Drunken Boat’s very own Matthew Hamilton reviews Kristina Marie Darling’s Requited.
Imagine coming home one day and finding out that your wife packed all her belongings, and the only thing left of hers was a note, laying there like a cold memory, that read, “I’m not happy anymore. Take care.” Imagine an empty space where the word Love should have been above her signature. Imagine scratching your head as you struggle to understand why this has happened to you. Imagine your emotions freezing inside of you like an impatient winter storm.
For me, Kristina Marie Darling’s poetry collection, Requited, could not have come at a better time. As someone recently going through a divorce, after reading this collection, I feel confident saying that I understand the frozen space of a damaged heart, of an experience so hurtful it often leaves me reeling in angst with every thought I have of my soon to be ex-wife from the moment I read her letter.
But poetry is good for the soul, and Darling’s words spoke to me like a skilled therapist speaks to a client, or a priest speaking to a parishioner in the mysterious confines of the confessional.
These graceful prose poems, no more than five lines in length, describe a love affair that is like a “rose garden in the dead of winter,” which sets the pace for the rest of this 41 page book with its blizzardy cold conditions. Of course, this is all metaphor to how the narrator is feeling, miserable to say the least. She is a dead flower with “cold blue lips,” “a heroine counting unfaithful stars.” And these simple, yet profound lines will pervade the reader with sympathy and understanding, especially for those readers that have experienced, or are currently experiencing, a failing relationship.
Going with the Flow is a book addressed to anyone who has concern over his own “going.” A poet-philosopher studying aging from the inside-out, Peter Siedlecki explores the concept of old age in a vein similar to Plato’s dialectical method. Standout poems such as “Deciding to Retire,” “Child’s Play: A Retirement Poem,” and “On Receiving a Mailing from Forest Lawn” represent various iterations of the theme. There are moments of great humor, along with expressions of frustration and resignation. As in Plato’s Theory of Forms, the poems reveal the temporal in an attempt to understand the immutable archetypes that provide order and structure to the world. In the title poem, which is the first poem in the collection, Siedlecki offers the reader the first of many contradictions: is aging “a sad death of summer” that happens in gorgeous “blazes of color”? Inconsistencies are brought to light by the poet; the aging man wants “to connect to antiquity” yet concedes “I will die, and you will wail / and misremember me as perfect.”
Even as the poet leads the reader through his study with logic, he grants in “More Theology”:
We have reasoned god out,
with our “Thees” and “Thous”
only because reason is what we have
to turn into whatever we need,
the bricks and mortar
of which we build
the most absurd structures.
In fact, some poems are structured primarily from questions, in a modern Socratic method—“Untimely Death” is an effective example of this technique:
There’s a freshness to Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of our Lives—a freshness I see in other first books, and that I sometimes don’t see in the umpteenth collections by well-published poets. (I did confirm: while Ocasio previously released a chapbook, The Speed of our Lives is her first poetry book.) By "freshness," I mean a presentation of poems whose presence, I sense, were not determined by applied strictures, e.g. a project-based perspective, or a focus on a particular form.
The poems in The Speed of our Lives range over a wide variety of subjects and concerns, a range not hidden by its organization in four sections (entitled “Sheroes,” “She Revolutionary,” “Princes and Privates,” and “Patriots”). While the sections are certainly apt, I ended up not focusing on their categories so much as being moved to engage each individual poem on an individual basis. I believe this results from the strong story-telling impetus to each poem so that I reacted to each one based on its story instead of how it relates to other poems.
Nor does story need to unfold as narrative—for example, this list poem I found redolent, thus, enjoyed:
FATHER’S FAVORITE THINGS AND PEOPLE
Charlie Mingus’ albums
social tea biscuits
brown wool coat
books by Chester Himes
Brut After Shave Lotion
Cadillac Coupe de Ville
Harlem’s Better Crust Pie Bakery
New York Giants
James Van Der Zee’s photographs
books by John Hope Franklin
English Leather Cologne
Brooks Brothers gray and blue suits
sweet potato pie
New York Jets green cap
hog’s head cheese
When I look, thus, at The Speed of our Lives as not just a poetry collection but a collection of stories, I see the range of subjects. To quote one of the blurbers, Ann Deagon, there are “poems embracing myth, history ancient and modern, happenings worldwide and close to home, characters from many cultures. The first section alone focuses on Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Pocahontas, Anne Frank, Audrey Hepburn, Angela Davis, Michelle Obama, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Alondra de la Parra.” These poems are about something(s) or someone(s).
ARRANGEMENTS OF LANGUAGE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BURT KIMMELMAN
by Eric Hoffman
Burt Kimmelman teaches literary and cultural studies at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the highly acclaimed author of eight collections of poems. Kimmelman’s poetry has received praise from such notables as Robert Creeley (“a rare evocation”), Jerome Rothenberg (“a strict & powerful accounting”), Alfred Kazin (“artful, fastidious, learned”), and Susan Howe (“a singularly locating force”). In addition to his poetry, Kimmelman has also produced an impressive body of critical work, including numerous penetrative essays as well as two full-length books, The Poetics of Authorship in the Later Middle Ages: The Emergence of the Modern Literary Persona (Peter Lang, 1996) and the ground-breaking study The ‘Winter Mind’: William Bronk and American Letters (Fairleigh Dickinson, 1998). It was this latter effort, first encountered over a decade ago during research on my biography of George Oppen, which led me to contact Kimmelman, initiating a conversation on poetry that continues to this day. A small cross-section of that conversation is here provided, albeit in the less casual format of a formal interview, occasioned by the recent publication of Kimmelman’s Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2013 (BlazeVox, $18). This interview was conducted via e-mail primarily from April-May 2014, with a brief follow up in July.
