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A review of books, collections, movies, theater, etc.

Balanced Realities: On Jacob Russell’s Chronic, Chronos, Kairos

by Emily Barton

Chronic, Chronos, Kairos. by Jacob Russell. Brooklyn, Chicago: Damask Press, 2012. 6 pages. $12.

The first thing that struck me about Philadelphia poet Jacob Russell’s chapbook, Chronic, Chronos, Kairos (Damask Press, 2012), was its personal aesthetic. Only five poems in length, this handmade letterpress chapbook features one poem per page, with line drawings by Becket Flannery on the pages opposite. This minimal and elegant design provides balance to the subjects that Russell tackles, and it invites the reader to interact with the text — I found myself running my fingers over the drawings and then the words as I read.

This chapbook is the first book in a longer project entitled Poem to the End of My Days. In an interview with Damask Press in September 2011, Russell describes the project as a way to organize his life’s work — all of his poems are written as a part of one long poem, beginning with Chronic, Chronos, Kairos.

It’s an ambitious project — it holds the writer accountable for each stage of the process, without a clear conclusion or end. This chapbook acknowledges that, and grapples with its own temporality. Each poem, or rondo, as Russell would have us think of them, begins with a date, and though the dates are organized chronologically, Russell asks the reader not to adhere to this organization as a reading guide.  “…the date of origin of any of these pieces is of no matter / in determining the sequential order” he begins the second poem, entitled “December, 2010, As all time past is present.”

The poem goes on to strip away the significance paid to the cycle of years used to measure time by erasing a calendar, “the numbers assigned to these being entirely beside the point & without meaning.”  This poem is the crux of Russell’s project, because it both deconstructs it and outlines its purpose by calling attention to the way humans seek significance in the world — through adherence to ritual, religion, love, and even death — and asking the reader to think of them all as the same entity, while considering them as parts of a whole.

The poems tackle time as a subject in a number of ways — they address the acts of celebration and mourning and the concepts of love and death as they move through the space of two months. Russell’s characters include Santa, winter, death, Chronos, Urizon, which, though they are mentioned separately, all seem to function as one shifting identity, searching for the balance between sequential time and opportune time.

What this identity ultimately provides these poems is a thread that allows this balance. Santa is found smoking a cigarette and watching the rain, winter lurks with sparrows for eyes, the “I” confronts Chronos and death. These images and circumstances provide a bridge of realities that Russell is seeking, but also distort any sense of clarity that either of these realities might provide. It is in this that the poems are most successful — inhabiting both realities.  Russell is able to call the reader’s attention to the impossibility of inhabiting one singular reality without at least indulging in the other.

Jacob Russell was born in Chicago a long time ago. He arrived in Philly on a Vespa motor scooter in 1964 and never found the exit. He’s been wandering the streets of Philly every since searching for Found Things. Spirit Stick says: “Found Things may be given shelter, but lose all their powers if possessed.” Spirit Stick says: “Found Things can never be lost–were you to discard all Things you claim to own–that they be Found & granted their freedom, we might yet save ourselves from self-destruction.” For links to Jacob’s published writing, check out his blog, Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog.

Emily Barton is a graduate of the University of Michigan and an MFA candidate at New York University.

The Flooding World: On Adam Fell's I AM NOT A PIONEER

by Toby Altman

I Am Not A Pioneer. by Adam Fell. Charleston: H_NGM_N BKS, 2011. 100 pages. $14.95. softcover. ISBN-13: 978-0983221524

I stumbled into Danny’s a few months ago and caught—by accident—poet Adam Fell reading. The details are hazy (libations and an empty stomach), but Chicagoans will know the atmosphere of the place. The reader: a silhouette or less. The audience: huddled on backless chairs, nursing warm bottles of Schlitz. (“A good place to hook up with hipster boys,” reports a friend). Danny’s has a welcome devotional feel: a place where the studied ironies of contemporary poetry entertain a forbidden gravity.

