greetings to Metambesen (Robert Kelly etc)

There's no let-up in the steady flow of attractive US poetry, a situation that any UK reader must view with some envy,  no matter how committed to the gnarly scene over here. I wonder as we all do what it means, what the history and condition of cultural life must be that allows such a river.

Nevertheless there's sometimes also a recognition, there as here, that you can't conveniently sell the good stuff and it's better to just make it available.

The Metambesen offerings are enjoyable and above all free. (As regular readers will know, this reviewer discriminates positively in favour of poetry that doesn't cost anything.)

Metambesen is a new publishing site (PDF chapbooks) based out of Annandale-on-Hudson  put together by Robert Kelly and others. Annandale-on-Hudson is in the Hudson Valley (surprise) in the northern part of Dutchess County (nice archaic spelling there), in upstate New York (according to all but the most exclusive definitions of "upstate"). It's the location of Bard College, where Kelly has taught for about half a century, and not far south of Albany, another place with significant modern poetry connections.

("Metambesen" is not a term you forgot from Fichte but the name of a creek in the area, of native American origin.)

Robert Kelly: The Language of Eden

Or, if you read the PDF cover,


which I think says something more about the book. It's a talkative 80 pages written in 2002, and is interesting to contrast with  (to say nothing of his fify other books) the more recent poem GRAVITY FEED, which you can find on his blog.

Robert Kelly's blog:

The Language of Eden is a prolonged, intimate, wide-ranging, often anguished conversation between a patient and an analyst. Gradually these roles metamorphose, but still they have a clarity of definition unusual in post-modern narrative.

and now our time is up
usually I mind it when you say that
but I’m glad not to talk about children
you’re really fixated on my having them why
not on your having them just what you think about them

but the divan’s empty now
I always want to know who cleans his office
his invisible wife his illegal immigrant au pair

I imagine her sitting in his chair in the dark
then stretching out along the patient’s couch
where she has no right
no right but the dark


Dipping into the book is one thing. But the invitation is clear, to read it from beginning to end. I don't know if people ever do that with free books. Anyway here's a a more lyrical part from near the beginning:

but all I wanted
was to see the porcupine
climb up the pine tree the rattlesnake
lie sleepy in the morning sun
some deer gaze at me from the woodlot’s edge
when you see an animal it means you’re thinking

all summer I was thinking
and not a word I had to say
I watched the thermometer go up and down

rigid interpretation
sailing ships and steamers plunging
smokestacks like the valves of trumpets

holy trinity going far away
does music ever come back
but when an animal looks at you it means you’re wrong

sometimes the bird can’t tolerate
eerie smell of the closets
where the winter coats have talked too long

sometimes a coat never comes home

Eléna Rivera: Overture

Here's a sequence about autumn, change, accidents, writing. The scaffolding works all through the poem. That might at least be one reason for thinking of Jane Cooper; the other irrelevant author who came to mind is Tua Forsström; neither of them closely related to the US-modernist sphere in which I supposed Rivera operated. But I mean these as compliments. The poetry is compressed and undecorated, so that maximal value is placed on small sounds and under-meanings.

Have to have a high idea of what we do
No matter the stakes
No matter if the writing hasn't been read yet
A leaf is picked up and put in a plastic bag
                                        the word floats into view
Impatient with pronouncements
Of every variety
Trying to convince ourselves
Doing the ‘‘right’‘ thing

Rivera has published quite a few other books, including The Perforated Map (Shearsman, 2011)

Tamas Panitz: The Empty Stations

The first two poems are, in part, about the Egyptian sky-goddess Nut. As the 28 pages proceed the chapbook is seen to cover a lot of fast-moving ground, more than you'd guess from this opening, even though the second one is also about a park smelling of shit.

The following lines represent a small move early within the title poem (my favourite one), but they'll give you an idea:

Smell of soup after midnight from downstairs. Like lovers tramp across the
frozen tidal river the tides a cold terror of latent pasts: a dream (but I was
going to write demon) ridden primordial soup

warms open. It’s summer, barley & rosemary & the green man. Who says
the seasons come in order.

George Quasha: free floating instant nations (preverbs)

Quasha has published several previous selections of preverbs - a concept, supposedly suggested by William Blake, of something anterior to and more contingent than a proverb. Quasha has written persuasively about the "preverb" idea; he has a gift for coming up with appealing and original artistic concepts, as previously seen, for instance, in his remarkable sculptures known as axial stones.

But back to the preverbs. Something needs to stick, and that's here from the start.

I say me as if I were a tree.
I appear to be looking up because I am.
I’m on this journey because I have feet.
Facing down on horny earth in a phrase.
The syntax is make sense before it’s too late.

The poems are sexual, sensual, spiritual, body- belly- and earth- centred. Trees, clouds and sensations of free floating are recurrent features. Whether the word "nations" really deserves to be in the book-title is more debateable.  Of course I don't grasp much of the thought's detail from so fleeting a contact, though I can see the persistent lines of thought as they overflow from one poem to the next. One such thought-line is around syntax, poetics, and language.

I know it’s a poem when it teaches me language lip first.

Eyeland (The Cuttyhunk Photographs of Charlotte Mandell with texts by Lynn Behrendt, Billie Chernicoff, Robert Kelly, and Tamas Panitz)

That is, Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts, a place of wide horizons and white weatherboarding.The poems began as comments on an online photo album by Charlotte Mandell (Robert Kelly's wife):  poems by and for a small group.

I think it's highly problematic to write a poem about a photo that the reader can see for themselves. The picture is always in competition with the poem and it always wins. The poem, trying to get away from the the drastic particularity of the photo, can drown in its own symbolism. But for all these pitfalls, it's so tempting to try. Would Tamas Panitz's line about "the orange shawl"  even be possible without the the beautiful photo alongside it?

 Or take the symbolism just as it is, and it can make a lucid kind of discourse.

I knew Tivoli was a rose
roses, heads heavy with dew
heavy with admiration
yours and mine, women
tired of telling you their names
tired of being so transparent
so obvious we can only fling ourselves
more deeply into who we are.    (Billie Chernicoff)

There's a good deal of happenstance in a book with such conversational origins and that's what produces the moments I valued most.


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