Many of my best reads of the year fall under the category of unique contemporary poetry by talented, provocative writers published by some of the most scintillating independent presses putting out new material today. Here are a few of my favorites, all well worth checking out, especially for those who have a taste for the figurative, the odd, and the thought provoking. No Maya Angelou or Billy Collins here. This is work of a weirder terrain and a darker caliber, delectably illustrative of some complexly dark inner landscapes.
~ONEIROMANCE (an epithalamion) by Kathleen Rooney
winner Of The 2007 Gatewood Prize-published by Switchback Books, 2008-available via www.SwitchbackBooks.com
Switchback Books is an exciting young feminist literary press and this slim collection by Kathleen Rooney navigates the terrain of marriage in some fresh and multifaceted ways. Marriage ceremonies and honeymoon dreams and other coupling scenes evoke some of the questions and doubts and strange standards associated with the contemporary wedding industry, forever partnership, commitment and love from the perspective of brides and grooms and family and a larger cultural context. Quirky microcosms intersect with bigger pictures-individual insecurities interact with more widespread parameters of acceptability-and the surreality of wedding as pageant is juxtaposed with issues of personal identity and how such identity may shift as one approaches a ceremony that is oft portrayed as a life changing event. Nervous qualms , mixed messages, and mixed feelings interplay with a sense of genuine reverence and charming desire to stake one’s own claim upon the terrain of marriage. Recommended for the engaged, the newlyweds, the lovers, the questioners, and those who are strangely drawn to marriage even though they would prefer to mix longstanding traditions with their own flourishes.
“His bride/ lies on white paper, next to her sister,/ arms pretzeled as though dead or praying.//
Hairspray: precipitating. Cotton balls:/ snowing. Crotch: showing for the removal// of hair. Lips of scarlet & cheeks of pink,/ he’d think her a cadaver at the hands// of a mortician, except she chats with/ the beautician in fractured Portuguese.// If he squints his ears, he can almost/ understand.”
~Holy Land by Rauan Klassnik
published by Black Ocean, 2008-avilable via www.BlackOcean.org
Black Ocean is a press that has published some enthralling and entertaining surreality-laced tomes over the last few years, often mixing a genuinely entertaining accessibility with a more abstract, imagistic dream/nightmare tone. Klassnik’s collection consists of short, prose poem style vignettes that often offer the lingering impression of snapshot combined with lush dreamscape. Lust and violence co-exist; love and war intermingle; sometimes the imagery is almost akin to reality TV sound bites combined with sensationalized news coverage, as filtered through a poet’s pen, waveringly powerful and poised on the brinks of moments and scenes that document beauty & ugliness, awe & horror, and human & cultural detritus enshrined like little monuments erected in the midst of the chaos. Some of the juxtapositions are disconcerting borderline shocking, even in a time in which media the inundation of violent imagery sometimes seems to leave us feeling desensitized and numb. Klassnik’s images still cuts through all the TV snow and white noise.
“The whole way through–as they bleed it, skin it, burn it, slice off its head, tail and hooves–it’s galloping down through you in a darkening shower of tiny white flowers.’
~Cadaver Dogs by Rebecca Loudon
published by No Tell Books, 2008-available via www.notellbooks.org
No Tell Books is another fine independent press, which previously published a shorter collection by Loudon, ‘Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home’, which is also more than worthwhile. Loudon is masterful (mistressful?) at mining the loaded terrain of the subconscious mind in all of its ticking, twitching, palpitating glory. But as one might gather from the last descriptive word in that list, it’s not just about the mind, it’s also about the body- situated in the tricky, sticky intersections between the psyche and the flesh. She gives voice to evocative, throbbing, churning, lustful pieces of what lies beneath the teeth and the fur and the cotton; what flows through the blood with painful or sultry or poisonous or dangerous connotations. There is something primal about her work, something that wants to devour the very heart of the matter and reconstitute it, in quivering beauty, upon a scalloped silver platter, steaming with hot innuendo and strange invitation. So poetic it growls like a hurting, clamping, damp and heaving opera of human desire. Recommended for the insatiable, the fetishistic, and those who want it deep. Some might call it macabre, but I call it spilling forth with deliciously dark desires.
“my house drowns/ I crawl naked toward you on the floor/ white and dark meat the dark/ full of blood”
~My Zorba by Daniella Pafunda
published by Bloof Books, 2008-available via www.bloofbooks.com
Bloof Books is another new independent press, which thus far has focused upon the work of young women poets, often frothing at the mouth against the norms. Pafunda’s second full-length collection is a fun and terrifying ride of disjointed and fractured fragments; a queasiness-inducing view on contempo. pomo. womanhood, real and fictive and twisted and gender-fluid and ‘gurlesque’. It has its perfomative aspects, it has its shifty aspects, but despite the slitheriness, it leaves an impact like a shattered neon sign, partially digested, but stuck in the esophagal mechanism. It is both visceral and intellectual. It is hot, in a warped and clammy way.
“I am waiting for your teeth to lose their grip on the rope. / That spins. I examine each of your vivid feathers as they fall/ to the sawdust. Your fishnets ring in the strobe.”
~Horrific Confection by Juliet Cook
Published by BlazeVOX, 2008-available via http://www.blazevox.org/ebk-jCook%20REAL.pdf
And now please allow me to toot my own misshapen horn of plenty aka sugar-gore coated cornucopia, in order to mention my very own first-full-length poetry collection, ”Horrific Confection’, published by the deliciously prolific BlazeVOX, arbiters of “Post-Avant Poetries & Fiction” and “weird little books”. I won’t go so far as to review my own tome, but I’ll give you a taste as to what it’s all about and l’ll let you know that you can now enjoy it as an absolutely FREE e-book, by clicking the link above.
‘HORRIFIC CONFECTION’ is brimming with pinatas and confetti and sinister dessert products with more than their fair share of milk teeth stuck inside. Mutant sea creatures, suspicious slits, mercurial wrists, tainted candy, and heavy cream are also swirling quite vociferously therein. And don’t forget about the shattering mercury thermometers and the creepy/yummy kitten that won’t stop slinking into then out of the text then reappearing in a different formation. Perhaps that shapeshifting pussy is my doppelganger. Or perhaps it is stalking me quite relentlessly.’
For a little teaser, why not listen to me read two poems from the book–‘Written in a Black Bag’ & ‘Egg Whites’–both available within the audio section of this my xanga site.
Yum for contemporary poetry!