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Preview: Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball



Book musings



Updated: 2017-11-08T05:19:32.998-08:00

 



Frank O’Hara’s Personal Poem

2017-11-07T00:25:01.478-08:00

Following is my third ModPo, essay, written on Frank O’Hara’s “Personal Poem” from his 1964 book Lunch Poems.  The full text of the poem, which is rather wonderful, can be found here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/personal-poemFrank O’Hara’s New York City is an absolute realm, an “urban world of fantasy” as Ashbery wrote in his introduction to O’Hara’s Collected Poems. Though “Personal Poem” seems spontaneous, the verisimilitude is constructed, pulling the reader into an imaginary present that feels real. There is serendipity here, as if the present tense could be continually refreshed through the artful innocence of the storyteller’s narrative. The poem’s title references O’Hara’s literary genre “Personism”, which imagines a conversation between two people, with an identifiable “I do this I do that” structure to mirror physical progression. The speaker invites the reader to walk with him during lunchtime in midtown Manhattan around 53rd Street, as referenced by The House of Seagrams. The “luminous humidity” evokes summer. Google Maps couldn’t give us a clearer sense of this world as we walk past buildings under construction and into Moriarty’s where the speaker is meeting LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) for lunch. The city is vividly evoked through action rather than imagery: “I get to Moriarty's”, “I shake hands with LeRoi…and go back to work”.Despite O’Hara’s claims that Personism doesn’t use literary techniques, many are at work here. The ‘names’ O’Hara drops through the poem are carefully chosen. The abstract expressionist painter Mike Kanemitsu’s coin becomes a charm for the poem, functioning as synecdoche for the abstract expressionist artworld that anchors the speaker “in New York against coercion” (coupled with a broken travel bag). The silver construction hats also function as synecdoche, representing a working life that the speaker is both part of and free from as a successful poet in New York: “we don’t want to be in the poets’ walk in/San Francisco even we just want to be rich/and walk on girders in our silver hats”.The meeting with the poet LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) is pivotal. Just stating the name LeRoi brings in an activist energy that speaks of Jazz and black rights, further enhanced by the reference to the clubbing of Miles Davis. Though the two meet in friendship and a literary congruence that feels luxurious, there is also a reminder here of O’Hara’s privilege and the sad political reality that separates the friends. O’Hara doesn’t have to fear clubbing by cops, while Baraka, like Davis, was beaten by cops a few years after this poem was published.The rhythm creates a circular narrative designed to feel colloquial, with a carefully constructed rolling pace through the inclusion of only two pauses – one stanza break (a red light crossing pause?), and a single comma in the second stanza.There is no other punctuation. The poem starts with “Now” and ends with “so”, a circular progression that loops back to the start, the action ending abruptly but not conclusively.The minimal punctuation combines with enjambment (“never brought me/much luck”) to create a breathless sense of fast walking, with lots of conjunctions (and, but, and so) to keep the poem in motion as it swirls past a constructed city, the politics of race and class, while touching on the nature of fame, death and immortality, working naturally from the personal to the universal in a way that feels like a recount but also reminds the reader, metapoetically, that they are the one person in eight million thinking of O'Hara.[...]



CR News is out for November

2017-11-02T03:45:25.994-07:00

Hello readers, I’m pleased to report that all issues of Compulsive Reader newsletter have been marked as “delivered”.  You should have your copy now.  If for some reason it got trapped in spamville, you can grab a copy in the archive here: Compulsive Reader News
(image)
This month we’ve got 10 great new books featured including Shriek by Davide A. Cotton, Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee, The Last Days of Jeanne D’Arc by Ali Alizadeh, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (and check out my interview with Jessica at Compulsive Reader Talks), interviews with Jane Owen, Monica Jephcott Thomas, Daniel Findlay, Pip Harry, and lots more, plus a roundup of the literary news, another great giveaway and plenty more. If you aren’t a subscriber, go now to http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up for free (upper right hand corner).




