Category Archives: Reviews

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Ecoskeletons of Language, Sound, and Impossibility: [Dis] Embodied Lineages

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Matthew Pincus, a 2nd year MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School, presented on “Stein’s Exoskeletal Language: Embodied Desire in Disembodied Sociality,” which focused in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, and more specifically the section on Melanctha. In “The Rejection of Closure,” Lyn Hejinian writes, “The desire that is stirred by language is located most interestingly in the language itself – as a desire to say, a desire to create the subject by saying.” Pincus argues that in Three Lives, “social realist relationships and urban spaces are disembodied desires of the text whereas language are embodied elements of desire,” the social realist relationships being Melanctha Herbert/Joseph Campbell and Lena Mainz/Herman Kreder, and the two, “subtle, possibly sexual relationships” are Anna Federner/Mrs. Lehntman. By examining Stein’s language, Pincus is able to present us with hidden desires in the text and semantic connection with particular use of Marjorie Perloff’s The Poetics of Indeterminancy: Rimbaud to Cage (Princeton University Press 1981, Northwestern University Press 1991). “Melanctha Herbert is a recording of atoms falling upon consciousness,” Pincus says, “veering away from conventional, Dickensian social realism to ulterior modes of arrangement and components of narrative.” Pincus is a regular book reviewer for Pank, Raintaxi, Bookslut, and Necessary Fiction, and has essays forthcoming in Coldfront Magazine and Manor House Quarterly.

Connor Fisher has an MA in Literature from the University of Denver and is currently a 3rd year MFA candidate at Colorado University-Boulder. His paper, “Text, Absent Image, and the Impossibility of Co-Being: Holocaust Museum and its Affect,” focused on Robert Fitterman’s book, Holocaust Museum (Counterpath, 2013) which is a listing of hundreds of captions taken from Holocaust Museum photographs presented as a text-only translation of medium. What does the text mean without the image? Fisher argued that because of the gap between text and image, readers experience “a muted, flat affect” and a gap of signification which “parallels the lack of phenomenological similarity between a contemporary, English-reading public and the Jews, Gypsies, and others who experienced the events captioned in the book.” Interlocution in Levinas’s work, for Fisher, is seen as a way to experience the “Other’s” consciousness, or those who were victimized by the Holocaust as exemplified in Fitterman’s text. The Holocaust Museum though only provides a narrative and visuals, which distance the viewer from grief and suffering by making them empathize rather phenomenologically forcing one to experientially investigate. Fitterman’s latest book, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself is available from Ugly Duckling Presse (2014). Fisher is a regular book reviewer and has poetry published on Squawk Back.

Unfortunately, third panelist Julie Joosten, whose paper entitled “On Modulation and Meaning: Tracie Morris’s Sound Poetry,” was unable to attend the conference. I was disappointed not to hear about Tracie Morris, 2014 Summer Writing Program faculty, but we hope to see Joosten at the next [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference in 2016.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Discreet Graphs and Casually Kept Houses: Lisa Jarnot’s Non-Lecture on the Life and Work of Anselm Hollo

By Genelle Chaconas

Lisa Jarnot’s keynote speech at Naropa’s 40th anniversary conference on the life and work of acclaimed poet and translator Anselm Hollo was not a lecture. According to Jarnot, lectures are about seeing a pompous individual stand at a podium and drone on about something to the point that the audience begins to ask themselves “when will this asshole stop?” With a room full of eagerly listening former and current Naropa students, professors, staff, crew, friends, and family present, Lisa Jarnot began her talk by removing her shoes onstage, grounding the space in a more conversational space, easing the social tension between speaker and listeners. If the anecdotes are in any way correct, Anselm Hollo would have approved of such a gesture. After all, it’s good ‘lighten up’.

