Monday, May 10, 2004

I took Fence up on its special three-fer offer: three of its books, normally priced at $12 each, for a mere $25. I picked up Catherine Wagner’s Macular Hole, Prageeta Sharma’s The Opening Question & Martin Corless-Smith’s Nota. As bargains go in the world of progressive books, this is one of the best deals around.


Wagner is a poet who Rae Armantrout first pointed out to me as someone well worth reading & her earlier book, also from Fence, Miss America, proved Armantrout right. With her partner, Corless-Smith, Wagner might be said to make up the Boise renaissance. Here, for instance, is “Scary Ballad”:


My eat, little girl, like a bed collapsed in

My eat nervous like for your life

And when the pie was opened
What a pretty

Sandpaper bird

Yellow cloth hole in the ocean
Rash skinny song and a dancing man
That was the cord I held


Who gave that little girl cold medicine to eat
My thighbruise made up to look pink
Nobody knew because nobody saw
Everyone walk down the street


This is one of those texts that just screams out for a close reading, the kind of attentiveness that will allow its many layers to peel themselves back into its core insight Рthe proximity of nursery rimes to transfigured memories of child abuse. If this poem has a spiritual ancestor, it is less the Brothers Grimm or Lewis Carroll & more closely the darkest side of Jack Spicer. Which is compounded by the fact that while, on the one hand, Macular Hole appears to be simply a collection of poems Рthe volume has three sections whose presence is not acknowledged in the table of contents Рthe book also functions as a single, masterful, often terrifying argument. Spicer meets Plath, perhaps, albeit the real Plath, terrible & frightened, not the puffed-up clich̩ that Hollywood & the School of Quietude want Plath to have been. Thus, for example, this untitled piece from the second suite:


God was not personal to me




God would become personal to me when I
thought I was so sexy

which was craven.



God was neither personal nor impersonal, it was a



I drew a picture for the questionnaire
of a man in flared
    trousers, & there was

    me, wearing a fuckable mighty.           That was my answer.



The questions were inside
            like candy.
Passing “Salmon la Sac”


That first "G" should be a drop cap, but Blogger is not cooperating.


The other poet Wagner reminds me of – because she’s the only other poet I know in their 30s who seems capable of asking these huge questions point blank – is Lisa Jarnot. Is “mighty” in that next-to-last stanza a typo for “nighty”? Or are we supposed simply to hear one within the other – given the dazzling effects that Wagner tosses off with astonishing ease in her other poems, I’m inclined toward the latter. For Wagner, the difficult is effortless & the impossible only a little harder. And that is a huge feat.