Posts Tagged ‘Redactions: Poetry Poetics & Prose

31
Jul
17

On Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Neil Aitken's Babbage's DreamCharles Babbage was a mathematician, inventor, and even philosopher, but he is mostly known as “the father of the computer,” as he designed the first “analytical engine.” He is also the main focus of Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream (Sundress Publications, 2016). However, this is no biography, and it’s not a string of found poems. For Aitken, Babbage becomes not only a lens through which to examine Babbage’s emotions and an artist’s and scientist’s endeavors with creation, but the 56 pages of poems (two of which first appeared in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) and nine pages of notes also tend toward ontology and explore what it is to be a struggling human.

The bulk of the book consists of long-lined, unrhymed couplets of lyric poems. But where a lyric poem uses the lyrical I to express a voice going through change, Aitken replaces the I with the Babbage persona and a near omniscient voice observing Babbage. Additionally, almost all the lines are marked with a caesura in the middle, sometimes two or three. For instance, the opening of “Babbage at His Desk, Enumerating the Known World” (23):

   From here, you lay bare the world
   table after table, column after column: 

   each thing known and numbered, counted
   like sparrows in their open graves, 

   the heartbeats of pigs, the staggered breathing
   of cattle in low country fields. Each significant. 

   A sign. A signature. The quality of ink
   spread on the printer’s block. Silk threads,

Those these lines are shorter than most, we can see/hear how the couplets move and also act like binaries. The lines move between velocity and pause, which is helpful in the longer lines. The caesura acts as a breathing fulcrum, as well as an experiential fulcrum. As for the binary action, the opening line presents an emotional abstraction that is countered in line two with the need to mathematically express or capture those emotions. Thus, line 1 –emotion / line 2 – math; and line 1 – abstraction / line 2 – categorization. Then, line three successfully quantifies the known, which is then countered in line four with an image, an emotional image of despair. Thus, line 3 – mathematical representation / line 4 – image representation; and line 3 –quantifiable / line 4 – inexpressible. There’s a back-and-forth movement between opposing experiential realms of perception and expression.

Sometimes the back-and-forth occurs in the same line, such as line six, where the period caesura acts as the fulcrum for the experiential shift. The couplets, the movements, mimetically rendering thoughts, feelings, actions a person moves through during moments of struggle, despair, joy, the ineffable, while allegorically paralleling how “binary numbers are stored in a digital computer as either absence or presence (nothing or something)” (“Notes” 71). Perhaps this can be all simplified as movement between conscious and unconscious. Not all the couplets behave this way, but many do.

In fact, there are five poems that experiment with form and structure, and four of those do so using computer programming language, such as C++. For example, “Comment” (46), which first appeared in Redactions, opens:

   At the company town hall meeting,                           // in the movie theater again
   we see the same slide. The financial gurus                // old plots, new faces

   spin the numbers again, a visual rhetoric                   // fake stars painted on the scene
   of gray bars rising adjacent to red. Someone             // dull plastic, factory-made

Here there are two columns. According to the notes, the poem “uses the // line notation from C++ to indicate that what follows is to be read by the human, but not the computer (i.e., everything after those marks is ignored by the compiler”) (72). The left column uses the first-person plural subjective “we” to attempt to objectively render a scene, while the right column has an unidentified speaker providing a judgmental assessment (or “comments”) of what is actually happening. So again, we have this fulcrum, but this time it hinges on the //. The left side is for the computer and is in a fairly objective and narrative language, while the right side is for the human and is in an unknown snarky, lyrical voice.

I think these binaries, these couplets exist because Babbage lives in two worlds: one of the computer or mechanical and one of the human, who experiences love and suffers great despair at the loss of his wife and daughter within a year’s time. In essence, the poems underscore a human’s conflict between mind and heart and the dialectical movements we encounter within ourselves each moment of the day as we endure what is here and what is gone, what is made and what is destroyed, and between maker and the maker’s creation. The language in Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream is concise and specific as computer code and is rhythmically rigid, with the binary of iambs providing a steady backbeat. //

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Aitken, Neil. Babbage’s Dream. Knoxville, TN: Sundress Publications, 2016. Print.

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19
Mar
17

On Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Knowing Knott: Essays on an American PoetMy first encounter with Bill Knott was reading a review copy of The Unsubscriber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) in a yurt in or nearby Newport, OR. I was dazzled and amazed at his wildness and technique. Next to the collection’s third poem, “Neckognition,” I wrote:

He has mystical line breaks. They do what we try to make them do. Give them a split-end quality. One line is appearance A, the next line changes appearance A into B and into C, until you’re left with A+B+C=an action or event of fluidity. He’s stopped time into discrete parts, but by the stanza’s end, the fluidity of the act is realized. See stanza one. Harmonies in the last stanza.

