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August 2013 Contemporary Poetry Reviews

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Each month, this contemporary poetry review series selects between five and ten collections published since 2003 to recommend to its readership. These collections are selected from a pool of more than two thousand books of supplied and already-held contemporary poetry. A full list of books reviewed and a partial list of titles held can be found here. Publishers interested in submitting review copies to the series should contact the author of this article using this form. All submitted books remain eligible for inclusion in the series for a ten-year period.

1. Ghost Tantras, Michael McClure (City Lights Books, 2013; original printing, 1967). Ghost Tantras is an important book, whether or not it's a good one. It's important because its value lies in its ambition, not its canonicity. Its ambition was and is influential "horizontally"--that is, as between poets at the time it was published--whether or not the result of that ambition, a 108-page collection written entirely in the so-called "Beast language," could readily be anthologized on aesthetic grounds. Make no mistake: When literary critics speak of value, they speak of aesthetics; when they speak of anthologization, they speak of aesthetics; when they speak of canon, they speak of aesthetics. In other words, conventional literary criticism is ever and always a matter of aesthetics, and as aesthetics are largely personal, what we poetry-lovers usually end up with (in reviews, anthologies, and the canon) is an aggregation of idiosyncratic personal tastes passed off as "universal."

Some literary critics will swear it isn't so. They'll say that reviews and anthologies and canons reflect a genuine aesthetic consensus, or else that aesthetics is as measurable a good as any other because its subunits are cognizable technical gestures whose relative successes or failures can be mapped. And these arguments are, after a fashion, persuasive. It's true, a sufficiently "universal" consensus can on occasion be reached on matters of personal taste--just ask the Beatles. Likewise, there's no doubt that a certain breed of poetry is largely comprised of technical gestures that come off well or poorly depending almost entirely upon their execution. It's even true that a certain subsection of literary critics hail MFA programs (albeit unfairly) for educating poets in the use of those same superficial technical gestures, thus attuning them to the existing concord about which gestures are generally pleasing to the reading public and which are not. And indeed the least of today's graduate creative writing programs do follow this pedagogical prescription, even as the best are populated by eccentric poets whose compelling eccentricities their faculty mentors do all they can to encourage.

For all this, though, reviews and anthologies and canons must do much more than calcify a series of aesthetic gestures captured at their most technically superlative and generally agreeable. No one reads Eliot merely because his metaphors were a ten on the Olympic scale and his competitors' a nine-point-six; we read Eliot because behind all his technical gestures was a poetics: an unreplicable and idiosyncratic relationship between the poet and his language, between the poet and his genre. This is why poet Charles Bernstein (reviewed in this space in June) wisely counsels workshop instructors to encourage in their students that which is "objectively" mistaken, disruptive, or unpleasing, as if we assume a student has read sufficiently the literature of her predecessors, and is sufficiently gymnastic in her relation to language and genre, we can assume that what is unsettling in her poetry is the same sort of compelling eccentricity that made Eliot worthy of canonization.

McClure's Ghost Tantras is often, as a matter of content and aesthetics, hippy-dippy (an introduction by McClure notes that the purpose of the poems is to "bring beauty and change the shape of the universe"; the book's dedication honors "the Human Spirit & all Mammals"), downright silly ("WHO ART THOU, I, ME?/ HOOOOOOO! HOOOOOO! GRAHH!"), or simply unreadable (cf. the book's many unpronounceable or differentially pronounceable passages). We might even criticize its didacticism, for a collection that encourages its readers to free their inner Beast ought not direct them so forcefully as to what their own Beasts sound like.

From the standpoint of poetics, however, we can see that even McClure's excesses deliver exactly what they promise: A novel way of relating to language and genre. These poems do indeed "change the shape of the universe" by devolving not only objects but even fully-formed selves into their constituent primitivist detritus. After all, what is the "THOU, I, ME" but a series of beautifully incoherent and intellectually indecipherable passions and instincts? This is not to say that this is all we are, merely to say, as McClure says quite eloquently in the Beast language of Ghost Tantras, that it is part of what we are and therefore something poetry ought to in some way acknowledge.

Just so, McClure's dedication of Ghost Tantras to "the Human Spirit" is significant from the standpoint of poetics because it offers us both a theory of language and a theory of genre: That what distinguishes but also aggregates the poems of different poets is their relation to an idiosyncratic but also fundamentally sympathetic spirit. No poet who fails to understand what is both spectacular and commonplace in her own spirit is likely to develop a poetics, for by definition a poetics is a relationship between poet and language and genre that is keyed to--and thus circumscribed by--a presumptively eccentric and singular poetic genius. When we poets worship, instead, at the altar of mere technical perfection, we are doomed to write reviews and compile anthologies and develop canons which do no more than mechanize poetry. Such follies create a pyramid of aesthetic value whose upper reaches all poets of sound mind are assumed to aim at, with the result that the Great poets are at times merely superlative versions of their less-talented peers, rather than true iconoclasts.

This method of canonization is successful precisely because it's a pyramid scheme. If all poets are aiming at the same vision of technical perfection, all poets will read the reviews and purchase the anthologies that encapsulate that particular vision, the better to prime themselves and their poems for such august treatment. Poetry deserves better than sordid consensual arrangements of this sort; it deserves iconoclastic writing that is nervy and irreplaceable, that inspires differential visions even as it appeals broadly to all poets of gumption and ingenuity. McClure's Ghost Tantras may be a rough-hewn and thus often aesthetically displeasing document, but from the view of a new canon that rightly puts such considerations at least partially beside the point, it is also a work of consummate and lasting genius.

Excerpts: Twenty-one sections of Ghost Tantras.

2. The Book of Goodbyes, Jillian Weise (BOA Editions, 2013) Jillian Weise writes unflinching and profoundly relevant poetry, an achievement at a time when so much poetry celebrates cerebral preoccupations to the exclusion of those mundanities we daily wrestle with so inelegantly. At stake in the poems of The Book of Goodbyes is not merely the topical--infidelity, waning affection, disability and the responses thereto, self-identity and self-realization--but also a take on alienation that implicitly indicts all of us.

Weise is not one for stylistic pyrotechnics, but as this review series has so often noted, what of that? Alongside our lauding of poetry collections that complicate our understanding of signifiers should be an equally vocal encouragement of work that "merely" helps teach us how to live better. Weise's second collection, following the excellent The Amputee's Guide to Sex, does exactly that, not by positing the poet's effusions as normative but by seizing upon so many of the strangenesses we live in and through.

