Staff Picks 2015


Sean Collins recommends

Sor Juana and Other Monsters by Luis Felipe Fabre

I used to fall asleep on my grandparents' porch in North Carolina, when it was too hot to sleep inside under covers. There was a thousand species of lizard in the dense green surroundings, and I could hear the tiny clicks of their claws on the porch screen as they explored its webbing and sought me out on my cot, in cotton pajamas under a family quilt. It must have been noisy with their chatter to each other, but I couldn't detect it.

Perhaps if I was tuned the way the speaker in Fabre's SOR JUANA is tuned, I could have. That is, if I'd thought to ask, "Do they speak?" I'd have heard their voices. But I'd still have to wonder, "What exactly are they saying?" I only think to ask this now--considering poetry, particularly translation, as simultaneously a life-bringing and death-bringing activity, as John Pluecker formulates his own as well as Fabre's efforts.

Fabre's recounting, in poetic form, of decades of scholarship around Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, addresses directly the fraudulent layers of apprehension translation weaves, making explicitly monstrous the connection between asserting-knowledge-of and killing. Pluecker says: "What you see here is the result of many enigmatic murders."

The scholars Fabre ventriloquizes trace patterns in Sor Juana's language, forensically, as a way of schematizing her spells. This approach is suggested by the cryptic logic of her poems themselves:

Who is that murderess, tell me-
so graciously ungrateful she-
who kills at once when comes alive
and, having given life, she dies?

But a structure suggesting logic isn't the same as logic revealed. So Fabre, rather than recapitulate the previous efforts of scholars, weaves them into a new poetic tapestry, structured by his awareness of the precarious relationship between fraudulence and desire in translation:

...the immense love
they have for Sor Juana
prevents them from seeing Sor Juana clearly

But this precarity is also the suggestion of un-known potential:

What kind
of monster is it whose power
resides in language?

Pluecker calls Fabre's poetry "burlesque," with its connotations of performative bodies--an art that identifies and transforms desire into camp versions of itself. Fabre suggests, in the ironic inquisitiveness of his experimental essay-in-poetic-form, that asking after language is a way of reducing the vaporous monsters of potentiality to inert bodies of words:

Sor Juana scholars: be careful!
Because Sor Juana's body
has still not been found.

She will find you if she wants you, and leave your "unfinished theses spattered with blood!"


Marina Claveria recommends

Boyfriend Mountain by Kelly Schirmann and Tyler Brewington

It is only appropriate to write a review of this collaborative tête-bêche between poets, Tyler Brewington and Kelly Schirmann, while listening to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and drinking cheap red wine-something that feels simultaneously raw and trite. I am doing the former because it is 9AM. I have work soon.

Fabricating the landscape of BOYFRIEND MOUNTAIN, Schirmann writes:

whenever we drove up the mountain for sage
I knew they would be our death
the way that first cold river was
& all that money
& those things you saw
high up in the trees
that I could never spot

Memories of boyfriends with stick-n-poke tattoos, smoking too much pot, and contemplating mortality-Schirmann writes so honestly it hurts. It's the kind of honesty that makes you wish you were more sophisticated, while realizing a pop-sensibility says it best.

BOYFRIEND MOUNTAIN is a collection of poems about climbing to the peak for someone you love, only to reach the top and admit you knew it was a something all along. Then you admit to yourself, it was kind of a someone, but you don't really need that someone like you thought you did. You feel proud that you don't really need said someone, but also feel that the last year of your life has been a total sham, partially selfinduced.

Maybe this is adulthood, these poets ask. There is so much to not know.

Brewington counters Schirmann in the negative spaces of his poems. In one poem he writes, "When I think of your dick / I come back to life. There's this drinking game / I learned in Turkey, we have to clap together, it's intimate / Play with me". His poems are sweet and inappropriate, tossing around the word dick, all the while contemplating spirituality (there's this beautiful mirroring where both poets use the phrase "god feelings" in a poem.)

"What is the world like / I'm so curious about that," Brewington asks.

BOYFRIEND MOUNTAIN is a land far away where we figure that out, where all of the heartbreak of being human somehow makes sense.


