Antidotes for an Alibi
by Amy King
BlazeVox [books], 2005.
ISBN: 0-9759227-5-0

by Joel Chace
Linguablanca Chapbook Number 16, 2004
ISBN: 952-5456-03-X

Translations from After
by Joel Chace
anabasis.xtant, 2004
ISBN: 1-930259-41-7

Investigations & Other Sequences
by Márton Koppány
Ahadada Books, 2003
ISBN: 0-973223-1-6

Ahadada Reader #1
Edited by Jesse Glass
Ahadada Books, 2004
ISBN: 0-9732233-3-2


Reviewed by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino 



Amy King's enjambements are like tourniquets, cutting off the blood, or, rather, the breath.  From "Truth Be Told":


My initial impulse was to love a woman
I had never met faraway
in Iowa or France somewhere but
I hate flying. 


And from "Witch to the Dream's Ghost": 


I am that woman of the crux;
I photograph an image
of my inhibitions,
caught in the cuts of life.


These are relatively simple declarative sentences, they state their assertions and are done with it, but as lines of verse they are just begging for some leg room, or for some breathing space.  It's tempting to conjecture that "the cuts of life" are here reflected in the caesurae, but if that is indeed the case, the effect is entirely middling, no rhythmic division is enhanced.  Reading Antidotes for an Alibi, it strikes me that Ms. King could be a narrative poet (by which I mean only that she is a story teller, and not perhaps by way of plot so much as incident and mise en scène), and that her natural inclination is to the lyric (and a long-winded lyric, at that—perhaps for "lyric" we should read the sentence).  To her credit, she accepts the poem's unlacing as a natural outcome, and to that end she does not take recourse in the verbal legerdemain, her wit is in her declaration.  From "Record Keeping" (which seems to me among the best in the volume): 


When I say "I am of" does that follow
with "good riddance"?  The end of man
often lies at hand, but whereof can one
not speak?  It is on the table; it is in my grasp;
it has soaked into the carpet.  As a woman,
my permission opens me aimlessly:
I move my mouth and walk therein. 


One does not need presuppose any complicated hypothetical apparatus in order to enjoy Ms. King's poetry, and this too is to her credit.  Her poems do not begin in the prime matter of language but have their roots in the matters of life.  She does not write dry academic experiments and this gives her poetry the potential of becoming popular—popular, say, like Sexton's "Cinderella," or Plath's "Lady Lazarus" (that is the potential, and the promise, here).  This is not to suggest Ms. King is unaware, or that her poem is not conscious of itself as an object of language, but that her poetry presents situations and tissues of circumstances we are able to raise our eyes and see her depictions and wonder of ourselves in similar hazards and bedazzlements.  This is the sort of poetry that teaches, by way of anecdote and the cautionary tale, and this is the sort of poetry that befriends you when no one else is around.  And when she does allow her line some breathing room, rather than cutting it off mid way, the results can be remarkable.  From "The Late Show Effect": 


I swallowed hard the whole bottle of your footsteps
and slipped into the cup of a nightingale's tear—

Will you become my fragrant flash in the pan,
my dusted desire to be right up against it

Feeding on ears of sight, pull the blinds, am now in disguise
beneath the covers, one leg stretches beside a leg outstretched 


There's a real person behind this poetry, a personality and a sensibilities that manage to survive the surreality of the images but that could just as soon be subsumed into the irrational, noncontextual arrangement of the same.  Should that happen, the voice driving this poetry will vanish, and the images will stand still, with nothing to integrate them the one into the other.  Something I was told to do early on was to record myself reciting my poetry so that I could better "hear and learn" my own voice.  It's the voice of the poet, what matters, to that effect everything else is just so much fancy dress and furniture.  (This is the secret behind Ashbery.) 


