Book review – Vincent Katz’s Swimming Home

A few months ago, I was reading on Brian’s Leiter’s blog, Leiter Reports, about a new press started by academic, professional philosophers — Mark Anderson and Andy Davis of Belmont University with Charles Ives of the University of Washington — who aimed to engage a non-specialist, non-professional audience. They have in mind a press publishing monographs and a journal that is open to creative writing as well as essays that take up philosophical issues while avoiding the jargon and pedantic language that plague so many of today’s academic presses.

S.Ph. Press, or Sophia and Philosophia Press, is the result.

Their mission statement, which is worth reading in its entirety, gives a clue as to what this new venture is about.

S.Ph. Press intends to provide a platform for philosophically imaginative works of nonfiction and fiction, written either by professional academics in search of an outlet for their creative or popularizing impulses, or by creative thinkers and writers with an academic’s training or independently acquired expertise.

The first issue of the new journal, S.Ph. Essays and Explorations, published online last week. It’s available for free, in HTML and PDF, on their website. Check out the essays, a fictional letter written in the voice of Xanthippe (better known as Socrates’ wife) to her mother, as well as a new review of Vincent Katz’s latest book of poetry, Swimming Home.

I will be serving as the Poetry Reviews Editor for this new journal, so if you have a book that you want me to consider reviewing, please get in touch.

Swimming Home, by Vincent Kaz

Swimming Home, by Vincent Kaz

…The craft of poetry, for Katz, involves observing otherwise unnoticed details which become the images around which his poems take shape. It includes giving weight to some moments rather than others, not extraordinary moments, but the ephemeral everydayness. It also includes the call of “stranded personalities, summoned cops, chewing walkers,” “buildings line up in light,” “pigeons flying in circles,” “coffee in a paper cup,” and the response of the poet who shapes images with language. These are the sensuous interactions that require being alone, the focus of Swimming Home. The aloneness of poetry, the aloneness that life imposes on us. Katz’s volume is a poetic exploration of the existential singularity with which we face the world…

Read the full review at S.Ph. Essays and Explorations.

Book review – Anatomize by Natasha Dennerstein

Review of Anatomize. By Natasha Dennerstein.  Norfolk Press, 2015. $15, 73 pages.

Review of Anatomize at New Orleans Review

Dennerstein grounds her work in the sensuality of sensuality. The variety of poetic forms throughout Anatomize tickle the intellect. Occasionally, the titles give away their constructions, as is the case with “Voodoo Villanelle” and “Ghazal for the Nail Artist.” At other times, the poem’s form is more subtle. “Honeyman,” a pantoum of the heart opens with a number: “Sixty-six times every minute / her muscular heart makes a fist; it clenches.”

But there is nothing natural or sacred about the body with which we are born.

Read the full review at New Orleans Review

Book review – Industrial Oz: Ecopoems, by Scott T. Starbuck

Review of Industrial Oz: Ecopoems. By Scott T. Starbuck. (Burlington: Fomite Press, 2015). 128 pp, paper.

Reviewed at The Quarterly Conversation

The parables in Industrial Oz are rife with echoes of June Jordan, who says of activists “you do / something, rather than nothing.” Often in Starbuck’s poems, the powerful and the vulnerable trade places. Because they do something rather than nothing, “At the Nevada Nuclear Test Site”

are arrested
     to make way
     for the blast.

A sheriff explains
     the old women
     are dangerous.

Full review at The Quarterly Conversation

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What Comes from a Thing, publishes Thursday

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. That is when my new book of poetry, What Comes from a Thing, will be published.

In May, I learned that a manuscript of my poetry won the Michael Rubin Book Award from Fourteen Hills Press. On Thursday, the book will be published, and it all kicks off with a reading at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco. If you are in the Bay Area, come join us for some poetry, wine, and books. All the details of the book release party are here on the event’s Facebook page.

What Comes from a ThingA few weeks ago, I saw the galleys. I think my heart skipped a little when I reached in and pulled them from the envelope. The striking artwork on the cover is “Continuity” by the painter Charles Sheeler (Tempera on Plexiglass, 1957). I am especially grateful to Sue Grinols at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for her help securing permission to use Sheeler’s piece as the cover image. Its striking lines, deep shadows, and industrial setting complement the poems, many of which embody the sounds and rhythms of factories, industrial farmlands, and ports of late modernity.

Until Thursday, you can read what the contest judge, Laura Walker, and other reviewers, Andrew Joron and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, have said about the book over on the book’s page. That’s also where I will let you know how to purchase a copy, as soon as it is available through Small Press Distribution.

GreenApple_logo-parkBook Release Party
7-8pm, Thursday, November 5
Green Apple Books on the Park
1231 9th Avenue, SF CA 94122
(415) 742-5833

I feel like I should at least start the reading in a Guy Fawkes mask.