John Sakkis recommends

Triangle Squared by Ava Koohbor 

Ava Koohbor is a friend of mine, but that doesn't really matter, she's written a very smart book in her TRIANGLE SQUARED. Derek Fenner who runs Bootstrap Press and who published TRIANGLE SQUARED is also a friend of mine, we both live in Adam's Point in Oakland, CA, me on the 3rd floor of an apartment complex, Derek on the 1st. Derek hosted a collating and sewing party for Ava at his place a while back, I attended, I remember Patrick Dunagan was there, Micah Ballard, Nick Whittington, Brian Lucas, Sirama Bajo, who else? was Sunnylyn there? I drank red wine and watched everyone collate and sew (I didn't pull my weight here), things got loose and Derek gave me a shot of very rare Pappy Van Winkle, yassou and OPA! right? the kind of po-centered party I always imagined attending as a young poet-dreamer, I think Ava and gang sewed something like 250 copies that night, bully for them! So it's a year later and I finally get around to reading Ava's book (over coffee in bed before work, recommended), and wow if it isn't a great one! There's a serious and considered poetics found here amidst her imagined conversations between Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Morton Feldman, time, duration and art making and how they synthesize, in the world, in Ava's work, both poetry and visual; from her introduction: "an artist is not something separate from you and me; or the world surrounding us. An artist is a seeker who through immersion in the immediate living world of her individuality channels the collective memory of the past." I'm looking forward to Ava's next one, I'll be a better sewer next time I promise.


Zoe Tuck recommends

After-Cave by Michelle Detorie

In 2014 (and through some of 2015) I tried unsuccessfully to write an essay about one of my new favorite books: Michelle Detorie's AFTER-CAVE (Ahsahta, 2014). I took copious notes, culled quotes for evidence, but I could never tie it together. I think this was the case because AFTER-CAVE is written from the future-not a technological dystopia or a neo-primitivist fantasyland but something so much simpler and more sophisticated. This is a future in which, "THE DATA IS FEMININE," a "feralscape," a "haunted place." Sometimes I feel like I live there-becoming a dog, weaving the bones of a cormorant into my dress-and then I am jerked back into our world. And I believe that it is our world that haunts AFTER-CAVE, one in which feminine data gets shunted through patriarchal logic, transforming it into anything but. It is a world in which we hold human and animal in curious distinction. Our world is not yet Detorie's, but through her writing, readers can experience its inchoate forms.


Aiden Arata recommends

The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg

I think maybe life is about deciding how seriously you want to be taken. To this end, THE MAN SUIT is a navigation of gravity in a funny world. It's sentimentality slow dancing with the comically insane. Surrealism takes your hand with a straight face and a rose between its teeth.

The book-a smooth, slim volume in businessman's gray-is a sort of circuit board, images from one stanza lighting up a line twenty pages away. Schomburg often works in prose poems, those zen koans of poetry, and he uses the form to his advantage: his blocks of text become funhouses, spitting our warped desires back at us.

In many ways, THE MAN SUIT is about the past- there are corsets, there's an opera singer, an index*- but the book is redeemed from preciousness by its devotion to the mundane. A telephone, a glass of milk, a purple one-piece bathing suit: commonplace cues that ground and hold. A lung and a haircut start a relationship in which they watch a lot of movies and they talk about their fears. "The haircut's fear was to be eaten by a shark, but he was lying. The lung knew it. There was a long silence between them. The blinking lights of another plane slid across the black sky." That's where THE MAN SUIT, and life, in its absurdity, gets you-the little thing you say when the big thing is unbearable.

*Included in this index: Tiny, the idea of being; Lungs; Being inappropriately dressed.


Janice Worthen recommends

Intersex by Aaron Apps

Aaron Apps' INTERSEX: A MEMOIR investigates the violence of becoming. The writing itself is a necessary assault, slicing away assumptions, separating the vulnerable self from its social construct. The diction kicks from the very first Narrative Line sequence in which Apps shows how a society's gender and sexual structures weasel into every aspect of life and grind against those who exist and operate outside those structures: "Bathrooms are gender ciphers-to be in the woman's room with my body is to be in the wrong space, regardless of genitals" (8).