Such a devotional atmosphere made startling concord with Adam Fell’s poems. His work is sly and earnest, a complicated (though unequivocal) pleasure. Take “Friend Poem”, my favorite from his new book, I Am Not A Pioneer:

When you arrive on a bridge

suspended above a mighty jungle river,

fleeing from religious zealots that are a part

of a secret order of religious zealots,

I will be that bridge… (1-5)

This is a well-worn postmodern posture, citing generic standards with ironic abstraction. Fell rescues the poem (and the posture too?) by shuffling into an altogether different voice, wide-eyed and inebriated with ideas:

…they will no longer be religious zealots

but condensed packages of nutrient-rich materials

that will flow to the sea and become food

for the living snow that drifts

through the baleen of enormous creatures,

feeding those creatures and keeping them

safe and happy and full

in the collected deepness of their bodies… (9-18)

The “flooding world,” Fell concludes “is the collected / deepness of all our bodies.” Here, the respective ruminations of digestion and metaphysics coalesce into a single process, and a single body of insight.

The poem lifts into this unexpected profundity through reckless self-division; it is a continuous coming-to-be, always acclimating to its own sudden timbres. Srikanth Reddy writes that Fell’s is “a negative poetics of identity”—a poetics that attempts to refuse a single lyric ‘I.’ Importantly, such negativity is achieved through abandon, excess. Fell’s poems are not characterized by the absence of identity, but its profusion—a profusion of persons, voices, species, all churning and competing for space.

Often this occurs within the same lines. In “There Must Still Be Something Left of the Minotaur in Me,” the speaker simultaneously occupies the space of bull and exhausted adjunct:

The children load me into the trailer,

padlock the tailgate, take the dirt road,

past the sanitation plant, the tannery,

the strip club where my friend

watched his student dance. (1-5)

The poem ends [spoiler alert] with the punished bull breaking out of the slaughterhouse, in an act of improbable, phantasmatic violence:

I gore my way through the men,

feel their stomachs give,

feel the razorwire,

the chainlink buckle before me.

I run. (48-52)

If there is a fantasy at the heart of these poems, it is for that sublime rupture from the constraints and confines of self. I say fantasy because Fell is too savvy to imagine absolute rupture—or rather, to imagine that such a rupture is real. As the poem’s title implies, Fell’s fantasy emerges from a sense of privation and impotence: the minotaur is both imminent in the self as well as lost, perhaps irretrievably.

Perhaps there’s something salvific in that ambivalent loss, which I’ll go ahead and call regret. At the end of his reading at Danny’s, Fell drew his iPod from somewhere in the darkness of the bar, and turned on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” “Twenty years,” he said with palpable feeling, and swayed. “I’m going hungry,” Eddie Vedder moaned in some tall grass. It was a hilarious and awkward ending, punctuated by the audience’s confused laughter. But it was also oddly moving: a transubstantiation of loathing and nostalgia for the 90s into a compact of beer and pleasure and regret. That’s what these poems do. Even as they fantasize about escape, they pull us back into our confected, unsteady selves—and they teach us to feel new pleasure in that familiar space. 


Adam Fell is the author of I Am Not a Pioneer, published in 2011 by H_NGM_N Books, and the chapbook Ten Keys to Being a Champion On and Off the Field (H_NGM_N, 2010), which is available as a free pdf here: His work has appeared in Forklift, Ohio; H_ngm_n; Diagram; Tin House; Crazyhorse; notnostrums; Sixth Finch; Ink Node; and Fou; among others. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison & the Iowa Writers’ Workshop & teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, WI, where he also co-curates the Monsters of Poetry reading series.

Toby Altman lives in Chicago with his dog and friends. His poems are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, The Berkeley Poetry Review and Birdfeast. A chapbook of his prose poems, Asides, will be published by Furniture Press in the Fall. He is cofounder of Damask Press and a member of the Next-Objectivists.

“Is this about style?” On Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet

by Jennifer Moore

Methodist Hatchet. by Ken Babstock . Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2011. 101 pages. $14.95 softcover. ISBN: 978-0-88784-293-1.

Reviews of Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet have been mixed. Most have more or less mentioned the book’s difficulty; that Babstock is “no longer intelligible” and “wilfully obscure” (Shane Neilson); that the poems are at times “so thick with sound it’s difficult for the reader to find a way in” (Abby Paige), and the sense is of “eavesdropping on a conversation of which the reader is no longer part” (Nick Mount). All of these claims are pretty much spot-on. There are some strong moments, though; unfortunately, those moments don’t make up for the book’s deficiencies.

