Archive for November, 2010


Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts

A version of this may appear in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 14.

Laura McCullough's Speech ActsBlack Lawrence Press has released another fine collection of poems. This time it’s Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts – an exploration into the language and experience of poetry. Yes, language. And McCullough deliberately makes poems about language. Oh, but they are fun, and they aren’t some intellectual bullying of the reader or some masturbatory ego-stroking of the poet’s cleverness. No. These are fun and enjoyable while maintaining integrity.

I am getting bored of the intellectual poetry that is void of experience, which is why I like McCullough’s newest collection,  because her poems can be intellectual while maintaining an experience.

The first section of Speech Act does this well by being sexy and showing the sexiness of language. It’s as if the first section announces to the reader: “Pay attention to language in this book. I’ll give you sex up front, but come the second section I’m gonna give you more.  I’m going to give you poems in the second section that are strong on their own, and if you read the first section, they will gain new depths. I’m telling you something more is going on down below. Dear reader, you will go down on these poems like you are going down to perform fellatio on the poem, and the poems may be ‘more than the mouth can handle’, and in a good way.” Even if you didn’t know that, you’d realize it in the poem “Crucifix Block” in the second section, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me explain.

The first section of the book is about language and the sexiness of language, but it’s also about the consciousness of language or the self-consciousness of language and of reading a poem.

What Burns 

I want to kiss the mouth of another
   language, feel the small muscles electric
and tingling around their vowels,
   the consonants swallowed, the silences
like small maps of a small
   engine that rests on both of our lips.
Chomsky said language
   is too difficult to deduce by attention
to repetitions, but I will
   repeat this exercise until your tongue
feels like my own and the spittle
   of apprehension collects in the pit
of my mind. Your reason
   isn't all I care for; when you speak, the air
is shaped into momentary volcanoes,
   the ash drifting into my eyes, blinding me,
so I can finally see vowels
   that float in the air like ash, like snow,
searing and momentarily illuminated.

On a sexy level, that’s like getting to first base, but I think the point is clear. The poems examine language and use the lens of sex to zoom in even closer, especially the home run poems, oo la la.

In the second section, the self-consciousness disappears. The poems become more experiential, like “Crucifix Block.” In this poem not only do you symbolically go into the unconsciousness by diving underwater with the whales and holding your breath of consciousness, but the poem moves with leaps, the kind of leaping I like and celebrate – the haiku leap, the jumping-with-sensation leap. The type of leaping that can’t occur if you are self-conscious. And there are two of these leaps in this poem.

Crucifix Block 

Today, the humpbacks have made a comeback,
   and still we know so little about them.
We don't know why they hold their breath
   and go still underwater or why they
gather off Hawaii; we do know only males
   sing the famous songs and change them each year.
We know the males rise up out
   of the water, their bodies tall, the tails submerged,
their fins extended like the cross.
   Scientists say this is to block other males from
charging a female, but I don't buy it,
   it's too grand, too high out of the water, the mating
dances far below. Whales live
   in a world they hold their breaths to survive in.
We breathe the details of our lives like oxygen
   isn't the endangered species it is.
A fog has rolled in, and someone's been disappeared,
   no charges filed, and none of us
are singing, writing letters, or even complaining at all.

These leaps are so below my consciousness, so below self-consciousness that I can’t quite explicate what the poem is trying to say, but I can tell you what the poem is doing. The first part reminds us of how the humpback whale almost went extinct. It shows us how the whale breathes, and it shows us sex acts – sex acts explained by a scientist and McCullough. The scientists give a practical answer as to why the whale behaves as it does – it’s a mating ritual. McCullough, however, gives us a grander explanation, a religious explanation. She explains it as a ritual of joy. A rising up to the gods, almost. A holy hosanna. Look at that those two lines:

We know the males rise up out
   of the water, their bodies tall, the tails submerged,

There are three prepositions in a row interrupted by a line break. You might think McCullough should get rid of “up” as that is implied by “rise.” But read it again, aloud, and with imagination. The “up” makes the humpback whale rise higher. Then higher still with “their bodies tall.”

Humpback Whale – "Crucifix Block"

The males rise up out / of the water their bodies tall, the tails submerged / their fins extended like the cross.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen three prepositions strung together like that while being successful and adding to the poem’s doings and meanings.

