Category: Poetry

Darling

Chelsey Minnis for Granta
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From Chelsey Minnis’s poem ‘Darling’, featured in Granta 143: After the Fact:

Oh, it’s you.
I never could resist anything that belonged to someone else.
I suppose you feel the same.
That’s a very promising black eye.
If you want one, fix it yourself.

 

You wear a big, gold belt buckle with your name on it.
Now, I really like your eyes when they look at me with that look.
The one that is so fair-minded.
It’s dangerous like a very powerful doorbell.
Or a portrait covered with a blanket.

 

You didn’t lock your door.
You never were very particular about your associations.
Does it give you a lovely guilty feeling?
To me you’re a national disgrace.
Please act accordingly.

 

I didn’t hit you very hard.
It all depends what you want out of life.
Never mind talking.
I know I’m a bad woman.
I think you’ll find it to our mutual benefit.

 

Sure, I’m decent.
I’ll have to try that sometime.
Don’t shout, darling. I’m not used to it.
I need my hand back now.
When I don’t like something, I give it back.

 

 (…)

 

A Poet of the Archives: On Susan Howe

Emily LaBarge for Bookforum
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Emily LaBarge on Susan Howe’s Depths for Bookforum:

“Only art works are capable of transmitting chthonic echo-signals,” writes Susan Howe in the foreword to her new collection, Debths, inspired in part by the Whitney’s 2011 retrospective of American artist Paul Thek.

I have always been interested in folktales, magic, lost languages, riddles, coincidence, and missed connections. What struck me most was the way [Thek’s] later works, often painted swatches of color spread across sheets of newspaper with single words, phrases, or letters scribbled over the already doubled surface, transformed these so-called “art objects,” into the epiphanies, riddles, spells and magical thinking I experienced one afternoon in the old Whitney Marcel Breuer building.

Howe has long been interested in distilling signs and symbols, whether “art objects” or words themselves, into something more revelatory. Considering riddles, lost languages, doubled surfaces, spells, magical thinking, and other elusive forms of expression, Howe sounds the depths. She detects the chthonic—meaning “underworld”—echo signals reflecting off all that dwells beneath the surface. Howe’s work considers the ways in which deep histories collide and overlap in fathomless strata, replete with gaps and fissures where obscure knowledge may be found.

The poet has referred to herself as a “library cormorant,” a phrase borrowed from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote, “I am deep in all out of the way books, whether of the monkish times, or of the puritanical era.”For Howe, who studied Fine Art at the Boston Museum School and arrived at literature from a non-academic background, libraries and their special collections are “Lethean tributaries of lost sentiments and found philosophies” in which one can feel “the telepathic solicitation of innumerable phantoms.” Lethean is a word of the chthonic family—Greek in origin and related to the afterlife—a reference to the river Lethe in Hades, whose water would cause dead souls to forget their lives on earth. Lethean forgetfulness is oblivion—the complete erasure of an entire world.

Howe’s use of language is particular and idiosyncratic. It snakes and branches through shared etymologies and thematic resemblances. In this Lethean quotation run two strands that are evident across the poet’s oeuvre: the material and the metaphysical. On the one hand, the notion that there are real, material histories that have been overlooked and overwritten, and that, through a sustained encounter with a primary source, one can unlock these narratives and find evidence of a lost world. On the other hand, the sense that there is another place entirely—felt but unseen and unheard—that reading and writing usher us toward. There, we might find another language entirely, one that relies on alternative approaches to making meaning and associations, and is attuned to the logic of the imaginary that eddies beneath the surface of the world we think we know. In Howe’s work, there is the sense that a written document is also an image whose inscriptions can be interpreted beyond the literal sphere. To read and to write is to make and unmake a riddle—to conjure, to speak in tongues.

Howe is a poet of the archives. She perceives and investigates the stutters and absences in the historical record, particularly in the literary artifacts we have deemed worthy to attend to and preserve. “When we move through the positivism of literary canons and master narratives,” she writes in The Birth-mark, her astonishing and incisive 1993 study of early American literature, “we consign ourselves to the legitimation of power, chains of inertia, an apparatus of capture.” In the history of literature, she asks, who and what remains unquantified? What experiences and uses of language have been deemed inexpressible or invalid? Is there another kind of sense, a different mode of narrative, buried within seemingly innocuous documents?

