Posts Tagged ‘Stan Rubin


Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (2006)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 8/9, which was published circa April 2007.


Li-Young Lee's – Breaking the Alabaster Jar“Hey folks, there is a cosmic consciousness,” said Allen Ginsberg during a SUNY Brockport Writers Forum interview. I think he was right, and now I further agree after reading Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions), Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll.

Within the collected interviews, there are many recurring themes: Lee’s father, The Bible, alienation, being an Asian-American poet, & the interconnectedness of the universe – especially through its vibrations, as everything vibrates.

But first let me get to how I trust Lee. In the first interview from 1987 with William Heyen and Stan Rubin, Heyen and Rubin ask Lee some strong questions, which almost seem like an initiation ritual into entering the world of poets, which are questions that only one committed/seduced/given to poetry could answer. Lee answers, but he says something startling. His answer is unexpected to me. It’s an answer that only someone truthful could give. His answer, “I have, in fact, a handful of readers that I think about. . . . Oh, if so-and-so sees this, then they’ll really think I’m a poet. I always have this feeling I want to prove I’m a poet myself to a handful of people” (p 27). Do all us poets, especially young ones, have this secret urge within us? Lee also adds that he writes for soul-awaking, too, but it’s the first answer that sucks me into believing him.

The interviews that follow are all interesting. All have new angles (slants of light), even when he similarly responds to similar answers. And each interview, each question and answer, accrue and inform the following interviews. Each interview has Lee thinking more.

During Tod Marhsall’s interview, my way of thinking about poetry changed. Marshall asks Lee the right question with the right words, and Lee responds. Here’s how it goes:

Marshall: I feel those poems as moving vertically, down the page with a push. The movement in the memoir – we’re pushed along in a similar way, but the pace is much slower.

Lee: Even now, in the poems I’m writing, although they have longer line breaks, I can see now that the sentence is my concern. I like the idea that the line breaks make notation for the mind actually thinking. I like that. But it’s ultimately the sentence that I’m writing. Not the grammatical sentence, the measure.

[. . .]

Marshall: So you don’t see yourself as ultimately despairing that you can’t capture this litany.

Lee: [. . . ] I started to entertain some of the “stuff” that’s in the canon; I forgot for a little bit that that was the horizontal, the cultural, and that wasn’t the richest mode for me. If you look at the earliest poems in Rose, you’ll see the vertical assumption. The assumption that vertical reality was the primary reality and all of this was fading away, just “stuff” spinning off on that more important reality. The change was just in the realization. (p 138-39)

So what I realized after reading this and reading what had preceded is that the horizontal movement is when the poem talks to culture. (I had believed that poems intentionally talk to other poems & poets.) The vertical moment, however, talks to the self and the universe. This changed my thinking of writing. Instead of writing for other poets & poems, I should be writing for the depths of my self while simultaneously shooting up to speak to the universe. If you do that, do it well, do it with honesty, then you’ll catch the vibrations of the universe & your soul, and then necessarily/accidentally, the poems will have horizontal movement and talk to poems and poets naturally. To write is to write lines (“a literary activity”), which is vertically neglectful. But to write vertically (as if creating a conduit between you & the universe) – well, if you make the connection with the universe, then reverberations will happen, and it will vibrate up & down & horizontally.

As for Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee as a whole, the interviews inform through accretion and the thinking poet – though he thinks of himself as a body poet – but that’s another theme you should read about in these interviews.//




Lee, Li-Young. Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee. Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2006.//


Stan Rubin’s Hidden Sequel (2006)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 8/9, which was published circa April 2007.


Stan Rubin's – Hidden Sequel_96dpiOn the Ausable Press website page [the webpage is now defunct and the press is part of Copper Canyon Press], “First Book Manuscripts: Free Advice from the Editor,” Chase Twichell describes what she is looking for from a poet and a collection of poems: “they must acknowledge death, because death is the most common denominator.” Stan Sanvel Rubin’s Hidden Sequel (Barrow Street Press) succeeds in Twichell’s request (though with a different publisher) and does more. Rubin acknowledges death, loneliness, & despair, & he wonders about the significance/impact/vitalness of poetry, and he does so with intelligence and passion.

If we look at the poem “Gun,” we get a general feel for the book as a whole:


   Those who have fired upon others
   in anger or despair,
   embracing the slick metal
   of the barrel, sliding
   the index finger
   back with the curved trigger,
   leaning into the kill,

   understand the power
   of cure, the way
   desire becomes
   annihilation, the way
   action obliterates
   the unbreakable strands of pain
   love connects to everything.