Eric Hoffman: Burt, a fair amount of your work experiments with formal verse, in most cases with syllabics. What is it about working this way that appeals to you? Do you believe that working with syllabics encourages invention?
Burt Kimmelman: I first set eyes on Donald Allen’s watershed anthology, The New American Poetry, in 1965. A decade before the Allen book, Charles Olson had published his ground-shaking essay "Projective Verse" (1950); that essay was given pride of place in the poetics section of Allen’s book. So, for a fledgling poet like myself, the question of writing free verse was not a no-brainer so much as moot (I had written some sonnets, haikus, a couple of concrete poems etc., and did get great pleasure out of set form, but was not at that time in a position to have any particular form work for me in any kind of creative or generative way). Olson's astonishing essay (to say nothing of his amazing poetry, an exemplar I took to heart) explained, so to speak, how to leave free verse behind for something rigorous but not formal in any sense except the sui generis sense—as Robert Creeley had said, “form is nothing more than an extension of content.”
Stan Mir: What would you say some of the most formative experiences have been for you as a writer?
Mark Wallace: One thing that occurs to me to say is that I grew up not liking poetry, or thinking that I didn’t like it, like almost everybody in America is trained to think. Fiction was what I was mainly doing, and when I went for a graduate degree in creative writing, I did it in fiction, a collection of short stories. I think the thing that changed me about all of this was while I was at SUNY-Binghamton in the creative writing program; Jerome Rothenberg showed up and taught there for one year. And that one year that he was teaching there, Robert Creeley gave a reading. I didn’t really know Bob Creeley’s work. I didn’t really know anything about contemporary poetry at all, and I had one of those classic, cliché light bulb moments when Creeley was reading, “Oh, I get this, I love it. I want to do it.” Before that I had played around a little bit with poetry here and there, but not seriously. I think there was something about the contemporary nature of what Creeley did, the angular rhythm, which shook up my conventional idea of poetry. I had read the Romantics in college and just wasn’t interested. So I think that is the moment, and I started writing poems instantly after that. I walk into a reading and I walk out with a completely different perspective. And later on, I worked with Bob a bit, because he was at Buffalo.
SM: So did that influence your decision to go to Buffalo?
MW: Oh yeah, very much so, because I was getting a creative writing degree, an M.A., at Binghamton. It was certainly on my mind that I would go and study poetry with him. That year that I was at Binghamton and Rothenberg was there, we also had a big literary festival, I can’t remember the name of it. That was the first time I heard Charles Bernstein perform, the first time I heard Steve McCaffrey perform and do his “Library of Cruelty” piece, where he dresses problematically, orientalist, but it was still brilliant and the festival had a fascinating mixture of unique performances. I met all of those people, and of course, Charles was not at Buffalo at that time. He wasn’t a professor at all. I had been at Buffalo for two years before he became a professor there. He came in, I think, in my second year, as a visiting professor for one semester. I had class with him my second year, and then my third year he was there permanently. I forged a very good working relationship with him, and have tremendous admiration for Charles, not only for the quality of his work, but for the extra steps he goes with the students who want to work with him. So if you want to talk about formative moment, that’s one, where I suddenly got very interested in contemporary and experimental work. Right around that time there was a Boundary Two issue that collected a lot of Language Poets, and someone I worked with there, who was a theorist, a professor named William Spanos, who basically was a Heidegger scholar but was also into some contemporary poetry, was then the editor of Boundary Two. He didn’t put together that issue, but he was responsible for the Creeley issue and the Olson issue. I read the Language Poetry issue very heavily. I had only met Charles once before, but studying with him later I learned more about that context.
SM: Before arriving at Binghamton and encountering Spanos and McCaffrey and Bernstein, had you ever experienced any type of art that worked the way their art was working, maybe in terms of fiction?
MW: That’s a good question, and I’m trying to figure out what the answer is. I had taken a postmodern fiction course taught by Spanos, and we read Gravity’s Rainbow, and If on a winter’s night a traveler, and other books of course, and I felt very open to the idea of new approaches. But my collection of short stories that I wrote for my Master’s thesis is essentially conventional realism. My earlier writing was more influenced by people like Jack Kerouac, which probably doesn’t come as any surprise.
I was also involved—although I’m not a musician —with a lot of friends in the D.C. music scene. I was involved in the punk rock and new American rock scene. I was a big fan of the Minutemen and stuff like that while I was in college. I wrote and published reviews in college. The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime and the Meat Puppet’s II, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade were albums released and big back then, so I was already interested in non-mainstream practices. I’m not sure when I became aware that there was a similar kind of split going on in the world of literature.