Poetry News

Seth Abramson Reviews Ceravolo, Downing & Other Distinctive January Books

By Harriet Staff


Seth Abramson works his review magic for The Huffington Post, calling out a lovely group of books published this month, such as Collected Poems, by Joseph Ceravolo (Wesleyan University Press, 2013) (which you know we're fond of); he gives each one some deserving extended prose. An excerpt:

The late [Kenneth] Koch once implied that Ceravolo's writing was, in some form or another, a mystical enterprise, and others have associated it more directly with the Dadaism and Surrealism of the early-twentieth century European avant-garde. However well-intentioned this praise--and in the vernacular of the shrewd, simultaneously anti- and pro-canonmaking doublespeak of the American avant-garde, any praise that seeks to deduce or manufacture a nexus between tradition and an individual talent is at least nominally well-intentioned--it misses the mark. What Ceravolo (a shy family man from New Jersey in his personal life) reveals in his work is that the natural processes of the human mind, channeled reflexively and lovingly through the prism of received language, are glorious and magical in situ--it does not require readers' imagination or whimsy to make them so. To call a thing mystical is to (often unfairly) position it as an irreducible and irreplicable eccentricity; it is no slight to Ceravolo to say that his distinctive writing style does not so much denominate a distinctive thinking style as constitute a revelation and celebration of what are already, in fact, universal phenomena.

The literary-arts pedagogy of the poet Charles Bernstein, referred to by the Philadelphia-dwelling author and educator as "creative wreading" (an amalgam of "creative writing" and "creative reading") encourages writers and readers alike to locate and reside in those elements of a poem that appear quote-unquote "wrong," cause consternation, disrupt expectations, and produce what Bernstein terms a "non-absorptive" (that is, difficult to parse using received expectations of/for language) reading experience. The theory behind such readings is not merely that these eddies of strangeness are the most interesting bits in the texts in which they appear, though this is presumptively true under the pedagogy, but also that they constitute more authentic representations of the false starts and misfires of the brain that in fact plague (or, as you like, bless) each one of us daily. Bernstein's point is one Ceravolo long ago internalized and exhibited in his body of work. Indeed, while there is much talk today of "voice" and "authenticity" in poetry, in fact "voice"--as Collected Poems reveals--is merely an elective construction traceably comprised of semi-discrete principles like grammar, diction, tone, syntax, parataxis, juxtaposition, ethos, logos, and pathos, and authenticity is always to be found in compositional process rather than product. In other words, we needn't force these things; we merely need attune ourselves to "hear" our native skill-set and then determine how and why and where this psychic know-how corresponds to anything operative in the world.

Ceravolo is, in this view, as authentic and vocally distinctive a poet as we have, despite the fact that his poems often cannot be read or heard the way everyday speech is heard or processed--and that no one but Ceravolo could know or say whether the poet had expressed his sentiments "authentically" (that is, in fidelity to the form and nature of their source stimuli within and without the poet himself). . . .

Read the rest of Abramson's January reviews, which include books by Brandon Downing, Jackie Clark, Allison Seay, and Brandon Shimoda, here.

Originally Published: January 31st, 2013