The conversation that followed was circulatory in nature in the way that conversations with a friend might evolve. Jarnot invoked the spirit of Hollo through a series of poetic utterances. Little leaves, causetries, discreet graphs of the moving mind, the un-weeded garden, the casually kept house: all orbit around Hollo’s passionate pursuit of the radiant ordinary. Hollo words reminds us that every day, seemingly mundane occurrences are often the events we remember; while the larger political and social concerns of the world and a heartfelt compassion for humanity are never far from Hollo’s voice, the anecdotes, or ‘discreet details of private lives’ are given equal if not privileged attention. The larger arc of historical occurrence, which appears like a constantly present ache throughout Hollo’s work, is never without the present of the personal experience of life lived. The vivid, spontaneous expression of the present is the common tongue and denominator in his poetry. Hollo’s poetry is full of these intimate details and their intersection with the movement of time. The underlying aesthetic (and ethic) may be that all of these details are fleeting. They are the gift to the aware and the observant. Anselm Hollo rejected the idea of strict poetic rules that put one ‘on nerve’, and chose instead to embrace the emergent reality that grew from any given moment, whether that moment were tender, splendid, or sorrowful.

Jarnot’s speech took a delightful turn towards the anecdotal; from the recollection of four months (no, six months) Jarnot spent at Jane and Anselm’s home to her first advice on poetry (“lighten up”), the conversation unraveled at a comfortable, unhurried tone, in express rejection of the lecture format. The conversation began to circle around a question: where had Anselm come from? The answer to the question is never fully arrived at, for Anselm Hollo always found his place between: he found himself throughout a long and accomplished life above and below an air raid shelter (with ancestors on both sides of the axis); on both sides of the Atlantic; in translation between languages; between an older American literary tradition and the Beat Generation; between ever-evolving literary genres, personal aesthetics, and techniques.

And the list could continue. Needless to say, Anselm Hollo was a brilliantly accomplished, highly humble, multi-talented professor, author, and translator. Naropa University and the world will miss such a unique and valuable talent, one who (according to anecdote) always looked just a little past whoever he spoke with. Whatever Anselm Hollo saw just a little farther than the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait to discover for ourselves, with our own eyes, through our own moments lived.

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Genelle Chaconas is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She asks herself how she got here every day. When and if she answers herself, she remembers how lucky it is just to be. She’s currently working on an anti-narrative manuscript on film and collapsing multi-levels of perception, but it won’t let her say any more about it. It has a mind of its own. And it makes the rules.

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Withness: thought-start in creative-critical practice, with Marthe Reed, Lisa Samuels, Megan Kaminski and Duriel E. Harris

By Heather Sweeney

How can we understand and move beyond the ground of witness to reach a state of “withness”? Withness is the engagement of inhabiting and being within a feeling or a cause, which can also be transferred to the experience of writing or reading. A key tenet of withness, notes Samuels, is that it seeks to “democratize values.” The panel was informed by C.S. Peirce’s concept of abduction as it relates to “withness” in the “witness” and “with” ness sense. As an unfolding awareness, withness wants to stay present; it wants critical closeness as opposed to negative distinction.

Marthe Reed began by providing insight into the poetics of Philip Whalen and Mei-Mei Berssengbrugge, whose works are informed by Buddhism and framed by the practice of “withness.” Both Whalen and Berssenbrugge record movement, feeling, memory and being, the inner and outer. Reed also shared her visual poetry, exposing the witnessing, observing and documenting the environmental crisis in Louisiana: “This is the work of loss/witnessing what was/loss of water, language….” Silence punctuated the space as she expressed a withness altered by loss. She asked, with calm resolve, when witnessing a crisis how do we return to thinking with rather than against? Poems, Reed claims, are “records of awareness” and “projects of recuperation.”

Lisa Samuels described a wild dialectics, in which thoughts always swerve, yet where there is an assertion of relation among thoughts. Recurrence in a text, she explains, is “the guiding dialectical current back to the reading,” an ethical move and wants to activate. Further, this withness is a documentary move and must be performative. Samuels “performed” much of her presentation with an overlaid recording of Leslie Scalapino reading her work. While two voices pulsed and overlapped throughout the room, this disorientation furthered the idea that withness is co-relational and one must “stay within” to full absorb meaning. The riveted room intently listened as the embodied and met the disembodied.

Megan Kaminski spoke energetically about systems, specifically cities and people, which comprise and compose each other. The body and the city become the sites of meeting and composition. Citing Kristeva’s claim that when the boundary between subject and object is shaken, the narrative is challenged first, she asked how we relate to ourselves, our surroundings, “after the shaking.” Kaminski proposed that this is the space/time that allows compassion and possibility. The boundaries between self and other, self and city begin to dissolve. Kaminski spiritedly read from her forthcoming collection Deep City, revealing a world of “cashmere sounds” and “humid song.” Within the practice of withness, we can examine how the outside and inside, and the senses, come together in to unveil the constant present.