If you are a woman, archives hold perpetual ironies. Because the gaps and silences are where you find yourself. . . . “The stutter is the plot.” It’s the stutter in American literature that interests me. I hear the stutter as a sounding of uncertainty. What is silenced or not quite silenced. All the broken dreams.

In Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives (2014), a slim volume that traces how a series of documents linked by geographic place speak to each other and reflect interwoven histories, Howe writes of the “deep” text that emerges from beneath the surface of archival materials. The deep text could be read as the secret, esoteric meaning of a document, which can be apprehended in its language, as well as in haphazard markings across the page. The deep text could also be read as central to much of Howe’s own work and writerly methodologies. Moving deftly between literary criticism, historical analysis, essay, text collage, and poetry, Howe conjoins forms, one aspect of exegesis shifting seamlessly into the next. In each case, her method is not to weave together references and arguments, but to place them in proximity: connections are implied or left for the reader to cast; a text is not a straight line, but a web. This is a poetic method that urges the reader backward to the originary source of the text rather than forward toward a delimited meaning. In other words, Howe does not uncover what a text “means,” but instead asks: Where did it come from? What shared sources and affinities? What wild, untrammelled force?

(…)

Pasadena Ode (for my mother)

Sharon Olds in the LA Review of Books
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A new poem by Sharon Olds, ‘Pasadena Ode’, featured in the LARB’s Comedy issue.

(for my mother)

When I drove into your home town,
for the first time, a big pine-cone
hurtled down in front of the hood!
I parked and retrieved it, the stomen tip
green and wet.  An hour later,
I realized that you had never once
thrown anything at me.  And, as days
passed, the Ponderosa oval
opened, its bracts stretched apart,
and their pairs of wings on top dried
and lifted.  Thank you for every spoon,
and fork, and knife, and saucer, and cup.
Thank you for keeping the air between us
kempt, empty, aeolian.
Never a stick, or a perfume bottle,
or pinking shears — as if you were saving 
an inheritance of untainted objects
to pass down to me.  You know why I’m still
writing you, don’t you.  I miss you unspeakably,
as I have since nine months after I was born,
when you first threw something at me while keeping
hold of it — then threw it again,
and again and again — when you can throw the same thing
over and over, it’s as if you have
a magic power, an always replenishable
instrument.  Of course if you had let
go of the big beaver-tail hairbrush —
if it had been aimed at my head — I would have
had it!  I’m letting you have it, here,
casting a line out, to catch you, then
coming back, then casting one out,
to bind you to me, flinging this flurry of
make-a-wish milkweed.

Love Poems for the Border Patrol

Amitava Kumar for the New Yorker
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For the New Yorker, Amitava Kumar considers the sense of alienation and loss felt after immigrating from India to the US, the ‘self-conscious construction of an immigrant self’, and of finding refuge and clarity in writing.

(…)

After ten or fifteen years [in the US], the confusion and loss had been replaced by a self-conscious construction of an immigrant self. I’m calling it a construction because it was an aesthetic and a textual idea. I was taking pictures of immigrant life; I was reporting on novels and nonfiction about immigrants; my own words were an edited record of what I was reading. An eclectic mix of writers: Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, June Jordan, Jamaica Kincaid, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, Marguerite Duras, Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Reagan was still President when I came to the U.S. The Iran-Contra hearings were my introduction to televised spectacle. Gap-toothed Ollie North and his proclamations of innocence, the volume of hair on his secretary Fawn Hall, reports I read of Reagan declaring, “I am a Contra.” I had consumed all of this as an innocent—and by writing poems I began issuing my declarations of independence.

Recently, I was reading the lectures that the novelist James Salter delivered at age ninety, at the University of Virginia, shortly before his death. In one of them, he quoted the French writer and critic Paul Léautaud, who wrote, “Your language is your country.” Salter added, “I’ve thought about it a great deal, and I may have it backwards—your country is your language. In either case it has a simple meaning. Either that your true country is not geographical but lingual, or that you are really living in a language, presumably your mother tongue.” When I read those words, I thought of my grandmother, who died a few years after I came to America. She was the only person to whom I wrote letters in my mother tongue, Hindi. On pale blue aerograms, I sent her reports of my new life in an alien land. Although she could sign her own name, my grandmother was otherwise illiterate and would ask the man who brought her the mail in the village or a passing schoolchild to read her the words I had written. And when my grandmother died, I had no reason to write in Hindi again. Now it is a language that I use only in conversations, either on the phone, with my friends and relatives in India, or, on occasion, when I get into cabs in New York City.