The single space of the present moment (Nantucket is for lovers)

2017-10-10T02:00:06.612-07:00

Here’s another essay from ModPo, this time on William Carlos Williams’ “Nantucket” - because I don’t post poetry essays here nearly enough.The poem can be read in its entirety here: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/nantucket/The most striking aspect of William Carlos Williams’ poem “Nantucket” is the lack of a poetic speaker. The poem is written entirely in present tense and moves like a camera across a fixed, silent tableau. We have a lyrical description of a room: flowers against the curtains, with sun shining in. There is no sign of human habitation but we know, by the readiness, the pitcher and tumbler, and the tidy presentation, that the room has been set up. We know it is late afternoon, and that the room is unoccupied (“immaculate”), private (the phallic, prone “key”) and that occupation is imminent. The images are crisp, richly coloured, concrete and very visual, with a strong sensuality conveyed by scent (“Smell of cleanliness”), sight (lavender, yellow, white), and feel (sunshine). This is a poem that presents a classic example of Imagism. There is no sentiment expressed. Williams’ language is economic and clear, focusing only on this single space of the present moment: a self-contained room. Most of the scene is set using nouns: flowers, curtains, sunshine, a glass of water, a key, a bed.In spite of the pristine nature of the poem’s imagery and the lack of a narrative, there is a dynamic quality to the work. A judicious use of transitive verbs: “changed”, “turned down”, “lying”, charge the nouns with a strong sensual quality, as if these items were readying themselves for something to follow, and contained by the clear space of the room with its obvious borders. There is a strong sense of distinction between the self-contained world inside the room (white on white), and outside of the room (colour on colour). Additional motion is conveyed by the use prepositional phrases like “through the”, “changed by”, “on the”, “by which” and “is lying” which give the nouns a sense of agency and connection, so that each one’s placement is part of the meaning of the other and exists only in conjunction with its precedent.The poem has a very consistent structure and rhythm, which also provides a motion that contrasts strongly with the static nature of the imagery. The five two line stanzas don’t rhyme but have a very regular syllabic pattern of 6/6, 6/5, 7/4, 7/4, 7/6, heighted by the way the syllables are accented, swapping between iambic and trochaic rhythm which also creates a kind of motion - like a dance between alternating stresses. You don’t need to read these stresses with overt iambic and trochaic patters, but the ghost of that rhythm keeps the work light and bouncy. Enjambment, particularly in the second half of the poem, and dashes are both used to introduce a sense of emotive progression as the reader’s eye moves down the page from the window to the bed, preceded by the dash and capitalised preposition “And the”, as if the bed were our destination, and the slow progression from window to bed was one of desire and consummation.[...]



Compulsive Reader Newsletter out for Oct

2017-10-02T04:41:58.536-07:00

Hello readers.  Our October newsletter has now gone out with the usual bevy of brand new reviews and interviews, a fantastic new giveaway, the full round-up of literary news, and lots more delivered free to your in-box.  If you haven’t received it yet, you can grab a copy here:
Compulsive Reader Archive
If you haven’t subscribed, just toddle over to http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up.

photo credit: marksmorton Biblio via photopin (license)



