Rumpus Blog

Notable Chicago: 3/27–4/2

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Friday 3/27: Aron Dunlap on Lacan and Religion at Seminary Co-op. 6 p.m., free.

Hope Springs Eternal at The Hideout for Funny Ha-Ha, hosted this month by Claire Zulkey. Featured readers: Tyler Snodgrass, Kimberly Bellware, Emily Graslie, Carly Oishi, Rebecca Hanson, and Steve Delahoyde. 6:30 p.m., $10 suggested donation (profits benefit SitStayRead).

Carson Ellis talks about her whimsical and elegant first picture book, Home. The Book Cellar, 7 p.m.

Saturday 3/28: Partake in Human Communion, an ongoing project at Uncharted Books that seeks to promote unifying experiences in a therapeutic creative environment. Saturday evening’s performances, discussions, and activities center around the theme of letters. 7 p.m., free.

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Animalities-Cover-for-web

Animalities by David Dodd Lee

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Animalities, David Dodd Lee’s ninth collection, is prefaced by a quote from French philosopher Michel Foucault: “The relations with animality are reversed; the beast is set free.” This quote can be found in Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, his seminal work tracing the history of madness as a concept. In his discussion of the Renaissance, Foucault points to the obsessions with the unnatural as a way for man to access some normally inaccessible truth about the human experience, to find “one of the secrets and one of the vocations of his nature…reveal him to his own truth.” But the only means of admission to this reality is animality; man must be unbound from reason and human law if he wants to understand himself completely.

Animalities looks for the truths that can be found only amidst such freedom. Its imagistic, subversive poems both question and exemplify the unnatural, maintaining a critical eye on man’s suppositions. Like the chimeras of Renaissance art, these poems embody contradictions:

                                                                           I almost want to say
I know what I want now, this trail of “no light” in all its remedial

   brilliance, unfollowable.
But I don’t know, do I? I’m stuck with this carnage and joy.

Constantly, the figures in these poems re-evaluate reality. The result is a world at times amorphous and austere. What feels like a long time need only be measured in minutes; after eight minutes, the sky can lose all traces of the coming storm one was once certain of. Earlier in “Carnage,” the above-quoted poem, the speaker realizes,

One can’t really say one was lucky to have lived. Though perhaps
it seems so to you, to me. There aren’t any stars, just bodies blown out

   of consciousness
along with all consciousness; everything is abstract, retreating from form.

The tone of this assertion carries an insistence for clarification, like a teacher presupposing a pupil’s confusion or question. Like many of the figures throughout Animalities, the speaker in “Carnage” craves some kind of order, even if the only means of achieving it is through the observation of disorder. The speaker is an explorer, and despite the inaccuracies of our perceptions, these poems still look for answers.

One of the most striking qualities of these poems lies in their astute, dream-like imagery. Lee artfully partners abstract thought with both the familiar and the fantastic. In “The Soul as a Skiff,” straightforward, narrative sentences are complicated by the surreal:

Today my door facing the lake blows wide

open. A cardinal standing on my lawn is swallowing
an emotional rabbit. It is not upsetting. The sun is shining on Baugo Bay.

With beauty and delirium, the speaker leads us through this reality of “carnage and joy.” These images resist 032simplification. Like a magic show, any moment the rabbit will vanish; the crowd will be left in awe. But we are assured that the grotesque image of the half-swallowed rabbit should cause no concern. The rabbit’s demise is “not upsetting,” the speaker says. This impermanence causes no sadness, no darkening, but a bright light.

The book is divided into three unnumbered sections. The middle section contains one three-page, five-section poem: “For the Country,” the only one in the collection to exceed one and a half pages. Set in a Wakarusa, Indiana café, this poem shifts against reconciliation, setting the mood of the rest of the book. “For the Country” is uninterested in straight-narrative, or even staying in one setting. Instead, this poem leaps from place to place, speaker to speaker. It embodies multiple moments in one—another half-man/half-beast hybrid of this collection. What begins in the present of the café soon moves to an italicized scene in someone’s home. The first eleven lines of the poem utilize perfect punctuation; by the last two sections, the punctuation is almost all missing. Several poems following “For the Country” continue to use punctuation sparingly, underlining the effects of this acuteness.

