“What does love have to do with history,” asks MC Hyland in her poem, The End, a question which nicely sets the stage for the remarkable work we’ve gathered for you here. This 17th issue of Posit is a weighty one, to be dived into; to be savored. Many of these poems address identity and personal relation, contextualized. Some convey public dismay along with private encouragement, because, as Jessica Wickens points out in Department Store Days, “real life is still awesome.” Some resemble status reports, or instructions on how to move forward in a “culture numbed and stung // by the image it’s become” (Paul Hoover, Chinese Figures) — a society guilty of “underestimating the underestimated” (Patricia Hartnett, Silos) — an “established order” characterized by “the horror” and “meaner purposes of an / intolerable culture” (Andrew Levy, Summertime Blues). Others address the “hidden interiors” of art-making, and all that is “racing against / its very own appearance” (Steve Barbaro, Articles of Capitulation), or its nurturance and conservation, in light of “the impossibility / of repetition” (Norma Cole, Ongoing). Yet, even while “[p]lanes arc overhead while history seems to plunge” (Hyland), there is good news amidst the bad, since who knows what “will ignite from / the smallest spark” (Cole).
Despite what Adorno identified as the “complicity that enfolds all those who, in the face of unspeakable collective events, speak of individual matters at all,” these works make the case for its necessity — for the necessity to “be the blueprint” (Asiya Wadud), “[t]o build a face from the materials of history” (Hyland), to take personal responsibility in a reality in which “no one is a spectator” (Hartnett, Complicit). In fact, they make the case for the necessity of poetry itself, whose “reaching keeps us from never nursing doom” (Wadud, my decent one). Because, as Denise Leto puts it in Mystic with a Dishtowel: “A hole in the air that empties air: this is what it is not to be able to read poems.”
Here, then, is the physic for that affliction.
In Steve Barbaro’s poems, an elegant voice contemplates fumaroles, insects, the desire to be away from the world, and a painting by Cezanne. In The Pond, narrative content and the composition of the painting blend into the dream of one of the painted “sitters” and then into the viewer’s own “fall” into the painting, “their face gradually mixing with the scarcely shown face of the water… not that one must necessarily see something to see, of course,” going on to muse that nothing can ever really be seen, “except as something racing against its very own appearance.” And in Articles of Capitulation, the narrator makes a revelatory/revealing inquiry into nature and self: “Is it surprising that the world flaunts only such coy hints of its most ominous flutterings?”
In keeping with the title, Norma Cole’s Ongoing transcends reductive notions of beginnings, endings, or progress itself, “unfurling” like a textile or an “ascending raga” to explore riches below the surface, like the Dunhuang caves they consider, or any “tumulus . . . barrow . . .[or] kurgan.” Like those caves, these stanzas are “placeholder[s] / filled with treasure,” charged with an energy not to be defeated, any more than “magma,” “carpels tough as nails / surviving ice ages,” that which “will ignite from / the smallest spark,” or the intensity humming beneath the quiet calm of this powerful work.
In magical collages that partake of landscape and anatomical section drawings to create their own genre, David Felix “balanc[es] verse and sign” so “we [can] scan the horizon.” Against delicate color, the bold play/puzzle of typography, in which the repeated ‘a’ in one poem marks the visual row where a “draughtsman’s hand had planted limes” reveals the perfect fit of “making bared,” creating a shared ground for philosophy and lyric to reveal that “Time is a horse in a field and no horse in another” and the future “is certainly not here with you and I right now.”
Patricia Hartnett’s philosophical/psychological investigations of the “harm and charm” of complicity, risk, maturation/self-definition, and the contest between mammon and the “unruly” issue their Delphic pronouncements with mystery and precision. To the exquisite sensitivity of a narrator “stranded out here in America / with everyone else equal parts greed and fable” on “another morning under the newly revealed metal fist of the grin,” the “harm and charm and hazard” of America, aging, and perhaps existence itself, “sound . . . down the body like an alarm” even as they look, as do these finely chiseled poems, “like brilliant kites.”
In aphoristic verses whose melodic prosody is propelled by a driving rhythm peppered with thought-provoking turns and returns, Paul Hoover considers how we navigate Time and art-making in a moment when prosperity means “everyone sleeps alone / on the ice of his choosing” and “no one spends attention // we’re overloaded now / every surface known” in “a culture numbed and stung // by the image it’s become.” At the same time they remind us that, thankfully, “what isn’t is // what could be” — that it’s still possible to let go of the “zig-zag parade,” to “read the reader /and be read // . . . by the ones [we] / soon will be.”
Woven into the powerful prose of MC Hyland’s The End are the meditations of a “trespass artist” “trying to build a face from the materials of history” in the “affective prehistory of the crisis” of these difficult times, in which “capital sleeps like a shark,” we are “unmade by uncertainty and the theatrical rollout of the new order” and “joy arrives with a political undertow,” even if we are sometimes “buoyed by tiny lucks” — such as the pleasure of reading these rich and wise poems.
Denise Leto’s dreamlike poems explore a sea to which she holds a magical and “Mythical Map,” treating us to mysterious images like the “radical gloss of radiation” or a “face scattering the shorebirds.” In these spellbinding stanzas, a “Sicilian fishing port no longer maps” and “[e]ating is a womb…of those who are under” in a world in which the “church can’t think—it is more like a spoon.”
