Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Poetry of Pierre Joris 1

Pierre Joris, who grew up in Luxembourg, once told me that he only speaks Luxembourgish with his mother. He may have been exaggerating, but the linguistic nomadism demanded by living in this European crossroads provides much of the experiential mulch for his poetry, going all the way back to the earliest poems in his first selected collection: Brecchia: Selected Poems 1972-1986.

This is the first in a series of occasional posts on Joris' poetry that will stem from my rereading his two selected collections—Brecchia and Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999.

My first observation is a simple one that involves lineation. Poetry, of course, is defined by line breaks, and this is especially true of nonmetered poetry where such breaks are solely a choice on the part of the poet and define the rhythm, emphasis, and sonic lay of a piece.

When I think of Joris' poetry, I generally picture nervous, one- to three-word lines often placed in something of a staccato fashion indented from the left margin. However, this is only one of his many modes in his earliest work. For instance, "A Bundle of Rods Bound Up with an Axe in the Middle, Its Blade Projecting" often has thick, clotted lines of about ten words replete with little punctuation.

The light jitteriness of Joris' better-known early work, "Antlers" or the notebook poems from "Tracing," gives way to a compactness and, for me at least, semantic obfuscation (in the sense of Bernadette Meyers' "The Obfuscated Poem":

like acorns assemble the sows or
not like but still the glyph distilled
in place of which is nowhere & only
in time & first letter is a matter

For me, this poem bangs and crashes with possible meaning—"like...not like but still..."—not settling anywhere. When reading it, I feel overwhelmed with the violent potentials of language and its associations.

In his better known early poems, Joris seems to feel out and test turn and ripple away in a dance across and through language and myth and time and space. Here, we have just the opposite: a sediment of thick language left after the dance has been burned off.

My next post will be on "Antlers." I wanted, however, to begin by calling attention to some of Joris' less-known poetic practices.


Brecchia: Selected Poems 1972-1986

Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999

Pierre Joris' Amazon page

Pierre Joris—Cartographies of the In-Between, edited by Peter Cockelbergh, contains essays on all things Joris.

Nomadics, Joris' blog—Currently, you can read an interview with Joris' longtime collaborator Jerome Rothenberg.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Charles L. Mee's TRUE LOVE: an Interview With Duane Koivisto

Actor Duane Koivisto discusses his role as "Phil" in Charles L. Mee's play True Love, which is currently being presented by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center in Burnsville, MN. Burnsville is a second-ring suburb south of Minneapolis.

The play is directed by Barbe Marshall.

According to a company member, Chameleon likes to bring quality, contemporary theater to audiences south of the Minnesota River.

Chameleon Theatre Website—You can view the trailer for the play here.

See Sophie Kerman's review of the play in Aisle Say Twin Cities.

Charles Mee on the web.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mississippi Hill Country Blues

for Steve, Jonathan, and Oscar

Mississippi Fred McDowell is often cited as the first Hill Country Blues musician. Unlike the better known Delta Blues (Robert Johnson, early Muddy Waters, Son House), Hill Country Blues is characterized by few chord changes; a driving, sometimes droning rhythm; often reserved singing; and hypnotic, perhaps African-derived or influenced, percussion. Another important source is the fife and drum blues tradition in the area, which is usually characterized by a small band consisting of a fife (homemade flute) player and vocalist leading a group of percussionists.

The style became internationally known after Fat Possum Records began recording artists living around Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1992. While not the only label recording these artists, it is the best known and perhaps best distributed.

Here is my list of favorite Hill Country Blues recordings. To be upfront, my bias is towards singular stylists. Please add to it. (Links are to the articles on the artists.)

Junior Kimbrough & the Soul Blues Boys—All Night Long (Fat Possum)
Junior Kimbrough is often cited as the greatest artist in the genre. This is debatable, but this album is widely considered not only emblematic of the genre, but one of its greatest triumphs.

Mississippi Fred McDowellThe Alan Lomax Recordings (Mississippi Records)
McDowell was a complex, versatile, and cussedly stubborn musician (thank goodness.) This provides a good introduction. I don't know if he can be simply pigeon-holed a Hill Country musician in the manner of the Fat Possum artists, but he is an essential source.

