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Posted inBooks

Words in Worlds of Light: Joseph Donahue’s Dissolves

Not only fragments and filaments, but also liturgies and litanies embed themselves in Joseph Donahue’s Terra Lucida, a chain of poetic assemblage that both embodies and breaks free of given notions of the long poem. While the formal designs of that thematic behemoth can be ascribed to his project, Donahue’s abrupt transitions, radical breaks, and vertiginous frames disrupt the cohesion and narrative continuity on which the genre depends. Rarely in contemporary poetry has the couplet served so astonishingly as a centrifugal mechanism, as bonding agent to the lines, serving to contain and unite its pressurized contents — “all those/tatters of the creation” mediated “in this aberrant rendition” — which seem at any moment threaten to break apart.

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Working Through the End of Art

When the wide-eyed young painter Jim Holl came to New York City in the mid-1970s to study and make art he was shaken by the news that painting, according to the critics, was dead. Holl spent the next 20 years venturing outside the frame to find his place in this post-apocalyptic art world. His memoir, The Landscape Painter: 1974 through 1994, documents his journey.

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With a Wild Wahoo!

There’s nothing like an ambitious anthology for redistricting your inner map of poetic possibility. They don’t come along every day, but we’ve had more than our usual share over the last few years. Such books operate on different scales, of course: There’s the kind of anthology that crystallizes a hitherto undescribed tendency in the present, or the kind that takes a somewhat longer view, pointing out a continuing or recurrent thread of practice that suddenly seems to amount to a kind of tradition. And then there’s the kind of book that can turn your historical perspective upside-down

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A Comic Book Written on the Streets

Paging through New York-born, Brazil-based street artist Tito na Rua’s Street Comics Vol. 1, a story of the search for lost love through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by the possibilities of a narrative being told in the streets, even though I’m not the biggest fan of comics or comic-based street art.

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Not the Man We Used to Be: An Anthropologist’s View of the New Weaker Sex

According to a recent book, Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male is Not the Man He Used to Be, by Peter McAllister, modern men are basically fucked. McAllister, an archeologist and science writer, has analyzed the iron men of yore — the Neanderthals and Wodabees, the Tahitian seducers and Mongol bowmen — and concluded that in every meaningful department the Homo modernus is a deplorable wreck.

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The Fear of Making Art

When Amazon recommends literary selections I might be interested in, I usually do a quick scan of the offerings, decide I can’t afford to splurge on assorted art books and delete the email. But once in a while something catches my eye. Not too long ago, among the artist bios, museum catalogs and critical anthologies, I noticed what looked like a slim, little volume with a title so provocative, weird and unsettling, I needed to know more.

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Sleeper Awake: Michael O’Brien’s “Avenue”

Poems often groan beneath their encumbrances: weighty metaphors, top-heavy conceits. Which is why I like it when Michael O’Brien, in his most recent book Avenue (FloodEditions), writes of a poem being merely “certain words in / a certain order.” This stripped-down formulation courts a charge of banality or even absurdity — after all, even email spam is made up of words in a specific arrangement — but here it evokes O’Brien’s abiding concern with verbal exactness, even out of the depths of dreaming.

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Eclectic Influences: The Artists Space Bookstore

It’s actually been going on for about two years, but like many visitors to the Artists Space gallery prior to May 2012, you may not have noticed the bookshop project. Now that it’s been placed right inside the entrance of the organization’s new event space at 55 Walker Street in Tribeca, it’s impossible to miss the lengths of shelving that line the walls around you.

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Time Out

“A literary event!” — every middlebrow doorstop of a novel gets saddled with that cliché. You’d think aesthetic significance could be determined by weight. Or that literature had no other time frame than that of the publishers’ seasonal catalogue, destined to wait a bit longer to be trashed than the daily paper, but not by much.

Nonetheless, something I’m prepared to call a literary event did take place earlier this year, when in its issue of February 9 the London Review of Books published a twenty-part poem or sequence by Denise Riley, “A Part Song.”

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Crossed Signals: Brian Evenson’s Stories Blend Genre and Literary Conventions

Brian Evenson’s writing might well be, in the words of a character from his new story collection Windeye, published by the venerable Coffee House Press, a means of “capturing on paper and holding steady and immobile the various motions and bodies that constitute an event.” The twenty-five new stories collected here are all event-driven, narratives spurred into life by mysterious disappearances, communal meetings, or acts of stomach-churning violence.