Frank Montesonti

And God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden!

The AWP Pile: Round 2!

Book Haul

Every AWP I buy all of my books for the year. In an attempt to make sure I think a little about each book that I bought, I have determined to write up at least something about each one whether it be positive, negative, a single line, or twenty-pages. I am tired of the boring formality of typical book reviews, so I have decided to post all the reviews on my blog so I can say what I want. Please comment. I want to know your thoughts.

 

Belmont

 

Belmont
Stephen Burt
Graywolf Press, 2013
Full disclosure: I do not know Stephen Burt nor do I have any associations with Graywolf Press.

Belmont – a collection of poetry named for the Cambridge-adjacent city near Harvard, where Stephen Burt is employed as a professor of English.

Okay, since this is my blog and I don’t have to play by the regular rules of reviews, let me ask something. Do you ever feel like you don’t like a collection while at the same time knowing that the reason you don’t like collection is that you are being a jerk about not liking it?

I kind of feel that way about this collection. I mean, it’s clearly good. Dr. Burt is wicked smart (I’m currently in Boston) and has a great handle on his craft. Each poem offers the lucidity of a caffeine buzz early in the morning after a good night’s rest when the brain operates on all cylinders, images pop out of the earth, sounds are amplified, and everything slows down like when the apprentice reaches mastery in a martial arts film. And the poems aren’t smart in a pretentious way. They are the good kind of smart that makes the reader feel smart in tandem with the poet. The craft is sharp, the diction balanced, there is wit and poignancy. I audibly said, “aww” out loud several times.

But at the same time I just can’t get past the subject matter. I know I’m a complete ass, but I just can’t make myself care about the luster of suburbia, the soft landings and shiftings of adulthood, the wonder of raising a child. There are some subversive moments in the book regarding Dr. Burt’s gender-queer identity and cross dressing but they only make a brief appearance in the book then disappear without complicating the greater book’s project. Of course, the book isn’t all about domestic life. The middle section focuses on pop culture and has some really fun original poems like “In Memory of the Rock Band Breaking Circus” or “Self Portrait as a Muppet.” These are pop poems and like all pop poems at times they can get pulled out of their kairotic moment when corralled into a collection. So, while most are good, some now feel like yesterday’s hip phrase like “For Avril Lavine” or “Little Lament for the Legion of Super-Heroes.” Maybe Dr. Burt wrote these before the super hero and pop star persona poetry fads of the late 2000’s, but they feel a little out of vogue right now. Of course, that’s just inevitable to a degree. So, overall, I really liked this book. I think I am just a little jaded regarding poems about suburbs and kids since many of my friends are at that stage and I’m decidedly not.

Oh, and I want to say lovely cover and layout of this book. Greywolf press makes handsome books.

 

ARaftofGrief.jpgA Raft of Grief
Chelsea Rathburn
Autumn House Press: 2013
Full Disclosure: I do not know Chelsea Rathburn nor do I have any association with Autumn House Press.

First of all, let me comment on how much I adore the title – Raft of Grief. It’s so unapologetically depressing I start to almost laugh with pleasure when I read it. I love it! This book isn’t shying away from anything. It owns its subject matter with complete confidence. These aren’t happy poems (except at the end of the collection). Mainly, the poems tell the story of a failed marriage through scenes of the couple’s travels around Europe.

I admit that I personally connect with this book. Being a recently divorced Europhile, I too have bickered and despaired in many impossibly beautiful places. I have fumed in old stone porticos, nearly broke down crying in Parisian cafes, and drug my dead shadow behind me while walking past white washed houses backed by bright Mediterranean blues.

There is something about suffering in Europe that makes it so much more terrible. Regret loves a good backdrop. But I don’t think you have to have had bad times in Europe to like this collection. The poems are incredibly smart and well-crafted, observant, and psychologically keen about the nature of relationships. In particular, the sonnets are stellar. “English Sonnet” is perhaps one of the best modern sonnets I have read in recent memory, but I personally like “After Filing for Divorce”

Your paperwork in, it’s like the morning after
a party, the shaken survey of damage,
a waste of bottles where there was laughter.
It all seems so much more than you can manage:
The accusing cups and stubbed-out cigarettes,
The sun assaulting the window, your throbbing head.
It’s not enough to face your own regrets
(though they’re coming back fast, the things you said)
because someone’s trailed bean dip across the table,
someone’s ground salsa in the rug with his shoe.
So you start to clean, as much as you are able,
And think how far those hours have fled from you,
Before the hangover and your sour tongue,
when you felt lovely, and infinite, and young.

