Here we are in September of 2020, with millions of people sick and dying worldwide as a result of the confluence of two deadly pandemics, one biological and the other political, even as great swathes of the United States are burning or flooding, and the nation careens towards one of the most consequential elections in its history (so please, please, VOTE). So we thought you needed a little gift. Putting Posit 25 together has been a bright spot in our days, when those have sometimes seemed few and far between, and we hope it will have the same effect on you.
In times like these, when “the fires burn with bodies” (Darren Demaree, The Field Party #1) and “the carnage is everywhere” (makalani bandele, unit_84), art may be a balm, but it is no frivolity. As contributor Hiroyuki Hamada has put it: “As our world continues to be subservient to the hierarchy of money and violence, I believe the exploration of artists to perceive the world reaching beyond the framework of corporatism, colonialism and militarism continues to be a crucial part of being human.”
Each of the stellar contributors to this very special issue may be at a different stage of their trajectory – from previously unpublished (Marije Bouduin) to rising star (makalani bandele, Thaddeus Rutkowski) to celebrated master (Erica Baum, G.C. Waldrep, Hiroyuki Hamada) – but, as you will see, each and every one of them is at the top of their game.
The free-jazz-inflected musicality of makalani bandele’s prose units supplants even as it illuminates the bankrupt elitism underlying conventional distinctions between the erudite and the colloquial. Glowing with a bold and breathless energy, these prose poems are playful as well as unflinching in their engagement with the racism baked into contemporary American life, in which “the carnage is everywhere” and “people say ‘no one’ all the time, when actually they mean ‘no one white.’” Having “located this tributary about a stone’s throw away from some postmodernity,” bandele’s prose poems “vibing in a landscape of contradictions” “economize form to go faster” until their “stories are flames.”
A deep but light-handed resonance underpins Erica Baum’s celebrated series, Dog Ears. Baum’s photographs of folded-down pages from unidentifiable books tease us with what they conceal as well as reveal, tempting us to infer what we cannot decipher while frustrating the urge to uncover what they have made inaccessible. The textures and typeface in these photographs only enhance our awareness of the tactile quality of the printed page, even as they place it definitively out of reach. The artist’s loving disruption of her source materials leads the viewer beyond the urge to resolve the ambiguities created by their fragmentation to embrace the new wholes forged by her juxtapositions and syntheses. Baum thus transforms her source materials into indelible artifacts whose effect is to offer and withhold at once, giving us no choice but to accept and build upon the ambiguous and fragmentary nature of communication itself. These powerful new pieces, incorporating references to “tragedy” “prescription” “zoomed” “mask” “spectacle” “dark” “wreck” “Washington” “post office” and more, speak directly to the experience of living in a pandemic that is “getting to all of us . . . facing danger / and the not knowing”.
Celia Bland’s sensual imagery and powerful prosody forge brilliantly unpredictable connections between such apparently disparate subjects as fish and human sexuality, familial and racial identity, horse racing and gun violence, turbulent landings and the assassination of JFK. In ringing and rhythmic language, Flounder’s eponymous narrator speaks not only for the fish “drifting off in the currents,” but for any “flesh” which is “foundered,” which is “blunder.” EX considers skin to explore what is absent, unsaid, or concealed, like the ethnically revealing “sheen of my grandfather’s arms . . . beneath his starched white shirt” despite the traces it leaves on “every armrest, on every tray table, with every scratch.” like bundles of shudders explores the very notion of arousal to forge a chain of associations from one mythos of excitement to another, from the sexualized “horse opera[s] written for the adolescent girl / in the reign of RPM” to guns, both of which are “heart bursting.” Terminaire’s very title evokes both death and flight, going on to link flight turbulence and the suit Jackie Kennedy wore when her husband was assassinated, exposing the ominous threat of “this authentic turbulence– / This Dallas.”
Marije Bouduin’s debut poems celebrate the elusive power of love even as they lament its loss. Ultimately, they evoke the loneliness and isolation of being itself. In a compellingly direct yet lyrical voice, these poems take off from Plato’s theory of the bifurcated hermaphrodites to lament the limitations of connection, even while “[t]he way your hips move impulses an orchestra to form.” In these “collective econom[ies] of variables and adverbs” the poet skillfully “appl[ies] stress to the structure and see[s] what follows,” enticing the reader to “play a game of poem string by string.”
