Posts Tagged ‘book review

18
Jun
11

On Joanne Diaz’s The Lessons

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

What immediately turned me on to Joanne Diaz‘s The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press, 2011) was when I read the opening poem “Granada” on Verse Daily on June 3. I fell in love with the poem. I tweeted and made a Facebook post that read something like, “This #poem explodes at the end. What a terrific poem” Here it is:

   Granada 

   To be so far from oxtail stew, sardines
   in garlic sauce, blood oranges in pails
   along the avenida, midday heat
   wetting necks and wrists; to be so stuck
   in stone-thick ice and clouds and recall
   the pomegranate we shared, its hardened peel,
   the translucent membrane gently parting
   seed from luscious crimson seed, albedo
   soft beneath bald rind, acid juice
   running down our fingers, knuckles, palms,
   the mild chap of our lips from mist and flesh;
   so far away from that, and still
   the tangy thought of pomegranates
   crowning coats-of-arms and fortress gates
   like beating hearts prepared to detonate
   their countless seeds across Granada,
   ancient town of strangled rivers
   and nameless bones in every desert hill...
   In Spain, said Lorca, the dead are more alive
   than any other place on earth. Imagine, then,
   the excavation of his unmarked grave
   like the quick pull on a grenade's pin,
   and the sound that secrets make
   as they return from that other world
   of teeth and blood and fire.

Joanne Diaz – The LessonsThe poems in The Lessons are juicy. I love the way the poems feel in my mouth. I enjoy all the details in the poems. Who says you can’t write poems with details anymore? Well, you can, and Diaz shows us how.

But there’s more than detail to these poems. There is wonderful leaping and yoking together of different images and events. For instance, the poem “Violin” is a poem about the life of a violin from when it was both “horse and tree” to the sounds it makes and how it “almost pulls itself / apart, longing for what it was”. The poem does this for nine unrhymed couplets. The poem could end after the ninth couplet, and it would be a fine poem, but then there’s the leap the poem makes from the ninth couplet to the tenth. The leap does what good poems often do – it uses the particular to illuminate something in humanity. Here are the last two couplets to show what you I mean:

   [. . . ] A violin almost pulls itself
   apart, longing for what it was, not unlike

   my father as he stood by the open mailbox
   reading my brother's first letter home.

And there’s a whole other story in that last couplet. Where is his son? At war? In the Peace Corps? Working abroad as a doctor in some small underprivileged village somewhere? And then the mind after the poem is done is trying to build more of a story into that last couplet. But the important thing is the violin and father relationship. The yoking of the two. The use of the violin to understand the father. The violin helps us understand what it’s like for the father to get that first letter. And this feeling is communicated well and well before it’s understood.

There’s something else going on in that leap, too. The poem leaps from being lyrical to being narrative. (By narrative I mean a poem that moves through time and that has causality. By lyrical I mean a poem that exists without time or is a vertical moment in time or is a deliberate focus on an item or a thing. W. C. Williams and George Oppen are often lyrical.)

This jump from lyrical to narrative in a poem happens a number of times in The Lessons. For instance, “Love Poem”:

   Love Poem

   I was the warmth that lifted
   from your pilled sheets, the glow
   of Sebastian in the picture book
   of saints, the moon gliding
   through the window beside your bed.

   I was the clock in your kitchen
   waiting to catch you in my gears.
   In the TV, I was the blue tube
   that saw your sadness run as silt
   down a mountain. I was the rush
   in the vein of every oak leaf
   that crowded your window.

   I was the drift of you before your edges
   twisted into a man. The swing
   of your loose pant cuff. The joint
   in the threshold; the rusted cart
   behind the house. You sensed

   a visitor, but how can I say
   that I was the one who curled
   the wallpaper and held the model
   airplane in its place? That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

In this poem, you see all these vertical moments in time – “I was . . .” . In the the last stanza, we get a bit of narrative:

   [. . .] That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

The leaps are my favorite occasions in The Lessons. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered that type of leaping before or at least noticed it before, but this time I did. I really enjoy its effects.

The Lessons is Joanne Diaz’s first book. It won the 2009 Gerald Cable Book Award. As a I said, The Lessons is juicy with details – like a good Spanish Tempranillo. It’s juicy in every lyric, narrative, and lyric-leaping-to-narrative poem. In fact, this would be a good book to use in a creative writing poetry workshop, you know, to show and teach students how to use details and how effective details are in creating emotions and engagement and in stimulating the imagination.

Often during The Lessons I feel like Ms. Griffin in Diaz’s poem “The Griffin.” When Ms. Griffin reads George Herbert’s poem “The Collar,” “she nearly left the prison of her body.” I don’t think I left the prison of my body, but I certainly forgot it existed. And that’s a lesson – good poetry is a momentary stay against confusion, and there are many momentary stays in Joanne Diaz’s first collection of poems, The Lessons.

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NB

I wish to thank Silverfish Review Press for providing such a detailed and narrative filled colophon about the Jenson typeface. I wish more publishers would do this.//

16
Apr
11

On Eric G. Wilson’s My Business is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing

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

.

William Blake

William Blake in an 1807 portrait by Thomas Phillips.

Why do we need another book about William Blake? I have three main reasons. One, I’d say we need another book because Blake seems to have been forgotten or is only remembered as just another one of those old poets in an anthology. Two, we need to be reminded of Blake’s genius. We need to be reminded of Imagination. We need to be reminded of Energy and Original Creation. Three, because Eric G. Wilson’s 85-page book, My Business is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing (University of Iowa Press, 2011), is inspired and filled with energy. While reading it, you will want to return to Blake, and, more importantly for the writers out there, you will be revitalized.

