The New Testament by Jericho Brown
Without resorting to hyperbole, Jericho Brown is one of my favorite contemporary poets and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. He has won multiple awards, and his poetry has shown up in anthologies, magazines and other literary avenues. With that said, this is only his second book to be issued. Jericho Brown is a must read for anyone with questions and anyone who seeks out the trivialities and great importance that are held with "identities." Let's also say that this cover image is a great capture of what Jericho Brown is about, it is sensual and yet tough, an image filled with questions and lacking definitive answers.
Starting off with a James Baldwin quote he moves on to Poem 1 of Part 1 of The New Testament "Colosseum" stating "I don't remember how I hurt myself/the pain mine/Long enough for me/To lose the wound that invented it/As none of us knows the beauty/Of our own eyes/Until a man tells us they are/Why God made brown." Psalm after psalm, verse after verse, Brown works to redeem our lives as we are, throwing his own lightning bolts down from the heavens to jilt us into believing in his words and how they seek to comfort ourselves and confront ourselves. He dares to take on police abuse, neighbors that refuse to say hi, homophobia, the past and the present. He nods his head to Langston Hughes who gets his own title, "Langston's Blues." This all feels natural in Jericho Brown's re-imagining of religion.
"Another Elegy" confronts the past, which is ever spiraling down. "Always be closing,/Said our favorite professor before/He let the gun go off in his mouth./I turned 29 the way any man turns /In his sleep, unaware of the earth/Moving beneath him, its plates in/Their places, a dated disagreement."
All the while, Brown continues to dismantle the systems which keep us apart, and transcends the locale. He might have Shreveport in his heart, but he is too aware of the problems in the world that settle there. He serves god as love, and he serves the lovers in his life, as he serves us all through his words. Though, his words strike hard, and make us afraid of reality, and make us recognize how we shy away from conflict, they also strengthen us and provide confidence to continue on in this world, full of conflict, and yet full of mesmerizing wonder.
"In the film we keep watching, Nina takes Darius to a steppers ball.
Lovers hustle, slide, and dip as if none of them has a brother in prison."
Jericho is preaching here race relations, all while being a critical theorist, a film studies major and a poet at his best. He continues:
"I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.
A book full of white characters examines insanity—but never in prison."
Jericho's gospel is one I will be praising and returning to, he shouts to the Holy Ghost who is the people all around, and he knows how to preach a fiery medium. He is honest, candid and writes with sincerity of belief in his words. What more can you ask of The New Testament?
War of the Foxes by Richard Siken
Another second release for Copper Canyon, comes with Richard Siken, a Yale Series of Young War of the Foxes divulges in the simple to expand on the more difficult. Siken paints, a term he frequents, words onto the page and we are left with a whole work of art to consider, both individual and as a whole, forcing us to meditate structure, resonance and relation. Is Siken musing on the truth of the world, or trying to find his own peace. He does not speak in superlatives, or grandiose language which only allows for his poetry to flow steady, not seeking to show off, but rather seeking to impress. Words float around from poem to poem, subtly making the impression that there is an understanding to all of these poems, if you seek. Being doomed, being wrong, being clever, being a ghost, being surprised, searching are just some of the many ways we are living our lives and just some of the ways Siken represents what life is. I hesitate to call Siken a poet that seeks to bring joy, but the opposite would not be that he seeks to bring doom or death, merely he continues in trying to bring.
After reading this, one gets the notion that Siken has his hands in other artistic endeavors, and he is constantly referencing painting, purpose and nature.
We are brought into Siken's mind, Siken the poet, Siken the painter, Siken the questioner. Siken is asking us "Why build a room you can live in? Why build a shed for your fears? The life of the body is a nightmare." Yet, we seek to share our answers, with only ourselves. He goes on, "This is my hand over his face, which isn't his face anymore, revising. I made a shape of the shape he made, subtracted what he shared with anyone else." We are only left, merely reduced to the idea of life as a vision, and a revision.