Weise, an amputee whose first book was in part autobiographical, is at her best when her verse is least adorned, so it's fortunate that that's how we find it for most of The Book of Goodbyes. Her romantic poems are, given their inspiration, suitably frustrated, urgent, and compassionate; "Up Late and Likewise" ends, "Would you like to be in the same decade with me?/ Would you like to be caught dead with me?" In "I've Been Waiting All Night," the "other woman" in a love triangle phones her lover as he lies beside his girlfriend to tell him a sordid tale of necrophilia; that poem concludes, "You can go now./ I'm more in the mood than you're used to." Captured in these poems is our sense that the romantic and the antagonistic are often juxtaposed, indeed so much so that even the most secure love breeds its own exquisite forms of alienation. To say this work has a pedagogical function is not an overstatement: Too often we diagnose the feelings of distance even the healthiest relationships give rise to as subversive or destructive, when in fact--and not just in the compromised or fading relationships Weise so often details--even an earnest, abiding, and reciprocated love leaves us vulnerable to battles we necessarily fight alone.

As ever, Weise neither ornaments her tackling of disability with sentiment nor descends into mawkishness. One senses in poems like "Café Loop," which intersperses two writers' light conversation about food and drink with their savage gossip about (it does seem clear) the poet herself, not the tinge of embittered rage--though often, as in the scenario envisioned here, it'd be warranted--but the thankless task of chronicling How It Is.

Poetry-as-Art is most often romanticized when it's at its most Romantic; realism may have conquered the world of fiction long ago, and it may remain mummified in the verse of certain soon-to-be-forgotten Greats (the unfairly neglected Kenneth Fearing comes to mind), but in poetry it has only a minor cachet. It seems many poets consider unmetaphorized reality maudlin, and indeed in the hands of some--The Book of Goodbyes blurbist Matthew Dickman being one example--it sometimes is. Weise escapes that tendency through concision and clear sight. These poems do not read as one poet's opinion of what a suitably poetic reality might look like, but rather one human's recitation of what her earned reality--good, bad, or indifferent--already is.

The sentiments found in The Book of Goodbyes are indeed so likely as to be unnerving: for instance, "Tell your back home friends it means nothing/ and you will drop him as soon as you have/ friends in the city" ("Decent Recipe for Tilapia"); "'Big Logos, a moth came out from hiding/ as soon as I had taken my leg off and the moth/ said, Ha little cripple. Now you can't get me/ with the broom.' Then I laughed so he would/ know it's okay to laugh" ("The Ugly Law"); "If time is written on an 8 x 11 piece of paper..../ then you are simultaneously buying flowers, taking the woman from/ the park bench in your mouth and making love to your girlfriend while she/ watches a stranger pee into your commode. It is, after all, your commode./ Where is your rage?" ("How to Treat Flowers"). One hesitates to translate aesthetic quirks--let alone aesthetic infelicities--as content, but here even the awkward enjambment and prosaic diction seems appropriate to the poet's circumscription of these workaday atrocities.

But Weise's poetry is much more than just particularly tasteful and incisive small-c "confessionalism." (Big-c "Confessionalism" is merely a construction of the Academy used to preclude certain poets' admission to the Canon in anything other than ironic or begrudging fashion.) To the extent poets decry the confessionalist impulse--and increasingly they do, loudly and often, and with the sort of braggadocio that makes one root all the more for the subjects of their derision--it is because it seems to many of them a double-dose of egotism: stylized self-flagellation in the context of an artform whose public practice is already a form of stylized self-flagellation. Yet when and where Weise seems to confess, however artificial its forms may sometimes seem to this reader (e.g., unnecessary quatrains, clumsy enjambment, interesting but inconsistent syntactical variations), those confessions are communal. The poet offers herself up for the purpose of our instruction, in much the same way a creative writing student being workshopped is, in the platonic form of that pedagogy, sacrificed to his compatriots for the sake of a wide-ranging literary discussion that wouldn't otherwise occur.

Weise does more than offer her readers a novel and generous iteration of confession-in-verse, as her way with narrative and allegory is also superlative. The three-poem sequence that constitutes the entirety of the second section of The Book of Goodbyes introduces readers to a small community of finches every bit as compelling as the most bohemian and varied human subcommunity. Even if, as seems possible, these idiosyncratic avian characters are in fact merely proxies for poets of the poet's acquaintance, they withstand even the most minute scrutiny in and of themselves. The poet's relation of their lives is fitfully interrupted by aphorisms of the very best sort: simple and self-evident. "[T]o be happy requires it seems/ some lying and good timing," writes Weise, and, elsewhere, "Bitto continued flying in/ and out of the Falls, for no one,/ for himself, for the spirit..../ [Marcel] spent each day sorting/ through reasons people came/ to the Falls and there was never/ only one reason for coming,/ there were five or six reasons,/ stacked on top of each other,/ overlapping each other, contradicting/ each other, such that humanity/ was a big den of squawk." Weise wonders, too, whether it's true that "to ask for something [is] to want it." I won't ruin the endings of these three poems except to say that they almost made me weep, and it's been a long time since poetry has meant that to me.

There is, in The Book of Goodbyes, an implicit self-critique of the power of logos--and of logocentrism or (as you like) what academics call "logophallocentrism"--inasmuch as the speaker's boyfriend is repeatedly termed "Big Logos," which, roughly translated from Academy-squawk, means "Big Dick." There is, too, a self-critique of poets and poetry, of contemporary dating and contemporary social media, of (albeit in a less scathing and more indirect way) how men and women commit their intermittent yearnings for exes to verse rather than confronting more directly who they've become and why that is. I wish I could say that I appreciate these additional dimensions of Weise's collection more intelligently and passionately than I do. I admire their presence, and I note that presence as a way of emphasizing that not only is it not enough to wrestle with oneself in one's verse, not only is it not enough to wrestle with oneself for the benefit of others, it is also not in itself enough to wrestle with others for the benefit of both oneself and others. A book in which transcendent language is featured--language that uses signifiers to gesture at things cognizably present in our phenomenological world--needs more than all this. It needs wisdom and it needs humanity. A careful reader is therefore likely to acknowledge the contributions of the many secondary and tertiary dimensions of The Book of Goodbyes without centralizing them as part and parcel of the work's primary value.

