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2011 Attention Span: the books, chapbooks, songs, films, magazines, websites, exhibits, and other cultural phenomena that G.C. Waldrep, Brent Cunningham, Susana Gardner, Bill Berkson & many others are into

By Harriet Staff

Well, that headline about sums it up, eh? But if you haven’t heard: Steve Evans has compiled (and is still compiling) another year’s worth of contributions to his annual Attention Span project, which provides us with often-commented lists of inspiry, textual or otherwise, from some of our most interestin’ poets (and readers of Third Factory). For instance, here’s an excerpt from the reading life of the mind of poet and publisher Joshua Edwards:

Srikanth Reddy | Voyager | California | 2011

At the time of this writing I’m in Berlin, and Reddy’s triple-erasure of Kurt Waldheim’s memoir would be an especially poignant reread here . . . had I the foresight to bring it along. Sadly, I didn’t bring any books except for the collected Yeats, so I’ve gotta depend on my shoddy memory. That said, before I left I’d read Voyager a couple of times already, and it’s one of my very favorite books of the past few years—a haunting portrayal of individual consciousness and collective ghosts.

Anne Carson | Glass, Irony and God | Vintage | 1995

Glass, Irony and God helps me read better and travel with a more astonished eye, and Carson’s wry, hyper-aware meditations are good for the (dare I say) soul.

Paul Valéry, trans. various | Selected Writings of Paul Valéry | New Directions | 1964
“All powerful, inescapable astral strangers, / Deigning to let shine far off in time / Something supernaturally sublime”

John Milton | The Complete Poems | Penguin Classics | 1999

Samson Agonistes and Paradise Lost are fundamental influences to the verse novella I’m at work on, so I’ve been living in a cool Miltonic shadow for the better part of two years.

Coral Bracho, trans. Forrest Gander | Firefly Under the Tongue | New Directions | 2008

Coral Bracho read in San Francisco earlier this year with another great Mexican poet, María Baranda (whose book, Ficticia, I translated), and it was wonderful to become reacquainted with the luscious, inimitable poems in this collection through her voice. The work in Firefly Under the Tongue is full of surprises of sound, phrases that redouble and move between meanings, and astonishing mindfulness. Forrest Gander’s translation is excellent.

Brandon Shimoda | The Girl Without Arms | Black Ocean | 2010

These poems come from out of the sacrebleu. The Girl Without Arms is intensely lyrical, disturbing, funny, and weirdly warm. Its syntax is slippery and unique. Its voice is that of a brilliant mind that perhaps belongs to another era wrestling with a maximalist world (perhaps akin to Ceravolo in this way). Shimoda’s got another book coming out soon—I can’t wait.

Other contributors so far include G.C. Waldrep, Susana Gardner, Laura Carter, James Wagner, Leonard Schwartz, Patrick Pritchett, Bill Berkson, and Brent Cunningham, with more to follow in the coming days. Evans also includes his own share from 2010; his list is the next week you never knew you wished for. Brian Eno! Jacques Lacan! Aaron Kunin! Alice Notley! His notes are terrific as well. Here’s just a sample:

Bob Dylan | Chronicles, Volume One | Simon & Schuster | 2004
David Hadju | Positively 4th Street | Farrar | 2001
Martin Scorsese, dir. | No Direction Home | Spitfire Pictures | 2005

Because Richard Farina had been Pynchon’s roommate at Cornell, and because I remember Jennifer liking it back nearer to its release date, I decided to interleave Hadju’s Positively Fourth Street with my first pass through V. The Dylan therein portrayed is hard to like, which I confess suits my state of burn out, not so much with Dylan as with his worshipers, just fine, even if the account of the Farinas struck me as unbalanced in the other direction. Dave van Ronk in the present, the British boo-ers, and the historical footage were what I liked best Scorsese’s fan letter, though its recipient-subject’s spoken timbre was nice, too.

Few of the works mentioned circulate in the big box economy, as Evans notes, so if you get inspired, he suggests you order from Bridge Street Books and SPD, when possible. Check out all of the Attention Spans, from 2003 on out, here.

One more thing before we go! From Attention Span 2009: the 78 titles mentioned more than once in the roundup listed in order of frequency of mention. Top three? Jennifer Moxley’s Clampdown (Flood, 2009), Rachel Loden’s Dick of the Dead (Ahsahta, 2009), and Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House, 2009). Enjoy.

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, September 16th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.