Welcome to Posit 18! We are very excited to offer this stellar selection of poetry, prose, and visual art for your summer reading pleasure. And we do mean pleasure! For as varied and innovative as these works are, we believe they are unified by a subtle and surprising kind of classicism.
We are thinking, in part, of the time-honored approach to art-making captured with such charm and perspicacity by Helen Hofling’s process statement for her pieces from Tender the Night, which “muse on roaring nights, given and profited from, pilfering mass media, art, the vault of my life and the lives of near ones, poking around the basement of theft and offer.”
We have in mind, as well, the equally subtle, surprising, and essential ways these works are animated by a sense of story. By which we mean Ravitte Kentwortz’s notion of the juncture “in between / things, the story, an act / of fissure,” “between / an anima and an other.” (On Notes on Wall). As well as the kind of verses in which “no one knows what is coming,” although they are “cooler than duke ellington / on a swedish night.” (Kwame Opoku-Duku, politics, the old head verses (ecclesiastes) 1-20). And poems that “(wavelike) swing / . . . floating free” to offer “a new view” of the “curvings of curvature” that we “rise / and fall / back into.” (Stephanie Strickland, Contemporary Physics 1). Not to mention works in which “the quest widen[s]/ the terms” (Jessica Lee Richardson, Art Hat), and “complicated strata of meanings [are] compiled.” (Ryan Nowlin, Crossings).
Whether or not, as Rusty Morrison might have it, the felicity of these stories was “found unexpectedly which is the way luck finds someone” “at an angle of unfinished conversation” (“as if imagining her thinking about me makes me real” (1, 4)), it is our great good luck to offer them to you now, in the hope that you will be inspired to take up the conversations they ignite.
In her solo piece, Lifelike, Devon Balwit considers the vitality of art, at once enduring (“500 years of hounds . . . gone to bones since the artist’s hand clustered the russet branches”) and vulnerable to the stultifying influence of reverence, “the mute solemnity of the archive.” In her powerful and disturbing collaboration with Jeff Whitney, History of the Knife, the darkness at the core of life is explored, and ultimately, embraced: “There is a knife in everything, in all stories of suffering, beetle to hanged man, finches at a feeder. Every so often, one sings.”
With “a mind made of drills” deploying “potions of temporality,” Laynie Browne mines the riches of language and memory. The resonance of these poems’ inquiries is far more satisfying than any attempt to answer the questions they pose, such as “how to turn twinge—to dawn? / How to rise up and twist threads together until they learn to cling—until—like letters you find your strand.”
Shira Dentz may not mean “to write a celebration, / not even in hindsight,” but the grace and power of her “still lines / waiting to converge” evoke such beauties as “the sky marbled with fat the trees/satin with delight” in these consummate celebrations of the wonder and power of verse.
Helen Hofling’s collage and text work both separately and in tandem to offer the viewer/reader multiple possibilities of interpretation. Her visuals are as fragmented and resonant as dreams, and as entire unto themselves. Hofling’s work makes the case for a poetry that describes the unsaid: ‘bird north bird the sound that silver makes.”
In Ravitte Kentwortz’s poems, the physical world is at once closely observed and commented upon by the multiple implications of her language: “a girl on a street. The wind rolling her faster. // . . . A plastic bag in the snow/skid marks hold it faster.” In these poems, the words wind, accelerate, fall, and roll through sense after sense, darkening in retrospect: “a girl before the bear/the bear rises and falls,” “the girl’s skin as it is skinned/ the bear’s head in a bag.” These images take on a gravity and a presence that live both in and alongside our own psyches, as befits these “stor[ies]. . . between an anima and another.”
In this series titled with Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s line, “as if imagining her thinking about me makes me real,” Rusty Morrison weaves the psychological, spiritual, and linguistic implications of damage and loss into a mysterious tapestry “throbbing in an idiom of flow/through the verb-form of pain” “at an angle of unfinished conversation,” which is no more nor less than the angle of poetry itself.
