surplus

A Small Story About the Sky

I cannot remember now where I first heard it or from whom, but as a dismissal of poets and poetry it made an impression: a poet is someone who sees a bird outside their window and makes a big goddamned deal out of it. The claim neatly if rudely compresses a whole host of ascribed behavioral errors to the poet-type, who inflates the commonplace and mistakes their experience for something of, you know, value.

However, this assessment works differently when its not a complaint made by someone with no use for poetry but a judgment made by one poet of another. He who sees the bird and consequently makes the big goddamned deal suddenly shifts from someone grandiose to someone provincial, unsophisticated, basic. Unfortunately, this isnt merely a hypothetical possibility; poets do talk about each in these terms (and… read the full review »

 

Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt

Like the astronomer, Dr. Steven Vogt, who, from the spectrometer on the Keck Observatory in Hawaii searches for extrasolar planets, in Matvei Yankelevichs latest collection the poet becomes a seekerthe occupation of both proving on-going, probing, inconclusive, revelatory. Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt also suggests an openness to other possibilities, other poetic formulations, other configurations and speculations, even as the series of 45 poems has come into being by the words of others quoted before each section, some of whom include Robert Duncan, Laura Riding, Daniil Kharms, Kazimir Malevich. The book inserts itself in poetic tradition, the matrices of language, dependence on that which has been written before. And the author himself, a member of the New York world of poetry, founder and supporter of Ugly Duckling Presse, translator, especially from the Russian (for example An Invitation For… read the full review »

 

A Timeshare

My favorite thought experiment, run by analytic philosophers, is called The Brain in a Vat Argument. Imagine that instead of being the living, breathing body that you think you are, you are actually just a brain in a vat in a lab hooked up to a computer simulating the experience of a body and of an outside world. Think about it: how can you know for certain that this is not the case? Furthermore: given this uncertainty, how can you assume that any of your beliefs about the world and about your self outside the minds environment are true? If this sounds familiar, it is because the Wachowskis made a movie version of this. Swap in an evil demon for the human-controlling computers and youll see that Descartes has a version of this too. These scenarios are entertaining, yes,… read the full review »

 

Garments Against Women

Its hard to figure out exactly how to praise Anne Boyer, not because she doesnt leave copious evidence of brilliance, diligence, wit, and ethical rigor, but because I can think of no poet who has less interest in or greater distrust of the ideas of praise, brilliance, and all those wee glittering bourgeois items to be found in the gift bag of literary acclaim. Boyers writing is rewarding in the ways it smites the reader for wanting to be rewarded, but the exchange is never a hierarchical one; shes right there with the reader, thoughtfully guilty even as she makes her charges, assessments, and accusations, most of which manifest as the best questions anyone could possibly ask of the bad situation that is the present moment. Garments Against Women is a rich thicket, one bent of making the… read the full review »

 

Lazy Suzie

Lazy Suzie is an ecstatic, often surreal exploration of the eyes ability to turn about, to travel out the window, into a painting, through the telescope, over the hills, through the images of a magic lantern or camera obsura, and off mirrors. Not only the eye itself, but perhaps more importantly, the minds eye as it conjures up history, fantasies and dreams. On each new page attention seems to gather loosely around a subject, but the text just flows on from one page to the next; a reader is pulled along encouraged to stay with it though one sitting. It is like being caught in a whirlwind, flying from fragment to fragment as objects cohere and then dissolve, come into view and then float away:

the ray emerges like an antenna, from the eyes, here, from the… read the full review »