Friday, February 03, 2017

Henry King Gets It: On the Kafka Sutra



Poetry wars? What poetry wars? Henry King has written a very insightful review of my book The Kafka Sutra in which he gets at my sense of poetic pluralism better than anyone else I've seen.  Here's a bit from the middle:

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The poems are formally varied, with fixed forms such as the sonnet and sestina alongside varieties of free verse. In both, Archambeau frequently uses repetition: the necessary repetitions and recombinations in “Sestina: What Chester Kallman Did to Poor Old Auden” are echoed in the free verse of “La Bandera” and “Hieratic Perspective:

I went into the cathedral that was for me alone,
where the guide who was also for me alone,
and of me alone, spoke to me alone.

A century ago, these forms—fixed and free—were red lines within the poetry world, dividing it into antagonistic groups; but they have since been assimilated and ranged against later developments of the avant-garde, from L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E to Conceptualism. Archambeau experiments with the latter aesthetic in the collection’s third section, “Two Procedures”. The first of these, “Manifest Destinies, Black Rains,” rings changes on an 1852 description of Washington D.C. from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and a passage from Masuji Ibuse’s 1965 novel of the Hiroshima bombing, Black Rain, in nine unmetered quatrains:

A magnificent country, whose commerce whitens every sea,
whose most majestic railroads and canals, like great arteries, hang down,
broken, in tangled profusion—
I had a terrifying feeling that one or another of them must be live, fierce.

Here, it seemed, the human mind was destined to develop its highest powers.
Here, it seemed, in the inexhaustible country they inhabit.
Magnetic nerves, with the rapidity of thought, bore intelligence to distant
extremities. I had a terrifying feeling
the mind was destined to spark and tangle: fierce and white.

The difference between this kind of poesis and the Audenesque sestina is less a matter of kind than degree, and brings into question the supposed antitheses between this one and “the other kind of poetry.”
Another review of The Kafka Sutra, by Piotr Gwiazda's in the Chicago Review is here.
And if that's still not enough for you, here's Stu Watson's review in Queen Mob's Teahouse.


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