Levi Rubeck speaks with poet Noel Black about his new book of poetry Uselysses.
An old buddy called to tell me that he’s quitting his band. His heart isn’t in it anymore, though he’s also wrecked to think about how he will be disappointing his crew. But you need heart, especially in a place as taxing as Wyoming. I feel the same way about poetry sometimes. I can’t quit poetry any more than my friend could ever truly quit guitar, but the game and its politics can grind you down if you aren’t careful. Just as my faith in poetry waned, Noel Black’s Uselysses arrived.
A pun is an easy way to catch my squirrel-like attention, especially one that spins on the source material ever so slightly. It didn’t hurt that I’d recently finished Ulysses after years of false starts. Both books bathe in puns and portmanteaus, devices that force double vision in a way separate from repetition or careful, particular language. Dancing with the monument of poetry’s past and inventing new steps as he goes along, Black exhibits a love for the canon that matches his irreverent narratives.
Levi Rubeck What was the writing process for Uselysses like? It’s a book that spans geographies, from Cali to Colorado Springs to NYC, and presumably time as well. Did you have a consistent vision for this as book or did you find that these sections came together in post-production?
Noel Black I wouldn’t say I had a consistent vision other than wanting to get as far away as possible from the Bay Area poetry politics and get back to my earliest impulses to write poems: to say what I wanted to say with words that I enjoyed, and to let my thoughts lead me to strange places, lost memories, future reveries, etc.
Levi Rubeck speaks with poet Paisley Rekdal about the role of the pastoral and her approach to humanity’s uglier facets her book, Animal Eye.
While reading Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye, I was forced to wrestle with my own skewed notions of sentimentality. My personal distaste for warm fuzzies emerged as I began to admire poetry in high school. I wanted to separate verse from the sugar-sticky coating that all of my peers focused on, whether through love or liberal daydreaming of a more elegant world. To me, poetry was dirt under the fingernails, irreverent and befuddling hooliganism. As I’ve grown and written, I’ve been drawn to write about subjects easily drawn into the orbit of sentimentality, reflecting on traditional family relationships, but searching for non-traditional expressions and explorations of those often baffling and primordial interactions.
This book steps up to sentiment, but it’s hard to make a Kodak moment out of peeling back animal flesh, the embalmed father, trepanning, taxidermy, and other forms of physical and emotional violence. The tension that emerges from the familiar, but still queasy, juxtaposition between these types of emotions fuels Rekdal’s poetry. It’s easy to lose the leash on such subjects, but Animal Eye is taut, surprising, and frank, all without overdosing on the cynical or saccharine.
I had the pleasure of studying poetry under Paisley as an undergrad at the University of Wyoming, where my notions of tradition were challenged and my personal relationship with verse was reaffirmed. After reading Animal Eye I was excited for the chance to touch base with her again after quite a few years. After reading her travel blog Anapessimistic and some of her other poetry and non-fiction, I emailed Paisley with a few questions that she was gracious to answer.
Levi Rubeck reviews Daniel Allen Cox’s Kraków Melt, a love letter to Poland with all the bloody complications included.
Guillevic’s Geometries, deftly “Englished,” by the venerable Richard Sieburth is out now as part of Ugly Duckling Presse’s Lost Literature series. BOMBlog’s Levi Rubeck squares the circle.
It’s verse with some burnt edges. Levi Rubeck reviews Julien Poirier’s El Golpe Chileño.
“I’ll stroll through the streets / with a safeguarded strut, / Set up shop in the kissing booth— / Buyer beware.” Levi Rubeck reviews Monica Youn’s Ignatz, an exploration of love’s (and love poetry’s) boundaries.
BOMBlog’s Levi Rubeck delves into this correspondence between the poet Ted Berrigan and his young wife, who had had been committed to a psychiatric ward by her parents after marrying the drug-and-Pepsi-addled beatnik poet.
Chris Abani’s recently released collection of poems, Sanctificum, creates a space large enough for one man’s personal story, the problems of this world, and the vastness of a greater unknown. Levi Rubeck writes, “I see the work of someone who believes enough to question everything.”
Levi Rubeck talks to poet Peter Gizzi about loss, literature as instruction manual, and the accident of selfhood.
A co-worker of mine congratulated me on getting “shy Peter” to speak, but it wasn’t all that difficult. Over email and a leisurely Saturday morning chat Peter was forthright and charming while discussing his latest book, Threshold Songs. He paused only to ask if something he had said sounded “cranky.” I assured him that it did not, but thinking back, I wonder if some crankiness is exactly what poetry needs on occasion. What follows is the result of our conversations.