We can quickly see the nice balance he gives us between the image and the abstract, and we can see how he pushes both to the limit of evocation. In lines 3-6, we receive the image of a person about to fire a gun. And the image moves down the barrel to the finger and trigger, and that part of the image is somewhat sexual with the word “embracing” and “sliding” and how the image moves, but the sexual image is almost violent. But then line 7, “leaning into the kill,” is stunning and surprising, and it’s this line that yokes the whole image together. It reminds us what a gun can do, it kills. And with “leaning,” the sense of deliberate killing is evoked. Then with the next stanza, the tone changes to something like sympathy or compassion. The first six lines of the second stanza are abstract (in that there are no concrete images and that they are abstracting meaning from the previous image), but we can easily follow the abstractions. The last line does a lot of work. After the violent abstractions comes love, surprisingly. And with that last line he shows the relationship between love and pain. But more, he shows how guns, & war (a motif that is part of this book and that attaches itself into this poem), are what destroy what love tries to make whole.

This brings us to the significance of poetry. If love cannot hold life and the universe intact, what chance does poetry have to succeed?

   Words stop in your throat.
   Metaphors thin and fade.

   They can digest nothing.
   Poems, therefore, fail you,

   sentenced, as you are, to truth.
   Love is what they always

   said it was:
   a cause lost before joining.
                                  (“As They Say,” ll 5-12)

The consideration of whether poetry can matter or does, is brought up often, but no answers result, but the feel is that maybe poetry doesn’t matter but there is something about it: “He knew poetry might lead to hell, / but he loved its beauties” (“Caress,” ll 9-10).

This a just a sense of what Hidden Sequel thinks and feels. This is just a sense of Rubin who has leaped and bounded beyond his previous collection of poems, Five Colors. It’s Rubin with a vision, a vision as from a bard like Yeats. These poems see something . . . important and human.//




Rubin, Stan Sanvel. Hidden Sequel. New York: Barrow Street Press, 2006.//


Stan Rubin’s Five Colors (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.


Stan Rubin – Five Colors“If colors could speak, words would be insolent,” writes Stan Rubin in Five Colors (Custom Words, 2004). The words in this collection are anything but insolent, & for certain, no syllables are wasted, but the quote, in a way, parallels a conflict in Rubin’s poems — trying to resolve the conflicts between poetic logic & logic, or trying to find a bridge between the two. One would think more poets today would have these conflicts of thinking logically in the apparent delivery of the universe & thinking through the poetic logic of the way the universe feels to be delivered; nonetheless, in Rubin’s poems, the conflict often presents itself, either intentionally or unintentionally. Consider “The Concept of Memory”:

   Suppose you once climbed a hillside
   which you thought was a mountain
   (time t-1) and you did it alone,
   so that, (further supposition) nobody
   knows, no one was there
   to tell that you did it. Let us suppose
   that now you know it was only a hill,
   a high loaf at the top of a street,
   across the sometimes flooded creek
   where a boy alone played windy games,
   then let us consider
   the time between t-1 and now,
   the time we call present,
   as if it were a gift from someone.
   so that you are not part of his game
   though you can smell the mud on his shoes,
   hear the stained laces click together,
   as he hauls himself up that hillside
   toward the distant pagoda 
   he has never reached,
   hand over hand,
   alone in the wet leaves
   after a rain that is still starting
   to end?
                                          (ll 1-14, 25-34)

The other poems are not nearly as deliberate as this, but in this poem, it is fascinating to watch the juggling between the need for mathematical explication & the experiential.

Let’s also consider the less deliberate poems that resolve around the logic conflict, which are more typical of the poems in Five Colors. At the end of “At the U.S. Space and Rocket Museum,” we arrive at a good sense of this:

                 The measure of distance
   the hand of a child. The map of love
   an internal sky. Here in the shadow
   of the predator’s wing, while the camera

   makes its chemical memory, and you stand
   still aiming at me – my love, my stranger — 
   I am as distant from myself as a newsreel.
   I cannot forgive my own heart’s wars.
                                            (ll 9-16)

or the beginning of “Rivers”: “The old part of the brain – the one / that writes backward when you try / to write forward – that part is at it again.” And more specifically the end of “Partial List of the Saved”:

   A partial list of the dead
   is a schedule of forgetting.

   It is what memory is,
   a map of absence

   Remember this:
   It is what love always becomes.

These poems just mentioned also share a similar delivery method – the poems individually accumulate to conclusion or epiphany & resonate. Not all of the poems in the collection do this, but the book as a whole also acts in this manner.

The poems in Stan Sanvel Rubin’s Five Colors tend to be lyrical or meditative (& I can’t help but sense the influence of Oppen on them), & the poems quite often create velocity & acceleration through the repetition of a word or phrase, not dissimilar to a blues musician. These poems are solid, fresh, & many present new approaches to writing poems. //




Rubin, Stan Sanvel. Five Colors. Cincinnati: Custom Words, 2004.//

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