While reading Apps' stunning second book, I feel uncomfortable in my own body, its easy passage through the world. Yes, I am female, and that comes with challenges, but my body has always allowed me to belong to the category Female. I am made to question what I have taken for granted--that a doctor's visit for me as a child ended in a lollipop, whereas an intersex child's may have ended with a sense of violation.

I come to realize the luxury of making decisions for my own body and the horror a child must feel watching adults confer and decide without his input or power to intervene. Apps describes that classic wooden toy in dentist and doctor offices: "Those beads that remind me of myself-cheap, wooden, wired" (52). As a child, he is set on a trajectory, and as I watch him spiral along it, I must ask what it means to be made "correct" and by whose standards, especially when that correction requires drugs and therapy and the breaking and reforming of an individual into charged categories. Apps writes of his baby self, "Everything seems perfect except for this one thing that reconfigures everything" (32). Parents, who at first were in wonder over the life before them, are made to see a "problem" instead of the miracle.

Violence inherent in gender and sexual structures and their enforcement radiate out from the individual. The violence of the doctor hovers like a shadow over the boy as he dissects creatures he finds in the waters surrounding his house. Apps asks his reader to question what shadows overlay one's own actions, thoughts, and assumptions as one moves in a woven, connected world. He writes, "Masculinity, in naming, stains deep into the fresh-sanded skin of the fetus becoming child. We affix identity on it like loose tiles to a house, and the tiles skin and weed until their roots pop and stain the architecture...a violent stain seeping along many lines and becoming a stance, a sight" (58).

But the boy whom doctors diligently seek to mold finds a way of becoming on his own terms, discovers a voice that will rise to devour, to be, to say "I am."

Apps' is a vital, visceral voice I can't afford not to read.


Jared Levine recommends

The Islands by John Sakkis

Yesterday, I went to IKEA, and came across a comfortable looking yellow sofa. I sat in it. Across, was a coffee table, and on that table was a dissection puzzle. I knew immediately what it was, because I had just finished my second reading of John Sakkis' THE ISLANDS, in which he references dissection puzzles, several times, by formal names. I impulsively reached for the puzzle and disassembled it-and in that brief moment, was reminded of my recent online research on the subject where I had learned that there were numerous ways to reassemble the puzzle. My assumption was that it would be a breeze. I sat there for over twenty minutes, on a yellow couch, in the middle of IKEA trying to piece it back together, got too frustrated, looked at the cheat sheet on the back, and still, sat there another five minutes attempting to reassemble the puzzle.

Today, I write John's book review, thinking of it much like the dissection puzzle from yesterday. On the surface, it appears as a mass amount of fun; it feels like an easy read. John Sakkis moves the collection along quite nicely, utilizing a minimalist/hip-hop oriented approach that borrows its lexicon from Greek culture, antiquated technological terms, and a modernized text-speak, amongst others. However, these stylistic nuances are the same features that make it such a-dare I say-puzzling piece of work as well. The analytic reader, picks up their copy of THE ISLANDS, and begins to read, but realizes that what they are holding, is actually a dissection puzzle. The reader takes apart the puzzle and attempts to put it back together again. For me, as a very specific reader, my reassembled dissection puzzle leaves me with the following paragraph:

THE ISLANDS by John Sakkis investigates how it is that a familial history/name can contextualize a personal narrative. Must the individual infallibly be a part of this lineage? If yes, does the last name (in this case, the name Sakkis) carry a transmission for familial memory? Can this familial memory change the ways in which landscapes define the needs for the individual? But also, to what extent does modernity infiltrate the familial memory and therefore spatial reasoning for the individual? In this, I find moments of deep regret-a sadness-yet also, moments that pronounce their own jouissance. Through it all, the poet emerges from the salt, sweat, and water of the islands, as completely unhinged.

But again, there are many ways to reassemble a dissection puzzle, so don't just take my word for it. Though challenged, I found myself really enjoying this read, and recommend it.