Emily again: Love reckons by itself — alone

2017-09-26T04:27:00.163-07:00

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know about my annual affair with UPenn’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course (“ModPo”) taught by the great Al Filreis. I’m on my sixth year.  This is no impersonal MOOC, though I share the course with some 30,000+ students, most of whom will return every year to re-engage with old and new poems, as the course is constantly changing, growing, and offering new ways to interact with both classic and very recent poetry and poets. The course runs for 10 weeks but remains open throughout the year with discussion groups, ongoing interpretations, regular ongoing meet ups and crowdsourced close readings, teacher and student resources and constantly good conversation.  The course always begins with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, effectively the mother and father of modernism - both representing separate stylistic poles that link and underpin all of the work that follows.  Nothing is mandatory, but I like to do the essays each year, especially as they’re always a little different.  And if you search the blog, you’ll see that I’ve posted each essay up here.  This week’s is a brief 500 word analysis of Emily Dickinson’s "Love reckons by itself--alone”.  Feel free to chime in with your own comments if you’re taken, or just read and enjoy the poem.  Poetry talk is always welcome.  *************Love reckons by itself — alone —"As large as I" — relate the SunTo One who never felt it blaze —Itself is all the like it has —As with many of Emily Dickinson’s poems, “Love reckons by itself – alone”, begins with an almost puritanical constriction, appearing to spiral inward and tighten, but with each reading the work becomes more expansive, inflationary, even explosive and sensual.  Even by Dickinson’s standards, this is a short poem of a single stanza, and appears, as her poems often do, to be a simple explication about the nature of Love’s grandeur and self-containment.  The closer you look, the less simple the poem becomes, each word informed and changed by the structural context, the Dickinsonian punctuation, the unusual rhythm where tradition and atonality work side-by-side, and the multiple meaning of each word.The poem begins with one of poetry’s most overused words, and Dickinson throws it straight out there - charging and distorting the word Love through personification, slant rhyme, and odd conjunctions undermining a saccharine sense of romantic love.  Dickinson’s Love with a capital L could be God, or the equal of God in sensuality, or could be the human imagination or Poetry, or our ability to empathise and move beyond our individual selves. Following the word with the verb ‘reckons” turns Love from an abstract idea into a self-referential character, recursive – turning back onto itself as in resolving, self-contained and entire.  Dickinson uses the dashes to set the word “alone” off, making the quality of this self-containment visual.  Then she gives Love a voice, putting the next line in quotations and allowing Love to talk about how large it is, relating the heat of Love to the heat of the Sun, and how that blaze is both the perpetuator of life, and unknowable. Because it’s unknowable, we can only imagine it, even if we think we’ve experienced it, thereby undermining experience.  There are particular rhythms and rhymes in this poem.  One of the more obvious is the equation of all the capitalised nouns: Love, Sun, One – each of these things not only rhyming but moving forward and backwards on the page to create a rhythm of motion and inevitability.  There is a heavy use of alliteration, particularly the L sound which creates a somewhat languid but progressive rhythm from Love to itself, alone, large, relate, blaze, all, and like.  The dashes not only set off the word [...]



CR Newsletter for Sept

2017-09-02T02:23:13.101-07:00

(image) Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Sept has now gone out.  This month we’ve got 10 new reviews of books by Kenneth Pobo, Georgia Blain, Benjamin Percy, Philip Kobylarz, Dimitris Lyacos, Stephen Orr, and Patti Callaghan Henry, as well as interviews with Joe Treasure, Mary Barnet, and Tess Gerritson. We also have a giveaway of a copy of MidnightSun Publishing’s new anthology Crush and our regular round-up of literary news.  If you haven’t got your copy yet, you can grab it the Compulsive Reader archive.



CR Newsletter for August has gone out

2017-08-03T01:25:00.056-07:00

(image) Hello dear readers, the Compulsive Reader newsletter for August has now been delivered to all subscribers and should be in your inbox now.  If you haven’t received it you can grab a copy from the  Compulsive Reader Newsletter Archive.

This month we have fantastic interviews with Patti Miller, John Safran, and Jack McMasters, as well as a bunch of new reviews, lots of literary news, and two fantastic book giveaways.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can sign up free here: http://www.compulsivereader.com



CR Newsletter July is now out

2017-06-30T21:25:13.769-07:00

The July Compulsive Reader Newsletter has just gone out with the usual bevy of reviews and interviews including new books by Daniel S Jones, Alan Alda (yes, that Alan Alda), Ian Woollen, Aaron Paul Lazar, Robert Earle, Melinda Smith (check out my interview with Melinda here: Compulsive Reader Talks), Hélène Cardona, Philip Salom, Trace Ramsay, and Cat Marnell, as well as a swag of literary news from the month of June and another great subscriber giveaway.  If you’re a subscriber, your copy is on its way, or you can grab a copy online in our archive.  If you’re not a subscriber, you can subscribe for free at http://www.compulsivereader.com.



CR Newsletter for June has gone out

2017-06-01T20:23:52.976-07:00

The June Compulsive Reader Newsletter has now gone out, with ten  fresh reviews and interviews, a literary news roundup for May, and our regular subscriber book giveaway (Peregrine Island by Diane B Saxton this month).  If you’re a subscriber your copy should arrive soon.  Or you can grab the newsletter here:
http://www.compulsivereader.com/send/944ee97aa4018f7/

If you’re not a subscriber, subscribe here: http://www.compulsivereader.com

  photo credit: gruntzooki Shelfie for Peter Hudson 3, the office, Burbank, Californai via photopin (license)



CR Newsletter for May now out

2017-04-30T20:18:19.387-07:00

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for May has now gone out.  The newsletter contains ten fresh reviews including new books by Michael Sala, Allison Pitinii Davis, and Wendy James, lots of interviews, and a few literary essays too.  We also have two new giveaways including a lovely looking full set of the Flinders Range series by Trisha Stringer and this month’s interviewee Barnaby Hazan’s Misfortunes of T-Funk.  If you haven’t received your newsletter yet just visit here to grab a copy:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter

If you don’t get the newsletter, just drop by http://www.compulsivereader.com to sign up.



