The latest issue of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century (gotta love that subtitle) arrived last Friday, just in time to pack it along on our first camping trip of the season. I didn't think I'd have the time (or desire) to read any poetry at all while taking in the sun, the birds, the ponderosa-pine-sweetened air, but alas . . . I couldn't help myself, mainly because of the words "Tribute to Visual Poetry" on the front cover of this sweet little mag I'm growing fonder and fonder of.
I've dabbled around with concrete poetry, but visual poetry? I didn't know quite what to expect. I'm a big fan of Gillian Conoley's Dr. B's Poof and Dare (Erasures of Dr. Spock's Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care), but I had no idea there was so much else being done with this tradition which editor Timothy Green reminds us (in his fine introduction) dates back to the caves where our ancestors liked to make their art on the walls.
In this issue Denise Duhamel has this thing called "The Johari Window," a psychological model used in assessing self-actualization. She takes this concept and turns it into four 'actual' windows, each one representing a part of her own self (what it freely shares, what it hides from others, what it hides from the self, and what is unknown to the self and others). So, get this, she took blinds, actual Venetian blinds, and pasted her poems to them--"each slat a line." I mean, is that not the coolest? You have to check these things out--they're raw, they're haunting, they're like eating potato chips. Here's a little taste (from "Open/Blind"):
"You will never know who climbed into your / window on East Fifth Street and stole your grandmother's pearls, if each precious / bead was pawn-shop transformed into a drop of heroin and shop up the thief's arm."
So there I was in my camp chair, looking out onto the Naches River (churning and brown, folding over on itself; it had, indeed, been a long, cold spring), listening to the crazed-maniac songs of black-headed grosbeaks ("Like a robin on acid," was how my first birding teacher described it), and unable to take my eyes off the likes of Patrice Vecchione's "Oh, No, Not the House, Again," Ellen Peckham's "Red Fence," and Susan Landgraf's "Founder." Or Louis Phillips' periodic table (instead of elements it's what it takes to be a poet: "WC"--Word Choice, "Ca"--Cliche avoidance, mM--Metaphor Making, etc.).
Okay, but this is only one little section of the issue. There's also close to 100 pages of really good poetry by the likes of Jeannine Hall Gailey, Jennifer Boyden, Chrys Tobey, and Tony Trigilio, AND interviews with Marvin Bell and Bob Hicok.
But that's not all I had in my sachel. Though the Naches threatened to sweep it all away in a single, errant wave, I'd also brought along Sandra Beasley's Theories of Falling and Brenda Shaughnessy's Human Dark with Sugar.
Beasley was born soon after the release of My Sharona by The Knack, a tune I associate with my college orientation. Me: 18. Beasley: gestating. Kinda kills ya inside. But--youth be damned!--she's good. You'd never know she wasn't around till about the time Mt. St. Helens blew its top:
"I always flipped to the last page first.
I swallowed watermelon seeds, then waited. I split open a famliy
of Matroyshka dolls and tapped the baby's head,
hoping it too was hollow"
(from "The Green Flash").
This gal is afoot with her vision.
Meanwhile, Shaughnessy's poems are nothing less than Olympic events. "I'm Over the Moon"? The Decathlon!
"What do you have? You're a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There's a hero.
The obvious sun, no bullshit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.
But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I've had to learn to be direct.
It's hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you."
This lady's got an ear (and a pair of cojones) to make Sylvia Plath right proud.
The rivers are still rising, but my fav. picks are once again safe at home. For the sake of the water rescue folks, let the cool May weather return, and happy reading to you all.