Wordsworth tells us that “the world is too much with us; late and soon,” and the political season’s relentless advertising has driven that notion home with particular force. Throw in a Frankenstorm, and the overly familiar lines of the sonnet reinflate to offer a pretty good reason for the writerly class to scurry for cover—away from the strident jargon of the market and back to looking for Williams’s extratemporal news in poems. However, as Hal Crowther notes in his essay, “When you’re out of date and committed to it, it frees you up some.”
As a point of entry, Blackbird’s annual Levis Remembered reading loop offers a return to the work of Larry Levis and a visit with Katherine Larson, the winner of the fifteenth annual Levis Reading Prize for her book Radial Symmetry.
Larson’s poems resonate in part through the strength of deceptively simple declarations. “Somewhere,” she says, “between the days I pass through / and the days that pass / through me / is the mind. And memory / which outruns the body and / grief which arrests it.” Published here are three poems from her collection, three new poems, an interview with the poet, a reading by the poet, and a review of the winning book by Emilia Phillips.
Representing the work of Levis himself are seven early prose poems. They are accompanied by Christopher Buckley’s short essay investigating how these poems connect to both the surrealist imagery of the poet’s first two collections, Wrecking Crew and The Afterlife, and to the evolving stylistic directness which marks his subsequent efforts. Included in the Levis Loop as well are an image from our ongoing collection of Levis street art and a photograph from his archives.
Nicky Beer’s essay also explores the way and why of the poet by tracking poetry around a different turn—examining novels that choose these versifiers for their subjects.
Reflecting another tone, and hybridized as they are from ontological meditation and the down-to-earth chutzpah of the double-dog dare, the poems of a practitioner like T.R. Hummer enact their bracing echolocations above survival’s scree, reminding us “the ice pack is littered with stories / left behind by other pilgrims”—by vandals, by mongrels, by Kevlar-bound munitions sweepers.
These stories take the visible shape of a tag spotted by Tarfia Faizullah on an “overpass’s graffitied asphalt,” which “drapes heavy shadows over cars” like a premonition. They waver audibly in the “summertime korean pop songs fading in & out / channels changing to static” that Robert Ricardo Reese evokes, having recognized, somehow, the “safety in the torn / slit opening the doorway of the chainlinked fence.” They trace the tangible shatter of the “ballistic windshield” giving way to admit the blast that wraps Hugh Martin’s IED patrol “with shrapnel, bricks, [and] smoke.”
If, as Margaret Gibson’s rhetorical interrogations urge us to accept, “the body” encompasses “a space-time event,” no wonder then that what comforts it, what comes to pass in the moments of its most tender failings, takes on, as Norman Dubie claims, the universal shape of a search “for weight against / a wind that doesn’t exist / in time / but only in space.” Or that Jesse Lee Kercheval intuits “human beings exist / to carry words / from one location to another.”
Matthew Zapruder recognizes “the weather going insane / the animals cannot help us,” and Steve Scafidi parses the mind and life of Abraham Lincoln, as if the troubled years of the 1860s could reveal some lesson to ease the 2010s. In addition, readings by both poets appear in Features.
Also trying to make headway against this sea of troubles, this time in its most intimate manifestations in the lives of families, Mary Medlin, in her story “Cleveland,” notes that “what does seem alive are the freezes that slither through the boards of houses. . . . They steal the warmth from coffee cups and bare feet resting on the floor.” Also in Fiction, Naira Kuzmich presents three characters trying to negotiate the rocky terrain of a grief not unalloyed by guilt and betrayal, while the child in Elizabeth Weld’s “Patience” is locked in a silence caused by devastating fear and unremitting psychological pain. Liara Tamani, on the other hand, strikes a less discordant note with a lively narrator who tracks word usage in a church service—Hallelujah wins by a nose.
Kelly Cherry’s story “On Familiar Terms” from v10n1 makes an encore appearance in Features as the winner of the first Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto Short Fiction Prize. She reads the piece as a part of an evening celebration that also included a reading by Ron Carlson.
Work in Gallery seems bent on teasing out some definition that can provide an existential connection between disjointed lines as they coalesce into recognizable forms. Whether in the cracked ceramic men built and shown by Dylan Karges, the edgy marks in the recovered drawings of Phil May, or the semi-abstract construction of Diana Al-Hadid’s Trace of a Fictional Third, their use of human figures demands a certain recognition and resonance. Art 180’s thirty-one self-portraits by Richmond middle schoolers speak to this resonance with unusual clarity.
Rounding out Gallery are David Roby’s nine additional monologues in the voices of the characters mentioned but unseen in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. They complete a play begun in Blackbird v10n2. In Nonfiction, Roby reviews a memoir about Williams by poet William Jay Smith.
In other reviews, Susan Settlemyre Williams examines Brian Barker’s The Black Ocean, which won the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Competition, and extols the surface turbulence this collection hazards in pursuit of deeper clarities. Sandra Beasley reports no signs of sophomore slump in The Children, the new work by Paula Bohince; and Ross Losapio’s treatment of Carnations, the debut offering by Anthony Carelli, reminds us that wit and wonder and a palette of great voices still inspire lasting poems.