Book Notes
Is Kenneth Goldsmith the lost triplet of Henry Thoreau and Ronald Johnson? Donald Revell called the latter two “twinned visionaries” in his new book of essays Invisible Green (Omnidawn). They both drank from the same arrowhead he hypothesizes--by which he means their writing depends on “facts found as they are.” Their art is to register “sense as revelation.” As a result, their work proposes “a heroic unoriginality.” If that doesn’t sound like Kenneth's notion of uncreative writing, how about: “The garden is always already there when the gardener arrives.” (Well, maybe that sounds more like Peter Sellers.) By “garden” Revell means both literary works and woodlots. Most of the other essays in this book also untangle the links between writing and reading: “Poetry is the fate of reading…”
Another pairing: C.D Wright and Lorine Niedecker…..

This pairing occurred after reading an essay by the British critic Peter Middleton on “Lorine Niedecker’s 'Folk Base' and Her Challenge to the American Avant-Garde,” and C.D. Wright’s new book One Big Self: An Investigation” , originally published as a limited edition book portraying Louisiana prison life, a collaborative effort with the photographer Deborah Luster.
Both C.D. Wright and Niedecker use idiom or “folk speech” in their poetry. The folk speech in Niedecker’s poems place them “within a network of local relationships with a known history,” rather than the sometimes abstracted realm of literary practitioners who claim “a special kind of expertise or culture knowledge” (Middleton). You could say the same of much of C.D. Wright’s work, including this latest—though its locales and social networks are that of prisons rather than Niedecker’s isolated, Midwestern rural community.
C.D. Wright differs from Niedecker in that she directly quotes and otherwise draws on sonorous talk—at times biting, funny, plaintive, or absurd—as a way to document the facts of confinement. The poet and prisoners seem submerged in language, collaborators in making poems that prod, resist, play, accept and socialize confinement.
Here’s C.D. Wright from the introduction:
“I wanted the banter, the idiom, the soft-spoken cadence of Louisiana speech to cut through the mass-media myopia. I wanted the heat, the humidity, the fecundity of Louisiana to travel right up the body. What I wanted was to convey the sense of normalcy for which humans strive under conditions that are anything but what we in the free world call normal, no matter what we may done for which we were never charged.”
Here’s a passage which quotes directly from prisoners from the poem “In the Mansion of Happiness”:
“I want to go home, Patricia whispered.
I won’t say I like being in prison, but I have
learned a lot, and I like experiences. The terriblest part is being away
from your families. – Juanita
I miss my screenporch.
I know every word to every song on Purple Rain. -- Willie
I’m never leaving here. – Grasshopper, in front of the woodshop, posing beside a coffin he built.”
And later in this same poem:
“The last time you was here I had a headful of bees.”

Originally Published: April 18th, 2007

Emily Warn was born in San Francisco and grew up in California and Detroit. She earned degrees from Kalamazoo College and the University of Washington. Her full-length collections of poetry include The Leaf Path (1982), The Novice Insomniac (1996), and Shadow Architect (2008). She has published two chapbooks: The Book...