manifesting themselves in a poem. Take, for instance, the opening of “Marina”:
Morse Lake forms
where the Big
creek meets

the Little creek—
              bits of boat,
              bits of dock

     mark the spot. (10)
The poem begins with a geography of relation, then proceeds to a impressionistic location marked by “bits of boat / bits of dock.” But whether geographic or impressionistic, both locations map a physical site via an image, which itself is another resonance between Copeland and Niedecker. Penberthy notes that Niedecker was “drawn to the Imagists” (3) and their belief that a poet should use “no word that did not contribute to the presentation” (Pound) of an object; likewise, Copeland speaks of her desire to create an “image in as few words as possible” (TriQuartely) through an economical but precise use of language.

Of course, the images found within the poem “Reservoir” are more than just images. Later in the collection we discover a:
rotted out boat
                     the boat
will stay afloat

as long as you pretend to
                                                        row (37)
Although she treats the objects of her poems in a direct and economical fashion, Morse Reservoir and the boat floating on top of it are also catalysts for the imagination and its power to overcome the material realities of the world. The speaker understands the mind's ability to “pretend” to float, in fact, is just as effective as floating itself: it is a “renewal” of the boat's functionality, but more importantly a metaphor for the psychic and emotional regeneration of the speaker. Whether sadden by a failed relationship or any number of life's hardships, the place, the poem, and the imagination will restore the inner self.

But if Siphon, Harbor were merely a series of images and imaginations that offered readers quaint renderings of the natural world that champion the poet's creative mind, the collection would most likely fall short of our attentions. Luckily, Copeland does offer us more in the way of sonic playfulness and a speculative investigation of language (just as Niedecker offered us more by way of her interest in folk rhythms and, later in her career, political activism). In addressing the first of these characteristics, the speaker of “Bindweed” tells us that these poems contain a “Sing-song / impulse,” which is not “melody,” but instead “only rhythms only rustling” (19). And what a rhythm it is, deftly tuned to the rustlings of an environment that surrounds the poet:
early dandelions

demand nothing
need only



to soft silver
                            to blow (36)
The first line of the above excerpt, overloaded with polysyllabics, carries with it a sonic freight and “demand[s]” from us a phonemic investment; but as the poem progresses from the early morning dandelions to the onset of twilight, the lines recede into a sparse, monosyllabic rhythm that slows into night. But then we “awaken” to resurgence of syllables and a morning that blows the soft silver of dandelions into the air.

The manner in which Copeland arranges the words on the page necessarily affects their rhythms as well; she tells us as much when she says: “I stack and space words so the eye pauses where the ear should add the heard dimension” (TriQuarterly). As the nights slows, words disperse across the page's field, leaving room for each of them to linger momentarily in their own “heard dimensions.” In lines such as these, we do indeed “Hear” the poet's “life / by water”; and, just as her Imagist predecessors composed rhythmically “in the sequence of the musical phrase” (Pound), Copeland composes in rhythm of the musical phrase found within nature.

Finally, Copeland can't help but question the relationship between language and the world, at least to the extent that “we do not know exactly / what [that] relationship” (40) happens to be. Again, referring to the poet's interview at TriQuarterly Online helps describe the unknowable bond: “I see my world in the words themselves. If an image moves me somehow, I will literally see black words on a white page in my head.” While the words of Siphon, Harbor produce images of the natural world within the reader's imagination, the natural world produces images of words in the poet's imagination. To this extent, “white / birds were signs” (28) all along, “culture,” which is the end result of language, “was the whorl / of bees” (24), and “Termites [are] trained to...words” (14). But this is not to say that the world is nothing more than language. No, such a premise is too reductive for Copeland. In fact, our “colloquial cannot // muffle the full morning orchestra,” which is the “amphibious greens / clotting the trickle // of thaw” or “the tinny // fin flip and eyeflake flash” of “small schools” (33) of fish; stated differently: “Nature remains / … / Immeasurable” (25), at least linguistically. Copeland's book, it would appear, reminds us that the natural world and language are “Conversations” that are “braided / airtight” (21) with each element rendered inextricable from the other.

