New Poems at DIAGRAM

I have two new poems up at DIAGRAM.

In the contributor’s note, I name a couple of influences for one of the poems. The first influence is “Paean to Place” by Lorine Niedecker, which can be found here at Poetry Foundation. The other is “Paradise” by Arthur Smith, which is available here through JSTOR.

The poem that these two works helped shape is about being a coat-check girl in a Manhattan social club.

Critical Article on George Eliot

For the past three years, I have been studying creative writing and nineteenth-century British literature at the University of Tennessee where I am a Ph.D. candidate. In my first semester, I began writing about kabbalistic astronomy and astrology in George Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda. I later expanded my study of Eliot’s mystical astral symbolism to include not only her last novel but her earlier epic poem, The Spanish Gypsy. In both works, Eliot offers Jewish mystics as characters: in Spanish Gypsy, she creates a Jewish astrologer who gives the hero advice; in Daniel Deronda, she has a kabbalistic visionary who emerges as an important figure in the novel’s middle and later chapters.

My completed article has just come out in George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies. In the essay, I explore how, in Daniel Deronda, Eliot moved the character of the mystic from the periphery to the center of the narrative. This change, symbolically equated within the novel to a shift from geocentricism to heliocentricism, affects time in Daniel Deronda both in terms of plot and historical focus. Not only does time slow as the mystic, Mordecai, assumes a central role, the astral imagery begins to draw upon a medieval past when Jewish thinkers explored interdisciplinary concepts of the heavens inspired by both poetry and the science of their time. I argue for the centrality of the astronomical imagery in relation to the Jewish themes of Daniel Deronda and show through my analysis of The Spanish Gypsy how Eliot employed kabbalistic ideas of the skies in an attempt to create a new vision of star-crossed love for literature.

To view the article, click here.

To read my earlier review of Anna Henchman’s book, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature, which also appeared in George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, go here.

Lettie from the Ocean

Now up at Drunken Boat is my interactive media piece, “Lettie from the Ocean,” which features images from Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The piece, which author and editor Darren DeFrain kindly mentions in his introduction, is a work of fan fiction for Neil Gaimen’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Lettie Hempstock at the Bottom of the Ocean

UPDATE June 20, 2017: Drunken Boat has recently become Anomaly and, with this change, is providing a simpler archived version of this piece. You can see a version on your PC without the original website design at the Drunken-Boat archives; or you can view it in any format, including on iphone or tablet, by going here or clicking “Lettie from the Ocean” at the top of the page.

Hilda Hilst’s With My Dog-Eyes

My review of Hilda Hilst’s With My Dog-Eyes is in the new print issue of Rain Taxi. The review begins:

The narrator of With My Dog-Eyes – a mathematician, Amós Kéres – turns the pronoun “I” into a variable. He then turns into an alpha – or to describe the transformation in all its beauty and horror, he enters the equation: “Amós = α.” Brazilian Hilda Hilst shows Amós fighting the sort of delusional magic that leads him to make equations out of his identity. He sees the magic of his own mind, which blends math and poetry, as a part of his nature. As he states in the poem that opens Hilst’s genre-defying work:

I was born a mathematician, a magician
I was born a poet.

To buy the issue, go to Rain Taxi and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Review at DIAGRAM of Moritz and Patterson’s Elementary Rituals/Dirge

Now up at DIAGRAM is my review of Rachel Moritz and Juliet Patterson’s Elementary Rituals/Dirge, two chapbooks brought together with an unusual binding. Stitched dos-à-dos, these works share a back board while their front covers fall on opposite sides of the book. I wrote about Moritz here on this website and Patterson here. Their work, then and now, is formally innovative and lyric in its intensity:

The dos-à-dos bindings has its origins in the prayer book, and Elementary Rituals/Dirge has the reverent quiet and scope of a devotional. Here is a prayer book for despair in which one death speaks to another over a natural bridge: a moment in which two deaths occur, a connection of chance and mortality.

For the full review, go here.

Story in “Debt Folio” of Drunken Boat

A story of mine appears in a section of the new issue of Drunken Boat. The section, “Debt Folio,” was edited by poet Michelle Chan Brown, and the story, “They Won’t Take Your Ideas,” has a plot that owes much to indebtedness. Here’s the premise:

But we mustn’t indulge in summer ourselves. This winter we got into debt. A medical bill paid through a credit service has become so expensive that we get sick thinking of it—so we try not to. We just keep in mind that we must pay it before winter. If we don’t, we’ll have to move to someplace less expensive.