At another point in his lectures, Salter told his audience that “style is the entire writer.” He said, “You can be said to have a style when a reader, after reading several lines or part of a page, can recognize who the writer is.” There you have it, another definition of home. In novels such as “A Sport and a Pastime” and “Light Years,” the sentences have a particular air, and the light slants through them in a way that announces Salter’s presence. All the writers I admire, each different from the other, erect structures that offer refuge. Consider Claudia Rankine. You are reading her description of a woman’s visit to a new therapist. The woman has arrived at the door, which is locked. She rings the bell. The therapist opens the door and yells, “Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?” The woman replies that she has an appointment. A pause. Then an apology that confirms that what just happened actually happened. If you have been left trembling by someone yelling racist epithets at you, Rankine’s detached, near-forensic writing provides you the comfort of clarity that the confusion of the therapist in the poem does not.

Thirty years have passed since I left India. I have continued to write journalism about the country of my birth. This has allowed me to cure, to some degree, the malady of distance. I’ve reflected a great deal on the literature that is suited to describing the conditions in the country of my birth. But I have also known for long that I no longer belonged there.

I haven’t reported in grand detail on rituals of American life, road journeys or malls or the death of steel-manufacturing towns. I think this is because I feel a degree of alienation that I cannot combat. I’ve immersed myself in reading more and more of American literature, but no editor has asked me to comment on Jonathan Franzen or Jennifer Egan. It is assumed I’m an expert on writers who need a little less suntan lotion at the beach. I don’t care. Removed from any intimate connection to a community or the long association with a single locale, my engagement with literature is now focussed on style. Do my sentences reveal once again the voice of the outsider, a mere observer?

In a cemetery that is only a few miles away from my home, in the Hudson Valley, is the gravestone of an Indian woman. The inscription reads, “Anandabai Joshee M.D. 1865-1887 First Brahmin Woman to Leave India to Obtain an Education.” Joshee was nine when she was married to a twenty-nine-year-old postal clerk in Maharashtra, and twenty-one when she received a medical degree in Pennsylvania. A few months later, following her return to India, she died, of tuberculosis, at the age of twenty-two. Her ashes were sent to the woman who had been her benefactor in the U.S., and that is how Joshee’s ashes found a place in Poughkeepsie. I’m aware that, when she died, Joshee was younger than I was when I left India for America. Involved in medical studies, and living in a world that must have felt immeasurably more distant than it does now, she probably didn’t have time to write poems or worry about style. I recently read that last year a crater on the planet Venus was named after her. It made me think that brave Anandabai Joshee now has a home that none of us will ever reach.

The Epic, Neglected Vision of Joan Murray

Farnoosh Fathi for The Paris Review
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In this piece for The Paris Review – adapted from her introduction to a new collection of Joan Murray’s poems – Farnoosh Fathi asks how Murray’s poems have remained in obscurity.

“What truth, what mystical awareness can be lived,” Joan Murray wrote in a letter to her mother. Like the young Rimbaud, Murray intended to make herself a seer—what she calls, among other figures, the “Unemployed or universal Architect.” She became this architect-seer not, as Rimbaud proposed, by a total derangement of the senses but by building “the firm reality of a consciousness, consciousness in the never-ending, the great wideness that one must blend withal.” Like Emily Dickinson and Laura Riding before her, Murray belongs to a radical arc of American metaphysical women poets, most of whom still remain unsung. Her untimely death from a congenital heart condition in 1942, at age twenty-four, marked the loss of an extraordinary poet; yet Murray’s poems recalibrate the notion of a life’s work. The tragic facts only underscore the epic achievement of her vision.

Five years after her death, out of the blue woodwork of 1947, her first book of poetry was published as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition with the title Poems by Joan Murray: 1917–1942. W. H. Auden, who had been dissatisfied with the manuscripts he had received as a first-year judge, had reached out to Murray’s mother to inquire about the possibility of publishing her daughter’s work posthumously for the prize. Murray had been a student in Auden’s Poetry and Culture course at the New School in 1940, and her mother countered Auden’s invitation with the accusation that he had killed her daughter by inspiring her “poetry fever.” But she was devoted to her daughter’s work and eager to see it published, so agreed to the Yale edition with the condition that her friend Grant Code—a poet, Harvard lecturer, and dance and theater critic—edit the collection.