Here’s the poem:

     In love the head turns
     the face until it’s gone
     into another’s where
     it is further torn

     from its own mirror
     and grows even more
     erased and lost and though
     the former still yearns

     to be his/be hers
     it sees these lovers
     over your shoulder show

     whatever disappears
     can also go as verse
     whose shape’s nape-known now.

This is also a sonnet-variant. I fell in love instantly with this master of forms, language, style, Surrealism, and freedom to explore unlike any other poet, at least any poet I’m aware of, since Gerard Manley Hopkins.

In Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet (Tiger Bark Press, 2017), there are essays from 16 other poets and friends of Knott, who also write about their love for him. The essays are short, and vary in length from three pages to 35 pages, although most tend to be around five to six pages. The essays are mostly filled with anecdotes that portray the complexities of Knott’s personality, his generosity, and self-sabotage at success. There is also some analysis of his poetry in Michael Waters’ essay “What Had Made Us So Whole: ‘The Sculpture’ by Bill Knott” and in Stuart Dischell’s “On Human Stilts,” but mostly the essays are sketches of Knott as complicated human being. The book also includes six color images of his art, as Knott “was as serious about his painting as his poetry” (113), as Robert Fanning notes in “May Eagles Guard Your Grave.”

In Thomas Lux’s essay “Bill Knott: Can My Voice Save My Throat,” Lux asks, “do you think Knott’s self-deprecation, his self-denigration, his self-abnegation, might have anything to do with his childhood?” (84). In the 83 pages prior to this, I was realizing much of Knott’s actions are the classic traits of someone who suffers from abandonment trauma. According to some of the authors with varying degrees of detail, when Knott was young, his mother died giving birth (though Knott “always suspected she might have died during an (then illegal) abortion” (91), then a few years later, his father sent him and his sister to an orphanage because he couldn’t take care of them, and then the father committed suicide. I believe this contributes to what Jonathan Galassi in “(Not) Publishing Bill Knott” identifies as Knott’s “serious self-esteem issues.” For instance, as Star Black in her essay “Loving Bill” points out, Knott:

[s]omehow felt betrayed by his own accomplishments and connections, as if to be a self-published outsider was not quite satisfying, yet to be an insider was fraudulent. Making a decision and then reversing the same decision after he made it was one of his traits. (44)

There are consistent stories throughout the anthology about him pushing away his success (and sometimes pushing away others before they could push him away) as if he wasn’t worthy of it or them, a classic defense move by someone who suffers from the trauma of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he started to self-publish numerous chapbooks in small print runs, sometimes even only one copy. Knott published at least 11 books of poems with publishers such as “Random House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the University of Pittsburg Press, Sun Press, and the American Poets Continuum Series at BOA Editions” (Dischell 71), but he was so prolific and printed so many self-published chapbooks that probably no one knows how many books he really released, maybe not even Timothy Liu or John Skoyles who tried to collect everything Knott published.

Knott was a poet’s poet. He was a master of the craft and was always revising, and was even known to put “errata slips into books of his in bookstores” (Lux 85). Despite his constant revisions, Knott’s poems arrive to the reader with the energies and wildness of a first or second draft, which to me is a major accomplishment.

Knowing Knott is a pleasure to read, and can be read in one sitting because it is so engaging and only 114 pages of essays (126 total pages), and it’s very inspirational, too. Prior to reading this collection of essays, I thought Bill Knott was a semi-obscure poet, as not many poets I have met who are my age or younger know of him. After reading this book, I realize how important he was to the generation of poets before me and the generation before them. According to Robert Fanning in Knowing Knott’s last essay, Thomas Lux declared “Bill Knott our greatest living poet. ‘Bill Knott has more talent in his pinky finger [. . .] than Any Poet of his Generation” (115). I believe this book, in some degree, is a calling to future generations of poets to not overlook this poet whose “art lies, in part, in living inside the language, and lies, in part, in viewing it from the perspective of enduring outsider” (Waters 13), and whose poetry is so “hard-core surrealist” that, according to Lux, “If Bill were French and born a few years generations earlier, he would have kicked André Breton out of the [Surrealists] group for being counterrevolutionary” (80). I believe after reading Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet that Knott can teach poets how to be unique, wild, energy driven, as he fully embraced and triumphed in the many forms of poetry, and perhaps more importantly, Knott’s actions will inspire us to be generous members in the poetry community, as he was consistently helping poets with their poetry or helping them financially. In the words of Skoyles, “When we lost Bill, we lost a person with an uncompromising integrity and an enormous compassion for the underdog. [. . .] When we lost Bill, we lost what could be called the conscience of poetry” (97). Knowing Knott will keep reminding us of this and Bill Knott.