For the full story, go here — and for an audio recording, press play here.

Kate Bernheimer’s The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold at Rain Taxi

Now up at Rain Taxi is my review of Kate Bernheimer’s newest book:

Kate Bernheimer’s The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold—the last novel in her trilogy about three sisters—makes for an unusually happy ending. Lucy, the most cheerful of the Golds, steps forward to recount her life and untimely death. Her novel, like the others in the trilogy, draws upon traditions of the fairy tale. “Dearest robins, my precious friends!” Lucy exclaims while recalling a time she lived in the woods. “Did you ever love something so much you just wanted to eat it?” Her joy is so strong that it shatters and erases. In the breaks and blanks it leaves behind comes a sense of Lucy’s isolation.

For the full review, go here.

Cream City Review Contest Story

This spring I learned the wonderful news that my short story, “The Half-Glass Bed,” had won Cream City Review A. David Schwartz Fiction Prize. The story, selected by judge Vanessa Hua, appears in the current issue.  Here’s a selection from the piece, which touches upon the subjects of Lyme disease, mathematical chaos, the restaurant business, and Disneyland:

Mark’s gaze is bright when she goes to the bar to talk to him.  He is in his twenties but looks like a teenager.  His features are boyishly rounded.  When Daphne, who is thirty-one, tries to imagine him aging, his face pushes back against her efforts.  He tells her about his thumb, a squarish thing.  It resembles a toe, and it turns out that it was a toe.  An accident cost him his original thumb.  He must have been a cared-for child because, while speaking of this accident, he betrays no bitterness.  Maybe he received much attention from the grandma who, when he was a boy, took him to Florida to a theme park.  She drove him there as a treat that he had looked forward to all summer.  He knew all the characters at the park and was excited to meet them: the duck with the speech impediment, the affable mouse.  But what he wanted to do most was to go on a ride with mechanical pirates in caves. 

Soon his turn came on this water ride.  When he sat in the boat, he gripped the back edge of his seat as if he were about to jump up at any moment.  His elbow was sticking out, and his fingers were inside the boat, his thumb outside.  He was in the back of the ride in the last boat with his grandma, but he could hear a voice up ahead.  A pirate was telling him to hold on tight.  They were going down into the cave where there were more pirates.  Pretty soon he would see all of them.  The boat was moving into a waterfall, but before they could get there, he felt pain in his hand.  The pain was too strong to believe.  Lifting his hand from the boat’s edge, he thought:  But I’m not hurt.

To purchase the issue, go here.

 

Rachel Moritz’s Night-Sea

In Night-Sea, Rachel Moritz looks at history through a lens that sharpens and then blurs with rain. She specifically focuses on Abraham Lincoln in this somber and sparse chapbook. Lincoln is a plain man described plainly in the first poem “Abduction.” He is “tired and worn out. / Such a homely face.” But he is undefined too since Moritz never refers to him by name in this poem. The reader can only infer his identity from an epigram at the beginning of the book, a quote from Lincoln himself: “Herewith is a little sketch, as you requested. There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me.”

The Lincoln that Moritz sketches in Night-Sea blends into the people he represented as President of the United States. At the end of “Abduction,” he becomes part of an audience that has gleaned elements of his character while listening to him, elements such as “his determined spirit” and the “sadness of his soul.” Lincoln comes to resemble the “blurred figure in rain” that arrives in the poem’s last lines since he too is vague around the edges and afflicted with a sadness as vast as rain.

Moritz goes on to blur the distinctions between not only people but time periods. The result can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. In “Each Man Is,” the speaker is so submerged in the past that his or her words reverberate numbly, like an old trauma. While remembering a childhood home, the narrator brings up images vivid enough to overtake the present: “the moldy basement” in the rain-soaked house and “rifles propped in golden oil.” Moritz reveals how a well-armed past can take control of the present, ending the poem with: “How much nostalgia lives / inside rusty bullets, amputation kits. / This idea of the ‘great moment’ and the ‘hero’&#8212″

Here and there Night-Sea comes together to offer an antidote to the “great moment”: the ordinary moment formed from anonymous figures and seen in quick shifts in time. At some points, it seems as if Night-Sea is a coming together of the vague, the forgotten and traumatically remembered. Not far into the chapbook comes the question: “What is form but a moment / coalescing?” Silently answering the question, these poems, pulled by strong emotion and language, coalesce for a moment before drifting back into a dark sea.

Originally posted on 7.30.2009