“Poetry Homework”: Pedagogy, Memory, and Politics in the Visual Poetry of Juan Luis Martínez

•February 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

from Juan Luis Martínez’s El poeta anónimo (o el eterno presente de Juan Luis Martínez). São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2012.

My article “Poetry Homework”–about the great Chilean poet Juan Luis Martínez–was just published in the recent issue of A Contracorriente: A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America. This is the opening paragraph:

Memoria Chilena, the digital archive run by Chile’s Department of Libraries, Archives, and Museums, calls the neo-vanguard book artist and visual poet Juan Luis Martínez “el secreto mejor guardado de la poesía chilena” [the best-kept secret of Chilean poetry]. Martínez’s obscurity, no doubt, stems from a combination of overlapping reasons—from his geographical positioning to his uncompromising hermeticism to the material scarcity and limited circulation of his book-objects. Thus, recovering the secret of his poetry—a secret which Martínez himself took pains to encrypt—requires a combination of labors that are archival, historicist, intertextual, translational, and hermeneutic.

Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2017

•February 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Big Other has aggregated a list of the most anticipated small press books of 2017 according to writers such as Kate Angus, Nathaniel Baldwin, Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Annie DeWitt, Claire Donato, Brian Evenson, and many more. Here are my two modest contributions:

Not One Day by Anne Garréta. Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan. Publication Date: April 11, 2017. Deep Vellum Press.

In the introduction to Barbara Henning’s Looking Up Harryette Mullen (2011) Juliana Spahr somewhat blithely describes the Oulipo as being “not only mainly French but also mainly male.” Spahr continues, “I believe they admitted a woman once. She seems to have quit at some point.” Though Michèle Métail is no longer an active member, the Oulipo–contrary to Spahr’s suggestion–added four formidable women to its ranks between 1995 and 2009: Michelle Grangaud, Anne Garréta, Valérie Beaudouin, and Michèle Audin. Work by the women members of the Oulipo–arguably some of the most exciting writing being produced by the group–is largely underappreciated in an Anglophone context due, in part, because much of it has not yet been translated into English. Deep Vellum Press has been making major strides in rectifying this lack. In 2015, Deep Vellum published Emma Ramadan’s translation of Garréta’s debut novel Sphinx, an innovative love story that avoids pinning down the genders of the two main characters. And in 2016, Deep Vellum released Christiana Hills’ translation of Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days, a brilliant example of what Linda Hutcheon has called “historiographic metafiction,” a postmodern form of highly self-reflexive writing that “both install[s] and then blur[s] the line between fiction and history.” Not One Day will give English speakers a better sense of one of the Oulipo’s most gifted and provocative writers; and it will likely be a key text in discussions about gender, the Oulipo’s legacy, and formal constraint.

Wild Geese Returning by Michèle Métail. Translated from the French by Jody Gladding. Introduction by Jeffery Yang. Publication Date: March 14, 2017. New York Review of Books.

This critical anthology of “Chinese reversible poems”–its focus is on fourth century poet and expert palindromist Su Hui–may help us reconsider the relation between the classical and the avant-garde. Hopefully Wild Geese Returning will show that Métail’s contributions to literary culture needn’t be exclusively defined by her former affiliation with the Oulipo.

Review of John Olson in Talisman

•January 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

My review of John Olson’s novel In Advance of the Broken Justy (Quale Press, 2016) is in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 45 (2017). The issue also has new work by Olson–here’s a brief excerpt: “Sometimes the future arrives yesterday and yesterday hatches out of a tired eyelid. The clouds pulse with lightning and rain glistens on the prairie grass. A residual emotion stumbles through my blood searching for resolution. I pull on a sweater and assemble a piece of water. Whatever you happen to see swaying and rotating is my interior. It does that whenever the wind is from the north.”