That ending kills me! And so many of the poems in this collection hit with an equal force. There is a formal variety in the book, the second section a series of eclogues a little reminiscent of Gluck’s Meadowlands, with the witty jousting between lovers. The last section of the book isn’t all regret. It celebrates a new love with an equal joy to the former poem’s despair. And I think that’s what I really like about this collection; the speakers are genuinely happy when they should be and genuinely sad when they should be. It’s like there is no camera filter on these poems, no unnecessary lenses. The poems go for emotional clarity and look right at it.

Oh, and lastly, any collection that has a poem that alludes to an obscure Silver Jews album in a poem is tops for me.

 

Heat WakeHeat Wake
Jason Zuzga
Saturnalia Books, 2016
Full Disclosure: Jason Zuzga is a friend of mine, but I have no connection to Saturnalia books.

It is such a pleasure to finally see a Jason Zuzga book in print. To say this book has been long-awaited by many, many poets is an under, understatement. I was in grad school with Jason in Tucson, 2001. I loved his work back then; everyone did. I don’t know why this collection took so long to bring into the world. Maybe Jason wasn’t submitting enough. Maybe presses couldn’t see what a wild, original, talented mind this guy has. Or maybe the book just took this long to come to its final form. I’m hardly one to talk about publishing slowly.

Anyway, it’s here now and it’s really good.

Heat Wake is everything I am excited about in poetry now. The poems feel odd as the spores on a fern plant at one moment and polished as a limousine the next. You just have no idea where he might go next in such a delightful way. And it always works because the poems are extensions of life and personality more than exercises in craft (though they are also very skillful). I guess what I’m trying to say is that they’re not trying to be something. They are that thing. That is Zuzga’s mind. There are fun, wild associative leaping and tender personal moments, history and science; and everything odd seems personal and everything personal odd. And there is a closeness and humanity to it all underneath. Quoting lines don’t do his work justice, so I’m just going to quote a whole poem here.

Your Age on Other Worlds

Greased surfers on the right,
oil pumping up the left – you drive down the crease
of California as the convexities of boys become
heightened on the waves.

I will guess your age on other worlds.
Stretched into sixteen on all of them. Mine.
When Neptune hurls back around to where it is now
these boys will be decaying
not tucked into their skins not tucked into their wetsuits
not sixteen not alive not riding the waves off California
rubbing itself the way a back shifts.

One night one boy is hurling through time to
the instant he will pass you in the supermarket.
His liverspotted hand a vortex shoves you through
gliding up the crest of time to California.
The pumpers suck sweet sip of time’s decay.

The car drives past you down the crease burning rubber.
The oncoming night glides open and closes and pulses.
Observers lightyears away longingly watch wave
lift you. Look back now to where we were before
this got started – star collapsing,
insane and greedy in the dark.

I mean who does this! Who connects time travel and the sleek bodies of surfers and drive down the coast in such a strange and beautiful way? This collection gets me really pumped about poetry again. Seriously, I would trade this one poem for a dozen other full collections I have read in the past year.

I could go on and on about all the poems in this collection, but this collection makes you want to write your own poems because it just humms with an infectious vitality. So, just use your internets and order it now. You must have it in your life and on your shelf.

The AWP Pile: Round 1

Book Haul.jpg

Each AWP I buy all of my books for the year. In an attempt to make sure I think a little about each book that I bought, I have determined to write up at least something about each one whether it be positive, negative, a single line, or twenty-pages. I am tired of the boring formality of typical book reviews, so I have decided to post all the reviews on my blog so I can say what I want. Please comment. I want to know your thoughts.

 

 

Round 1: The First Three Books!

Source to Mouth

Source to Mouth
by Brandon Krieg
New Michigan Press, 2012.
Full Disclosure: I do not know Brandon Krieg nor do I have any connection with New Michigan Press.

Wow. Yes. This is the kind of standout collection I hope to find each year in my AWP book binge, and to have it be the very first collection I read gives me high hopes for the pile!

There are some books of poetry where I think — this is amazing! — but when pressed about exactly why, it’s really difficult to articulate. In a normal review I would act like I have it all figured out, but since this is my blog I am just going to puzzle this through.