Raymond de Borja’s haunting, gripping epistolary poem to “Dear Jean” posits a “moth-eaten world” — “After Music” — proffering a historical yet alarmingly present intimacy we share as “[t]his very evening, Jean, they are ripping the square apart.” In the world of these poems as in our world, “the riot is our figure and ground.” Like the speaker in We Requested for Some Relaxing Forest Sounds, we too want to plead, “oh please disemplot, one, someone, anyone, point by point from nature…” As this poet brilliantly reveals, even in music and art, “[o]ur mind is the silent ligature between the glass, the ornamental grass, and an idea of enclosure.”
In these powerful and disturbing prose blocks from The Field Party, Darren Demaree returns to Posit with a series of short but breathlessly urgent works about the contemporary state of the United States Midwest, in which “fires burn with bodies as well as they burn with the furniture that once held the bodies” and children are raised “to not fear becoming part of that fire” in which “guns are tucked” and are “always pointed at something.” Meanwhile, Emily As We Let the Faucets Run offers a tightly coiled tribute to the understated and sometimes paradox-infused beauty of domestic intimacy, in which the fact that Emily “can erase” the narrator is “an actual gift.”
In Connor Fisher’s rich, tactile imagery of time present and past, the properties of memory and the distance between what we remember and what we are become something almost concrete, a “strange object.” Although the narrator of Autobiography III observes that “[e]ven shepherds” — whose work is calling as well as duty – “lose their sheep,” this poet’s rare and frank attention to the world he sings puts him in no such danger. An artist of the physical and tangible (“the body [which] smells a bit off,” the ewe and her “fatty, / sweet milk”), Fisher’s calling is to “join together the small pieces of whatever strange object you chose to muster up. . . an article, a partridge, the sweat built up under your arms, a child, the image of the moon in water.” In these poems, “[t]here’s always a rhythm” in which the observation that “the sun’s down” — “[l]ike all the rest” is all we know, and all we need to know.
Gloria Frym’s unique and provocative prose works function as both conceptual meditations and modern morality tales fueled by the author’s unflinching insights into human nature. In Sense, the elusive and persistent question of ‘what is to be done’ is considered from a psychological as well as moral point of view. Whereas the character who doesn’t “sense what needs to be done” and therefore doesn’t “do the thing that needs doing” remains stuck in the same vacuous and inert occupation from which he could not be bothered to budge, the proactive path of the person who knows what needs to be done leads them to a love story “that begins the rest of two lives.” In Recycle, the temptation to betray the narrator’s principles (against treating books with disrespect) gives rise to recursive rationalizations likely to become “the gateway to further moral lapses.”
Situated, by his own description, in a contemporary sociopolitical context of “corporatism, colonialism and militarism,” Hiroyuki Hamada’s imposing and mysterious sculptures are in some respects reminiscent of missiles and bullets, warships and fortresses. However, like ‘swords into ploughshares,’ the freshness and complexity of Hamada’s refined and polished conceptions incorporate these ominous elements into balanced, yet whimsical structures reminiscent of biomorphic forms and even flexible states of matter, like liquids and gels. These are painstakingly crafted sculptures of profound emotional as well as cerebral resonance, as compelling as they are serene.
Working in an extraordinary range of media, from drawing to sculpture to installation to video, Jean Jaffe draws on her interest in psychology, anthropology, literature, and cultural history to create new realities that are as recognizable as they are strange, as beautiful as they are disturbing. This enticing sampling of her output includes clips from her live-action animations of Alice in Wonderland and A Tribute to Tesla, her graceful yet distressing biomorphic sculptural chimeras, her delicate and moving drawings, her whimsical installations inspired by literature such as Remains of the Day and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and her disturbing reimagining of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf’s point of view. No matter the medium or subject, Jaffe’s work is informed by a probing interest in what it means to be alive, imbuing even the most whimsical of her creations with depth and resonance.
