Monday, July 11, 2016



DIANOIA by Michael Heller
(Nightboat Books, New York, 2016)

Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine by Patrick James Dunagan
(Spuyten Duyvil, New York, 2016)

100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu
(Les Figues Press, Los Angeles, 2015)

15 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu
(Tinfish Press, Hawai'i, 2012)

The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow
(Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, 2012)

(Marsh Hawk Press, 2015)

Diurnal by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
(Grey Book Press, 2016)

(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, N.Y., 2010)

I consider the following "mini-reviews" in that I could have said much more about them, but am just selecting some highlights from these publications, all of which I enjoyed. Please click on any image to enlarge.

DIANOIA by Michael Heller

Michael Heller’s DIANOIA had been on the corner of my desk atop a To-Read Pile for a few weeks.  I decided to pick it up during the 24-hour aftermath of the Orlando, Florida killings by Omar Mateen inside the club PULSE.  And therein did I find comfort even as I continued reeling over the deaths of so many, too many…  I found comfort, indeed, from the title poem:

It is the last couplet from "Dianoia" that, after Orlando, returns me to the world with hope. 

It’s a tough test to see whether a poem engages someone during times like “Orlando” and it’s a testament to Heller’s powerful poetry that, in them, one can find trustworthy solace.  “Dianoia,” according to Wiki, “is the capacity for, process of, or result of discursive thinking, in contrast with the immediate apprehension.” And as one can see from the capacity of the rest of this restlessly questioning and multi-genre book, the mind of this poet can be trusted for purpose of gleaning significance from the multiplicities of our world.  This is a book that warrants repeat readings and consideration.

Let me end, too, with one of the most powerful short poems I've read in recent time:

 Thank you for this reading experience, Michael Heller.


Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine by Patrick James Dunagan

I’ve written about a father’s death—it’s an impossibility. That is, one can write on a father’s death but when one does so, one is just writing out that impossibility. If one is a writer, the writing effort (I suppose) must be made—but as Patrick James Dunagan said in cover note to the review copy, such is “heavy” lifting even as it’s “necessary.” Dunagan just released Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine which he contextualizes as also a “eulogy” for his father. On the cover is a resonant photograph of his father Gary Lee Dunagan, in Vietnam though date and photographer are unknown:

There’s a stubbornness—rather, I see a stubbornness—on the father’s face. It’s a stubbornness that I sense is implicit in the project: the poet perseveres to keep writing. The result’s effectiveness is aided by a gentleness in the placement of words on the page, bespeaking the fragility of a son coping with a father’s loss:

The poet’s use of white space also helps the words breathe through the tension, makes the receptive reader read slowly to handle the impact of the sensed loss e.g.

The use of quotes from and references to other writers—Yeats, Whalen, Lamantia, Meltzer, Irby, etc.—helps (perhaps the distancing by quoting others instead of being the ones to come up with words helps the author).  But it’s also an apt technique (so to speak).  As Ana Božičević says—and Dunagan quotes her too—“the whole world is Father.”

Finally, there is the music. Let me end by sharing what the poet inscribed on the book’s back cover—you can sense the music without which the poem would be ineffective, even as one might cope through the last line:

Humans are mortal: people will die. But a book? Ah, the book can be permanent motion if it’s worthwhile reading. And this is.


100 Chinese Silences and 15 Chinese Silences, both by Timothy Yu

This book is so brilliant it deserves to be awarded every single poetry prize that can be handed out to a poetry book: 100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu.