But back to the leaps. Back to the experiential and unself-consiousness. The first leap happens with:

We breathe the details of our lives like oxygen
   isn’t the endangered species it is.

The poem makes a leap from whale world to human world. What makes the leap work is the oxygen, the breathing. It connects the first part of the poem with the second part of the poem. The scientist helps the bridge, too, since he is human, but he is the self-consciousness, the self-conscious world we’ve been in. At the same time, he is in the whale world. That leap takes us into the human world.

The next leap takes us into the unknown, the lost, the “disappeared.” It’s almost like a movie scene, too. This is the experiential. The lack of self-consciousness. These last three lines feel right. The poem closes shut tightly and snugly. My body and extremities feel good about the poem. They embrace the poem. They say, “Yes. I get it. Wonderful.” My conscious mind, however, is a bit lost. It can’t seem to explicate. It thinks, “Maybe it has something to do with singing and rituals. Does singing and writing and complaining do something. Are the whales not extinct because they sing or because we wrote about them or because we complained when they were almost extinct and then they were brought back from extinction?”

Is this how the book works? Is this “the ars poetica hidden in the agenda”? Will the third section end up:

            [. . .] breaking the sky
   into component parts. Everything
is reanimated, but, like some crazy
   reincarnation, you can't ever be
sure if the original thing is retained
                                               ("Beauty, I Said")

The third section moves like good poems do – just moving in and out of consciousness and unconsciousness, moving in and out of water, in and out of breathing, in and out of sex, as she says in  “Animal Engine:”

   "It's the third element that matters, the one that
completes the equation, that computes to love."
   This engine gone still hums hot underneath us.

Where “engine” is sex and the momentum generator of the poems. The question of the third section:

            [. . .] Is
            there such a thing as beauty if we're
           not aware of it? ("Beauty, I Said")

After reading the second section, the answer is “Of course there is.”

“So that’s, cool,” my inner voice says. “There’s a dialectical movement between the sections, but do the poems work?”

Yes. And what’s important is that there is something new happening in these poems. A new type of engagement for the reader with the poems. It’s an engagement that explores both the experiential and self-conscious involvement of the reader. The poems are indeed Speech Acts. They are poems that act on you and ask you to act back.

These poems show how McCullough’s:

[. . .] body was fertile, then not,
then fecund, again, with language. There's           
a connection between the throat           
and vagina.
                                          ("What Can Happen in the Dunes")

I feel like this is a significant collection of poems for McCullough as she seems to be on the edge of doing something wonderful. These poems are her exploring poetry, her poetry, and her speech acts. The exploration is fun, and Speech Acts is a fine book of poems that I recommend to any reader or writer of poetry. I also await her next book, where I think she will really create and share something truly wonderful. That’s a tip to you Black Lawrence Press – Make sure you hold on to Laura McCullough because her next collection of poems is sure to be something even more special than this collection.//


in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day sixty-nine (Chateau Hyot Castillion Cotes de Bordeaux 2008)

I’m in the red Roof Inn in Rutland, VT, again. This time I’m heading home from Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s family in Maine. On our drive back we stopped at a rest stop on route 93 about one hundred yards into New Hampshire. It had a big ass liquor store, so I of course went in to see if they had any wines that I hadn’t had. They did, and they also had Two Hands Shiraz, a good wine I had recently  with guest editor Sarah Freligh at Flight Wine Bar as we went over our Pushcart nominations. However, it was $64, so I got a Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Chateau Hyot Castillion Cotes de Bordeaux 2008. The back label of the Hyot said it had “huge fruit,” so I was sold.

Here’s what the whole back label said:

Variety: 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Color: Dense ruby/purple

Nose: Delicious blackberry, cherry, and cassis fruit interwoven with notions of solid and subtle oak.

Palate: Concentrated, medium body, with huge fruit, minerals, and supple tannins.

Assessment: Produced near the famous vineyards of Saint-Emilion, Chateau HYOT epitomizes the power and complexity of which Bordeaux blends are capable.

While most wines in this area are typical Merlot, both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon play important roles in adding layers of complexity to the finished wines.

Anyway, to the tasting. Allons-y.

Oh yeah, I’m drinking out a plastic cup again, so you are warned.

