Mass Poetry Roundup
by Weston Cutter
(Elsewhere: here’s a poem of mine recently at Verse Daily, which is always rad, and I recently won the Burnside Review Chapbook Contest, which is thrilling and I’m super pumped and pleased as hell that Ed Skoog was the judge and that it’s coming out through such a rad press [they're publishing Matthew Lippman's next one, just fyi]. Also, here’s a review of Sara Peters’s 1996.)
It’s been a great, great year for poetry, and I’ve realized of late the coverage here at Corduroy’s been terribly small. Hicok’s new one, sure, but otherwise it’s been thin (I didn’t even mention the amazing Jennifer Boyden’s The Declarable Future, which should’ve been heralded—if you didn’t catch it, attend to that). To rectify, here’s a poetry purge of sorts: books that’ve been kicking around the desk for the last good while. All of these are excellent and worth much time and energy on your part.
Laird’s last collection On Purpose was pretty amazing dynamite—a hard-edged glimpse of the beauties and payments of coupledom and domesticity. Go Giants feels, unsurprisingly, deeper into the same thicket he was before exploring: these are poems of fatherhood, poems which attempt to frame the vagaries and banality of the day-to-day into something Bigger, something With Meaning. There’s an epic reach to these (epic comes up in the blurbs, and one wishes almost to evade using the term, but it’s apt)—the last chunk of the book is taken up by “Progress,” a long multi-titled work which tries to scope in on the term and what it presently might mean or be, given all possible subtractions. “Progress” is certainly incredible, in its way, but Laird’s work hits hardest in smaller moments, like in “Talking in Kitchen” when he writes
When Michael has left we head upstairs
and the baby’s asleep and we’ve talked ourselves out
and we feel as we feel every day of the year
like nobody knows how we feel and it’s fine,
because our secrets live near the secrets of others,
and our wants are not so mean.
The chattiness is almost a sham: what Laird’s doing is uncovering and examining the lasting aspects of days gorgeously.
I’m new to Halliday, frustratingly, though am glad to have gotten on board now (plus he wrote a great essay on Tony Hoagland for the latest Green Mountains Review). It’s easy to chalk Halliday in a similar terrain as Laird and say he’s writing about domestic stuff, but Halliday’s is more rambling, more basic: there’s sorrority softball, recollections of football in youth, Playboy playmates, the works. Shot through all of that, however, is death, the creep of mortality and how the awareness of the creep colors everything. For instance, in “Yvette Vickers,” the poem about the playmate, Halliday starts
Suppose you hold in one hand the Jily 1959 Playboy
in which the Playmate was Yvette Vickers
boyn Yvette Vedder in Kansas City in 1928
and in the other hand the New York Times of May 5, 2001,
with an article entitled “Mummified Body Found
in Former Actress’s Home”—
The poem doesn’t ultimately try to force these diametrics into something *larger* than their existence, which is a weirdly cool trick: poetry in the vein of what Halliday does can often try (and faily) to make Grand Sweeping Claims about simple/small things (too many examples to list). Instead, the poem ends up acknowledging the difficulty of squaring such things: “what do you have? Insight? Something fresh to say? / What you have is evidence that Time is a creep— / but you knew that.” There’s a grim feeling in the book—a way in which the corrosion of time’s passing spikes the punch of all experience—but what Halliday’s going at his best here is trying to wrest or discover some way not even to sweeten it, but to acknowledge it, to treat and feel the plus and the minus, whatever that might mean.
Oh man, this one’s a hard, hard book. Gorgeous and amazing in lots of ways, but damn hard. The book is a collection of poems all centered around living through medical trauma, specifically the narrator/husband living through the medical trauma of his wife. The book is in its way traumatic itself (maybe not: I’m deeply superstitious, and I can’t even say certain words in sentences which include the names of any of my beloveds, and this book kicks that door right down, obviously). The poetry is beautiful and jagged, in the way the best poetry will have to be when written from the point of view of someone watching their beloved suffer: uselessness comes into view, but not just the personal sort: not what can the husband do, but what can any of us do in the face of the fact of decline, the way “what you don’t know can hurt you”. This book should be on every shelf, though it’s a hell of a hard read.