2017 MLA Annual Convention, Philadelphia, PA

•January 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

779. Poetic Boundaries and Crises in the Present

Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 202A, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Melissa Parrish, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick

Speakers: Keith D. Leonard, American Univ.; Michael Leong, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York; Philip John Metres III, John Carroll Univ.; Sonya Posmentier, New York Univ.; Margaret Ronda, Univ. of California, Davis; Evie Shockley, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick

Session Description:

Focusing on the intersection of cultural studies and poetic theory, panelists ask how the convergence of cultural crises in the present reflects conflict and change in American poetry’s forms, themes, and place in critical conversation.


Ecopoetics Today: A Reading and Discussion with Evelyn Reilly and James Sherry (November 29th, 7:00pm)

•November 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment
Dana Hoey ASH-Double Check, 2007 Archival inkjet print from "Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene," University at Albany Art Museum, on view through 12/10/16

Dana Hoey
ASH-Double Check, 2007
Archival inkjet print
from “Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene,” University at Albany Art Museum, on view through 12/10/16

The University at Albany, SUNY will be hosting poets Evelyn Reilly and James Sherry tomorrow evening in conjunction with the University Art Museum’s exhibition “Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene,” curated by Danny Goodwin, Janet Riker, and Corinna Ripps Schaming.

If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it.

Ecopoetics Today: A Reading and Discussion with Evelyn Reilly and James Sherry
Moderator, Michael Leong, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Tuesday, November 29, 7:00pm
University Art Museum

Evelyn Reilly has written three books that attempt to manifest a poetics of the Anthropocene: Styrofoam (2009) and Apocalypso (2012), both published by Roof Books, and Self, portions of which have appeared in Pallaksch and are soon to appear in Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene, edited by Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King. Her poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies, including The Arcadia Project: Postmodernism and the Pastoral; The & NOW Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing; In|Filtration: A Hudson Valley Salt Line; and will be included in the forthcoming Earth Bound: Compass Points for an Ecopoetics, edited by Jonathan Skinner.

James Sherry is the author of 12 books of poetry and prose. He has been writing about language and environment since the late 1980s, publishing Our Nuclear Heritage (1991) and Oops! Environmental Poetics (2014) in an effort to link humanity and nature as a single complex entity. His latest book, Entangled Bank (2016), is a series of poems emerging from Darwinian language and structures. Sherry is the publisher of Roof Books and started the Segue Foundation in 1977 in New York City.

Below is a short excerpt from Reilly’s deliciously dystopian Apocalypso:

from “Dreamquest Malware”

Time stamp: ZMT 80002
Report from build site: 3 (one of the originals)

The signal is so sticky with procedure dreck
we grow desperate
for dislocation lubricant

Yet today we completed
2 fulfillment interstices
and 6 perfusion upsinks

after which it took hours to adjust
the nose cone of rampant grief

We have now pried countless tender chordate features
from the slab encasement

105 translation blockages
79 embedded snares



And here is a poem from Sherry’s Entangled Bank (2016), just out from Chax:

Mote Removal: Clean Speak

Tidy the noise.
Unclog the glottis.
She speaks louder
Than an extra blanket.

What are we writing for
If not gelato?
It’s over there
With the broom she used
To sweep the jelly up.

I cannot believe I’ve been engaged
In such extraordinary logic.
What then is the ensuing tragedy
When evidence for naturalism sustains
But a bust of Progress on Pegasus
Or sad boys hanging out in redwoods?

Silence passes between us.
I cannot; will not; no no no!
Resistance is futile, fungible
And trains us to consume.

You make me feel like a natural
Appendix at the back of the memorandum
To museum employees
Against levity in the office,
Inspiring aphorism and animated hadiths,
Lived and livid examples of hominid creativity.

There are people willing to speak out for those Americans
Who suffer from the effects of Good Riddance Day
And the Civic Health Index.
It’s a perfect standard,
But what are the facts?
They don’t stop the reflux of sorrow.
And my signature, trenchant with suppose,
Conveys millions of Turks to clean their buckets
Into the cannibalistic debacle of Syria.
Where must we collapse to change?
Can we think of ourselves differently?