Poetry Monday: Newcastle Poetry Prize

2017-04-16T20:41:53.216-07:00

I’ve been reading a couple of posts online lately about whether poetry prizes are worth the entry fees. While I do understand that the often steep fees tends to privilege those who can afford it, and that there may be a bias towards certain styles of writing, or certain subject matters, I do think in the main that poetry prizes are good for writers.  For a relatively unknown poet, prizes are a great way of getting your name known, and your work taken seriously.  Even a longlist can make the difference between being able to get your work published or not.  The best poetry competitions are blind judged by well respected poets at the top of their game, which means that entrants aren’t advantaged by number of publications or how well-known they are.As a ‘professional’ reader of poetry who is often overwhelmed by the number of books that come my way, I do often rely on competition wins to help direct my attention.  It’s a noisy world out there, and prizes help filter that noise a little.  I often use the excuse of a competition entry to direct my writing and as encouragement to polish something. For me, the Newcastle Poetry Prize is one of the best and something I enter annually.  It’s a regional prize and administered by the Hunter Writers Centre - a writers association that I’ve been a member of for over 20 years (they’ve sent a lot of opportunities my way, including a fully funded mentorship which got me going with my first novel).  With a $15,000 prize for first place, the prize substantial enough to warrant time and effort, and this year they’ve got the fabulous Eileen Chong and Kevin Brophy as judges.  Because they accept up to 200 lines, the competition is particularly suitable for longer poems and poem cycles or poems with multiple parts.  For me this is a kind of constraint since I usually write short poems and has given me a reason to explore the longer form, and do something I might not otherwise tackle.  The prize is blind judged, and many poets have become known through their wins.  Competition is steep to be sure and the winning poems have been exceptionally good, so the chances of winning aren’t huge, but at the end of it, even if you don’t place, you have a poem that you’ve polished to be its best, which is already a win.  Enter here by the 30th of June: http://www.hunterwriterscentre.org/newcastle-poetry-prize.html[...]



New Compulsive Reader newsletter out for April

2017-04-01T04:08:20.160-07:00

A new Compulsive Reader newsletter has just gone out.  If you haven’t received your copy, you can get one directly from our online archive.

The April issue is double the usual size with twice the usual number of reviews, two giveaways, two interviews, and more news than usual as well.  I normally try to keep the reviews to 10, but we had so many this month (including one rather novel one - see if you can work out which), and so much interesting literary news from around the world, including the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Story prize, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, and the Man Booker Longlist, that I couldn’t resist.  I’ll try to control myself better in future.

If you’d like to subscribe, visit: http://www.compulsvereader.com and sign up free on the upper right hand side of the site.

photo credit: Ania Mendrek Library via photopin (license)



