nightboat books

Of Mineral by Tiff Dressen

Of Mineral by Tiff Dressen
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Of Mineral by Tiff Dressen, published by the nonprofit Night Boatbooks in New York is a contemplation of form versus subject. Because the forms are hard to represent here with total accuracy, a description of form will be discussed in relation to the poems.
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In the poem, A Letter in May: Portals from San Francisco which begins on page four, is stretched and arranged as if the narrator is on a particular journey perusing the city. The poem consists of eighty-four lines presented in three-, two-, and one- line stanzas which are arranged in a form as to suggest a winding and unwinding forward movement just like wandering and walking around.
The poem is printed from page four to page nine which makes a little difficult to follow.
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The poem opens with the first stanza flush left.
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This city is a Labyrinth
I walk   in my head
another poet repeats.
Dressen proceeds with lines spaced, indented, and stand-alone to suggest barriers from going and finding solution.  The poem is also divided into sections with lines to indicate the change.  On the journey, average but representative things are observed.  One wonders in another’s mind, seeing and trying to understand the metaphorical meaning until the last lines
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house with phantom
flower crops
“It’s still warmer here”
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The reader realizes the search is for safety and finds it in a familiar although imperfect place. The image of a labyrinth has been successful in relating not only to a walk-through San Francisco, but also to the walk through life.
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Dressen uses this visual spacing technique in his other poems.  For example, in the two- stanza poem on page seventeen, Dark Sky Preserves, the spacing is complex and no punctuation is used to clarify.
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Because I wanted to learn how
to look at the sky
                         again
 
 
                              I chose from among
                               your voices
                                               constellations
 
                                                 nuclear
                               magic
                                                              numbers
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While the spacing and stretching is interesting, the poem’s words are strong and the images successful.  If I have not been one hundred percent on the spacing, I apologize.
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In the poem Night Arc: in October on page thirty-five, a more traditional form is used.  It is a one stanza verse with eighteen lines that is flush left and moves down the page in one skinny stream.
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Sea starved
we begin with
motion liquid oar
we took on water
night phospho
reticence
under pole
star plunge
some fish spoke
through my
lungs some large
mammal bellow
who is native
and who is not
those who could
swim survived
we studied
those tiny faces.
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The poem is well focused and lean. The images are clear and the ending is successful which demonstrates Dressen can produce both traditional and nontraditional verse with equal skill. This poem keeps the reader following the movement in the water until the final study of those being observed.
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Dressen varies the lengths of the poems as well as the subjects. The volume is fifty-nine pages of poems and is especially worth exploring for those who enjoy manipulation of form.
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Dressen’s first book of poems Songs from the Astral Bestiary was published in 2014
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You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/of-mineral/
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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On Autumn Lake – Collected Essays by Douglas Crase

autumn lake

In this wide ranging; cohesive collection of essays Douglas Crase presents four decades of critical writing and lectures in an intense poetic prose style that is also conversational. Crase brings his subjects to life on the page. Ashbery; O’Hara; Schuyler and Niedecker are but a few. He restores Emerson to the forefront of American writing as well as the commonwealth of creating prose and poetry.

Crase provides detailed accounts of the artistic/literary landscape that became the New York School as well as the Tibor de Nagy Gallery that was the hub and inspiration of the movement. He traces its history to Jean Connoly and its benefactor Dwight Ripley.

Honest writing is the key to an ongoing democracy and thanks go to writers of truth such as Douglas Crase and the documentation of the past. The future awaits us and Crase has set the bar high for all of us. May we live up to his example.

You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/on-autumn-lake-collected-essays/

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories and on occasion literary criticism. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin

a feeling

By Greg Bem 

I wanted to show you something

that would give you pleasure

before the end of the world

(page 3)

Climate change. Ecological disaster on a global scale. The coming and going of empire, civilization, the human imprint. The collapse. The Anthropocene. It is all very present and very intangible and, no matter how we spin it, the end of the world (as we know it and have known it) is nigh. And so, what are we going to do about it? There are many who believe that the only two responses are complacency and response, where response is solution oriented. But there is a third, humble option: acceptance.

