Thursday, June 30, 2005

Alli Warren


K. Silem Mohammad has an extravagant mini-review of Alli Warren’s Hounds, a chapbook that arrived recently with a publication date – Spring 2005 – but no identifiable publisher: “Contact Alli Warren immediately and force her to sell you a copy. It is worth a thousand dollars,” says Kasey. Jack Kimball & Jordan Davis have also taken note. I’m here to agree.

The poem “Unitarian” is dedicated to Robert Creeley & has an epigram from Steve Benson: When we love each other the war ends.

With bees exhumed
what possibilities therestill

foreheads / are public
         space upon which you kiss
the speaker

Court the willing

notoriously hard
to impress – bone
fragments in the mouth

                    the air is
         not breath-
able here
though I can see
         women crawling out
crawdad infested
oceans, remnants of a few
apple turnovers swishing
about their guts

Not to mention words

Dead In Texas

There are not homes there
are not hands
to warm and feed there
are syllables which the
night surrounds

Pigeons up
in the boughs
tracing outsides
footing treetops
         oxygen feed
figure across
a cross – walk
writhing on the concrete

”Mourning cloaks the world”

“I drove my car into a tree”

There was
         an ant
on the table
         I put out
the light with
         a small finger

This poem – and several others in this short book – have me rethinking how younger poets are making use of abstraction & figuration. Because at one level, this poem & most of the others here, could be characterized as an abstract lyric. But it operates on a very different level than most other poems I would use that phrase around. Typically, such poems focus in on phrase or line & tend to follow an overall aesthetic, often one that harkens back to roots in the New York School (and if not the NY School of Ashbery or O’Hara exactly, then at least the 2nd gen. one, say, of a Bill Berkson, adapting Ashbery’s palette to the lyric). Here, however, we find that abstraction has shifted toward a higher level – the stanza – and that almost every stanza here approaches its language from a different perspective. Maybe this is how a poem would appropriate the part:whole sensibility of a David Salle. But that still seems too NY Schoolish to capture what Warren is up to. Her line is clean & smooth as an Objectivist – indeed, one of the poems here appropriates one of Oppen’s titles, while linebreaks in more than a few places echo Black Mountain. Overall, the result is that these poems offer an extraordinary range as if she’s absorbed all the poetry of the past half century & comfortably made it her own. I knew that I trusted this poem by the end of its second line, the way each line fell so distinctly on an eye-catching word: exhumed / therestill. Yet the next stanza takes me in a completely different direction & the third – a one-line stanza – into an altogether different direction. Throughout, I never lose a sense of the whole here – there isn’t anything scattergun to this technique – so I’m hit especially hard when this turns, in its own way, into an elegy (and I hope you caught the echo of Creeley’s “I Know a Man” in “night surrounds”).

In particular, I love what Warren is doing with the line here – she has a confidence with it that is rare. Consider that enjambment in the fourth stanza between bone & fragments, the reiterations of there in the eighth, or the way she doesn’t signal the relationship between table & I put out in the final stanza, enabling light to allude at least partly back to ant. A poet who can do all this in just two pages can, frankly, do anything.

Warren appears to have published two earlier chapbooks, one of which, Yoke, can be downloaded in PDF format from Faux Press’ list of e-books, the other of which, Schema, contains poems read in Stephanie Young’s house reading series in Oakland. The works in Yoke seem a little more consciously flat – as tho Warren’s trying for a tone throughout – but there & in Schema especially, that absolute sense of the line shines through:

there is no rent control
why don’t you sit on my face
and imagine
if only I didn’t occupy this penis
full of integrity
it could be snowing

But that’s the thing about Hounds & Schema both – they’re going to send you seeking out everything Alli Warren has written & published. Because until we get that first Big Book, this is the only way we’re going to be able to find her poetry. & she’s one of those poets who, once you read her work, instantly becomes a necessity.