22 September 2016

The Chapbooks of Jeff Alessandrelli

This article originally appear as a post titled "The Chapbooks of Jeff Alessandrelli" at Vouched Books on 22 April 2013
I met Jeff Alessandrelli in the autumn of 2008; but it wasn’t until winter/spring of 2009, when both of us enrolled in a poetic forms course at University of Nebraska, that we became close friends. After a few conversations, I learned that we shared similar poetic interests, listened to a lot of the same music, both owned dogs, and enjoyed drinking shitty beer until the wee hours of the morning, amongst other things. When you’re stuck a cornfield for nearly five years, you’re lucky to find someone with the same malformed interests.

Now that I live in Cleveland, OH and Jeff in Portland, OR, we don’t get to see each other as often as before; but every couple of months, I’ll receive a package from him that contains a new chapbook. Yes, Alessandrelli has been a bit of a chapbook machine during the last 14 months, coming out with three terrific collections.

Poor Claudia published the first of these chapbooks and released it at the 2012 AWP in Chicago, IL. Titled Don’t Let Me Forget to Feed the Sharks (which I’ve written about before, elsewhere), the book contains one of my favorite Alessandrelli poems, “Spring in the New Year.” It reads in its entirety:
Partial inventory of all items left dripping in the kitchen: one faucet, two knives. According to the fancy new guidebook I bought, you don't go crazy all by yourself. Out of some freshly sealed envelope of darkness, every morning we have to invent the sun in order to see it, have to invent the sky's cherry-blue backdrop in order to witness the sun’s milky light. Eventually there comes a point, though, when our inventions fail us: patentless, faulty, we wake up in some vaguely familiar pitch black. Yesterday was different we think, without entirely understanding how or why. But now it is the first day of spring and—reverent—we take the time to remember. Today is the first day of spring. Half-weighted flashlights aimed and ready, we ceaselessly pray that we will never ever have less. (21)
The cherry on top of this book, so to speak, is the artifact itself. Poor Claudia has done a fine job creating some amazing books, and this collection is no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with their product, I suggest heading over to their site and purchasing something.

For this year’s AWP in Boston, the relatively new Imaginary Friend Press released Alessandrelli’s People are Places are Places are People. While the artifact is a bit more in line with a no frills D.I.Y. aesthetic (as opposed to Poor Claudia’s more artisan approach), the collection contains some of Alessandrelli’s strongest poems. Two of my favorites are the opener, “Understanding Marcel Duchamp,” which reads:
One morning—I’m not sure why, maybe some type of lack or definition of half-tawdry want—I woke up, saw my neighbor’s bike lying in his driveway and just beat the shit out of it, just pummeled and crumbled and wracked and irrevocably dismantled it until what it was couldn’t even be called “bike” anymore; it was something else entirely. Then I went to work. When I got home that night my neighbor’s driveway was empty, his garage closed. The bike was gone, all its recognizable parts absent, vanished, shaped into new and heretofore incalculable realities. (1)
And two poems later, “Understanding Mina Loy (Everything, Everything, Everything)”:
I will refrain from discussing
the role of the lover.

Always burn the sheets
after you fuck in them. (4)
In the Elisa Gabbert-penned introduction to the collection, we’re told that an Alessendrelli poem is like “a place where you can know something but not believe, and vice versa; a place where understanding is not deeper knowledge but an alternative kind of access.” Or, as Gabbert, states later, these poems do “not tell us what [the poet] know, but to find out” something about ourselves while reading them. Indeed, when reading these poems, we enter into a process of discovery with the poet.

And just this month, the newly minted Both Books released a third Alessandrelli chapbook: A Lover’s History of Nevada. In this collection, the poet (a Reno, NV native) creates a liminal space filed with poetry, fiction, and historical non-fiction collaged into an off-beat guide to the Silver State. Take, for instance, the chapbook’s first piece:
Upon birth we slap the cheeks of every infant in Nevada until they bleed. To make sure he wasn’t born a wizard. To make sure she wasn’t born a witch. The old saying Go Fuck Your Soul means little in Nevada: forks weren’t introduced to our citizens until the mid-80’s, sandals didn’t arrive until just after the new millennium. In Nevada Y2K was a water rat that gnawed out the side of its cage and died quietly. A red sports car without wheels. The Humboldt River has no actual outlet to the ocean; it simply sinks into the ground, feeding a massive underground aquifer. The largest single public works project in the history of the nation, Hoover Dam contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. In Nevada. How the bike tires and automobile tires ravish and splendor the pavement, the concrete, the desert sands as they make their every way to Burning Man, the largest annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance the whole world over. We are a state of grievous angels, each of us ceaselessly attempting to burn our wings for nothing but the sheer sake of spectacle. You go first. Wait for me. (1)
The collection proceeds in similar fashion and, as Alexis Orgera writes of the book, creates an “amalgam of factoid, mythos, and rhythm” that “pays homage to [the poet’s] home state, exploring its landscape and the relationships therein through various states of being.”

Alessandrelli’s full-length collection The Last Time Will Be The First Time, will be published by Burnside Books later this year. If you live in or around Ohio, you’ll be able to catch Alessandrelli read at The Big Big Mess in Akron, OH on May 10 or in Columbus, OH on May 11 at North High Brewing.

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