Summer poems in Brooklyn Rail and Janus Head

Thanks to poetry editor Anselm Berrigan for publishing four of my poems in the July/August 2015 issue of Brooklyn Rail. It’s an honor to be included in a magazine with such an active, committed readership. Admittedly, these poems are not very summer; one even mentions “ice from the cracks in a Minnesota runway.” But if your summer days are as hot as mine are, then it is probably welcome to think about Minneapolis in January. Note: the title of the first of my poems appears incorrectly in the web version. It should read “imitation of/is an aesthetic”

And thanks also to David Wolf, the new literary editor of Janus Head, for including two of my “problem of…” poems in the latest issue of the journal dedicated to continental philosophy, literature, phenomenology, and art. The two that appear here are from a series of poems on classic philosophical problems, which I started writing alongside the introductory philosophy classes that I have been teaching.

summer heat in Sevilla

Poetical Scavenger, digital humanities project on 18th century poetry


Poetical Scavenger, 18th poetry online

After years of managing digital humanities projects for organizations, this past fall, I had the opportunity to contribute to a digital humanities project as a student.

In a graduate seminar on Eighteenth-Century Poetry at San Francisco State University, Professor Bill Christmas assigned us the task of finding an obscure, forgotten poem from the time period and annotating it. We were to consult a digital or print archive to identify a poem—one not readily available in teaching anthologies—worthy of discussion in seminar.

In the process, my fellow graduate students and I modernized the long s’s (which look like f’s, which was in the 1700s the standard way of writing non-terminal s’s) and to correct any printing errors, but otherwise to stick to period spelling. When in doubt about whether something is an error or a period-spelling, we were to err on the side of preserving the text as is, and note our thinking in an annotation. The idea was for our transcriptions to match as closely as possible the original text. In other words, to be as reliable as an anthology of poetry of the period.

Annotation, we learned, is more art than science. We were to note historical references, names, or allusions that require explanation. And explanations were to be as simple as possible.

Note that, up to this point, everything I have described could be completed using word processing software and a printer. In fact, Christmas explained that he had previously assigned annotations in just that way.

But after attending a digital humanities panel at a conference, he was inspired to develop a new project for his classes. The annotation assignment was a natural choice. By setting up a simple WordPress website, the annotation assignment moves from paper filed away in a cabinet at the end of the semester to a growing body of under-recognized poetry. Since miscellanies (1) were so popular during the 18th century, Christmas thinks of Poetical Scavenger as a “digital miscellany.”

The Poetical Scavenger resurrects forgotten poems and gives them new life beyond the limited number of students who will ever take a small graduate seminar at San Francisco State. The digital miscellany can be a resource for other classes Christmas teaches as well as a resource for students outside SFSU.

Bell_s_Classical_Arrangement_of_Fugitive_Poetry_Vol_VIII_pdf__page_1_of_180_I used Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) to find the poem I contributed to the annotation project. I discovered Richard Jago’s “The Blackbirds” by accident. In the results of a search for another term all together, I stumbled upon John Bell’s classical arrangement of fugitive poetry. The reference to “fugitive poetry” intrigued me, especially because of the 20th century Southern American poets who called themselves The Fugitives. I browsed the book, and when I came across the title “The Blackbirds,” I could not help but think of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I read Jago’s poem out of curiosity more than anything.

Jago personifies the blackbirds with the rituals of courtship, marriage, and sacrifice. Attributing to the birds these human characteristics creates in the reader a sense of empathy and identification with members of another species. The poem can be read as an argument for animal rights, an ecological sensitivity, as well as a lyric depiction of tragic love.

I appreciated the assignment. It called upon different sets of skills: one part detective work, one part editorial, and one part hypertext. After having worked for more than ten years in the field, it was refreshing to be on the student end of a digital humanities project.

Radical Doubt – a poetry reading

Join me, along with Andrew Joron, Amy Narneloop, and Eric Parkison, next Saturday afternoon in San Francisco for a poetry reading. The reading is part of the sixth annual conference of the North American Anarchist Studies Network.

Radical Doubt: a poetry reading
This reading by San Francisco Bay Area poets begins with the belief that oppressive behaviors and epistemological certainty go hand in hand. We admire the comfort that poetry finds in uncertainty, in the liminal spaces between convention and challenge.

The reading is from 1:30-3:00pm on Saturday, March 21. It will take place at the California Institute for Integral Studies, on the 3rd Floor, Room 4. CIIS is at 1453 Mission St in San Francisco.

Click for the full NAASN conference program.
Or here for the Facebook Events page.

Water, the problem of representation

An experiment in micrograms, dedicated to the tule fog and shrouded winters.

Lyrical Materialism, a working theory

In June, I published four poems along with a statement of poetic research in the dynamic journal Common-Place. The statement gave me the opportunity to work through some of my thinking about the how and why of what I am writing. I’m reprinting it here since the Common-Place website makes it hard to find past issues of their poetic research section.

Poetic Research Department


The poems published here take a lyrical materialist approach. They are part of a series on which I am at work called Palimpsests.

Lyrical materialism is my term for an aesthetic approach that takes beauty as its object of concern and finds it in the world as it is. As a post-modern poetic, it is engaged with the problems of indeterminacy in language. It asserts that nothing more than the material reality of the world is required for beauty to exist, which is to claim that aesthetic is a value over and above self-interest.These four lyrical materialist poems depend for their cultural depth on informed awareness of historical context.

Palimpsests explores the theme of presence and absence with respect to a sense of place through the aesthetics of functional (even if lingering) industrial spaces. These poems embody the sounds and rhythms of factories, industrial farmlands, and ports. Whether rural or urban, the places of these poems have survived the shift to a post-industrial economy and merit deep attention for the role they play in constructing the materiality and aesthetic of our daily experiences. Sacramento, California’s port; Columbia, South Carolina’s last grist mill; Iowa’s industrial cornfields; and Black Mountain College’s repurposed campus all share a history of transformation.

“At this Point, a Confluence” is based on research into the efforts beginning in 1860 to dredge the flood-prone Sacramento River and raise the streets of California’s fledgling capital city. The emerging railroad businesses invested heavily, since Sacramento was the western terminus of the first transcontinental line. Buildings, streets, and sidewalks were literally raised on jacks to create a new, floating street level, high above the flood line. The first loading docks and walkways were built from the wood and boilers of disassembled steamships that had carried miners and supplies to the city’s river banks. In addition to traditional archival research, I used digital tools to align and merge historical maps with contemporary satellite imagery in various layers of transparency. The resulting digital palimpsest allowed me to see how the path of the American River and the patterns of city development have changed since the 1860s. The poem’s concluding notion, that the transcontinental railroad “obliterated time and space,” is taken from historian Richard White’s Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (2012).

1. “Steamer Landing, and Pacific Railroad Depot. Sacramento City, ” photographic print, published by Lawrence & Houseworth (1866). Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Click on image to enlarge in a new window.

Dutch immigrant B.R. Crooner founded the Adluh grist mill in Columbia, S.C., around 1900. The Allen Brothers Milling Company continues to operate the mill alongside boutique hotels in the heart of a revitalized former industrial district. The origins of the name Adluh are a mystery, yet the enigmatic word—lit in blinking neon red capital letters atop the tall building—has been a beacon for generations of residents of South Carolina’s capital city. As Carl Sandburg put it in “Skyscraper,” which was first published in Chicago Poems, “Spelled in electric fire on the roof are words telling miles of houses and people where to buy a thing for money. The sign speaks till midnight.” One local legend holds that Adluh is the mirrored spelling of the founder’s daughter’s name, Hulda. However, census records do not bear this out.

“Succession in Iowa” paratactically sets technology at odds with what is missing from the landscape: the herds of buffalo that once roamed the great plains and were hunted nearly to extinction. The poem’s final predicate, which links changes in technology with changes in the biotic community, illustrates a normative element of lyrical materialism. Images like those from the first half of the nineteenth century showing herds of buffalo that extend beyond the horizon contrast sharply with the “Sketches in the far West” from Harpers Weekly in 1874, showing men curing buffalo hides and bones at a trader’s store. The piles of bones in the background typify the scale of the killings.

2. “On the Prairie,” Robert Hinshelwood, engraver, after W. H. Beard (image and text 26 x 32 cm., on sheet 46 x 58 c.), William Pate & Co. (New York, 1869?). Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. Click on image to enlarge in a new window.

3. “Sketches in the Far West-Curing Hides and Bones,” wood engraving, Frenzeny & Tavernier. Illustration in Harper’s Weekly (April 4, 1874 suppl., p. 307). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Click on image to enlarge in a new window.

The final poem, “Palimpsest,” is perhaps the most difficult and layered of the four, because the form of the poem is structured around the changing layers of information in a map that persists through time. A palimpsest is a document on which writing or drawing has been erased to make room for later writing and on which traces of the previous draft remain visible. Palimpsests are common not only in times when writing materials are scarce but also in times of exploration, when boundaries are contentious. A palimpsest, then, is the metaphor that I employ in this poem for the shifting boundaries driving the avant garde.

The Black Mountain College, the radical campus experiment outside Asheville, N.C., operated between 1933 and 1957 in two locations. After the college closed, both campuses converted to other uses. During its brief existence, BMC included among its faculty some of the most pioneering visual, literary, and sound artists of the mid-20th century. Josef Albers, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Willem de Kooning, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller all held teaching positions at one of BMC’s two campuses. The poem opens with an image of wild turkeys that continue to use daily the paths which they have used since a time before human encroachment and despite the development (and therefore changed map) that has grown up around them. “Palimpsest” closes by exploring the limits of what information maps convey, how maps themselves are historical documents the moment at which they are produced, and the inability of maps to account for changes over time.

listen to Black Mountain poets

BMC_PoetsThanks to Alice Sebrell for the opportunity to gather together a handful of the web’s best collections of recordings of Black Mountain poets. It is an honor to contribute to the good work that the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center does to preserve the history and legacy of the Black Mountain College. Visit their website to find recordings of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov and others.

If you know of collections that I missed, let me know.