NWF17 promo

2017-03-13T03:25:39.708-07:00

This year is the fifth anniversary of the Newcastle Writer’s Festival (NWF) and once again I’m heavily involved.  I go to a number of writers festivals throughout the year and I love them all, but the NWF is my favourite and not only because it engages heavily with the local writing and reading community of which I’m a part, though they do and every year the number of people I recognise in my extended writing ‘fam’ seems to grow, but also because the festival is both grand, full of fantastic and well-known writers (140 to be exact), and intimate.  It’s the perfect combination of warm/cozy and big/thrilling. My first session is on the Friday the 7th of April when I will be dropping by to read my second prize poem from the Home is the Hunter anthology. On the Saturday the 8th of April, I’m hosting Coming of Age: The Power of a Young Narrator with Peggy Frew, Alice Pung, and Holly Throsby in the Concert Hall at City Hall.  Peggy, Alice and Holly all have fantastic novels with teenage protagonists, and we’ll be exploring the teen voice and its appeal to writers and readers, notions of displacement, introspection, otherness and transition, along with their 3 very Australian (and quite different) settings. This will be followed by a discussion with poets Ivy Ireland and Michael Atkin on The World Around Us - Ecopoetics in The Press Book House at 145, followed by the official launch by Jan Dean of my new poetry book Unmaking Atoms at 230.On Sunday the 9th of April, I’ll be back in City Hall for 115 for my session Home as a setting and Yearning with Maggie Walsh and Kim Mahood, where we’ll be talking about such things as how place shapes perceptions, about the relationship between nostalgia and notions of home, and what home means in a poetic, literary context. This will be followed by a mega-poetry reading at the Port of Newcastle marquee at 230 (I’ll be running over with Maggie Walsh) with some of Australia’s best poets including joanne burns, Michael Aiken, Eileen Chong, John Foulcher, Andrew Galan, Judy Johnson, Sara Mansour, Ravi Nagaveeran, Philip Salom, Berndt Sellheim, Melinda Smith and Maggie Walsh.It’s going to be a massive weekend, and if you come to any of my sessions, all of which are free (more than half the sessions on the program are free this year), please come up and say hello!  You can grab a full copy of the program here: http://www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au/2017-program/. [...]



New CR Newsletter for March is out

2017-03-01T01:49:17.166-08:00

Hello everyone.  Just a quick note to let you know that our new newsletter is now out and on its way.

We’ve got ten fresh new reviews of books by Elvis Alves, Joshua Hammer, Teju Cole, Alice Pung, Howard Waldman, Jennifer Maiden, Ben Berman, Geoff Nelder and more, along with a big roundup of literary news, a great new book giveaway, and our interview with Jennifer Maiden.  If you haven’t received your copy, you can grab it from the archive here: http://www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/email/?sid=MA&eid=NjgyMw

To subscribe (free, of course), just drop by the site here: http://www.compulsivereader.com




New Compulsive Reader newsletter is out

2017-01-31T15:50:57.870-08:00

Hello everyone, the Compulsive Reader newsletter for Feb has now gone out and should arrive in your inbox soon if it’s not there already.  This month we have a set of 10 new reviews including So Much Smoke by Felix Calvino, To the Dogs by Roberta Gould, Ain’t U Got No Manners by Kristin Johnson, The Wrong Dog by David Elliot Cohen and a whole lot more, as well as a sweep of January’s literary news including the Australian Indies, Pen America literary and Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal (Yay Susan Howe) to name a few. There’s also another great giveaway for subscribers.  If you’ve missed it or can’t wait for the mail, just grab a copy here:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter Archive

If you aren’t a subscriber and want to subscribe for free, just drop by Compulsive Reader and sign up.  Oh, and don’t forget to enter my Goodreads Giveaway for an autographed copy of Unmaking Atoms. You can enter right here on the blog - just below “About Me” on the right hand side.



Poetry Monday: Unmaking Atoms!

2017-01-16T00:35:15.672-08:00

Hi Everyone, I’m excited to report that my new poetry book Unmaking Atoms is now out and available at good bookstores everywhere including Amazon.

I’ve recorded one of the poems in the book titled "Mapping Pluto” which you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/maggieball/mapping-pluto-by-magdalena-ball

Of the book, the fabulous Kristin J Johnson said: "However, matter cannot be created or destroyed, and this collection unmakes, and then reassembles, the words and images as well as emotions including the sense of joy that permeates Ball’s lyricism. That joy manifests in a “laugh that shakes the floor,” the line and curve that brings wholeness, a light “softer than the cut of love.”

Bob Rich said: "These are pearls in words; beautiful images in beautiful expressions. They force you to think. There is a kaleidoscope of different ways, all pointing to the same theme. You can immerse yourself in each of 96 offerings like this -- except that no two are alike. Each is a cryptic crossword in 17 dimensions, chasing each other out of sight, a carefully designed Rorschach blot.”

The book will be formally launched at this year’s Newcastle Writers Festival at the Press Book House by the magnificent poet Jan Dean.  Stay tuned for more upcoming events, videos, and giveaways.



CR Newsletter for Jan now out

2016-12-31T07:00:59.132-08:00

Happy New Year fellow book lovers.  Just a quick New Year’s posting to let you know that Compulsive Reader’s January newsletter has just gone out, chock full of new reviews and interviews including Cynthia Manick’s latest poetry book, Jen Karetnick, Wolfgang Carstens, Stefan Zweig, and many other , literary news, and two fantastic giveaways (including one containing Sue Duff’s entire Weir Chronicles series).

