Microreviews: July/August 2015
August 1, 2015
Aug 1, 2015
6 Min read time
Dan Beachy-Quick, Tatsumi Hijikata, and more.
Ban en Banlieue
by Bhanu Kapil
Nightboat Books, $15.95 (paper)
In Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, place and its particular violences are memorialized in the body. The book considers Ban, a fictional girl from Kapil’s hometown in London’s suburbs and the protagonist of a novel Kapil began but never completed. Ban, who lies down to die in a race riot in 1979—an act repeated throughout the book she inhabits—is at once a single body, the absence of a body, and the presence of trauma in many bodies. In Ban Kapil is Ban but also isn’t; she uses her writing, protest, and performance art to expose the ambient violence she has experienced and carried since childhood. Thus, she honors “the ‘person left for dead’ who—perversely—does not die.” Broken into sections, including “[13 Errors for Ban],” “Auto-Sacrifice (Notes),” and “Installations and Performances,” Ban en Banlieue becomes its various procedures, made hybrid by living in its imagined forms. These procedures are as communalistic as the violence Ban holds. In the twenty pages of acknowledgements, Kapil thanks Jena Osman for the week “I got to think through pilgrimage” and a family member for “lying down next to the ivy, at the age of nine.” Many of Ban’s catalysts are intangible, either in the past or imagined, yet together they become the concrete book the reader holds. As Kapil notes: “You can be hybrid and not share a body with anything else. Thus, the different parts of ‘Ban’ do not touch. They never touch at all.”
— Davy Knittle
by Filip Marinovich
Ugly Duckling Presse, $16 (paper)
Filip Marinovich’s eponymous avatar is an urban mystic whose blood is whipped to frenzy by the moon and whose howl is a logorrhea of the Bhagavad Gita, Hamlet, a trepanned carpenter, and “a spirit / of the unburied Twin Towers dead” who takes up residence in the poet’s body. He is also a woman, an Antarctic penguin, and a “Poet Shaman Bipolar” diagnosed by a “tired harried doctor wired on the coffee / and percocet speedball he took last night.” Throughout Wolfman Librarian, Marinovich’s radically compassionate third book, the poet assumes multiple subject positions with obvious delight, balancing Whitmanic self-expansiveness with an eclipsing self-demand. Ambitiously proportioned both in language and in love, these poems charge song, image, and insight down the page with an enthusiasm that punctuation almost can’t keep up with: “I am an American. / Anthem anthem anthem. / Hand sanitizer sand hanitizer / American / American anathemizer. / Euthanasia stands at my back / waiting to invade me when I fall.” Logic’s bell is hammered by association; when sonic hypertrophy lands Marinovich in a new mire, he assiduously drains it into a miracle of meaning: “full of wood and full of water, / even though the pitcher break / the catcher will the baseball stitches take out / and thread a red smile through his mouth.” Read this book—a compound of eros, elegy, outrage, and bliss—slowly, or risk ecstatic head rush: “you pressed your lips on mine / as if day were a waste of breathing / and night four lungs four lungs heaving.”
— Max Ritvo
They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full
by Mark Bibbins
Copper Canyon Press, $16 (paper)
“If we’re / being led in wrong directions / in service of larger truths, / so be it,” Mark Bibbins writes in the first poem of his third collection, “I will happily call a whole / school of red herrings my family.” Fittingly, the poems in They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full travel loosely, but surely, by way of free association and rhetorical sleight of hand. They lead us (most often) to timely, pointed revelations. With humor just barely concealing menace, Bibbins addresses post-9/11 counterterrorism, right-wing media propaganda, AIDS, racism, and misogyny, among other subjects, frequently performing the same kind of linguistic power play he means to expose: “my country runs to the edge / and throws itself in // when I said beach I meant cliff.” Bibbins’s indictment of institutional irresponsibility is mirrored by his own penchant for breaching poetic decorum and conventions; there is an astonishing variety in these poems, with some in regular stanzas or verse paragraphs, while others sprawl across the page in all directions, just as they speak to us from myriad angles and perspectives. At one point the poet even apologizes for violating the very rules he gives his students: “Maybe certain poets should have breathalyzers // connected to their computers or typewriters or hands / so they can’t do what I’m doing right now to this poem.” Whip-smart and wickedly funny, They Don’t Kill You is Bibbins’s most authoritative and self-possessed collection to date.
— Robert Schnall
Costume En Face
by Tatsumi Hijikata, Moe Yamamoto, Sawako Nakayasu (trans.)
Ugly Duckling Presse, $17 (paper)
Dancing is intimately bound up with finding words to animate, instigate, and locate movement. Costume En Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls, the fourth text in Ugly Duckling Presse’s invaluable Emergency Playscripts series, reproduces Butoh dancer Moe Yamamoto’s notebook of Tatsumi Hijikata’s rarely translated “Butoh-fu,” or notation, for the 1976 choreography of the same name. Although Butoh began in the 1960s, Butoh-fu originated with Hijikata’s practice, beginning in the mid-’70s, of requiring his dancers to rehearse with notebooks in hand, recording his articulated images (“Metallic Flowers,” “Bacon on the Whale String,” “body of plaster”). These images, which both distill and objectify the human body, are to be received by the prepared dancer, the dark, absurd, abject cross-species identifications colonizing his nervous system and moving his body. Elsewhere, Hijikata’s notations approach the form of a prose poem, but Yamamoto’s notebook is partial, a skeleton of the dance’s structure. On one page “Body of person in light” neighbors the bracketed cluster “Spinal decay / Box / Light in both hands / Dying neck / Orpheus” followed by the instruction “While taking the lotus / with a half-crouched stagnation.” This partiality, however, directs the reader imaginatively toward the essence of Butoh’s project, of yielding to the dark, subhuman zones of transition where one thing passes into another. Oblique and riddling, the book nonetheless offers direction. It is a silent form of poets’ (dance-)theater.
— Karinne Keithley Syers
by Dan Beachy-Quick
Tupelo Press, $16.95 (paper)
With the assertion “that that what is is an all / * / all filled with what fills it,” Dan Beachy-Quick’s gentlessness begins with a logic of latent catch-all-ness, using repetition that resembles the terms of a syllogism. Interlocking and propelling themselves like gears, tautologies such as these lines are especially present in “monadism: a proem,” the book’s first section, where Beachy-Quick probes two taproot poetic structures: the fragment and the aphorism, both memorable, pithy, and chiastic. The fragment “soul so simple a sense,” for example, opens the heady idea of “sense” (which Keats called the literacy of a child) into a spiritual range. Beachy-Quick’s sense of soul is as varied as a bookshelf: gentlessness’s seven sections tour the lyric’s roots in song, prayer, and diaristic confession, then offer resounding sonnets of “romanticisms” and portraits of “modernisms.” While Beachy-Quick proves to be a unique neologist and aphorist in his own right, he harmonizes with a chronicle of influences. In “Heroisms,” the section that takes up the unsound, phallocentric, and desirous fallacies of an epic hero, the poet demonstrates that “There is a way to think that asks no questions / But divides every question in two.” Gazing through soulful influence turns the poet inward, where poetry’s extensions mirror its source: “Myself is a word to describe / this field that I cannot see / the end of, this field I tend, / burying the dead in rows, // burying the sea, burying seeds. / If there is another horizon / I have not seen it.”
— Sean Zhuraw
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August 01, 2015
6 Min read time