Tag Archives: chapbook

Clean Up Your Reading

Dishwashing Event Part Two: Ontario

By Sacha Archer

20 pages

Puddles of Sky Press


The companion piece to Sacha Archer’s Dishwashing Event Part One: Tianjin, China, this chapbook is a simple and complicated paean to daily physical chores, turning the mindless and the mundane into a thoughtful exposition of language. It’s also the literal transcription of the sounds of Archer’s daily dishwashing, picked up by a voice analysis program and fed into Microsoft Word to produce sound poems that translate both the psychological banality and physical intensity of the act into something like a series of spontaneous literary grunts. A little outside the soap box, maybe, but it works.

The poems are short, and either monosyllabic, prosey and urgent, or stuffed with definite and indefinite articles and stuttered conditional clauses that repeat in increasing frequency and agitation until grammar degenerates into a full-blown riot. The role of the reader is key: the act of reading becomes an attempt to translate the ambiguous signs back into the essential world of the physical act and restore some order: Does this multiple repetition of ‘if’ represent a particularly hard de-scouring of a greased pan?; Does this grinding of grammar into pure onomatopoeia equal the rinse?

The process, technique and results are certainly going to scramble your sense of what a poem should be. But while Dishwashing Event Part Two might sully the coherence of language, it invites you to clean up the mess again.

Get to work here.


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Afloat with Domanski

Fetishes of the Floating World
Don Domanski
18 poems

Sometimes, it spellbinds you like an old fairy tale focussed through a spyglass that zooms in and out with meditative rhythm. Other times, it fastens your attention down firm like an electron microscope drilling into the atomic level. However you experience it, Don Domanski’s Fetishes of the Floating World serves as both mystical work of art and exploration of modern poetic consciousness.

These 18 tightly interwoven poems are based in a postmodern pastoral setting – that is, both a walk in the woods and a step outside the mind. Fetishes provides a base for the poet to play with a Whitmanesque dialogue on the universal and the particular. But Domanski’s is a Whitman for the newest century, where we are awash in and overwhelmed by information and experience.

This is complex yet primordial stuff. The lyrics flow in dense waves from the narrating poetic consciousness. The instinctive will at its centre casts for a reprieve from mortality in science, nature and religion. At the same time, it attempts to, at first subsume, then simply coexist with, the universe as it draws in and out of its surroundings, as well as in and out of itself. At one point, the poet spies, in the heart of the landscape,

“[a]n old chevy convertible lying in a ditch
two maple saplings growing up through
its frame  one in the driver’s seat   one
in the back   the road ahead filled with

and, shortly after, will be hauled further in, towards “the place just beyond language…where the keening starts”.

At other moments, the poet abruptly backs himself out to focus on traditional muses like “the waning moon sleeved with a thin cloud” or leaps out further still to “exoplanets/and constellations” and “the scaffolding/to hang them on”.

This pulsing perspective, continually mixing subjective and objective, earthly and extraterrestrial, provides the overarching structure for the chapbook. Sometimes, the poet is transforming the scenescape into his own story; other times, he finds that he has been swallowed and tries to negotiate his way out and up again to a higher plane.

Domanski matches this constant shifting with a roiling imagery, stirring the fabulist in with the scientific (“watching/dark and votive chromosomes slowly drift/across the pond’s surface”) and the mundane with the hyper-modern (“flash mob of ants”).

Whitman, in another age, wrote about leaning, loafing, finding both the infinite and transient in blades of grass, sharing atoms, weaving the song of himself through them all, and becoming a veritable “kosmos” that contains it. Here, the 21st century bard has happily lost that battle and thrown himself into a universe where subject and object almost inextricably blend.

Float in through here.

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Reading Punk


By Mimi Thi Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour

27 pages




Punk, the music, has been shredding stereos and rejecting authority for close to half a century. Or a bit more or a bit less, depending upon who you are, what scene you were a part of and how many beats-per-minute you prefer to thrash to. Punk has been a fashion statement; a driver of violence and rebellion; a cause for peace; a shot across the bow of the music industry; a shot in the arm of the music industry; a cultural nexus; and a well of nostalgia. Punk has been around so long that it has become an anti-establishment institution.

In terms of the historiography noted in the discussion here, punk is a moving target. But it has always acted in opposition to what can just as opaquely be referred to as the “status quo”. That aspect is what Punk, the chapbook, seeks to explore.