Marina Claveria recommends

Women in Public by Elaine Kahn

Elaine Kahn's debut full-length poetry collection, WOMEN IN PUBLIC, explores the odd continuity between motherhood, blow-up dolls, lack, and love, asking the question: "What does the world hate more / than women / in public." The poems read as attempts to capture the contradictory nature of the feminine-to live on the edge of being, both subject and object, consumer and consumed. In this attempt, Kahn navigates the distance between the McRib and the abject with a dark eroticism. She wields metaphors, or more so, absences, in ways that leave you feeling as if you're falling them. These are poems about to unravel.


Jared Levine recommends

Life in a Box is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin

The work Dawn Lundy Martin puts forth in LIFE IN A BOX IS A PRETTY LIFE is challenging. It is the kind of work that slow burns and is difficult to digest.

The framework of this book mirrors the ways society frames the individual. The poems, to me, read as so intentionally rendered, that there becomes this strong sense of surveillance-a surveillance that pushes me to question whether the final product is by desire of the poet or for society. Further, what is the difference between repose and rendering? Between a historical ache and an ongoing trauma?

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.


Janice Worthen recommends

Closing the Book by Joelle Renstrom

Reading Joelle Renstrom's CLOSING THE BOOK: TRAVELS IN LIFE, LOSS, AND LITERATURE is like having a conversation with a best friend, one who totally gets me, after a long absence. Renstrom's essays present a person unsettled by loss and floundering in the aftermath, but she writes them so gracefully that the floundering feels more like dancing. Dark things knock at the windows, doubt rustles in the heart, the future stretches ahead blank and starless, but Renstrom creates a bond with her reader that provides comfort and hope and a willingness to continue the journey. Her words feel whispered in the ear, her internal world transferred like a gift. I feel a thrill as I arrive at her chapter of letters to Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite childhood companions. My stomach flutters as her plane lifts her into a journey of roots. I become nostalgic as she recalls memories with her dad, whose breath warms the page. My writer's guilt burns in my chest as she admonishes herself for procrastination: "The daughter part of me answered, this is sacred. If you're going to write about it, write about it. Don't say you're going to write about it and then mope around the house instead" (71). As Renstrom wades into grief, the void that closes in as her feet leave the bottom is felt, the insight she passes along is earned: "It's far easier said than done, but here it is: one can choose to want to be hopeful despite the knowledge that one's hope probably won't be realized. This is free will. This is bravery" (153). As she meets others who can and can't understand her new state, as she revisits favorite authors, as she travels known and unknown places, Renstrom regains the capacity for hope. As she makes her way toward closing the book, I am already looking forward to opening it again.


Sarah Stoves recommends

Confidence by Seth Landman

Love is a plague, and Seth Landman is its steward. He is your lover. He is your ex-lover. He is your biggest fan. In this unfiltered ode to the lovestruck, permutated passion overruns and leaks out, causing the reader to rubberneck at obsessive, self-inflicted emotional wreckage. CONFIDENCE romps, at times emboldened, at times embittered, but with a sensitive tow for every lone ship to waywardly set sail on unforgiving waters.


Johnny Hernandez recommends

The Bellfounder by Steven Toussaint

There is something primal at the heart of Steven Toussaint's newest collection THE BELLFOUNDER. Amidst references to the work of Andrey Tarkovsky and the development of bell making, Toussaint draws parallels between these sources that track the emergence of a social sacredness. He attempts to strip off the object-ness of bells, while at the same time referencing their casting from melted earth. He also draws a direct connection between the creation of worship-- as a means to collect as one social consciousness (through the bell's signaling), to transcend the observed and connects this with the collectiveness of a shared tool of transmission (language and its semiotics). THE BELLFOUNDER is a collection that looks at the intangible of social and spiritual connection that is created by the tangible artifacts that, in and of themselves, mean nothing: Language (words, like the bells) becomes a means to connect to any and all who can receive their meaning. The bell's sound connects those who receive their ringing melodies just as language rings out with ideas, objects and actions. THE BELLFOUNDER is a contemplative exploration of space and attraction, while at the same time it bridges the spiritual with the environmental.


Janice Worthen recommends

The Black Unicorn Sings by Aja Monet

In THE BLACK UNICORN SINGS, Aja Monet gives us a collection of poems that shimmer when held in the palm, the throat. Her words are direct and honest, but they are also alive with music and magic, magic that's not necessarily in what is but what's seen. I want to keep this book with me so I can read her on the bus, in a line, to a complete stranger. Monet, a gifted performer who won the Nuyorican Poet's Café Grand Slam at 19, tells her reader, "This is meant to be read aloud, where someone can hear you, where you can hear yourself" (4).