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Huff, Steven, ed. Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet. Rochester, NY: Tiger Bark Press, 2017. Print.

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22
Nov
14

Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose 2014 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose has made its nominations for the 2014 Pushcart Prize. The nominees this year are all poems. In the order of appearance in issue 18 are:

  1. Andrea Spofford’s “Tundra.” Page 8.
  2. Mary Stone Dockery’s “The Idea of Brad.” Page 23.
  3. Paul Allen’s “For the Spoken-Word Poet-Friend Who Drove up to Baton Rouge to Tell His Girlfriend to Get Lost and After 36 Hours of Both Crying, She Didn’t Get Lost, and He Was Glad.” Page 29.
  4. Robert Gibbons’s “Experience & Art.” Page 54.
  5. Ed Schelb’s “Portrait of Five Composers.” Pages 56-59.
  6. David Lloyd’s “What Remains.” Pages 70-71.

To read these poems, stories, and more, order a copy of issue 18 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

You can also read the Pushcart Prize nominated poems here: http://www.redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp.

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07
Jun
14

Modernist Style, Contemporary Play, and Ecological Lament: On Betsy Andrews’ The Bottom

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose. //

Betsy Andrews – The BottomBetsy AndrewsThe Bottom (42 Miles Press, forthcoming 2014), winner of the 2013 42 Miles Press Poetry Award, opens with the 48-page long poem “The Bottom,” which consists of 48 juxtaposed smaller poems varying in length from poems of 12 short lines to poems of 21 long lines. The poems feel like they arrive from a life experienced, or should I say, these ecological poems don’t seem a step removed from experience, as if written from only studying, or appropriating information from, texts about pollution, ecology, marine biology, etc. At the same time, this long opening poem, which is rooted in the Modernist tradition of long poems of disillusionment, exposes what lies behind the illusions from the denial of ecological harm or future ecological harm. And like a Modernism poem, the language is of the language spoken by everyday people (especially people from the United States), but unlike some Modernism poems, Andrews’ allusions are shared allusions of the American populace. Along the way, we encounter mermaids, Martians, and even Mr. Limpet (the Don Knotts character from Disney’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet.) With that in mind, this long poem is also very playful, which is a difficult endeavor to do in political poems without being didactic or heavy handed, but she succeeds by way of her playful allusions, irony (another Modernism device), and music – rhymes, internal rhymes, assonance, consonance, word repetition, etc. In addition, this music, unlike music in Modernism poems, feels like it is discovered or is spontaneously composed rather than imposed or purposely created to frame the mood of the poem. As a result, Andrews is able to entice the reader with the sugar of music and play and then deliver the ecological medicine. Fortunately, the medicine doesn’t arrive in one dose. Rather, it’s an accumulation of 48 little doses. And even though there are 48 different doses of poems, there is cohesiveness about them. Unlike some  long Modernism poems that often hope for a cohesiveness to be discovered, the cohesiveness is 48 different ways of looking at the harm to marine biology and ecology in ways in which a reader can experience – whether the experience comes from the real, the imagined, or the intersection of both.

If the poems are enough or aren’t enough to move the reader to an ecological empathy, The Bottom has, like The Waste Land, a notes section (which might also be a poem depending on how it is viewed) at the end titled “Tributaries.” The “Tributaries” lists the sources I assume Andrews read in composing this long poem or that were influential to her and fed into the making of this ocean of a book. “Tributaries” starts with The Oxford English Dictionary and then moves into newspapers, National Public Radio, national parks, books of myth and symbolism, books and articles about seashells, books and articles on marine biology, books about the aftermath of unrecoverable ecological harm, and then concludes with books, stories, songs, and writers that I assume are inspirational to her, such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Saxie Dowell’s “Three Little Fishies,” Anne Sexton, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

Betsy Andrews’ The Bottom is a short book that playfully moves in the imagined and heroically moves in the unimagined, and by the latter I mean that it moves heroically within the unimagined that is real and the “dry page of fact” and within the unimagined (or suppressed imagination) that exists because of the denials of ecological harm “when we go still and are quiet.”//

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Andrews, Betsy. The Bottom. South Bend: 42 Miles Press, 2014.