The first poem in the collection, “The Décor,” functions as its central thematic piece, a small-scale version of the book as a whole. The reader’s initially struck by its not-so-subtle critique of conspicuous consumption, and along with that the baggage of style, money, class, and value. While the poem considers the role home décor plays in offering a picture of status and wealth to the public—“a visual/of earned leisure” (2), this concern with style extends beyond this scope to the role of style in poetry. Babstock writes “Nothing now eases the buzzing/suspicion I’m being signaled to from across/a great distance” (1-2), and we feel the same way; but it’s Babstock signaling to us through the “clutter of//the manifest image” (4). However, what he wants is clear: for the reader to


Slide an arm right through

the surface of this picture,

into whatever spatial realm lies

behind the illusion of depth, to hold

the hand of the person


wanting so badly to be seen precisely

as they feel themselves to be (ibid)


One hears John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (“One would like to stick one’s hand/out of the globe, but its dimension,/what carries it, will not allow it”), and Babstock’s interest in the visual arts (Jeff Wall, Jeff Koons and Robert Rauschenberg show up later) is clear. However, where he wants his readers to see “whatever spatial realm lies/behind the illusion of depth,” often all we’re given is that illusion. At one point he asks, “Is this about style?” (3). We worry that’s all it’s about. Throughout the book, the reader peruses the design, which has supplanted the structure itself. Methodist Hatchet is built out of surface material and little else.

Most of Babstock’s strong moments occur in the book’s first half. For example, in “Radio Tower” we read: “Everything’s the colour of rabbits, scissored/from another world and pasted on thin” (37). Or in “Nottawasaga”: “Sky a motif of cowslip in clear ice, /mayflies make moon-dials of the flagstones” (77). And in “As Marginalia in John Clare’s The Rural Muse”, a hospital is the setting for a consideration of ailment, perhaps the same sort Clare suffered while finishing his last collection. Here, Babstock depicts a view:


Hexagonal window, the moon


penned in it, and a segmented swarm sucking

up peonies (5)


The beauty here lies in its simplicity. Where the language is clarified, pared down and precise, Babstock succeeds. That kind of gracefulness is minimal in this collection, its resonance oftentimes drowned out by the buzzing of so much else.Another strong poem is “Caledonia,” a political piece centered on the protests regarding the Grand River land dispute in Ontario in 2006:


Then we came out in numbers. Organized as Canadians

we came out in numbers with flags. With flags aloft


and hooting we stepped out in anger and in numbers. In

numbers as Canadians we came out drunk and threw rocks.


We threw rocks and golf balls as our patience had come to its

natural end. As Canadians we threw rocks past our flags aloft. (10)


Again, where Babstock is strong is where he is able to pare down both language and lineation. Here, the result is a poem in couplets that works on the logic of pattern and variation, whose repetition and circling indicates a kind of futility. “Caledonia” enacts through language the difficulty in affecting political change or social action.

Where the poems are unsuccessful is where they lapse into wordplay (“Que Syria, Syria”), overwrought syntax (“Bathynaut”) or longish narratives with little momentum to carry the reader through (“Coney Burns,” “Russian Doctor”). His poems range in topic (sugar gliders, video games, Lee Atwater) as well as in formal choice (tercets, quatrains, sestets, longer stanzas, end rhyme), but this wild variance slips around the halfway point of the book. As Babstock writes in “The Living Text,” “the slipknot of visuals begins to undo” (20), and at times it’s hard to see why these poems exist in a volume together. At best, Methodist Hatchet is kaleidoscopic; at worst, it’s haphazard.

But what I’m most struck by here is the ambivalence Babstock seems to have regarding his status as a writer, and where he stands among other writers. Many poems cite figures: Theodor Adorno, William James, David Foster Wallace; the Johns Clare and Ashbery. Other writers pop in and out like snippets of conversation: T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Antonio Gramsci, Don DeLillo. At times the effect is of name-dropping, and one notices a pattern in those referenced: mostly literary or philosophical figures, and all men. In this book I hear an anxiety of influence—a man trying to understand why he does what he does—but in doing so, he overdoes the poems themselves. The reader is left with “the fuzz of bafflement” (84), surrounded by so much stuff, but with little understanding of the significance of the stuff. I wish I felt this was deliberate on the part of Babstock—that he’s making some comment about how hard it is to live in our bewildering contemporary moment—but the poems don’t resonate beyond their own boundaries. The effect of the book is kaleidoscopic, but there’s no center focus to hold the dazzle together.