From “Room for Rent”:

The house is a cove, the house
is a cove, the house is a cove, the

house is
a city, a stone’s throw, a kindly

regurgitation, I’ll admit

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Animalities is simply hearing such lines roll off my tongue. The charismatic musicality of Lee’s poetic ear accompanies me as I delve into the unnatural, the confusing, and the difficult to parse. The surreal and the subversive survive in an appetizing proposal structured by a dynamic melodiousness. I’m constantly struck by the desire to hear a line again and again.

The final poem in the collection, “The Impossibility of Loving Mankind as a Whole,” scrutinizes the unfortunate circumstance of a goose that is “simply shot.” As a truck with a deer in the back drives by, the speaker considers how the deer and the goose differ:

deer in a pile, hooves separated; there’s no divinity like making
a sale, cleaning the hills to a burnished luster. This other wasn’t

   for meat—
dead wings in the water—or sport. Goose as fragment of the benevolent

imagination of oceans, lord of the sea-skies—we pray.

How is one to understand the violence with which mankind approaches other living creatures? The poem asserts that we pray “[f]or the bird, / not man.” But what we’re left thinking of when we finish this poem, when we finish Animalities, is not the goose or the cardinal, or the rabbit disappearing before our eyes. We’re left with man and his sterile madness—his toes clenching into hooves; his shoulders sprouting wings.

We Need Equal Books

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While in one sense the propensity in mainstream discourse to describe racial conflict with words like “tolerance” and “hate”—rather than “power” or “oppression”—has made it possible for greater numbers of people to conceive of how racism affects individuals on a psychological level, a more unsettling consequence of this turn has been that diversity has largely replaced equality as the ultimate goal for many educational and workplace settings, including the book publishing world.

At The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Jennifer Pan points out the limitations in literary and educational diversity initiatives like #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Redefining the Commons

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A library is rarely ever just a library, often evolving alongside the community it serves. The Lacuna Project is taking this idea literally by building a library made entirely of books for this year’s Bay Area Book Festival. Festival-goers will be able to remove (and keep) books without damaging the structure, whose lighting and acoustics will change in response to their collective impact. Pitch in by donating to Lacuna’s Kickstarter or helping sort books for the installation.

The Moments in the Middle

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Paul Lisicky writes about those moments in our lives when we find ourselves in between:

Some people carve X’s into the skin behind their knees after a breakup. Some curse at random strangers, or fall in love with escorts or junkies or petty criminals, people as far as possible from the loved ones they’d left. In the scriptures it says that Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert. We are expected to believe that he was tested by hunger, that he resisted the temptation to turn stone into bread, that he strode back into Jerusalem leaner, wiser, more faithful.

Song of the Day: “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”

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Road trip songs occupy a plush seat in the American canon—right underneath the fuzzy dice. They are often harbingers of summer, and “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” is no exception. This prototypical Tribe Called Quest track from their first album features a playful and engaging narrative from standout MC, Q-Tip. Samples from the Chambers Brothers track, “Funky,” provide a thumping and appropriately frenetic backbeat. Q-Tip’s crew drives all the way from the east coast to Texas, where they stop for enchiladas and a pretty waitress distracts them at just the wrong moment.

Notable Portland: 3/26–4/1

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Thursday 3/26: The ACRL Zine Pavillion is your chance to read a zine, make a zine, talk to librarians who use zines for teaching and outreach, edit ZineWiki.com, and buy zines from local zinesters. Oh, and make sure to add a page to our collaborative conference zine. Oregon Convention Center, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., free, open Friday as well.

Three-time spoken word world champion Buddy Wakefield stops in Portland on his Riled Up and Wasted on Light World Tour. Holocene, 6:30 p.m., $10.

Jacob Rubin reads from his debut novel, The Poser, on impression, magic, and mimicry. Powell’s on Hawthorne, 7:30 p.m., free.

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Well, How Does She Do It?

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So where does this leave us? I think back to “The Woman Question.” I have (most days) not felt the need to leave my husband and children in order to safeguard my sanity, so that is progress of a sort, I concede. But what about the dichotomy I once posed for my students: heir-producing arm candy or low wage factory girl, which would you choose? In some ways, as I shuttle between colleges, my children’s school and various cobbled-together childcare options, I seem to have chosen both.

On women, writing, and careers.