Exploring issues revolving around pain and slavery in relation to withness, Duriel E. Harris asserts that we can acknowledge that “all oppressions are linked.” When objects are shareable they become real and the outcome is collective. To have pain is to have certainty, for example. The challenge, however, is that lack of awareness is “distilled as doubt.” Harris gave us a glimpse of her one person show, where she passionately interrogates the refusal and embodiment of “Thingification.” The absorbed audience experienced powerful song and became witness to the dialectics of power, which “maintains a disparity of power by any means,” including violence and torture. Harris invigorated the audience by “enacting their collective ritual participation in the struggle against thingification—the annihilating objectifying force at the core of all oppressions.” Harris posed the question, “How do we talk about these issues in a way that is not alienating?” In other words, how can we all be present in the same space and practice “withness”? We are left to explore how “withness” rather than resistance, might lead us to create and manifest.

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Heather Sweeney is an MFA candidate and Allen Ginsberg Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Her poetry and book reviews have been published in Dusie, Cutbank, Shampoo and canwehaveourballback?. When she is not in Boulder, she lives in San Diego with her husband and beloved dog, Dexter.

Review of the What Where Series: Janice Gould, Kurt Gutjahr, Rachel Levitsky, September 30, 2014

By Jennifer van Alstyne

David Mutschecner, an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School, introduced Janice Gould, a Koyangk’auwi Maidu writer, whose “silence and landscape” echo both Bishop and Snyder. She thanked and greeted him by saying, “What is your earth?” in her tribal language. Gould, the author of Earthquake Weather: Poems (University of Arizona 1996), read to us from her collection: a mixture of love poems and sestinas rich with anaphora and history, her “lungs full of indigenous air,” (“Indian Mascot, 1959”). She brought with her to the stage, “a procession of ghosts,” in which the act and process of writing were revealed in a post-confessional pouring of love, lineage, and rain.

Kurt Gutjahr, Program Director for the American Center for the West and adjunct faculty member at Naropa, read from a short story, a piece of flash fiction called “How Not to Write a Novel,” and an excerpt from his manuscript. The flash fiction piece, perhaps most pertinent for writing students, is an exercise in what not to do, but how to write about it successfully. The piece outlines all the steps a novelist might take in order to construct a manuscript, everything from smoking pot for six months without writing a word, to sitting in bars, because “that’s where characters live–in bars.” The entire piece is a lesson of discipline, but the last line is both vulnerable and perhaps the most pertinent: “This is not about leaving words behind; this is not about fear…and then it is.”

Rachel Levitsky, the third reader of the evening, is the author of Under the Sun (Futurepoem 2003), NEIGHBOR (UDP 2009). Renoemos (Delete Press 2010), and The Story of My Accident is Ours (Futurepoem 2011). The 2014 Writers in Community class read The Story of My Accident is Ours (Futurepoem 2011), a text dissecting social and political injustices within America. In her visit to the Writers in Community class, she used somatic gestures to invoke an embodiment and awareness of self in one’s community, and how those issues pertain to the individual, and how they are housed, or posited in the self. She read from new work, but also started with a letter to Alex Dimitrov of the Poetry Foundation, who in the highbrow world of upper echelon literary magazines, never returned Levitsky’s emails. Her poem “Sentence One” created a melancholic love ode out of a perfunctory correspondence e-mail. Also, Levitsky discussed her collaborative work with artist/editor Susan Bee.

We hope to see you all at the next What Where Series  with readings by CAConrad, Teresa Carmody, and HR Hegnauer on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 7:30pm in Naropa’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

For a listing of our other JKS 40th Anniversary Events, please click here.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin. has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Review of the What Where Series: Tina Brown Celona, Bin Ramke, and Miranda Mellis September 16, 2014

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Three completely different readers graced the PAC stage on Tuesday evening, September 16: Tina Brown Celona, Bin Ramke, and Miranda Mellis. All were poets, and all brought new perspectives on craft and subject to the Naropa stage. It was a great opening to the 2014 What Where Series which also coincides with Naropa University’s 40th Anniversary.