I write often of how suffused America is with poets and poetry, and how that's a good thing, and how it does no more than challenge those of us committed to poetry to be catholic in our tastes, gregarious in our curiosities, and inquiring in our poetics. Eventually, though, we all must decide which voices are worthy of not just admiration but that highest form of love: trust. I mean the sort of reflexive (dare I say "bodily") trust that requires no intervention of the ego ex ante or reflection by the superego ex post. Jillian Weise has earned from me that degree of trust; out of the many thousands of poets whose work I've ever read, and the many hundreds I'm delighted to read each year, Weise's compassionate and uncompromising intellect distinguishes itself. I do not write the way she does; I wouldn't only read such poems or such poetry if I had the freedom to choose; but I cannot read or enjoy poetry without those myriad elements of sense and style Weise singularly arranges in her work.

When we poets retreat to our respective camps, when we--as the so-called "Conceptualists" have odiously introduced to our versifiers' lexicon--"build our brand" or aim single-mindedly to be "famous" (as Christian Bök recently spoke of), it is the purity of a simple pleasure that we excuse from our lives. I don't much care whether verse like Weise's is the future of poetry, or constitutes a notable innovation in poetics, or even whether it'll long be remembered, for as to that neither I nor anyone living can know. But I know that I take the greatest pleasure from it, and will continue to do so in reading the poet's undoubtedly numerous future collections, and that what makes this relationship between reader and text possible is my commitment (mirrored by so many poetry-lovers') to now and again put away anxiety over poetry and poets and establish myself firmly in the lifespan of a single poem. One poem, one moment--meaning to and for me whatever it can and for whatever reason it does. I thank Jillian Weise for that incredible and abiding pleasure, and I anticipate that many thousands of others will light upon this same pleasure, with this same poet, in the years ahead.

Excerpts: "Marcel Address Kate (As He Would If He Could)"; "Semi Semi Dash" (scroll down at link).

3. Fidget, Kenneth Goldsmith (Coach House Books, 2000; fourth printing, 2007). Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget is an essential piece of institutionalized and "professionalized" creative writing from the twenty-first century, if we assign its many printings between 2000 and the present to the current century rather than the last. We must term Fidget an object lesson in the power of institutionalization and professionalization because the work literally would not exist but for the awesome bureaucratic mechanisms of poetry's professionalizing institutions. Certainly, a poetry collection that aims to do no more than "dryly" catalog a single human's physical movements for a thirteen-hour period has no natural audience beyond that which institutions craft for it; in the specific case of Fidget, the work was commissioned by an institution (the Whitney Museum of American Art), was issued its Afterward by a scion of the Academy (Marjorie Perloff of Stanford University), and was published in a gorgeously lush edition by one of the foremost Canadian publishing houses at a time when Mr. Goldsmith had yet to develop even a fraction of his current following. (At the time of the book's acceptance by Coach House Books, Mr. Goldsmith had published only one full-length single-author work, in three different editions and with three largely-unknown presses.)

More importantly, Fidget is animated indirectly as well as directly by institutional forces. Though the collection offers readers a less draconian brand of so-called "Conceptualism"--a new catch-all term for any poetry written under a cognizable constraint, or from any coherent organizing concept, depending upon whom you ask--than we've seen more recently from Goldsmith, it remains the case that Fidget was ever intended as a work whose lifespan would be institutionally determined. It required, as does nearly all of the "Conceptualist" work Goldsmith creates, an interlocutor in the Academy, as well as institutional spaces reserved for its public performance (Printed Matter gave it a gallery installation, for instance, and its website was developed by Clem Paulsen, who would shortly thereafter incorporate his web-design services as "Clem & Co"; other clients of Paulsen's, besides Goldsmith, include Samsung, Continental Airlines, and American Express.)

A common theme in both Goldsmith's Art and its attendant self-promotions is the poet's commitment to using institutional resources--a commitment far more extensive than any twenty-something taking fine arts courses at a non-profit university could possibly dream up. That the patronage, funding, distribution, and promotion of Fidget suggests Mr. Goldsmith's exemplary professionalization of the arts needs no additional evidence than what's been provided above.

But Fidget is also a consummate work of creative writing, despite its author's careful attempt to remove from the project any whisper of those creative writing-friendly concepts and procedures disfavored by the institutions tasked with sponsoring the work. For instance, Goldsmith has claimed that Fidget "never use[s] the first-person 'I' to describe movements. Thus every move [is] an observation of a body in space, not my body in a space." It's an admirable attempt to steer clear of the so-called "self-expressive lyric 'I'" that sponsors of the avant-garde in the Academy--the author of the Afterward of Fidget, Marjorie Perloff, in particular--have considered the mark of aesthetic conservatism for decades now. Yet it's hogwash, given the prominent placement of the author's name on the cover (it actually encloses the book's title entirely), the jacket copy's insistence on the book being a specific instantiation of embodiment (its first sentence: "Fidget is writer Kenneth Goldsmith's transcription of every movement made by his body during thirteen hours on Bloomsday, 1997"), the presence of the word "I" at various points in the text, Goldsmith's admission to having heavily edited the text ex post (to remove, one presumes, instances of the first person as well as the author's many acknowledged "literary and art references"), Goldsmith's repeated in-text contravention of his own rule against editorializing (by the middle portion of the text tears are already being deemed "annoying"), and the poet's deliberate sabotage of the project to render it more interesting to his prospective audience (Goldsmith started to "go crazy"--his words--during the audio taping of the collection, and in consequence chose to get wildly intoxicated during the approximately half-day span of the project).

The number of authorial elections in a book aimed at removing "editorializing, psychology, and emotion" is staggering. Goldsmith, nearly forty years old at the time Fidget was written, even insists that it was necessary to change his natural writing style repeatedly during the thirteen hours of the project. The result is that each of the latter hours of the project reads as a new yet still inchoate poetics, one alternately fond of its own sonics (such as the chapter-ending, "Fidget. Pick. Burp. Bend. Up. Out. On. Blow. Wind. Bite. Cross. Scuttle. Twist. Turn. Bring. Tingle. Slide. Spit. Groove. Massage. Strike. Penetrate. Dig. Penetrate. Snort. Dig. Pass. Grab. Sigh. Lighten. Still. Pressure. Rush. Accentuate. Tuck. Raise. Gaze"), formally cute (ostensibly to reflect his drunkenness, Goldsmith re-publishes his first chapter in reverse as his last), artfully descriptive (urination is described, whimsically, as a "stream emerg[ing] from within [the] buttocks"), and, as noted, stylistically frenetic. All in all, it makes the esteemed Perloff's conclusion that the book is "not literary invention"--in other words, that it is unmistakably what Goldsmith would years later call "uncreative writing"--positively anachronistic as well as tellingly untrue.

