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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christopher Higgs’ The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney reviewed by J. A. Tyler

There is No Book

‘Welcome Visitor #0134457

Marvin K. Mooney left strict instructions detailing his desired method of organization for what he frequently referred to as his “Complete Works.” (Humility was never one of Mooney’s strong points.) He presumed the popularity of his work would surely grow exponentially following his death.’

Authorship is the heart of Christopher Higgs’ debut novel The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney. In its 352 pages, Higgs and Mooney are a tandem of writers working in collaboration to disappear, to relinquish all responsibility to the word, to the title, to the notion of authorship as a whole.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Shya Scanlon's _ In this alone impulse, _, reviewed by Jac Jemc

In this alone impulse,
Shya Scanlon
Noemi Press (2010)
ISBN-13: 9781934819104
Paperback: 68 pages, $15.00

reviewed by Jac Jemc

I like a book that’s willing to let me in on its process, or, at the very least, let me think I’m watching something first hand. In this alone impulse, does just this. The reader can gather the constraint: seven lines and from there, wide open space. Work is allowed to double over on itself and eat its own tail.

On the first page the reader discovers the permission Shya Scanlon has given himself. The poem (kind of), “A Bargain,” moves quickly, trying out different combinations and meanings. It jumps from the logical beginning, “I have a house,” to the incomprehensible belly, “A have now house about me anymore,” and cycles back on to the first line on the last, “I have a house. Not my house. Not any house.” I’ll be honest: I was skeptical on the first page. I thought, “Okay, macramé poems. Time to read 59 more.” Luckily, Scanlon has a masterful concept of play, not just twisting and tying words up in knots, but creating Chinese handcuffs out of rhythm and image as well.

As I moved through this collection, I was constantly situating myself, but the most acquainted I could get, was telling which stone I’d just hopped from and to which stone I would hop next. That’s a terrible metaphor, considering the beautiful ones that populate this book (“You came and I’m a mumbled number”; “We’re guns aren’t we you said and I said maybe”; “Cry. You are a calendar,” to name just the handful I flipped to quickly). Let’s try again. Let’s say it’s like sex: I know where his hand just was, you can feel the direction his hand is heading, but I don’t want to know where his mouth will be in five minutes: it would ruin the fun. That metaphor’s at least a little more entertaining than an effing shallow stream.

In perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, “Rock ‘n’ roll,” Scanlon explores the excitement of boredom with riffs on hackneyed expressions:

fffffIs bored something? More great. No stop now, yes, but stopping
fffffis. Is an. Is sparrow. A bored not better flyer. Is minnow. A bored
fffffbetter fish. Stop mixin’, Nixon. You old fruit to fly. Dead one.
fffffI’ll ply your pull like nonedunnit. A winsome thensome. A bored
fffffbatter. You old fish-to-fry. Don’t speak no stop no, sneaky
ffffffffffservice. K?
fffffOld phony. Simple Spanish. Paz, baby. Spare me. Be more than, is
fffffthan. Be a more great beginning. Be stiff as a bored.

I’m such a sucker, when it’s done well, for a good play on words. Scanlon connects the dots I normally ignore or forget about. He moves deftly between the soft-edged “sparrow” and “minnow,” and transitions seamlessly to the joy-buzzer, “Stop mixin’, Nixon.” Everywhere in this book, I felt that stellar combo of tongue and teeth.

It’s been a long time since I took such joy in alliteration and assonance, like in the poem title, “Danger dagger bladder blood,” or the line in “Stub toward” that reads, “I’m callow, caw. I’m cork.”

I procrastinated writing this review as I do everything. The initial approach I’d thought of was to start with a Beckett quote that kept sounding in my head while I was reading In this alone impulse, “Let us hope the time will come when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute.” I felt like the quote was an easy way out for some reason, and was trying to find another way into the review. Then, on the day I sat down to finally write this, Scanlon posted that quote on the website, The coincidence was too great not to recognize. Sometimes, it seems, our impulses are not so very alone.

In “Surprise, surprise,” the narrator says, “We’ll […] speak softly until our mouths organize, and refuse.” Exactly.


Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. Her chapbook, This Stranger She'd Invited In, is coming out this year from Greying Ghost Press, and her first novel, My Only Wife, is forthcoming in 2012 from Dzanc Books. She is the poetry editor of Decomp, a fiction reader for Our Stories, and a bookstore liaison for Tarpaulin Sky. She blogs regularly at, and

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chris Emery's _ Radio Nostalgia _, reviewed by Ezekiel Black

Radio Nostalgia
Chris Emery
Arc Publications (2005)
ISBN: 1-904614-19-1
Paperback: 92 pp, £8.99

reviewed by Ezekiel Black

Radio Nostalgia is an approachable title. It summons the Golden Age of Radio, a time when Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats led the country out of the Great Depression, a time when the candid address, “Good evening, friends,” could win support for aNew Deal—but why would the state of media today elicit radio nostalgia? With the advent of CNN, of twenty-four-hour-television news, viewers were fed a real-time Gulf War Coverage that revises Vietnam-era epithets of The Living Room War, of The Television War. The dominant medium of World War II coverage and thought was a radio and newsreel that regurgitated European news, due to a lack of American war correspondents. The newsreel was at heart military propaganda while the war’s underbelly remained hidden to the public. Why does the work look to one form of such mediation as remedy to another? Don’t think this discussion is all for naught, as this is the skeleton of the book, and as you read into the face of Radio Nostalgia, you begin to see the skull emerge, to see how the poetry is mere sheath for war, politics, hunger.

Radio Nostalgia is cover-to-cover quality, also dense and disparate, so the first several poems throw the reader into a dark room. Until you recover your Night Vision, these poems will escape you, until you see the ashen, moonlit strains that shoot through the book. The martial and the political come gradually into focus, poem after poem, and at their most keen the poems indict a particular mayor, governor, political candidates in general, a British Parliament and Prime Minister. In “The Wolves are on the Dark Beef”: “Tony lift your hand / and share this blanket now your burning feet // can go ahead and walk the border.” And later:

ffffffffffone measure is a form of rent
ffffffffffanother is escarpment

ffffffffffbut calmer now we count the beads
ffffffffffand touch the cysts of Islam

Given this political crescendo, excerpted, you can assume that “Tony” is Tony Blair, as “the cysts of Islam” help locate the name. Another protest poem, “Clan Tinnitus,” employs anaphora to caricature right-wing political discourse:

ffffffffffBurn the bishops and those of our children sour
ffffffffffffffffffffand blind
ffffffffffAnd the Oracle DBAs burn them
ffffffffffBurn the police and those who crack spines
ffffffffffffffffffffof rosters


ffffffffffAnd of course
ffffffffffThe whispering rags
ffffffffffOf the Left

These are only a sample of the work’s political grievance. As for the martial, though, one excerpt in particular speaks to it—and, perhaps to the entire book—one that suggests Manifesto:

ffffffffffI hear the war drum and the scissors of men
ffffffffffSo let this ink pool of the gods explain
ffffffffffOur designified wounds

ffffffffffOur lack of monuments in this final order
ffffffffffMy military effort can host no creed
ffffffffffNo glaze or feature except the posture

ffffffffffAnd rancor we hold to be just
ffffffffffFor in this local output deficit we may trade
ffffffffffThe chaos of our meals for a white cage.

When you begin Radio Nostalgia, these strains are not evident. After your eyes adjust to its lexicon, lack of punctuation, allusion, and overall density, martial and political motifs slowly materialize, like Furniture in your Night Vision. Although these motifs are hinted from the title page, Nostalgia’s idiosyncrasies won’t allow you to immediately grasp beyond the language and style its brass tacks, to see beyond the smooth face a skull below, that loathsome Reality Found within the Summer Glow.

Why does the work look to one form of mediation as remedy to another? Radio Nostalgia seems its own dream.

If you don’t want to dive through the surface, the book can occupy you with its ripe poetry, technical skill, and bravery. Not all of the complaint is as overt as the excerpts given above. Indeed, often its political dissent is subtle, tucked behind lines that seize your sensual and imaginative attention. Every poem in the book is over two pages, and almost every poem contains a moment of pause, the reader stopping to savor its Invention: “Let’s kill this mealy city / We are royal insects and fabulous lux.” Or later:

ffffffffffffffffffffTogether we are a modern fog,
ffffffffffthe idea of the better dead, immortalised grey
ffffffffffeyes above subtitled totally idealised dialogue.

ffffffffffNo one adheres to the precise terms any more.
ffffffffffThe streets shiver like windows this afternoon of very
fffffffffflarge government. We’ll ape out the speeches
ffffffffffof the age. This country is his artery.

Radio Nostalgia hulks with bizarre yet somehow appropriate locution and word choice. Aside from the words-qua-word, the evolution and movement of the language will surprise the reader, as when the work adopts a performative quality: “Outside the shop of our / Arc-lit Tin-Tin singalong / Is moon-yellow youth.” Or: “In the white forest / shaving shaving loyal shaving / forest of the head.” With sprung rhythm and epizeuxis, repetitions of a single word, these stanzas glow against the stark political undertones of the book, forming odd islands of intermission, pause, until the juxtaposition of slam-line construction and politics becomes an apt marriage.