The nose is dense and earthy and cheap smelling.(My girlfriend gets vegetables. She, of course, is correct.)

This nose suggests the wine is going to be oily.

It tastes cheap, too, and it’s not the plastic cup.

It’s a bit tart, too.

I’m not finding the huge fruits or subtle tannins. In addition, I’m not finding any images of this bottle on the internet, and, coincidently, I’m not finding anything about it on the internet. Am I the first reviewer of this wine?!

I don’t have much to say about this. It’s about 86 or 87 points. It’s 87, I suppose. I wouldn’t get this again. I wish I had a pizza instead of sushi, now. It will go better with pizza or hamburger. This would be really good with a big, fat, juicy hamburger with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and bleu cheese.

Big fat juicy hamburger with onions tomatoes lettuce and bleu cheese

A Perfect Match

By the way, you should go to Flight Wine Bar. It’s awesome and at ease. And the staff is great. Go. Go now. Tell them I sent you. It won’t get you a discount or anything, and they might wonder who I am unless you mention Redactions, and still . . . but go anyway. It will be fun.//


in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day sixty-eight (Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2007)

I’m in the Red Roof Inn in Rutland, VT. A very relaxing hotel where I can come to feel at full ease. I’m here with my girlfriend and dog. For dinner I had sushi and some Red Diamond Merlot. Along the way I discover an amazing jazz pianist Mike Taylor. (Here’s a good story about Mike Taylor: If you can find The Mike Taylor Trio Trio, oh, do get it so wonderful. Mmmm.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2007So I’ve only heard wonderful things about Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2007. Well, maybe not about the specific year, but the wine. And here I found it at Hannaford Farms, a grocery store chain in the northeast. It definitely rivals Wegmans. I think I like Hannaford Farms better. (I’m going to upstate-New York hell for that.)

Anyway, I’m now downloading Mike Taylor Remembered from Amazon. I love Amazon album downloads. This album is only $7. Wheeee.

(Seems these are more cover tunes than Mike Taylor. Oh well.)

To the wine!

To the wine out of a plastic hotel cup.

The color is dark. Well, what else can I say when using a plastic hotel cup. Despite the cup, I get a jammy nose. Raspberry jam. My girlfriend gets grape cough syrup. I can find that too in a corner of the wine.

On the taste it’s grapes and raspberries. Tart raspberries. It’s pretty big for a Merlot, too.

It seems awkward to me. Not balanced, yet. It has a Zinfandel jamminess and Cabernet Sauvignon body and texture. It doesn’t seem Merlovian to me. (I made up the adjectival “Merlovian.” I think I’ll trademark it like Zuckerberg is trying to trademark “Face.” What an ass. Ass face.)

With time, though, it’s loosening up. This cream filled strawberry roll is helping the juiciness come out. Still, I wouldn’t guess the Merlot came from Washington, let alone Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Wine & Spirits gave this 92 points, which is very generous. However, it’s not a 90-point wine. I’m going to say 88 points.//


Djelloul Marbrook’s Brushstrokes and glances

A version of this may appear in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 14.

Giorgio Morandi Still Life with Bread and Fruit 1919The other day I was in an art gallery where I was going to host True and Untrue Stories – a reading with Anne Panning and Sarah Cedeno. While I was waiting for the readers and audience to arrive, a man came into the gallery with a bag of freshly baked, homemade loaves of bread. He told me the story of how over the last 30 years he had given away over 16,000 loaves of bread that he had made, and I was the 16,001st person to receive a loaf. This is an incredible, sustained act of generosity. The next morning I enjoyed the cinnamon swirl loaf of bread he gave me. It was delicious toasted and needed no butter.

Brushstrokes and glancesDjelloul Marbrook’s Brushstrokes and glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010) is like that man with his bag of freshly made bread. And each poem in the collection is like each loaf of bread – a gift.

In fact, Brushstrokes and glances is like an art museum, especially in the first half of the book, “A jar of marsala.” Each poem in the first half is about a specific piece of art or artist and his mother, who was also an artist. I would like to see each of these poems in the museum hanging next to the artwork it is referencing. The poems, while ekphrastic poems, aren’t explications of the artwork, fortunately, but rather the poem is the artwork’s dance partner.