Behind Fidget, and behind Perloff's in-collection criticism of the work, is an anxiety over the influence of creative writing and creative writing programs that's practically palpable. The result, as Goldsmith to his credit ultimately acknowledges, is a work of "fiction" (one of the two primary genres of creative writing) that forces its author to make idiosyncratic authorial elections during each second of its thirteen-hour creation. Indeed, if Fidget is an early experiment in "uncreative writing," the experiment's progenitor is unambiguous about the results: "uncreative writing," the collection confirms, is an impossibility, as one can never escape authorial accountability for one's linguistic and temperamental idiosyncrasies.

That Goldsmith has reversed course since 2000--no less violently than, say, the now scarce and unlamented Mitt Romney reversed his stances on abortion and socialized medicine during a presidential election cycle--is evidence, again, of the death-grip institutions have always had, and continue to have, on what's now popularly termed "Conceptualism." (Note the capital "C"; it's meant to distinguish Goldsmith's movement from the hundred years of avant-garde, concept-driven poetry that preceded it, most of it typified by procedures identical to those of "Conceptualism." The distinction Goldsmith is wont to make is that previous iterations of Conceptualism were non-literary; how this squares with the poet's implicit contention that his own Conceptualism is likewise more installation than literature, and his equally insistent contention that the most interesting new Conceptualism is happening in the material arts--as he told one interviewer recently--is unclear. One suspects that, as his public biography suggests, Goldsmith is an institutionally-trained sculptor who merely found, for a time, a way to capture the imagination of bored literary scholars with tried-and-tested material arts technologies easily masqueraded about as literature.) In the view of the institutions that are solely responsible for Goldsmith's present relevance, it simply doesn't do to acknowledge that poets need egocentric creativity to perform their artistic and civic functions, or that creative poets desperately need institutions to bring their creativity to light. Covering fire for Goldsmith's somewhat dodgily-defined Conceptualist "movement" has ever been provided by precisely those institutional actors for whom patronage or promotion of "creative writing" is a non-starter, let alone writing which--as Fidget so richly does--deeply encodes the self-expressive self into its animating conceit. Indeed, it would be hard to find any work from this century more committed to self-expressive lyricism than is this book.

This, then, is the institutional and aesthetic history of a collection, but it is by no means the final word on it. Fidget may have spawned a deeply-disingenuous--in fact downright cynical--course of literary and literary-critical conduct involving Goldsmith and members of various credentialing institutions (Goldsmith is tethered to more literary and academic institutions than perhaps any poet living, far too many to list here; see his exhaustive Wikipedia page if you're interested), but as a reification of how creative writing has been institutionalized in America, and as an artifact of creative writing, Fidget is nearly unparalleled. What readers of the collection will find in it is the unwinding of a psyche in real time, however contrived some of the resultant movements appear to be (one finds it curious that the poet couldn't wait until after the thirteen hours he was performing a commissioned work to "drink an entire bottle of Jack Daniels at an abandoned loading dock on the West Side"). The sonics and rhythms of this collection are mesmerizing, as is its almost psychotic obsession with the self-expressive lyric "I"--for indeed no work this century has been as egomaniacal about expressing the present state of the self (directly as to the body, or indirectly as to the mind) than Fidget. That Goldsmith finds imaginative methods for rendering his ever-present "I" tacit is merely an aesthetic quirk no reader can fail to see through.

Fidget even offers readers one of the more compelling linear narratives of the recent literary past, as those who consume it cover-to-cover are treated to every action a man is willing to record for a period of thirteen hours, as well as the concurrent psychic toll of that chronicling. Neither a reader of contemporary literary fiction nor a presently-workshopping creative writer could ask for a better instance of literary realism than this. Indeed, in so avidly foregrounding his opposition to poetic creativity, Goldsmith's ultimate surrender to same becomes all the more powerful a statement that creative writing--and the institutions that sponsor creative writing and creative writers, even (perhaps particularly when) they're busy claiming otherwise--are here to stay.

The truth is, aesthetic election--what we commonly term "creative writing"--is, for the working poet, inescapable. It is neither a poetics nor a period style nor a fad relating to so-called "professionalization" or "institutionalization." The question, in Fidget as everywhere else, is merely how aesthetics and poetics will be executed and (even more importantly) prioritized relatively. What poet-critic Joshua Corey has referred to as the "classicalist" impulse in American poetry tends to foreground aesthetics; the three other major inclinations Corey notes as evident in American verse--formalism, animism, and the iconoclastic--all sacrifice aesthetics on the altar of other considerations: for formalists, form; for animists, authentic channeling (cf. Robert Creeley); for iconoclasts, what they regard (fairly or otherwise) as "truth."

The late "war" between so-called "Conceptualists" and "flarfists" was, in fact, an internal conflict between formalists. At issue was merely how and when and why to sacrifice aesthetics in the interest of foregrounding and exploring a formal constraint. But throughout the conflict, the conceit that aesthetics could be entirely abandoned was--as Fidget aptly demonstrates, page after page--entirely fatuous. To read Goldsmith's more recent "Conceptualist" work, for instance Seven American Deaths and Disasters, is to find a poet making the most deeply-engaged type of aesthetic election imaginable: namely, selecting his subject matter solely on the basis of the innate aesthetic and emotional interest it holds for the general public. (The poet implied, in a recent interview with comedian Stephen Colbert, that the deaths and disasters he selected were so chosen because they're foundational to Americans' aesthetic consciousness.) Just so, Goldsmith's archival resurrections and selective juxtapositions in other collections, such as Weather and Day; these are meant to enforce an emotional response that is entirely aesthetic and aestheticized. The same can be said of flarfists whose poems tend to achieve a modicum of epiphany--as do most such poems, if we read them closely--or "Conceptualist" poems that, similar to Seven American Deaths and Disasters, use institutionalized aesthetics to provoke emotional responses far more dramatic than anything we'd expect from even the most self-expressive lyric-narrative poetaster. (See, e.g., Vanessa Place's ethically odious republication of unedited transcripts from her legal employment.)

