Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Year of above/ground Press Reviews: Part 1

 A Year of above/ground Press Reviews: 
My First Installment as a Chap-Subscriber

I've had subscription to journals before; Prairefire, Crazyhorse, The Parish Review. Most of my subscriptions (the Flann O’Brien literary journal being the only exception listed here) are consolations after my own creative pieces fell short of the shortlist for contests or were rejected for publication altogether. My relationship to above/ground press is a little different. rob mclennan & I have traded subscriptions; he receives anything we do at Flat Singles and I get regular chapbooks in the mail from Ottawa. This first installment of reviews is a way of writing my thanks & giving chapbook presses some press.[1]

I think the problem I bring up about journal subscriptions & rejection pertains to marginalized writing. It’s an important issue and is (hopefully) accurately described.[2] Rae Armantrout’s Versed won her a Pulitzer in 2010, but most readers will disregard the flimsy yellow Rituals (September, 2013) from above/ground because it’s a chapbook. People who like & read poetry will miss a lot of it because of medium—many poems that comprise collections are published in ephemeral medium first rather than glossy journals sitting in bookcases somewhere.

The Art of Plumbing (January) by Brecken Hancock

“Gathering my hair off the pillow, I rise from the spill on our sheets our sheets to bathe” (1).

Beginning in with a mythological prologue and extending through BCE, predicting the apocalypse in the year 3300 CE, Brecken Hancock writes a history of plumbing. These sequential poems flow through fiction & fact, examining our internal plumbing and the external eccentricities of the public bath or the irrigation ditch. She gives new consideration to bathtub gin, or the depth to a statement like “I need to soak” hair that is “spilt,” (9, 10). At the heart of these poems all our conceptions of [un]cleanliness can be formed by The Art of Plumbing


“Many have found it useful
to lie down
as men
believing themselves
to be little girls” (Armantrout 5)

This work (though too short to have an impact without three or four readings,[3]) is a regenbogen whirlwind of “colo[u]r and sound,” “secret identity” gender “madness,” and “depression.” Of course, all of those references come from the same poem. But, Rituals is a sampling of real poetry—prize winning poetry, even.

As a chap, the work is caught in the act of becoming a bigger collection/a fully formed idea/a longer book/more heavily ‘themed’/“Holiday” from trade writing. Armantrout takes great pains to refine & order the poems in such a way that it’s hard to find them compatible with the incommodifable. And yet I have a sense of missing/wanting more—the read[s] make the chap seem more like a preview, but with each the poems become more & more resplendent.

An Overture in the Key of F (October) by Olivia Adams[4]

You flourished in the floss and flow amid memory and mummery,
those sweet drams that left us flush but anchored in the fluxion and
flyby-night wire. We were fog bound and focused on the convergence
of particles that begged an adversary, something attached, hung,
fastened, extended. (Adams 6)

Fabulous $four fare, fair—forceful (alliterative), funny as F---: fornicating, fortune, finely; an overture truly in ef, cleft. Font, faint, fanned, hot, prosey fiend poems. “Filmland and filmdom,” more than just F. But, F marks the spot where E & I converge in “a finger wave… fringed and slender…to be both healthy and convulsing,” fit. Flicker in pages of “flamboyant flak” flammable. Footnote frontage, the function of foramens (& forearms)—all revealed & revelled in—forget yourself.[5]

—Joseph LaBine

Works Cited
Adams, Carrie Olivia. An Overture in the Key of F. Ottawa: above/ground press, 2013. Print.
Armantrout, Rae. Rituals. Ottawa: above/ground press, 2013. Print.
Hancock, Brecken. The Art of Plumbing. Ottawa: above/ground press, 2013. Print.

[1] And boy! Am I tired of all the small-press-self-promoting we do for Flat Singles.
[2] I welcome any discussion. I think peer reviewing work (especially critical essays) is important. I’m very fond of the e-journal I receive from the Flann O’Brien Society. I submit to academic & creative journals regularly. This is all just small press fodder. But really, if we’re all pursuing journals, who cares enough to read chapbooks?
[3] Reading rituals.
[4] I will only use F—words to describe this book.
[5] There are no footnotes in these poems.

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