Sorry I’ve been slow to post, but I will bring myself up to date here.
– Just Saying, by Rae Armantraut (2013). Wesleyan University Press.
Language poetry is just fascinating to me, and Armantrout is one of the greats. Anybody who has taken Al Filreis’s course in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry is familiar with her.
I read this collection of 67 poems poolside (actually, in the pool) at a hotel in Myrtle Beach. It demands a closer reading than one can give under such conditions! I chose instead to simply let the poems take me where they will. The close read will come later.
I found the tone of some of the poems reminded me of the tone of translations of books such as the Tao Te Ching or old Japanese Zen texts, but with deliberate confusions created by the constant morphing of voices. The effct is hallucinatory, psychedelic- right in the wheelhouse of the tradition of the Language poets.
I enjoyed the effect very much and marvelled at her ability to create this kind of poetry. I also fell into the trap, as an aspiring writer, to try to reverse engineer the work and try to ascertain her process, to understand how she came up with what she did. That effort felt like trying to break down a brick wall with my head! (I’ve noticed the same with other Language poets, most notably for me The Alphabet by Ron Silliman). It took effort not to feel stupid because I couldn’t understand her process; I simply had to accept that Armantrout is a genius and is one of the best at what she does.
– X Marks the Dress: A Registry, by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess. (2014). Gold Wake Press.
This book was a gift from Al Filreis and the Kelly Writers House, and I must say I am very grateful for this, because I would almost certainly not have found this book otherwise.
I’m not prone to hyperbole but this is one of the most fascinating, fun books I have ever read. I must confess I was puzzled at first why this book was chosen for me- but the answer was obvious within the first few pages.
I don’t want to say too much about this book, as there is a huge potential for spoilers. Let me suffice to say that the book is an unconventional (For Modpo veterans, read “Chapter 9” here) narrative about a marriage facing certain challenges. The structure holding the main narrative together is a list of wedding gifts- one prose poem for each gift. But one asks when reading each poem: whose voice is this?
The book is a brilliant parody challenging the traditions of weddings and marriage, gender roles, sexual identity, heteronormativity, and other themes. It’s a quick read and I highly recommend it.
– Q.E.D., by Gertrude Stein (1903).
I must confess, I’m only halfway through. It’s not a long book, but I may not make it all the way through. I love the Stein of Tender Buttons, which made me want to go back and read her early work to see how she became the writer she did.
Apparently (I am no scholar, I resort to Wikipedia!) this was her first novel, and it was not published until after her death.
The book is the story of the interrelationships among three young women, who share friendship and romantic entanglements.
I don’t know but I imagine in 1903 the subject matter would have been quite shocking, but I find it difficult to place oneself in that mindset from a 21st century perspective. I have to keep reminding myself that she is not writing in a United States that just legalized gay marriage throughout the country- she is not writing in a country where the White House is lit in rainbow colors. (The more I think about that, the sadder I am for her).
What’s missing for me is the adventurous creativity of language we would later see in Tender Buttons and other works. Here the prose is actually rather conventional and dry, and at times difficult to follow. I keep getting lost who’s speaking to whom. Maybe that’s on me, but it may also reflect problems with the writing- in Q.E.D. she is clearly not the great writer she will become, and knowing that, I can’t help but find this book a bit disappointing. Fans of Stein curious about her early work may enjoy this book, but Q.E.D. is otherwise tough going.