This is a gorgeously thick and complex book of poetry which, for my money, has to be among the most difficult to speak about among books released this year: Darst’s DANCE has such an involved and specific structure to it that speaking of individual poems or moments in the poetry feels a bit akin to speaking about certain orchestral moments in symphonies. The work that’d be required to make the potential reader understand the significance of the first line on page 70 (“I’m the one who’s always right: the Author. Now I’ll burn you; you’ll feel little bites.”) is almost hard to even process, at least for me. Very briefly, Darst is using found sources (magazines, tarot cards) for both language and structural purposes, and the result is a multi-channel (in all senses) half-montage, half-overwhelm. It’s always sort of easy to peg work as difficult-but-worth-it, and I hate to do it, but here we are. Try it. (Also: Coffee House Press is kicking ass at weird books: this, the new Dan Beachy-Quick novel, Travis Nichols’ The More You Ignore Me [an entire novel written as a Facebook posting]; these guys are firing on all cylinders).
The banal/easy way with this one would be to say it’s about a young woman discovering/figuring out the world around her—femininity, beauty, Truth, etc. It’s a paltry summation of a book that’s trying with more ferocity than many to tackle such subject matter. There’s a sharpness to Edwards’s stuff that’s disarming, shocking: she presents things in ways that feel exploded, reconfigured, made essentially strange. Here’s her “I Know No Ceremony”:
for Christmas Eve dinner
for one. Should I summon
my mother’s sugar cookie recipe,
roll out the precise dough
of my childhood, cut it into
Santas and evergreens
to eat with Thai delivery
and the dregs of gifted wine?
Should I adopt a church
with a children’s pagean
and off-key singing? Maybe
walk far into the deep cold
until I hear a voice like
God telling me to go back
home—kiss the scratched
wood floor for being mine
and there and covered
in my very own dust?
That searching aspect animating things here—the drive to intuit or unearth a larger schematics or system—runs through Edwards’s stuff, which is the glory: though the book focuses on specifics, the hunger humming beneath is so yes-inducing and true-feeling you’re swept the whole thing in hours, glad. Expect+hope for more soon from her.
Here’s the Chelotti poem I fell for first:
I am looking out over
one of the first real gray
days of autumn listening
to a podcast in which
these two men are talking about
the phenomenon of ball lightning.
I love ball lightning because (still)
no photographic evidence exists.
It was because of ball lightning
that before everyone carried cameras
I carried a camera hoping
someone would ask me why
I was carrying a camera.
No one ever did, but now,
older, I am grateful to find
that my loneliness
accommodates my desire, and not,
as it used to be, vice versa.
There are quite a few more Chelotti poems for your perusal just a search away, and certainly you should get to them, but you should very seriously consider purchasing X promptly, because the magic of Chelotti’s poems, as evidenced by the above, ends up being infinitely more powerful when it’s cumulative. The above poem’s representative: Chelotti’s often chatty-ish, and often basically observational, but the trick of his that’s so cool is the number of turns he makes: a lesser poem would’ve taken the off-ramp offered by talking merely about the significance of unphotographed phenomena, or maybe even about the sort of nice synchronous aspect of hearing strangers talk about something you yourself care deeply about, but Chelotti gets deeper, gets into the animating aspects of why all this stuff matters and has happened to him. X feels like a tremendous gift for exactly this reason: the details covered are interesting enough, sure, but how Dan Chelotti works with them, how he torques things toward addressing deeper aspects of wanting and connecting, that’s the magic here. It’s a hell of a great book (and gorgeous to book, because McSweeney’s). Here’s another young writer to hope for much more from.