Welcome to Braggsville

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

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T. Geronimo Johnson’s first novel Hold It Til It Hurts is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It’s a visceral, somber tale of two brothers returning from military service in Afghanistan only to find more Afghanistans in their family secrets and the bombed-out ghettos of Atlanta and New Orleans. The prose is disciplined and precise, and by the time the climax swirled in the eye of Hurricane Katrina, there was no doubt in my mind that Hold It Til It Hurts is the definitive novel of the African-American male experience during the Bush years. I’ll be thinking about sentences like this one for a long time:

There were the morbidly inquisitive, people who thought they could comprehend, secondhand, if they could understand how often the dead appear to be grinning, or that if you stare too long a dead friend looks more and more like a stranger, while a dead stranger looks increasingly like a long-lost friend.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s follow-up Welcome to Braggsville is the shaggy, far less accomplished younger brother of his first book, a coming-of-age tragi-farce that never finds cohesion between the genres it tries to blend. Simultaneously undercooked and overstuffed, the purported Southern-fried comedy fails to clear its lowest hurdle: it’s just not funny enough.

Like Hold It Til It Hurts, Welcome to Braggsville is set primarily in the American South. A group of friends from different backgrounds meet in the undergraduate dorms at UC Berkeley and are referred to as The Little Indians. There’s D’aron, a sensitive white kid from the small town of Braggsville, Georgia. There’s Louis Chang, who wants to be a standup comedian. There’s Candice, a beautiful, liberal blonde so well-intentioned that she holds her own memorial to Ishi because she’s a fraction Native American. And Charles, the black student-athlete with a secret.

In an American History class, the Little Indians decide it would be a good idea to protest Braggsville’s annual Civil War re-enactment by flying to Georgia and staging a fake lynching. The class calls it “a performative intervention.”

I went to Berkeley, and I remember the place as being much less liberal than its legacy. Hundreds of Christian student groups roamed the campus. There were plenty of left-leaning organizations, of course, but by and large, blue-state and red-state students co-existed in peace. No one I knew (teacher or student) would have been surprised that Civil War re-enactments still happened. We all read our George Saunders. No one would ever consider it a smart idea to travel to slavery’s former home turf to get in the face of Southern whites about their culture. Protest from the safety of Sproul Hall? Absolutely. Give up spring break to risk imprisonment or worse? Unlikely. But that’s okay, because I just assumed Johnson, the director of the UC Berkeley Summer Creative Writing Program, was conjuring an exaggerated version of the university we both know for the purposes of raucous satire.

Some of Braggsville is quite raucous. When the faux-lynching goes horribly awry, the ambivalent reaction of the Braggsville residents echoes the way Americans reacted to the wrongful deaths in Ferguson and elsewhere last year. Johnson nails the balancing act between the absurd and the real in this very funny glimpse of D’aron’s college essays:

In regarding my major. There are over three hundred at Berkeley, and it’s hard to choose one when the most popular extracurricular activities here are 4-H, hunting, and Xbox…

I read on the YouTube advice link connected to the application page that we’re not supposed to end with a quote, especially from a book called “The Road Less Traveled.” Well, I guess I just did that anyway…

On another note, YouTube also said to be honest, so I must admit that the other reason I like UC Berkeley is because the only way I could get farther from Home is to learn how to swim.

T. Geronimo Johnson

T. Geronimo Johnson

I wished the reader could laugh more often at The Little Indians. But Johnson wants the reader to take their coming-of-age seriously. Everyone goes along with the protest because Candice is enthusiastic about it, and they all seem to desire her. Poor Candice – the only female of significance in the book – is repeatedly sexualized even in the most tragic of circumstances. See this passage after the disastrous performative intervention:

Looking at her feet D’aron winced. The ankles and insteps red clay encrusted. The left little toenail ripped off. Muddy blood caulked the cuticle and the nail bed was red as a blister. They… took… him! They… took… him!

They who? They who?

Candice was sitting upright now, no longer clutching her blouse. Her bra, also tiger-striped, poked through the hole where the breast pocket would be. Charlie reached over and gingerly adjusted her shirt, but there wasn’t enough fabric to cover everything.

She looked up at D’aron, and her eyes, always a little sleepy in a cute way, were inflamed, and her stare so fixed and piercing.

Candice is cute, even when it looks like she might have been raped and one of D’aron’s best friends is missing.

These tonal clangings bog down Welcome to Braggsville. After one of the Little Indians dies, the last two-thirds of the book is almost impossible to laugh with, despite the swipes at Southern culture, the appearance of Pynchonesque federal agents, and an absurd trial by tribunal in front of the local militia. Because while we should have been chewing on Johnson’s social commentary about America, the book is most concerned with D’aron’s grief.

Other times, the book tries to be funny, but isn’t. Louis Chang is a comic genius in D’aron’s eyes, but the lengthy standup routine that slays at D’aron’s family picnic is filled with broad cringe-inducers about Asians like “we eat everything but the oink or, sometimes in our case, the bark.”