Whether working in dry pigment or acrylic and oil, Suejin Jo creates canvases of jewel-like beauty. Working with an intensely saturated, vibrant, and harmonious if often unpredictable color palette, Jo makes use of a wealth of lines, marks, and shapes which range from the geometric to the organic. Exuding a unique combination of order and energy, Jo’s dense canvases are at once serene and immensely dynamic. With their simplicity of composition and richness of detail, these paintings variously evoke nature and artifice, water and light, land and architecture, forging a sense of connection between the viewer and the artist’s quest for the beauty and meaning of what it is to be alive in this world.
Lesle Lewis is a poet of the physical and concrete, miraculously conjoined with the whimsical, like “bottle tipsy . . . sailboat muses . . . and miracle bambinos”. In these poems, teemingly alive in image and movement, the myriad contradictions of our lives are distilled: “I turn the heat on and off a thousand times. I make anti-gravity moves,” and the myriad things of the world need no explanation or irritable reaching: “Let’s let these things be by themselves, not goose-to-goose, duck-to-duck, dog-to-dog, person-to-person, civilization-to-wild, open-to -sanctuary.” Acknowledging the universal if impossible yearning “to float in an infinite present,” Lewis wisely counsels that we “talk about this now before it’s too late and two hour wars become three hundred years.”
Thaddeus Rutkowski’s tale of an evening bicycle ride has the depth of a life cycle and the velocity of the ride itself. Its brilliant, beautifully spare, and precise description reveals the inner and outer life of a narrator physically sure of himself as he navigates city traffic on his way home, avoiding a startled pedestrian who tells him to either “get a light” or “get a life.” Although he knows he does not need the former, he is not so sure about the latter, since even at the end of his journey, “when [he] pass[es] through the last obstacle, [he] will be more or less home.” On the way, near-accidents, misunderstandings, and a police stop chip away at the rider’s spirits, building a dysphoric atmosphere that functions as a subtle commentary on contemporary life – one expressed by the graffiti he notices, declining in hopefulness from “Sarah2 Marry Me” to “sadder words” like “Entropy,” “Self-Obsession,” “Mediocrity,” “Boredom,” “Conflict,” “Revolution.”
Tony Trigilio’s ornate, surreal, and witty prosody makes virtuosic sport of narrative and the language by which it is conveyed. This is the work of “an aesthete whose sacrosanct / observance prickles the highest vanes of clamor.” And yet his pastiche worlds have much in common with our own, on levels both personal: “the desperado inside my Outlook calendar,” and cultural: “The first budgets of the twenty-first century: the poke, the nub, their neo-liberalism.” Dare we hope for a time when “the dominant social group exhausts itself” — even as conditions become more dire, and “’Spontaneity’” [is] replaced by “constraint” in ever less / disguised and indirect forms, in outright police measures”? Even in a possible future world where “[f]rugal parents from Soviet Florida bicker in fumy saloons,” as Trigilio reminds us, “[w]e should’ve known swindlers can pose as subterraneans.”
G.C. Waldrep’s chiseled and luminous ruminations on the work of Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly offer a glimpse of their aesthetic affinities with one another, as well as with the poet himself. A potent blend of humility and sophistication comes to mind, as does a demonstrated faith in the power of the artifact to speak for itself. By considering what Dubuffet “could have said” in painting (and titling) Exodus, Waldrep elucidates the richness of suggestion inherent in the image, even as he highlights the painter’s choices: using his notoriously pedestrian materials when he “could have crushed pearls into powder;” depicting exile and displacement when he “could have said light-bearing roof / beneath which a house crouches.” In Twombly, Waldrep’s incorporation of a haunting phrase by Friederike Mayröcker recalls the painter’s search for what he referred to as “the phrase,” and Waldrep’s spare and cryptic lines nod to Twombly’s trailing lines and indecipherable text. By deploying language even while silencing it, Waldrep’s final lines suggest, might Twombly’s inscrutable and often asemic “insatiable little gardens” enact as well as reveal culture’s propensity to “hold the tongue / by its root?” Finally, by invoking the flames lit to remind the faithful to pray for the souls of the poor, Poor Souls’ Light makes its own apt and solemn offering of faith and value to all of us so sorely in need of “secret solace” in these harrowing times.
Stay safe and well, and please VOTE as if your life depends on it — it does.
with love and hope,
Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann