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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Against Which, Ross Gay

I have a significant bias for this poet and this poetry, and so, perhaps I'm an unreliable reader. If so, you can just ask someone who's read this book, or someone who's heard this poet, or someone who's read any of the poems herein what they think, and I would be very surprised if you received anything back but resounding praise (read astonishment) at the rich, tender strength of these poems. It's really as simple as that. Good poetry. If you're on the east coast, you can keep track of his reading schedule by going to the publisher's website, here. I'm including, in place of my own praise, some comments on the book from some other writers whose opinions you may trust.

Against Which by Ross Gay
Foreword by Gerald Stern
72 pagesPaperback
ISBN: 1-933880-00-7Pub Date October 2006

“…What Ross Gay sees, what he sings about, is a crippled woman taking a walk in her wheel chair through the agency of the poet’s strong hands; or two brothers embracing in the death chamber, and the untranslatable song between them; or recovery from pain coalescing with the beginning of spring; or the glorious sexy vision of an ankle, or a midriff; or the blue whale’s deep sea love scream; or football season in late October. He also sings about the rage and violence inside and the urge to destroy; and the horror of Alzheimer’s; and murder; and cancer; and butchered animals and cannibalism; and lynching; and the bullet’s journey—almost, almost too neatly the reverse side of the coin, as if one could prove the other—or lived by the other—as if, in the dream of light, he cannot allow himself to forget the darkness, he is so given over to the honest and accurate rendering, or as if he allows himself a final affirmation so long as he admits, or incorporates, the negative...”-Gerald Stern

Whether he’s talking about the pain of slavery or a child being beaten up on a playground, Ross Gay’s Against Which suggests poetry as the way by which we might understand “birth’s phantom limb.” It makes me think of poetry in an entirely new way.-Toi Derricotte

What a hammer, what a velvet wrecking ball, what a rip tooth saw Against Which is! Ross Gay is a terrific poet of enormous energies and gifts whose poems both “terrify and comfort,” as Berryman put it. This is a book with which we must reckon: read it live.”-Thomas Lux


say birdsong
at death’s bed-
side plus honeybees
their hover and thirst say
thickets of clover
aquiver the gold
swell limning
morning clouds
the light behind it
say wet eye
sthe orb’s cock-eyed swirl
say the honey
between nape and scapula
a slow ride
between two points
the plush rug of ivy
swallowing this tree
in a wood say
the last rattle of the thorax
the peristaltic earth
say home say

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

lure, nils michals

there is no greater pleasure for me than climbing the stacks of a new library and trying to find my way around. i am overcome with this trepidation that reminds me of my early undergraduate days at my big state university where everyone but me seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing. there were early weeks in the stacks there where i would tediously spend 40 minutes trying to locate a call number in the card catalogue (yes, the card catalogue) only to abandon my search in the stacks because the whole population of shelves and books just became too overwhelming. i read poetry before getting lost in the stacks, but i might have learned to love poetry in the stacks. i learned to love what i found, not necessarily what i was looking for. and what i found there, accidentally, was the poetry no one had told me about.

a few weeks ago, i finally finished filling out my new faculty paperwork, rearranging the furniture in my office to some suitable assemblage, copying the poems i want my students to take home and put in their heads, etc etc and decided it was time to tackle the library. i made 2 trips and brought home 22 books, 17 the first time, 5 the second (i was really supposed to be attending a faculty meeting on the 4th floor, so i had limited search time). i used my old methods, barring a few specific wants. among my happy accidents was lure, by nils michals.

when i sat on my couch and opened this book for the first time, i read it with the intention to scan, find whether it was worthy of a slow long read, or whether i should put it down for later when i could leap from page to page and find a few favorite lines. i read the book cover to cover. i was immediately intrigued by the language. my heart fluttered. yes, that's a cliche. but cliches are such because they are often true, and this book pulled my heart a little closer to my throat, giving my chest that feeling that it is simultaneously brimming and yet experiencing a thorough emptiness, a well between these two feelings, a surge, an oscillation of loss and gain, all at the same time.

i've been wanting to write an entry for lure from the first reading, but have been caught up in my own pull between loss and gain. because of my own struggle to go out into the world that expects me each day, i think lure has been a particularly important book to me. there have been moments when i am not so invested in the world, and so i cleave to anything that makes me feel anchored in the world, especially the natural world. i find, also, that i have an intolerance for the tender, the beautiful, unless it is somehow tempered with a petulant mettle. michals' natural world is this, tempered with mettle, and yet, as easy as the underside of a leaf. and so, i will ask you to read this without talk about the work line for line. i will not offer you my own similies and metaphors to recapitulate what michals does all too well. but i will give you this opening poem:

What comes off the sea recalls nothing
of loving a world and for those with eyes
wishing something other than what is seen
it says: listen.
Comes off the sea and does not care, says accept
there may or may not be a hand
in this: a taste of spray,
salt, some origin no longer
encompassing us with calm, says
you are on your own now.
And the shy-grown citizens. City of harbors.
What comes off the sea has tinned the sea
wide and for miles like wheat blown one direction.
Off the sea, the distance it has glassed
faltering, comes near to ask
Who are you, and after you answer,
just sea, air,
nowhere in the giftbearing world a voice
having said salt, water
and in not saying, not a thing we may call quiet,
no voice having sung.

this book is not simply a collection of poems, it is a study. it is a project. it is a well knitted sweater whose intricacies are often obscuredd by a lush surface. there is so much here, so much. go find this book. go now.