Here are some basics: The subject matter is mainly about nature. The title Source to Mouth suggests the river trope. Nothing unusual there. Like most nature poetry, nature functions as a mirror to the speaker. But what is so good about this collection is that the mirror is so damn brutal. It doesn’t give us back any kind of idealized reflection. It’s not a feel good mirror. The reflections are cutting, sharp, and filled with the dispassionate, disinterested reflection nature can provide. Check this poem out:

November

Childwise vision
Of a coho thrashing in thin floodwater blankets
On a black road.

Enraged with milt, it slithers over asphalt;
It will not reach the red;
It will not pass the code
That maps from source to mouth its fluent god.

Yet I return to it’s
Struggle ditch-ward to spawn alone
On the sharp, damp rocks.

This is where I was born.

Eeek. That’s intense. It’s intense in a scary way, like jumping in a frigid lake — that moment of fear, shock, and hyperventilation. Nature isn’t always your buddy and what it helps us see about ourselves can be equally unkind. The poems are aware of this mirror and sometimes even distrust it, like in this segment from “The End of Metaphor”

Picking through strangulated kelp,
I find the buried bulb
at coil’s end.

Stretch the unreal length straight out –
Livid scourge!
Monstrous sperm!

O unlikeness.

People can’t help but use metaphors, and Krieg uses some good ones here, but at the same time his focus is on unlikeness, not likeness. It’s rocky.

I guess that’s the theme of my review “rockiness.” Part of this productive rockiness is the interesting mix of diction in the book – natural and scientific language is mixed with historical language. One gets a sense of not only the river, but the layers of history it cuts through.

The book is particularly interested in the Romans, those vicious spreaders of western culture — that invasive species — and several poems comment on mythology and history. But again there is the rockiness and brutality, unflinching violence highlighted by this brutal nature or culture.

The language matches as well. The language in this collection is really taught. It’s not the kind of book where you breeze through each poem. The diction of the poems is thick and the line breaks generally frustrate and slow pacing making the lines deliberate exercises in the relative placement of words, stresses, and ideas butting against each other.

There is also very little rhetoric in the book, no guiding hand. It is mostly presentation of image and direct interpretation. It’s spare on tone and the attitudes of the speakers are not paramount. The collection reminds me of Robert Hass’s first book Field Guide where he had all this raw intellectual power and observation but hadn’t yet made the turn toward tone and rhetoric. I’m not saying Krieg should make any such turn in his work. I just feel that same kind of raw intellectual and emotional power tangled up in these sharply crafted lines that exudes a powerful thrumming and rush that comes through in the language.

Well, I think I’ve puzzled through a little of why I think this collection is so good. It was released as a chapbook, but it is 45 pages in length. I always feel a little bad for poets who put out longer, amazing chapbooks like this because I don’t think they get the attention they always deserve, but this is a stand out book that feels like a whole intellectual project that really moves beyond just a chapbook.

I will be reading more of Mr. Krieg’s work!

 

 

With Animal

With Animal
Black Lawrence Press, 2015
by Carol Guess and Kelly Magee
Full Disclosure: I do not know Carol or Kelly, but my second collection Hope Tree, was published by BLP.

With Animal is a collection of short stories that revolve around the protagonist either being pregnant with or raising an animal of some kind. The stories are all titled With (Animal)With Horse, With Spider, With Fish, etc. But some of them get more abstract like With Nebula, or With Replica.

It’s a really great premise for a book and incredibly entertaining. (If that is something anyone cares about anymore in small press books). I love a book with a really clever concept like this. It’s just a joy to see how the authors handle the idea and keep it fresh (which they do) and how the stories together build this wild other universe with its own dream-like rules.

For example, the animals aren’t animals exactly, they are more half-animal, half-human hybrids. In a way they are semi-fables, where, as tradition dictates, the animals comment on human nature. In With Spider, for example, we explore teenage rebelliousness and the first tentative steps toward individuality and autonomy. The spider-daughter hangs out with an dark, older rebellious spider and is caught crawling in the window late at night wiping the blood off her mouth. Or another fable-like tale is With Unicorn, where the vain child can’t see beyond his looks and his parents worry about him staying forever surface. But many times the stories aren’t as clear and operate more in a poetic space where the trope doesn’t as neatly line up. This becomes a space of poetic exploration to look at parent/child relationships anew. In With Fish, the protagonist ends up disappearing into the background of a tank part of a school and environment. In this way the book is both insightful but never obvious. Overall the collection is smart and insightful all the way through; the characters are well-rounded, and all that other craft stuff that fiction people talk about is there too. But being a poet, I really appreciate the feel of the stories. Many of them hit so perfectly one gets the satisfaction of driving a nail through a two-by-four in one clean strike.

