blackbird online journal Spring 2008  Vol. 7  No. 1





Chapbook Omnibus Review Part 1
   Eugene Ostashevsky
   Jonah Winter
   Charles Jensen

Chapbook Omnibus Review Part 2
   Marianne Boruch
   Leigh Anne Couch
   Allison Titus
   Lesley Wheeler
Chapbook Omnibus Review Part 3
   Mathias Svalina
   Joy Katz
   Jen Tynes & Erika Howsare
   Sueyeun Juliette Lee
   Joshua Marie Wilkinson
   Kathy Davis

Reviewers Randy Marshall, Catherine MacDonald, and Susan Settlemyre Williams offer this latest installment in Blackbird’s efforts to enhance the visibility and accessibility of chapbook poetry and the presses that keep it vital and vibrant. There are some new voices represented here, especially among the poets whom Octopus Books has chosen to showcase in its initial foray into the world of print. Others will be familiar to readers by virtue of their previously published work. For their continuing and insightful support of these writers we’d like to thank Bateau Press, Finishing Line Press, New Michigan Press, Red Dragonfly Press, and Tupelo Press. 

General readers may want to hang onto their hats as they board the stylistic tilt-a-whirl that these collections embody. Prepare to behold collagists who lay down their “bits and pieces” of material at the service of narrative continuity. And prose poets who grasp the spinning mirror-ball of character just to strafe it with their figurative flashlights, deliberately reflecting pointillist, archetypal presences against the walls and ceilings of their chosen forms. The motley choir assembled here includes its share of metaphysicians and historians, activists and dreamers. Some chant the austerely haunting lyrics of a worldly new confessionalism. Others sample the vast American beatbox at their disposal (and at their whim) crafting polyphonic masterpieces from hip-hop grooves and bald attitude.

Poets should no doubt enjoy the object lesson inherent to an immersion in the many technical modulations of line on display in these works: from fragments to prose to more conventionally metered forms. And the manner in which these poets deploy frame narratives and themes—which “through-thread” their often fiercely individual texts in such a way that the stories implicit to them resonate across stanzas, pages, and entire collections—is impressive. The writers represented in these reviews must have heard about Blackbird editor Gregory Donovan’s emphatic memo proclaiming “NOTHING is off limits to poetry”—they cede no territory to the fiction writers or the political commentators, the philosophers, the journalists or the pure researchers.

Some might be inclined to observe that the very notion of line, its status as the definitive qualifier of verse (qua verse) is like a fortress under siege, especially as the new media disperse poetic texts across global platforms whose technical functionalities often sacrifice nuance for gist (or is that geist?). The work presented here oscillates between various compositional modes, between image and argument, so rapidly that any certainty as to “the trend” is impossible. Do these writers and what they offer up foretell some postmodern decoupling of the practical, working models of “verse” from any theoretical poetics of “line”?  That jury may be out for a while to come.

But when the djinn of contemporary poetry is released from the stoppered amphora of rhyme, meter and line, readers and writers alike should be careful what they wish for. As the array of poems discussed here amply demonstrates, excess can be a virtue and a curse. Still, the guilty pleasures they make possible only serve to confirm our deeper conviction that a story about courage and creative engagement trumps a cautionary tale every day of the week. 

—Randy Marshall  


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