While Murray’s Poems received mostly laudatory reviews in Poetry, the Saturday Review, the New York Times Book Review, and The New Yorker, it soon fell into obscurity and remained out of print for more than fifty years. I first learned about the collection in 2006, thanks to the poet Shanna Compton, who posted an invaluable pdf of it on the PhillySound blog’s Neglectorino Project, a series on neglected writers started by the poet CAConrad. In a note to the pdf, Compton writes, “Despite the untimely death of the author, the flawed editorial work, and the fact that the book has been out of print for decades, Murray has managed to earn something of an underground reputation.” How was it possible that Murray’s poems—with their wild and unwavering authority, their singular metaphysics of a migratory American psyche, one unburdened by any formal or aesthetic “schooling” and the clearest evidence we’ve ever had of the visionary nature of youth, what George Eliot averred of the young Teresa of Ávila whose “passionate nature demanded an epic life” and who found her epos in poetry—how could these poems be so totally unknown?

(…)

 

I am dark, I am forest

Jennifer Givhan in Poetry Magazine
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Jennifer Givhan’s poem ‘I am dark, I am forest’, featured in this month’s Poetry Magazine.

After Rilke

I carried a bowl of menudo into the forest / I carried my bisabuela’s tripas not daring ask whose intestines I carried / con cilantro y radish y cebolla chopped fine / I carried the sewing machine they’d chained her to in the garment district downtown I carried the forest crackling against asphalt where her chanclas burnt & melted so I carried her too / I wore no red / I bore no basket / there was no forest but an avocado tree in the backyard of the house they made her sell to get her Medicare for her diabetes shots / I carried her sugarwater / a hummingbird great-granddaughter I carried her flickering / her black- 
& white-screened / I carried her face / the scars her warped esposo left her granddaughter / carried those wounds through the womb / not wolf but blue-eyed man / I stirred the menudo / my belly the pot / & scalding into the forest I carried / & that tree I chopped down chopped into a boat & carried my mother & my bisabuela across the chile-red sopa the blood-water broth / named her daughter / what forest have we made for her I cannot see / I carried darkness into the forest & sliced it out.

Dear Rose

Ocean Vuong for Harper's
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From Ocean Vuong’s new poem ‘Dear Rose’, featured in Harper’s with an introduction by Ben Lerner:

DEAR ROSE

if you’re reading this then you survived
my life into this one this one with
my name crossed out then found
halfway in your mouth if you’re reading this
then the bullet does not know you
yet but I know mom you can’t
read napalm fallen on your schoolhouse
at six & that was it they say

a word is only what it signifies
that’s how I know the arrow
-head in my back means
I’m beautiful a word like bullet
hovers in an amber afternoon on its way
to meaning the book opens like a door
but the only one you ever read
was a coffin its hinges swung

shut on lush descriptions
of a brother & the bullet still
the fastest finger pointing
to life I point to you to me to
-day a Thursday I took a long walk
alone it didn’t work kept stopping
to touch my shadow just in case
feeling is the only truth

I’m capable of & there down
there between thumb & forefinger
an ant racing in circles then zigzags
I wanted significance but think
it was just the load he was bearing
that unhinged him: another ant
curled & cold lifted on
his shoulders they looked like a set

of quotations missing speech it’s said
they can carry over 5,000x their mass
but it’s often bread crumbs
not brothers that get carried
home but maybe going too far
is to admit the day ends anywhere
but here no no mom this
is your name I say pointing

to Hong on the birth certificate thin
as dust Hong I say which means
rose I place your finger on a flower so
familiar it’s almost synthetic red
plastic petals dewed with glue I leave
it out of my poems I turn from
its face — clichéd oversized
head frayed at the edges

like something ruptured
by a bullet seeking language
a kind of person which is to say
I was born because you
were starving but how can anything
be found with only two hands
with only two hands you dumped
a garbage bag of anchovies into the glass jar

(…)

The Miscarriage

Dorothea Lasky’s new poem ‘The Miscarriage’, featured on Poets.org:

The doctor says it’s an empty room in there

And it is

A pale sack with no visitors
I have made it and surrounded it with my skin
To invite the baby in

But he did not enter
And dissolved himself into the sea so many moons ago

I wait to see
Will the giant bean be in there another day

The women of the world say
Work harder!

