Category: Uncategorized

Extended Ekphrasis: A Review of Tension : Rupture, poems by Cutter Streeby, paintings by Michael Haight

Everything about this book is extra-ordinary.  From creation to publication, which, in many senses is a frozen moment in an ongoing conversation. It is critical to understanding this work that both artists are equally acknowledged and considered, even as they express their responses to the world and each other in the different languages of words and paint. 

The two artists were friends before they collaborated, so had a sense of each other before they began. Spurred by the pandemic, Streeby asked Haight to respond to some poems from his unpublished manuscript that was still “open to changes.” Within the manuscript were a series of poems called “Frameworks.” Haight proposed responding with “Alcoholic Crepuscles” (both artists have battled addiction) in watercolor, tempera, and gouache.  Rather than stop at that standard point of ekphrasis, the dialogue continued.  Streeby let Haight’s work “hold the narrative line” and selected or wrote new poems to send back to Haight. Haight, in turn, chose “details” from his paintings.  Streeby wrote his own “details” to add to the conversation. 

In this  captured moment of the conversation, Streeby opens with a poem; Haight closes with a painting.  As the introduction clarifies: “At each exchange, there is an intersection, a tension, a rupture between our languages and our memories, our own stylized selves expressed through our languages that results in new islands, new continents of awareness.”

It is important to ‘experience’ this book, not just read it, both as an artifact of the ongoing conversation and as a combined work of art in two languages.  This complex layering reveals itself through the work. 

Streeby opens with “Framework: A Vessel, Notes on a Grecian Urn”: “We should stay how it starts, shouldn’t we?” He continues by referencing the language of painting: “Wet clay and water, finger-formed—should say it’s spun, formed from a controlled force, built over a locus.”  The conversation begins within the poem, within the opening part of the body of work.  Readers have seen Haight’s paintings on the title leaf and on the page before the Table of Contents, but this poem is the true opening of the work.  When readers turn the page, the first painting within the work is revealed as two female figures, one with a face, one without, one standing facing the viewer, the other in a broken-legged arabesque, head turned to the viewer, but without features.  Pink, yellow, and yellow-green predominate.  The conversation has begun, but readers must explore to discover what this conversation means to each.  Readers have, after all, joined the conversation forming that triangular connection among creators, the work, and readers.  The connection unique to each reader.

Some poems appear as prose poems, but the colon is used almost like a line break, echoing the title Tension : Rupture, where the colon is presented with a space on either side.  Sometimes, the poems are in paragraphs, sometimes a solid block.  Sometimes, a poem is accompanied by a detail, as in “Concerning the Fox, Liber Monstrorum,” followed by “Detail: Liber Monstrorum,” a poem in couplet form.  “Detail: Heliotrope” is physically wide open, words and short phrases almost scattered on the page with extensive white space. On closer inspection, there is a specific structure to the poem where indention and the trail of words and phrases down the page leads readers to correlate words and spaces, to understand spaces as words in themselves.

One of the more fascinating poems is “Letter from a New City to an Old Friend” (sic).  Some words and phrases are also presented with strikethrough lines.  Readers are given two versions at the same time: a work in progress, reflecting the nature of this evolving dialogue between the artists.  Readers can read all the words, including strikethroughs, as the earlier version of the poem followed by reading the poem without the strikethroughs.  The last line of the poem gives the time span for the versions: NoV16, 2009– 6.1.2019    a ten years now.

The conversation, which began at the start of the pandemic, has not been in progress that long, but some of the work spans a longer time.

The content of the written text is also wide-ranging.  Addiction is common to both artists and embedded in the work, but there is much more.  The first title “Framework: A Vessel, Notes on a Grecian Urn,” references Keats and the romantic tradition of ekphrasis.  The “Notes” at the end of the work explicate other references—to Lorca, Jericho Brown, and others, in the tradition of poets. T. S. Eliot comes to mind.

Streeby dives deeply into individual words and their meanings and implications.  In “Detail: λ ε γ ω,” for example, he writes “Reason grows from the root of legos, / And if we can’t say a thing, logos can’t be there:” This is followed by a series of lines of X and Y in upper and lower case. He concludes: “So breath’s form’s the crux then? Everything’s there.” The importance of saying “a thing” is key to understanding conversation.  Hence the attention to individual words, their meanings, and the nuances and implications. 