Jessie Mae HemphillGet Right Blues (Inside Sounds)
Hemphill was the most important link that I know of between Hill Country blues and the fife and drum tradition. She played drum, tambourine, guitar, and sung with a studied reserve. No other artist is remotely like this singular woman. Steve Leggett calls her "a national treasure."

(I can identify no other female artist from this context. Perhaps this is simply my failure, but I wonder if rural female blues artists are finding it even more difficult to get recorded than are the men. Could there be other unique women artists who are not getting the attention they deserve in part because they are women?)

Charles CaldwellRemember Me (Fat Possum)
"Why you wait till I get old/Before you decide to put me down?" Could there be a more devastating blues lyric? This 2004 classic proves that Junior Kimbrough, for all his deserved accolades, was not the only musician mining a hypnotic, droning, guitar-driven version of Hill Country blues. The 6'8" Caldwell recorded this album while undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. It is his only recording. What did was this intense and ferocious man like when healthy?

CeDell DavisFeel Like Doin' Something Wrong (Fat Possum)
Stricken with polio when young, Davis' right hand is crippled. As a result, he developed a singular style of playing guitar in which he uses a butter knife as a slide in his right hand and strums with his left. The music is as raw, obsessive, and scary as the title of the album. Davis high, whining voice pierces. His unusual playing style causes the music to be as intentionally atonal as free jazz.

R.L. BurnsideToo Bad Jim (Fat Possum)
Perhaps the best known of the Hill Country musicians, R.L. Burnside was also in many ways the most conventional from a traditional blues perspective. This is not a put-down; it simply points out the uniqueness of the above stylists.

Please add to the list.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Broken and Beautiful People—A Review of IN THIS LIGHT: NEW & SELECTED STORIES (Graywolf) by Melanie Rae Thon

product image

These are the broken people.

 “…sour pit of the arm, scarred hollow of the elbow…” “The holes in my ear never hurt like the hole in my tongue.” “The red fur of the fox swirls down Tianna’s spine, and her teeth are long but broken.”

These are the broken people.

“I let the sky pour through me.” “There are 300 ways for a family to be shattered.” “…the stringy ligaments of her thighs, the rippled bone of her sternum…” “…all her fragile, breakable bones…”

I am a broken person.

the permanently bent finger that got stuck in a fleeing person’s belt, scars on my fingers from the industrial-strength cleanser used in the pickle factory, like so many of us the ride to the hospital which I will carry past my grave, the yawning dark space behind a bookshelf

You are a broken person.

reading of  “ice needl[ing] [your] bare arms”  and living it, too; the winds and waters of your body, the refractions and ripples of your perceptions, feeling “the exact size and shape of things inside [you], heart and kidney, [your] sweet left lung…”

These are the beautiful people. The beautiful, broken people.

“But there it was, my heart again, throbbing in my fingertips.” “…how to move like water through her and out of her…” “Didi never asked the stray children for anything.”

These are stories of the beauty of scrap and scar, of love perverse and pure. No sin stalks these pages. We are all broken people, beautiful because we are not fallen, not even close.

No fallen souls—only people who made mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes neither echo nor ripple, for both echoes and ripples eventually end: sometimes consequences beat through a life, as insistent as the two and four of a simple rock and roll song.

“I don’t believe in forgiveness for some crimes,” says Ada, narrator of “Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer,” but I forgive her, and I feel the voice behind the story does, too. She accidentally kills a man and manipulates her father into unknowingly covering it up for her. When he learns of her crime, he flushes her out of his life, and he is torn apart, bodily. And survives. Broken

Nothing is fair. Compassion bursts from these gorgeous sentences:

“It loved her, this germ [tuberculosis]. It loved her lungs, first and best, the damp dark, the soft spaces there. But in the end, it wanted all of her and has no fear.” “You wanted to hurt, and the hurt was love, and love roared back into you.”

