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Tag Archives: Rae Armantrout

Covid 19 Sutras by Hank Lazer (Lavender Ink, New Orleans)

Covid 19 Sutras by Hank Lazer (Lavender Ink, New Orleans)

In writing about Hank Lazer’s 2019 collection of poems Slowly Becoming Awake (Dos Madres Press) for issue 28 of Lou Rowan’s Seattle-based magazine Golden Handcuffs Review I referred to a ‘Notebook’ entry for October 7th 2016: ‘poem radiating outward’ with its immediate follow-on, ‘landfall the page’. The strings of thought in Lazer’s new collection act in a similar fashion as the particularity of the moment is seen against a spiritual and philosophical awareness of the progress and effects of the Covid 19 virus. In a comment made by Charles Bernstein after reading these poems Hank Lazer ‘precisely notates the passing of time through pandemic and uprising’:

‘Consciousness alights on each poem “like a butterfly drawn to a bright flower,” offering luminous company in dark times.’

That luminosity is brightly evident from the opening four lines of the first poem:

‘books & blossoms
spring & all
cold morning no
wind cloud bank’

What is contained in the reading of books and the world of flowering is perhaps brought into focus by the early lines of William Carlos Williams’s 1923 volume Spring and All: ‘a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world’. As Williams escorts his readers along ‘the road to the contagious hospital / under the surge of the blue / mottled clouds driven from the / northeast – a cold wind’ Lazer takes us

‘over the mountain
ridge city & its
tower in the distance’

The journey of this remarkable collection of poems charts a pathway along the moments of a sutra as we come to terms with the effects of both the pandemic and institutionalised racism as are asked to question the nature of wants and needs:

‘the treasure store
is open you
can take what
you want – no

you can take
what you need
through practice
you may learn

to receive what
is already yours
here is the bell sound
to awaken you’

It was Shakespeare’s King Lear who exposed the central nature of the relationship between wants and needs when he was confronted by his daughters removing from him every token of what is meant by the royalty of oneself. Goneril and Regan remove his train of followers and insist that his needs can be cared for by their own servants. However, it is when Regan delivers the final brutal blow of ‘What need one?’ that Lear pronounces his understanding of what it is to be human:

‘O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s’

Lazer questions what changed ‘when the virus / hit’ and wonders whether ‘connection’ breaks ‘away’. It is perhaps in this nature of connection, who we were and who we are now, what we want and we need, that the poet also finds an echo of a sound from later than Shakespeare. As the bell sounds ‘to awaken you’ we can hear the quiet conclusion to a tale told by an ancient mariner whose guilt had not only weighed him down but had compelled him to tell his tale.

In the second ‘Sutra’, subtitled ‘flattening the curve’ the distance we have travelled (guided by the science) leads the poet to question the nature of ‘liberation’. A sense of spiritual wonder at the moving of the clouds of unknowing has become a mark on a door made ‘with numbers & distance / given us by our sciences’. The ‘hurry to find / a cure’ and the ‘hurry to assign // blame’ is placed against a perspective that Gary Snyder had recognised in his years spent in the Yosemite range of mountains in the 1950s. For Hank Lazer

‘this place
perfect
hillside
light shadow

& a view
of the pasture
having become
this changing light’

For Gary Snyder

‘distant dogs bark, a pair of
cawing crows; the twang
of a pygmy nuthatch high in a pine –
from behind the cypress windrow
the mare moves up, grazing’

The quiet and individual intelligence of Hank Lazer’s poems is perhaps contained in his awareness of the particularity that constitutes played music being ‘never the same twice’. As he puts it in ‘Sutra 3’, subtitled ‘phased reopening’, the individual is ‘here now’ and can ‘see only a small fraction of it’. Faced with the unknown enormity of the pandemic it is worth perhaps bearing in mind the section concerning humility in the late fourteenth-century treatise ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ in which the author asserted that humility was ‘nothing else but a true knowledge and awareness of oneself as one really is’. And one response to this statement may be found in Lazer’s poem:

‘The pictures of Jupiter answer some of the
questions.
This world here & your life in time are not what
you think they are.
If it is a cloud of unknowing know that the cloud
like any weather is constantly changing.’

What was immediately recognised by Rae Armantrout when commenting on the importance of this collection of poems was that it ‘brings us the news in the way that 18th century ballad broadsides did to Londoners’:

‘Quatrain by quatrain, Lazer sings the present world, its viruses (covid and structural racism), and its beauties (animals, friendship, the shape of a sentence).’

Just as Hank Lazer’s earlier collection had presented the reader with the poem radiating outward this new collection offers us a world in which

‘each day is
rich
in its
specifics’

Ian Brinton, 7th September 2020

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

http://www.zonepoetrymagazine.com

The second issue of Zone magazine, the poetry collective of writers and critics from Canterbury, edited by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry, is a cornucopia of poetic delights richly illustrating the diversity of contemporary poetry.

The house style of presentation of this A4 publication mostly eschews uniformity in favour of a random mixture of fonts and point sizes. This works effectively with the diverse and colourful text art to produce a visually exciting journal with a sense of the chaotic. The position of the author’s name in large point at the top of each page tends to undermine the approach through its loudness and uniformity. The poem should matter far more than the poet’s name.