If you can’t wait for it to arrive or somehow missed your copy, you can pick it up in the archive here: http://www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/email/?sid=MA&eid=NjcyOA&utm_medium=email&utm_source=sendpress&utm_campaign

If you’re not a subscriber already, just drop by compulsivereader.com and sign up gratis.



Poetry Monday: Women of Words

2016-12-04T15:01:54.917-08:00

I have, on occasion, been called a literary activist. I have to admit I’ve never been entirely certain what that is, or whether I really deserve this moniker.  In so far as I feel that art can create a space for positive change, and in so far as I’m always excited about being involved in those efforts, perhaps the label does fit me. On the other hand, I  feel that polemic should remain separate from art, which has its own aesthetic, often far more subtle and complex than politics. That in itself is perhaps a kind of activism: the notion that art can open us up, allowing us to think more deeply, and see one another as utterly connected - so when someone in this world is hurt, we also are hurt.

People like Janette Hoppe and her Papatuanuku Press provide literary activism of the best kind.  The not-for-profit press exists to provide support for indigenous writers, for making silence and pain heard, and as a catalyst for healing.  The press has done all sorts of powerful activities this year including Poetry Bombs, Free Art Fridays, Books on the Rails, and the Women of Words poetry happenings to name a few.  I was lucky enough to participate in Women of Words, and I have to say that the five events were managed superbly, engaging a large number of local poets (boy do we have some talent in this area), and raising over $700 for the Hunter Women’s Centre and the White Ribbon Organisation, both great causes. But wait, there’s more.  One of the outputs from those events was a print book called Women of Words: eat, stray’d, love, a collection of poetry.  The cost of the book is $20, with the profits split equally (and entirely) between The Hunter Women’s Centre and the White Ribbon Organisation.  If you’re looking for a unique, ethical present for someone, this might well be it.  To order a copy, just Paypal $20 to Janette Hoppe at hoponin@bigpond.net.au, or visit her Facebook page and send a direct message if you have questions or special instructions for sending.




Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Dec is out

2016-12-02T02:31:00.573-08:00

The December Compulsive Reader newsletter has now been full distributed and if you’re a subscriber, a copy should have already arrived in the inbox.  If for some reason you haven’t gotten it, or are still considering whether to subscribe, you can check it out in the  Compulsive Reader archive.

The newsletter features the usual round-up of literary news, ten fresh reviews, new author interviews, and another great book giveaway.  If you aren’t a subscriber and would like to be, just drop by http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up - it’s easy!


photo credit: cseeman Kresge Library Collection Transfer - July 8, 2014 via photopin (license)



Poetry Monday: Squeezing language like honey - on Eileen Myles’ "The Honey Bear"