And because "A song is how a thing is free'd" (from Monet's title poem inspired by Audre Lorde), the stakes couldn't get any higher. Her song poem is sometimes a "tortured jewel," as the speaker is in "Weathering: one" who addresses her lover with a diction of breaking and scattering amidst a cyclical rejoining (27). Tortured like the daughter in "Born" who speaks of a mother who is "the strongest woman I never want to be," a poem reminiscent of Audre Lorde's yearning "From the House of Yemanjá" (36).

But even as Monet's song poems present the tortured, the broken, and the chained as she explores gender, race, love, and the self, they are a celebration of strength, of the black woman who breaks again and again and can still set storms raging and thunder booming with a laugh, a gesture.

Monet transforms the everyday into the mythic and the mythic into the everyday. A woman becomes a black unicorn who uses her black magic. God, freedom, and the spirit become women--broken, powerful, and undeniable. Monet can weave a spell, cast a legend, with a simple description of smoke rising: "She blows ghosts from her lips/ fashioning cigarettes between her fingers like magic wands" ("If ever you find yourself on the J Train," 14). When reading her poems I feel, over and over again, transported.

But with all the myth making and magic weaving, Monet reminds her reader that she is not "a symbol." She tells her reader that whatever her poems may be, they are always political. In her collection, women can claim their freedom through the act of creation but they can also be trapped by that creation. She writes, "Because I have learned, even now, how one can be enslaved in the books of men, how your words don't ever seem to belong to you once they've left" (4).

Despite this risk, I am grateful she chose to sing these songs, songs that sit deep in the chest where the heart beats, where the "spirit is/ Dancing." I look forward to the magic she has yet to weave.


Nicole Trigg recommends

The Cardiff Tapes (1972) by Garth Evans

I figured I would love THE CARDIFF TAPES since I love everything published by Soberscove. Like another of their titles on Moscow Conceptualism (and one of my favorite books at SPD), Collective Actions, THE CARDIFF TAPES documents diverse observations on a piece/ action of art by numerous individuals/ participants, here transcribed from original audio recordings made by the artist, Garth Evans.

One day in 1972, Evans installed his sculpture in the middle of a pedestrian area in the city of Cardiff, Wales, where it would directly impact the daily flow of bodies and gazes. The next morning he asked people to speak their reactions to the piece into his tape recorder, without letting on he had anything to do with putting it there. The large steel sculpture, described by MAN IN THE BUTCHER'S SHOP as "a long pillar—and then a flat piece there with a rounded edge—and, um, a triangle" elicits copious questions—among the most frequently asked are "What is it for?" and "What does it mean?"—and a string of statements as to what it ISN'T: it's not a representation, it's not purposeful, it's not useful, it's not even a design. One woman just says, "No." It also elicits laughter from the grown-ups (in lieu of explanation or interpretation), and physical play from the kids who go to climb it.

This "Beckettian transcript" (it says on the back) that documents several people of Cardiff's encounter with the bewildering (making wild or strange) of their routine landscape invites us to muse on the role of public art and questions of accessibility. Evans makes an argument for the "difficulty" and "unknowability" of public art in the afterword: "if it is to be worthwhile it needs to be able to disturb, confuse, and disorient. This is because the sculpture's purpose is first to engage and then to challenge our sense of what is real and true and to provide an opportunity for some realignment of these concepts."

Outside the space of the museum, ppl demand an explanation for "art" if there is none, but perhaps in the process of asking themselves and others, "what is it," something else happens: the rearranging of established codes of meaning, or at least their temporary suspension—what we might call thought itself!

It's like the 41ST MAN says: "you may come to the right conclusion and you may come to the wrong conclusion, but you [will] have speculated, you see, thought."