There are many fine contributions from Sarah Kelly’s text sculpture, Sean Bonney’s short essay on Amiri Baraka, via six Petrarch sonnets by Peter Hughes, Ian Brinton’s translation of Francis Ponge’s ‘Snail’s to Iain Britton, Stephen Emmerson, S.J. Fowler, Mendoza, Dorothy Lehane, Duncan Mackay, R. T. A. Parker, Nat Raha, James Russell, Marcus Slease, Dollie Stephan, and Robert Vas Dias.

Amongst the work that caught my eye were sean burn’s ‘spell / check © sean burn 2013 c.e.’ simple, playful approach and Laurie Duggan’s ‘from Pensioners Specials’ with its quirky, aphoristic humour:

The Art of Poetry

don’t write when you have ‘something to say’
write when you have nothing to say

*

smaller than the syllable
the Silliman

*

Universal Toilet

This train has,
says the ‘onboard manager’
a ‘universal toilet’

Rae Armantrout’s extraordinarily condensed poems employ multiple voices and divisions to explore contested spaces. Here her four poems seemingly skirt the boundaries of plausible meaning and imply connections between each stanza, which are not entirely evident on first reading. They invite reading of the relation of part to whole, stanza to stanza. In this way, more possible reference and meaning comes into play. They insist upon both slow and wide reading, and force the reader into wider focus.

Run Time

Hidden redundancy
equals logical depth.

*

up next,

the pumpkin carving contest
under the sea

*

You talk to yourself
as if somebody cared.

Clearly an event of some kind, as yet only implied in the title and first three stanzas, is in process. The third stanza perhaps holds more than its terseness. The narrative voice is in the act of ‘talking’ to herself ‘as if somebody cared’. When placed in the context of the preceding stanzas much more possible reference and meaning comes into play. Voices are running, possibly imploring, exhorting for this onwardness towards the second half of the poem and whatever may lie within its boundaries. We could be in the world of someone in a state of loss or deprivation, or in need of care. Key words, such as ‘hidden’ send the reader off in search. Certainly the range of possible meaning gradually begins to expand. The reader is taken on a journey and there is more than a hint of implied disjunction, loss and unrest, which serves to take the reader forward.

Such poems make Zone a joy to return to.

David Caddy 22nd November 2014

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s In A Form Of Suspension

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s In A Form Of Suspension

Tears in the Fence contributing editor, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s new poetry collection, In A Form Of Suspension (Corrupt Press, 2014), which is being launched at Carr’s pub, 1 rue du Mont Thabor, Paris on Friday, 28th March, explores sexual impulse through a series of lush and throbbing sound patterns.

 

My altitude wavers so rasping, it slips a ring raining onto hands

and hisses words between two spongy blue tides

Like daily loose grammar despite radiance, I soar

and improvise on paper a rapid page pressed to hinge;

sliding open a rusted gap, I sway and pitch my limbs

averting rows of loss that diminish the rewritten labyrinthine chill

 

Maurer-Alvarez’s poetry combines succulent musicality within a full poetic line and avoids the pitfalls of over-determining the line. She is the mistress of the measured longer poetic line, of the line break, and of being able to manage lines of differing lengths in one stanza. She excels in this collection. It is quite a different skill to say the likes of Rae Armantrout or Shannon Tharp, who excel with the short line and have great depth through brevity. Here the poet is more divergent and produces a beguiling journey for the reader. It is utterly pleasurable taking the reader to unusual places and thoughts, demanding repeated readings. I am reminded of the famous Dr. Niles Crane line, ‘An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick on all night’ in that there was, at times, insufficient modulation in relation to abstraction. Others may disagree. There are a wide range of sub-texts and language play that bite and that one can chew on for some time. In some cases, I was in awe and at others annoyed. Such are the many pleasures of the poems.

 

– the history of rainstorm is a naked door

– the waiter will be back, scuffed and literary, granting the acceptable

– a knife recalls blue humidity as a family instrument

– mimosa is composed of Seville

– the ingenious often chant arm in arm with tentative cymbals

– sincerity is equally rated with chamber activity

– the oboe is the flamenco’s counterattack

 

This section from ’39 Fragments On A Pebble Beach’ illustrates some of the rich diversity in this collection and her neo-aphorisms.

 

At the book’s core is a clear narrative voice gleefully indulging in gestures and speech acts:

 

I firmly think that unless this luster of excitement is not withdrawn

from the breast cavity, the jutting out acceleration of surprise will

indicate a double hollow of indulgence. I may collapse. Or a

beautiful avant-garde discourse might ensue and pulsate joy

beyond belief.

 

The book’s title is apt as a number of meanings of suspension come into play throughout. There are at times discord and dissonance as well as the sense of something being discontinued, the condition of being suspended, and a chemical mixing and the state of being dispersed. It is a collection where the sub-texts, often unsaid, outweigh the main theme albeit anchored by an incisive physicality and reverberation. It is an undoubted strength and part of the book’s abiding pleasure.

 

David Caddy 27th March 2014

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