Ken Babstock is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Mean (Anansi, 1999), Days into Flatspin (Anansi, 2001), and Airstream Land Yacht (Anansi, 2006), which was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His poems have been anthologized in Canada, the United States, and Ireland and The Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature. A former poetry editor at Anansi Press, he lives in Toronto.

Jennifer Mooreis a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and serves as Poetry Editor for Another Chicago Magazine.

Joris Soeding on Ronald F. Smits’ "Push"

Push. By Ronald F. Smits. Scranton, Pennsylvania: University of Scranton Press, 2009. 78 pages. $10.00 hardcover.

This remarkably nostalgic journey begins with a boy playing with grandpa’s glass eye, citing the guidance of a grandfather and inviting us into a world of boyhood memories laden with jokes, falling in love, and the guilt along the way. Ronald F. Smits immediately lures us into a place where “even the clothespins smell good” and “the creek takes care of its own, / bearing the weight of centuries like a single leaf.” ‘The Water Pistol’ is a poem that typifies the nostalgia and rich language in Push (8). Smits tells of boys armed at school despite constant leaking, shooting each other in the fly and aiming for girls they have crushes on. Smits is strikingly vivid while remaining concise.

He tells us of collecting bottle caps, admiring the body of Venus, and discovering a stick of bubble gum in the wrapper of WWII picture cards. His repetition of words within a poem and occasionally into the next, provide a strong cohesion that benefits the themes of the book. The pushing during birth and pattern of moving from town to town succinctly carry Smits’ choice for language. The alliterative tendencies and infrequent rhyme add to the fun that Smits is clearly having, particularly in the opening poems.

Nevertheless, the heartbreaks of Push do arrive. The speaker loses a pink Spaulding ball in the sewer, sobbing until finding a way to reclaim it, visits a friend at the cemetery, and rides his bike from church to church in hopes of having an unrecognizable voice during confession. Even through these glimpses, Smits somehow pulls the rug from underneath the reader in ‘Bridges’ (27). Walking across bridges close to home, he suddenly is crossing one during the Vietnam War, “where, in the harbor, the wombs / of Victory and Liberty are pregnant with napalm, / the canisters as shiny as the milk cans of the car.”

Shortly after a great fear of water and living in the shadow of an older brother, Smits addresses the quieter moments and a passion for trees. We find him under an elm, startled at breakfast as a doe peers through the window, and simply admiring how rocks settled. By the concluding twenty poems of Push, Whitman comes to mind. Smits’ listing techniques and role as playful observer of the natural and industrial world echoes the bard. Yet Smits proves to be more humorous.

With Push, Ronald F. Smits has revealed his fervor with the lyricism of a musician and the abundant, detailed palette of a painter. Seventy-eight pages just aren’t enough.   

Ronald F. Smits retired from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2008. His poems have appeared in College English, Free Lunch, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Poet Lore, Poet and Critic, Poetry East, North American Review, River Styx, The South Carolina Review, The Southern Review, Tar River Poetry and The Texas Observer.

Curbside Splendor Literary Magazine Review by Josalyn Knapic

On the cover of Curbside Splendor Issue 1, Spring 2011, there are soft white lights from blurred black streetlamps. An allusion to the cover art as well as the content, it is simple yet alluring. This newly developed literary magazine publishes fiction and poetry. It hails from the Chicago neighborhood, Logan Square. Edited by Victor David Giron, this semi-annual magazine brings to light urban (and sometimes sub-urban) settings.

Photography is intermixed within the text. The black and white images capture urbanization¾ through photojournalistic city landscapes, abstraction, and close ups. All photos are taken either by designer of the magazine Karolina Koko Faber or by photographers: Garrett Holden, Michael San Filippo, and Eirik Gumney.