Andrew Levy entices us to gorge on his feasts of observations and pronouncements, exhortations and advice for navigating “another heartbreaking day” faced with “the meaner purposes of an / intolerable culture.” His wry linguistic turns and ominous bluntness bring a “kaleidoscopic return of clarity” to a devastating critique of our “unconscious sojourn dropped in final / spasms of dislocation,” even while reminding us to “digest and finish the mission, ride the fall” in light of “the small pleasures in the / wondersome by all this perfect smart.”
Laura McCullough’s stunning suite of poems reluctantly accepts and does not accept the difficulty of intimacy. The objects in the poems — knife, bulldozer, tree — participate like living partners in the despair. Marriage (intergenerational) introduces “a man … bending his wife … around something she has bent herself around all her life,” who then “gets this knife … if she likes… — one with a curved tip — and skin[s] her like she’s never been skinned.” In Marriage (wood and dog) the ordinary situation of chopping wood for the winter reveals the couple’s “separate fantasies” for the use of an abandoned bulldozer, “things they are each ashamed of and can’t’ imagine sharing.”
Douglas Piccinnini’s bleak but graceful verses contemplate identity and suffering in a world of our constant construction in which “you” (i.e. we) “”teach/your hands” with your hands” until you “become yourself in spite of yourself.” With spare lyricism, these poems land us neck-deep in a frightening, if universal, human condition in which a “house is like a house on fire” inside of which “there is no news at all.”
Brad Rose’s prose poems employ a laconic, dark humor to present a narrator who “lead[s] a quiet life” which “[y]ou can read about … in the Great Big Picture Book of Problems,” even while he needs to speak to an attorney “who knows about the death penalty.” One of Rose’s concerns is the act of thinking: “I’ll bet the people in the car ahead of us have thoughts, although there’s no such thing as a perfect translation,” and the way thoughts connect, as in nerve synapses or a cracked mirror, yet holding deep lyrical truth: “It’s quiet inside a mountain — coal dark, the aftertaste of ants.”
With an “exactness which / Takes courage,” Asiya Wadud offers prose and verse poems which glow with “a faultless aura” of embodied yet ethereal light. Like the narrator in Be the blueprint, each form manages to organically unfurl the precise architecture of its unique project, offering “this complete orb, this leaden strobe, this searing, direct heat . . . this . . . weighted gold” of her finely wrought prosody, “as delicate as a new quail cupped in [her] light,” capable of “fillet[ing] the softest parts // To glean the glowing parts” with the grace and power of “a quake on a tender fault line.”
The unflinching gaze and bracingly direct voice of Jessica Wickens’ “stories from fragments” find cause for celebration even amidst the painful reality of our existence. These poems remind us that “happiness is a journey not a destination” and “real life is still awesome,” even for those who “nap. . . on the couch at salvation army” and other “casualties of our superficial train” in an America that “is a nonstop fucker of / prosperity and peace.”
Thank you for reading!
Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann
Raven Halfmoon has a fierce story to tell. In her majestic ceramic sculptures, she examines questions of identity and cultural heritage, while at the same time making art that is deeply affecting. Her work, primarily images of women and their “accessories,” feels immediate and fresh. Big gestural marks in the clay combine with drips and flow of glossy glaze to remind us that the maker’s hand is always present. The work is bold and self-assured. These women with handbags, cigarettes and lipstick are not to be messed with!
William Eckhardt Kohler’s work harkens back to an earlier era when painting dealt with meaty issues such as surface and ground, representation and meaning. Richly painted, these canvases are admirable in their desire to ponder such questions, coming up with answers that are entirely personal. Kohler’s paintings are quite formally structured, while at the same time painted with a control and purpose that become an important part of the story. With a palette that is generally somber, he enlightens the visual stories he tells with hits of brilliant color, like the sun shining through clouds on a stormy day.
The sublimely beautiful paintings of Sarah Lutz dance between abstraction and representation with lovely grace. We see hints of what might be possible, like architectural detail, or a horizon line, but in these delicate works, nothing is certain. These paintings raise questions the viewer must answer. The open quality of the work means that each response is correct. Are these canvases scientific illustrations of an imaginary world? Are they landscapes of the mind? References to the natural world, as well as the history of decoration, abound. The resulting paintings are lyrical, mysterious, and deeply satisfying.
These Jeannie Ottinger paintings are both hilarious and scary. They depict men and women (or boys and girls) in scenes of constant conflict. These works are painted with a deceptively loose, gestural hand, in a slightly sickly sweet palette; the color pink is used almost as weapon. Upon first glance, they could seem childish, but they are deadly serious. The people in Ottinger’s universe laugh, grimace, fight, and triumph within traditional American scenes. Her “cheerleaders” smile at the world through maniacal grins. The men in Ottinger’s paintings bear expressions of ambivalence. Perhaps they know their time is up.
The work of P. Elaine Sharpe raises more questions than it answers. Her mysterious “portraits” of hair are painted in such a way that they dance back and forth between “hair” and “brushstroke.” A self- described “pleasure- bot,” she makes work that conveys a passionate love of mark making, with seductive swirls and whorls of gleaming pigment. The sole figurative portrait, that of the artist observing her own work, hints, perhaps, to one meaning of this body of work, “Diary of a Seducer.”
Jerry Siegel photographs the world he knows. A lifelong resident of the South, he captures the people in his world with deep affection. Deeply saturated with rich, vibrant color, his photographs are portraits of people and places suffused with his own Southern identity. He is a master of catching the perfect moment that makes a photograph magical. He clearly has the street photographer’s gift of relating to strangers and drawing them out in his work. In their own way, the still lives are also portraits — of time and place rather than individuals.