Three New Anthologies

The Invisible City
Marcella Durand, Richard O'Russa, & Karoline Schleh, eds.
(New Orleans & New York: Erato Press, 2001)

100 Days
Andrea Brady, ed.
(Cambridge, UK: Barque Press, 2001)

Song Poems
Steven Hull, prod.
(Los Angeles: Steven Hull, 2001)

These three handsomely produced new projects present writing that is architectural, geographical, political, and musical -- none in typical or static fashion. Erato Press's first publication, The Invisible City , showcases art and writing esconced in the metropolitan consciousness. In 100 Days , England's Barque Press presents writings, plus a few visuals, by British, Australian, and American poets in varying degrees of protest against the current US administration. Song Poems is a box set of three CDs, a poster, and a slick booklet of lyrics, most of them by writers who usually work in other genres, published in conjunction with an art show of the same title curated by Steven Hull.

One must certainly applaud the work of Erato Press editors Marcella Durand, Richard O'Russa, and Karoline Schleh. Their selection of artworks and writings creates a compelling landscape of the hearts and minds of contemporary city-dwellers. As Durand has it in her introduction, "we are all motion and transaction." Alice Notley, an outsider poet who's made it on to Penguin's list, contributes the largest selection, three pieces exploring cities platonic, supersonic, eerie and plain, sometimes all four in a single turn of phrase. Her work is steadily exuberant and plaintive as her lines and sentences traverse syntax and image in odd and pleasing measures. Lisette Copping's image of what look like two sleepy eyes in a tree trunk is the perfect companion to Notley's "The City Drifting". Lisa Jarnot's "This Is My Only Job", a foray into a New Jersey both visionary and cruddy, is a superb prose poem of crowded solitude. Other contributors include Notley's son Anselm Berrigan -- his "The Hunt of the Frail Stag" adds a neat touch of lightness to the eternally combustive questions of urban denizens -- as well as poets Will Alexander, Rachel Levitsky, Eleni Sikelianos, and Edwin Torres, and artists Mitchell Long and Dan Piersol. [information/orders: 520 General Pershing, New Orleans, LA 70115]

Edited by expat American poet/publisher Andrea Brady and published on April 30, 2001, the hundredth day of Bush II's tenure, 100 Days is at times combative, at others ruminative and at others simply unpredictable. In other words, the range of work is grandly democratic. Eileen Myles's op-ed poem for the Los Angeles Times , and her report on the process behind it, are invigorating. The poem -- meant to be the one she would have read at the inauguration if she'd been asked -- is a crisp, edgy portrait of sky and snow in New York City, with a smooth allegorical vision of snowflakes as citizens. Perhaps only Myles could pull this off. Elizabeth Willis's prose poem, "Confederate Hedges", is a wonderful meditation and collage: "Something unhappy, flapping against your body." These poets have been paying attention: they've pulled out all the stops in seeking the silliest quotes from Mr. Bush. Allison Cobb may have found the best one: "It's time for the human race to enter the solar system." However, this collection of up-to-the-minute poetry contains a few too many cheap puns and a bit too much winking group-speak, as is perhaps unavoidable in an anthology reacting, at least in part, to the limp, bossy rhetoric of the state. However it is important, one supposes and hopes, that such protest occur. [information/orders:]

Following the current pattern of artist-as-curator, Los Angeles painter Steven Hull has put together a multimedia event, featuring 250 contributors. For this project a sculptor might work in album cover or video format; while both amateur and professional musicians orchestrate the words of writers as various as Paul Vangelisti, Lynne Tillman, Camille Roy, Rick Moody -- even artist Jim Shaw. Enchanting evidence of this event, which opens in Los Angeles in early 2002, is contained in the Song Poems box set. Gems include Language poet Norma Cole's foray into pop terrain with "Dreams of Local Honey" ("Quilted direction/To cross that line/For this they had dared/To not give a sign"); the evocative crooning of Molly Symns on "Violet" and "JoLynn", both paeans to female companionship penned, respectively, by sister writers Carol Treadwell and Elizabeth Treadwell; novelist Darcy Steinke's terse, angular prose poem "Office Antipast"; and the marvelously plain "Drifting", written by David Bunn and sung by Terri Phillips. The manifold collaboration central to the project's premise becomes obvious when one set of lyrics is interpreted twice: take for example the closing song, Michael Smith's "I'm Still In My Underwear", which Paul Jackson performs in a spare urbane style and the quartet Dirty Snow in one more gaudily dissonant. Both suit. [information/orders: [email protected]]

Each of the three productions under consideration here suffers a bit from what seems a lack of curatorial intrusion or overarching vision. However, in the end it may be this very "music of chance" that leads us to the delicious, if uneven, results. If all three of these collections err on the diffuse side of a preciousness, a stridence, a hipsterism, perhaps their very porousness is the better nature of anthologies. We can be grateful to these editors for the glimpses they provide us of -- as Andrea Brady puts it in her editorial remarks for 100 Days -- "the contributors...deliberating...with such commitment in their regular work" -- since, as Alice Notley has it, "there is nothing on earth to react to except for dreams," and, as Paul Martin Hennessey cajoles on Song Poems , "there's still hope in Nashville/'cuz I sent them one more song."

-- Audrey Leonard

[Author's note: this review was written prior to the events of September 11, 2001.]

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