Huge opportunities for dramatic conflict are missed. Only a few silent moments are given to the dead boy’s parents when they arrive in Braggsville to bring their son’s body home. For some reason, they don’t blame D’aron and his friends for what’s happened.

Welcome to Braggsville made me wish that the same themes had been tackled by an author with sharper satirical knives like a Paul Beatty or Christopher Buckley. I’d love to see this book again in another incarnation, when the little brother of Johnson’s brilliant first book grows up.

How to Harlequin

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Over at Jezebel, Kelly Faircloth shares a fantastic long form piece on the rise of the Harlequin romance novel, and how the brand became synonymous with a wildly lucrative if critically dismissed genre. From the original formula for woman-centered, alpha-male page turners to Harlequin’s relentless advertising tactics to the question of exactly how much sex sells best, Faircloth presents a sociological study. And maybe Harlequin still has something to teach the publishing industry today:

They knew they were selling to women, and they chased women’s dollars without embarrassment or apology. And let’s face it, being associated with women is often the shortest route to being dismissed in the broader culture as fundamentally unserious.

Word of the Day: Didascalic

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(adj.); intended to teach; related to teaching or education

“How did it come to be … that ‘those of us for whom English is a line of work are also called upon to love literature and ensue that others do so, too’?”

–Dora Zhang, “Love, Loot, and Lit.”

“We don’t expect,” writes Dora Zhang, “a molecular biologist to love bacteria in the way we expect an English professor to love Jane Austen.” It’s a valid point: when we talk about literature, it’s usually with undertones of awe, adoration and admiration for the craft of the writing, the words themselves. But what happens when our love for literature must be applied practically—scientifically, even—as either student or teacher? What happens when we are told how to read, interpret, and discuss a book? Join Zhang in a discussion of these ideas in her recent article for The Chronicle.

Finally, a Seuss Museum

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The world’s first museum dedicated to the life and work of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, is set to open in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts as soon as 2016. The venture will be a welcome addition to the museum circuit of western Mass, already home to the Art Picture Book Museum, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Yiddish Book Center, and will be a lively center for education programs as well as cultural artifacts. Visitors can look forward to kid-sized recreations of the real Springfield sights that inspired later Seussical staples, including the dogwoods that would become truffula trees, the city zoo, and of course, the famed Mulberry Street.

Notable San Francisco: 3/25–3/31

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Wednesday 3/25: The University of San Francisco presents Day 2 of their annual Emerging Writers Festival, featuring Stegner Fellow Shara Lessley and the winner of the 2012 American Short(er) Fiction Award, Ryan MacDonald. Free, 7:45 p.m., University of San Francisco, Marschi Room, Fromm Hall.

Celebrated novelist and Yale Professor Caryl Phillips is in town to promote The Lost Child, his tenth novel, published this month by Farrar, Straus. Giroux. He will be reading excerpts tonight at City Lights. It’s probably a good idea to arrive early for this one. Free, 7 p.m., City Lights.

Thursday 3/26: The Emerald Tablet will host a closing party for its gallery show, “From Mission to North Beach,” which features large scale paintings by artists from these iconic neighborhoods, many of them celebrated writers as well. There will be performances by musician Jorge Molina, Jack Hirschman (San Francisco’s poet laureate emeritus), slam champion Matt Sedillo, and others. Free, 6-10 p.m., The Emerald Tablet.

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Truth & Dare at TED: The Monica Lewinsky TED Talk

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What comes to mind when you hear the name Monica Lewinsky? The blue dress? A beret? Or maybe some rap songs? If so, you’re far from alone. But that all changed for several of us, including me, when she walked onto the TED stage Thursday.

The affair that propelled then 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky into the spotlight happened almost twenty years ago. Celebrities and non-celebrities have done far more scandalous things since. None have been vilified or remained a laughingstock for so long.

The theme for TED2015 was Truth & Dare and, in the first three days of the conference, I heard more discussion of her upcoming talk than the theme or any other individual speaker. Not a single TEDster made a snide comment. And not a single person planned to miss her talk and see what idea, in the spirit of TED talks, she planned to share. (more…)

Now and Then

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At the Telegraph, Mario Vargas Llosa drops some wisdom on the state of literature:

“I remember when I was young,” he continues, “to have a literary or artistic vocation was really dramatic, because you were so isolated from the common world. You felt that you were marginal, and if you dared to try to organize your life around your vocation, you knew you’d be completely segregated. This is changing now, particularly in bigger countries – even in Lima, now, you can be a painter, a musician or a poet; it’s difficult but not impossible. But then,” he shrugs, “it seemed so unrealistic.”