Haight’s work also “says things.”  The word “crepuscule” from the Latin crepusculum means twilight but can refer to sunrise as well as sunset—sunrise, the golden hour, sunset, the blue hour. Many of Haight’s poems center on yellow and blue.  The figures are often wraith-like, reminiscent of the figures that weave above the world in the works of Marc Chagall.  But these figures, despite their ephemeral quality, are grounded, the limbs particularly large, feet and toes almost those of old people.  The painting most directly connected to addiction is the responding to “Ela” and “Detail: Garnet” on the previous page, but it appears opposite “Letter from a New City to an Old Friend.” The painting is yellow, blue, and purple and depicts drinking from a large bottle through wide, long straws.  These figures are primarily faces, one with closed eyes, one with wide eyes, a third upside down.  A succumbing, an orgy. The impossibility of stopping.

The intention is for a painting to follow a poem, but often the following painting sits opposite a different poem, making the collection more fluid as paintings flow from the previous poem into the next poem at the same time.  As the work evolves, readers are encouraged to question reality, what is said which hearkens back to “if we can’t say a thing, logos can’t be there,” limits (“I limit the infinity of the world by the variable of what calls to me from it,” from “Tonic Key: A Rose”), and language (“Language is a good example,” which follows directly from the previous quote).  In “Tonic Key: A Rose,” Streeby also writes

“Language is a conspiracy between two people, and it’s always only two,

Necessarily: the speaker and the hearer, no matter the scale; the words

hit your ear only, process in your mind only. Your space, your time.”

Readers can hear both speaker and hearer by absorbing the conversation, but readers actually see not hear them—the paintings and the words on the page.  The artists saw their creations as they passed them back and forth.  This raises the question of how much they “talked” to each other in the course of the work, i.e., if the “conspiracy” of the work also included “the speaker” and “the hearer” as well as the sight of paintings and words. 

In the last poem, “Self Portrait through the Eyes of a Photographer,” Streeby invokes a different medium. Haight grew up in Perris and Hemet, California. In the “Afterword” by Jane Ursula Harris, she writes that “These places have the shape-shifting contours of daydreams and nightmares alike, and while some are based on photographs, they are like palimpsests seen through the shimmer of memory.”

The reader learns that medium of photography underlies some of Haight’s contributions to this conversation.  Memory is a third medium, one that Haight, Streeby, and readers possess and can apply both to the creation and the understanding of the work.

Tension : Rupture takes time to grasp and understand.  Time well spent.

***

Aline Soules’ work has appeared in such publications as the Kenyon Review, Houston Literary  Review, Poetry Midwest, and The Galway Review.  Her books include Meditation on Woman and Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey (chapbook). She also writes book reviews which have been accepted by publications such as Tupelo Quarterly (https://www.tupeloquarterly.com/reviews/) and Heavy Feather Review (https://heavyfeatherreview.org). Find her online at http://alinesoules.com.

Shampoo Bowl

Your day chased a runaway dog, your neck
the yanked leash you rub. But relief spies
on itself, synapses jam their shots. It takes
foreign incursion, muster of fingers, to rip
the cord, propel the graceful fall to oblivious–
she could rub suds in your eyes, rake
fingernails down your scalp, hold your head under
water. How delicious the forgetting:
you pay her to make you
a thing in her hands.

***

Evelyn Schiele is a poet and short story writer and a retired community college marketing administrator.  Based in a northern suburb of Chicago, she has traveled extensively throughout Europe. Her poetry and fiction have been published in Willow Review.

And

You and I go together like the ampersand symbol and the number 7 key. Maybe that placement is why I consider ampersands lucky.

Was it Mom or was it Granny who taught me that when a street sign or telephone pole or person passes between two walking shoulder to shoulder, always say “bread and butter” as a form of reunion on the other side?

O coordinating conjunction of revolutionary parity! Joining two or more clauses of equal rank!

Perhaps I like pub trivia for its exquisite purity, an elegant realm where facts are facts, evaluated only by the metrics “right” and “wrong.”