I come away from this book of hurting characters, some of whom also cause great hurt, with no dread or disgust for life. Somehow, Thon acknowledges and affirms our deepest obsessions and most destructive habits and keeps on loving.

It comes, I speculate, in the poetry of her language—language being the source of our articulation and so often our very home. There is a comfort in the lisp and lay of  this randomly selected sentence:

“Twenty-one years since I met Vincent Blew on that road, twenty-one years, and I swear, even now, when I touch my bare skin, when I smell lilacs, I can feel him, how warm he was, how his skin became my shadow, how I wear it still.”

The use of repetition, rhythm, soft and hard consonants, and alliteration craft this sentence into a textured being unto itself, one that says, in its very crafting, "For all our brokenness we can be beautiful: (whisper) Here’s how."

Why did I choose to randomly select a quotation? Because I have such confidence in the textured life of Thon’s language that I knew every sentence in this book would be both fertile and complex.

After reading these stories, it is a little easier for me to live with flaws and foibles and failures. They will always partly define both me and us, as broken and beautiful.


Melanie Rae Thon is the author of numerous works of fiction including The Voice of the River (FC2), which will be reviewed here in the upcoming weeks. She is a professor at the University of Utah.

In This Light's page at Graywolf Press.

Graywolf Press is located right here in Minneapolis. They published Tracy K. Smith's Life On Mars, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poem by Calvin Pennix


At a loss

one begins in


Additional markings

      communicate confidence

in upwards of …

      situating a main point

As distracted avoidance

 and clearly defined

               it’s a fragment

How far does blue


Calvin Pennix holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and lives with his wife and daughter in Mission Viejo, CA.  He is currently an instructor at Everest College, where he teaches Composition, American Literature, Critical Thinking and Algebra.  Calvin’s first book of poetry, Grounds, was published by Argotist Books and his second collection, Around/About is being published by Differentia Press.  Calvin has had his poetry appear in UCity Review, A Few Lines Magazine, Unlikely 2.0, Counterexample Poetics, Ishaan Literary Review, Truck, Peacock Online Review, Mad Hatters Review Blog, On Barcelona, Otoliths and Certain Circuits.  Calvin has been the Featured Artists at Counterexample Poetics and is the founding editor of quarter after (, a journal of poetry, poetics and art.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Poetry: In The Way It Is Written by Jill Chan

Something about not writing keeps me in touch with the desire to write.  As if the manner in which we stay confuses me into staying more.  As if now, without writing, we think about it less and less.  Pretty soon, we will have to release the things we write about.  The subjects are all shy, it seems, until you find worth in almost anything.  Kindness you haven't previously seen.

Even then, just to confuse yourself, you let words in often.  Now you are a poet because you could at last let poetry go for however it doesn't need you yet.

Sometimes you agree with yourself too much and it defies you.  Poetry cannot be in a house with you now.  You need it to be with you.

Poetry cannot wait in sequences.

And you cannot move forward, not yet—enough for poems to appear.

It used to come with intention. Now more often, it is leisure of the mind.  You don't need to find it lazy or adjectival—you just know you have to.

It is public in the instinctual sense. And with this, you are ready, as ready to breathe words into something else too wordy to come to you as thought.

The evening is clearing and you've written something.
Not poetry. Only words.

And language you use so much.  Not to affect anyone.

You realise too that no one may understand—and you care just enough.  You thank the people with your speech, their attributes with your silence—your shyness remains shy even in language.

And you are not trying to be different from anyone.  And some may consider it strange, pride misplaced.  How else can you arrive with it, but with it?  

When I think I've run out of poems to write, I forget everyone. There is a reason—then, there is not even that.  No reason to write. Why should there be one for poetry?  For writing poems.  It just comes like a breathing delayed then remembered for what it is.

Poetry doesn't have me. When I think I don't have it, it is there at once with held breath and foregone decisions.  Something to change like reason to further reason.  Like power to powerlessness—in a second that flies by without you.

All you are left with is a blank page and poetry that exchanges language with words then nothing after that.

If it is written down, you read it like a second occasion. A second inspiration.  It is finally not yours.  Only something that came from you.