Shortly after reading it, I posted on Facebook:
It's March 2016 but I just read this 2015 release and, for a moment, it made me forget everything I read from 2015. That's how brilliant, nay, BRILLIANT, this book is. It should be required reading by ALL literature lovers, poets, Russians, scholars (especially in Asian American and ethnic studies but also in creative writing), students in any and all disciplines, critics so you'd up the threshold against which you might compare the poetry book,... Matter of fact, you cannot consider yourself a serious fan or student of poetry IF. YOU. DO. NOT. READ. THIS. BOOK. Most assuredly I can assure you, if poetry really were a competition, it will beat out any other book that might be awarded everything from the Pulitzer to the Asian American Librarian Poetry Award (even if they're still subsuming poetry under non-fiction -- I digress but librarians, please wake up!) So listen to me: I don't get this offensive without a reason...
I refuse to say anything more about it because I want to encourage you to get it—buy it, dammit! Simply: it is required reading. Read the book, not a critic's approximation of it. Having said that, I can flail on my "review" because another critic, John Bloomberg-Rissman, did choose to say more in this issue of Galatea Resurrects.

I leave you with its inscrutable cover:

P.S. And yet this review does give me the chance to highlight a chapbook version of Yu's project, 15 Chinese Silences put out by one of today's finest chapbook publishers, Tinfish Press.  As indicated, the chap contains just 15 poems but it opens with the first poem Yu wrote to commence his project, "Chinese Silence No. 1" which was written after Billy Collins' poem "Grave." Click on link for Collins' poem; in his poem, Yu responds in part,
We both looked like monks or scholars
or like piles of drowned bones
laid softly on the loamy earth. 
My grandfather said nothing.
his Chinese silence coiled its tail
into the shape of a long-lobed ear 
one of the one hundred American signs
for anxious virility.
Then the silence fell...
It's to the benefit of American poetry that Yu got irritated and dissed silence. And kudos to Tinfish Press for recognizing such benefit. Yu performs the opposite of this couplet from another poem, "Chinese Silence No. 15" written after Collins' poem "Bonsai"--
Up close, he almost looks Chinese,
everything cut down to size.


The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

At first, I considered each poem to be a novel--maximalist, as the genre allows, with meticulously-researched details. Reading through Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow's The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor, I felt like I was concurrently reading through Wikipedia as I read the poems. All of this is a compliment--each poem wrought a world that may have been miniature but was complete and believable. Like a doll's house perfect in its replications, down to the tiniest toothpaste tube next to a tiny toothbrush atop a tiny sink in a tiny bathroom. Except that the poems' details are not mundane (even when they are), often schooling you in the marvelous which, after all, is a common job of poems.  For example, from "TO THE CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER'S OFFICE,"
The Chief Medical Examiner...found in the nest of their expired wombs 
a tiny translucent baby or two together,  
always the surprise of the finding, as you surprise 
to crack open one perfect speckled farm egg, only to behold 
two viscous yolk orbs wobbling in the skillet. 
The dumbfounded medley of surplus in death

It's that last line in the above excerpt that manifest how Edlow elevates the list of details into poetry: "dumbfounded," this "surplus in death." It results because, these poems are silver, not gold--by which I refer to the last three lines in another poem, "MOB DAD,"
...And lousy men 
with limousine-length egos. And gold, and gold only, 
because silver you have to rub and rub to keep pretty.
One with a "limousine-length ego" settling for "gold only" implies a lack of industriousness that makes one work. Edlow, on the other hand, works the details in her poems like silver, rubbing and rubbing to come up with pretty. These poems are silver-pretty, way more satisfying than inherited (without labor) gold.



With CHARLOTTE SONGS, Paul Pines has crafted a most moving and charming paean to a father-daughter relationship. Here, he offers poems celebrating his life with his daughter. I open the book at random--I know all of the pages will provide pleasure or satisfaction so why choose?--for a wonderful example. Here's one with the dedication, "for Charlotte on her first birthday":

I'm glad the book fell open to the above example as it displays Pines' insightfulness (that marks many of his poems)--the poems may be about a "great theme" like "Family" but they are most assuredly not like the often shallow texts on Hallmark Cards (to paraphrase one of the blubbers, Dalt Wonk). Here's another gem by opening the book again at random:

Is that a smile or a grin on your face, Dear Reader?

Charlotte, by the way blurbs the book with one word: "Inexcusable!"