Some things I don’t mind taking jointly: Ice cream and cake. Wait and see. Whereas I’ll take the pens and leave the pencils, take the potatoes and leave the meat.

Yesterday I decided to go for a run, and then I tripped and broke my hand. Would that I could eliminate that second and third and but I can’t. In one instant I was a person who had lived 41 years with no broken bones and the next I was struggling to stand and walk home.

Is it acceptable to begin a sentence with and? And how! Though prejudice lingers from a bygone time.

He used to be so handsome, and now…

Those personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs can be deceptively encouraging of binaries—much more either/or than and. I’m an ENFJ, but the extraversion rests on the slightest majority, hovering between 51 and 53%. Whatever kind of vert you are, I will probably like hanging out with you.

Ecosystems and continuums. And so on. And so forth.

Physicist Max Tegmark argues that time is an illusion brought on by perception, not something fundamental to the universe. “We can portray our reality as either a three-dimensional place where stuff happens over time, or as a four-dimensional place where nothing happens—and if it really is the second picture, then change really is an illusion, because there’s nothing that’s changing; it’s all just there—past, present, future.”

A poet I follow on Twitter used the bottom of her coffee mug to make a Venn diagram: Radical acceptance and compassion vs. fuck around and find out.

What Tegmark means is that “life is like a movie, and space-time is like the DVD” where “nothing about the DVD itself that is changing in any way, even though there’s all this drama unfolding in the movie.” In that sense, I am always a) about to break my hand and b) breaking my hand and c) walking around with a broken hand simultaneously. Interesting concept, but I still have to get surgery to put two pins in my finger this Wednesday.

I like being a person alone in a room and I like being in expansive company.

Little kids intuitively grasp the improv-troupe credo of Yes, and. Like if you say “We’re playing store,” they’re like “Yes, and these birch leaves are the money.”

The plot twists and turns like a surgeon’s scalpel.

***

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a founding member of Poems While You Wait, and the author, most recently, of the novels Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s, 2017) and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Penguin, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Atlantic, the North American Review and elsewhere, and her latest collection Where Are the Snows, winner of the XJ Kennedy Prize, is coming out from Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.  She teaches at DePaul. 

Arms

I’m feeling downwardly mobile, please hold me in your arms.

A human upper limb from forearm to wrist. Body part most associated with power and might. The long arm of the law. The logistical arm of the Air Force.

O bitter airborne struggle over the armrest on a plane!

I don’t like being held at arm’s length, especially when the holder has exceptionally long arms.

An arm is the foreleg of a four-footed animal. Would human hunters be so excited about the right to bear arms if the law also extended the right to arm bears?

Arm in arm is a comforting if inefficient way to walk.

Few people look attractive with a sweatshirt tied by the arms around their waist, but some look okay with a sweater draped over their shoulders like a prep school kid or a sweet old man or Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I’ve never stood arms akimbo, studying the family coat of arms, but I often sit back and wrap my arms around my knees.

America has more guns than people, an absurdity that could make you weep: everybody on the street potentially armed and dangerous. Even babes in arms just armed to the teeth. The cost of going to the store could be a literal arm and a leg if somebody chooses to shoot it up.

Do I only find the sexiness of bare arms with tan lines unerring because I was a child in the 80s?

Lay down your arms. Really, lay them down and tuck them in neatly. Read them a bedtime story, sing them a song, tell them good night, and bid them sweet dreams.

Is scary-cute the rarest form of cute? A big old T. Rex with 60 teeth, each eight inches long, and two itty-bitty arms.

To furnish or equip with weapons? No thanks. But to arm citizens with the right to vote? Yes, please. All world leaders who want to hold arms races should instead resort to arm wrestling at most.

Repeal the Second Amendment already.

The fashion these days is to denigrate Hemingway as hopelessly macho, but A Farewell to Arms holds up. I admire the way he struggled with the ending especially, rewriting it by his count at least 39 times.

I like to say of my nephew sometimes, “Get a load of the arm on that kid!” when he throws a ball, but honestly, he’s a lot better at soccer.

My favorite memory of you is when you crossed your arms and said, “Let me show you how to set a boundary with an asshole.”

God takes the dead into his arms and sorts them out.

My new strategy: I welcome existential dread with open arms, I ask it to coffee, I get in its head. I make it my friend.