Reading Joel Chace, I come to wonder which came first, the poem or the title of the poem?  These titles do not function as titles usually do, that is to say they are not object hypotheses (they do not tell, ahead of time, the poem's destination), rather they are as prequels, at once to fix an identity and to be, in and of itself, a line of poetry.  From Squares


casual vow

full frontal prudery got the byline   pitched the classic example   reshaped
the labyrinth like a corset   left the pistol in the pail and brandished the
promise-sword   inamorata ill travelling only by train through floral
transition zones   lips serviced ready to be more motherly   also those who
muscled their way to the bottom


In my efforts to come to terms with this sort of poetry (that is, to digest it, to absorb it mentally), I have come to term it "pannarrative."  The pannarrative poem begins by seeing all the world as one great narration, a narrative that is known in proportion to the degree of the relation of its parts.  The pannarrative poem, then, is constituted of fragments of narrative (which in their dislocative state are potentially plurisignificative) and uses juxtaposition as a principle of composition.  This makes of Mr. Chace, and of the pannarrative poet generally, a sort of demiourgos, a true logodaedalus, whose subject matter, whose source material, is the world writ large.  While not quite on the level of the metaphor, I see pannarrativity as coming to be a sort of stand-in for the metaphor, requiring, to its own end, an intuitive competence—an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars as found in the disjunction (the logoclastics) that posits the juxtaposition.  (And like the metaphor, produces semantic changes, and thereby increases language.) 


formerly racy

special homey lookouts one could weep for   a missive from Athens followed
by a drink and dance-remains ashed in the tray   uncravated next to a
collegial lake   that star part may not be getting on but there's such a cool
foreign title on this truncated street


See how Mr. Chace makes poetry out of life: That "truncated street" is as much a mood as a place, as much a value, in and of itself, as a location.  The memorabilia is a vintage, the poetry is in the rising.  With Squares we have a sequence of twelve poems, and these are, I say, a form of ekphrasis, verbal depictions instead of photographs, or which could just have easily been mere photographs.  (We are biased by the eye-evidentiary, but poetry knows better, and can tell what cannot be shown.) 

If Squares is somewhat formal, Translations from After is . . . rather casual.  This is not to say there are not patterns—there are, there are two—but that in his choice of diction and, how shall I say, versification, Mr. Chace is less reserved.  Of the two sections, the first contains five poems, and the second a sequence of twenty-one "translations."  These are not so much translations from another tongue as translations into English—or, as I like to say, into "keyboard"—from another consciousness.  These poems are utterly logoclastic, and not without their conceits.  From "2": 


not, be not.  They've told us knots
did groan, whaling to the creeps.
We do in half believe, but vassy
sweeps are disappearing underneath
our poses.         


This is Andrew Marvell at Mach speed.  Welcome to the present. 


"In a certain sense all my work is an investigation."   (From "By Way of Introduction," the interview that prefaces the volume.)  Márton Koppány's most important investigations are the ones into the forms (of communication) that will express the poetry that is inside him.  These communicative forms (not stunts but expressions of feelings and of ideas) are not entirely verbal, for they ask us to see, but as though we could raise (or close) our eyes and behold, and contemplate, the concept!  It seems to me Mr. Koppány's poetry, as instanced here, at least, is thoroughly conceptual.  But as though to say, I want to put this concept into your mind!  I want you to reflect upon this concept and its ramifications!  These works are minimalist by design, but should we paraphrase the thought channeled therein, the effect would be encyclopedic, ranging through philosophy, psychology, politics, and the human emotions.  I'll reproduce here a sequence (as best I can—as the lines appear on the pages, they are as though on 8.5 x 11 pages with black borders or frames, and to my, hmm, interpretation the set-up is to give the sense of deposition, that it should be understood that this is a sequence of lines spread out over sheets of pages).  This is "Immortality and Freedom": 


a crumpled hope flattened out

a crumpled hope flattened out
the later variant

a torn hope
stuck together
with underlined traces of tearing

a torn hope
stuck together
with disguised traces of tearing
plus text

an untouched
white hope

a hope
a destroyed hope

a hope
reminding of
the irreplaceable character
of a destroyed hope

an expectation that something
will happen as one wishes

half-crumpled tearings
half-flattened stickings


And this is "It's Another Way" (which occurs over two pages. The text in parentheses is his.  I apologize to Mr. Koppány for doing this.): 


(on the sheet:)


is it another way?