Punk, the chapbook, is set up as a dialogue between two academics who also have legitimate street punk cred: Mimi Thi Nguyen, a zine publisher and Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies; and Golnar Nikpour a former coordinator for venerable punk publication Maximumrockandroll, now PhD candidate. But this isn’t a recounting of such and such’s endless touring in a beat up, frosty panel van, or how many times this or that filthy basement venue was busted by the cops. There isn’t gratuitous name-dropping, other than bands (Los Crudos, the Ama-Dots, Third World Chaos) that were never part of any standard Punk Rock canon. What it offers is a lively exchange of ideas on what made/makes Punk punk. As Nikpour says, “When we talk about punk, we are really talking about many thousands of punk scenes, bands, zines and individuals”. As such, Punk also presents an in-depth look at the values of rebellion itself.

Of course, the discussants occasionally mix it up in a denser mosh of academic jargon. At one point, Nguyen, discussing formal punk cultural studies undertaken by other authors and academics, refers to “the incorporation and management of my ‘difference’ into an increasingly institutionalized archive…This is a all-too-familiar telling that describes feminism, or race theory, for instance, as a necessary intervention in a time of crisis, but also as a temporary intervention that thereafter restores the integrity of a movement, or maybe an institution (like the state), and returns us to a continuous history.” Those are some weighty concepts that will roll right over the head of your average Cro-Mags fan like the Doc Martins of an errant crowd surfer.

But, overall, this is not a dry, journal-bound treatise that reduces the passion and raw energy of punk to heuristic milkbones. Rather, it is an informed conversation as vital as much of the music itself. Let’s call it a punk Socratic dialogue on the virtues of dissent captured in do-it-yourself hand-bound chapbook form, almost like an interview transcript cut-and-pasted into the xeroxed pages of a zine (though much more artisanally produced in this case) where two participants exchange ideas on politics, class, economics, and culture at the meeting point of music.

Some appendix-worthy jargon aside, Nguyen and Nikpour are no droning lecturers or politically correct apparatchiks. Their dialogue is spiced and edged with the humour and bite that often characterizes the best of the music. They certainly maintain their outsider status by satirizing aspects of the academic convention to which they belong. For instance, at one point, Nikpour observes that:

“In many examples from even the earliest wave of punk studies, the author presents himself – and it is almost exclusively men who have written these books – as a scene insider through embellished anecdotes of his teen exploits and an author photo of himself in the pit. Like, hey look, I was there!! And I got sweaty! Now give me a book deal and/or tenure track job!”

As a moving target, punk certainly adheres to one of its earliest and consistent principles: Be Yourself. The movement has always had its uniforms, such as mohicans and DK shirts, but such is one costume among many, and these have always been subject to change, modification and revisitation. Punk music has always demonstrated the ability to explore new realms of fast, furious songwriting, even if there will always be some band copping the riff of “Clash City Rockers”. Punk, the chapbook, is also successful at ensuring that cultural multifacets are explored – punk has provided a creative outlet for socialists, feminists, anarchists, grassroots capitalists, along with a few unfortunate darker elements.

Punk, the music, as many associated song lyrics go, is not dead yet. It may be an institution itself, but still one that constantly questions and reinvents itself, while also inspiring passion, ideals and action, and maybe still in some corners, a little bit of creative chaos. Punk, the chapbook, gives intellectuals, music-lovers and curious readers-by a window into why.

Jump in the pit (or just study the action) here.

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A Read of Carstens’ Enjoy Oblivion

Enjoy Oblivion

Wolfgang Carstens

28 pages

Rusty Truck Press



Allen Ginsberg begins Kaddish, one of the most famous modern elegies, by directly addressing the subject, his mother, with the realization, “Strange to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village”. It’s an invitation from Ginsberg to the reader to enter his private memory bank through a moment of almost idle reverie – as well as the taking up of a traditional mode of lament by an unconventional poet.

Wolfgang Carstens, by contrast, kicks off Enjoy Oblivion, a chapbook that is part eulogy of and part travelogue through his father’s death, by letting his readers know that “i just heard/that my father/is on his death-bed” and inviting us to witness his contempt for a man who left him little but “fucked-up/childhood/memories”. Carstens, a bit of an outsider poet himself, seems less interested, at least initially, in lament than catharsis.

