Sink 10's New Reviews
I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women, Edited by Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, & Vanessa Place
Reviewed by Nathan Austin
Conceptual art has often been considered a boys’ club, despite the crucial role women have played in its history. Lucy Lippard’s 1973 show “c. 7,500″ (the title takes its name from the population of Valencia, CA, where the show was held) was intended as a corrective: it included work from 26 women who worked within a movement that took ideas and information as its primary media. I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women serves a similar function, reminding us of the centrality of women to a movement that might sometimes seem masculinist.
The volume, edited by Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, and Vanessa Place, arrives at an exciting moment — it comes soon after the publication of the monumental Against Expression, and amidst a growing interest in conceptual writing. In fact, conceptual writing seems to be making inroads into more mainstream conversations — and this is something that I’ll Drown My Book is at least partially responsible for: it appears on Ms. magazine’s list of “2012′s Best Books of Poetry by Women,” which (correctly) identifies it as a “must-own.” Even more surprising is that other books on the list are also (more or less broadly speaking) conceptual in their bents: The Making of Americans by Holly Melgard, which reduces Stein’s book of the same name to its non-repeated phrases, and Diana Hamilton’s Okay, Okay, which “appropriates other people’s feelings,” according to its press release.
Reviewed by Angela Veronica Wong
The increasing and oppressive social anxiety felt in the past decade of war, violence, terror and interplay of privilege (social, financial, cultural) and our immediate world may have lead to the recent rise of girlhood as subject — and nostalgia as affect — exploring the construct of girlhood to work towards an understanding of the girl as woman..Even its most fun and pink and glittery incarnations American girlhood is underscored by the uncertainties of power, body, hate, and heterosexuality. Marisa Crawford’s The Haunted House and Carrie Murphy’s Pretty Tilt are both collections that seem to consciously position themselves with “gurlesque” poetry, and work toward reconstructing and recreating girlhood through a poetry that acts as cultural examination.
Or, as Carrie Murphy writes, “Under my fingertips,/ the shape of the beds of his nails/ (a poem I wrote at sixteen),/ the tools I used to write myself a girl.” Both Murphy and Crawford present a girlhood that directly, fiercely, intersects with pop culture — pop culture as Western, or perhaps more aptly American, product. Murphy builds an identity through pop culture, pulling in references to Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Ani DiFranco, in a way that tracks the conflicting messages of female role models available to young girls of America. In particular, “Glossary” seems a wonderful, but also terrifying, list of growing up girl in the early 1990s and 2000s. Among some of what she lists: “Ironic: four different Alanises with different hairstyles,” “The scene in She’s All That where she walks down the steps & then trips into the hot guy’s arms,” “Feminism: A copy of The Second Sex but not really getting it. Naming my cat Simone” (23). “Not really getting it” is the point; Murphy’s narrator senses the significance of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex enough to name her cat after it, but hasn’t quite figured out what the real impact of De Beauvoir is. Girlhood is about building and opening up to these different possible versions of self.
Reviewed by Krystal Languell
“Women are taught,” Marcella Durand writes, “with the lessons reinforced daily by television and movie fare, that to be present in a public space is to invite humiliation, violation and death.” In a short essay at Jacket2, Durand addresses the myth of danger inherent in a woman walking alone. Carol Guess’s new collection of short fiction, Darling Endangered, published by Brooklyn Arts Press, inhabits the perceived need for a woman’s constant vigilance by way of dramatic juxtaposition. Here, she draws upon the gurlesque’s mode of destroying an outdated binary with compression: girly and tough or, in this case, public and private, safety and danger coexisting.
The micro-stories in this collection track a persona who graduates from the Central High School of Needle Trades (which sounds like an ideal rehearsal space for the dangers of adulthood) to move to the city and later the suburbs. The narrator observes the potential for violence one encounters simply by inhabiting the world (“Pain was a story we couldn’t explain, and night, how it held us handcuffed to pink beds.”). She is more often observer than victim, and maintains composure when violence comes closer:
Reviewed by Lucy Biederman
Elegizing John Berryman in 1977, Robert Lowell wrote, “We had the same life, / the generic one / our generation offered.” It is hard to imagine a young poet writing such a sentiment now, and not just because 2013 America doesn’t seem to have the resources of attention or capital to lay out a standard life for anyone. It is no longer in vogue to think, say, or believe that you have the same life as anyone else. We weren’t raised to think like that.
But Sandra Simonds’s Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2012) gestures toward and articulates something in the spirit of Lowell’s statement, outlining and parodying a type of life that is more than merely familiar—it’s the life our generation laid out for us after all. If there is a poet nowadays capable of looking around America with enough clarity and bravery, detachment and humor, to say something like, “We had the same life,” it is Simonds.
Reviewed by Dan Magers
In This Can’t Be Life, after a reading Dana Ward gives, he writes, “a man told me my writing wasn’t poetry.” Ward’s work is talky, often given to prose, less concerned with concision, brevity, or the integrity of the individual line—all traditional hallmarks of poetry. In the context of the book, the complaint is a bit of a straw man, though no doubt Ward must hear things like this from time to time. But admirers of Ward’s work (and I am one of them) recognize a set of concerns that make This Can’t Be Life feel particularly vital in this moment in contemporary poetry, with its canny use of the “I” and filtration of emotion through popular culture and entertainment while also being cognizant of the political underpinning of life and art and the tension that this builds. Some will see the influence of Bruce Boone, whose “My Walk With Bob,” Ward calls “central to the poem you’re now reading.” In Boone’s seminal work Century of Clouds, he says,
My theme probably has most to do with a very strong feeling that telling stories actually has an effect on the world, and that a relation is achieved between the one telling those stories and her or his audience and history. Consequently, it’s necessary to be truthful, responsible, and so on, but if you lie in tiny places, you had better be ready to accept the effects that flow from this. Because they will certainly come back to you. Writers who think they can ever get off scot-free will pay for this by becoming superficial people. And then after a while they even stop caring about that. They don’t care that they don’t touch an audience anymore.
Reviewed by Jeff T. Johnson
How many books is Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking? And what date shall we affix to it? The cover seems to reference 2004, 2009, 2007 and 1995—though we must decide how to read “11.07 / 22.95” which could reference an archival system or denuded price points just as well (or in an equally unstable manner) as dates. We also might think about how Laura Riding Jackson, who died in 1991, is responsible for the foreword, as the back cover and title page suggest. Later, we might think about how the foreword that finally arrives in the third quarter relates to this particular book (suggestion, via William Carlos Williams’ “The Desert Music”: because it’s there).
More questions arrive. How do we read a book that insists “It should never be necessary to turn a page when reading”? Or: “Reading is the most pleasing of surfaces and no text shall be designed to please”?
Reviewed by Ian Dreiblatt
“The bone of communication is hollow.” — Lyn Hejinian
It is a convention in Judaism that prayer books, when they are ready for replacement (and as they may never be destroyed) are buried with the dead. There is something tender in this, what it shows of the connection between language and the feelings of a religious community, and between the book and the body. And there is also, especially because of the proscription against the artificial preservation of dead people, something deeply icky, or maybe lovely, about the mutual intercomposition of these two degrading things, never complete and nonetheless whole.
I thought of this a lot as I read The Last Books of Héctor Viel Temperley, Sand Paper Press’s recent presentation of the two long poems that concluded that poet’s life in a devoted and rich new English translation by Stuart Krimko. It’s rare to read anything that so totally perceives the book and body as recipes for each other, the connection between the serial and the infinite as so intimate.
Reviewed by Steven Karl
Raúl Zurita’s Song for his Disappeared Love, originally published in Spanish in 1985, is a resounding response and a testament to humanity that etches out its survival by accepting life amid atrocity and depravation. Written under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, Zurita recounts his arrest and imprisonment during the 1973 military overthrow as General Pinochet came to power in Chile. In an interview conducted by the translator, Daniel Borzutzky, Zurita articulates his attempt for the book-length poem as a “[response] to the terror with a poetry that was just as powerful as the pain being delivered by the state.”
The formal structure of Song for his Disappeared Love captures the chaos of Pinochet’s overthrow. Some stanzas are grouped side by side into block paragraphs, forcing the eye to decide whether to read horizontally across the page or vertically down the rows. Others effectively use dashes to give the sense of short bursts of static and chaos, resulting in an unsettling reading experience. Yet, instead of opening the book with an image of violence or formal rupture that characterizes the rest of the book, Zurita begins with such simplicity that the clarity stuns,
Reviewed by Angela Veronica Wong
When words have double meanings, each one chases the other like a shadow. No matter the usage, the word can never be completely rid of the secondary definition or even which one is the secondary definition. For me, one of the loveliest characters in Chinese is the character 疼, which can be used to mean “hurts” or “aches,” usually physically, such as “I have a headache.” It can also be used as “to love dearly,” with an almost unconditional tenderness and poignancy: “One sees how dearly her father loves her through the sacrifices he makes.” The two meanings merge into each other and surface through until it becomes impossible to tell which is the ghost of which, reading as immeasurably truthful to living and loving, both physical and emotional, both sad and hopeful.
Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin
Early in Peter Richards’ Helsinki, a persistent question forms: where—or what—is Helsinki? Helsinki is clearly more than a city in Finland here, to state the obvious. But the actual meaning with which Richards endows the name is harder to pin down. Helsinki is a liminal space where all these poems occur seemingly simultaneously. Each poem, untitled and comprised of a run-on sentence, flows into another other like ectoplasm. These poems walk through walls. And if they are indeed ghosts, whose spirits are they? These poems are the final haunting of a life remembered, a life slowly pieced together, poem by poem.