The problems arising from all this lie, of course, not with America's poets, who not only revel in ambiguities but abide in them daily as a means of survival. Rather, the warping of American literary discourse begins in the Academy, where precisely zero careers in Contemporary Poetry Studies can be made via rhapsodizing the gradations of aesthetic engagement. No, we must have "uncreative writing" and the complete collapse of the "self-expressive lyric 'I'" (or its reinstitution, as Marjorie Perloff has proposed, in the return of found poems like Apollinaire's), whether these "innovations" are good for poets or poetry or not. On such fictions are careers built. That Goldsmith is such a creature of professionalized creative writing that he has propounded an entire poetics based upon fictions endorsed by the Academy for its own purposes is disappointing, but does not diminish the accomplishments--perhaps, by the poet's own admission, the inadvertent accomplishments--of "Conceptualist" collections like Fidget or Seven American Deaths and Disasters. (Or, as noted above, Weather, which juxtaposes weather and America's longest war as an aesthetic election; or Sports, which selects the most storied rivalry in American sport as its subject, based upon Goldsmith's aesthetic election; or Day, which focuses upon Earth's newspaper of record as an aesthetic election.)

If this review of Fidget seems strident rather than admiring, it is the fault of neither Fidget nor this review's author. The problem with reviewing self-identified "Conceptualist" work is that part of its construction is a series of obstacles--the Academy; the grasping celebrity of the poet; the misrepresentation and implicit denigration of the hundred years of experimental writing the "movement" is founded upon--any reviewer must hack and slash through to get to the work itself. When we arrive at Fidget-qua-Fidget, rather than Perloff's Fidget, or Goldsmith's Fidget, or Comedy Central's Fidget, we find a superlative work whose achievements are no less stunning for being (at least on occasion) accidental. We find a work that teachers may teach, and that students may profit from being taught. We find a work that encapsulates the many infelicities inherent to attempts to artificially excise creativity and certain pronouns from contemporary poetry. We find, in short, a work that might more naturally be deemed Great if it spent less time marshaling the resources of institutionalized criticism to make it appear so. One prerogative of the critic is that we may receive as humble work that is not, as triumphant work that is (on its own unfortunate terms) a failure, as celebratory of the human spirit work that seeks to find the most interesting ways to crush it entirely. Every poet should read this book diligently; and every poet should be equally diligent about ignoring those Conceptualism-sanctioned interlocutors and self-aggrandizing Conceptualists whose took only one lesson from the persistently self-promoting Language poets: that self-promotion is not merely a artistic mandate but an art in itself. Those who read Fidget mindful of these trip-wires will find in its pages a glowing panoply of ingenious creative elections and discoveries.

Excerpt: The complete text of Fidget.

4. Collected Poems, Bill Knott (CreateSpace, 2013). Bill Knott's is truly a vita poetica. The poet's ability to force poets to look at themselves and how they live, not merely through his poems but through his treatment of those poems once they're written, is unparalleled. Many of his peers call him "eccentric"--or much worse--but in fact one sees in the story of Bill Knott not merely an uncommonly talented poet, but also an iconoclast whose rebelliousness is often not given its due. This is an unfortunate mainstay in the sociology of poets: We tend to presume revolution comes only from the young, from the socially engaged, from the ranks of those poets (if "Conceptualism" is any guide) who obsessively publish manifestos, essays, and interviews declaiming their own intellectual excellence.

Just as the single most important contribution of the Program Era has been to offer shy and/or socially awkward people instant, real-time social and literary communities without the prerequisite of being outgoing and/or charismatic, Bill Knott's contribution to poetry is often overlooked precisely because of the poet's isolation (some might say self-isolation) in the midst of his peers. It's a circumstance this review hopes to remedy, as never should the courage and innovation of an author be tied to anything more or less than his or her courage or innovation; to set the bar any higher, or any lower, is to re-cast poetry and poetics as merely another iteration of the odious community of high-fashionistas, in which substance is perpetually subsumed under style. The foremost distinction between poetry and fashion is--and must remain--that in poetry substance can often be found in the absence of a qualified aesthetics. And if ever there's an epitaph to the life in poetry lived by Bill Knott, it should, perhaps, be something along just those lines: Here is a man who offered his readers substance in the absence (sometimes the painfully obvious absence) of style.

Years ago, Wave Books began publishing poetry collections free of back-cover blurbs, and the poetry community celebrated this innovation as an admirable and daring one. It was; it also was only a fraction as daring as Bill Knott's equally public approach to atypical publishing strategies. Not only does Knott give away all his poems online for free, his Collected Poems is (like many of his other releases) a self-published compendium whose back cover is entirely blank. Yet Knott, per usual, takes his conceptual revolt several steps further: Featured at the very front of his Collected Poems is a generous helping of scathing reviews of his work, interrupted only occasionally by a kind but tepid scrap of praise. Readers looking for an Acknowledgments page are directed to the poet's blog; readers looking for a Table of Contents will not find one. Not only are the poems of Knott's Collected not arranged chronologically, they're not arranged at all. There may well be typographical errors in the collection, as the poet concedes in a brief Afterword; often, more than one poem is featured per page, another no-no in book publishing. Nor does the poet promise that the purchaser of his Collected is getting the final cut of the document. Prominently featured on page 3 is the admonition, "This is a work in progress, and will probably be altered somewhat in future editions." The last page of the collection, unlike the last pages of Knott's countless chapbooks--which generally request reader donations and provide the poet's home address for same--is a not-so-subtle dig at poets with more institutional and personal resources than Knott. "Louise Gluck [sic] and C.K. Williams and Russell Edson" are remarked upon for their alleged personal wealth, which affords them, Knott not unreasonably speculates, the privilege of professional proofreaders. Likewise, "poet professors like Linda Bierds and Dave Smith" come in for the implicit criticism that their institutions proffer them a steady stream of ingratiating "student assistants." All of this is followed by a mea culpa from Knott: "I have no such resources, I have to do it all on my own. So please forgive me....The spacing between the poems on each page was/is particularly hard to format....[y]ou can easily tell the pages where I fucked this up." Never has a poet so respected by so many of his peers been so brazen in circumventing all semblance of decorum.

I first came across Bill Knott's work in the lobby of Dey House, the administrative building associated with the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. A small pile of saddle-stapled chapbooks had been unceremoniously dumped on a coffee table, as clearly no one at Dey House had any idea what to do with it. I can still remember picking up one of the chapbooks to read the following poem ("Death," presented here in full): "Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest./ They will place my hands like this./ It will look as though I am flying into myself." I took the pile home, and to this day can still vividly recall the feeling of reading "Death" for the first time--a poem so simple and artless and borderline banal that it's a constant shock to find how much it sticks in the mind. It's also a poem you can now read on the Poetry Foundation website, one indication that recognition of Knott's genius is finally nearing ubiquity.