The embracing of finality is a core concept in Joey Yearous-Algozin’s A Feeling Called Heaven, a book surging with as much pause as activity. Within this remarkable collection, Yearous-Algozin takes the poet’s approach to disaster and hopelessness by finding a contemplative, curious, and stable position of observation. Not without difficulty, the poet’s form is as much didactic as it is conceptual: the poet is one of instruction and of a simpler positing within the calm reality that the horrific exists and it probably really is too large for us to manage.

I want you to focus your mind

on denouncing the hope

embedded in the idea

of our momentum as a species

the belief that we will somehow continue

even after we’ve gone

(page 40)

The book is composed of two poems: a first that lasts most of the book, and a second that serves as a coda to close out what is, overall, a sequence of meditations, mantras, prayers, and cathartic rest. The poems total just over 60 pages in length, and I felt them gently urging me on from the moment I opened the book. I felt the poet’s breath, the angles through which the dismal was approached, and reconciled, and I read on and on until the last line. There are natural pauses throughout the book’s first poem, “for the second to last time,” but they feel more like the space between the pulse than any full rest. It is an active book, after all, one that accounts for stillness but radically approaches stillness with full energy and availability. Even the title indicates that the fullness of acknowledgment and existent may sit within a single second, which for readers of poetry may be further elaborated as a single poem, a single book, a single read.

A Feeling Called Heaven is calm, and much of the calmness, despite the terror that surrounds us, can be connected to the simple and uncomplicated language Yearous-Algozin has filled within the pages. I attribute the plainness of the poet’s speech as a method of contrast to the failings of the human world’s complexities: what we, as a society, have created across time and space have led us to this point, this point that will soon be gone. Is it the poet’s job to continue the damned lineage, or offer relief and radical shift? The speaker here follows the latter path, though not without calling forth several examples of our burning world:

and the sun glints off pools of irradiated water

outside a freeway on-ramp

or hospital parking lot

in which a few discarded syringes

and fragments of plastic tubing

bob in the light breeze

(pages 12-13)

Like other post-apocalyptic descriptions as we’ve come to know them in recent decades, the imagery within A Feeling Called Heaven is as bleak and valueless as it is slightly exaggerated as relic and memento. It feels human while lacking the humanity, feels moving while utterly still in the confines of the poem. The poet, on the other hand, is not completely still. The speaker murmurs their way through the lines that scatter like dust across anonymous landscapes and situations that are grayed, sitting beyond the realm of truth and beauty. These moments that float through the page are as much liminal as they are in the center: the blind spot that is within each of us as we exist in an ever-fading moment.

Yearous-Algozin calls out this ever-fading moment as beyond-verbal. It may be hard to imagine a situation, a system, a reality that is outside of the confines of language, but that is yet one more radically-shifted premises of this book, and it is not just a premise but a truth that is absolute:

a non-verbal certainty

that a time will come

when the residue of the human

will have disappeared

almost entirely

(page 16)

When Yearous-Algozin writes “almost entirely,” it is the crucial piece of this recipe: we are not quite gone yet, and this is a moment we can refer to as the “feeling” of “heaven.” The last stretch before the end is one that is reconciliation, catharsis, and embrace. It is fullness. Finality. Totality. It is utter loss and the resounding silence we can feel at the end of our collective existence and knowing that it has come from us and will exist after us.

In Social Text Journal, Barrett White writes of Yearous-Algozin’s book, “Through its radical acceptance, A Feeling Called Heaven teaches an important lesson about pausing, being present, and deeply listening, both inside and outside ourselves.” While in agreement, I also believe that the book offers an additional lesson on our capacity as creators. Yearous-Algozin has written a book that offers a nullification of the creative process, an anti-inspiration to take the pause and escape the creative act; unlike any other book I have read, A Feeling Called Heaven positions itself as a rational counterpoint to tangible production and artistry. In the book’s second and final poem, “a closing meditation,” the poet writes:

my speaking to you now

produces an image like the reflection of the sun

or more accurately

a space for your thoughts to inhabit

(page 55)

Indeed, this book causes process to cease, time to fold, and the mind to warp beyond thought. For that feeling alone, I can’t recommend it more highly during this Winter, this season, this precipice we have found ourselves upon.