The DO Over

The Do-Over by Kathleen Ossip

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As Humphrey Bogart didn’t say in Casablanca, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful Do-Over.” As Kathleen Ossip did say, in her newly released third collection of poems, “I am/ Still studying, aren’t you?”  Yes, as a matter of fact, I am!  Thank you for asking. 

One of my recent pleasures of study has been this very book and the extraordinary permissions it offers to readers and writers alike—indeed to anyone who is “still studying”—to make process a part of their project, to tear down fourth walls all over the place, to renovate unremittingly across the page, and to entertain re-vision (as Rich wrote of it, with that essential hyphen) as the subject itself rather than that which is ultimately scrapped on the cutting room floor. 

I bring up movies because Ossip’s collection is remarkably cinematic.  I find myself watching these poems more than reading them, and sometimes the speaker herself comments on what she has shown me.  This doesn’t happen in a voiceover kind of way, remote and all-knowing, but as if a woman “wimpled by unknowing” had sat down beside me in the theater, offered some popcorn, and whispered in my ear: “Accordion music is the saddest music on earth: agree or disagree?”  Beneath my own wimple of unknowing, I mull on the question, listen to the soundtrack of the poem.

What we mis-hear is often as important as what we hear, I’m learning.  Perhaps by analogy, what we don’t know is just as important as what we do.  This message certainly comes through in The Do-Over.  Recall how in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman actually says, “Play it once, Sam,” and later, “Play it, Sam.”  She never says, “Play it again.”  Yet from a single misquoted phrase, look at the artistic innovations that arose: Woody Allen’s 1969 Broadway play, Play It Again, Sam, followed by the film of the same name adapted for the screen in 1972.  Then, the Manchester Orchestra wrote a song called “Play it again, Sam,” for their album, You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, but Brilliance Needs a Good Editor (which, incidentally, could be the title of a Kathleen Ossip poem—I urge her to write it!).  Then, Milton Babbitt wrote a solo for viola called “Play it again, Sam” in 1989.  For what it’s worth, I think viola music is the saddest music on earth: agree or disagree?  See how Ossip, too, invites these kinds of riffs, these shape-shifting variations on a theme.

Her poem, “Tool Moan,” is premised entirely upon a mishearing.  The speaker sets the scene: “I sat at a table outside an Irish pub, with a child I adored and a man I didn’t, in/ a resort town in summer.// Another man sat on a folding chair attempting to entertain the diners with/ accordion music […] I heard the waitresses call him Tool Moan.”  This is what she heard, and so this is what we, the audience of the poem, heard, too.  We follow her through the poem, the evening’s unfolding: “The man paid the bill.  The child ran ahead.  Delicate equals subject to damage/ (and almost equals celtic). ‘You have some competition tonight,’ I said to Tool/ Moan as we left.”

You see it, too, don’t you?  You’re watching with the same curious interest that I am.  “‘I know,’ he said.  Later, back in the hotel room, I realized I’d misheard.  His name was Tout le Monde (equals everybody in French)…”, or more precisely, all the world.  Ossip doesn’t abandon the poem with this realization.  Instead, she allows the realization to develop in real time.  Now everything we thought we heard, thought we knew, must be recontextualized, reconsidered.  In this way, the poem resembles real life, looking backward to move forward.  In this way, the poem is also a form of cinéma vérité.

As Haley Joel Osment didn’t say in The Sixth Sense, “I see Do-Overs.”  But Ossip’s speaker tells us, “I’m afraid of death.”  She’s candid like that.  And later: “Birth, I believed,// was the brilliant upheaval.  Now I see Death is another.”  Perhaps upheavals are the reason we need do-overs in the first place.  After all, “We walk every day through a haunted house.”  Ghosts follow us around.  This book is full of them, actually: popular ghosts like Amy Winehouse and pioneering ghosts like Steve Jobs.  There are painting ghosts like Lucian Freud and singing ghosts like Donna Summer, and the ghost of our collective unconscionable, Troy Davis.  You will find them all here, vividly embodied.  They are so real that you, too, will “want to believe in reincarnation      an eternity of do-overs.”  There’s even a “Ghost Moon,” like a spotlight in the balcony, commenting on the ghosts ahead and behind, the ghosts above and below: “This is the light of the culture: gold and misleading./ The moon of the culture is full; its light is thick.” It’s a meta-moon, the kind that shares its popcorn and whispers in our ears: “I’m vast, you’re vast, we’ve been done.”        

