Anne Tardos, I Am You. This book is another example of the fact that far from being exhausted, avant garde poetics continues to have many directions (and dare I say it, hybrids) to explore. This book is truly avant garde confessional in a way like no other, with the language theory and lyrical, emotional elements simultaneously working together and unraveling each other’s certainty. In the face of the honesty of this book, most other poems seem dishonest, like they’re trying to prove something that even they don’t believe in. At times this book’s honesty is so searing because Tardos knows so much about how the dishonest lurks within the honest, and vice versa.
I also greatly enjoyed the more familiar (to me at least) aesthetic extremism of Tardos’ The Dik-dik’s Solitude (New & Selected Works). Multiple languages, nonsense and sense, high tech and a concern for animals and the physical world. The poems and word games and visual art in this book never let any mode remain settled for too long.
Joe Ross, Strata. I’d read some of these poems in a chapbook from several years ago, and it was fun to encounter them again along with some others I hadn’t seen as a book from Dusie Press. Subtle lyric poems with surprising twists on the level of the line and in ideas. By turns political, philosophical, concerned with beauty and details of the daily, the poems reveal a searching, always restless intelligence and sensitivity.
Nicholas Manning, Novaless. I wish I’d had this much talent at this poet’s age, or at any age as a matter of fact. Seems like a bit of a Gustaf Sobin influence (or at least similarity) on the fragmented bits of line and angular changes of direction, although not in the spacing on the page, and reflective like Sobin too but not with a set of concerns that resemble his at all. Grand philosophical questions of time and space often balanced among more ordinary life conundrums, including the problems that result from emotional projections about others. These are poems deeply tuned also to the possibilities and limitations of the attempt of language to get at the world. If you haven’t heard of Nicholas Manning yet, I think you will soon enough.
Joseph Mosconi, Galvanized Iron on the Citizens’ Band. This limited edition hardcover poetry/art book is a worthwhile addition to the history of concrete and visual poems. One poem to a page, with each poem only a few oversized words in variously odd juxtapositions. The minimalism recalls Aram Saroyan but the ideas in the poems do not. Some poems actually create a brief surrealist image, others link words together in ways that frustrate attempts to define a clear image. Some of the poems, through their absurdity, imply a range of just offstage political and social abuses. There’s a great deal of humor here but it’s in the service of serious issues.
A Helen Adam Reader, ed. Kristin Prevallet. I’ve long been a big fan of Helen Adam’s work, and I’m lucky enough to have copies of the now hard to find Selected Poems & Ballads and Ghosts and Grinning Shadows, but this book is a much bigger gathering of Adam’s work than has existed before. Prevallet’s well-researched and carefully detailed introduction tells the story of Adam’s writing and life with focus and precision. The book contains correspondence and commentary, prose and interviews and facsimiles of original editions with drawings, as well as a DVD of some Adam’s readings and visual art. The whole package is really quite wonderful. The main highlight of course is Adam’s poems themselves. Mystical, sexually charged, and often in Scottish dialect, the poems present a world where violence, sexuality and loss are forever intertwined in a landscape that’s mythological and gothic simultaneously. I advise people not to read more than two or three Adam’s poems at a time. Each one evokes a powerfully beautiful and unsettling mood that tends to blur and smear if one tries to read them more quickly. A Helen Adam Reader is now the single essential text of this remarkable writer, and cliche or not, no full understanding of 20th century American poetry is possible without it. Thank you, Kristin, for putting it all together.