2016-11-13T20:12:55.912-08:00

I’ve got Eileen Myles’ I Must be Living Twice by my bedside, and every night before I go to bed, I read a poem from it. This very slow reading allows me to take a bit more time than I usually would over each poem, really delving into them and sometimes giving me interesting dreams.  Someone asked me the other day if I was a speed reader or found myself reading faster the older (and presumably more experienced at reading) I got.  My answer was that I am a slow reader and am getting ever slower.  Slow is good, I think.  It’s not so much speed, but the amount of attention I give to what I read.  I want to really experience the things I read - not merely scan or skim over the surface.  That will often take time, and one reading is often not enough for me, especially with poetry.  I have to mull and then return.  I was particularly happy about the opportunity to go even deeper into one of the poems in Myles’ latest collection, which, by serendipity was on the list of essay topics for the ModPo course I’m doing.  The poem is called “The Honey Bear” and you can read the full text of it here: https://media.sas.upenn.edu/afilreis/ModPo/Writing-Assignments-PDFs/Myles_The-Honey-Bear.pdfFollowing is my 500 or so (bit more...) essay.  If you have opinions about the poem, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to open a dialogue on this one. Eileen Myles’ “The Honey Bear” presents what appears to be a straightforward narrative.  A twenty nine year old woman is standing in the kitchen on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, smoking her last cigarette before quitting, making a cup of herbal tea, and sweetening it with honey from a plastic bear dispenser.  On the radio, first we hear Ivy Anderson and then Billie Holiday – both torchy jazz singers.  The scene is suffused with a sense of time passing, both in terms of growing older and with the progression of the clock as the evening moves towards the next day.  The use of the continual present tense, and the prosaic and domestic activity depicted calls to mind the New York School of poetry.  It’s clear by the bathtub being in the kitchen that this is an older style New York City apartment, and the darkness of the music, the tea and the surroundings is offset by the brightness of the artificial lights.   It’s impossible to read a poem that follows this sort of progression and urban sensibility while referencing Billie Holiday, without thinking of Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”.  O’Hara’s seminal New York School poem becomes a touchstone for this one, evoking the slow sensual pleasure of immediate sensation, from the combination of the music, the scented tea, the honey, and the tactile grooves of the bear’s face.  We know that tomorrow is the speaker’s birthday, that the speaker is alone and using the sensual aspects of the scene to offset the melancholy.  These elements, and even in the little pun in the repetition of the letter O all provide a homage to O’Hara. The poem, however, is suffused with rhythm and repetitions that are more stylized, musical and less prosaic than you’d usually find in The New York School. The repeated use of the present participle of verbs like hanging, smoking, singing, squeezing, standing, dripping, starting combines with the assonance of the O sound in Holiday, radio, smoking, odd, suppose, older, and the O in “O it’s very quiet”, “O very sad and sweet”, and “O honey”.[...]



Compulsive Reader Newsletter for November is out

2016-11-03T04:08:59.545-07:00

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for November has now gone out to all subscribers.  This latest issue contains two new book giveaways, ten fresh reviews, and a lot of literary news.  If you haven’t received your copy, you can grab a copy from the archive here: Compulsive Reader Archive.  If you aren’t a subscriber and would like to be (it’s a very nice worldwide community of book lovers!), just drop by Compulsive Reader: http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up.  It’s free - just one email a month and plenty of free books.  Enjoy!



Poetry Monday: Joseph Massey and “Polar Low"

2016-10-23T17:29:11.762-07:00

As I’m sure anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m in the midst of a 10 week (annual!) poetry course being held at the UPenn on Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.  One of the many things I like about the course is how different it is each year.  This year is particularly fresh, with a lot of material I haven’t come across before, including, to my delight, the work of Joseph Massey, whose book Illocality is on its way to me now from the US.  The poem that really got to me was "Polar Low”, and rather than try to summarise it, I’ve put the text of my essay on this poem below, not only because it covers what I want to say about the sparse complexity of this poem, but also because it provides an example of a close reading of a poem - the sort of thing I tend to do when reviewing a book (and why I’m continually drawn to reviewing, and the way it forces me to take time). I've found a full text version of of this lovely poem here: http://robmclennan.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/joseph-massey-illocality.html.  More on Joe Massey can be found at his website.The nothing that is: approaching nirvana in Joseph Massey’s "Polar Low”There’s a precision in Joseph Massey’s “Polar Low,” that owes much to the Imagist tradition.  For one thing, Massey’s “direct treatment” of the trailer is described with stark clarity. The poem could be a painting, with its single image of a “yellow double-wide trailer”.  There is “nothing else”, aside from setting: the winter sun, the snow, and the sparse vegetation. The singularity of this observation and the absence of an ‘observing self’ is pure Imagism. The contrast of the colours between the yellow trailer and the white snow becomes luxurious in such a desolate scene, calling to mind William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  However, there is much in this work that takes it outside of the Imagist tradition. The colours themselves are more than what they seem. The yellow of the trailer mirrors the yellow of the winter sun, which has been anthropomorphised into amnesia, while the morning becomes inarticulate.  Suddenly the reader becomes conscious of a human presence, whose suffering (coldness/poverty), and inarticulate amnesia is suffused into the scene by reversal of the pathetic fallacy, as if the human were transforming into the sun and morning rather than the other way around.  The white of the ice sheathing the trailer mirrors, both literally in terms of the light being reflected, and metaphorically in terms of matching, the white of the snow and the implied white of emptiness (the dimming scene as the piece progresses), and perhaps the white of an unwritten page. These “variations” also contrast with the green/brown of the winter thicket, a dying remnant of spring.Rhythm is created by repetition of sound and structure, with short couplets that don’t necessarily couple up.  The first stanza has two hyphenated constructions, which are semantically opposite—half-sheathed versus double-wide—as well as being metrically and syllabically reversed.  The word “mirrors” also becomes a connector linking the trailer with the much more abstract morning – disparate images equated.  Massey uses punctuation between stanzas to slow the reading down and force a pause for reflection at each full stop.  We stop after morning as almost a shudder in our movement across the scene, and then again after sun, so that[...]