The men in the world say
Work harder!

I work and work but I am an empty sack
Until I bleed the food all over the floor

Then I am once again with everything
Until the gods say, you’ve done well, good sir
You may die now

And the people who were asking me for favors all along
Knock on the coffin door
But I am gone, gone

Best Book of 1996: The Lost Lunar Baedeker

Natalie Eilbert for Granta
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Natalie Eilbert on The Lost Lunar Baedeker: a collection of Mina Loy’s poems published in 1996.

There is a habit in poetry to call poets of a certain opacity, ‘difficult’. Poets like Mina Loy often get unfairly categorized this way, which only demonstrates the failure of imagination presided over by vogue trends in poetry. If you are looking for a narrative-lyric, follow the strain of Plath. Mina Loy is an entirely different descendent, a distillation of Dickinson, a rogue sibling of Apollinaire. It isn’t that she is difficult so much as our minds have been trained toward the center, and hence, more narrative throughlines. It is as Loy tells us in the first poem of her book, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ‘tame things / Have no immensity’.

With the transparency of first-person narrators up for furious debate, it should be noted that Loy’s biography is somewhat irresistible. Sure, she palled around with Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes and the usual Paris suspects. With Duchamp, she orgied in Greenwich Village, according to editor Roger L. Conover; she also renounced the establishment by sewing her own clothes and disrupting the Futurism movement’s fascist momentum with her own feminist futurist manifesto, and in so doing, predicted a Weinstein-era violence for the future women of the world who followed status quo: ‘Professional & commercial careers are opening for you—Is that all you want?’ And so, as World War I cooked up, Mina Loy spent her time queering the Lady out of the body, flipping off mainstream politics, and presenting us grounds to abandon society in favor of the Loy Feminist Manifesto.

That is before we even encounter her poetry. Loy as persona and Loy as post-mortem text operate with enormous distinction. Whereas Loy famously proclaimed, ‘I was never a poet’, Loy is someone I consider a Super Poet, one whose bewilderment grew equally out of sui generis language as much as cultural disavowal. While T.S. Eliot had his lines segmented and preened by Ezra Pound, Mina Loy freely deployed words like ‘semieffigy’, ‘sialagogue’ and ‘agamogenesis’ with the whim of an un-lanterned genie. (In fact, in a letter to Marianne Moore, Pound wrote, ‘Is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams], and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?’ Sorry about that, TS.) (Loy was English but her poetics make good prosaic sense when conceived of through the American canon.) It is in the selected work, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, that we chance to sit in the incubation chamber with Loy, if we dare.

It should be noted that in my back and forth with Granta editor Eleanor Chandler, part of the misfortunes of women in the arts reveals itself: It is hard to place editions and chronology with Loy’s collected and selected bodies of work. When Lunar Baedecker [sic] was published in its 1923 heyday in Paris, it existed only until it went out of print. As the editor terms it, her being ‘unassimilable by the canonists’ meant being fortressed into her era, as her work never cottoned to the zeitgeist. She ventured in our imagination more as a sorceress than a genius, as the mythopoetic experiment of woman is wont. Versions of the book have been republished as collected volumes in 1982 and 1991, but the editor of 1996’s The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Roger L. Conover, curated the poems in this volume with careful deliberation, changing the name to reflect his editorial quest for Mina Loy. On this point, he offers us some background into the publication history for us to chew through, ‘four minutes to the millennium’ that are still all-the-more poignant:

Loy has a chance to rise above neglect. But in order to read her, we not only have to get past neglect, we have to get past legend. And this may prove more difficult, for legend has a way of insinuating itself upon neglect. I first edited Loy’s work in 1982. At the time, publishing her work felt more like a cause than an editorial occasion. The Last Lunar Baedeker circulated like a secret handshake, and has since become part of the Loy myth . . . These stories should neither elevate nor diminish Loy’s stature as a poet. She should first be apprehended at poem-level.