(outside the sheet; invisible:)


On the first sheet occurs the text in parentheses, and then the line, is it another way?  On the second sheet occurs the text in parentheses, and that is all.  There is certainly something Cartesian about this, and one naturally thinks of Samuel Beckett for whom "invisibility" was its own inevitability (for "invisibility" read silence).  We have a thinking substance (a sort of non-voice) calling us (by a sign, the silent gesture of the printed word, which is as good as a nod or wink or motion of the hand) to an idea, but to know the idea as it knows it, in the character of an idea—that is, in conceptus, in eidos!  This points up the utter inadequacy (and truly pedestrian, "man on the street" nature of) the term "visual poetry," for Mr. Koppány's spacial (really, paginal, page for page) arrangements are, like the sentence, to serve as punctuation, and are not in and of themselves poetry, or poetic, rather this poetry—like "immortality" and like "freedom" and like that thinking substance and the impulsions behind its words—or perhaps I should just speak of ideas, these ideas are to the mind.  (The eye reads them, but the mind sees them as concepts, knows them as such, knows the idea as idea, and penetrates, and is penetrated, to their essences.) 

Investigations & other Sequences is a sort of "Márton Koppány Reader." There is the interview, there are two short letters, there is a bibliography of works in English, and in between are eleven brief sequences of works.  May I suggest, for accompaniment: the music of György Ligeti. 


The ahadada reader, edited by Jesse Glass, presents a selection of works by three important poets: Alan Halsey (who is British), John Byrum (an American) and Geraldine Monk (who is also British).  Alan Halsey's poetry is "difficult," both in that it will not be forced into any preconceived notions of what poetry is or how poetry behaves, and in that it dislocates, literally breaks, language and re-conceives the elements of grammar in—in what: an exploration, a pilgrimage, a pursuit, the construction of a self-contained literary universe?  It seems to me Mr. Halsey's poetry (like all logoclastic poetry) foregrounds the communicative value of discourse—his breaks, along the way, obviating extraneous (i.e., plain-spoken) "language" in order to privilege or free (in order to dislocate) discourse as to the redding of the reader.  That so, the reader enters, or does construe, a universe the constituents of which are the constituents of language, and one could call this universe (or, combinatoria) Lear or Carroll or Gorey, or, better, "Halsey."  From "The Hunting of the Lizopard Resumed: Emblems from the Ship of Fools Logbook": 


The death by remedies,
said Dichotomedes,
when to philosophise
in itself would suffice.


All I can say about the "Lizopard" is that it is an idea for a name for something that is "unpronounceable and Tagger-like" (and that it does make an appearance and that it can speak).  And Dichotomedes—who called himself "the Casual Dogmatist" and who has the distinction of having been expelled from Plato's Academy for his remark "Speaking up, talking down"—will appear again, and again (and again, in the future, I presume).  From this small verse we learn two things (maybe): That Dichotomedes said "The death by remedies" and that he was shrewd enough to realize that occasion upon "when to philosophise in itself would suffice."  Or, Dichotomedes is telling us that that which we have attempted to cure we have killed, and that philosophy (like poetry?) is best remains abstract (rather than applied?).  I feel very much at home in "Halsey."  Several other works are here (Mr. Halsey is nicely represented) including selections from Lives of the Poets (which when complete will stand with Robert Manson Myers' From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf and Howard Moss' Instant Lives, it's that good), "A Life of the Author of 'The Pursuits of Literature' " (which if you're an obsessive-compulsive type like me will have you fixed), "Hollow Swaps" and (the hopefully in progress) "Entries & Extracts Volume M."  Alan Halsey is quite the logodaedalus, and someone we do well to support (on principle!).   

John Byrum is a manipulator of text (i.e., language and narrative) as well as a philosopher of process.  Included here, as an addendum to his Approximations, is one of his manifestoes, "ART WITHOUT MAKING (Text 1 and Text 2)."  This is a welcome inclusion (and a good editorial decision) because philosophy, either as justification or as purpose or as incidental or occasional commentary, is an integral component of Byrum's work.  In a sense all of Byrum's pieces, whether standing alone or in sequence, can be read (or taken) as manifestoes.  They serve to make us aware, to wake us up to the, well, manipulations of ideas and of perspectives that we do otherwise accept without question.  Byrum's work is a reflection, a cogitation, both poetic and constructive, upon the language and grammar that is the stuff of our poetry and art—and indeed, that is the stuff of our intercourse.  And, as manifestoes, they are also calls to action.   

