by Vincent Katz
A poem by Joe Ceravolo…
Why would it make sense to analyze select poems by a disparate group of younger poets working today via one particular poem by Joe Ceravolo? Wouldn’t it be better, if one wanted to make the case that Ceravolo is newly relevant, to take his entire oeuvre as a reference field? And even if his poetry might presage formally (through its informality) some things some poets today are doing, surely there are many other ways they are writing that have nothing or little to do with Ceravolo, or have much more to do with a wide range of poets from diverse periods.
The fact is that there is something in the poetry of both Barbara Guest and Joe Ceravolo that is distinct from other poets of their time or later and which is becoming increasingly recognized and influential among poets working today. Let’s call it musicality. It is a way of communicating that has little to do with logic, except as the logical mind extrapolates from given signposts. It is poetry that is non-linear; stories are not told. Settings, if anything, are intimated, not specified. The poems do not rely on humor, irony, or Surrealist surprise of detail.
And yet the poetry of neither of these poets is fragmentary. I believe that has to do with the time in which both Guest and Ceravolo grew up. In a pre-media, pre-multi-tasking, age, their poetics, aware though they were of tragedy, aspired to wholeness. I don’t mean their poems have pat endings, quite the contrary, but their poems have completeness. You can think of them as musical pieces. They begin with motifs, which are elaborated, and ultimately conclusions — musical conclusions — are reached.
It occurs to me I have been trying for some time to find a way out of the fragmentary. The more the fragmentary has been praised as the signal artistic achievement of the past century, the more I have realized I am uncomfortable with its ascendancy. Ceravolo and Guest are excellent guides to poetry that is thoroughly modern without being fragmented. In their poetry, there is no desire to turn back to an earlier conception of poetry’s limits.
A poem by Joe Ceravolo, then, provides the springboard for thinking about a group of young poets, who have been published in recent issues of 6×6. Let’s take a look at a poem by Joe Ceravolo, and then bring it back with us to 6×6.
Stars of the Trees
stars. The night and the
distance of the lake.
The lake: mosquitoes, the
uni-inter air—the pond of
towering mosquitoes we float
the tents as we use
the lumpy earth under a
blanket. Cars: the
blanket of cars facing your
vision of stars and thoughts
never concealed to the lake.
Conceal: Thoughts are never
hidden, the mosquito cries to
the lake. And brings the
lake’s invisible man
Invisible: a woman rises into
the lake and out of the lake
Pond: you are left in the tent
and see the beige pond.
Leak: a woman stands over you.
Woman: the pond leaks.
You hear it.
[as published in The Paris Review 38, Summer, 1966]
This poem by Joe Ceravolo, “Stars of the Trees and Ponds,” accrues power through repetition. Not a description of a scene, nonetheless a setting emerges; the title hints at that setting, although the force of the possessive “of” is ambiguous, and the graphic separation of the word “Ponds” from the rest of the title seems to set it almost as counterbalance to the other terms.
Published by BlazeVOX [books], 2009.
Review by Martine Bellen
In Barbara Henning’s quest narrative THIRTY MILES TO ROSEBUD, Katie, the novel’s humble hero, travels “on the road” toward what starts out as an open future, but which leads directly into her past.
Peggy and Katie were childhood friends, sister-like in their shared intimacy and devotion. Katie’s mom died when Katie was young, and when the girls turned sixteen, Peggy’s mom and stepdad die in a car crash, leaving their daughter with little more than a shoebox filled with odd, random family trinkets that includes her mother’s diary. The skinny “hippy-girl” Peggy escapes from her uncle’s backwoods trailer where she’s forced to live after her parents’ accident and runs away to New York City, forgetting to bring the shoebox. In 1972 Katie is seventeen and, like her friend, is ready to run from her dad and his wife and the Upper Peninsular of Michigan and its small-town shackles to the ever-alluring and way, way more cool New York City. Peggy, who phones her friend regularly, asks Katie to bring the shoebox with her and they’ll meet up in the East Village, and with that simple request and Peggy’s mysterious disappearance, Katie’s life-long quest begins.
