Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Micro-pseudo-review of On Happier Lawns by Justin Marks

There's a kind of poetry I think of as "man poetry," which is not to say that all men write it or only men write it. "Man poetry" is a string of "I did this," "I thought this," "I felt this" statements, very matter-of-fact and declarative. Often done, rarely done well. On Happier Lawns by Justin Marks is in some ways a variation on this genre, but deeply interior and impressionistic, quiet but not abstract: the running inner monologue of an American man full of self-love and self-loathing. The poems are atypical of the genre in that they're built of phrases rather than sentences, little chunks of language like clouds passing by, some images, some ideas. Like Nick Demske, the book is made of broken sonnets, in the sense that each poem contains 14 lines. In every other respect, they create and adhere to their own form. Marks writes lines that resonate and stick with me for years, occasionally returning to me, surfacing like a thought bubble: "I saw a femur once" ... "The heart, a stencil" ... "The body, a footnote" ... "You're going to miss me when you're bored." These poems make me laugh and at the same time induce pangs of vague nostalgia ("Something making me sad / but I don't know what"), one of my favorite things that poetry (or any art) can do.

Full disclosure statement: Justin Marks is my friend and editor, but don't let that discourage you; I have a habit of hobnobbing with America's best and brightest. If you buy the very attractive handmade chapbook from Poor Claudia, you'll also get, as a bonus, the other half of it: Digital Macramé by the amazing Paige Taggart. Someday I'll write about the awesome meta-move she pulls off in a poem called ">> >> >>"

19 comments:

  1. I love that you put yourself out there in a 'so he's my friend and editor - blow me' sort of way.

    You are an interesting mix of self interest and refreshing insight. I like it a lot.

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  2. Young males in MFA programs like to put their penises in poems. I see it all the time. I wonder why?

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  3. Why thank you!

    By the way, my post about grief last week was indirectly inspired by a post of yours -- my indirect way of saying "I feel you" I suppose.

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  4. RK, self-reference is hip. Maybe for some men, penis-reference is self-reference?

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  5. I initially processed this as "inferior and impressionistic" and read the review with increasing puzzlement...

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  6. I went through that phase when I was 22, RK. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I think it's just something we have to get out of our system.

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  7. OMG Sarang, I had to go back and make sure I didn't type it wrong. "Inferior" is the exact opposite of what I was trying to communicate. :)

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  8. Did I put my penis in one of those poems?

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  9. I think RK was talking about "Man Poetry," not yours specifically. But I think you at least talk around your penis in one or two of them ...

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  10. yeah, there's a wet dream in one of the poems. but also a tiara, and my best dress.

    regardless, thanks for the sweet review. much appreciated!

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  11. That's why it's a very special form of man poetry! Thank YOU for writing it.

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  12. There's a kind of poetry I think of as "man poetry," which is not to say that all men write it or only men write it. "Man poetry" is a string of "I did this," "I thought this," "I felt this" statements, very matter-of-fact and declarative:

    Hmm, I associate this mode with men and women, and not one group more than the other: for example Anne Carson, Chelsea Minnis, Martha Ronk. The declarative mode seems to me to be a dominant way, period. Personally, I can't wait for complex syntax, subordinate clauses, basically Jane Eyre, to make a mega comeback.

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  13. Huh, that's not how I think of Anne Carson and Chelsea Minnis at all. CM especially seemed to invent her own form of weird similes and gross/cute images between extra-long ellipses. (Maybe I didn't describe the style well enough.)

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  14. I guess I've focused on the "matter of fact" part of your statement: Carson often does write matter of fact declarations (or in a matter of factly tone), and Minnis too, despite the consciously stylized similes etc, also displays a direct, matter of fact quality; and definitely a fondness for the declarative mode: in post Zirconia work. For me, the declarative mode is just a mega feature of American poetry of the last 25 years, period.

    As well, I could simply be freaking out at the notion of gendered styles, a concept which I find intensely problematic although, true too, fascinating.

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  15. Of course it's problematic! :) I wasn't using it as a serious category worth study or anything -- it's just something that I think sometimes when I'm reading something: "Ugh, man poetry." It's really white man poetry, I should say. But like I said, I don't think all men write that way, not even close; I guess it's just that few women do. But I haven't described it in enough detail or you wouldn't be pulling out names like Anne Carson and Chelsea Minnis, both of whom I think use form much more consciously. The matter-of-fact thing is just one small feature.

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  16. I like this: "Of course it's problematic!"

    And this: "It's really white man poetry."

    And this: "Ugh, man poetry." (I feel this way about heterosexual expression not infrequently)

    What's your feeling(s) regarding poems consisting solely or almost solely of declarative sentences?

    I hope all's well!

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  17. Oddly enough I was just reading something a day or two ago that I expected to like but which didn't move me much at all, because it seemed to consist solely of declarative sentences. I think that *can* work, if it's conscious and played toward some effect, but typically I just zone out. It starts to feel like straight description to me: This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. And I think, poems are not the news!

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  18. I tend to not be a fan--which is not to say that mode never works (almost every mode works some o' the time)but without careful orchestration (making use of caesura to create multiple rhythms, or repetitions, so that the vertical and horizontal dimensions are working in more dynamic ways than ticker-tape monotony...or wildly varying line-lengths so one can have the illusion of enjambed breath)it can get dull fast

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