Levi Rubeck As someone who came to poetry through punk rock, ‘zines, and handmade books, I was thrilled to learn of your past dabbling in similar arts. How do you see your work, and specifically this book Threshold Songs, in connection to music, punk or otherwise?
Peter Gizzi I think punk is a stance as much as a mid-’70s cultural phenomenon—strictly speaking, it was over when the Sex Pistols broke up. I don’t really care about pronouncing the word “punk” though—it’s the stance that interests me. And by “stance,” what I really mean is a moment when younger people pushed back against the baby boom generation and the established orders of resistance that they created. My particular moment came at the very tail-end of the boomer generation, and that puts me in a blank spot because I don’t see my generation as “established,” or possessing a vanguard position. In fact, I think one of the values of my generation is that we don’t have a program. Which makes it easier to find this “no-place,” where I have the freedom to simply follow the poem and go where it takes me. And as an aside, song has always been essential to this quest, a language being set to a music, or more specifically, for me, a sound that is an environment.
“I say your name, & another dies in my mouth because I know how / to plead / till a breeze erases the devil’s footprints.” Levi Rubeck reviews Yusef Komunyakaa’s book of poetry The Chameleon Couch.
Anyone may come to Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, but only the most hard-skinned remain unmoved. His verse smolders with checked energy. Rather than operating in unrestrained rage, Komunyakaa swings cleanly with the power of the mountain behind his lines. He is a poet of poise and precision, and he expects as much from anyone he reads or leads in workshop.
Which is why I’ve been sweating this review. Komunyakaa’s latest book is The Chameleon Couch, and it feels like a book between books. Perhaps it’s because Warhorses, his previous volume, was so laser-focused on the violence that people do to each other, and its wake, that this one can’t really compare.
Levi Rubeck talks about Ben Pease’s poetry channeling new digital media, personal history and psyche, and science fiction movies in his latest book of poetry Wichman Cometh.
There’s a lot of talk about what poetry can do. The subtext being that poetry should do more. Hybrid poetry, multi-media adventures in verse, and of course the infinite mining of one’s personal psyche and history, these sorts of things will reverse this curse of marginalization, or so the shifting tides seem to indicate. As a participant and audience member at the release reading of Ben Pease’s Wichman Cometh, I witnessed the best uses of all exterior influences on poetry.
Levi Rubeck on Peter Gizzi’s Threshold Songs.
The joy of reading Peter Gizzi’s poetry comes from the tense stretch and pull of his language between extremes of sonic taffy pleasure and accessible linguistic connection. It’s a delicate balance that few poets achieve at a satisfying level, but The Outernationale left me, as a reader, ponderously swaying. Which leaves his latest collection, Threshold Songs, open for imbalance.
This book is aptly titled. It very much thrives in the threshold that poetry has carved for itself since modernity. These poems live in the space between past and future, when the potential for action (or reaction) is at its strongest. From there we arrive at their structural nature, which is rooted in songs, agents of action, stories that can only live in time the way that songs do today and before the written word, when song and poetry were the same.
Of what am I to see these things between myself
between the curtain and the stain
between the hypostatic scenes of breathing
and becoming the thing I see
are they not the same
— from “Hypostasis & New Year”
Levi Rubeck on the perils of adolescence in Rebecca Wolff’s The Beginners.
As a thirty-year-old man reading Rebecca Wolff’s The Beginners, I was surprised at how easily I was transported to those warped, timeless days of sexuality’s first stirrings. Sex, confusion, and a constantly evolving sense of self are a few of the major areas that occupy Woolf’s first novel, as well as the teenage cognitive processes. The book is sharp and particulate, unafraid to approach the highs and lows of human experience, and what is life as a teenager if not steeped in the extremes of humanity? Armed by her time spent with poetry and as an editor, Woolf explores nascent sexuality and the perils of intelligence by using language at the molecular level.
Ginger, the 17-on-18-year-old protagonist, appears to have reached a higher personal clarity than I would have at her age. For a novel that’s thin on identifiable plot or action points, The Beginners is propelled at a engaging pace by the voice of Ginger, whose thoughts are the primary force of the text. This doesn’t necessarily make her reliable, of course. I was intrigued by her ability to read the situation evolving between herself and Cherry, her best friend, as they grew apart in the summer before their senior year:
Cherry dried the dishes as I washed them. We did not speak, had not spoken much all day. I felt we were at an impasse, though she could not be privy to it. The novelty of this private experience, of knowing something she didn’t, and wouldn’t, was both a pain and a pleasure.