13
Jan
14

On Kelly Cherry’s The Life and Death of Poetry

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 18, due out July 2, 2014.//

Kelly Cherry's – The Life and Death of PoetryThe Life and Death of Poetry (Louisiana State University Press, 2013), is an ambitious title to fulfill, especially in 68 pages of poetry. I could write about how Kelly Cherry manages to achieve this, but instead I want to think about beginnings. I want to mainly focus on how this book of poems opens and then moves, because after my first reading, I wasn’t convinced the book’s opening poem was the best poem to open the book with. I thought it a good opening poem, but I thought there was a better choice with the poem “Underwriting the Words”:

   Ousted from heaven,
   we crashed into language.
   Incomparable music
   gave way to words.
   Authors filled auditoriums
   with their friends.
   Orpheus wrote a novel.

   Some days we try to climb back.
   We search for the word that sings,
   the sentence that sings.
   It’s not the same.
   Remember the music?
   It lifted you up to the light
   and endowed you with understanding.

   None of us understands anymore.
   Commentators baffle, words
   reinvent their meaning, every voice
   contradicts another. In a city
   of deserted streets, where people hide
   like turtles, in their houses,
   silence is the one common denominator.

   The hidden theme of the book is silence.
   Between the lines,
   underwriting the words:
   silence.
   In every line we read
   the absence of perfect sound,
   the severed head with mouth sewn shut.

   The hidden theme of the book is our obliteration:
   that we are swept away
   like fallen leaves from the front steps,
   insect shells from a sill,
   drafts from a desk.

Bob Dylan – Blonde on BlondeThat’s a dynamite poem and it covers some of the themes of the book: language, writing, singing, relationships, silence, death. (These aren’t the book’s only themes, as it also explores nature, poetry, and love.) “Underwriting the Words” could deliver some of the necessities of opening a single collection of poems as it’s strong, it introduces themes, it gives a beginning (we fall from heaven), and anticipates the end (“obliteration”). I wondered why the book didn’t begin with this poem, and then I thought of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde – both the double album and its later reincarnation as a CD. If you haven’t noticed, the order of the songs is different on the album than on the CD. I particularly like the album’s order better. But why are the songs ordered differently on the CD? Not all the songs are rearranged, but enough are. The CD version still opens with a defiant, partying youth celebrating getting stoned in “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and it still ends with a deeply in love, fully-matured adult who is singing one of the most passionate love songs “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Even the tones of the songs are completely different. The former is quicker paced, playful, and in a higher pitch, and the latter is slow, contemplative, and in a lower pitch. But back to the order of the album. The album is ordered so that each album side (all four of them) crescendos into a higher intensity. Each of the four sides starts at lower intensity than where it ends, and, overall, the album’s intensity reaches its maximum in “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” The CD, since it only has one side, has to rearrange the songs so the crescendo is more gradual. Oddly, one might think the CD’s order would work better than the album as it moves from song to song, but in my opinion, it doesn’t. It seems a little jerky. I think Cherry had a similar idea to the Blonde on Blonde-album crescendo effect when she chose to start The Life and Death of Poetry with “Which Is a Verb”:

   We fell out of eternity
   into time, which is a verb.
   Life was rushing past us,
   and we began to rush too.
   Everything was a blur. In the confusion,
   some things got mixed up with others.
   A loaf of bread drove a bus.
   A longleaf pine swam in the pond.

   We grew so dizzy, light sparked
   beneath our closed eyelids, like rescue flares.
   We lay down on the red grass
   and clung to the world as it whirled.

   Wind whistled past our ears.
   Tears flew from our eyes.

This is a dynamite poem, too, but it lacks the powerful intensity of “Underwriting the Words” and its end. If the book started with “Underwriting the Words,” it would decrescendo not only in intensity but in facility (for lack of a better word, as some poems are more powerful than others, though I wouldn’t remove any one poem from this collection). “Underwriting the Words” is probably the strongest and most successful of the poems in the book, a book that certainly has many very fine poems. So the book, as a result, would descend (though subtly) on two fronts. Still the first poem needs to get the reader excited, it has to act as a frame of sorts, and the one Cherry did choose to start the book does.

