New Year’s Day, Genya Turovskaya (Octopus Books, 2011)
Genya Turovskaya’s New Year’s Day weds the lyrical, the philosophical, and the absurd using unadorned language in lines that, through repetitious morphing, are as elegant as they are alchemical. “I wanted very badly to feel very badly to feel,” Turovskaya writes in the title poem, and it is this kind of redundantly precise and amorphous semantic gesturing, threaded to the self and a search for emotional certainty, that makes the five poems in this chapbook unique. Though the title New Year’s Day suggests an emphasis on beginnings, the poems within are concerned with disrupting the illusion of linearity. “I imagine a black hole at the far end of the airport corridor,” she writes, raising questions about linear and spatial distortion and the interaction between the infinite and the finite. Though the sphere fits inside the cube, Turovskaya seems to say, nothing has been contained, as with emotional experience, as with language. Put two seemingly simple things together; what remains is no longer simple. In “White Letters,” words and phrases are continually repositioned and juxtaposed, so that lines such as “your eyes are like a thousand square miles” and “I carried the weather” rematerialize as “your eyes carried the weather for a thousand square miles,” replacing logic with celebration of surprise, exuberance, and energy. “[I]n plain English / a baby is born,” Turovskaya writes in “The Present World,” and, as in all the poems in New Year’s Day, language becomes the literal act of creation, a site of miraculous, if not mysterious, reinvention.
– Nick Sturm
Route, Julia Cohen & Mathias Svalina (Immaculate Disciples Press, 2012)
Like a millionaire lights his cigars with burning $100s, a widening post-Ashbery vein of poetry treats the Known-New Contract like an afterthought, if a thought at all. Julia Cohen & Mathias Svalina’s prose poems in Route operate under this principle, where the sentences are a series of blind left turns that generate insane juxtapositions: “Between two fires the metal broods in the false state of departure. Of the forty-two thousand corpses, each turns in a hand before the right place is found.”
Each of Route’s series—“Black Metal & Ice” & “Two Sisters”—offers a meta-commentary on this “composition by gap.” The first is a polar landscape where caches scattered in voids threaten to absorb the untrue traveler. The costs of movement into the unknown and tenuously known are high and saturated with the consciousness of previous loss: “The sun devises a plan: history combines with a man-hauling sledge….Two things, food and children, have been left behind.” Here, the sentences’ zigs and zags are invested with a mortal stake, a quiet wonder at where one has arrived and a sense, also, of enervation, the piling weight of a travel in which the traveler is forced to abandon her accoutrements. This is a poetics not of a resistance to meaning, the Known, but a bifurcation of meaning into its component parts.
The leaps in “Two Sisters” are less perilous and invested with more possibility: “If she can jump from one floating umbrella to the next, the larger sister can find a new face to kiss in the ocean’s chop.” The sisters are contrasted with scientists who, in trying to find universal organizing principles, bind and are bound: “She sees the scientist holding the chains above their heads. The manacles. The beakers.” Ultimately, the sisters’ engagement with the “dirt & stethoscopes” of land is a dalliance where they are never truly at risk. Arriving from and returning to the ageless, unfixed sea, and outside of time and the concerns of larger society, they are a less dire version of Kafka’s Hunter Gracchus.
When Kafka’s Burgomaster, the administrator of a limited temporal order, says, “I’d like to know something coherent about you,” Gracchus replies, “Ah, coherent. That old, old story. All the books are full of it, teachers draw it on the blackboard in every school…merchants tell it to the customers, the customers to the merchants.”
When the Burgomaster says, “I’d like to know something coherent about you,” Cohen and Svalina, rowing away, answer, “Three fish leap into the boat & melt into silver. Relief in the sound of horizon.”
The Odyssey, Matthew Zapruder (Floating Wolf Quarterly, 2011)
Matthew Zapruder’s new chapbook of plainsong-like poems is an odyssey both intimate and universal. “Poem for Engagement,” for instance, is filled with broad, sweeping ideas: “we are people/and we know/how real a dream/when it’s empty/but for the few/great questions is.” Yet, however encompassing the language, the title draws a tidy border around the poem and limits its pertinence to an expression of quiet contentment; clearly, happiness is not always loud.
Many of the poems in The Odyssey are solitary, even still. The “odyssey” in question might be any journey entered into alone. This includes marriage, as we see in “Poem for Happiness”:
and now I am thinking on a hillsidewhere the wind is blowing very stronglywe will get married
He closes the poem with an image of workers reading next to each other during lunch. They are “together and alone,” and the same is true for any couple, except that those in a relationship know they are “together,” that they chose it–a happy-making thought in the midst of heavy contemplation.
Some of the most resonant moments in the collection allude to loss: “…it was/how sick she was/I should’ve known/her long fingers/shook all summer” (“Poem for Massachusetts”). Others allows us refuge in huge, multifaceted landscapes: “A constant breeze/from the north where shadows live/in ancient government/among the old huge trees/carries a little scent of wood/into the city” (“Poem for Lu Chi”). The title poem does both:
our house seemslike a smallpalace we keepready for someoneterrifyingI read a few pagesof The Odysseytrans. Richmond Lattimoresomeone deadtouched these pagesI hand you your coffeeyour face shines
Zapruder creates a warm world of relationships and household inventory. He tips his cap to Frank O’Hara with the “Lattimore” reference, and like O’Hara, Zapruder seems interested in cataloging the small in the service of the large. He likes to account for at least some of the billion points of context that complicate any room or landscape. But Zapruder appears calmer and more calculated. He makes us feel the tangibility of contentment with life’s banalities and reminds us to keep our eyes open, for any situation can suddenly become miraculous.