Wednesday, February 14, 2007



surface tension: a 10-day tryst by Scott Glassman & Mackenzie Carignan


The Name Poems by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright


Translations From After by Joel Chace


Oh Miss Mary by Jim McCrary


Dovey & Me by Lynn Strongin


My Lightweight Intentions by Pam Brown


surface tension: a 10-day tryst by Scott Glassman & Mackenzie Carignan
(Dusie, 2006)

surface tension: a 10-day tryst is the second collaborative project between Scott Glassman & Mackenzie Carignan, the first being Helixes. Surface tension is a property of a liquid’s surface layer that allows it to behave as if it were an elastic sheet, on which small objects or insects can float. Working together online collapses the distance between Carignan’s Chicago and Glassman’s New Jersey to create surface tension. From this, one might speculate not only about the poets’ relationship and the invented relationship between the personae in their poems, but about relationships between people as a whole, their elasticity, permeability or otherwise. Even the chapbook’s title and subtitle generates a certain frisson, an electric undercurrent zinging in the words ‘tryst’ and ‘tension’. But does this buzz exist in the poems themselves? Or is it merely ‘surface tension’?

During the ten-day tryst, a word or two provides a glancing cohesion between the two speakers and their words, linking each paired poem for the day: green, moving, fences, pomegranate, windows, river. Like secret safe words, they increase the sense of intimacy between the correspondents. The first days’ poems begin tentatively, the speakers still getting to know the other person’s quirks and foibles, while referring anxiously to significant pronouns: ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘he’. Who are these people? Tension mounts with every sensual detail:

               Who gives
their heart to the parasite—the one
who wants it most?

The tightest part. The space where we are
up against each other, limbs taut and twined,

seeing how hard we
can push without disturbing the words.
(‘cold compress’)

The one thing contributing to a sense of indefinable identity is that the poems are not attributed to either poet. Part of the fun is speculating who has written which poem, since each poem retains clues to each poet’s style, where one has a fondness for parentheses and slashes, while the other prefers couplets and tercets. While one might prefer a bit more melding between the voices, of spillage and admixture that more closely reflects the intermingling within a tryst, instead of the poems remaining distinct, surface tension is a very exciting collaboration between two emerging poets who are on the verge of a breakthrough, and it is all the more valuable as this chapbook forms part of an artistic process that points to their next potential co-creation.

As if glimpsed from behind sheer hotel curtains, surface tension would pique anyone’s voyeuristic tendencies. Seductive in scope and stirring in execution, there is no earthly reason why one should not give in to temptation. Go on, I say. Take a peek.


The Name Poems by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
(Sisyphus Press, Chapbook Series #19)

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright’s The Name Poems is a chapbook of twenty-three intensely frolicsome sonnets, shining brassily in a dimly lit noir bar while a chanteuse croons on stage and a greasy mobster tries to buy the poems a drink. Wreathed by the obscuring cigar-smoke of sophistication, it is sound-tracked by toasting champagne glasses and tinkling laughter, reels from tipsy fun to wistful whimsy:

I dreamed of hurricanes in empty rooms,
more empty than your spike heel
now we’ve polished off the Beaujolais.
(‘The Last Hurrah’)

The sonnets in The Name Poems are dedicated to names such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Anne Waldman because, as Wright explains in his Foreword: ‘Lita [Hornick, a sometime co-creator in the chapbook] was also a wealthy patron and would take me to dinner with poets like John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg…’ Such name-dropping carries its own ironies and meta-ironies.

‘What’s in a name,’ Shakespeare asked. A name serves to identify and also, to mark out the space of the person it represents. Notably, the chapbook’s cover image is composed of initials, presented as cut out letters in the style of a ransom note. The initials represent the dedicatees, who all have a sonnet or two dedicated to them. Perhaps, in a way, a name also holds something to ransom, by withholding the person in exchange for the name, so that before one meets her, the name has created several expectations of the person behind the name.

               Spiritual urgency purrs
lapping at ladders as you
twirl my silver pony tail.
Have faith, my dear. This we count
on all year. […]

‘Follow’ is an absorbing sonnet Wright co-created with Hornick, one of a few. With its obvious love for words, its sense of play with assonance and rhyme, it evokes a non-stop party lifestyle, with its associated surreal moments and peculiar, narcotised sadnesses. So successfully do Wright’s poems benefit from his collaborative efforts with Hornick, resulting in poems that are intriguing, exciting, immediate and fun that, if not for the fact that Hornick died in 2000, one would like another chapbook created tout de suite. Wright’s closing couplets in many sonnets are particularly satisfying.

