The Argotist Online
Loss, Covid and More: Recent
Contemporary Poetry in English
I've been obsessed with a number
of books recently that I keep reading and rereading. In addition to
sight, another book that has caught
my attention is Cynthia Hogue's achingly beautiful
June the Labyrinth. This book about loss was
published a couple of years ago but only recently came to my attention. It
successfully combines a more traditional lyricism with avant-garde bits. Despite
the narrative parts, the book taken as a whole is almost a master class in
poetic experimentation, such is the variety of approaches Hogue adroitly adopts. Through
the course of the book we learn that "Elle" is a mother who died in
June leaving two daughters behind. We get the story in pieces, glimpses and
tidbits. The central metaphor of the labyrinth works well and thinking of the
lives of the person loved and dying and the ones left behind as enmeshed in
separate labyrinths is intriguing. Hogue keeps a steady hand throughout but
maintains a light touch. This artfully crafted collection may be Hogue's best
work to date. Here is a sample of her lyricism:
. . . ]
A few pages earlier appears an
eight line list poem that begins:
Hogue also translates poetry
from French and occasionally French lines or phrases appear in her work as in a
poem titled ("to be-frend"):
Hogue seems comfortable with and
well-versed in a wide range of forms and styles. This panstylistic book stays
with you long after you put it down. The loss within is palpable and anybody who
has grieved will recognize stages of grief (and more) in this book.
The very prolific Pam Brown has
a signature style that she continues in her latest, Endings
& Spacings, but each time while
maintaining her distinctiveness she comes up with something fresh, new and
intriguing. How does she do it? In part I think it is because the world keeps
changing and her books reflect the world beyond the reader. In this book people
can't sleep and make herb tea in the middle of the night. It seems to be
the perfect COVID book－there is a restlessness here, a
kind of jazzy improvised feel yet polished. There is a great deal of
movement from image to observation, to details then abstractions. The whole
thing works very well; I can't seem to get enough of this book－each time I pick it up I find
something new and attractive. I feel the world spinning around me as I read this
book, like a camera going in a circular motion. Brown is as magnetic witty and
smart here as ever as in this excerpt which illustrates how deftly she moves
from observations to ideas to reflections to details:
white white teeth
on the lonesome internet
new romantics rusting in the
Every page of "Endings and
Spacings" is a captivating and fun journey into Brown's observations about
the world around her and us.
Some readers may know of the
anthology of Kiwao Nomura's poetry translated into English titled Spectacle
and Pigsty. A newer smaller but
groundbreaking and awe-inspiring collection is The
Day Laid Bare translated by poet Eric
Selland. It is an apt title－in this book I feel a gritty,
dangerous, sometimes sexy but mesmerizing world is being stripped of its layers:
Certain key words are central to
Nomura's poetic vocabulary: worlds like 'flesh', and 'parade'. The words
'roadblock' and 'parade', which name the various sections of the poem, have
metaphoric meanings. [...] The parade is a metaphor for society, i.e., the world
or the worldly. It is mostly negative. The pieces of flesh move along
in the parade like a Felliniesque carnival, unaware and un-conscious of
themselves or the deeper meaning of existence. They are inhuman or subhuman－or sometimes 'all too human' (Nietetzsche).
The following excerpt may
The translator Eric Selland is
an outstanding poet in his own right (one of my favorite books in recent years
of contemporary poetry is his Arc
Tangent, 2013 by the same press).
When I first got Nomura's 80 pp.
book, I could not put it down. I spent hours on the sofa reading it. I found it life-altering.
I did not feel like the same person
anymore when I got to the end of the book. And I keep returning to it to
learn and experience more of Nomura's magic.
Nomura is one of Japan's leading
poets. If you read The
Day Laid Bare (approximately 70 pages
and expertly translated) I think you will see why.
In a very different vein,
Pleasures of Peace by Paul Rossiter lives up
to its name. If you have COVID induced insomnia or are tired of looking at
screens or cooped up and your nerves frayed you can be swept away to various
locations depicted in an often painterly way in this book. Most
scenes are from Japan or the UK the two countries in which the poet divides his
time, often natural settings but sometimes more urban. Rossiter's
attention to fine detail is itself very Japanese to me. In a poem titled
"North" which begins:
you can see the sparse,
economical style in which Rossiter often writes.
Two pages later you will find:
and on the next page:
On the next page of the book we
will be transported to Tokyo versus snowy northern Japan in a poem titled
Rossiter's subtle sense of humor
can be found elsewhere in the book as on p. 60:
These four books could hardly be
more different from each other－the playful
and Spacings, the dark and nihilistic but
engaging and sometimes humorous The
Day Laid Bare, the mournful but exquisite In
June the Labyrinth and the tranquil and
subtle textures of The
Pleasures of Peace. There should be
something for everybody here, or a book to match your mood perhaps.
copyright © Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa is the author of ten full length collections of poetry as well as chapbooks, fiction, and essays. Her most recent book is Plan B Audio (Isobar, 2020). Email is welcome at: janejoritznakagawa(at)gmail(dot)com.
Brown, P. (2021). Endings
& Spacings. Sydney: Never Never Books.
Hogue, C. (2017). In
June the Labyrinth. Pasadena: Red Hen.
Nomura, K. (2020). The
day laid bare. Trans. E. Selland.
Tokyo/London: Isobar Press.
Nomura, K. (2011). Spectacle
and pigsty. Trans. K. Yoshida and F.
Gander. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn.
Rossiter, P. (2021). The
Pleasures of Peace. Tokyo/London: Isobar Press.
Seidenberg, S. (2020). Plain
sight. Berkeley: Roof Books.
Selland, E. (2013). Arc
Tangent. Tokyo/London: Isobar Press.