I note Charlotte's blurb as it also rises as a loving chide, heartening much that causes a child to roll her eyes as a parent might lapse to sheepishness while admiring the child's intelligence. In other words,  a father-daughter relationship can be complicated, but as long as it is loving we can have poems that don't succumb to the darkness of what another poet Philip Larkin once famously said (if not famous enough for you, Google him with the word "parents"). Not wanting to end with this reference, here's one more sample from CHARLOTTE SONGS:

With that, here's Charlotte and her hairy father in a photograph at the back of the book, which is to say, they obviously had fun with this book and, Reader, you will, too:


Diurnal by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa's Diurnal represents the type of intimate yet hugely resonance poetry project that can come out of a small poetry press--indeed, might the publisher Grey Book Press, self-described as a "small poetry imprint" (italics mine) a one-person press? Anyway, there's an elegance throughout this chap, from the wintry cover palette (grey blue with the ink-like thinness of branches, a cover image by Trane Devore) to the pleasing quality of the paper stock to the poems themselves.

Diurnal: of the day. And so the references have logic--e.g. "bullets in shopping malls" (9), "crowded train / empty shrine" (18), and "rude launderette" (14). Yet, consider these excerpts chosen by opening the chap at random. There's a twilight sensibility to them, it seems to me--some shadows casting their palls. Like the launderette is rude. Like, a crowd but no one going to a shrine. Like--and it's self-explanatory--"bullets in shopping mall." It seems these are, to quote else from from the chap-length poem, "dirges in winter."

Joritz-Nakagawa's poem, then, reveals that "of the day" is also actually "of the night" and in-between. While this felt conclusion may be a tad depressing, it does provide satisfaction for its schooling. 

The use of couplets is smart for emphasizing each thought, and it generates how
days of death 
sprout hymns of love.   
Diurnal offers a thoughtful and, ultimately, lovely engagement.


(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, N.Y., 2010)

I love everything about this book -- from its eye-popping, colorful cover (props must be given to cover artist Ivelisse Jimenez) to the HOT! HOT! HOT! poems whose density crackles with intensities darkened by a heat surfacing from despair at today's version of *end-of-the-world* but also a protest against such despair.  Here's the poetry's first page, and first page of the opening poem "HI THEN (salutation)":
(click on images to enlarge)

You can't read that on the page without doing a mental drumbeat -- I can just imagine how it enlivens when performed on stage. And past the charismatic end rhymes are the content of a smart, observant mind: ""Selling your saudade to the Saudis--"

Sometimes (as with anything else, though), prose can deaden the music. Fortunately, such is not the case with Noel's poetry which offers a sense of being inherently rhythmic so that the beat of counting down the days permeates even his prose poetry form--read this from "hidden city":

Noel's talents come to a sophisticated peak with his "scenes from an apocalipsync" and "the commonest many fester" which are both poem and also a performance score. I like these poems for forms that, by involving others and not just the poet,  highlight how humanity got fucked as a result of acts not by an "I" but by "we". We are all implicated in what the playing violinist ignores.

Fear, in the middle of cities 
of cops, real and virtual 
apes on attack, under stuccoed roofs, 
n the prowl, the wind undoes the window treatments 
of a bedroom with no cleaning lady. 

"That summer when I crossed the Ponte Vecchio," 
says Ms. Aponte, and stops all of a sudden. 

It's just that social parity and access to goods 
is no longer what it used to be. 
--from "slogans for the end of the world"

Nota bene: here the Spanish enlivens the English poem:
How many dias 
in your diaspora? 
--from "hi-din sites"

What Noel teaches in this book? Among other things, we are all in the diaspora. There is no safer land elsewhere. We should or could behave accordingly.


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well).  She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Marthe Reed for The Volta Blog and Grady Harp for Amazon;  INVENT(ST)ORY was reviewed by  Neil Leadbeater in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole was reviewed by Monica Manolachi in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2Footnotes to Algebra was reviewed by Chris Mansel in The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine #2; and SILK EGG was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza in Goodreads.

1 comment:

  1. Another view on Timothy Yu's 100 Chinese Silences is offered by John Bloomberg-Rissman in this issue of GR #26 at