Tina Brown Celona’s feminist poetry, also a graduate of Denver University’s Doctorate program in Creative Writing, was a nice segway from Sara Veghlan’s prose, from the inaugural Bombay Gin 2014 reading series at Innisfree, and SWP 2014 faculty member Dodie Bellamy. Her reading of “Sunday Morning Cunt Poem” tended to use the same revision of the pejorative term to achieve it as an ownership, or a reclaiming by the other sex as Bellamy and Acker did before her in a time when Women’s issues in the workplace and at home have been prevalent in national media. The blend of personal, the revisioning of the love poem, and stark language, allowed for suspension of reality through writing: “With the cunt poems I could have orgasms during sex. I had long, luxurious hair, which I wrapped around my throat like a scarf. You could say I was ‘released from my prison.’ My therapist was no longer busy.”

Bin Ramke took us to a realm between mathematics, physics, and etymology–the trisected angle present along with tales of time, space, and personal life. Ramke’s moonscapes tie in closely with his interview with our own assistant professor, J’lyn Chapman, which was published in audio form on The Conversant and in text in the latest issue of Something On Paper. He read from his latest collection, Missing the Moon (Omnidawn, 2014). Ramke’s poem, “After Audubon” on the naming of birds, states, “To be named for the sound you make, Poet, / without intent, without meaning.” This precision with etymology and semantics creates meaning in not only each line, but each word on the page.

Miranda Mellis, the author of The Revisionist, The Spokes, None of This Is Real, The Quarry, and Materialisms, read from an imagined book review, which brought a new perspective of contemplative poetics via a review that fights political injustice and comments on socioeconomics in a world which she has both created and critiqued. It was lovely to have a Naropa alumna return to campus to read and teach a lecture earlier in the day to the MFA program’s Writers in Community course, for which the students read one of her books. Her latest chapbook, The Quarry, is out from Traffiker Press.

Overall, it was a wonderful reading to open the What Where Series, the next installment of which is on September 30, 2014 in the Performing Arts Center (PAC) and will feature Rachel Levitsky, Kurt Gutjahr, and Janice Gould.

For a listing of our other JKS 40th Anniversary Events, please click here.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Borders, Bodies: MFA Graduation Reading, May 9, 2014

By Ella Longpre

There were yellow roses. Yellow roses for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A yellow rose for each graduate, conferred by thesis advisor. Bhanu Kapil emceed, introducing the readers and summarizing each reading. During her introduction, Kapil recapped the graduates’ time at Naropa: “You came here to write; you did not write.”

Each reader conjured a ghost—from the past, from a text, from a dream. For instance, Peggy Anne Alaniz began with an homage to Poe, specifically “Usher,” calling on the “blood of my brother,” revealing that “the breath unites us.” Carla Campbell’s textual apparition appeared in the form of a co-autobiography written with Phyllis Wheatley. Campbell stated “I am not Phyllis Wheatley” to distance herself from the text. And then went on, to pull closer to the audience: “Naobi weeps. Naobi weeps, and turns to stone.” She gave us the image of “a tick, sucking away my ancestral history.”

Angel Dominguez then brought us a figure who appears only in part during a sleep walk: “There were white flowers everywhere; I buried him there.” These are living somnambulisms: “I don’t remember the orchard… just the scent.”

Jenifer Kay Dorsey called to her past, a road-trip childhood composed of moss, and snails. But she also woke from it: “the down comforter falls to my waist.” She reassured the audience, “if I know anything, I will be amazed.” Janelle Fine addressed her own body: “I read on the internet that most women have one breast that’s larger than the other. I hate you even more now, that I am like most women.” Lola Gerber addressed the body of a lover— one lover, to her lover on the floor in a fetal position: “I became your womb, and you became my child.” The lover is able to remain in the present through a process of “bottling moments into memories, like cherries into jam.”

Mikiel Ghelieh spoke of “special gym” as “the great equalizer,” in the sense that everybody bleeds: “We left a lot of blood on that gym floor.” Sarah Richards Graba spoke of biography of a ghost, in the sense that every body will be a ghost—she spoke “in language, on the page, the only way I know how to speak to a ghost.” The haunting in her text, though, was two-edged, because even for a ghost, “some spaces occupy me most.”

