Friday, November 12, 2010

Hothouse Gorgeous: Two New Books!

Rejoice, people!  Simone Muench and Philip Jenks' Disappearing Address, a book of collaborative poem-letters, has just hit the bookstores.

Here are the comments I wrote for the book jacket:

“Dear Leatherface,” “Dear Danger,” “Dear Film Noir,” “Dear Chanteuse of the Abattoir for Young Girls” — if you loved Simone Muench’s Orange Crush as much as I did, you’ll recognize in these titles from Disappearing Address the return of her great animating idea: femininity excited by danger.  Muench collaborates with Philip Jenks here to return to the theme in a series of letters to villains from horror films, to abstractions, to icons of pop culture like Morrissey or the high school dance.  The exploded syntax of the letters makes for a kaleidoscope of the sublime and the mundane — Coca-Cola, Pop Rocks, and the Day of Judgment jostle one another in a kind of phantasmagoria.  There’s wit here — “Dear Nothing” begins “why’d you have to cut out & make everything come back,” “Dear Obtuse” begins “Be straight with me” — but the best of the poems revel in novel images and a diction for which the only possible term is “hothouse gorgeous.”
And here are some comments from various Distinguished Worthies:

As darkly luxurious and ferociously driven as either Jenks or Muench is singly, this hydra-headed address is passion squared, an uncanny vesper "scribbled to the abyss” intoned in a duet so tuned as to create a third even more intense, even more longing, even smarter, even sadder, even scarier voice. Though the Gothic cast — Morrissey, Michael Myers, a vampire, a deer on the North Dakota highway that appears like a recurring nightmare “jut-rotted…luring us to the wilderness,” — is glared at with fierce knowing (parlor games put the fun back in funeral here), the attention is sharp, without camp, and soul-piercing. —Robyn Schiff

This collaboration feels entirely seamless, as though it were not a collaboration at all but the work of a single, virtuoso poet with a very broad range of imagery and a finely tuned sense of how diction can coalesce varied materials.  There is some of the surreal bounce we expect of collaboration but very little in the way of bi-polar diffusion or poetic ju-jitzu contending egos can produce.  This is wonderfully contemplative work, and though it's hard to tell when Muench might begin or Jenks end, there is throughout, but particularly in the sequence addressed as letters to poets, a broadened set of concerns about poetry, especially, that these two poets seem to have negotiated in the act of joint (or should I say, mutual) composition. A genuinely wonderful collection.
—Michael Anania

Two poets not only challenge each other 
to write a poem, but challenge each other for the voice of the poem as well as its place and possession – speech and location being the double meanings of address. This vibrant, loving book opens with “Dear Dear,” an introductory address to each voice acknowledging the presence of the other in the poem and, through the collaboration, the action of each in the other’s processes and practice. The book then proceeds in a collection of epistles through numbered sections called “Rooms,” in which the poets confront or accommodate their co-existence. Collaboration is only one of the issues challenging the poets. Ronald Johnson’s epigram on the opening fly pages to “invite the eye/ invade the ear” sets the objective of an inextricable bond between eye and ear. The poets persuade each other whether the poem is going to be for the eyes, a descriptive narrative, or is the poem to be a performed event of itself, or will it have both?  The collaboration’s passage through seduction, co-existence, stand-off and outright hostility is echoed in poems about relationships, poems of loss, institutionalization, and some wonderfully fun bitchiness. This makes an exciting poetry of wild and rapid changes for the reader. The only poem without an addressee is “Haptics, Not Optics.” This is the best statement of both their arguments in one poem, and both artists perform his and her case slyly, beautifully as one. A moment that, for all its sadness, foreshadows the conciliatory calling of the names that ends the work and the address, “I”, reveals its fragments answering to the name.
—Ed Roberson

In other news, John Matthias' Trigons, from earlier this year, is now available in the United States.  Here's what Shearsman Press has to say about the book:

Trigons  derives its title from an obscure Roman ball game mentioned by Petronius in Satyricon. The word also has meanings in the fields of music, astrology, gemology, architecture, poetics, and comic book illustration, all relevant to this book that is sub-titled "Seven Poems in Two Sets and a Coda." Trigons shares something of the same spirit as Matthias's two most extravagantly inventive experimental sequences, Automystifstical Plaice and Pages: From a Book of Years. In an essay on Matthias's cycles and sequences from the 1970s through the present, Mark Scroggins has said thatTrigons explores the poet's "usual historical and literary obsessions, this time revolving much around the Second World War" through a series of surprising juxtapositions like that between the Nazi Rudolph Hess and his contemporary the English pianist Myra Hess, or the discovery made during the book's composition of yet another John Matthias, this one a British composer and neurophysicist" who becomes a shadowing doppelgänger in this book in which both music and neurology play a highly significant role. Trigons "shows no lack of the high spirits that have underpinned so much of Matthias's work, but its puns, jokes, and intentional incongruities are underpinned by a deep seriousness, a pervading sense that while history continues to produce connections in inexhaustible richness, it does so in counterpoint to a continual savage, tragic wastage of life and potential. Trigons moves quickly—indeed, leaving behind the careful concern for closure that has marked Matthias's earlier 'pocket epics'—and the poem seems at every moment to be on the verge of shaking itself to pieces with its own concatenated momentum, like one of Jean Tinguely's self-destructive kinetic sculptures. And this is not a quirk of Matthias's poetics: as the Englishman Haines says in Ulysses, 'it seems history is to blame.' Experiences of grace, of happiness, are ephemeral moments in the relentless, remorseless, temporal succession of heterogeneity that is human life and culture." In the end, the book manifests a "fierce impatience, a barely-concealed rage at the all-too-rapid movement of the human spectacle."

Both books can be dialed up on Amazon.  You know you can't live without them!