Siken's world is one where the moon is fractured to be buried, and where ghosts asks questions, a world constantly asking questions seeking more, and dissatisfied when we do not get what we want, but what is it that we truly want, Siken surmises. The penultimate poem is a lullaby followed by the concluding poem "The Painting that Includes all Paintings" which only begs the question that Siken seeks to ask and re-ask, where does all of our Truths lead?
The Feel Trio by Fred Moten
My first introduction to Fred Moten was a gift to me by a friend and was the complete opposite of poetry. Thus I was surprised to see, and little did I know, that Fred Moten is a poet as well, and Letter Press Editions has brought us his newest and National Book Award Finalist book, The Feel Trio. Unsurprised I am, to know it deals with jazz, and the black aesthetics within a modern day capturing by the author.
Fred Moten treats poetry as a history lesson, one to jump in and get involved with. He transforms poetry into music, and makes you read to the beat. He also jams it full of emotion and power, constantly making you read without any set notion of where he will be going. Moten drops names and references, but does not do so in a way that tries to garner respect and admiration for his knowledge, but to continue to acknowledge and explore, to help invigorate his knowledge into the minds of the reader.
"that's how fluxhall west got started, in head start. guerillas measured rhythm cloth for horus, dwight trible sang without a song" Fluxhall West or Fluxus being the multi-media international conglomeration of avant-garde artists, Dwight Trible being a legendary jazz singer who sang with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders. Of course, Moten works his poetry so that these conceptual ideas and people are put into the power of his two lines of poetry.
At times Moten veers off into three different voices on a page, and this is where he replicates the trio that he is bringing to life. They are a whole, bringing a unified message, and at certain times each voice will wax poetic on their understanding of the world.
"Communism is how you get nasty with enjoyment. good morning/is the new catastrophe of our boulevard. so you gave up what you/ never had and now you're a collection agency."
"we give shit away to hurt people and build poor shelters that move/and wrap around/we love to hold the continual failure in one another"
On page 27 Moten states "the way orchestra sound in birmingham/that's my sound. I belong to that sound/all the time, everyday. how bound am I by music!" and continues to pick up later "but you have to wait for the sound of the/theory of sound and fold it between/hands and presence in the upper room like folded/a folded dream." This is what we are presented with throughout the whole of the book, Moten's theory of music and its perpetuation of life and the power held in verse: "put fertile culture and unguarded/sediment from an island dairy/in a mixer with some stock arrangements from the extra pieces. call it the fugitive slave act."
and page 83: "the diluted/ gravity of edward witten ran but still and held but fly/like in the curly curve of never starting or stay with/her repeating to go where cities burn each other/quietly."
He creates a stunning collection that is sure to make your eyes flow with rhythm. A must check out, Moten stands strong in his theory and creative flow. "this is/my teacher's blue black portrait, turned away when the jam is paused, in depth and pitch to ornament my cell."
"I call the other one beauty in sets to mark how you blow/rings through"
This Blue Novel by Valerie Mejer Caso
As Raúl Zurita states in his introduction, "I knew nothing of her book, and hardly an hour later, closing it, my life was another."
From the first line "Yesterday, I traced the line I'll cross tomorrow." to the last line, Mejer talks in the "I", the "this", yet creates a universality.
This Blue Novel is an intriguing look at the moment contained within poetry, rather than relying on what is happening on the outside. It is a look at how poetry can create and define its own history, through weaving poetics and history together. In this book, Mejer blends this with autobiographical past, to create a unique space of relation. She creates a space, of copying and of change.
"On a stairway wall the portrait/of Dona Isabel de Porcel bore witness to the Fall./As if God we a lady,/mute observer in long gloves." and further down "Maybe this God glances at the copy/with two skirmishing cats/and startles at their bristling fur."
Mejer Caso focuses a lot on the idea of copy, of change and of meaning, through language, through history, through our knowledge and forces us to expose our own selves to reconcile mirror images and differences.
"To save Snow White, the hunter lied/and handed over the heart of a wild boar./That lie is language./That lie is this blue novel."
"You'll ask me, then how will I ascend?/and I'll console you with that story about starting at a fixed point/while I transcribe, into a legible language, smoke signals,/and with that act, the fundamental will filter,/irremediably, through cracks in the page."
Accompanied by 8 black and white photos, and a beautiful cover and back, we are reading 26 poems and a postscript, which seek to show, this is not merely poetry, but a story, and that Mejer Caso seeks to connect this bridge, not just poetry as an emotional outlet, but a way to tell a story, whether in the underlying narrative or in the breaths that are not spoken.
"Dates are clean daggers/that pen a foreign language." Mejer Caso states and we know, we are all but held up to a certain destiny, God or none, that life is going to continue and all of our lives build their own stories.
The first line of the postscript truly captures the work at hand, "History enters with the image." and with this image Valerie Mejer Caso has changed how we can perceive historical texts, poetry and philosophy. She changes the dynamics of the word and the image, showing how they both are necessary for conjuring up a story and place.
Diana's Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, with an introduction by Octavio Paz and translated by Yvette Siegert, is a rare treat in the world of poetry. In and of itself, Diana's tree are brief philosophical lamentations and conversations with the reader. Amongst each other, they are the branches of Diana's Tree, known as the philosopher's tree because of its alchemy and mineral essence in the tree itself and as stated in the notes at the end, Diana's Tree "a kind of tree which throwing out branches will represent natural vegetation." And as Yvette Siegert shows us, with a little bit of research on this tree, you find that Diana was the term used for silver, and as such Argentina's root is derived from the word silver, Argentina also being the place Pizarnik was from.
Knowing a bit about Pizarnik's background, enhances the poems. She was a daughter of Jewish immigrants, a painter, an expat of Argentina to Paris, and hung around with many other names like Cortazar, Paz and Chacel, and in 1972 committed suicide. In this way, we can look at the thirty eight verses Pizarnik contemplates as a composition of her own tree, in which she is the poet alchemist yearning as all alchemists do, for the perfect combination, to make perfect and concise a knowledge, while pushing forward.
you have built your house
you have feathered your birds
you have beaten against the wind
with your own bones
you have finished on your own
what no on started
An illuminated memory, a gallery haunted by
the shadow of what I wait for.
It's not true that it will come. It's not true that it won't.
I've been born so much
and suffered twice as much
in the memories of the here and there
This is an important piece of poetry and as such, much be sought out alongside Pizarnik's others works.
As the title suggests, this work of poetry, is about interventions in writing, in speaking, in listening. We are intervening in our reading and those of us who read this in English are reading through another intervention and response put forth by the translator Jen Hofer. Even within this structure of intervening we get pieces of poetry from Hector Viel Temperley, an Argentine poet, whose words are clearly reaching audiences past his death in 1987 and Jose Marti, Cuban
Inside the text, we are yelled at, we are whispered to, told secrets, given orders and guided towards a new view in which we are left wondering where to go next. We are reading poems that sometimes have a structure and other times are building themselves as they leaving us on the tips of authorial intent.
"I am only my country
I'M GOING TO INTERVENE IN YOU
UNTIL I DIE
Books hurt me
because I don't know how to cry
We have to kill the book
and put it in the museum"
Later on page 107:
"I am not a dove. I am not a flag. I am still living. Hate gives us hope: the sign could be fletting. When I approach your history my writing bursts. This morning no one can be a flower."
"Danger is crossing a street with a flag rippling
No a sculpture drawing your name"
"For a time my task was to dig because I believed devotedly that something awaited me under the earth. All I found was trash. Trash."
What Dorantes and Sanchez do, is create an arsenal of voices, that are being hurled at us on the page, whether shouted, whispered, passing by, etc. In doing so, they are intervening our lives, they are creating an action poem that is constantly changing and taking place every time it is opened. The different verses here connect at many different times, and though they also form a creative body, they also force a reconciliation with poetry, the kind that makes you emotionally yearn for multiple moments.