Still, as one can see on the poet's website, and as I myself found on the poet's website after reading "Death" in Iowa City, the calumny heaped upon Knott's head over the years has been substantial. The New York Review of Books has called his poems "naive"; in 1972, Poetry called his work "mindless," then in 2005 returned to denominate his poems "bad," "offensively grotesque," "appalling," "maddening," "adolescent," and "emotionally distancing." The Massachusetts Review has called him "malignant"; The Partisan Review, "incompetent"; TriQuarterly, "rhetorical fluff"; and The Georgia Review, "so bad one can only groan in response." Another Chicago Magazine speculated that Knott "hate[s] himself...and seems to hate his readers."

Not surprisingly, individual poets have weighed in on Knott and his work as well. Matthew Henriksen has called him a "prissy little moron" and Tomaž Šalamun once observed that "[Knott] should be beaten with a flail." Where did I find all these quotes? In Bill Knott's Collected Poems. And to be certain, there's many, many more where those came from.

Certainly, some of Knott's detractors are responding to the man rather this his work, as Knott has been widely known as a contrarian for years now. More to the point: Knott's online activities are habitually cantankerous, even aggressively so. I've little doubt that some would even charge him with occasional abusiveness, though it's by no means of the violent and creepy sort we've on occasion seen from poets far better known, respected, and bedecked with national prizes. It should go without saying that disliking a poet is no reason not to consider his poetry with generosity and seriousness, though it's a commonly heard argument these days that with so much poetry available for consideration, one needn't spend any time patronizing the work of those one doesn't admire personally. It seems a compelling philosophy until one realizes that not only were many of our most respected dead forebears considerably more boorish than Bill Knott, but also that any poet who confesses to avoiding poetry by those they dislike is confessing, too, to a species of literary judgment no peer could possibly condone. In a world in which poets are constantly relying upon and responding to the judgments of their hard-working peers, a poet who admits to having sacrificed their professional judgment upon the altar of animus is no longer a credible participant in discussions of Art. (I use the term "professional" here merely to mean that quality of sober reflection and assessment one expects from anyone who's deeply committed themselves to a life in and through poetry.)

What none of the above quite captures, however, is just how violently opinions about Knott have changed in recent years. Robert Pinsky, writing for The Washington Post, has called his work both "rebellious" and "avant-garde." Respected poet, translator, and editor Johannes Göransson, whose Action Books publishes some of the best avant-garde writing now being written in America, has written of Knott, "I think Bill Knott is a great poet, one of my favorite American poets of the second half of the 20th century. I also think he's incredibly important: important in the sense of very influential. I see his influences on heaps of poets....personally I would pick [Knott's poetry] over just about any living poet's work any day." Bookslut echoes Göransson's sentiment, calling Knott "one of the most interesting American poets."

At play in such assessments of Knott's oeuvre--and in the disagreements that that oeuvre has produced--are analyses of the work's treatment of excess. Part of the excess to found in Knott's poems is environmental; the fact that the poet has written so much, has put so much content online for free, has made no effort to order or arrange his poems besides putting them between two covers, and is a ubiquitous crank on the Internet, gives an air of surfeit to all Knott's activities, whether literary, sociopolitical, or antisocial.

Another driver of the "excess" narrative surrounding Knott's work is, of course, the poetry itself: Often flat, often naive, often obsessive about death, often aesthetically unattractive, and always uncompromising about the-Truth-as-Knott-sees-it, the poems of this particular poet do more than most others on offer in America to emphasize that their author cares not a whit about current fashions or conventions. It's interesting that we interpret this sort of excess of individuality as (in Göransson's imagining) "kitsch"; one could wish for literary eccentricities to be seen as superlative in and of themselves, rather than somehow coy commentaries on the mores or endeavors of others. Still, in a contemporary poetry culture in which publishing strategies are widely discussed, and the need for aesthetic and social self-restraint is widely lionized, and Art is above all supposed to be subtle and dexterous, Bill Knott is a blunt instrument whose poems enact blunt force trauma upon their readers. There's undoubtedly something "kitsch" about such an abiding willingness to discomfort.

My own interest in Knott's work is in part aesthetic, in part historical. Without question, many of the poems in Knott's Collected are superlative in their own right--elegantly but deceptively simple; prosaic about Truth in a way that's oddly heartening; daring and spirited in dealing with Great Themes long since stripped of their capacity to surprise; insightful about human nature to the point of inducing anxiety and self-consciousness--but if we critics are tasked with approaching the oeuvre of a poet first and foremost mindful of what makes it historically idiosyncratic, we must concede that Knott's primary contribution to American letters is his anti-institutionalism and his (perhaps paradoxical) professionalism.

"Professionalism" has of late become a dirty word in American poetry, as it's taken to mean (some might say deliberately mistaken to mean) a commitment to grubby opportunism, crass networking, strategic publication, and the obsessive monetizing of Art. In fact, the word means these things only in the poetry community, where it's used as a bludgeon against those who avidly seek an audience for their work or have the temerity to teach poetry to others for a paycheck. In every other arena of human activity, professionalization bespeaks only the most noble of instincts: a commitment to excellence, hard work, humility, a sense of perspective, and mature interaction with both peers and the materials of one's art. Because the definitions of words like "excellence" and "humility" and "perspective" and "maturity" are constantly contested and/or in flux in American poetry, it won't do to apply the term "professionalism" to Art in precisely the way we do, for instance, in medicine or the law or engineering, just as it won't do to continue misusing the term in the interest of scoring rhetorical points against one's aesthetic opponents.

I propose that if we see, in Bill Knott, a sort of professionalism peculiar to the literary arts, it is inasmuch as the ubiquity of the poet in online literary discourse, and the poet's seeming carelessness for the handling and presentation of his poems, bespeaks an important acknowledgment we'd all do well to heed: That a life in poetry takes a very, very long time to execute, and the value of any individual poem therefore pales in comparison to the value of an abiding determination to escalate the quality of one's writing and the scope of one's ambitions over time. Knott is right to suppose that we do not measure poets by one or two poems, but by a lifetime of achievement; in view of this, it matters not a whit which magazines or anthologies one's work appears in, what matters is whether that work finds an intelligent and receptive audience over time or does not. In both respects, Knott's a man well ahead of the curve. His cantankerous personality serves only to emphasize his commitment to poetry and his awareness that projecting oneself into the poetry community requires a courage and audacity too few poets possess.