John Sakkis recommends

Way Too West by Julien Poirier

If Ed Dorn had grown up under the shadow of Mt. Diablo he might have written something like Julien Poirier's WAY TOO WEST. A folksy, old timey (via Back To The Future Part III), sittin' around the campfire drinking bourbon reading the French Surrealists and the Projective Verse Manifesto kind of book. A very representative excerpt goes something like this "--Generation-skipping hipster abolitionists/ hitchhike through the dust bowl/ glyphed in a speck Monsanto corn/ just as Nerds/ glyph root canals/ in Crips blue." I love this book, you should too.


Miles Marie recommends

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

Most people picking up a copy of Nell Zink's THE WALLCREEPER won't know what a wallcreeper is. While the tongue pieces together the three syllables the imagination dissects them, wall/creep/er. Taken literally the wallcreeper could be a party of creeps acting as a unified wall, or one creep on a wall. The er' suffix indicates the action of creeping, or wallcreeping, but rarely are nouns so straightforward. The definite article eludes us. The cover of the book gives no indication. Backwards bare feet show the flexibility of their tendons while taking a pose on the balls of the toes and the rest of the body hides behind an opaque green blob of dense brush strokes. The body the ankles are attached to, as well as the room they stand in, are hidden behind this green void. The image gives no tell. Once past the cover and into the first few pages of text Zink introduces the title's namesake, a species of small bird that pecks around the fringes of its habitat, "breeding and feeding," disregarding the rest. If the reader's attention exits as fast as the bird in the story then only part one of the definition has been revealed.

Part two: The jealous overtones of the narrator, Tiffany, and the surviving instinct that burdens her ability to "breed and feed." Her resentful feelings worm their way into her head and project onto the actions of others in a way the reader is never sure are actually happening.

Part three: The renegade actions of environmental activists like Tiffany, her husband, and the cast of characters all working with a visible persona, then within that persona through a web of deception. Whether the actions underneath the radar of society are cloaked to further a communal goal or a personal agenda are left up to the reader. While Tiffany's projections of those around her are delivered to the reader, her self-assured demeanor comes in waves and leaves doubt for all spectators, keeping them reading until the last few pages.

Part Four: Language so expository, yet crisp, it goes unnoticed until the reader pulls back to reflect. It infests itself inside the frontal lobe, yet lies unknown until its name, wallcreeper, is called.  


Zoe Tuck recommends

Red Juice by Hoa Nguyen

Hoa Nguyen's RED JUICE: POEMS 1998-2008 (Wave Books, 2014) demonstrates the enduring power of the political lyric. The work collects several earlier volumes published during her years in Austin, Texas, spanning as well an historical era that moves from the peak of US confidence to the abysm of the Bush era, taking on disaster capitalism, environmental degradation, and racism with poetic intelligence. RED JUICE also holds dream and delirium, being threaded through with the chthonic feminist mysticism I associate with Alice Notley (a major influence). Nguyen's pedagogical practice of teaching texts by reading them aloud shows in her poetry. The consequences of this simple but profound act, beside a close reading, include a close relationship with a poet's music, her melopoeia. Although embodiment has become something of a buzzword, I can think of no other way to describe Nguyen's relationship to her influences. The result for the reader or listener is that Nguyen's own work hums with many musics which are nonetheless fully her own. We may live in a world in which, "They sell you what disappears" but the poems in RED JUICE made to last.


The Great Medieval Yellows Jim Krull recommends



Beast Feast

Garin Hay recommends

Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence

BEAST FEAST is the ecopoetics book I've been pining for but have sought in vain until now. Many other postmodern pastorals have a politics, a critique of gender, a critique of "nature" and the "natural," use Language-poetics-inspired ecological mimesis, or depart from an anthropocentric phenomenology, but rarely all five of these elements. Beast Feast is sensuously immersed in "nature," but this nature is deeply self-aware, political, queered, and rhizomically ecological in subject matter. Cody-Rose Clevidence warns the reader to "BE PREAPRED FOR MANY FORMS," and the book at large pushes language into new forms using a vast toolkit of Language poetics in order to alter-naturalize human phenomenological experience, to reconceive and re-sensualize what a human in "nature" might look like through an intervention of radical poetics. The incredible success of BEAST FEAST is in its use of Language poetics for mimesis: mimesis not only of sounds in nature for example, but of ecological processes, even of genetic processes. Rife with neologisms and words pulled apart into their basic lexical elements in order to maximize their potential connectivity, Clevidence understands that a new conception of "nature" will require fundamental transformations to the language through which we conceptualize that nature.