You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/a-feeling-called-heaven/

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

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All the Rage by Rosamond S. King

ATR-FINALCOVER-

By Greg Bem

All the Rage is an outstanding book, capturing the moment of the pandemic, the fight for Black lives, and the movement to understand emotion and life within the borders of our everyday life. It is a book divided into seven sections, and each section could feel like its own book, and the entirety wrapped together feels ecstatic and boundless. Rosamond S. King is not only a storyteller but a mediator of truths, a gateway into the archetypes being born today. This is a book that, like the recent work by Claudia Rankine and Divya Victor, captures a contemporary feminist approach to discontent within America, and also follows in the radical, performative Black poetics of Douglas Kearney, Terrance Hayes, and Tyehimba Jess.

This book is for
you, whether you quarantine
stuffing your face
or (and) reorganizing drawers
streaming
staring

(from “This book / is for you,” page 1)

The book opens matter-of-factly, inviting the reader into a world of quarantine and the mundane. It is from this stable beginning that King leaps off the edge into the known and unknown simultaneously. This leap, this dive through text and literary spirit, is done with subtle critiques to and amendments of style and standard formatting. Take “America the beautiful,” an early poem in the book’s opening section. “Beautiful” is left uncapitalized. The poem’s punctuation is highlighted, emphasized as taking on importance akin to the words themselves. The poem ultimately moves from a focus on lines of beauty to lines of bondage:

. True
, some never make it out, but while they’re here, we
distract them with baubled accessories and bubbled beverages

(from “America the beautiful,” page 6)

King is concerned with flow, and the absence of flow. Or its interruption. The following poem, “Etymology of a Scream,” calls forth Yoko Ono’s tweet during the 2016 election. But this is not a poem about 2016 so much as it is a poem about now, about always. Amidst the subtle narrative, King writes: “. Mourn those who came / before and the absence among those who / remain.” (page 8).

As with any astute, mature and conscious poetry, King is able to balance between trauma and reconciliation, between wound and insight. It may take patience, but the reader can follow this volume and find the ends of the spectrum readily available from page to page. In “21st Century Goddamn,” King morosely writes: “Everybody knows / not every body / gets out of this alive” (page 15), alluding to the murders of Black lives from slavery to Baltimore to Staten Island to Cleveland (and so on, and so on). Pages later, the meditative sway of the pendulum: “Breathe / . As in what if / the shadow is gold / en? Breathe.” (from “Avante-Garde Is a Term of War,” page 24). The subtle art of the poet is one that bears multiple waves of resonance and multiple contexts of control over image, feeling, and time. King captivates without sacrificing a serious investigation into public and personal relations with violence over social brutality (a la white supremacy) and a personal, focused process of grief.

All the Rage is not a book that “ends” or finds resolution within its covers. The book, as rage, captures rage in its many forms. As such, there is a very intense and beautiful disintegration that occurs as the book evolves from beginning to end. A prominent interplay and exchange with words and their cores emerges, revealing not flaw but remarkably vulnerable risk-taking in language:

desire lead yu by the nose hairs, promising
love and panic just there
just beyond   desire will drown yu
an as liquid becomes pummeling wave

(from “Sunshine Sigh, page 96)

An emphasis on deconstruction within voice and tone recalls Toni Morrison and other fantastic and fantastically raw writers whose words will not be forgotten. King’s work here is unforgettable. It lingers, awash with the permanence only humanity can provide, with witness, with observation, with the capturing of our flight and our ongoing struggle to know flaws and pain, and growth.

You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/all-the-rage/

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com

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