Knott's willingness to be disliked is matched only by his willingness to be unfashionable, and so it seems likely these two phenomena are related. Certainly, there's little doubt that much of Knott's thorniness online is a product of his unique take on populism--he cites Sylvia Plath as his favorite poet--which perhaps originated as a political stance, but has since become, predictably, an important element of his poetics as well. (Knott on whether contemporary American poetry matters: "It matters to poets, and they're the only ones who matter.") Asked by Bookslut to describe the impact of "creative writing" on American literature, Knott both dismissed the idea of "American literature" as a coherent construct and added, "[Creative writing] widened [poetry's] base from the Ivy League bastions or bastards...who still control it anyway. There's no escape from their hegemony." One hardly need wonder what Knott thinks of the high-Art "Conceptualism" of Ivy League professor Kenneth Goldsmith, or the high-Art boosterism of Stanford Professor Emerita Marjorie Perloff.

Nor is Knott's view of "creative writing" at all ahistorical. "Creative writing" wrested control of literary discourse away from the poet-scholars of the New Criticism, who both detested the founding principles of creative writing and were employed, almost exclusively, by Ivy League and other high-brow private universities. Today, what passes for avant-garde literature largely finds its spiritual home in the Academy, and largely among scholars with Ivy League associations (e.g., Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Ph.D., Columbia University; seminal language poets Robert Grenier, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Alan Davies, all educated at Harvard University; language poets Steve Benson, Kit Robinson, and Alan Bernheimer, all educated at Yale University; and language poets Rae Armantrout, Barrett Watten, Bob Perelman, and Ron Silliman, who all studied at arguably the nation's most exclusive public university, the University of California in Berkeley). The list of prominent avant-gardistes attending exclusive public and private universities in the late twentieth century is basically endless, whether it's Clark Coolidge at Brown University, Peter Inman at Georgetown University, or a host of others with similar pedigrees.

All in all, such a roster of high-level academic associations is a far cry from Tzara's Dada manifesto, which famously thundered, "We don't recognize any theory. We have had enough of...academies: laboratories of formal ideas." Or this, from Marinetti's Futurist manifesto: "We want to demolish libraries....academies [are] cemeteries of wasted effort, calvaries [sic] of crucified dreams, registers of false starts..." Or Breton's Surrealist manifesto, which distinguished in its very first paragraph between two types of investigations: poetic and scholarly.

What we find, in each of these three masterpieces of the historical avant-garde, is a commitment to spontaneity and a sort of artlessness that we see not just in Bill Knott's poetry but also in his public persona. While the current scion of the avant-garde, Kenneth Goldsmith, reads poetry to the First Lady of the United States at the White House, a man only lately acknowledged for his experimental instincts can likely be found somewhere on the Internet causing chaos, or releasing a new flurry of poetry on the world via his blog. As Goldsmith and his fellow Conceptualists carefully build their brand--one prominent, self-styled Conceptualist has even made of herself (quite literally) a corporation--Knott is railing to Bookslut about American poets' unwillingness to reinvent their poetics and aesthetics afresh with each poem, opining that today's foremost poets are mere "brand names, all of which are carefully quality-controlled by market forces."

Knott is fond of Octavio Paz's contention that poets naturally oscillate between the "religious temptation" and the "revolutionary temptation." Not only does Knott exhibit this oscillation in his poems, he also discloses, as importantly, the fundamental bad taste that lies beneath the baldness of each imperative. Knott on monopolies ("Monopoly"): ""Finally the day dawned when a monopoly owned everything in the world/ So it went looking for its stockholders to celebrate/ But they were all owned by it they were all dead they were someplace/....Hey the monopoly said let's uncork the Tower of Babel and get blotto/ Silence/ The monopoly scowled..." Knott's poems are indeed often in poor taste, whether it's when the poet rhapsodizes about "male menopause" ("the stymies crawl/ All over me and the prismatic blindfold/ Around my testicles creaks") or in his lament for the Israelites' sparing of Jesus ("we could have chosen [Barabbas]/ for son of god/ might've stuck up for us up there/ someone who was flesh/ of our flesh// our kind/ a pure one hundred/ percent human...").

Sometimes Knott's poem-titles are alone sufficient to shock, offend, or bewilder. For instance, titles such as "Mother Teresa Treats Terrorists to Taffy"; "Hitler Skeleton Goldplated"; "To the Emblematic Hourglass of My Father's Skull"; "FBI Kills Martin Luther King"; "Another Hole for W.R. Rodgers"; "Christmas at the Orphanage"; "Quickie"; "Castration Envy #12"; "Racist Poem"; "Un-Israfelled"; "Two or Three Sites From a Failed Affair"; "Hurl"; "More Metaphors, Less Love"; "Heilstyles"; "Hitler Youth"; and "Yank It." Other titles are so hilariously amateurish they could only be the product of an authentically eccentric genius: "See Note First" (and indeed the poem in question has a Note appended to its concluding line); "Senior Discount"; "Bio"; "A Bacon"; "Pornokrates"; "Dracusyllabic"; "Gesundheit"; "Grant Proposal (Category: Performance Arts)"; "Hair Poem"; "What About Pens?"; "Bumpy Kisses"; "The Frootloops of Consolation"; "Who's That Coughing in My Coffin?"; "Snaggypoo Snuggums Poem"; "The Whose Fault Is it Poem"; "The Malltique Falcon"; "I Meet An Andy"; "El Poemo"; "Bang Bang Glub Glub"; "Poem!"; and "Beddybye." Other titles are based on puns, rhymes, and newspaper misprints, or else suggest no real effort by the poet at all: "Commuter Skills Needed"; "Adulterer With No Mouth Amuses World"; "Extinctsphinx"; "Rock Picked Up From the Beach"; "Funny Pom"; "Evaporating Inc."; "Candyclone"; "Mount Blank"; "Poem Published in Quarry West"; "The Words to the Title"; and a personal favorite, "Holy Shit." Scores of the poems in Knott's Collected are either untitled or titled simply "Poem."