What Cézanne leaves unsaid
gives his colors voice –
you cannot spell this danse
of reticence and sense
with the letter c because
it shuts a door in English
the French would leave ajar.

The poems tend to be much more visual than this, but this shows Marbrook’s wit, which often comes through.

BasquiatThe poems in the first part are a reflection or a response to the artwork, or sometimes the artwork is just a trigger for the poem. Sometimes I become so involved in the poem, especially the longer poems like “Basquiat” and “Manhattan reef,” that I enter a type of dream world where there is no text and only images. In fact, while reading, my girlfriend asked me a question. I was so far gone in the book that I responded to her, “What reality am I in?” I was gone in a good way. In fact, that experience was exactly what his poem “Picasso’s bull” asks for.

Picasso’s bull
(Museum of Modern Art, Christmas 2005)

We need a museum to show us
we can unbind our captive lives
as Pablo makes a bull’s cock a loop,

the unbroken line of a steady hand
whispering to the self-important din,
Must your lives be knots and daubs?

Picasso's Bull

The second half of the book, “Accordion of worlds,” is a bit different. The tone and style of the poems are similar enough to the poems in “A jar of marsala,” but the direction of the poems’ perceptions are outward instead of inward to an artwork or an artist. Sometimes the poem even looks outward to time, like this gem:

Among broken statues

When the future started I must have missed it.
Just as well, it has never been as urgent
as the past, which I have no desire to undo
but a grand compulsion to understand.

I know the point at which the future starts.
I drown it every moment of the day
in the torrent of my intuitions, drown it
with ritual satisfaction, perhaps even glee.

I have no business venturing into it
and I can tell it doesn’t particularly want me.
Why would it, half-baked and ignorant
as I am? I leave it to the criminally insane.

The first stanza’s idea turned everything around for me. I thought the future was filled with urgency, but Marbrook is right. It’s the past that’s urgent. The past that’s always slipping away and that we look back on trying to quickly understand what the hell just happened, and often we are quickly trying to undo it. We are trying to quickly repair the broken statues. Plus, it’s only the criminally insane who are plotting, tapping their fingers, mulling, and trying to gain some control over something, and they can’t wait for that moment to arrive. Only they impose an urgency, like a usurer waiting for the next uptick in a stock price or an interest rate (the usurer part is mine and not Marbrook’s).

The Frick

The Frick

Back to the second half of the book, which also takes on a new trajectory – Marbrook being freer. He’s not confined to the artwork anymore. The artwork was a tether on Marbrook’s imagination, though a very long tether, indeed. But in the second-half poems, the poems in “”Accordion of worlds,” his wandering abilities fully emerge. I think these lines from “By the pool of The Frick” best explain:

the finest of our imaginings
is that what we imagine is possible.

Manhattan ReefThe poems in the first half, “A jar of marsala,” are Marbrook’s responses to others imaginings. The poems in the second half, “Accordion of worlds,” are his own imaginings. And now, all of the sudden, I fully comprehend his long poem “Manhattan reef.” It begins with a museum curator speaking, which is like Marbrook’s poems in “A jar of marsala.” ShabtisThis speaker speaks for about a page, and then the critic has a turn for another page. I feel like the critic, and maybe you as a reader will, too. The third speaker is the paintings, and this is like Marbrook’s poems in “Accordion of worlds.” Finally, the last speaker in “Manhattan reef” is mortality. Mortality is the segue from the first section’s poems to the second section’s poems. And mortality underscores every word in this collection, and in the second half there may be a double underscore with the extra underscore coming from his deceased mother.

In this collection, you will learn to “see between a blink and a sob,” between artist and art, and between Brushstrokes and glances.






And now a word about the book. This book is well put together. It feels good in the hands. I like its heft and texture. I like the how the typeface for the poems’ titles are Futura, a sans-serif typeface, and how the typeface for the poems is Fairfield (or a reasonable facsimile), a serif typeface. I think that little design lends to the dichotomy of the book. I would say the Futura relates to the poems in the first section, sans Marbrook (more about the paintings and less of him), and the Fairfield relates to the poems of the second section with Marbrook actively involved. The layout of the pages is also classic in style: “The ideal of the combined inner margins or gutters equal to the outer margin for instance is similar to the head margin being half of the foot margin.” That’s from the publisher’s blog entry about layout and design, which you can read here: Notes on book design, sacred geometry; good sources.