One feature of Radio Nostalgia is hard to place, the repetition of the word “black.” You would imagine that the book would arrive at “black” though circumlocution, some figurative reiteration of the word. When most poetry is trying to Make It New, as with the Elliptical, Radio Nostalgia subverts that logic by somehow remaining beyond the abstruse word-material of “black,” perhaps an approach Romantic, e.g. Shelly’s skylark and Keats’s nightingale, sites of symbolic largesse, involuntary hosts to what conceptions lay beyond their own purviews, the Idea and unapproachable Bird all at once. Perhaps the repetition of “black” is simply an attempt to load the word with new connotations; perhaps “black” is shorthand for the twilight of Empire, fin de siècle, decadent swallowing of all actual color. Or, perhaps “black” is Chris Emery’s experiment with something personal; synesthesia; instead of “black” as ominous color, maybe a particular sound or taste turns black for Emery, reminiscent of Rimbaud’s kaleidoscopic Vowels. Romantic or symbolic, the metamorphic quality of “black” is indicative of Radio Nostalgia. You can look into the face of the poems and find quality work, or you can peer through that and find the skull politik.


Ezekiel Black teaches composition at Gainesville State College in Gainesville, Georgia. Before this appointment, he earned his MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His poetry and reviews have appeared in Verse, Sonora Review, can we have our ball back?, GlitterPony, Skein, and Invisible Ear.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Jonathan Hayes's _ T(HERE) _, reviewed by Francis Raven

Jonathan Hayes
Silenced Press (2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0979241031
Paperback: 72 pages, $14

reviewed by Francis Raven

“The title wishes not to be pronounced.” Perhaps because there is too much to say.

We need confessional poems for our own era. They don’t last. It’s like certain kinds of thriller, certain comedies; these just become dated, but that’s not a criticism, they are in the boat, out at sea, while it is being repaired, trying to describe it. It’s common to want art to last forever, but I like art that expires. T(HERE) is just such a collection of confessional poems, though they may not at first be read that way (or even want to be read that way). T(HERE) is a splintered memoir of poetry that asks what the use of voice is in our postmodern times and goes on to use it quite effectively. Basically, these poems are fragmented and funny enough to earn the emotional payout that confessional poems guarantee. We’ve been tricked by confessional poems too many times before; we know their maudlin answers and have become a cynic to emotion on the whole, which is why we need to be surprised all over again. Hayes’s poems, at their best, both resonate with our experience and shock us out of our emotional complacency.

The book is composed of shards of prose poems (perhaps a new genre: not the prose poem, but the fragment knocked off of it), juxtaposed meaningfully. It’s a perfect form for the content: there is usually too much space in memoirs, too many empty words, too much plot. What we really want are the emotions, the sadness, the feeling of poignancy, of regret, sorrow, and perhaps progress (which is also why graphic memoirs work so well: their relative lack of words). However, this fragmentation places a very real constraint on the poems themselves: they don’t have natural endpoints. It seems that each couplet could be taken as a complete poem just as the entire book might just as effectively be taken as a fragment, but a fragment of what? Of consciousness. Hayes’s earlier work was marked by much shorter amusing rants; the extension of these poised shards has the feeling of full-fledged consciousness and this is why it resonates
with the reader.

After outlining his personal narrative of being uprooted and finding meaningful details in a variety of not particularly memorable places, the author writes, “What follows is of this cycle. / The economic soil. Winter recession. / And employment up again in the spring… / The subway will not break down.” That is, it will be us who are forced to move, we who are forced to bend in light of current market forces. But it is as a result of these forces that the world is held together. We must bend our voices as we make our way through. It’s a crisscrossing road book that takes place largely in San Francisco about which it is precise, but not descriptive, largely evocative.

Along the road there is the mention of a suicide, the repetition of someone’s suicide, “the fact that / suicides are just / statistics, that / makes me want / to love you, while / i still exist…” It’s not a stretch to say that Hayes is a little too close to this and to the instances of death in the book in general. The best parts of T(HERE) never fully reveal themselves, yet they are not wholly abstract. They lift into emotion from something particular. The parts about death, perhaps because death is not known to the living, at least not from the inside, cannot lift from the particular to the universal; they must float in the abstract without any string to tie them down. Perhaps the book needs some reason to end, some resolution. That is, perhaps a collection of fragments lacks completeness and just wants to continue just as consciousness lacks completeness and desires nothing more than to continue.


Francis Raven is a graduate student in philosophy at Temple University. His books include Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), 5-Haifun: Of Being Divisible (Blue Lion Books, 2008), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007), Taste: Gastronomic Poems (BlazeVOX, 2005), and the novel Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Frances lives in Washington, D.C.; you can find more of his work at

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