The Name Poems points to lives beyond the level of the poem, a metanymic world of hothouse relationships, populated by characters reminiscent of orchids, beautiful and blossoming in the claustrophobic steam of art, privilege and money. Real or not, it is both pretty and scary, and not a little hard to believe.


Translations From After by Joel Chace
(anabasis.xtant, 2004, email:

Translations From After by Joel Chace, the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, is a multi-voiced work that moves and stirs and forces the reader to engage with the poems, to formulate something that makes sense. It is a standard relationship—the poet presents the material while the reader gleans meaning as much as possible to decode the poem. Yet Translations From After goes that little bit further. Chace makes the reader work for it, and such toil is not without its pleasures.

Poems such as ‘milkweed’, ‘time’ and ‘fog of’, with their tropes of war, gamesmanship, manipulating controls, seeking a prize, averting death, strange instructions and spells, also feel like online text adventures, while ‘flying night fisherman’ has the added element of theatrical staging: ‘enter HAPPYFISH’, ‘enter SURERSTRING’. Many of the poems in Translations From After exhibit not only Chace’s ease with layers and intersecting voices, found documents and signs (changes in voice and source material denoted through font style):
like an old cow
                                         with each
first light of the mind rising
up out of that ground to
                              get chicken
prices for your egg

… Chace also uses onomatopoeia with a certain grim joy that is somewhat startling:

After this ddddddd… This after ccccccc is
before aaaaaaa before ends.
                                           What quests?
(‘Translations, #9’)

‘Translations’ is a long work comprised of 21 poem-sections, most 12 lines long. [Those stepped lines are tricky buggers. Note the numbers’ reverse symmetry: 21, 12.] It contains one of the other pleasures in the chapbook: Chace’s evocative word-creations from which we can create multiple meanings. From ‘Priable functures, splenters’ (#18), we might extrapolate ‘private’, ‘friable’ and ‘pliable’, ‘function’ and ‘punctures’, ‘splinters’ and ‘renters’, among many other connotative words. As with any translation, there is an element of the Rorschach blot in one’s interpretations—one can reveal more about one’s self than intended.

As section #10 asks, ‘Where, lies the / aftermath of matters?’ It is up to the reader to create meaning, construct something new. Joel Chace’s Translations From After is a vigorous reminder of this satisfaction, of using one’s imagination to fill in the blanks and creating something else entirely with one’s mind.


Oh Miss Mary by Jim McCrary
(Lawrence, Kansas: Really Old Gringo Press, Larence, Kansas, 2006)

Oh Miss Mary is the latest chapbook from Jim McCrary, a publishing veteran of numerous chapbooks, pamphlets, broadsides, zines and various ephemera, including My Book, Hotter and Now, and Holbox. In his bio posted after one of his Galatea Resurrects reviews, he describes this chapbook as speaking to the real life of Mary Magdalene ‘who [in my humble opinion] is a true Holy Ghost’. The chapbook’s prologue sets the scene for a quirky and audacious re-imagining of the relationship between Mary and Jesus:

Dude also offered to take her with him to his upcoming show which was gonna feature free wine and sandwiches. Well, our girl thought, a crowd is a crowd. What really sent Mar into a swoon was dude talking about walking on water during a storm. Whoa!! To someone with a foot fetish to begin with, this man was saying all the right things.

In this long poem that brings Mary Magdalene forward to the 1960s, the style seems more incantatory chant than the straightforward narrative that the prologue would suggest. At several points in the poem, interpretation becomes uncomfortably open:

Ah…take Mary for me
Take her for me again
Seven times seven times seven
They call it
Possessed she was

I call it fucked

“You got to pick up every stitch….”

By ‘fucked’, does the speaker mean literally or metaphorically? Is it criticism or pragmatism? Certainly a sexual interpretation is likely, borne out by the use of such ambiguous words as ‘come’, ‘fetish’, ‘rapture’ and ‘nailed’. The appearance of the ‘I’ speaker at this point in the poem raises a number of questions as to his role and relationship to Mary [did he take part in the ‘taking’ or was just a voyeur?], questions that are not really answered by the poem’s end.

‘Oh Miss Mary’ is threaded by a refrain from ‘Season of the Witch’, a song by 60s British pop singer Donovan, the effect of which creates a songlike rhythm and adds to the sense that, just as one might do a rain dance to call down the rain, the speaker is calling down a saviour to save everyone from ‘The bitch Bush witch in the white house’.