***

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a founding member of Poems While You Wait, and the author, most recently, of the novels Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s, 2017) and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Penguin, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Atlantic, the North American Review and elsewhere, and her latest collection Where Are the Snows, winner of the XJ Kennedy Prize, is coming out from Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.  She teaches at DePaul. 

Voyagers

Today in the taxi I was thankful for all the near misses and sudden stops, times I nearly died or almost nearly.

I wondered about the raccoon I saw on Central Park North, rooting through a garbage can. Could this have been the Lord wading through the black molasses of night, and how many years will Her wandering go on?

***

Sean Singer is the author of Discography (Yale University Press, 2002), winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America; Honey & Smoke (Eyewear Publishing, 2015); and Today in the Taxi (Tupelo Press, 2022). He runs a manuscript consultation service at www.seansingerpoetry.com

An Imperfect Glass

Today in the taxi I picked up this guy on the Upper East Side, and he wanted to go to Spring Street and Washington Street. He had a blue ice pack on his head.

I crossed the park to Broadway to the West Side Highway to Clarkson Street to his address. For 20 minutes, he was yelling about the traffic, though it was light, as his intensity continued.

I wondered if his wound was self-inflicted, an accident, or something else. I could see how he might make a person lose their composure.

After a while driving eight hours a day, the driver and the car become one. It is not unlike being a person—moving forward on a one-way that is irreversible and pre-determined. I instinctively compute the spaces around the car and move faster—mirror in the mirror—then only briefly letting my eyes meet his eyes.

***

Sean Singer is the author of Discography (Yale University Press, 2002), winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America; Honey & Smoke (Eyewear Publishing, 2015); and Today in the Taxi (Tupelo Press, 2022). He runs a manuscript consultation service at www.seansingerpoetry.com

Like the Biologists,

I thought
the ghost orchid’s labellum

split into lateral
tendrils so the giant

sphinx moth would land
between them, its twelve-

inch tongue designed to suck
from a twelve-inch

tube. But stalking the magic
of long, open legs

with help from light
and camera traps revealed

encounters I didn’t know
existed. I can watch

the fig, streaked, pawpaw
or giant sphinx hover, probe,

and pollinate the ghost.

***

Beth McDermott is the author Figure 1, forthcoming from Pine Row Press, and How to Leave a Farmhouse, a chapbook published by Porkbelly Press. Her poetry appears in Pine RowTupelo QuarterlyMatter, and Jet Fuel Review. Reviews appear in American Book ReviewAfter the ArtKenyon Review Online, and The Bind. She’s an Assistant Professor of English at the University of St. Francis and recipient of a 2020-2021 Distinguished Teaching Award.

Ride

Is it stupid to declare I’m hopelessly devoted
when my beliefs always come full

circle? One minute I defend you, the next
I’m riding in a Ferris Wheel gondola, correlating

my shifting perspective with the shift
in my apparent weight. When I feel buoyant,

you’re a chit, tile, chip, token, peg, meeple or
marker—a game piece I can push

around the board. I’m the centripetal force
that constrains you to the path of least

resistance, until I slow like the first
wheel dynamited into scrap.

***

Beth McDermott is the author Figure 1, forthcoming from Pine Row Press, and How to Leave a Farmhouse, a chapbook published by Porkbelly Press. Her poetry appears in Pine RowTupelo QuarterlyMatter, and Jet Fuel Review. Reviews appear in American Book ReviewAfter the ArtKenyon Review Online, and The Bind. She’s an Assistant Professor of English at the University of St. Francis and recipient of a 2020-2021 Distinguished Teaching Award.

