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Friday, May 20, 2011

Nathalie Stephens's We Press Ourselves Plainly reviewed by J. Mae Barizo

Nathalie Stephens
We Press Ourselves Plainly

ISBN 978-0-9844598-0-3
5" x 7" | 120 pp. | pbk.
Nightboat Books 2010

Reviewed by J. Mae Barizo

“I should like,” the narrator declares in We Press Ourselves Plainly “for my own name made illegible…” Indeed, we never learn the identity of the devastating speaker whose body and mind is the landscape on which violence unfolds. It is not a pleasant voice nor is it necessarily appealing, yet it enthralls in its immediacy, a distinctive intonation which begs the reader to devour it in its singular attempt to articulate the tragedy of history.

A 97-page book-length poem in the form of continuous blocks of text separated only by ellipses, Stephens endeavors neither to elucidate the source of violence nor to expose a chronological representation, therefore the fragments—some of which are complete sentences and others only partial slivers thereof—have the aesthetic of immutability and timelessness, a voice existing in the present moment yet also in the dredges of the past. “There is a room and there is a war” the speaker declares, yet the poem exists also outside of a room and concurrently in various locations: Berry Head (a coastal headland in the English Riviera), Paris, Hyde Park, Fallujah and Donostia (the Basque region of Spain). Perhaps there has been a war or there will be one. “The wars become one war” and “The wars are indistinguishable” Stephens writes, adding to the atemporality of the poem and the omnipresence of violence. The book opens with a quote by Franz Kafka: “Everyone carries a room about inside him.” which further puts forward that the location is the body itself which bears the carnage. The post-script furthers this idea of the body as an object of compression and cruelty, stating that one of “the active functions of this work is compression...of all the possible spaces pressed into that body, upon which the pressures of historical violence and its attendant catastrophes come to bear.”

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Shira Dentz’s black seeds on a white dish reviewed by Jenny Gropp Hess

Shira Dentz
black seeds on a white dish

Shearsman Books, 2010
ISBN: 1848611285
6"x9" | 90 pp | pbk. | $15

Reviewed by by Jenny Gropp Hess

Like most of us who reach a certain age, I’ve been close to people who have died. I’ve woken up in the night feeling as though an aneurism of grief has burst in my body and not known how to feel or write further into the sensation, though I understood it was comprised of many things: absence as the result of loss, the feeling of my own mortality, the sense that I could never, ever see that person again, and etcetera. But what to do with that ‘etcetera,’ I always wonder as my blood stills. Is that aneurism a body of its own, something I might slow and freeze-frame with the goal of finding a more understandable fact or, to quote Emerson in “Language,” “the terminus or circumference of the invisible world”?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jennifer L. Knox's The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway reviewed by Kat Good-Schiff

[Best poetry book cover in 2010? --Eds.]

Jennifer L. Knox
The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway

Bloof Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9826587-1-0
84 pp. | $15.00

Reviewed by Kat Good-Schiff

As should be expected, much is strange and unnatural in The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, the third book of poems by Jennifer L. Knox. Murderers, opera singers, and coyotes rub shoulders across the varied, yet equally wild, psychic terrains of desert, suburbia, and silent movies. In the poem “Cars,” we coast downhill with the speaker and her father at night in a quietly hurtling truck, unseen animals lurking just beyond the headlights. Many of these poems have a similarly ominous and thrilling momentum. Like a freeway accident, it’s impossible not to stare at the narrator of “The Clean Underwear/Ambulance Thing,” who declares, “When I was 12, I had sex with my / stepmother. It was fantastic, / and not a bit weird.”

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D.J. Dolack’s 12 Poems reviewed by Raina Lauren Fields

D.J. Dolack, 12 Poems

D.J. Dolack
12 Poems
Eye For An Iris Press, 2010
6.5×5.5, 28pp., handbound

Reviewed by Raina Lauren Fields

I think I picked the perfect day to read D.J. Dolack’s chapbook, 12 Poems, a collection of handmade: hand-stamped, hand-stapled, hand-folded, and hand-pressed poems, the first collection from Dolack since 2005’s The Sad Meal. I read the book during a rainy afternoon in early March—the rain tapping lightly against the windows, water funneling down the drain pipes and out in the puddles in the alleyway, a slow, continued flow of weather. Perhaps a better time to read Dolack’s poetry would have been in the evening or at dawn, when I imagine most of his poems are set, under the “low shelf haze” (I THOUGHT WE DISCUSSED THIS ALREADY).

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