Tuesday, March 02, 2004

On Sunday mornings at the Grand Café, 61 Union Square, Somerville, MA, a group of poets gather to talk & share their work. Sunday Morning Anthology is a chapbook-size collection of works by nine of these poets. If you like the idea of poetry as community – and I do – this is a superb little example of the benefits that arise from collective activity.


The nine poets represented in these 48 pages are a diverse group, including Joel Sloman, whose first book, Virgil’s Machine, was published by Norton in 1966 (possibly before some of the other contributors here were born), the multitalented Joe Torra, five poets who are active bloggers – Amanda Cook, James Cook, Mark Lamoureux, Chris Rizzo & Christina Strong – plus Michael Carr & Tim Peterson.* The poems range from Amanda Cook’s earnest lyrics through Torra’s far more sardonic ones all the way to Strong’s sharp typographic ensembles, which carry far more of an edge to them than one anticipates from most vizpo. Overall, the poetry is so strong that the chapbook almost feels like a ringer – the Kinko’s print job & use of “saddle” stapling far too modest for the contents.


Some of the things that jump out for me include Sloman’s translations from a collection called, I swear, Off the Beaten Trakl, transmogrifications of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl that are far from literal translations but appear to have begun as homophonic versions that seem to get out of hand in inspired ways. Thus, the first stanza of “Sommer


I pay homage as she bends over her squeaky clogs
The sparrows steal from one another
Stiff from neglect, such are her toes
As I wrote to you this morning


bears only passing resemblance to Trakl’s stanza (not included in the anthology)


Am Abend schweigt die Klage
Des Kuckucks im Wald.
Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,
Der rote Mohn.


Thus, Der rote Mohn (literally “the red poppy”) takes us to “wrote you this morning,” just as Klage (complaint) leads to clogs,  but you have to have your punning sensors turned up to max in order to get from Korn to toes. The result feels a little like what you might get if you could do some sort of science experiment with the brains of Ron Padgett & Louis Zukofsky.


A very different kind of Zukofsky is on display on the facing page, in the poem “Goodnight Zukofsky” by Chris Rizzo:


Primrose, majolica, blooms
and maroon, a whitish spider akimbo
treads a thready disaster.

Cling limp, a window a fan
awaiting any in
other words the spider’s luck
ends in guts. How
do you go on to turn
off the lamp when turns
of phrase, phase, word
no consequence.
Love does not.


I’m not certain precisely how Rizzo arrived at this text – whether he used Zukofsky directly as a source or merely is working with the rich surface textuality that so characterizes the late Objectivist. Rizzo has another poem whose title references Williams, but which seems to go in an entirely different direction, suggesting that there isn’t a greater methodological system tucked under these texts that I just not making out. There are some wonderful moments in this poem (the use of i in the second line or that entire third line – it’s amazing to think that such a “commonplace” joining of adjective & noun as thready disaster has never been used before, but you will not find those words joined thus anywhere on Google . . . at least until it picks up this).


Tim Peterson has a piece that reminds me in a yet a different way of Zukofsky, in this instance of the man with the most precise sense of tonal balance in a line, when I read, in an untitled section from a larger series called Trans Figures


Lawn chairs yawn mouth awning
hair on neck in prayer hands
bandaged ample breast pairs in flown
deck bench stepping stone declension
tensed on step in step represent shipwreck
calling parts dungarees under hands
knees face side of a skin rib filial
injury dingy basement implement tool
swinger pen penis to write and under plans
wrinkled table in full bloom hardy
or wry mouth damaged lock shorn then

If I hear these lines as instances of Duncan’s conception (for which he credited Pound) of the tone leading of vowels, I find them to be almost perfect examples of sound being painterly. The way the aw occurs three times in the first line, the sequence of chairs to hair to prayer & pairs, all built upon variants of a – the poem at that moment moves right on to e – completely convinces me.


Whether these three represent examples of an “assignment” the group took on or simply shared inclinations on the part of the poets, I can’t say – there is another thread in this book that one could read as focusing on the line as the unit of writing – and frankly I don’t much care. The only thing I see at all problematic about this anthology is that I don’t think it will be seen/read by nearly enough people. For more information or a copy, the one address actually listed in the publication is for Christina Strong: chrisx@xtina.org.




* James Cook’s blogroll includes a link for a blog by Tim Peterson that shows up as a 404 error on Blogspot.