Poetry News

An Antidote to Avant-Garde Bravado: Jesse Seldess

By Harriet Staff


Excitingly, John Pluecker has reviewed the work of Jesse Seldess for HTMLGiant. He looks at Seldess's books Left Having and Who Opens (Kenning Editions 2011 and 2006, respectively). Noting that Seldess was also the publisher of the magazine antennae (2000-2012) (which is-was wonderful, IOO), Pluecker links it to Seldess's work: "When work is so intensely aural, the page begins to function as a score for performance." It's also about time: "At the end of one reading [on PennSound], [Seldess] says, 'Thanks for your patience.' It’s an endearing experimentalism, a quietly apologetic foray into a different kind of poem. I like the playful timidity of his work, his awareness of the space it takes up in the world. An antithesis of (and antidote to) avant-garde bravado." More:

His work induces aphasia, as in “loss of power to understand written or spoken language, as a result of disorder of the cerebral speech centres” (OED). Seldess’s poetry provokes this failure to understand, this disordered language state. And yet, the rhythm is calming. Quiet. The words dripping off into (dangling prepositions). The words arise and emerge, without often linking up syntactically. And even a careful listener soon forgets where she’s been. It’s a poetry of the present moment. Meditative.

In Seldess’s second book, Left Having, the poet is writing out of four years spent living in Karlsruhe, Germany: a small city in the southwestern part of the country. In a reading, Seldess mentions that his mother’s father and other ancestors lived close to Karlsruhe prior to fleeing from Nazism in 1937. Seldess’s return to this familial territory occasions an investigation into a history freighted with meanings. What results is a series of poems that work against a clear division of past and present, often melding them and making it difficult to distinguish one from the other. His narrative isn’t about what happened; rather, he is living inside the memory as it emerges in the smallest of interactions and experiences.

“Regardless the echo that it takes


No matter being featured the distance

No matter of distance to the next creature

No matter of insistence”

This poetry develops its poetics within the ebb and flow of the poem, signaling certain points of return and points to be repeated. Echo is a constant: a line intoned returns, but twisted or changed by the space crossed on the page or in a room. And yet, as these lines say, it is not a matter of insistence, but rather, what I see as, an unstable accretion. An ever-present awareness that accretion occurs slowly and can be washed away quickly, in fact is constantly being swept away.

Later, he writes: "It’s as if we could listen to these echoing, vanishing lines all night." Read the full piece at HTMLGiant.

Photo by Alan Bernheimer.

Originally Published: January 25th, 2013