Monday, May 24, 2010


Shockingly, American Book Review is a hard publication to locate in Buffalo unless one runs to Barnes and Nobles or Borders. On first hearing the cover feature "Poetry Without Walls" was edited by Kyle Schlesinger I hustled here and there to locate a copy. But no dice. Fortunately a copy arrived, somewhat mysteriously, by mail.

The issue (March/April 31: 3) is striking all around, especially as it brings into focus a community of loosely — or accidentally — connected poets that sprawl across any awkward sense of generational difference or geographical location. A round-robin circularity characterizes the feature: Rob Halpern reviews Michael Cross, Gregg Biglieri reviews Alan Bernheimer, Miles Champion reviews Tom Raworth, William Corbett reviews Michael Gizzi, Alan Davies reviews Kit Robinson, Kit Robinson reviews Anne Tardos, Elizabeth Fodaski reviews Michael Gottlieb, Michael Gottlieb reviews K. Silem Mohammad, etc.

What most connects these poets to one another is not any particular tendency or accident of circumstance beyond the incredible scope of Schlesinger's own cultural catholicity. And I sense this is a catholicity he takes from the generous and widely read poets he draws into his thinking, some of whom are peers while others first emerged out of a prior moment. Schlesinger, his introduction:

The contributors in this issue of American Book Review are largely from a school without walls, writers who have read widely and deeply, engaged with and contributed to the work of their contemporaries, yet avoided (perhaps consciously) the trappings and perks of aligning their work with any particular school of writing. They share in a community where a rigorous and productive exchange of ideas and information about the work itself is the norm.

Earlier in the intro, Schlesinger:

A few years ago I was asked to write a short article about the history of small press publishing in America. When I turned in my article, the editor told me that I needed to make a stronger correlation between presses and movements: Jargon Society is to Black Mountain as Sun & Moon is to Language or Black Sparrow is to Deep Image as United Artists is to Second Generation New York School, etc. I thought this logic was flawed and told the editor that I strongly disagreed. My conviction is even stronger today.

Several presses quickly come to mind, but so do a few anthologies — anthologies that, to my eye, seek to undo the work of tucking away, reducing and fundamentally misreading singular work or work articulated through a tendency that extends beyond the limits of movement, school, circle and coterie. Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred. Steve McCaffery and Jed Rasula's Imagining Language. Ric Caddel and Peter Quartermain's Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970. The extent to which these and any number of other carefully constructed anthologies seek to explode rather than cage is impressive — like any number of presses or little magazines that extend beyond coterie and out toward a sometimes uncomfortable but nonetheless essential conversation.

Apropos: Champion on Raworth's recent Equipage title appropriately named There Are Few People Who Put On Any Clothes:

Family members come and go, commercials interrupt the TV show ("I'm making this noise so I don't hear the advert I don't like") and blunt observations, almost shocking in their throwaway profundity, stop us dead in our tracks ("No other animal keeps a picture of another animal outside its memory").

Oddly, There Are A Few People was first written in 1972 but, according to Miles, "was only recently rediscovered by its author in a box liberated from storage." But it announces itself in the present with a clear insistence on its urgent contemporaneity.

Like most of the contributors to the ABR feature, both Miles Champion and Tom Raworth embody precisely the sort of complexity and adulterous cross-community activity Schlesinger refers to. Both are difficult to locate under the mantle of any normative category, whether geography, school, movement, moment or tendency. Yet each, in their work as poets and editors — and in Raworth's case, typographer, visual artist and printer — stand as an intersection that invites and troubles any attempt to rigidly map the landscape. Overall Schlesinger's feature points toward an utterly uncontainable excess that refuses the written record or the limits of normative thinking. In ABR of all places. Tactical. Like terrorists without nations.