Jaclyn Hawkins read about the body of a loved one, a landscape, a tree: rather than lovers’ initials carved into tree bark, “so much wisdom is already written in leaves.” She quoted her grandfather, who said “Fuck comfort. Comfort is the opposite of joy.” And: “Lightning bugs are the dead, lighting a cigarette.” Steven Raymond Arne Johnson, a poet working in translation, summoned text and history. He read, “Man like me, neither lay nor ordained, a danger to the Buddha dharma.” And in an acrostic: “Yonder mountains and valleys equally suck.”

At this point, Reed Bye addressed graduates, reading from Yeats: “I, being poor, have only my dreams.”

Marking a slight shift from bodies and ghosts to the margins that delineate them, Elizabeth Knauz continued the reading, speaking over “the distance of a sigh.” Then, comedy: “I threw up in the closet but I don’t care.” Caitlan Mitchell re-defined confusion over and over, “confusion is a redundant binding process.” Howling. She howled. Audience joining, ending her reading in a communal howl.

Erik Bitsui rocked on a cardboard guitar, with a story about a coyote, a man, an attack, in the margins between a reservation and the rest of the world, a margin where “police keep racial profiling statistics a secret.” JH Phrydas continued walking along the margin, speaking of linear drafting, intersections of animal and human trails, and “the boundary between city and forest [that] dissolves,” where “language emerges.” Shitu Rajbhandari then entered the city, reminding us, “the city will chew you up and spit you out within seconds, and won’t even wipe its face.” She asked the city, “if this revolution’s only cause is heartbreak, what good is it?” An unanswered question.

Returning to the body, Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey, accompanied by the drumming of Kyle Pivarnik, performed an exorcism via dance while a recording played, “I am my mother but I am not.” The recording said, “I want to dance the shame out of my body.” Curtis Romero read from a piece in which an angel waited downstairs. Meanwhile, the blues played, Dave Van Ronk influencing a later generation. Punctuating his text: the tones of a white ceramic bell.

Tiara Roxanne read decapitated lines, dismembered sentences: “Time fashions a fabric in pain.” She provided a vocabulary for the language of the body, telling us, “the body that does not dance is the body that does not signify.”

Finally, Ashley Margaret Waterman blurred the boundary between body and spirit, defining spirituality as “a right-bodied function.” She read about a girl “chewing her nails to live in denial.”

When she finished reading, we gathered the roses from the floor.

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Ella Longpre is a writer and musician from the MidWest and both Coasts. She is the author of the chapbook, The Odor of the Hoax Was Gone (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2013), and her work has appeared in elimae, Summer Stock, Dinosaur Bees, NOÖ Journal, and Everyday Genius. Ella Longpre is the 2013-14 Anne Waldman Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she is an MFA in Writing & Poetics candidate.

Riddled with Moon Quakes: BA Graduation Reading, May 9, 2014

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Bhanu Kapil introduced the BA Graduation reading, taking the time to thank staff, advisors, and family of the JKS graduates.

Rebecca Kiwi Barnstein, who took inspiration from the chance operations of John Cage, created an ‘unwieldy butterfly affect’ with “Conclusion,” allowing for audience participation in order to allow reaction, rather than the entirety of the piece, to be mutable.

Alexandria Bull, whose creative thesis was based around the notion of earthquakes, read splendidly, especially for being ill. Her work was riddled with moon quakes, saying, “We stood outside of ourselves and did not move.”

Charlie Epstein elected a performance piece rather than a reading, creating for a kinetic experience by crawling and using the microphone and audience members as part of the performance. He was unable to keep both doors in PAC open at the same time, resulting in a primal scream atop a chair.

Elizabeth Kolenda opened her reading by singing “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, and creating for us a “Topography of Emptiness,” where “all the papers are blank.”

The readings were followed by Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies.

Congratulations to the Jack Kerouac School class of 2014!

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Jennifer van Alstyne is an MFA candidate and fellow at the Jack Kerouac School. She is the poetry editor of Bombay Gin. Her work has appeared in the Eunoia Review, MLM, Poetry Quarterly, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, and Paper Nautilus. She is currently working on a collection about Hurricane Sandy and Asbury Park, NJ.