Minutes Overheard from The Vagueness Society Holiday Party

NYU Philosophy Department, 1998

Someone is always here to misunderstand us.
This is not the only matter set forth we can save.
No side-step just for moonful eyes, nor blindness
of horses, nor a train’s length between sidelong roads.
This is a fugue. We must detail side roads now,
take out the Phrygian mode from our waters.
Truth-values might not be for everybody, but
we can still absolutely hang out here—
hideous, muck-licked against the fake wood walls.
For lo, fellow members, every day is a challenge, we guess.
We were never in the right place or in the right drama.
Someone was always here standing still and said
how we looked like we knew what we were doing.
Blink your eyes and a heap is a non-heap.
Blink your eyes and it’s a whole decade and change.
And we would never open their mail.
Their problems are nasty. We dreamt about it, lost it,
forgot it, winced. For we are the most important problem
on Bullshit Row. Anyone next to us looks just like us
with just a little change, and right on down the line until
we are unrecognizable, freaks with our heads cut off. 
One must stand up to the villains of certainty and,
in our dotage, we will be paid well to be cranky.
Our sand-heap counsel stays in cages. Blink your eyes
and, generally, vagueness is actually useful. As for the cake:
we didn’t eat anything that didn’t say it was food before we ate it.

***

Daniel Nester is the author most recently of Harsh Realm: My 1990s, a collection of poetry and prose poems coming soon from Indolent Books. His work has appeared in New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Bennington Review, The Hopkins Review, Word For/Word, Court Green, Love’s Executive Order, and other places. He is the editor of Pine Hills Review.

Future Days

Live, Throwing Copper (1994)

That one time no one showed up for a poetry reading
I hosted, that one event replays over again up here in Albany,
where no one shows up to any poetry readings anyway
and where the only station my AM radio gets
loud and clear is “Catholic words of peace and glory.”
I camp out at the second-string coffee place with high windows
like the Brooklyn bookstore where no one showed up
to the poetry reading. The poets came, sure. They always do.
But no one else did. The poets blamed it on Charles Bernstein’s wife,
who had an art opening. Which would’ve made sense,
but it was in another borough and on another day. 
The poets were Canadian, and complained about their
small travel grants. I bought them drinks. Today,
in the second-string coffee place filled with high windows,
undergrads talk about god and test scores, and I spot
a grad student I know, his face in Williams’ prose.
He’s wrestled with him for years now, says it’s like living
inside a molasses jar
. We talk about the baseball
poem, how the crowd moved uniformly, how it reminds me
of the proofreader who flagged phantom pronouns
in my manuscript, the one I’d sweated over for years.
The Williams poem hinges on what “it” refers to—
Is “it” the crowd at the ball game eating hot dogs?
Or is “it” America, the failed experiment?
In this second-string coffee place, undergrads blast rap-metal
and they think it will force me out of my primo booth spot—
Fuck that noise. I got a table, a power outlet, and headphones
to blast Can then Gong then Can then Gong then Can then Gong.
On my screen, phantom pronouns pop in and out. I play
the Throwing Copper album, where the guy from Talking Heads
lets slip a second of silence in the middle of Live’s best song.
A big mastering fuck-up? Did Greg Calbi not show up that day?
Did he record it in Cannon Falls, Minnesota or who the fuck
knows where? I bet the drummer in Can knows. What could I say
to my shrink today that could clear my head any better?
What problems could I replay to her instead of the one
unifying problem, which is that I hate myself, that I can’t say out loud
that I am mediocre, that I can’t say I have wasted too many afternoons
like this in search of a poem. Today, instead, I mull over the two-way tie
for the worst lines of poetry I’ve ever heard aloud.
Number 1: “That was the winter I wouldn’t wear wool.”
Number 2: “Humberto is delivering breakfast sandwiches.”
One’s by a former teacher of mine.
The other is by someone from Philadelphia.
Who was the drummer for Can, anyway?
Didn’t he just die? Did he practice his breathing?
Alone with my headphones and coffee straws,
passwords written in chalk on bricks gather light from a window,
and I remember the day in the hospital just down the street
from here in Albany, in the second-string coffee shop
with high windows, when my daughter’s legs turned blue
last summer, and I couldn’t drive straight or walk straight,
and I ran into the room where she was in bed and she was
OK but scared to have her face with tubes in it. My chest
froze there in the hallway, and I touched her small ears
and sang her name a little bit—it was all I could do to stand there,
to appear fatherly, to breathe in and out, helpless and still.

***

Daniel Nester is the author most recently of Harsh Realm: My 1990s, a collection of poetry and prose poems coming soon from Indolent Books. His work has appeared in New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Bennington Review, The Hopkins Review, Word For/Word, Court Green, Love’s Executive Order, and other places. He is the editor of Pine Hills Review.