Words on Edge (Black Square Editions, 2018) reviewed at Galatea Resurrects

•June 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Many thanks to Eileen Tabios for her appreciative words on Words on Edge: “WORDS ON EDGE is…a testament to the freedom and freeing found when one operates within constraints…one might say that WORDS ON EDGE very much reveals its times: a world on edge…Reading the book is a RECOMMENDED path if you appreciate music, humor, and wisdom.” See the full review here.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Eileen’s exquisite Murder Death Resurrection recently out from Dos Madres Press. In its anaphoric use of the phrase “I forgot…” it’s both meandering and moving: “I forgot strolling through streets and seeing their dimensions as Paul Eluard’s measurements: wounds that simply would not close.”

UAlbany’s False Advertising: A Reason to Be Disgusted

•June 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The current homepage of the University at Albany, SUNY has a slideshow featuring several marketing blurbs to prospective students. The language of those blurbs is shockingly–and disturbingly–inaccurate. Take, for instance, the university’s statement that “UAlbany’s faculty are focused on one thing: your success.” This claim smacks of Burger King’s “Your Way, Right Away” slogan from the 1990s. The university surely does not mean “tenure track faculty” in using the word “faculty,” because, according to the university’s web page on “Procedures for Promotion and Tenure Review,” “faculty contributions and accomplishments in scholarship, teaching, and service are the vital components of a research university’s success in advancing its mission. The University at Albany is committed to providing an academic climate that supports and facilitates faculty excellence in all three areas.”

It is clear that both statements cannot be correct at the same time. Even though I am a (pre-tenure) faculty member in the humanities my math is good enough to understand that “one thing” cannot be “three areas.” If UAlbany’s faculty members are only focused on student success what does that say about the success of the university’s status as research university? If UAlbany’s administration badgers its faculty into performing institutional service wouldn’t that conflict with the claim that we have a singular focus on teaching? And if the success of whoever “you” is is a faculty member’s sole focus, what might happen when that faculty member’s research is evaluated during tenure review? In any case, I’d like to offer the following creative English-to-English translation. Not: “UAlbany’s faculty are focused on one thing: your success.” But: “UAlbany is focused on one thing: your tuition money.”

Seedings 5 (Spring 2018)

•May 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’m enjoying the new issue of Seedings, which is packed with interesting poetry. Here’s, for example, Carlos Lara’s translation of Éluard:

What has become of you why the white hair and roses
Why the brow the eyes rent heartrending
Great misunderstanding of the wedding of radium
Loneliness haunts me out of spite.

There’s also excellent prose poetry from Sawako Nakayasu:

“Girl F Waits on the Street Corner of Limber Intentions”

I can see her body pressed into what is commonly acknowledged as empty space as if the angular turn of the street could inversely cut her open, as if she was not already open, spilt, missing something here and there. I acknowledge her as I crawl by, she acknowledges me as I roll myself into a ball of tin foil, tightly pack myself in, to weather the impending fight. The team of tin foil balls is usually disqualified pretty early, and that’s just fine with me, I’m wussy that way. That said, there are a whole bunch of tin foil balls gathering behind Girl F here on this corner that is quickly converting itself into a platform, which makes me just a touch anxious. Last time we only used four, but this time I can’t count what must be hundreds, thousands of tin foil balls, oh here come a couple more Girl Scouts with the foil that was used for tonight’s roasted turkey dinner. Ball it up, little girls. Who roasts turkey on a regular weeknight that’s not even a holiday. That kind of troop leader. This is the kind of troop leader I need to keep Girl F away from – to the naked eye, Girl F may look like an innocent girl on an innocent corner, but I have been made of tin foil for quite a long time now, and let me tell you, do I know how these things work. Soon the corner will be an isle, for starters. Then an island, then a mountain. Just let me make sure I make it back safely and I will tell you everything, about every single forehead I have had the privilege of hitting and bouncing, hitting and bouncing, off of and off of and off of again.

I’m also honored that John Olson reviewed my new book, Words on Edge (Black Square Editions, 2018), to close the issue: “Words on Edge is chock-a-block with keen, subtly elaborated lines that combine a euphoric semiotic arc – signifiers liberated from referential content – with an intellectual aura.”

A Provisional Statement of Poetics

•May 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In 2015, in a review-essay about three books engaged with the Oulipo, I wrote,

The Oulipo, short for the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Workshop for potential literature), was founded in Paris in 1960 by two polymaths: Raymond Queneau, a former surrealist known for writing Zazie in the Metro, and François Le Lionnais, a mathematician and engineer. Interdisciplinary in nature, the Oulipo came to embrace a rigorous formalism, insisting that literary freedom could be unleashed not through the energies of chance, the unconscious, or automatic writing (à la surrealism) but, paradoxically, through rule-bound procedures, severe formal restrictions, and mathematical constraints. Oulipians follow the cunning design of Daedalus rather than the irrational urges of the Minotaur; as Queneau famously said, they are ‘rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape.’

My poetry, then, strives for a rigorously designed Daedalean construction that, at any moment, risks collapsing from the overwhelming roars of the Minotaur.

Words on Edge (Black Square Editions, 2018) at SPD

•May 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

My brand-new book Words on Edge is now available for order at Small Press Distribution.

Working out a necessary and constantly evolving counterintuition—uneasy, agitated, restless and ceaselessly inventive—Michael Leong’s Words on Edge clocks the alarm of those who “wake late” in a world of fragments and found materials. Bricoleur of the “jagged, ad hoc equation” that is the contemporary, the poet constellates a spacious, ever-enlarging structure from a heap of broken posterities to make space for “the first blossoms of wild meaning.” The assertions are fresh, tragicomic, and engaging, and the ongoing effort to accurately describe (and affect) a transforming situation is thrilling: this is work that leads us toward “a future collapse into / a full state of wakefulness.” Don’t wait!

—Laura Mullen

Barzakh 10 (Spring 2018)

•May 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Cover art by Mali Fischer.

The new issue of Barzakh, the lit magazine of UAlbany’s English Dept, is just out. The design looks beautiful, and there is a lot of quality work in the issue. This is–for example–Cedric Tillman’s “Bad Haiku Workshop”:

the fewer descendants
of slaves you have to deal with,
the better the school.

without slavery
all the schools would be good—‘stime
we acknowledged this.

when we say good school
we mean a school unburdened
by slave progeny.

a good school is one
with very few descendants
of African slaves.

the school unburdened
by the descendants of slaves
is called a “good school.”

I send my kids to
good schools where there are very few
descendants of slaves.

The Barzakh staff deserves a lot of credit for their hard work–especially Editor-in-Chief Laurin DeChae, who is a dynamic editor as well as a terrific poet.

Words on Edge

•May 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Words on Edge arrived from the printer yesterday. The books look beautiful. Thanks–once again–to John Yau, publisher extraordinaire; Shanna Compton, for the smart design; and the Black Square team, especially Ronna Lebo, for making this artifact a reality.

The cover image for Words on Edge is Gary Stephan’s masterful painting “The Future of Reading 1” (2016). It is the perfect pictorial annotation of my book. Below is an apt quote from Stephan from an interview with Jennifer Samet and Suzanne Joelson:

My elevator pitch for my work is that I am using the tools of formalism to build the house of surrealism. I see formalism as a set of appearances designed to create something that’s visually dependable. The contribution of Surrealism is that it problematizes the reading of the world. If you take the appearance of formalism, but bang the cues into each other in such a way that the picture space wobbles or flickers, or doesn’t work properly — you are making a surreal proposition about formalism.

“The tools of formalism to build the house of surrealism”: that sounds like the kind of house that I want to live in.