This magazine can be defined from a poem entitled, “What We Talk About When We Talk About the End,” in which Ally Malinenki writes, “It goes in different directions. I try to stay away from the panic.” Each story or poem takes the reader in some new direction while exploring the "panic" of life, whether it is meeting your death somehow on Rue de Nil in opening story "Second-Hand Blue," meditating on city streets in Frankie Metro's poem "Kingsley Ave.," or living as children struggling during the month of Ramadan in Farah Ghuznavi's story "Waiting for God."

These different directions also take us into fiction winners of Curbside’s 2010 Winter Short Story Award Opportunity. Brandon Jennings “Doc the Fifth” is the first place story of a soldier in the Iraqi War. Second place winner Yovani Flores introduces us to a Puerto Rican father’s kitchen habits in “El Lloron.” Third place story “Onida” by Michael San Filippo takes us through young adult's troubled relationships.

Everything in this issue begs to have the reader understand what it means to share stories (tragedies or successes) with people that are close to us. They also show how strangers can influence our lives. That's what being an urbanite is all about, lives intersecting other lives. The casualness of the issue gleams what all of us are looking for: meaning in the obvious, the routine, and the fascination in the behavior of people. Curbside Splendor focuses on appreciating the substance of what it means to be urban.

“[H]ere I’ll stay, enchanted”: a review of Anthony McCann’s "I Heart Your Fate," by Jennifer Moore

Anthony McCann’s third collection of poetry reveals a preoccupation with how we encounter, experience and process the world around us. He places emphasis on processes of perception and modes of discovery, and the objects in McCann’s view are charged with vitality: material is imbued with life, the inanimate is animated. And though at times what’s seen is threatening or ominous, these poems are ultimately celebratory, and the world is one in which “it’s nice to be held while watching the waves.”


In the opening poem of the collection, “Post-Futurism,” we glimpse the early stages of the processes of reflection, which mark most of McCann’s poems: “When I was young, life/ was instrumental and/ through experience (in life)/ (through which I poured myself)/ I passed through various/ Containers of/ pre-dawn excellence” (3). The speaker’s way of discovering his surroundings involves gathering tactile and sense impressions, as in “Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” in which events are as-yet-unfulfilled:

Review of "A Beautiful Name for a Girl," by Kirsten Kaschock

In her most recent collection of poems, A Beautiful Name for a Girl (Ahsahta Press, 2011) Kirsten Kaschock explores different concepts of identity, and how identity is constructed. These concepts become increasingly constricting, and the book ultimately acts as a means of finding an escape from the self and society.


The opening poem, “Assemblage,” gives readers a sense of ownership and construction, using architecture as a trope for constructing a self that is wholly self and not dependent on any outside factors. By placing this as the introductory poem, Kaschock establishes identity as something that must not rely on outside standards but must be constructed within; shelter cannot be sought, only built. “This is the house Jane built by being the house / Jane built by being” (32-33). She establishes the search for identity not as finding oneself, “Once, this was Jane finding Jane” (2-3). but as embracing what is already there.


This foundation crumbles with each poem that follows, however, as Kaschock writes from increasingly varied perspectives, and in doing so writes her own mythology of gods and angels and demons, spiders and machines. Each poem follows a thread of this mythology, exploring the different perspectives of human, monster, dancer, teacher, mother, woman. What makes the poems so intriguing is how these perspectives interact and weave their way throughout the collection through her masterful repetition of words and themes. Just when a subject seems thoroughly exhausted, Kaschock brings it up again, forcing the mind to stretch to encounter it in a new way.


The culmination of these variances is most apparent in “Snuff Ballet (A Monologue for 2, 3, or 7),” a long poem that makes up the entire middle section of the book and captures the voice of a playwright, her critics, and her audience, all fixated on the display of the single dancer, a woman. The poem oscillates between these voices, and although the voice of the dancer is never heard, she is described:


one dancer


required to be omega

older than her peers, in some way

bird-like, quick and puckish, prone to flight

prone to spasms

prone to on-stage orgasm

armed with working feet and a hole

in her heart that could lead

to certain death (strains of the 5th—three duhs

one duhm) therefore


karma-wise, all birds have issues

hollow bones, a diet of seeds

small eyes, their alertness instinct

not intuition, not intellect although

appearing intellect, required to

required to fool us all—up to and including

moment omega, and crucially


she must not believe in her own death (68-86)


These descriptions of the dancer’s character, costume, choreography and motivation are interspersed throughout, each increasingly eerie and invasive until eventually it is the playwright, the artist, who is on display and poised to fail.