Clevidence explodes our typically conservative zoopolitics, or the organisms we typically see poets write about (e.g. birds, bears, trees, etc.). Although they do mention more charismatic species like wolves and flowers, Clevidence frequently zooms into the molecular level in which the borders between live and dead matter are in flux. All earthen activities are fair game and deeply at stake in Clevidence's analysis of sovereignty in this economics-ecologics-politics. Agamben and the Derrida of The Beast and the Sovereign are present as Clevidence reckons with the assemblages of human beasts on this earth:

"| | :: I radii poured cement & wept (j/k) - is a lol in the sovereign face-is a membrane of the Real-is kind of like whatever- hauled galvanized aluminum screwed nailed & stroked load-bearing beams thru which I erect a wound cut into the meadow- is my sovereign resistance embedded in dumb hard wood is my resistance a material stance:: | |" (41).

Any human gaze and any privileged human phenomenological position to make objective sense of its "surroundings" is delightfully and sensuously troubled throughout BEAST FEAST. Flora and fauna actively return the human gaze and pierce us: "my apples are full of madness. / each daisy is looking out at us" (11). Clevidence's poetics refuses the human a set of senses by which we can neatly objectify the world, but rather insists through new ecologies of language that we must cultivate new senses, as many senses as there are things: "to cultivate a sense of the many senses needed to sense the many things- / versus to cultivate a way to parse the world into sensible objects" (6).

Clevidence maximizes the potential of genetics to serve a queered ecopoetics; the organic and non-organic forms of BEAST FEAST are in metamorphosis, are a shifting mosaic of sex, selfing, parthenogenesis, trans-species and trans-life assemblages:

"rhizomic, lightly soiled, multigendered lily of / hypersexual ungraceful fluxuation, amassing in / mutagetic saprophytic bud all gown, strut o / lunge into this the forest where all nature's dethroned" (2).

Although replete with forms that transcend the human, Clevidence does make ample use of the lyric to write (often humorously) through any typical notion of a human longing for nature or a romantic sexual completion via sexual dimorphism: "U centaur in yr accident // corrosive in yr gendered unicorn be all like fuck you in my pink quartz diodes I'll jizz in my own paradise" (81).

In "THIS THE FOREST" columns of text exhibit manifestos that are rendered difficult to read by lack of spacing between words and the presence of distracting computer keyboard symbols. The section functions-much like the project at large-as a mimesis of the forest itself, of a human attempt to garner anything of use and meaning from the dense and overstimulating environment of a forest: "Fjfn;ual;ksd / AMFULLof / DesIREIAM / IAMFulloF / DESIreInthe / FORESTWh / ereSAREyo / OU?}{jkw;r" (53).

Even in their more straightforward language, Clevidence wields the comparative horizontal reading of Language poetics to demand active reading:


At its most utopian, BEAST FEAST is a practice in "radical ambiguity," which "if taken seriously would dissolve ‘rationalist' structures of division like ‘subject/object' ‘cause/effect' ‘mind/body/world' ‘he/she' ‘right/wrong' ‘syntax/semantics' ‘supply/demand' (98). The book's exploration of organic form at the least denies any appeal to "nature" in order to defend the dichotomous powers that be, a much needed intervention in a long pastoral poetic tradition in which nature is used to naturalize oppression. But more than this, BEAST FEAST's linguistic sensuality offers hope that we may employ the prosthetic graft of language that is/on human organisms to realize a radically non-anthropocentric phenomenology while also critiquing the oppressive socio-political-biological pitfalls of our current racialization, sexualization, class-ification of other human organisms.