In its epilogue, the chapbook ends by defining more explicitly the intent of Oh Miss Mary, coupling it with a warning to would-be detractors, too: ‘Also, to Toozer or Collins or Lehman who might consider this ‘crap’ – fuck off. It is my language and I love it to death and mangle/handle it with loving abuse.’ And you can’t say fairer than that.


Dovey & Me by Lynn Strongin
(Solo Press, 2006)

In Dovey & Me, a chapbook by Lynn Strongin, she dedicates this work ‘for the homeless’. Its poems are likely to drop a quiet enchantment on the reader in this portrait of a friendship between two ‘bird-women’, who have made their home in a hut on the beach.

The first poem, ‘Dovey’, introduces a few unexpected words, such as ‘watry’ and ‘slipt’, the spelling of which evokes speech that is either slangy, regional, mediaeval or all three, effectively setting the scene for the rest of the chapbook:

I went down to the beach,
to discover this strange heap
asleep, breathing, yes, a she, & breathing

in a den as snug as a sweet potato hull:
living under a windblown-log
muttering, “Welcome. […]

A strange atmosphere pervades this relationship that brings to mind Macbeth’s three witches. These two characters have created their own world, which leaves everybody else beyond their ken:

Nobody understands us now.
Our tongue Elizabethan. We are known as the old & the young

(‘Dovey Has a Triangle of a Mirror’)

This theme of beguilement resonates. Theirs is a brief, charmed existence, living ‘as in a sweet potato shell’, but it cannot endure forever. Even as the speaker chronicles their best moments: ‘We have been together so long her wingtip reaches for mine’, already change scents the wind, so that any day the spell might be broken.

Fragility is another theme in the chapbook, finding its embodiment in images of glass: sea-glass, windows, mirrors and jewels, scattered throughout the work. Time works against them, crawling during their bored hours, reading Shakespeare. It ignores them with cruel disregard: ‘the human // race driving itself on’ (‘Human Race’). It flies past much too quickly even when the speaker tries to hold on: ‘Every day I try to make a bit more / of the mystery’ (‘The Mystery That is Us’).

Strongin is a poet of detail and mood, her language and technique so very assured that reading Dovey & Me is a definite pleasure. There is plenty to linger on and re-read. Exploring and setting down the particulars of such a complex and multifaceted relationship is not without difficulties, yet the love Strongin conveys between the speaker and Dovey is plain and evident. Dovey & Me is a sad, tender and tough elegy, honouring a friendship and a love that flourished even in strange circumstances.


My Lightweight Intentions by Pam Brown
(Never-Never Books, New South Wales, 2006)

Pam Brown’s My Lightweight Intentions was originally published by Folio (Salt) in 1998 and the poems have not aged in the intervening time, with their acerbic observations that still sting. Consisting of seven poems, Brown’s chapbook offers up a range of humorous and poignant disclosures, oftentimes in the same poem. In ‘The Ing Thing’, she writes:
                          ,                you’re
               those spacy
                              year planners !

               lead us to your
               Writers’ Centres !
dot                dot                dot
(p. 2)

This is a sharp contrast to the more quiet reflections later on, made during sleepless hours:

morning’s nothing
             floats along
like an unrecovered
               flight recorder
(p. 3)

Peppered with snippets of conversation and televisionary sound bites, this long poem could have continued indefinitely in this vein—so when it ends, it registers as a shock, yet it is one of surprise and recognition.

The chapbook’s last poem, ‘Miracles’, contains further shocks of recognition, as if the speaker has rediscovered the hidden order of the world:

one poet chooses another –
stick some truisms
             on my back cover
& appropriate this –
“a crude empiricist”
“a natural empathiser”

declares the text

Though the speaker denies her naïveté (‘I know / how corny & disorderly / the whole thing is –’), her own closing, declarative text speaks of a certain and wilful optimism: ‘I believe in miracles’.

My Lightweight Intentions reveals itself as not being as frivolous of intent as it purports to be, veiling its prevalent themes of social and political frustrations under a scrim of humour and cynicism, which partway reveals the face of the disgruntled idealist underneath.


Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal . Her poetry appears in journals and anthologies worldwide and online. In 2006, she was awarded a grant to write poems for her second poetry manuscript from the Australia Council for the Arts.


At 2:13 PM, Blogger na said...

Another view of OH MISS MARY by Jim McCrary is offered by Richard Lopez elsewhere in GR #5 at:

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice post!

At 9:04 AM, Blogger jeffrey cyphers wright said...

Thank you very much Ivy for your thoughtful review of The Name Poems.


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