06 April 2012

Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound

Today on HTMLGIANT, I have a review of Jeff Alessandrelli's first book Erik Satie Watusies His Way into Sound. Below is the introductory paragraph. You can read the entire review here:

One of the first things readers of Jeff Alessandrelli’s Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound will notice is the fact that the back cover contains biographical material for both the author and Erik Satie; upon opening the book, the front matter contains acknowledgments from both men as well. The collection’s copy and front matter signal, it would seem, a playful engagement with identity and proper nouns. Specifically, Alessandrelli conflates himself, the speaker of his poems, and Erik Satie in such a manner that all three personalities become intimately entwined. The book’s first iteration of the list poem “A Game of Numbers” twice addresses this melding:
1. As we grow older our only investigation:
ever year searching for a sleeker, more
impulsive version of ourselves. (5)
8. As an adult Eric Satie became Erik Satie
to highlight his Scandinavian lineage.
Or on a whim. (6)
What we garner from these two excerpts is that we constantly search for identities or “version[s] of ourselves” that we feel best fit who we want to be, and changing our name is one way to highlight a particular transformation or “lineage” we want to occupy. So, when Alessandrelli writes, “the musician— / dream-thin and wizened— / farms sounds near a ripening / at the back of his head” (3), these lines could refer to either Satie, Alessandrelli, or both. To this extent, Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound acts as a meeting between two artists, similar to the meeting that occurs between two men in the first iteration of the poem “Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound”:
the silence after each note passes
represents the agreement reached

between them that afternoon,
explains why we know
the nothing about them

that we do.
Just that two men met one day
beneath the awning of an apple orchard,

and the dull smack of their lips
moving was the languageless sound
of their satisfaction with each other (9)
Indeed, Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound is a meeting between two men: a “languageless sound” that is an “agreement reached / between them that… / explains why we know / the nothing about them // that we do” other than the fact that they are mutually satisfied with one another. Why after sixty-six pages of poems, prose, and staff ledger do we know nothing of these men? Because “Erik Satie did not exist except for some scattered lines around the peripheries” (19). And how are we to know anything of a man based upon a few scattered lines? And how are we to know anything of a man who bases himself on the image of another man who did not exist?

03 April 2012

Perfume Genius


Seattle-based singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, more commonly known as Perfume Genius, has released two full-length albums: 2010's Learning and 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It, both under the Matador imprint. While Learning and Your Back offer their own musical and lyrical variations, the focus of each record tends to be Hadreas's troubled past.

As he mentions in the promotional material on Matador's website, before he began recording music he “was running around doing drugs and being fucking insane and getting into some dangerous business.” As the insanity of his life became too overwhelming, he returned to his mother's suburban home in order to confront the “abuse, addiction, suicide, all that cool stuff, [he] couldn’t bear to look at it” but felt he needed to confront.

The confrontation occurred when he sat down at his piano and wrote the music that would find its way onto Learning:

The record opens with the title track and its basic piano rhythm with lo-fi microphone hiss; the sparse arrangement and bedroom production creates an intimate atmosphere that the album sustains throughout its entirety. Soon thereafter, Hadreas's vocals, which he “was really embarrassed of,” so much so that he “never sang” until he first recorded the song, enter the composition's minimalist sonic palette. While frail and wavering, the vocals not only compliment Hadreas's instrumentation, but exude an endearing vulnerability that almost masks the fact that the lyrics describe a scene of sexual abuse: “No one will answer your prayers / until you take off that dress / no one will hear all your crying / until you take your last breath.”

The lyrics do not become any less harrowing on Put Your Back N 2 It. In the song “Dark Parts,” Hadreas sings of his mother's incestuous relationship with his grandfather: “The hands of God / were bigger than grandpa's eyes / but still he broke the elastic on your waist.” But there is a marked difference between Perfume Genius's sophomore effort and his debut collection:

The difference, as one can tell from the song “Hood,” manifests itself in the slicker production value, a vocal strength and range that no doubt stems from a newfound confidence, and arrangements that include a full band, which allow for a fuller more rock-oriented sound. Tracks such as “Hood,” perhaps, portend a grander and more expansive horizon for Hadreas in the future.

Perfume Genius is currently touring the United States and Europe in promotion of Put Your Back N 2 It. They perform in Denver, Colorado at the Hi-Dive on Friday, 13 April. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show.