Charity:water Project Completed (final update)

2016-10-13T20:51:31.726-07:00

It has been two years since my Charity:Water 50th Birthday campaign and I’m very happy to report that the project is now completed.  Together, we raised $1,670 to help drill a well so a community of 360 people in a village in The Republic of Mali, West Africa, could have access to clean water (something I have plenty of and tend to take for granted).  Every penny of what we raised went to this project (no admin fees!), the total cost of which was just under $14,000 (lots of other generous donors got involved some matching what people raised).  I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present, and the value of this gift continues to provide value throughout the community, especially the women and children who used to have to walk up to two hours to collect water, which often wasn’t safe and made people sick.  It’s very gratifying to see a project through to its completion and to see how many people came together to make this project a success.  If you’d like to see more specifically how you helped, who else got involved, and where the project is located on a map, you can visit the project page here:  Tomikoro F2 Community Water Project.  Thanks so much to all of you and if you decide to do some similar kind of fundraising project, do please feel free to hit me up.






Poetry Monday (Sunday): Michele Seminara’s Engraft

2016-10-10T01:15:13.076-07:00

(image) (image) I have no idea who decides on days-of-the-week things like Throwback Thurs
or Poetry Sunday.  I had just assumed it was some kind of alliterative thing, though there’s no real alliteration in Poetry Sunday.  Operating across geographical boundaries does means you can kind of double up - celebrate your birth twice without growing older, have a Poetry Sunday on Monday, and basically break any semantical rule you want on the grounds that they do it differently somewhere else.  If any day of the week is in need of a poetry injection, it’s Monday which is often sadly devoid of poetry.  So herewith is Poetry Sunday which I’ll continue to do on my Monday but which is most definitely Sunday somewhere else in the world (North America for example).

I've been immersed in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons for ModPo, and have been loving it as always, but reading Stein is never relaxing for me.  I always have to work with it.  It’s tiring.  Michele Seminara’s Engraft is beautifully written poetry, smart, elegant and in many ways post-modern, conceptualist and rich, but it’s not hard work.  The poems are immediately familiar to me in terms of their landscapes, and the domestic sensibility of their concerns: love, loss, aging, death, illness, motherhood, and literary intertextuality all presented lightly, and sometimes with humour, even at its darkest.  I have only read through the book once, and usually read through several times before writing a full review, but by way of a taster, here’s a snippet of one of the poems that hit me immediately:
How is it that we came to be locked
in these bodies, lives ossifying
not rights of fat, rigidity and suffering?That man was once a boy
light as a dandelion, the body
barely given thought. 
Now it’s a trap, and death the escape.
The doctor says my oestrogen is low.
She prescribes hormone to alter
the cruelty of my vision. (“Zhuang Zhou Dreams in Pink”)
Full review will follow at Compulsive Reader soon, but if you can’t wait, the book can be purchased in both hard copy and ebook form at Michele Seminara’s blog here: https://micheleseminara.wordpress.com
or from the publisher here: http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm or at Michele Seminara’s blog:



Compulsive Reader newsletter for Oct is out

2016-10-02T21:35:11.192-07:00

Compulsive Reader Newsletter has gone out and is making its way to your inboxes at this very moment.  As September was a busy month for literary awards, this newsletter has rather a lot of global literary news including the First Novel prize, the Toronto Book Awards, Academy of American Poets, Wallace Stevens award, The Man Booker Prize for Fiction and a whole lot more.

There are also ten new reviews being featured including, Thug Kitchen, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, How to Be a Writer by John Birmingham, Undying by Michel Faber, interviews with Madison Windsong and Shannon Baker, and many others.  There is also a giveaway for a copy of Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.  If you can’t wait for the newsletter to arrive, or if it ended up in spam, you can grab a copy here: Compulsive Reader Archive

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