Among the least inscrutable but most puzzling of Knott's poem-titles are his bevy of one-word headers. Here's a non-exhaustive list of English words that also double as Knott poem-titles: meanwhile, while, what, why, was, worse, again, alas, apple, skirt, orphan, flush, therapy, shower, junk, and wall. (Sometimes even these one-word titles are self-evidently and thought-provokingly clever: for instance, space, personally, generic, finished, reflection, curation, superfluous, troth, sideshow, residue, trinities, here, and entrance.) In short, the poet's disregard for conventions that are at once elemental to "the poetry business" (as circumscribed by Civilization) and "the business of poetry" (as circumscribed by Art) is unmatched in either twentieth or twenty-first century poetry.

In excerpts, Knott's poems, with their flat language and simple declarations, typically fail to impress. Taken whole, and particularly taken in such a high volume as is available in Knott's 500-page Collected (and many pages have more than one poem on them), Knott's poems are revealed as instantiations of spontaneous excess, each undergirded by an equally intelligent regard and disregard for both literary tradition and the conventions of the literati. There's no one in American poetry even distantly comparable to Bill Knott; there's no rough approximation locatable even for use as a point of imperfect comparison. Pick up Knott's Collected and see for yourself what courage, audacity, and clear sight can do for both a poet and his poetry.

Excerpts: Fourteen poems by Bill Knott.

5. The Boss, Victoria Chang (McSweeney's, 2013). For some, similarities between the use of "boss"-as-totem in Chang's The Boss and Maurice Manning's Bucolics will be too close for comfort. Others will say that Chang's feverishly enjambed and wholly unpunctuated lines--largely dependent upon invisible mid-line caesuras a reader must decide upon for herself--too closely resemble Matthea Harvey's now-iconic poem in a similar stylistic vein, "Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form." (The conceit is much older than this, of course.) Implicit in each criticism is a demand for novelty that's not merely banal but all too rigidly enforced in our literary community's implicit obsession with "canon," discussed in some detail in the reviews above.

Quite apart from producing a predictably lame emphasis on mappable cadres and schools and movements, the canonic obsession drives us to ask of each poem first whether we've seen before the superficial literary phenomena we're seeing now; secondly, it prompts us to inquire whether what we're seeing now is done better than it has ever been done; third and finally, only after all these inquiries have been made, do we determine whether the work is of lasting impact on these or similar grounds. It's a rather quaint approach to an artform that's been practiced on Earth for thousands of years, whose entire compendium of styles and conceits is therefore known to no man or woman (for who but a few scholars rightly know the first instance of each literary gesture), and whose concerns--be they language, human frailty, or the mysteries of the universe--are by definition so expansive we could engage them a million times over and still not be done with it.

I recall once, years ago, reading an essay by a poet--I want to say it was David Lehman, but after much Googling I couldn't track down any confirmation of that recollection--suggesting that of all the Great Themes poets are alert to, Work is perhaps the most despised. One wonders why, but only until one remembers the socioeconomic history of the poet class: unemployed, underemployed, or indifferently employed; habitually impoverished, in any case, despite any employment; prone to the sorts of gaffes and infelicities of which responsible employers are not fond. And then there's the endgame of so much Work, currency, which as all self-aware poets know is not only the root of all evil but positively Kryptonic to any good little revolutionary. To write of Work is to diminish the artist and, therefore, her Art.

It doesn't take much of a step back to realize how bourgeois this aversion is. Indeed, in those communities in America where the privileges are few, Work is a greater part of Life than most of us would care to admit. To turn from Work is to turn from America, to turn from America is to turn from its people, and to turn from the American people is to kill Art all the same as if one commodified it ruthlessly as so-called "Conceptualists" do.

So Chang's methods are not new, nor are her topical preoccupations. But they are rare, and they're executed in superlative fashion in The Boss. So if deciding how and when to pay attention to poetry is sometimes something more than deciding whether a work is canonical--and who among us can know a work's canonicity, in any case?--this is a book any reader concerned with basic human activity would naturally want to read, and would readily profit from reading.

In Chang's anxious, harried lines are all the anxiety and frenetic obsessiveness of Work. That we don't always know the first time we read some of these poems where and when to breathe (for instance, from "The Boss Is Not Poetic": "The boss is not poetic writing about the boss is not poetic/ a corporate pencil doesn't gallop/ dactyls one foot two feet six feet seven the boss") is an adequate performance of what it's like to take on a job whose expectations, costs, and benefits are still not entirely known. If there is, in the Romantic tradition, a pastoral poetics which moves within us that sense that we really do have all the time in the world and all the world to see, there is, in The Boss, an opposite sensibility: The world moves too quick for us, we lose ourselves in its persistent deductions, and almost nothing lost is recoverable or perhaps even cognizable.

Chang does not, thankfully, lose the forest for the trees in The Boss. What is significant about Work as a Great Theme is that, like so many of the others--Death, Love, War, Family--the throughline is loss, not the vagaries of a power differential. Chang's "boss" is an entity more than an executive, a fulcrum more than a whip. These poems forestall conclusion, embrace uncertainty, and produce anxiety precisely because anyone who has ever been a professional knows the workday is often thus. And as poets increasingly spend years of their lives working their way through school (or post-school) in underpaid adjunct positions, and many other years in jobs rather than professions, it becomes easier for them to forget that Work--the concept, not the particularity--is more often than not inescapable rather than transient. Even the job you love may one day become a job you fear; and a job to which you're indifferent all too quickly becomes a life to which you're indifferent as well.

To many younger poets--those who ride the rails, or stay perpetually at university, or move aimlessly between jobs to accrue other types of wealth beyond the pecuniary--much of The Boss will read like a nightmare come to life. To most, it will merely be an occasion for thanks; if we didn't have poets like Chang whose careers are far from the poet's empty page (Chang has been both an investment banker and a management consultant, two positions that seem ethereally amorphous to most poets, this one included) we'd lose out on seeing the better part of America in our verse, and more's the pity. Chang is a poet to watch because her verse dares to encounter what too many poets either ignore or altogether fail to understand: the self-imprisonment attendant upon regularized labor. These are musical, imagistically arresting, and rigorously intelligent poems, but you should read them as much for their superlative treatment of a much-maligned Great Theme as for any of the surface pleasures they unquestionably put on offer. Very highly recommended.

Excerpt: Edward Hopper's Office at Night (audio; scroll down at link); The Boss Calls Us at Home.

Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013), winner of the 2012 Akron Poetry Prize. A regular contributor to Poets & Writers and Indiewire, he is also Series Co-Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Omnidawn, 2014). Presently a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has published work in Poetry, American Poetry Review, New American Writing, Fence, and elsewhere.