“Fail. Now— / there’s a beautiful name for a girl” (35-36), is how Kaschock ends the penultimate poem of the book. This line seems the inevitable conclusion to these fable poems, the word “fail” serving as a reminder of what happens when all these voices are heeded and the foundation of the self is not preserved. But it still comes as a shock that this mythology is also tragic in nature: after listening to all these voices, there is still no hero to banish them, and Jane must build the house herself after all.


BIO: Kirsten Kaschock earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia, and is currently a doctoral fellow of dance at Temple University. A Beautiful Name for a Girl is her second collection of poems and is available from Ahsahta Press. 

Review of Larry Sawyer's "Unable to Fully California," by Connor Stratman

“Life only seemed worth living where the threshold between waking and sleeping was worn away in everyone as by the steps of multitudinous flooding back and forth.” – Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism”


            Reading poetry has become an act of flooding, a flood of words, a bleeding between of meanings. The very act stimulates a panic in the reader, an almost political paranoia of language. Can we even trust poetry? What can it offer us now?

            On one hand, there are those who place infinite faith in the hope of poetry’s renewal, those who theorize and attempt to write works that are conceived as the great new innovation of the art (Conceptual writing, or the new trend in “theme” centered collections of lyric). On the other hand, there are those who wholly disparage poetry (beware the New Classicism! and the alienated non-reader!) for its allegedly growing obscurity and inaccessibility, and therefore its alleged uselessness as a social fact.

            Larry Sawyer’s Unable to Fully Californiais wholly aware of these questions. Yet, in lieu of quelling the reader’s anxiety about poetry’s place, his poems rather expand upon the aforementioned questions; he does not seek to answer, but to complicate. The poems themselves are frenzied and varied, vocalizing both a multitude and a solitude.

            The opening poem, “Crawlspace Tango,” presents a kind of heteroglossia of entropic clashing of voice and breath. The use of the capitalized first letter of each line (“On a bench my newspapered nerves flutter./Bloom of a dark, wide silence, the human/Tether keeps pulling.”) gives a charge of individuality to each line, to keep each breath different, separate yet always engaged in a dialogic presence with each other, which calls to mind Ashbery’s disruptive vocal flow that blows apart the binary distinction between the intimate and the publicized. Thus, Sawyer presents a poetics of a split world, one of drifting and one of torpedoing.

            Sawyer’s sense of politics takes the form of surrealist juxtaposition and disruption. For example, in “Circle the Wagons,” he writes: “nothing like a good Afghanistan/to clear the sinuses.” The infringement of the political landscape into the nasal cavity forms a central theme in Sawyer’s poems, that of the ever-pressing potential of an aesthetic and revolutionary consciousness. The surrealist techniques Sawyer employs—from the long tradition of Koch, Ashbery, Wakoski, etc.—inverts the overstuffed imagery of media and literature on its axis, blurring the lines of image and noise.  

           The social function of poetry is also a baffling question. He writes in “For Guillaume Apollinaire”:


sad music of presidents regard the women beautiful

you are an orange or else the moon

a house, a table, the lips of a rose

you resemble a song, familiar as yourself

brilliant son of lost waters.


             The place of the poet in such a context becomes a place of hesitation. The aforementioned passage gives us a list of options, a minor litany of poetic choices that poets can concern themselves with. The poetic voice is thus an appropriately Melvillian “brilliant son of lost waters,” an Ishmael-esque body without a center and a voice without a set timbre. Left with no absolute essence of subject, the poem/poet then chooses that all of these choices are up for grabs, no choice of content being incorrect.

            The poet now becomes an elasticityof social function, both the legislator and the schizoid ranter. Thus, in such confusion, Sawyer’s poetry compels us to main an emotionalresponse to these stimuli, the ultimate necessity of lyricismas poetic act:


Without dolor the character

muses, dialogue moons,

edges me into time

(“Like You Know”)


            The character of lyric is maintained through dreaming. This stanza, echoing Lorca, engages the voice with non-existent elements that become existent through wordplay and sound textures. The lines employ traditional figures (“dolor,” “moons,” and “me,” especially) to reconfigure lyrical logic into a recognizable yet shadowy imagination.