The Lost Lunar Baedeker is divided into five sections – the first four are chronological of her life as a poet, and the fifth section is drenched in the kind of revolutionary prose that keeps a good radical from the middle. (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, another book I considered for this series, revolutionized the novel through her subversive, unorthodox structure.) Ensnared in this book, you encounter neologisms and Latinate medical components turned adjectival in use. ‘Being an incipience’, she writes in the winsome poem, ‘The Effectual Marriage, or THE INSIPID NARRATIVE of GINA AND MIOVANNI’,

a correlative
an instigation of the reaction of man
From the palpable to the transcendent
Mollescent irritant of his fantasy
Gina had her use   Being useful
contentedly conscious
She flowered in Empyrean
From which no well-mated woman ever returns.

It’s dizzying, dense and feminist as hell. She wrote this between 1914 and 1920. In ‘Apology of Genius’, she will tell us, on women suffering the passions of men, ‘Our wills are formed / by curious disciplines / beyond your laws.’

(…)

Beyond Lyric Shame: On Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson

Ben Lerner for Lit Hub
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For Lit Hub, Ben Lerner reconsiders prose poetry and the ‘lyric I’ through the works of Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson 

(…)

Language poetry’s notion of textual difficulty as a weapon in class warfare hasn’t aged well, but the force of its critique of what is typically referred to as “the lyric I” has endured in what Gillian White has recently called a diffuse and lingering “lyric shame”—a sense, now often uncritically assumed, that modes of writing and reading identified as lyric are embarrassingly egotistical and politically backward. White’s work seeks, among other things, to explore how “the ‘lyric’ tradition against which an avant-garde anti-lyricism has posited itself . . . never existed in the first place” and to reevaluate poems and poets often dismissed cursorily as instances of a bad lyric expressivity. She also seeks to refocus our attention on lyric as a reading practice, as a way of “projecting subjectivity onto poems,” emphasizing how debates about the status of lyric poetry are in fact organized around a “missing lyric object”: an ideal—that is, unreal—poem posited by the readerly assumptions of both defenders and detractors of lyric confessionalism.

It’s against the backdrop that I’m describing that I read important early 21st-century works by poets such as Juliana Spahr (This Connection of Everyone with Lungs), Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric and, very recently, Citizen: An American Lyric), and Maggie Nelson (Bluets). I mean that these very different writers have difficulty with the kind of difficulty celebrated by Language poets in particular and the historical avant-garde in general. Their books are purposefully accessible works that nevertheless seek to acknowledge the status of language as medium and the self as socially enmeshed. I read Rankine and Nelson’s works of prose poetry in particular as occupying the space where the no-longer-new sentence was; they are instances of a consciously post-avant-garde writing that refuses—without in any sense being simple—to advance formal difficulty as a mode of resistance, revolution, or pedagogy. I will also try to suggest how they operate knowingly within—but without succumbing to—a post–Language poetry environment of lyric shame or at the very least suspicion.

I call Rankine and Nelson’s books works of “prose poetry,” and they are certainly often taken up as such, but their generic status is by no means settled. Both writers—as with many Language poets—invite us to read prose as a form of poetry even as they trouble such distinctions. Rankine’s books are indexed as “Essay/Poetry” and Bluets is indexed as “Essay/Literature.” Bluets is published, however, by Wave Books, a publisher devoted entirely to poetry. Rankine’s two recent books are both subtitled “An American Lyric,” begging the question of how a generic marker traditionally understood as denoting short, musical, and expressive verse can be transposed into long, often tonally flat books written largely in prose. On an obvious but important level, I think the deployment of the sentence and paragraph under the sign of poetry, the book-length nature of the works in question, and the acknowledgment of the lyric as a problem (and central problematic) help situate these works in relation to the new sentence, even if that’s by no means the only way to read them.

Both Bluets and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely open with a mixture of detachment and emotional intensity that simultaneously evokes and complicates the status of the “lyric I.” In the first numbered paragraph of Bluets, quoted above, a language of impersonal philosophical skepticism—the “suppose,” the Tractatus-like numbering, the subjunctive—interacts with an emotional vocabulary and experiential detail. The italics also introduce the possibility of multiple voices, or at least two distinct temporalities of writing, undermining the assumption of univocality and spokenness conventionally associated with the lyric. “As though it were a confession”; “it became somehow personal”: two terms associated with lyric and its shame are both “spoken” and qualified at the outset of the book—a book that will go on to be powerfully confessional and personal indeed. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely opens with a related if distinct method of lyric evocation and complication, flatly describing what we might call the missing object of elegy:

There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? We asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.

(…)

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