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Thom Donovan / The Hole / Displaced Press / 2012


The Hole is presented as in process of completion / perhaps as still in process but not (not) toward completion – the title is hand-written on the cover / there’s some scribbling / a bar code / and a photo the image of a paper clip holds to the cover’s edge – the notes / which describe for the most part when the poems were written or to whom they’re dedicated / are presented as if glued or taped to the inside front and back cover / and contain corrections – there are more corrections / handwritten notes / and blacking-out of text in the latter parts of the book – this forces us to experience (to experience) the book as a work that is still being worked on / that is not “done” – (read Jerome McCann’s book The Black Riders).

The book is organized as four titled spates of untitled poems – followed by a Postface / Feedback / Prefaces / and an Envoi (a final poem) – these latter pages constitute about half the book / and would seem to represent (among other things) the books extension into the world / (again) an insistence on process. The poems are presented without marks or corrections – perhaps suggesting that they are (they (that they are)) finished (“finished” / not subject to change).


The poems are composed of phrases / fairly densely together – the line breaks don’t follow the phrases / so these elements cut across each other / incising extra meaning. The lines (mostly) begin with a capital letter / which doubles the force of the line breaks – no other punctuation / but that each poem ends with a period (reinforcing that it is a statement).

There is a push of the great content-energy against the forms / such that they are (over)full (abundant).

The poems are mostly about community. The poems are indigenous to humans. The music of the poems is a (the) human voice – it is a voice that thinkfeels/feelthinks / tfheienlks.

These poems feel/think themselves / but perhaps that is always the case – no / that is not always the case – most poems don’t think (and don’t much feel) at all / most don’t have a self. Thinking only makes a dent in reality / or so it seems – when it is inextricable with feeling / that is no longer so – there’s more power of locution (and for change) when these “two” activities are one / than in any other way.

We need Thom’s poems if we are going to survive – we need this sort of poem if we are to survive.

Passion and fervor make something – passion makes life / and fervor makes it worth it (it’s how life knows what it is). The problems identified give rise to longing / longing so acute it finds a voice / a voice so acute it finds words / words so acute they find a form. There is a pleading for things to change.

Life has no name.

We have all returned from the dead.


The poems are somewhat hymnic – a rhythmic expression of conviction. The meanings come from / and speak toward / how life is lived / (and) the social (dis)order.

Let phrases from the book speak for the two extremes of (their) attention –

The mess of the horrible problems we humans create—
No more world to tell about – Gesturing death presents / Its own challenge – What elements of twice dying – The animal no longer has a head or hooves / But the legs up to the shins keep shuddering – Stamps of simulacrum and death masks – Templates for a wound in medias res – For her eyes like a grief of names – So he was subtracted from labor / Boredom became an executioner – – –

History is not just a nightmare
When it comes down to it
But a hell we must affirm
The privatization of our barest needs
Purifies blame does not purify the world

And against all that / ie in favor of life / and the living of it –
We gave our limbs we gave our throats / we gave our eyes – The world is laid waste in reverse when we / Imagine other uses for I – if we were ignited – I heard your voice – We fuck death – So fuck it we are only bodies sometimes – Eye beams convey me – the soul – my heart – their lack of lack – healed by lines – as ever the other is with us shuddering – – –

Sovereign stumps make the shipwreck glitter
Being in the same place with you and calling this coeval
Coeval enough to say hello not staying outside
What we would call event to make a new sense I saw this city
Changed which lodged us how the past
Was once the past and the future whenever we spoke
Anterior to any effect the present could have
What couldn’t be because we couldn’t return from catastrophe.

And these various energies are not the only ones / and they are not separate – they occur / and recur / in the same poem / the same poems.

Our only hope now might be to give up hope.
The only hope for us now might be for us to give up hope.


One of the ways in which the title of the book is seen to manifest itself is with reference to something that happened way downtown in one of the boroughs of one of the cities in one country on an autumn morning in 2001.

I think that what some of us experience as blasphemous about that event / in addition to the death of many innocent (?) lives / is that the hole had to be dug twice – once before the skyscrapers were built / and once after the skyscrapers were destroyed / the first time in order to create what was going to happen (what was (what was going to happen)) / the second time in order to destroy what had (had (what had)) happened. It’s like (other forms of) abuse – it’s more likely to inflict where it inflicted before rather than somewhere (on someone) else / and we don’t seem to like to be reminded of that fact / probably because it is a statement of our own natures.