This is a good book inside and out.






Just for fun, here are some links to some other artists and artwork mentioned in the first section, “A jar of marsala.”

“We are all Van Gogh” (page 8):

“Earthworks magus (Robert Smithson, 1938-1973)” (page 9):

“Garden in Sochi, 1943” (page 10):

“Giorgio Morandi (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)” (page 11):{5D5AFA86-A086-4E14-A54B-E0FD91607074}

“A government like Caravaggio” (page 12):

“Jeanne Hébuterne” (page 13):,16,AR.html

“Adeline Compton” (page 14):

“Artemisia Cavelli” (pages 15-16):[tt_news]=221&tx_ttnews[backPid]=517&cHash=8d36c08416

“Goya in iPodia” (pages 17-18):

“Underside of leaves” (page 19):

“Cézanne” (page 20):

“Basquiat” (pages 21-23):

“Georges Seurat (Studies for A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte)” (page 24):

“Francisco de Zurbarán (The Metropolitan Museum, 2008)” (page 25)

“Lucian Freud and my mother (Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, February 2008)” (page 26):

“Pallas Athena” (page 30):

“I saw Mona Lisa once” (page 32):

“Picasso’s bull” (page 33):

“Pierre Bonnard’s late interiors” (page 34):

“Manhattan reef” (pages 35-40):

“Never is (Han van Meegeren, 1889-1947, art forger)” (page 41):



Wine Spectator’s 2010 Top 100 Wines

Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007

Wine Spectator's #1 Wine for 2010

Wine Spectator announced its Top 100 wines for 2010. Number one, shown above, is Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007. It received a whopping 98 points. Oh my. For more about the winning wine, go here:

For the complete list of the top 100, go here:

or go here:



in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day sixty-seven (Sean Minor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007)

FigI’ve been eating figs lately, and they are so delicious. Then I had some Sun-Maid Mission figs from a resealable bag. They weren’t very good. They tasted like raisins. Then I realized a real fig probably tastes exactly what the galaxy tastes like. The insides of a fig look just like a galaxy. A really sexual galaxy. Oh, I wish I were a god so I could take a bite of the galaxy.

Sean Minor Four Bears Cabernet Sauvignon 2007I’ve been hearing similar remarks about Sean Minor Four Bears Winery wines, especially the Pinot Noirs. Mahan’s didn’t have any of their Pinot Noirs, so I am going to try Sean Minor Four Bears Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 instead.

I don’t smell any figs, but that’s okay. It smells deep and musty. It smells of cassis. I also pick up a salty meat, like bacon. I also get some dark berries to match its dark purple color, which is mostly opaque.

This is sour on the palate. It tastes like there is Cab France in it. Let me go see if I can find what the grapes are.

Composition: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. (

That’s some strong Cab Franc. It’s a good Cab Franc, from what I know of Cab Francs, but I don’t like Cab Franc. Yeck. Other than the Cab Franc, this is a good wine. I like the Merlot that’s in it.

After a while, the Cab Franc mellows. And this becomes enjoyable to me.

I give this 88 points. If there were no Cab Franc, then 89. If you like Cab Franc, then this might also be an 89.

It’s about two hours later, and this wine is so much better. My girlfriend says it would go good with ham and brown sugar. I agree. In fact there might be some brown sugar in here.

And now I leave you with some awesomeness.



Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2010 Pushcart Prize Nominations

Pushcart PrizeIt’s that time of year again, and Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, with its guest editor Sarah Freligh and editor Tom Holmes, has nominated its six favorite poems. The nominees in the order of appearance in issue 13 are:

  1. Kathryn Nuernberger’s “Translations” (page 6-8)
  2. Nathan McClain’s “Man Reflecting on Man” (page 22)
  3. Elizabeth Twiddy’s “To Will:” (page 24-25)
  4. Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “She Justifies Running Away” (page 37)
  5. Chris Dollard’s “Solitary (Brave)” (page 41)
  6. Jeff Tigchelaar’s “One Way of Looking at Thirteen Blackbirds” (page 49)

To read the poems, you can order a copy of lucky issue 13 here or you can read them here

Good luck nominees. Here’s hoping you win!//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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