So here's what I'm thinking: presumably we don't all just read the latest poetry books when they come out like some kind of marketing brigade, so I'm going to just share with you what I'm reading at the moment, some of which is not new.
Tom Mandel, Prospect of Release (Chax Press)
Ostensibly a submerged narrative about a parent's death with the self removed -- a book-length meditation on death and otherness. There seem to be a lot of phenomenological or theoretical references here that I'm not quite sure I'm getting. Otherwise, the quality I'm most fond of in this book is the slipperiness of syntax accomplished through an odd threading-together of abstractions:
an envelope does not free us from its
message, who shoulder manifold traces
to live on, bound to each other
in new ways, as we were and now are,
living bound to the dead and each other."
"Easy to tell of, as daylight is to tell
from darkness, tragedy studies us."
The commas here play multiple roles, acting as markers which intentionally confuse and mutliply meanings. A given phrase could be a subclause, or it could be the second half of the sentence and a new thought entirely. I see a bit of this in Beverly Dahlen's work, as well, and I like this quality a great deal, these elusive sentences, if they are sentences.
These poems are full of instructions: the speech act is often a cross between something that feels like a warning/curse and an admonishment by Miss Manners: "Do not... Do not..." There is a sense in these moments that the poet is talking both to himself and to the reader (and it is explicitly the reader here -- we are dealing very much with an awareness of textuality). Also, a sense of instruction and a slightly bossier than zen rhetoric.
Everything I've discussed so far appears in this rather synecdochic passage:
"Do not comment on a fragment
of competence, nor write of my words
their luminous restraint, streaked
with black devices, mantling prey."
There's an effort in this book to remove the self so much that it seems pretty extreme sometimes, as if the self were a bonsai tree twisted into an unobtrusive position on purpose.
I'm particularly interested in the fact that what would otherwise be Longfellow-like truisms actually work pretty well here: "To give comfort wages war." I think he gets away with it because these truisms are neither uplifting nor comforting, because we as readers don't quite want them to be true.
Alice Notley, Waltzing Matilda (Faux Press)
Sprawling, the opposite of the bonsai-tree effect. Chatty, frenetic, deceptively absentminded. It feels weird to try to humorlessly "analyze" these poems, not just because this book's a classic but also because that's probably not the way these particular poems are meant to be read. As brilliant as this work is in spots, there's a machine, Notley's manner of writing motherhood through an O'Hara-like movement staging her own persona in the midst of her life, the way her mind moves stream-of consciousness, solved for via the introduction of dream scenarios which allow for a slightly bewildering but real density.
"A silver cylindrical aircraft that I knew was the
Martians because it could lower & raise itself
Absolutely vertically, so I ran into Marion who was rushing
Along looking happy Wait I said there's the Martians
& I ran over by the bandshell & grabbed the kids"
This type of approach is especially moving when she's trying to wrap her mind around juggling several social roles, and thus several voices:
""Get under the covers honey. Okay? 'kay.
Real-life juxtapositions are the most tasteless. 'Cuz
Pretty soon I'm gonna take your temperature again & then
Back at the text she was naked. She was naked & in her hair,
positioned enticingly on the table amongst his pile of
I'm thinking that I like the writing at this stage the most when there's some distance, when it's a definite persona or when it lets in other voices as in that last example, in the letters from Anonymous to Advisor and vice versa, or in the case of the talking Tompkins Square Park which sings (to itself?) "Some of me falls down on me / in pieces and rustles some of me" in a polymorphously perverse but tender scenario. There's a beautiful poem here after I assume the death of John Lennon which excercises a really amazing tough-guy restraint over pathos and is as a result very moving: "All I can say it's too pretty damned / bad." or "That guy was in our life." I think my favorite pieces here are the weird prose collages that feel consistently chatty, fretful, and histrionic where one gets the impresson that several different scenes are spliced together in a way that creates a vaguely cubist effect:
"Probably that's the only beauty you can have anyway. The kids got better yep. Generally you like to believe that people behave in other ways on such occasions. During the readings man it was so super. So I mean you know. I don't know where they came up with the figure. I do have it but putting it right next to my bed here. Right.. That's the stuff that sticks into you. I fought for the south in that one..."
One of the most powerful poems here that I think leavens the "who, me?" O'Hara quality with a more severe sense of limit or sadness is the Blanche du Bois chorus of dying flowers at the end of the "Bouquet of Dark Red Mums":
6th flower: 35 petals have fallen on me
and I still have 35 more!
7th Flower: My hair's a mess!
8th Flower: Pray walk softly, do not heat my blood!
9th Flower: I hate everything, even my cocaine.