In the Postface / Thom writes – I often feel like I am shouting into a void but then, lo and behold, someone hollers back. – and then makes sure that happens by inviting twenty-three friends to respond to the poems – One can think about the inclusion of others’ “voices” into the texture of a poetry manuscript in terms of contemporary notions of chorus. By inviting friends / he could be fairly sure of getting a response / and fairly certain that the response would be insightful – but he also ran the risk that most if not all of the responses would be positive / adulatory – which in fact they are. Never were so many reviews of one book published in so short a time! / and just as the book appeared! I know that all of this is (supposed to be) about process / and the recognition and integration of community as part of the-making-of-the-book / and those are valuable thing to stress – but it also ends up being rather like a book of poems with a complementary study guide.

How could the book reflect a form of collective reception, if not a truly distributed authorship? . . . How likewise can the book scatter archive—anarchistically—heterogenizing the proper name? The book fades as the predominant ‘unit of composition’ and opens to something more open.

The Feedback section follows the Postface –

The hole, written from what’s missing, administers to our sickness, as only lyric can. – Robert Kocik

Begging is one of the greatest forms of humility and these poems I feel, beg for a salve, a healing, a flow of antibodies to assuage the brutality of the encompassing situation at hand. This indefatigable compassion doesn’t let go.Brenda Iijima

This is one of the most POTENT political documents I’ve read in, in I don’t even know how long, it’s so fucking good, it’s so fucked up, it’s too real, it’s too transgressive for the armchair transgressive, that’s for sure! – CA Conrad

This long poem gives meaning to what we say by “giving voice to the people,” it speaks on behalf of millions of people, of the world as it is today (maybe as it has always been)…Etel Adnan

Or your gift, for you who has what use for, whose subjects are ours, to whom offers so much—in all the senses, movement from word to word, feeling your senses on my tongue as it shapes each syllable, forms thought, attention. How to proceed, make meaning, find no meaning, that intensity.Jocelyn Saidenberg

Poem as strategy to undo those forms of individualism upon which dominant regimes of justice are founded, regimes whose vengeful moralities condemn countless persons to a kind of “death before dying.” In Thom’s poems, the “I” becomes a nonsite whose social catastrophe converges with lyric apostrophe, and where the apostrophic O of lyric address becomes as large as the catastrophic event that has been removed from vision. …
Poem as “spiritual technology,” a social category marshaled to oppose all forms of quietism while bringing the invisible to light in a situation where our light has all but gone out.
– Rob Halpern

I want to show you how we make death // because I love you.Dana Ward

The Prefaces section (toward the end of the book) contains three substantial essays that Thom wrote – these also may be intended to substantiate the-book-as-process / the book-in-process / the book-as-unending-process / and so on – they could also be seen as a somewhat heavy-handed insistence / by the author / that we get (that we “get”) the book / that we get not only something(s) of what the poems (might) mean / but that we also get what he intended them to mean.

In any event / these essays are as well written as are the poems – and they form an agreeable and informative complement to each other. It’s interesting to note that these two sections of the book are the only ones that aren’t marked up / written upon / in some way.

Perhaps a lot of the things that Thom is looking for in the way of process are always provided by readers when they read a book – perhaps his desire is to be readerwriter / at-one-and-the-same-time / a stance not usually permitted us / but certainly one worth being. Perhaps / by stressing process (which can more resemble a bit of eternity than does something finished) / what he is most after is what most writers of literature pursue / an assurance that their book will not immediately / or soon / die.

As indicated in the Notes / the poems were written to particular someones / and/or after particular events / which gives the enterprise a human warmth / and a particular immediacy – what would it mean / then / that the rest of us are to this in the role of spectators? A lot has been done in the making of the book to invite us in / but it is in (in (it is in)) to a spectacle of the sort just described. What kind of community does this posit? / make (for)?


The poem must preserve a place to remain

In what is not real
The poem must be
An active force in a universe that is

Heterogeneous however real.

The question that most needs asking might be –
How can we avoid making a politically correct book?

Originally Published: April 12th, 2013

Poet and essayist Alan Davies was born in Alberta, Canada, and earned his BA from Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts. In the mid-70s he edited the poetry journal A Hundred Posters. As a Harvard summer school student, he took classes taught by Robert Creeley and Octavio Paz, and he also...