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When I clicked the link to DUSIE #4, an online journal originating from Switzerland, there was an audible thump. Just like that, I had 42 chapbooks sitting on my screen.
For the purposes of this review, the term "chapbook" is meant to refer only to an aesthetically or arbitrarily selected poem or group of poems. Though some (but not all) of the "book art" aspects of a chapbook are lost in the online format, & though these aspects can certainly compound, supplement, contradict or supersede the aesthetics of the poems themselves, we'll leave those discussions aside.
Also, for the purposes of this review, the term "thump" is meant to signify the intellectual, creative & physical heft of these many works metaphorically landing on my desktop.
What DUSIE has done is not entirely new. There are several e-chaps out there (duration press has some nice ones & even my own THE HAPPY SEASONS is an online chap). But by producing an "issue" of all e-chaps, by producing a staggering 42 e-chaps at one time (!), DUSIE has done what all literary magazines, online or in print, hope to do. They've created & defined an aesthetic moment making this a kind of Armory Show for the chapbook in 2006.
You see, chapbooks are hot right now. They're in.
I'd like to propose, first off, that all of the chapbooks in DUSIE #4 are worth reading. I'd like to follow that up by saying that all chapbooks are worth reading. I'm not saying that they'll all be worthwhile, that they'll all teach us something about our craft or ourselves or our world, but I do think the form itself, these compressed bursts, deserve our attention because they are, in action, a form of thought, scattered or unified, lax or rigorous; chapbooks are about as close as we can come to inhabiting a boiled-down consciousness different from our own.
Take Chris Rizzo's e-chap, In the Quells. Rizzo is no stranger to the chapbook form. He runs Anchorite Press, producing many fine print chapbooks, & has several chapbooks to his credit as a writer as well (see a review of the most recent of these, ZING from CARVE Editions, in H_NGM_N #5). In the Quells is a unified utterance, a burst of consciousness. It is a "project," with big ambition and broad scope, using the "saleable titles" from Gregory Corso's The Happy Birthday of Death as a springboard.
These prose poems are best read as a kind of applied linguistic physics. Rizzo accelerates the words like atoms, at lightning speed, & then spins them around a few times before concussively smashing them together in an attempt to generate some wholly new particle.
But before you think the work here is all head, Rizzo has inserted "the Kid" as his likeable Everyman, the controlling consciousness of these poems. Every bit as scattered & discombobulated as John Berryman's Henry, the Kid has developed a way of thinking that suits him in these times:
Go broke solo, rack up bullshit repetitions, and spit at your
god of choice. Managing messes in America incorporated
powers of buck stop nowhere. And in the breaks he can't
catch one. But he can't keep going, but off course he goes [...]
This chapbook fully explores how our lives lived in "this kingdom of is-ing won't leave us / at be." Rizzo's syntax is always so rich & generative that it's hard to tell what comes first, the thought or the word, but the "riff punk" language of these poems lands us somewhere fully human, "locked in this droning, this story, this string we / call breathing."
Heart on a Tripod, the e-chap from Kaia Sand, involves the reader immediately in the physical particulars of identity. Using a muscular line as guide, this poem courses over & through different territories of body & spirit, of public & private space.
The truths related in this work are the simple ones, but are dignified & complicated the lens of representation. How do we say what we need to say? The speaker here resorts to recitation, a tone equal parts elegy & hope:
& her legs become her legs
become a heap of bodies &
hopeless. bodies hit bodies
& they fall that way
It is almost impossible to locate or name a speaker in this poem, to give a face to this body, though the poem itself is sustained by questions of identity, the human form, & sheer wonderment at "every living thing, impossibly so."
Sarah Mangold's Picture of the Basket consists of two weeks' worth of daily (or near daily) meditations/reveries/happenings. This creates an instant sense of progression for the reader—the relentlessly forward motion of time—but Mangold chooses to exploit this in some very interesting ways. As Day 1 suggests, our lives are full of "tasks and arrivals" in pursuit of "a definitive the," some solid ground to stand on. Still, "it is possible to disappear."
Even though the reader expects to know everything, to follow a narrative, diaristically, things are left out, as they must be. There are constant elisions, shuffle steps, flat out gaps. Riffing on Charles Olson's "triple theories" found in his essays "Proprioception," "Projective Verse" & "Human Universe," Mangold is more concerned with what poetry can't do—"we couldn't conjure / pumpkin festival at the oval"—the misses & the lack.
In poetry that stunningly trusts the reader to be fully awake & engaged, Mangold creates the kind of field from which all things should be possible but, fracturously, aren't.
It should be noted that each of these chapbooks was produced in a print edition of 50 copies; each author was responsible for his/her own book & mailed a copy of his/her chapbook to everyone else in the "kollektiv." Imagine this as the new model for poetry "production & distribution." A giant happening such as this one—the online thump of this—& the scene that is created, the group. Poets writing poems. Poets publishing/disseminating poems. Poets reading poems. This is a good way to start, a big shock that lasts &, hopefully, has repercussive effects.