As I bask in the humid afternoons of August sipping a mint julep on the shore of Lake Wobegone (ok, I’m actually utterly landlocked in my office, wearing a COSATU t-shirt, sans beverage, but who’s counting), I wanted to celebrate the season of pants at or above the knees (the ones we wear over our briefs… well, most of us) with a few not-so-long takes on several books they probably won’t have in stock at Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery or Skoeglin's 5 and Dime:
1.) From Lake Wobegone to Lake Koshkonong
Recently out from the University of Iowa Press, Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place, edited by Elizabeth Willis, gathers seventeen new and previously published essays on the Wisconsin poet extraordinaire. Originally composed as talks for what was a marvelous Niedecker centenary celebration (2003) organized by perhaps the most poetry-dedicated people in USAmerica (the staff at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee), Radical Vernacular includes writings by Peter Quartermain (on Niedecker and Bunting: that reference is for you, Don!), Peter Middleton (on “The British Niedecker”), Anne Waldman (on “Gaps, Silence, Cage, Niedecker”), Jenny Penberthy (on “Writing Lake Superior”), Mary Pinard (on “Niedecker’s Grammar of Flooding”), and others.
2.)”Everybody in the pool!”
Michael Davidson, whose essay “Life by Water: Lorine Niedecker and Critical Regionalism” opens the Radical Vernacular collection, has also recently published a noteworthy new critical volume, Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body. In the opening sentences, Davidson “thick descriptions” the community pool where he takes his morning swim. In this summer of the seemingly omnipresent uber-pools all populated by Michael Phelps, Davidson brings us back to the actual heavily-chlorined water users: one child with cerebral palsy, another who is probably autistic, a women who walks with braces and double canes, two triathaletes with “bodies that are nontraditional by any standard,” a national masters freestyle record holder who is deaf, and the author himself (“wearing a brightly colored earplug in [his] one ‘good’ ear”). The essays that follow articulate a wide array of cultural forms (including film noir, photography, ASL poetry performances, and the verse of Larry Eigner) to disability and social justice.
3.) "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
If you’re down for some summer sonnet reading, let me recommend two titles to take to the Lake Wobegone shoreline (or your neighborhood espresso bar, or your neighborhood bar for that matter…), G. E. Patterson’s To and From and Roger Farr’s Surplus. Tying in with the water images and issues of mobility/immobility above, Patterson notes in an interview posted on the Ahsahta Press website that “[f]or most of my life, each year has been spent in three or four places, in three or four states. Living by water is one constant in a life marked by continual movement.” Divided into four sections (three of which are specific near-water locations: New York Suite, Give or Take, Mulberry Street, and Cape Cod), the sonnets in To and From reinvent the form through Patterson’s use of floating phrases of other poets’ words in a composition by field arrangement above each of the 14-line poems. To give some sense of this, here are the para-phrases that appear, cirrus-like, above the sonnet “A Temporary Spot”: “The road…” George Oppen; “…then becomes continuous…” John Koethke; “…in the distance…” Athol Fugard; “…closest…” Yoko Ono; “…the sea…” Athol Fugard; “…travelled…” e.e.cummings. British Columbia poet Roger Farr has likewise published a series of thirty-five sonnets (and several other serial pieces) in his recent book, Surplus, that, as Jeff Derksen writes, appropriates the sonnet form “to investigate, directly address, and…map to roiling geographies of global capitalism, and its even meaner, sharper toothed offspring, neoliberalism.” [Note: For an excellent review of Surplus, including excerpts from the sonnets, see Derksen’s Simon Fraser University colleague Steve Collis’ Accumulation Strategies.] Perhaps the sonnet is making a comeback? [Cut immediately to LL Cool J response here.].
4.) And finally, an old old school summertime work-related rhyme…
“I'm gonna raise a fuss, I'm gonna raise a holler
About a workin' all summer just to try to earn a dollar”
(C’mon, poetry people. You gotta love that Eddie Cochran rhyme, circa 1958!)
Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants, Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka), and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009), all from Coffee House Press. His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan...