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The Unknown University on Roberto Bolano “There is a time for reciting poems,” Roberto Bolaño wrote in The Savage Detectives, “and a time for fists.” And now, with the appearance of his collected poetry, The Unknown University, presented in a bilingual edition translated by Laura Healy and handsomely published by New Directions, we are getting to the end of the Bolaño canon (in fact, we may be at the end), with its short stories, brief novels, and the two long masterpieces, The Savage Detectives and 2666, as well as an enlightening volume of critical pieces, speeches and interviews entitled Between Parentheses. What remains to be written is a comprehensive biography of the man. And I suspect we will be no more the wiser. Though not as shadowy as, say, B. Traven, elusive author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, who vanished into a fog of multiple identities, Bolaño’s life is in comparison a gumbo of tall tales, rumor, truth and consequence, some created by him (perhaps because we identify some of his characters—and voices—a little too closely with their creator), others encouraged by a public hungry for a romantic hero. Or, to borrow the title of a smaller collection of his poems, romantic dog.

melancholia

After passion, what is left? A jewelry box, a locket, a silver button, the silences between these objects. Each of these items sings to one another and it is this chorus that unifies Kristina Marie Darling’s haunted and haunting collection, Melancholia (Ravenna Press). Containing definitions, prose poems, footnotes, and a noctuary (a night journal), the book seeks to define, contain, and understand the aftermath of a failed courtship. In the opening fragmentary epistle, Darling establishes this with a delicacy that is maintained throughout the procedures of definition that bind this book:

portugueseThe first release from the exciting new collaborative-poetry series of Tin House and Octopus books, Brandon Shimoda’s Portuguese has its origins in a racial slur. As Shimoda explains in the epilogue: “The bus is driving itself. Floating. Out the windows the trees are thick green, with passing revelations of yellow and brown. The fourth grader makes one final attempt, though his enthusiasm, at this point, feels forced: Portugueeese. He brings his pointer fingers to the sides of his eyes, pulls the skin to make his eyes disappear, and says it once more.”

We drove across Colorado, Utah, a touch of Nevada, and Arizona. I brought several books with me to read on our road-trip to southern California—Blake Butler’s Nothing, Amelia Gray’s Threats, Anne-Marie Kinney’s Radio Iris, and Eileen Myles’s Snowflake / Different Streetsand though I was anxious for each of these new titles, for whatever reason, I started with Myles, reading Snowflake / Different Streets in the morning fog and afternoon sun of Santa Ana. From there, everything unraveled.

Evan Lavender-Smith has let us into a world of strife and angst, love and discovery in his musings found in From Old Notebooks. How does parataxis function in this narrative that makes the language found here that of every story, of every notebook—yours, mine, or all of us who are capable of scribbling down the bits and pieces of dialogue that float around in our heads? FON is as much about investigating our own mental resources for content as it is narrative structure. The author gives over all of his ideas and insecurities about the clichés of being a writer and the banal moments of his everyday as documented on paper in the pages of his old notebooks.

In 2007 Black Ocean released Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit, a poetic collection that sprawls in gasps of poetry, full of imagery and surreal landscapes, tinged with faux history and savagely tender deaths. Then in 2009, Black Ocean released his second book, Scary, No Scary, which took these surreal landscapes even farther, threading them into a pseudo-narrative of hummingbirds and trees and visions of fright, blooming in a triumphant poetic score. And now, since the excellent people at Black Ocean are either smart enough or lucky enough to continue publishing Schomburg’s work, we get Fjords.

In Ellen Welcker’s The Botanical Garden, a world of people, events, and creatures become seen—not seen the way we see Twitter updates, but the way we see a new land for the first time.

The speaker of the title poem is a knowledgeable tour guide, a lover writing letters by hand, a mother speaking to the baby in her belly. The voice ebbs and flows between watcher/participant, mother/lover, I/We. The poem emphasizes dichotomy–us vs. them, insider/outsider, safe/endangered–only to dissolve such boundaries a moment later. The taken-for-granted becomes seen, the political becomes intimate, the intimate becomes public–and all of it swirls together like the waters of the ocean. The speaker is on a tour of the world by boat; she is of the sea–a cetacean; she is on a trip with her lover; she is Homeland Security agent; she is detainee. We the readers are also in shifting territory, observing and participating in a land both familiar and strange. The work is full of language from Homeland Security and the George W. Bush presidency. It also contains language of pregnancy and birth. Something is trying to be born. We stroll through a fantastic garden of whales, embryos, fences, labels.

One of the first poems in Megan Boyle’s debut collection selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee is called “everyone i’ve had sex with.” The last poem in the collection is called “lies i have told.” Besides the lack of capitalization, what makes Megan Boyle’s poetry fascinating is that readers will often find themselves questioning where the line between fact and fiction is to be drawn, and also whether to laugh or cry. With these poems, Megan Boyle has taken stream-of-consciousness writing to an entirely new level, and she has done so brilliantly.

Julie Carr’s new collection of poetry takes us on a journey where fragmented thoughts and abbreviated memories exist in varied form. Coffee House Press is known for publishing groundbreaking authors and championing the work of writers who have made a place for themselves in the literary landscape. This work addresses the humanity of death and contemplates what happens when faced with a life-threatening illness, the loss of our faculties, and often times, the spirit of love. These poems also illustrate the joy of new beginnings in exploring the feelings connected to giving birth and pregnancy. The 75 plus pages of poems examine the complex responses that come into play when dealing with health struggles and faded memories; a pastiche of familial responsibility. Fragments, abstracts on death, exhaustion, mothers, and unexpected scenarios are only some of the themes at play in these pages, but Carr gives her full attention to each sentiment expressed in this collection. What’s unique about the writing is the manner in which the narrator attempts to digest her reality. Poems and fragments share titles but shift in their POV. This technique seems to demonstrate the need to digest sentiments from different points of view, thus allowing for multiple perspectives on the same scenario, on the same difficulties we encounter, regardless of where we sit.