With concentrated intensity and startling vision, Ryan Nowlin considers life’s “dream of being and becoming” in light of “the palimpsest of emptiness / troubling your theory / of flowering.” Yet even amidst “the slow asphyxiation of light in November,” where “what failed to be conjured, / reality delivered with a shrug, murmuring bingo,” the moon is nonetheless revealed to “adore . . . the courtyard,” and a lost friend makes a fleeting appearance “in the margin of a dream.”
Kwame Opoku-Duku rouses our consciousness and conscience with these calls to “take off your veil & / get that look up off your face” in order to “see the prison camps for yourself.” These verses are spare, wise, and musical – even as they warn us against the seduction of “bought/status in the land of authenticity” in a life in which “no one knows what is coming” and “time & chance happen to us all.”
In the spectacular poem Meetinghouse, Jennifer Pilch evokes the paradoxical fabric of reality (“glacier sleep in 90 degree weather”) shot through with the unexpected and haunting beauty of deterioration: “snow sliding off // sun-stroked / degradations,” “long faces on opposite sides of a curtain/ wallpaper peeling like waiting onions.”
Jessica Lee Richardson’s delicately beautiful and hallucinatory “parables open doors” in which “you are skeletal in your blossoming” and “bent heads pillow forth with their sincerest apology.” Although “the quest widen[s] the terms,” who’s to say whether “the magic [did] the math” or “how to tell unfurl from furl”?
In Stephanie Strickland’s series School, a theoretically-minded yet entirely poetic eye takes a long view of biology and physics, exploring where we might be on the continuum: “Physical is always Special Case in/animate that slash that little twig that virgule is no physical threshold.” These poems suggest that physics, which is to say, reality, being “not a system/ not a shape” but “a Scenario ever / transforming” might require less math and more invocation: “Maybe consult a drummer dubmaster houngan/ probably not a drum machine.”
In chiseled verses limned with sharp edges and dangerous insight, AJ Urquidi enacts the poetic equivalent of “sprint[ing]/ on hot coals with napalm scissors in hand.” In these poems which “keep apologizing to posterity” where “honesty fumbles in her bouts of proved worry,” we are grateful to be shown “life in a rusted circle” and urged to “watch the city shrink, then how / it zooms in to prey.”
John Sibley Williams may be “…looking for the world the world doesn’t like to talk about above a whisper,” but in a reality in which “we are bright flecks of light dancing into a back-drop of more light,” his dense and finely-crafted prose poems are as powerful as “clouds that cymbal and the swelling river and names we give to things that fight so hard to shed them.”
Thank you, as ever, for reading!
Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann
And welcome to this issue’s selection of visual art.
The exquisite drawings by Dozier Bell in this issue are lyrical studies of light, sky, water, and land. Seen through her keen eye, the delicate nuances of the natural world are captured as it shimmers and glows through storm, sun, and fog. These drawings create a powerfully moving portrait of life lived by the sea.
The huge (5 x 10 foot) photographs made by Tanya Marcuse transport us into a universe unto themselves. Simultaneously natural and unnatural, her giant tableaux weave together images taken from a natural world in a constant state of dying and being born. The work is dense and rich with details. Step back and they look like giant complex abstract compositions. Step closer and perceive her intricate relationship with a natural world that is endlessly rich and beautiful.
Sam Nhlengethwa’s portraits of goats are examples of beautiful composition, design, and a kind of portraiture. These goats exist as both “personalities” and as careful explorations of form. Simplified shapes and often-abstracted gestures characterize these lyrical compositions.
The dizzying array of materials used by Julie Peppito has often left me in awe of the fluid way that she marries materials into an almost psychedelic vision of the world. Focusing on the political climate of the day, this recent work creates a visual order from a cacophony of images, ideas, and words that is both powerful and magical.
Adams Puryear uses mixed materials and video to make projects that are inventive, funny, and provocative. His ceramic sculptures literally ooze with a strange slime that is at once reminiscent of childhood (think Slime Time Live) and something escaped from a laboratory. The video images offer a potent contrast to the forms in which they are housed. Endlessly amusing, his work conveys a perpetual sense of unease.