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Friday, November 23, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Syzygy, Beauty: An Essay

While my computer was down, I did some reading (one of the positive points of being unplugged for a week or so). Here's what I read and what I thought about:

First I read T. Fleischmann's Syzygy, Beauty, which is billed as an essay, but seemed more like prose poems to me (more on that when I discuss something I heard at the Japan Writers Conference). The language use was effective, and the gender-bending worked very well. At the end of the book, I was still only 85% convinced I understood the gender of the voice of the pieces, and since gender identity is a constant discussion, this worked very well, giving me the feeling of fluidity and confusion about gender that the voice had. It's a good read. I read it twice in fact.
The Game of Boxes: Poems

Next I read Catherine Barnett's The Game of Boxes (winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Award sponsored by the Academy of American Poets). I had really been looking forward to this book, since I loved her debut volume, Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced. This first book was an amazing piece of elegaic poetry in which the voice is the sister of a woman whose two prepubescent daughters have been lost in a plane crash over the waters. It handles the grief of the mother and the aunt (the voice) so fully without once lapsing into sentimentality, or without recognizing when it is reporting sentimentality, that it is an unbelievable piece of work. This new books, with its focus on (single) motherhood in the first section, fails to skirt the edges of sentimentality without being sucked in. And the second section, an erotic series, is jarring compared to the first, but worth being there to insist on the sensual life of women who are mothers. However, it is a bit sing-songy in places (which is the opposite of erotic). Finally the third section attempts to synthesize the two themes. It's good, pleasant poetry, but it isn't great poetry like the first book was (which was clearly a tough act to follow). I'll hang in there for Barnett's next book and see how that goes.

In a Landscape of Having to RepeatFinally, I also started Martha Ronk's In a Landscape of Having to Repeat. I've actually read this once and am reading it for the second time now, enjoying my need to repeat it as a response to the theme of repetition, though anyone who knows me at all well will already realize my obsession with repetition. Ronk writes in a way that I wish I could, making loose connections and suggestions and trusting the reader to keep up and fill in the blanks. I wish I could do this, and so I am studying as well as reading this text. The repetition in the book is useful and evocative, and all of Ronk's work comes highly recommended by me and by people who know much better than I do. (Don't mind that I've made this cover smaller than the previous two books--having trouble formatting in Blogger right now. Although I have to admit to being seduced by Barnett's geometric cover--always susceptible to geometry, I am, and Barnett has spheres in her first book title and boxes in her second, so I was hoping....)

All three are worth a read, though if I had to rank them, I'd go with Ronk first, then Fleischmann, and then Barnett.

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