The Great Medieval Yellows

The contemporary moment of critique manifests, among other ways, in a pressing call for artwork that overtly raises consciousness of the racism, classism, sexism, and environment-gutting anthropocentrism permeating our culture. Answering this call, many poetic projects such as Claudia Rankines Citizen and Brenda Hillmans Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire confront the deeply-entrenched narrative and rhetorical frames serving power structuresframes that secure relationships between self and other in a perpetual network of damage and exploitation.

Augmenting this critique is a hunger for other forms of thinking and being that re-tool subject-object relations (the core of self-other relations) so sufficiently that the old frames no longer make sense because what we are looking atwhat we are livingis not the type of thing that can be understood and represented in such a way. As the philosopher Timothy Morton writes:

Trying to offer a clear critical comment on Bhanu Kapils Ban en Banlieue is particularly challenging because it so stridently seeks to side-step the rational, hierarchical, closed-system imaginations which generate race riots, which churn womens bodies into sexual fodder and carcasses tossed out of vans, which demand that we see mental illness as an individual disorder rather than as a human soul crying out amidst inhuman cultural paroxysms. Centered around a race riot in 1979 London, Kapils text belies the notion of fixed centers or single origins of cultural violence. Instead, she offers a variety of emotional, psychological, and spiritual loci around which her text coalesces. To cry out. To fail. To rise like diesel smoke in a hot summer wind.

And now I feel I must start again. The impressive psychological density that Kapils book opens… read the full review »


Model City

The experience of reading Donna Stoneciphers Model City is to be incrementally encompassed by a world built from repeated structures and phrases, a world that fosters our own growing attentiveness as the poet responds to the urban world. The phrase that opens the book and begins each of the four stanzas of a prose poem on each page, it was like, anchors each step towards the model city that is so variously and uniquely described that it isnt Berlin although it often seems so, and isnt the other cities the acknowledgement page lists as places visited by the wandering poet: Letchworth Garden City, Eisenhttenstadt, Anniston, Alabama, Portolago, Le Corbusiers la ville radieuse, Tony Garniers la cit industrielle. For all its particulars, the book is not an address to a particular place, but a poetic quest for a… read the full review »


7 Days and Nights in the Desert (Tracing the Origin)

The Mojave, the westernmost desert in North America, stretches across interior southern California and most of southern Nevada, a vast landscape punctuated by a few hard-scrabble towns and suburban cities. As a child living in Los Angeles I routinely went there on camping and climbing trips, but also to search out abandoned sites and dumps, hunting for colored glass that had been scratched and worn by the desert wind. Our neighbor had homesteaded a property in the desert outside Twenty-nine Palms, California, but lost track of it over the decades. I tried to find the house, but was never able to determine its exact location, the structure she built in the 1940s long gone. This pattern of building and loss is not atypical: many travel through on their way east or west, but few have stayed.

Over a century ago,… read the full review »


Citizen: An American Lyric

Therapy is exhausting. Bringing everything that is uppermost out for someone you pay to respond makes you doubly vulnerable you relive traumas instead of repressing them, and you rely on a guide for empathy and reason as they support your attempt to make sense of what happens to you and how to change it. Not only do you voluntarily re-experience pain, but also your guide may well resemble a source of your traumas:

When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?

Its as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You… read the full review »