Eric G. Wilson's My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite WritingMy Business is to Create begins with a brief biography of Blake. This is followed by the story of Allen Ginsberg’s first vision of Blake and a list of other writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and graphic artists who were inspired and influenced by Blake. And then the book’s first of many creative epiphanies:

Originality equals genius; imitation is mediocrity (p 8).

That’s good insight and good advice, but only if you know what creativity means, if it still means anything at all after its overuse. Throughout this book, Wilson examines what creativity is, and he uses Blake as the exemplar of creativity. First, he takes a closer look at “inspiration, one of Blake’s primary terms for creativity” (p 9).  Inspiration, to Blake, is to view something as you see it and then holding to that vision, especially when it goes against the consensus view or generalized views, which Blake says “are the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer” (p 14). From this inspiration, one can create. The inspiration is the “Divine Vision.” Even nature can’t challenge one’s own imagination, for:

imagination apprehends and depicts the world’s illimitable fecundity. It is a way of knowing as well as a mode of expression (p 14).

Wilson is inspired. He has energy. An energy that penetrates into the reader. I feel it. I feel almost like I did shortly after my first encounters with Blake – inspired, wide-eyed, and bursting with new poems.

Martin Buber's I and ThouAfter you find your personal view, Wilson continues, you are ready to create relationships with the world and nature. And these relationships are not objective. They are no longer relationships with the other. They are personal and meaningful. Using Martin Buber’s I and Thou, Wilson makes this Blakean idea of relationships clear to us. That is, once you have made this I-and-Thou relationship, you can:

[g]aze at life as though you were always blessing it, consecrating it, humbly, as holy, and then your biases will be relaxed and your curiosity will be aroused (p 22).

This and some practical examples that Wilson lists are ways to go about being creative and, hopefully, to experience “pure sensation unencumbered by meaning” (p 24), as Marius von Senden says. To widen this view, to move beyond, Wilson says that you should embrace polarities:

Saying yes and no to the same thing, hovering between authorization and invalidation, I undergo the joy of expansion (p 28).

Wilson also gives us an overview of Blake as the inventor of: free verse; the idea that form is never more than an extension of content; the prose poem; and, though Wilson doesn’t say it,  I will, the inventor of cubism – “in which single events are presented from numerous simultaneous perspectives” (p 39).

Wilson also devotes a chapter to revising. He explores why we do it, how it works, and, of course, how Blake revised:

To be freed from the notion that first drafts even exist, to understand that you’re already revising the minute you put word to page: this makes it easier to modify those initial sentences. There’s nothing special about them. They’re yesterday’s news (p 44).

And:

[R]ealize that revising is creating, is life, and therefore the more beautiful our revisions, the more vital our lives, and, surprisingly, the more innocent (p 45).

I love that sentence, especially after Wilson points out that for Blake innocence “is knowledge” (p 46). Or, more precisely, to quote Blake: “Unorganized Innocence, An Impossibility / Innocence dwells with Wisdom but never with Ignorance” (p 46).

As I said before, Wilson’s My Business is to Write is filled with energy. Wilson is possessed like Blake, and, like Blake, this book is filled with many quotable lines, as I’ve shown above, and some of which I’ll list here:

This is a writing that is infinite, an eternal composition, draft after draft after draft, an editorial mysticism whose goal is not the “final,” but the “farther” (p 29).

The more deeply you descend into your specific haunts, the more universal you become (p 41).

[On the Swendenborgians]: [T]he hormones get you to heaven, and paradise is within the genitalia (p 55).

Let you carnality pursue the poem (p 56).

Industry [the process of writing or creating] is all there is. To lose yourself in it, to become it, its boundless but rugged promises, its oceans of tone and form, rimed now with rough ice, and then freshened by the warm trades: this is grace (p 69).

Not only do I think this is a good book worth returning to, it will be a good book for writers or any creative person (as I’ve already mentioned on Facebook and Twitter). I also think it can be a terrific book for creative writing classes. In addition, midway through Wilson’s My Business is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, I had the belief that Blake was actually writing the book, and if he wasn’t, then Blake had possessed Wilson during the writing. In the end, Blake would approve of this book and I encourage it.

On an aside, I still haven’t figured out where to put this book in my library. Should it go with my Blake books and literary criticisms of Blake or with my books on and about writing? Ah, such a fun dilemma to have.

One last aside, a personal note: Wilson is obviously a writer, and he clearly writes about situations that writers encounter. Often he writes so well about situations I have been in, I wonder if he was there when it was happening to me. I love that he somehow knows me. Perhaps you will feel the same. Consider this paragraph:

So often we are troubled by past and future, and thus alienated from the present moment. I sit at my computer on a Wednesday morning trying to write. But my attention keeps straying to what has happened earlier in my life, maybe two years ago, perhaps ten minutes, those events toward which I nostalgically long or from which I regretfully recoil. Also I anticipate an appointment to which I’ve been looking forward or dread an upcoming responsibility. Dissipated by these feelings, I hover in a ghostly limbo, composed of apparitions of a past that is no more and haunts of future not yet here. While drafting among these abstractions, I’m not really living. I’m overly self-conscious, obsessed with my personal history, my success, my failures. I can’t get out of myself, connect to something beyond, something “not me.” I’ve imprisoned myself in a ratio of my own making, egotism’s same dull round: wherever I look, there I am. Distant from this life – right here, right now, this instant – and perversely enamored of monotony, of death, I can’t write anything worth keeping. I don’t know what to do. I just know I’ve got to kill time, somehow (p 70-1).

As you can tell, I can keep writing about this book as it has impacted me. I want to go farther.

Now, because Ginsberg heard the voice of Blake in a vision and the voice sang “Ah, Sun-flower,” here are The Fugs singing “Ah, Sun-flower”.

//




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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