It’s thirty years later and Katie—a photographer, now, who is writing a book and is on sabbatical from her teaching job, her daughter Lilly living on her own—is still in the East Village though is tired of feeling chained to her rent-stabilized apartment, sick of the city’s sounds and smells (familiar, no?), so decides it’s time to take off. Her future is open, she thinks—It’s time for her “road story” and for her to address the shadow that has left a disturbing smudge on her life…what happened to Peggy? Where is she? Why did she vanish, and why doesn’t she want to be found?
The novel intersperses Katie’s present journey with her past one. So the reader, for all intents and purposes, experiences two Katies—one is a seventeen year old, frightened of losing her boyfriend Jay, while the other Katie is forty-seven, self-assured, an independent mother, teacher, friend with a commitment to yoga, her spiritual practice.
THIRTY MILES TO ROSEBUD chronicles the journeys of these two Katies. The seventeen-year-old travels through the 1970s East Village, listening to Miles and Coltrane, Joni and Dylan. Her nickname is Jazz—a pet name given to her by Jay, the great love of her life. It is especially pleasurable reading about our neighborhood in the old druggy days, the rent-controlled one-bedroom on Avenue B and Tenth where seven twenty-somethings crash: “Roaches [,] darting up the wall above the sink, into the cupboards and across the ceiling into the light fixture.”
Harmonicas, electric pianos, guitars, everyone plays an instrument. Renee, one of the kids living in the walk-up—very sexy, naturally—flirts with Jay, and Jazz exists in a perpetual state of jealousy and fear that free-love will steal something precious from her. Modeling for five dollars an hour at School of Visual Arts, drug dealers peddling their product in Tompkins Square Park, Henning evokes a past with precision and tenderness.
When Katie meets Marz, the man who will be the father of her daughter, she describes him as “a womanly man in bed, and that was just what I wanted, some gentleness in my life after a year of hanging out and changing partners as frequently as I changed my clothes.” Marz lived in Detroit and after four days of hanging out together, Katie prodded him to move in. He had recently gotten sober in AA and wasn’t sure he would be able to uproot himself and maintain sobriety. You know where this leads. Yes, it might well sound familiar…Henning captures the lives that many of us led, though the familiarity is never trite and always insightful.
The other Katie of the novel is the mature teacher and artist, the one that scours the Internet, phone book, knocks on the door of Peggy’s childhood home, visits the workplaces of Peggy’s old friends and relatives, the one that with persistent effort will find her friend. And, of course, as the older Katie is wading through her past, her past, like a wave, spills over her. Back in Marquette, Michigan, Katie is confronted with memories of her mother, her father, and sentient friends and boyfriends like Jim Gordon who she dated in tenth grade. The past and present intersect before she leaves for her trip west when Katie runs into an old boyfriend, Gary Snow, a musician she knew in the 1980s. They keep up an email correspondence as she travels back in time and looks for Peggy. Gary reminds Katie of Jay— the way the mind can superimpose one face on another—people and places reference each other, transform and blur. Katie’s spiritual teacher Harihara has taught her that what has been lost can be found by remembering it.
THIRTY MILES TO ROSEBUD is a story of remembering, of finding and treasuring the trinkets of our lives without allowing them to weigh us down. Katie, the photographer and writer, guardian of past images, reunites with lost pieces of her life. She does find Peggy, though I won’t give away what happens, just know that Henning’s introspective take on the human odyssey is never timid but is always compassionate and startling.
Published by Burning Deck / 2009.
Review by David Perry
Love poems? Of course you do. That’s why you’re IT, the human hockey puck from “Ice event: for 14 performers and one audience member.” Or maybe you don’t and you’re not. Maybe you’re the “angry man” who takes leave of his constipated woman, just as she is having a longish bout with her bowels while reading about the shipwreck of the Admiral Graf Spee and wondering vaguely if there are really people out there who “enjoy the smell of their own excrement.” Or perhaps you’re still not sure: You’re the ambivalent “I” of the (slightly shaggy) Franco-Cali-Steinian “Language barrier,” wandering between continents “with French dogpoo on your shoe,” wondering whom you prefer (dogs or men) and whether you might be in a movie (“One dog shoots some shit and this is a Western”).
