Tag Archives: chapbooks

Kristen Eliason’s ‘Yours,’

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Just a quick post to give whatever minor signal boost I can about this stunning chapbook. I had the pleasure of hearing Kristen Eliason read pieces from this series a few years ago at Notre Dame where she was the 2008 Sparks Fellowship winner. She’s a powerful reader and the poems are complete knockouts. It made me so happy to finally see them in print, and this chapbook from Dancing Girl Press is more than worth your dollars. Somber, quiet, introspective, heartbreaking, and very funny.

‘Yours,’ is available HERE

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Review: ‘Ruins’, by Jeff Clark

RuinsRuins by Jeff Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been after this incredible chapbook for years, ever since Jeff Clark and his wife (the very talented poet Christine Hume) came to speak and give readings at Notre Dame while I was an MFA student there. By pure chance, Jeff Clark’s ‘Music and Suicides’ had been, years and years earlier, the first book of poetry I ever bought. It was strange and lovely to me how this bit of happenstance had come full circle. I was happy to share this little story with Jeff as I had him sign my copy. I was even more happy to hear him read from ‘Ruins’ — he and his wife are both stunning readers, very different in their performative styles but genuine and moving.

I fell in love with ‘Ruins’ that night, and though Jeff had several copies on hand to sell (a bit ahead of actual publication, shh) I was sad and frustrated to be without the money to grab it up at the time. Luckily several copies from Turtle Point Press are still available and I grabbed one up quickly. Jeff’s reputation as a book designer is apparent in the physicality of it — one of the only hardback chapbooks I think I’ve ever seen — the poems bookended by stark black-and-white photos, and the chapbook also contains a translation of Louis Aragon’s poem ‘Poem to Cry in Ruins’.

The work here is genuine and incredible, sparse personal poems that are deeply charged with remembering and nostalgia, loneliness and anger. Nearly every poem is looking to the past with a refusal to let go and frustration with the self that keeps refusing. Memory is a constant pull throughout, centered often on a grotesque and sad father figure that the speaker dwells on heavily with a mix of contempt and longing that speaks to the hold that the father still has, despite the intensely unpleasant portrait offered.

This small book is dark and thunderous, ironically doing the most work in its more quiet moments, where the storms of the past and present both remain as echoes and ringing in the ears. There’s such raw and rigorous longing for connection in the present and lamentations of the broken past that every line stings and reaches out and goes numb and starts again. The cohesion of all these effects is haunting, and leaves a surprisingly large impact for such a small book. If you can still find a copy floating about, buy it immediately.

‘Refuse Disciples’

You eat well and transcribe
You shit quickly in the morning
You only slander in self-defense
You manufacture affection
You get up, shower, and check your messages
You network, correspond, advance
You write preening, disposable statements
You wash come off quickly
You drink bottled water and monitor headlines
You check your money and messages
In sorrow you’re seductive, in catastrophe a fascist
You think precisely what you’ve read

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Review: ‘No Ser No’, by DJ Dolack

No Ser NoNo Ser No by Dj Dolack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A languid, lazy lightning bolt occasionally striking, a drunk cobra coiling and uncoiling between orgasm and lethal strike. Sleepy and violent, meditative and throwing a tantrum. Abbreviated and floating out into the ether. TKO, simultaneously winning and losing by submission. All its identifying numbers filed off for no good reason.

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Review: ‘Above All Else, the Trembling Resembles a Forest’, by Louise Mathias

Above All Else, the Trembling Resembles a ForestAbove All Else, the Trembling Resembles a Forest by Louise Mathias

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a graceful wrecking ball of a book; or, to steal from it, from the poem ‘The 10:15 to Cambridge’:

“That the on-coming train
was a pack of the shyest white horses.”

This new chapbook from the always luminous and serrated-blade Louise Mathias (and one must nod deeply to David Dodd Lee’s cover for it, to call it arresting is to criminally understate its power) is full of such moments. I can’t somehow get past some cliche or another about a cracking whip when I think about Mathias’s lines, the way they flow out so elegantly only to suddenly incur a wrath of image and noise once fully extended. I often had the feeling of being suddenly jolted out of a dream, or rather from one dream into another.

Again a line from the book itself seems all too appropriate in describing it; from the poem ‘Orion’:

“At first

the motion startles,
then the mass.”

Something always enjoyable to me is a complex air of confidence to Mathias’s speaker, something coquettish toward a sly, trickster arrogance but never quite getting there, moving around a sort of nearly invisible presence of unfiltered emotion known, like a black hole, but it’s dark inescapable shape. I always feel Mathias is not only fully aware of these tonal lattices but in turn makes them part of the trick and game. From the poem ‘Twentynine Palms’:

“Is that what you wanted? Subtle? The luke warm
politics of someone else’s marriage?”

Tremors and oscillations flutter throughout, one’s feet shake though never quite go out from under. Memory and closeness in body and emotion to a specific other seem so important here, and as Mathias points out in the poem ‘Blue Cogs of a Secret’.

“How a memory–(fur, being charred)
must be stubborn, or quit.”

I feel so many memories in these pages, both the stubborn ones kicking up dust and the ones that quiet, the ones whose faint fingerprints and voices still echo about somewhere. I’ll end with some lines from the poem ‘Snuff’, the poem that barely left me standing. Buy this chapbook. Mathias is a blasting wonder. Cheers to Burnside Review Press for lending the fuse and powder. The scent of flowers and cordite hover all around this book.

“You can exit the city of ghosts. You can’t exit
a tremor.

Fog on the film. I said, my bones are gone.”