Intensely special in the singular,
Drama creeps into his whimper
Of compliance. How far,
She asked, can I get from myself
Before I am we.
I think of the endless
Survivor luncheons fondly.

To support the interests of those who cannot speak
For themselves, the future is now.
Organ vendor families like Laden and Emaar
Start as discreet poseur neophytes.

Speaking in intelligible words
Instead of tongues builds a following.
How Baba suffered for a devotee’s sake.
“Neither could she speak or call,”
While daring to ululate for her rights,
Li’l ole’ me showing proper gratitude on the home front,
A human rights competency.

Singing and joking abruptly all stopped
The air in both directions.

I believe these extreme and gruesome crimes
Against the self, however much they abuse my interest,
Although I cannot utter it in polite company,
Their testament hits me on the head.
They clean up entire streets
With great white tunes for little revolts of the spirit,
Whether you’re dealing with
(how you deal with (dealing with (dealt with))) inclusion
Or scouring the litterbox for phrases.
It’s our duty to remember and commemorate these events.
She extracted a clean, white, cambric handkerchief
And began to weep. “The gravel
On my driveway is always choked with grass.”

The Innovative Forms of Recent Chilean Fiction

•September 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

My review-essay “Testing Form: Novels by Alejandro Zambra and Matías Celedón,” which analyzes Zambra’s Multiple Choice (Penguin Books, 2016) and Celedón’s The Subsidiary (Melville House, 2016), is up at Hyperallergic Weekend.

Poetry for the Apocalypse

•June 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Thinking of writing a poem is not a poem,” says Maurizio Ferraris in Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces, tr. Richard Davies (Fordham UP, 2015).

On the other hand, Darren Wershler-Henry’s conceptualist classic The Tapeworm Foundry (2000) is a prose poem that consists of a relentless stream of robust and fecund thinking about various poetic, literary, and artistic projects. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

compose a love poem called charged particles in which each line consists of a single word ending in the suffix ion andor stick a stamp on your forehead and then pull a mailbag over your eyes before you begin to recite andor work on a poem attempting to emulate gansers syndrome wherein a person responds to emotionally difficult questions with evasive answers andor address the united nations with your intentions andor write an encyclopedic novel about a whale but maintain throughout that the whale is a fish not a mammal andor write a series of haiku about barrett watten and bruce andrews and lyn hejinian but sign it using the pseudonym lang po

The Tapeworm Foundry is a brilliant book that, indeed, presages my 2012 Cutting Time with a Knife: “write a prose poem for each element on the periodic table and then assemble more complex texts by combining them in a manner analogous to the molecular structure of your favourite compounds.” I could have used that quote as an epigraph.

Wershler-Henry also presages Christian Bök’s The Xenotext Project, surely one of the most rigorously interdisciplinary poetry projects in recent memory: “scrawl graffiti all over someone elses liberal utopia andor encode it in a helix of dna.”

Poetry for the Apocalypse,” my review of Bök’s The Xenotext: Book 1 (Coach House, 2015) has just appeared today in the digital edition of the July/August issue of American Scientist. This is how it begins:

Affectionately nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium,” Deinococcus radiodurans, a so-called polyextremophile, has an uncanny ability to rapidly repair damage to its genome. As a result, it can resist the most hostile conditions, from drought to radiation to acid baths to a Martian atmosphere. And if Canadian conceptual poet Christian Bök has his way, it will compose verse that will outlive our Sun.

Bök has earned a reputation for conducting extremely difficult poetic experiments and executing them with technical wizardry. In his award-winning 2001 bestseller Eunoia, for example, he uses only a single vowel in each chapter, a constraint that produces a form known as a univocalic. The first section is composed of words that include no vowels other than a, the second includes no vowels other than e, and so on. To build an appropriate lexicon for this demanding work, Bök read through Webster’s Third International Unabridged Dictionary five times and spent six years writing. His latest poetic challenge takes him into trickier and more technically specialized territory. Taking on the very perishability of text, Bök has devised a novel solution: In composing his verse, he is employing the medium of life itself.