            Sawyer’s book engages not only information but also the act of poetry itself. When language becomes so fraught with media blending and abstraction, the poem becomes both the stretched mediator and the conscientious objector. But the poem must always strive to actwithin a context of passivity and unconscious flow. Therein lies the relevance of Sawyer’s work: the struggle to write poems that are, as they should be, an act. An act upon meaning, on language itself. As he demonstrates in “From 27 Voices,” (“Salmon hands, Pacific hands, Pisces-born, there are flies in my sleep”), the formulation of a poetics is necessarily a state of indeterminacy, of uncertainty. Neither the poet nor the reader can sit satisfied with clear definitions of “the dream” or “the real.” The act of the poem, for Sawyer, is the entropic expansion of these spaces of meaning and feeling. This expansion becomes the key to relevance, to the survival and recreation of the poem.



Bio:Larry Sawyer, who lives in Chicago, is the current editor of milk. He also curates the Myopic Books Reading Series in Wicker Park. The author of several chapbooks, his first book, Unable to Fully California, is now available from Otoliths Press.


100 Notes on Violence

Julie Carr

Ahsahta Press. 120 pgs Jan 2010. 13-978-1-934103-11-1 $19.00 

In her most recent release from Ahsahta Press, 100 Notes on Violence, Julie Carr brings the topics of violence and fear close to her audience, while simultaneously attempting to shield them from it. These attempts, of course, are futile, as a far more chilling account becomes inferred based on what the poet leaves unsaid.

“In recent years I have found myself less and less able to tolerate images or text about violence,” admits Carr in her author’s statement. “As a balance to the book’s admittedly disturbing material,” Carr continues, “I include very short lyrics that I think of as lullabies.”

These “lullabies” make use of simple rhyme and rhythm, giving the disturbing images and moods that Carr conjures a deceptive gloss of easy readability. It often takes a second for the gravity of what’s really being said to sink in, as is exemplified in poem #14 when she writes:


“He’s got a knife in the pocket and a phone in the neck, some cash, some wool, something wet in the head.

He ‘let fire’ in a Wendy’s, and a medic and his family (Jane’s Addiction in his iPod)-

they ‘went down.’”


These poems, with their breakaway lines and hurried tones, are the furtive glances procured during car wrecks and crime scenes; what wriggling and defiant children can make out between the spaces of a doting mother’s fingers. Readers are shown a little bit, then suddenly ripped away, then shown a bit more, until they are ripped away again. Through their structures and vocabularies, these poems become verbal representations of the intangible emotions experienced in crises. Everything from a mistreated daughter’s unrelenting torrent of anger (#67) to a deadpan news report of a teenager’s fatal gunshot wound (#71) is represented in the book’s 100 morbid oddities.

Being both a personal project and research report, written in a manner that is itself a defense mechanism yet somehow also heightens the gravity of the text, swinging between subjective personal entries and objective 3rd person narratives constantly plays off of its seemingly counteractive dualities to ultimately further its own progression. Carr is describing violence, which immediately distances readers from the event. But, because of the vagueness of these descriptions, readers’ imaginations are prompted to fill in the gaps, allowing for a limitless array of horrifying scenes to become more real than ever. Carr has achieved an unsettling and boundless portrayal of violence, a collection of lullabies that should never be sung to children. 

Liam Hemming

* * *

Julie Carr was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1988. Initially having gone to pursue writing, Carr shifted her focus to dance. She traveled and performed until 1997, when she received her MFA in Poetry from New York University. She also received a Ph.D. in 2006 from University of California, Berkeley. Carr has published four books of poetry, and her work has appeared in publications such as American Poetry Review, Fence, TriQuarterly, Colorado Review, and others. She is the recipient of the 2009 Sawtooth Poetry Prize for 100 Notes on Violence, the 2009 National Poetry Series selection for Sarah – of Fragments and Lines, and recently received a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry. Carr currently holds the title of Assistant Professor of English at University of Colorado.