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Review: ‘Polaroid Parade’, by Paige Taggart

Polaroid ParadePolaroid Parade by Paige Taggart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just spent some time this morning with this stunning chap from Greying Ghost. There’s a great deal to admire packed into this spare little gray book, most notable to me was the sweeping, bright colors coloring nearly every inch of the canvas here–if there’s any whitespace left over in the landscape Taggart paints, it blinds and chills you (think the first sunny-skied blizzard of the year). In this way the poems remind me of the work of my dear friend Naoko Fujimoto, who always seems to spread color simply and with a glossy sheen while always allowing in texture and depth.

Everything is in motion here, too; I also find myself reminded of some of the Smashing Pumpkins music videos, and Cornell boxes, little stop-action animations going berserk (quietly), absurd non-narratives telling you their stories. What really works about what Taggart is doing for me is the deft way she resists the temptation to really let a narrative form, or to let this dreamscape develop and employ its own language. Imagery and syntax pop and cohere and dance and pass out left and right, and there are even some recurring almost-characters and themes and objects, but everything is so unsettled and unsettling…things, yes, cohere, but dissipate and shatter almost as quickly, the minute you’ve got your finger on a ley line you’re plummeting again. Another note on the syntax, this chap really shines linguistically in flowing, airy flourishes that hold themselves tight even as they float away–Taggart’s speaker / constructor / maestro play-by-plays confidently but with a wide-eyed surprise and wonder. This production feels like a very imaginative and matured vocabulary of images and language filtered through the sort of unbridled scope of a playscape of playthings we might think of as childlike in the freedom seen at work.

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Review: ‘Hornet Homily’, by Patrick Culliton

Hornet HomilyHornet Homily by Patrick Culliton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don’t worry, all the stings are teaching moments. This chapbook traumatized me then spooned me, waterboarded me in its turbid pool but it’s all part of the carnival game, the sideshow–I was dropped repeatedly into that impossibly tiny pool performers leap into from the cartoon high-dive.

The language-water will go to boil on you, and each time you come up for air the world changes, perhaps with flashes of expression that could be soothing and as lonely as the distant discharges of ships:

“Songs leapt
and relaxed me when we rid. May you wake,
the moon an argument on your face.

Your name is a ship
in a harbor lousy with low horns.”

Don’t get complacent now; this ‘you’ has more than surprisingly-generated chains of colored scarf on their person:

“Stop making Kleenex sandwiches.

Cut the gas on what makes you announce
the fires of December Wichita
your innards have become.”

And for those of you in the audience requiring some more acute movement:

“I know what I’d do if a train
barreled out of your thighs. Wait
for it to stop and then whip the passengers
with padlocks. In the ribs
and occasional knees I’d whip them,
with cracks like luncheon ice.”

Violence in faded Elway jerseys, reticent Vikings, a rattle made from Uncle Sam’s teeth in an aspirin bottle. Culliton’s collage of untraceable locations and unimaginable images sidle up often along tremendously fluid movements of linguistic partnerships as unsettling as they are enjoyable on the visceral level of a stabbing (guffaw) in your deepest gut.

This makes two chaps in a row that left me bleeding, I’m starting to feel like I don’t even want to look at a full-length collection right now. This chap is worth however many pennies or sacrificed livestock Octopus is demanding–this is a press that never seems to get it wrong.

I can’t end without mentioning the physical quality of the book–superb visually and texturally, it’ll stare out from your shelf as the fun house it is, micro in girth but overwhelming once inside (we’re back to the cartoon diving pool, wasn’t that clever?).

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Review: ‘Flood Letters’, a chapbook by Karin Gottshall

Flood LettersFlood Letters by Karin Gottshall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This stark little chapbook is going to haunt me a long while. So many of the aesthetic tics of the art object it comprises feel very intimately close to my own, and thus of course to me. This book felt something like deja vu, like reading a book I had written then completely forgotten was mine. Like someone snuck into my internal imagination-scape and camped out for a while, then wrote this chap and left it mysteriously on my doorstep for me to find after a long night without sleep. It was very surreal to experience the book in this way, every poem drifting through water and dream material.

I love all the ways people treat chapbooks differently; in this case Gottshall as apparently taken the perspective of the chapbook as a very self-contained gesture and it effected me in a beautifully unsettling manner. I felt trapped in the small, textured book, just as the speaker throughout what might be called the book’s narrative is compelled in very dark and nuanced ways by the mysterious post-apocalyptic floodwaters that have seemingly taken the world and now rather quickly work quietly upward to take the house and, of course, the speaker.

The entire effort is refreshingly imaginative and brutally rich in its suffused melancholy and surrender to death. The abstract epistolary the book constructs is such a brilliant touch and must be read in the collective whole to be truly appreciated, and speaks (often explicitly) to the nature of loneliness as much as connectedness, the latter perhaps by its absence as much as the acute punctures that occur with other presences when they exist:

“Dear Lucidity, no one else
to say they saw it or didn’t, but this
gray morning a starved

white horse came wading up
the empty street. Two if you count

his reflection.”

 

And a bit later, toward the end of the book:

 

“I saw a far, clear lantern light that moved
on the water and threw a long reflection.
The first I’d seen in days. If grief
were merely a matter of calling
across great distances; salvation
merely a matter of being heard.”

 

Like the photographs in the speaker’s basement early on that come flooding to the surface in filmy blooms, one can’t help but imagine these poems as literal epistles floating out from a place of distilled, focused, curated loneliness–both in the reality of the speaker but in the reality of Gottshall, as this spare metaphor may be the best I can think of for the art process itself.

This is a small but charged book that is more than worth your money and attention. Karin Gottshall has the current and the wind.

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