The book opens with the fall, but not the traditional fall or the fall from heaven, but a fall from eternity. We are falling gods. Only gods are eternal, and non-eternal beings (like angels) can fall from heaven, as in “Underwriting the Words,” but they cannot fall from eternity. And we, as gods, fell “into time,” and time makes us mortal, human. But time is not an abstract noun here. It’s a verb. Time is active and acts on us, with us, and through us. Time is so active, we couldn’t see straight. We ended up in surreal world where bread drives busses and pine trees swim in ponds. We were pre-linguistic with one verb we didn’t yet recognize. And here is our and the book’s beginning. We are going to go through the evolution of language and poetry in this collection of poems. We are going to live and die in this whirling world and transform wind and tears, what we hear and what we see, into poetry. And that’s where it all begins. And this is why “Which Is a Verb” comes first. This is an effective opening poem in framing the book, leading us into the book, and establishing energy levels from which the three sections of the book will build on.

And so section I, “Learning the Language,” and the book begin with “Which Is a Verb” and crescendos into the section’s penultimate poem “Underwriting the Words.” In between, the section moves into steadying the world that was whirling by in “Which Is a Verb,” to discovering music, to vowels, to the first word (which is also a person’s last word), to more words, to singing, to language, to signified and signifier, to fiction, to poems, and to gods and heaven. During these poems, the section crescendos from crawl to dance in the gathering of experience and the development of poetry, which climaxes in “Underwriting the Words” and then gently settles in section one’s denouement “A Voice Survives,” which is a quiet meditative poem.

Section two, “Welsh Table Talk (A Sequence),” moves into using poems to create a land, a place. Not recreating like Olson in The Maximus Poems, but creating it much like I remember Robert Graves writing about in The White Goddess, the goddess of birth, love, and death. When I’m in this section, I feel Graves in the silences, or perhaps I feel the poems arise from analeptic thought, or unlived and forgotten events recovered/created through intuition, as this Welsh land often feels ancient, or with the echoes and hints of the ancient. This section then crescendos into an emphatic yearning that echoes the end of The Waste Land and its wondering what to do, but Cherry has an answer – “Carve.”

The book turns to section three, “What the Poet Wishes to Say,” which is a natural progression, because even if carving is the answer as to what to do, there is still the question of what to carve, as the opening lines of the opening poem, “On Translation,” indicate:

   Be warned, I tell my students.
   A writer with nothing to write
   is in danger of falling into
   one or more of four
   pitfalls: drink, drugs,
   adultery, and translation.

The book’s concluding poems, including the one just mentioned, or essays in verse about poetry, help the reader arrive to the final realization that “A poem can move to love,” and love, which is a verb, is the ultimate crescendo and the last line in Kelly Cherry’s The Life and Death of Poetry.//

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Cherry, Kelly. The Life and Death of Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.//

22
Nov
13

Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose 2013 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose has made its nominations for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. The nominees in the order of appearance in issues 16 and 17 are:

  1. Nicholas Wong’s “Meteorology.” (Poem). Issue 16. Page 26.
  2. Allan Peterson’s “Say the Causes.” (Poem). Issue 16. Page 43.
  3. James Claffey’s “Ordinary Time.” (Fiction). Issue 16. Page 58.
  4. Donald Illich’s “Surgery.” (Poem). Issue 17. Page 33.
  5. Ben Berman’s “Droppings.” (Poem). Issue 17. Page 35.
  6. Angela Woodward’s “She.” (Fiction). Issue 17. Pages 54-55.

To read these poems, stories, and more, order a copy of issue 17 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

You can also read the Pushcart Prize nominated poems here: http://www.redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp.

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15
Sep
13

Celebrating 100 Years of BLAST: Call for Submissions

BLAST coverJuly 2, 2014, will be the 100th anniversary of BLAST, that “great MAGENTA cover’d opusculus” of the Vorticists. Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose will celebrate the 100th anniversary in Redactions issue 18, due out in time for the 100th birthday of BLAST. We are looking for people to participate in this celebration.

Redactions is asking for Vorticist poems, stories, short essays (500-1000 words or fewer) about BLAST, Vorticism, a specific Vorticist, or how BLAST or Vorticism affected you, etc. If you have anything you would like to contribute, please email a piece of writing as an attachment to redactionspoetry(at)yahoo.com between September 15, 2013, and January 15, 2014. Be sure “BLAST” appears in the subject line.

For more information about BLAST, visit:

For more information about Vorticism, visit:

We are also looking for non-themed poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction submissions. Send poetry submissions, essays on poetry, and poetry book reviews to redactionspoetry(at)yahoo.com. Send prose submissions to redactionsprose(at)yahoo.com.

See complete guidelines here: http://redactions.com/submission-and-ordering.asp.

For more information about Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose, visit: www.redactions.com.

Please share with your Vorticist friends.//




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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