Now maybe you’re thinking, as Clark Gable wasn’t in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a Do-Over.  But you will.  Here’s why: “Perseverance is beautiful.”  In other words, we’re defined more by the do-over than the first attempt, more by the next than the last.  “Success consists in ignoring/ what you don’t like, as a bunny//leaps past tinfoil/ in his search for greens.”  And this is nothing if not a searching book, a green book—not in the sense of novice, but in the sense of new, fresh, poetry like you haven’t seen it before.  This is a poet who isn’t afraid to tell us: “We don’t have the tools, yet, to prove//much of anything.”  Or this: “To create an image of what I mean///only makes it worse.”  Or this: “What does infinity look like?  It hurts.”  Her reiterations aren’t redundant; they’re cumulative.  This is a poetics of extreme long shots and extreme close ups, alternating in tandem, a speaker who wanders into prose and wanders back again.  She is the Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, that Wants It Down.

Often, as you read her incisive description of an experience, you have the uncanny sensation that she is describing your own experience reading about hers.  Is there a name for this?  Meta-transference?  Meta-transitivity?  Meta-vicariousness?  Like here, in Ossip’s wide-angled prose panorama: “people are like stories, was my experience.  Once you’ve read them, you can’t unread them.  They’re part of your nervous system.”  Or here, in this tightly enjambed still: “A piece of you flew into me one day, a/ Niggling hooked little finger of spirit.” This book stays with you, alters something in your poetic constitution.  You’re still digesting, long after the collection is done.

Kathleen OssipAs Jennifer Gray didn’t say in Dirty Dancing, but as I’m sure she’d agree: “Nobody puts Ossip in a corner.”  For inasmuch as this book is about death and dying, it’s also about figuring out how to live and plumbing the many possibilities inherent in any life.  Our speaker in these poems, who is also our doer, and our do-over-er, is a true agnostic.  (Recall that wimpled unknowing, which I love so much and trust so deeply.)  She tells us again and again, shifting her Libra scales: “This I don’t believe or disbelieve.” And this: “The love grows elastic, something very different to the observer,//the extreme/ natural of it, the extreme unnatural.”  And this: “A song of love and death makes its own/ bitter symmetry, that’s the myth of achievement.” Then, best and most human of all:  “I do but I don’t.”  Who doesn’t recognize this sentiment deep in her nervous system?  The yes and the no, both at once.   The essential ambiguity of maybe, perhaps.  Do we—and don’t we—all?

The myth of achievement is the false account that everything culminates in a single, definitive moment or action.  For instance, a thesis is proved.  Or a climax occurs.  Or an epiphany materializes.  But not here, not in this relentlessly rhizomatic collection.  As Jeff Bridges never said in The Big Lebowski, “The Do-Over abides.”  Here is a speaker poised on a Möbius strip.  As she travels the length of it, she returns to her starting point having covered a great distance but never having crossed an edge.  (No corners indeed!)  At the end, which is also the beginning, she looks straight into the lens and says: “There’s nothing good about ill-timed death.  Nor about the death of love.  That/ poetry glamorizes them disturbs me.”  So, she made a poetry that doesn’t.  It’s as simple as that, and as complicated.

Then, she turns the lens on us: “In the important world (my imagination), I am watching you, simply, without hope or dream.”  She’s practicing abiding, having told us just a page before that “Expectation lingers/ just like a memory.”  It’s hard to let go, so we do, and we don’t. We turn back to the beginning again; we loop around:  “Whether we accept/ these processes or are repulsed by them, we are still studying.”

I don’t know about you, but Kathleen Ossip had me at The Do-Over.

A New Read on Bishop

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For a poet as anthologized as Elizabeth Bishop, it’s fair to say there’s a certain lack of serious criticism—or perhaps, critics thinking seriously—about her work, compared to the Modernists against whose influence she was writing. Eavan Boland reviews a new volume by Colm Tóibín that aims to begin closing the gulf. On Elizabeth Bishop is a thirteen-part book, approaching the poet as a radical transformer of language and an intellectual force, and leading a critical exploration of, as Boland describes it, the “eerie alloy of dark music coupled with a deceptive vernacular [that] was Bishop’s signature achievement.”