Ban en Banlieue | Bhanu Kapil | Nightboat Books

Jim Krull recommends

Krull Review: Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
The Islands | John Sakkis | Nightboat Books

Jim Krull recommends

Krull Review: Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil


deadfalls & snares | samantha giles | futurepoem books

Garin Hay recommends

deadfalls & snares by Samantha Giles

DEADFALLS & SNARES uses the travesty of the torture of prisoners carried out by the US since the War On Terror to elucidate the horrific complicity of our human interconnection within this nation. Giles insists on "I" and "we" over other pronouns to the radical extent that the first-person performs violent acts upon itself. The prison guard tortures him/herself or the prisoner tortures him/herself: "I routinely deprived myself of food and water. At times, I gave myself spoiled food, which caused me to vomit. I shackled myself for extended periods and denied myself access to a toilet, causing me to soil my pants" (22). The work of deadfalls & snares is not only to remember, but to alter the place of torture in our public imaginary.

Ostensibly torture is used to gather intelligence, but this dimension of torture is completely absent in the book. Any notion of knowledge garnered to protect the US citizen has already degenerated into the pure play of torture. Giles writes through the documented cases of torture to foreground the carnival in which the binaries of guard-prisoner and of spectator-spectated generate their own baleful logics (when was sexual assault on minors ever necessary for "homeland security?"). Other poets have similarly isolated and exhibited the logics of brutal state power, but Giles takes the next step, implicating the reader and public by writing an impossible social relation of masochism. An "I" that tortures-is-tortured (by) itself exemplifies the self-wounding of our social body-all of us who form the US and benefit from its power-under militarized governance. This masochism implicates us in a collectivity that we hitherto could not think or feel until reading these poems. deadfalls & snares' historical work is to mandate recognition of what has been rendered by our militarized society impossible for us to feel and acknowledge publicly but whose structure constitutes our very citizenship via militarization-as-social-self: sadism turns into masochism once you deprivilege the level of the individual and think on the level of the social.

The relationship between the trapper and the trapped animal further provide grounds for exploring this social self-harm. The fur trapper must sympathize with the body of the animal: "know what pose you / are trying to replicate / the bend of the legs / curve of the back / placement of feet;" so the torturer similarly sympathizes (in the more literal sense of the word) with the body of the tortured: knows it, its possible positions, and its limits intimately. The torturers imagine themselves in the body of the tortured. This is the dimension that deadfalls & snares investigates: masochistic sympathy in which one forcibly fantasizes the body of another. As spectators of torture via media leaks and belated Freedom of Information Act document releases, we must be re-sensitized and newly sympathized to the torture whose forms we receive so distantly through screens.

Sectioned throughout the book, Giles excerpts every moment of the word "white" in Moby Dick: "what the white was has been hinted at it was the whiteness that above all things appalled me, whiteness refiningly enhancing beauty [...]" This is the study of whiteness via the epic, by whiteness's semantic effects and associations, revealing its aesthetic-discursive optimization through literature. The word repeats hypnotically among the fractured and compounded stream of Melville's beautifully-wrought prose, a monopoly on the aesthetic of the epic-the text of the national community. The white aesthetics of the hunter-like the hegemonic aesthetics of the torturer and the state.

We find we have been fighting for a world in which prison guards gleefully adopt the nicknames of Saturday-morning cartoon characters. "hello Dr. Claw / hello to you Piggy and Twitch / we're here to watch / just fit ourselves through the bars to say / hello Gilligan and Yuck Mouth and Big Bird." The friendly world on television we watched as children is easily militarized. The cartoonification of militarized torture, of power, has been the logical conclusion of our seemingly passive spectatorship. Throughout deadfalls & snares Giles takes apart recognizable forms and presents us with their fragments or with an unfamiliar relationship composing them, re-attuning us to the form (digital) and hidden human content from which we have been affectively estranged.

Torture is part of the logic of everyday relations of power in the US, but of course our ability to see and feel it is hidden from us. By writing these powers as masochism, we feel what has been rendered impossible for us to feel: namely, the effects of our living in their very constitution.

It's not simply that the torturer is affected by the act of torturing, that when we hurt others we are also hurting ourselves. Torturing as a relationship is productive itself, unbounded by a single subject and object. Nor are there spectators for whom this experience is simply translated via media.

It's essential to find collective social emotion within seemingly singular and hidden acts of violence, not as memorialization but as collective self-indictment. Our emotional lives are not our own. Our emotion belongs to how we are produced, protected, and regulated. Our emotions belong to surveillance and to the military.


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