And also not only from you.

Poetry has an origin.  You are not beginning nor anywhere it can end with.

Is it wisdom?  Yes.  Wisdom and knowledge taken together to forgive you with hope.

Wherever poetry enhances and where you falter, you calculate whatever cannot be confused. Where can you be?  And there is no success when you expect so much of here, and none of what's here.

Then you arrange then's and there's and forget time and place. You reiterate the possible like the sun. Then the moon heats up the night while the dark sustains and suspects—and you are the witness to this falling, this wherever turning and never compromising.

Sometimes, just before you give up, there you are with nothing you want. Thankful for thankfulness, the way you can still live on the strength given you.   How did you know luck when you seem excessively come upon like the dark which grows frantic with giving?

You want peace and war comes like peace for once.

For the one who courses into you lightly.

For the third twos who refuse like you are also there.

Anyway—a word to be disguised with everything.

Anyway—one compound word complex with vagueness.

Today, you hadn't thought of poetry until you wrote a few words. How is it with it?  Handle with care the attitude involved with going about your business.

You like to let poetry be.  Where it resides, you allow for nothing else. There is no suspicion in poetry—only what you can't be.

Here, poetry is eloquent along with your wisdom.

Can anybody take that away?

You write it down to remind you that where speaking allows, you cannot disavow.  And poetry is silence in the way it is written.


Jill Chan is a poet, fiction writer, and editor based in Auckland, New Zealand. Her poems and stories  have been published in MiPOesias, Blue Fifth Review, foam:e, Mascara Literary Review, Asia and Pacific Writers Network, Otoliths, Snorkel, Broadsheet, JAAM, Poetry New Zealand, Takahe, Deep South, Trout, Denver Syntax, The Tower Journal, A-Minor, The Camel Saloon, 52\250 A Year of Flash and other magazines. She is the author of The Art of It: Three Novellas (2011), and five books of poetry: On Love: a poem sequence (2011); Early Work: Poems 2000-2007 (2011); These Hands Are Not Ours (ESAW, 2009), winner of the Earl of Seacliff Poetry Prize; Becoming Someone Who Isn’t (ESAW, 2007); and The Smell of Oranges (ESAW, 2003).  She is one of the poets featured in the New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive. Official website:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Terry Folz Reading

Terry Folz, Altered Scale Reading, 3-11-2012

Filmed by Dustin West

Quincy Troupe and Patricia Smith at Macalester College on April 16

The small print says Troupe authored three children's books & eight award-winning volumes of poetry including his latest, Errançities.

Patricia Smith was nominated for the National Book Award and has authored five volumes of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, an exploration of African Americans following the Great Migration.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fiction by Ann Bogle

First Sex

[This first appeared on the Ana Verse blog] 

On Dec. 2, I met Nils for the first and only time. Nils, a university geographer, found me at an internet dating website. He drove two hours to meet me on my turf. My own car, a 1989 Volvo 240 DL, had been and is still on the fritz, and with the weather expected to turn wintery, which it did, Nils had decided to go to me.

I have listed with internet dating websites for two years without ever meeting someone that way in person. Mostly, I get affirmation from them and little more. I do not shop the photos to look for Mr. Next. I wait for them to shop for me, and shop they do. Sometimes I receive five or more electronic winks in a day and cannot even begin to reply to them; also, I have no interest in replying to them. Then I wonder if I ought to take my profiles down from the websites so no man mistakenly believes I might be thinking of him, too, as happened to me at the beginning: I thought for a week that a certain "artist" from St. Paul had his mind on me because we had mutually "winked" at "each other." Neither one of us would pay the subscriber fee and actually correspond.

Nils was different from the start. Since he signed one of his letters with his full name, I searched him at Google and contacted him at work, which annoyed and confused him: He thought the dating website had committed a security breach. The breach was mine, not one of security, but of etiquette. Nils provided a different email address for my use, and we started to correspond. Let me simply say that Nils was the best correspondent with whom I had exchanged letters in twenty years, which is saying quite a lot, since I have tended to correspond with writers (albeit writers who may run cool toward correspondence). By contrast, Nils was fiery, opinionated, and sure on personal subjects.