Turning to Approximations, which is a sequence of text-on-panels of various size (the reader is 6 x 7.75, one could easily imagine these panels as huge murals, and this as an installation taking up the walls of an entire space), immediately we notice the "binary" effect of white letters on black background, one might subliminally see ones and twos, and most consciously think of code.  So right from the get-go, Byrum is making us aware of the nature of language, and of that great aspect of "the world" that is a construct of language.  The question naturally asks itself: This being the case, can we ever experience more than just an "approximation" of reality, an "approximation" of meaning, an "approximation" of Beauty and Truth?  And this is just the showing component of the work, there is a telling component as well (and the two components complement each other, the one stands to the other in the form of a complementarity).  The letters add up to words, and we read:


title could be approximations or approximate metaphor or carrying across or proxy candidates for some words that could approximate responses to or interpretations of a range of situations as perceived over the past few years using visual signs intended to encode and evoke the sound of human voices carrying meanings across (what?) from one to another 


"ART WITHOUT MAKING" is at once a commentary on the foregoing sequence and a position on the practicability of a possible remedy (or alternative): life as art.  Text 1 states the position, and Text 2 rethinks it and refines it.  From Text 1: 


I want more out of art.  I want the subtleties, complexities, and ambiguities of multi-leveled awarenesses of being to infuse everything, everything to be as though art.  If this could occur, or could be imagined to occur, then we would no longer need to think of art as if it were limited to a separate class of human-made objects. 


And from Text 2: 


Even so, lately for me the real point of what I had been intending by making objects in the tradition of art and poetry has evolved into allowing that everything we do and experience has profound and complex significances analogous to those we find in art.  Now the locus of intention is no longer framed or bounded in a representation, but opened out so there isn't anything else. 


Geraldine Monk's Manufractured Moon (—but I'm intrigued by her word, "manu·frac·tured," which can mean not "making by hand" (that would be "manu·fac·ture") but, breaking by hand, and "fracture" can refer to the texture of a surface (to the breaks or fractures, or, clasts in that surface, or, of that texture), and so breaking by hand, or, broken by hand, or, as in, Logoclastic Moon).  Manufractured Moon consists of a series of epistles (epistees? e pístis?) on a variety of subjects, each ending with the curious insigne, "Getha."  (Getha is a noun, and "Getha" is a woman, "a lone rangeress with untouched skin and sober as a barristocrat."   "Getha" also brings to mind gethsemane, which when not capitalized means any scene or occasion of agony.  Keeping with the gethsemane angle, we could note that "Getha"—from the Hebrew gat, meaning "press" as in "oil-press" (the Hebrew semen means "oil")—is only half the word, and as such is fragmentary, is fractured.  "Getha" may then signify the human condition or state-of-being that is fracture—break, cleft, cleavage, and so on.)  Here is the second epistle


                                   (Subject:  Hungered and Loafing)

Fresh air in my city lights.  I breathe soft sofas of joy.  I cross
off the calendar days.  I cross them backwards.  They meet the ones coming for-
ward and halve the time.  To halve and to hold . . . to have your cake . . . and yours
such a rich home-made.  Was Sara Lee a gypsy?

My calendar is tucked in a fright in the corner of intricate plastic lace.  It's offish
white.  The Last Supper of 2000.  Pale lilac wall weeps through its lacy pores.
Christ.  He holds a heart shaped cob against his breast.  The positioning is just so.
Under the matching lilac-shaded standard lamp the room's a tip with shadow.
Lopsided.  All the apostles are men.


Following Manufractured Moon is Latitudes.  A latitude is a region considered with reference to its distance north or south of the equator, with Latitudes we have a series of poems each with reference north or south to the place of the author—or, where "latitude" is the attitude of the same considered with reference (being ascription or description of characteristics) to objects and situations.  Here is "North Bound : Facing South": 


Alchemical minds turn
cold boreal winters to molten
gold and
roads flanked with
hedgerows and horses - swish and
rush and
giddy curves of thatch.
Dumbswept.   Vibrant.   Earth-hug.

The rich nudge.

The lick of Eden.

Dangerous magic.

Still: one unbroken
not to break our
on would be a
in this rickety

Just to find


Also here are "Opus Anglicanum—," "Pa(x)" and "Shed."  As a "reader," the ahadada succeeds on all accounts: The writers are well represented by the selection of works, there is good variety (albeit only three writers are featured), and the effect will be to foster appreciation and discovery of other texts.  But there is even greater value here when we consider this a sort of Halsey/Byrum/Monk "portable."  These writers are deserving of such treatment, and we, as readers, hail the convenience.  Now, where is reader #2? 



the eratio bookshelf is edited by gregory vincent st. thomasino.