Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hummingbird: Magazine of the Short Poem 20.2 (March 2010)

Usually I gobble these up within days of arriving. It's something I can read quickly, in those little eruptions of time when I feel unmoved and unstressed by... well, anything else. And there is usually pleasure in it. Little pleasures, but at least a smile.

Perhaps it was the long delay between arrival and reading. Perhaps I'm just growing weary: cynicism snuffing out wonder. But I can feel the arch-profundity of the self-consciously compressed lines a bit too acutely throughout this issue.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Charles Bukowski, The People Look Like Flowers At Last

There's a certain campy punch to much of Bukowski that I really enjoy. I don't think it's necessarily intended, but's how I find myself reading it often; and many times it's why I pick up Bukowski.

This was such a time.

And The People Look Like Flowers At Last didn't disappoint.

There was an oddly reflective, surrealistically-tinged opening that worried me at first, but the collection settles in to the consciously rough-hewn edge that I so enjoy when I'm looking for a self-referential, half-winking escape. It means I read slower -- to draw out the time I can indulge -- and I'm sad to go.

Not so sorry to be leaving him; maybe, instead, the silly possibilities Bukowski is such a master at conjuring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jeffrey Brown, Sulk, Issue 2: Deadly Awesome

I enjoy Jeffrey Brown's work. And these "issues" of Sulk that he produces are fun little distractions. I picked up issue  two despite the fact that it's about mixed martial arts, something I have no taste for or interest in.

For me this is nothing more than a light entertainment, a diversion. Or potentially so. It never quite lives up to it's description: "Jeffrey Brown explores the world of mixed martial arts and the nature of violence in this tribute to no-holds-barred cage fighting!" Well, I don't see the exploration of the nature of violence in it (despite one or two telling flashbacks); mostly we read interior monologues of the fighters puzzling through their strategies. In the breathless commentary of the announcers and the drama evoked by the use of large, heavy fonts and "Krak" and "Slam", it certainly does live up to the enthusiasm implicit in the exclamation point, though!

And that just seems a little silly to me. But to each his own; just not mine, this time.

Until the end. The very last frame. Where the victor muses, "I think I may have lost my taste for this." Amen, brother!

One side-note: there's one frame early on in the fight where the older, smaller, weaker, but cagier fighter -- Haruki Rasasaku -- who otherwise throughout the panels is very much his own man, looks an awful lot like Jeffrey Brown. In profile. Hmmm...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Robert Berold, All the Days

It took me a while to warm to Robert Berold's All My Days. More than a while, in fact. Well, actually, it took something of a gap between readings.

All My Days is a slim book, as most collections are. And I like to read these things, if I can, in one single push. It gives me, it seems, a better sense of the poet, of the rhythm, of the style and voice. If the poetry is done well, I'm caught up, almost trance-like, and carried through. Done poorly, I slog it out and don't have to come back.

I didn't make it all the way through Berold's book in one go. Not because it was badly done. I'm sure something came up: such as morning, and having to get my son fed, dressed, and off to school. But I do remember being somewhat underwhelmed when I closed it up that first time.

And on a post-it note stuck to the front I scrawled, in my tight, small-cap hand: "a penchant for description by listing -- 'setting the scene'" followed by a drawn line and the rather under-enthusiastic, even wary "and then there are the thicker, chunkier, prose pieces..." (yes, ellipsis and all).

I never did warm to the latter, and it's not as if the early poems don't strike a resonant line here and there. Berold's poem, "Beloved", opens with "Love burnt both of us. / Now rain falls in this scorched place. / I lean into your gravity" (26).

But it's later in the collection that things started clicking for me. "Night shift Hangzhou" doesn't quite make it as a whole -- the second stanza works a little too hard at mimicking the scene Berold is trying to describe -- but the first three lines crackle: "Down, down, below zero, and the wind biting, / I am almost falling asleep on my feet. I imagine / summer in South Africa, sizzling with electric fences" (44). The lines break just right on the page and in the reading; the opposites oddly, and effectively, echoing one another. Those three lines are masterfully done.

"Proposal" is cute (but in a playful, not saccharin, sense) and familiar; and "To myself at 20" (55) might very well be one of the better poems I've read, opening:
I think of myself in Ingrid's bedroom,
under that poster of Bonnie and Clyde
with dark rings under my eyes,
while her mother wept continuously
and her brother muttered threats.
He manages to capture the bravado, fear, and utter cluelessness of youth. And that still sort of stings.

All My Days has been reviewed elsewhere by Kobus Moolman and Vonani Bila, in both cases glowingly and in enviable depth.

This is the fourth collection of Berold's -- and I'll be reading all four (bought in South Africa last October). In reverse. So a bit of me was expecting... whiz bang? I wanted to love it. Some I do. I should probably re-read the whole. When I go back to look at all four together, I will.

This time in one sitting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Philip Roth, The Humbling

What a thoroughly, frighteningly unhappy book.

Or is it just me?

Perhaps, with The Humbling, I've read too much Philip Roth. Or not enough of his early works. Something.

Maybe I'm becoming too much of a moralist -- the death-rattle of the critic -- but it all seemed rather sordid. But even worse, as far as the novel (as a form) is concerned: rushed and unmoored.

Which is, of course, a large part of the story of The Humbling but... it doesn't feel artfully done. And while some of the worst of it all touched my lizard brain and excited a boiling discomfort, I suspect that it has little to do with Roth's skill or this little novel's artistry.

And maybe it's just me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gail Dendy, People Crossing

I had the pleasure of meeting Gail Dendy during my trip to South Africa last year. Right at the tail end of the trip, quite literally (and lamentedly, as she was a delight and the conversation over lunch a real pleasure): when we finished eating she put me on a shuttle for the airport.

People Crossing is Dendy's second collection, and is probably a stronger than the usual sophomore effort. There is a great deal of sensuousness (in the scandalous sense of that word) about many of these poems; and while not all of it works, much of it does.

In "Spider-watch" (in which Dendy evokes the rather over-worked image of the black widow spider) we read the incredibly evocative:
She's endless,
tonight, all give


The stitching is complete.
One of them is satisfied.
And in "Fragment" (in its entirety):
It has to be passionate,
I know his clung kiss, sharp
as a bloodburst.
While the most titillating might very well be the closing lines of "Exposed":
To them
I was all
night lover –
a spool
of yearning.
Unravel me
Oh my!!

But Dendy is far from "merely" a sensuous poet. The denouement of "Assault" is... well, frightfully powerful: you know what's coming, the turn is not particularly artful (nor is it artless), but it's still sickening and lands like a punch.

She is a relatively prolific poet but there is little of her poetry accessible and available here in the United States. I foolishly left South Africa with this volume only. There are a few short biographical pieces (here and here) as well as some brief interviews (here and here). For those with a taste for... well... poetry, I've managed to find the following poems of Dendy's online:
I do look forward to continuing our discussion and, hopefully, getting my hands on another volume or two of her work before the next trip back to the RSA.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dino Buzzati, Poem Strip including An Explanation of the Afterlife

I just don't get it I guess...

Dino Buzzati's Poem Strip is... well... a paean to school boy fantasies? A mushy graphic amalgam of the detritus of 1960s psychedelic (soon to be arena) rock music? A whole lot of tit and ass?

It's all of those things. And apparently it's avant garde and "a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death" (if the back of the book is to be believed). Kinda missed that whole dark and alluring part. It all seems so very self-indulgent and disconcertingly sterile (and there's no reason why a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth needs to feel sterile, as anyone who has seen Black Orpheus can attest).

Some of the drawings are quite striking -- you can see a selection here -- but as a whole, it fails.