After our date, which included dinner, a glass of wine, and a ridiculous TV show about a private investigator following a woman who worked for a sexual bondage service, we "did it," as we like to say here in Minnesota, on the hotel bed. I rarely discuss sex. I had learned early on that it's better never or almost never to mention sex except with the related sex partner and not to discuss past sex with someone else.

One day, out of the blue, and not due to any conversation, it occurred to me that I had not mentioned sex enough. I had left myself open to too much speculation, too many blanks that might give the impression of frigidity or boring or unearthly ways. At the website, my sexual personality test revealed that I am a Traditionalist. Nils is an Intellectual.

After our date, my sister, who has a boyfriend, came over with her Weimaraner. I started instantly to tell her of my sex with Nils. She shirked the conversation, tried to change the subject, and more than once, I persisted. I wanted her to hear about it. "I don't want to know about your sex life," she said at last. "I don't have a sex life," I told her. "I had sex, once, with Nils." In 2003, I had sex twice. In 2004 not at all, and in 2005, twice, once with Nils and once with my ex-boyfriend, who had not had sex since 2004.

I called my woman friend, whom I have not seen in two years (it seems) except for running into her once at a cafe. "I had sex," I called joyously into the phone, as if I were calling out my name to hear it echo in the mountains. "You're funny," she said, but it didn't sound like "funny" is what she meant; it sounded like she meant more like "weird." She has had a boyfriend for years; having sex for me was weird, and talking about it was even weirder. True, when I had a boyfriend, I had sex each day, and it had not seemed weird at all, but once-a-year sex is of another order and is genuinely noteworthy.

To be even more bold (and speak more about sex), I told two men about it; I told them my date with Nils had included amazing sex. I told them it was timed for conception. I told them I wanted "it," meaning the baby, even though I didn't get pregnant.

I wrote to Nils: "Sex with you was of the highest order I have ever experienced. I was nearly drunk on it. I 'saw' nothing except my open vagina against a screen, as if the whole room and world were nothing except an all-around vision inside a cunt. A flower, that is.

It was deep, indeed. So now I must ask you (since I was in stellar orbit) did you come inside me? Usually, I know that type of thing. This time I wouldn't be able to tell you."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jefferson Hansen & John Colburn

Introduction to the March 11, 2012 Altered Scale reading that featured Twin Cities writers. The reading took place in Edina, MN, a tony suburb of the Twin Cities.

filmed by Dustin West

John Colburn

filmed by Dustin West

Monday, April 2, 2012


AlteredScalePress is off and running with its first publication: my chapbook of poems The Branded Woman and Other Poems. (See me read "The Branded Woman" on this blog.) 

The future is promising for the press.

If you want a copy, send $7.50 (check made out to "Jefferson Hansen"), to Jefferson Hansen, PO Box 8303, Mpls, MN 55408-8303. 

I Want to Die 
sun behind branches 
shadows dapple fresh snow

and I want to die

not because of branches 
or shadows
but what lies in
between: spaciousness 

I choke on freedom

I wish all messages 
to fall flat
on the floor
before arrival

I wish clothing
had no skin
walls enclosed no space
the earth touched the sky everywhere 
the way it seems to
at the horizon

after death maybe tongue 
can taste no food
maybe substance drifts 
into shadow 
maybe people go hungry 
and skinny and elongate

after death there may be no beauty

after death the beauty 
might become unbearable 
the space between
the bowed strings of a cello 
and waiting silent ears 

and I am alone thank god

the birds stopped saying your name
thank god
this morning

I hear only their sharpness
in their call to each other
and I am alone
thank god
thank goodness

and leave me this way
because a bird calls
just this side of a delicious

that contains all possibility
and percentages

leaving me to see and startle
at the size and meridian
of what could lie ahead:

my time is coming
my time is nigh

Terrence Folz Reading From "Bunt Burke"

  Terrence Folz's chapbook  Bunt Burke will appear from The Circulatory Press in August 2021. The above film features him reading some o...