Hurry Home Honey—a hat trick of a book, consisting of two previously published chapbooks, Balconic and Clutch: hockey love letters, and a third series, Crime to be quick—is a collection of prose poems, conceptual (sports) writing, poets theater, sound-as-sense associative riffing and artfully cracked lyrics that are cumulatively:
Not unlike kissing on a crowded train you then you (“Hockey on the 20 m2 balcony”)
Throughout, love declares itself in registers alternately serious and playful, rueful and eager, personal to the point of a luminous opacity and “universal” to the point of transparent tongue-in-cheekiness, as Nakayasu’s language runs through the long oddness of being the one in six billion who is, was and/or will be in love with some other one-in-six-billion or another, replaying the experience of scanning a roiling crowd in hope of laying eyes on a missed or missing lover as time runs out on a last chance (imagined or actual) whose in-the-moment high drama is as likely to mellow over time into bemusement as it is to crystallize into enduring heartache.
Balconic is a serial meditation on the balcony as a liminal space that is both inside and out, closet and stage—and, of course, timeworn romantic mise-en-scène in which the irreducibly subjective experience of love continues to irrupt anew, even among the most jaded of us. The series is preceded by a TOC/index poem driven by the phrase “having been given” that gestures towards Balconic’s 15 existing poems as well as others that do not appear, effectively pointing at lack as the negative ground necessary for the experience of presence.
“Door #3,” the penultimate poem in the series, deftly traces by way of a speed-meditation on balconyness the shape of a love affair tethered to “…our first balcony on the tenth floor, the balcony from where we watched the orange lights light the campus in that horrid orange way as only orange light can, that balcony where we waited out my first dryer cycle and the balcony where we waited no we didn’t wait my second dryer cycle because I put my coins in the wrong machine . . . .” This set of romantic subjective particularities emerges from a blur of more abstract, Platonic and ironic considerations of “the balconic balcony the balconian balcony the balconesque balcony the poeticized balcony the fully committed balcony” before collapsing (though not without some hope of return).
Clutch further pursues speed, crowds, performance and collapse (once one loses speed or collides with another). Nakayasu played amateur hockey around the time of writing Clutch, and her joy in the game takes this series beyond the conceptual play of Balconic to a more concrete space, one in which bracketed segments of fragmented verse both visually evoke “puck” and in their rhythm reproduce the alternation between smooth grace and the disjointed, violent motion typical of a game of dekes, checks and slapshots:
[ ] altercate minute degloved vs. fragility enter who—on the board join or immensify, leaving it up to [with] [whistle]
“Puck” fragments stand between longer prose poems and lyrics that perform the wonderfully unlikely role of being part of the greatest hockey serial love poem we have, climaxing in the aforementioned “Ice event,” in which IT, the audience member installed in a huge hollow puck, is subjected to a game presided over by a Perverted Referee in which one player is a disguised Person of Motherly Concern tasked with the impossible job of protecting IT from harm as the real players do with IT what hockey players do. As conceptual theater (staged once to date) Clutch lends a lightness and sophistication to Hurry Home that Balconic hints at and which the final series, Crime to be quick, brings to fullness.
Crime shows off Nakayasu’s serious quirkiness across a range of forms, but it is here that the slowest pieces propel Hurry Home from very good to remarkable. “Everybody’s breaking point,” “Hurry home honey,” and a brace of shorter prose poems drive this pillow (fight) book into near-allegorical narrative space where “love poems” begins to feel like a welcome command issued by Poetry itself. By the end, one may find oneself one among a strange group of obsessive collectors (books, flowers, booze) drawn to the shores of an “odd-figured lake” in “Everybody’s breaking point,” a tale that centers on a man dedicated to a project essential in its uselessness as failed love affairs or poems: “One day he will run the Boston marathon in one single breath, and all of us who have ever been to that lake will cheer him on, throwing our books and flowers and booze at him as he whizzes by oh-so-very quickly.” Love poems? Toss something you love at Nakayasu (if you can catch her).