In a final note, since this is my blog and not a formal review, I will say that I usually tend to avoid buying co-written books. Too often I feel like they are somewhat lazy vanity projects by established authors that fall back on the inherent lack of control in “collaboration” to justify an inherent sloppiness or a lack of realization of the project. But this book has changed my mind. I don’t know how the two authors worked together or which writing came from which author, but there is something lively about this book where I feel the seed of each author has mingled to create some new being that didn’t exist before.

 

EauDeVieEau-De-Vie 
by Chad Reynolds
Sixth Finch, 2015
Full Disclosure: I have never met Chad Reynolds nor do I have any association with Sixth Finch.

At the AWP, I always make sure to stop by the Sixth Finch table. I really believe that Sixth Finch is the best online journal out there, and I think it has a lot to do with its editor, Rob MacDonald. I just really like this guy’s taste in poetry and when he started putting out chapbooks I couldn’t wait to see them.

Eau-De-Vie I think is a chapbook that I think shows what I really appreciate in how Rob reads. I know it is strange to spend half a review praising the editor of a press, but I feel like many presses probably would have passed on this short, quiet chapbook when Rob gave it a chance.

The chapbook starts with the speaker lying in drunk tank looking out a window. In terms of subject matter, that not unworn ground. And the language isn’t flashy either. The diction is straightforward, neither erudite nor overly colloquial. The poems use many poetic tools but don’t lean on any in particular as an aesthetic angle. If the poems have any one quality it how well Reynolds uses silence. Stephane Mallarme notes that poetry is the management of silences, and darn if Mr. Reynolds doesn’t have a talent for knowing when to be quiet.

And in that silence is a reverence. I love reverence in poetry. I like the world and I like being alive. And I like poets who also feel alive and that life springs from their work. And in this short chapbook, I feel alive. It’s not wildly exuberant or manic. It is just a poem that really engages with the world.

What is so good about the collection really is that it doesn’t feel the need to be flashy. It uses the tools it needs to get the job done. The book is a short meditation on loving the world, a little moment of holding on to the transient nature of things, a true and honest reflection of being. Here is an excerpt from the end:

Walking west on Sheridan Avenue

Toward the Biltmore Hotel
There’s a protest outside

I forgot the building is coming down

The bulldozer the bird

I join the crowd outside the ropes
They chant The Past Isn’t Past!
The Past Isn’t Past!

I want to laugh
I know what it is like
to cling.

There’s nothing much new in this poetry that is going to shake up the poetry world, but damn if somehow through the normal tools of the trade Mr. Reynolds didn’t manage to capture something quiet and true that so many other flashier books might have looked over, and bravo to Mr. MacDonald for listening so closely to this tender, nuanced collection which I feel could have so easily been overlooked in a hundred slush piles by editors who want flash over substance.

 

Submit to the GNU where All Genres are Created Equal

The talented graduate students in the MFA program at National University have started a new online literary journal. Please submit.

GNU

GNU

“All Genres are Created Equal” is the motto of the GNU, a new annual online literary journal run by the MFA program at National University. In addition to the standard “literary” fare (poetry, literary fiction, creative nonfiction), the GNU gladly accepts genre writing of all kinds: science fiction, mystery, noir, short plays, children’s literature, YA literature, graphic novel selections, comics, or any writing that defies categorization. The deadline for submission for our first issue is November, 30th 2015. Please visit www.gnujournal.com for submission guidelines. With no reading fee, you have nothing to lose.

AWP Winners — Ryan Spooner REGRET

Regret

Every year at the AWP bookfair I buy about $500 dollars worth of books and read them over the course of a year. This is my attempt to say a little something about the ones I loved.