Where Ginsberg’s poem leads readers through a guided tour of his mother’s life and times, Carstens hauls his through the Stations of his father’s final demise, from being called to the hospital through to the (lack of an) obituary. Carstens reflects less on his father specifically than on the profound presence of his absence for pretty much the poet’s entire existence. He also holds his father as a foil – an inverse inspiration for Carstens to be as positive a presence in the life of his own young family as possible.

Of course, there is anger, sometimes more elaborate in poems with darkly comic punchlines, such as “driving home,”; sometimes direct and final, as in the blunt “no”.

Solemn or scathing, Carstens does not dwell in the medium of Ginsberg’s meditative lyricism. His verse is built mostly on mono or duo syllabic lines, giving the effect of words sharpened down to a dart point, fine enough to firmly pierce his target with multiple strikes.

Where the main section of Kaddish ends with expressions of love and an offering of hope, Carstens ends his vent with the exhausted sentiment that “there/isn’t/any magic/left”.

However, his is not just an agonized howl. Carstens also holds compassion – if not for his father directly, then for the human condition and the reality of everyone’s shared, final destination. The poems that work this angle – the briefest, most abstract in the collection – may also be the most striking. In “there’s nothing”, Carstens solemnly notes that “there’s nothing/as lonely/as/a heart/that’s stopped/beating”. It’s an objective observation, yet devastating; equally inevitable to the heart that is as empty as his father’s was to the fuller one that these poems aspire to nurture. And it’s one that ultimately hooks Carstens to a richer elegiac tradition, outsider or not.

Escape (briefly) your own oblivion.

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A Quick Study of Raymond’s antipas

R.L. Raymond
17 pages
PigeonBike Press

R.L. Raymond’s latest is a short, sharp shock of a narrative poem, mixing the ashes of Revelations-based mythology with graphic urban streetscapes, stirring old tropes with fresh imagery.

The skeletal story that makes up the chapbook is based on the biblical martyr Antipas, who perished in the well-worn service of good v. evil. It features a faceless/nameless cast waging battle in a brief but tortured drama, the fractured scenes of which Raymond stretches out to fit over themes of revenge, rage, sin and sacrifice with tough, raw, sinewy language:

“Somewhere/behind rusted vans/and neon vulgarities/the panhandlers change shifts/darkening the letters/on their placards/with stolen markers/or charcoaled wine corks”.

As opposed to some of Raymond’s more immediate work (see: Sonofabitch Poems) antipas is an alm of High Modernism for a post post-modern age – and one that offers a deeper dive for the reader.  At just 17 pages and 11 brief sections, it doesn’t seem to threaten much of your time, but to sift through its shreds of meaning and parse the dense allusions will demand – and reward – much of your attention.

Launch your study here.

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What The Kids Are Up To

The kids:

– Aren’t afraid to indulge in language, playing with words like toys even while working them like building materials.

– Don’t shy away from rhyme, if it suits their purpose (but will wax prosaic as needed).

– Can weave traditional, pop-cultural and net-generation imagery into something that the faculty can still recognize but that the students won’t ignore.

– Engage with the world in their art, whether through working class themes or impressionistic/abstract collage.

To get a taste of what the younger generation of poets is up to, order a (free) copy of this year’s chapbook of selections from the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers featuring winner, Garth Martens and finalists, Raoul Fernandes and Anne-Marie Turza – from: http://www.writerstrust.com/Awards/RBC-Bronwen-Wallace-Award-for-Emerging-Writers.aspx

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Literary Archaeology Pt. 2

An on-line journal purporting to focus on the “renegade art form” of the chapbook through “insightful reviews, provocative essays, and engaging interviews” certainly sound like a good way to fill a “critical gap”. Certainly sounds good for lovers of the bastard offspring of the publishing industry, at any rate. And that’s the mission that The Chapbook Review promises to fill.

Or promised to. Unfortunately, the Review is now the on-line version of a ghost town. The architecture is still there, however, the only recent and archived articles in evidence are the equivalent of an overgrowth of wild flora. That is, the content consists of brief, anonymous, semi-literate reviews of iPads, Kindles and electronic cigarettes; things any self-respecting chapbook aficionado would have no truck with.

Not sure what happened to the promise of the site, but it seem(ed)s like a good idea. Perhaps someone will reclaim the property and build it up again…

(http://www.thechapbookreview.com for the curious)

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