REGRET   by Ryan Spooner

If this is the quality of book being put out the newly formed The Lettered Streets Press (Chicago, Seattle), I eagerly await more of their titles. REGRET by Ryan Spooner is a standout debut collection of essays, if you could so easily box them in a genre; for they have the lyricism of poetry, the brutal introspection of the best creative nonfiction, and the razor sharp thinking of criticism. The subject matters are familiar for a first collection of essays – growing up poor in the South, grade school fisticuffs, the mystical quandaries of first relationships; but the book also weaves in transgressive threads. My clothing metaphor is appropriate here for the collection focuses in on the speaker’s love of clothes and identity as a “dandy” and how that complicates the typical male gender roles that the book so incisively maps. Of course, it’s not only the intricate stitching of the subject matter that makes these stories so pleasurable, but also the quality of the thread. Forgive me for stretching out this sweater, but few people in reviews talk much just about the quality of prose in a collection. It’s not just the clean lines of the phrases and how the prose constructs voice and inflection, but it’s also in the collection’s diction. It does not revel in words just for the indulgence, it revels in accuracy, and the pleasure is how often it finds an exact word or phrase that feels like it couldn’t have been articulated any other way. Who but Ryan Spooner can use the word ‘Ozymandian’ and do so in a way that feels both necessary and correct? I can’t give a book any bigger compliment than to say that at many points in this collection I found myself pounding my fist on the table and yelling “Yes,” just for how goddamn accurate an idea was phrased. Note this passage when the speaker reflects on the male gaze:

“There’s an inversion of inside and outside—that safe, soft dichotomy ruptures—and it baffles you a little it. And though the feeling I anticipated in that moment was glee, the actual response was panic, and I suffered a sort of contrapasso: I felt punished by what I’d wanted.”

Again and again, the book describes the necessary paradoxes of feelings and human motivations so accurately that I get that electric jolt in the brain I usually only get from reading good criticism.

For the love of God, buy this book. You won’t REGRET it, like I do this final sentence.

Mini-Review of Vital Pursuits by Evan Glasson

Vital PursuitsVital Pursuits was a book of poems I bought randomly at the last AWP book fair, and it was one of my favorite surprises of the year. What I like so much about it is how it proves that you can have a formally inventive book that also makes you feel something. The poems are enjoyable just on the level of language, but they also don’t shy away from narrative, character, or situation. The book is a long poem, and in choosing the long poem form, Glasson avoids the tiresome conventions of endings. Instead the book reads like a series of interesting middles of poems connected by theme and creating a larger whole. The poems drift from trope to trope, exploring angles briefly, wearing lenses, but then moving restlessly on to other tropes and lenses. But the impulse doesn’t strike one as artifice. Instead it rings of genuineness and emotional vulnerability. The tropes are necessary in coming to terms with experience, not conceptual games played for their own sake.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the book is on the level of the line. Glasson has a real knack for creating surprise in his line breaks and writing lines that stand alone as poetic units. It is a lovely reminder that the line is the most basic element of poetry and that a good poem has an obligation to surprise us with every line.

I could open to almost any page for an example. Here is pg. 38.

[…] at the wedding, I love
how little the lovers need say.
Sometimes it’s more about being there.
in cases of direct currents, we measure
electrical resistance in ohms.
There, There, says the mother
to the crier. There is a distance
implied. an instruction to leave it
where it is. To leave it alone.
Spanish has one word for faraway
there and another for not so/ far there. […].

Rarely was there a line in the book where I felt something interesting didn’t happen, and in many other books of poetry that I bought randomly this year, I would be hard pressed to find anything interesting that happened at all.

I highly recommend this book as one of my favorite discoveries of 2012.

Stanley Rubric

Stanley Rubric

Hope Tree Has Arived!!!

Image 

Hope Tree has arrived!!! Thanks to everyone that pre-ordered. If you didn’t get a copy yet, just go to http://blacklawrence.homestead.com/montesonti.htm

Hope Tree is a book of poetic erasure that I created from erasing words from an old manual on how to prune fruit trees.

Here is a kind review by Alethea Kehas. http://thedailyerasure.com/2013/03/18/a-review-of-hope-tree/

Hope Tree Now Available for Pre-Order!

My new book of erasure poems, Hope Tree, (How To Prune Fruit Trees) is now available for pre-order through Black Lawrence Press for the amazing price of $9.95! Be first to get it when it comes out this April! Just go to http://blacklawrence.homestead.com/montesonti.html

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