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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Collaborative Failure: Art & Intimacy

This is a generative post to what I want to eventually talk about at some length, which is collaborative failure or when collaborations fail or how collaborations fail.

I thought I would generate a bunch of corners to back into and then precede:

Does the artist choose collaborations that they know will be successful
or do collaborations that fail just disappear and not garner attention? Where do we see failed collaborations?

What does failure look like?

Is collaboration always a desire for intimacy? How does collaboration create a space for intimacy not relegated in other parts of our lives (as artists, as people)? Is the collaborative space a dangerous space?

Who decides?

When collaborations fail are they the failure of the two (or more) artists or the constraints or a problem of intimacy?

When is a collaboration not a collaboration?

& also if the working relationship works but the outcome of the work suffers
(if you write with someone & it fails what does that say about the relationship)

What if the collaboration is successful, but the relationship of the artists is not? What is a failure of intimacy in the midst of collaboration?

Where do we learn from failure vs. the breaking apart of communion?

Is it a failure to allow another into your space? (who are people that don't collaborate?)

Can collaboration succeed?

Can we argue that all collaborations are failures in their inability to cohere?

Or do they all succeed by their acceptance of opening up to the potential for failure?

Collaboration as the greatest source for potential failure/ how does this mimic intimacy?

If a collaboration fails, who takes the blame or Is collaboration inevitable?

At what levels, do we consider something a collaboration? Why are we more comfortable with failure in art and less so in our real lives? What is at stake to embracing daily failure in life?

Are we collaborating with the audience? As a medium, does poetry lend itself more readily to failure?

(Special thanks to poets Kristin Sanders, Ben Kopel, Lisa Pasold and Anne Boyer for discussions and thoughts generated about art & failure)

You can email me at: if you have any answers/ questions to add or comment below.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Review of Michael Ford's Where We Expect to See You Soon

This review first appeared in the literary journal Entrepôt in April, 2012. 

Reviewed by Megan Burns

            Often there is a text that haunts the text you’re reading. In the case, of Michael Ford’s Where We Expect to See You Soon, the reader is pointed in the direction of one such haunting in the opening epigraphs. Alice Notley’s line: “we move back into a damaged city” both frames the context of these poems and also signals to the careful reader a subtext for this work in both rhythm and line. I say rhythm and line because I don’t think one can bring to mind Notley at the beginning of a poem sequence without being attuned to her attention to the way a poem moves both in its line and each line in its place in the world of the poem. The epigraph is the first line from a poem “City” from the unpublished collection “Benediction” in Grave of Light (Wesleyan, 2006). The word “city” in the line though immediately reminded me of another chapbook, entitled “City of” by Notley (Rain Taxi, 2005). The two are probably linked in more than language as I read Notley’s chapbook after returning to New Orleans in late 2005 with its prescient lines: “It’s a placid / earth of horror and / from it/ I begin//No nation now/ only a/ city.” Ford, also a New Orleans poet, touches on these same images in the opening poem “The New Atlantis” where we find, “The city was marked— in the atlas as lost—the map of the place.” So, here are two texts wrestling with the city, the loss of the city and the illusion of the city. Each text also is setting down lines with precise rhythmical markers that tell us how to read the line as though we were locating through sound some sense of locale in the breath. Ford’s technique is to use the dash to break up any continuity in the line and to cause the reader to stop short and then begin anew. The line breaks become not the breaks, or smaller breaks when confronted with the eye’s need to traverse the horizontal line separating the sentences. In a sense, the horizon line also holds the text together, stringing through the body of the poem like a life line thrown to the drowning person: Here, if you can follow the path of this, if you can hear the sound of my voice, they seem to signal. Ford’s line breaks as well though signal distress as repeatedly the word “city” is broken amid other words cut in two by the end of the line: “fenc/es, to/day, dig/nity, point/ing, meta/phor. o/ver.” Things are broken; the tempo of the line, if not for the break caused by the dashes, would hurl forward at a rapid pace, especially as the images of what the city is pile up. In the ways that memories of loved ones crowd forward, the city is displaced and in its stead a cacophony of oral and aural images surface to take its place.  The narrator guides us through the ruins: “We make our way by match light—conveyed—on/ light bones and feathers—wings fanned out.” And that’s just the first poem.

Ford tells us in a note at the back of the book that all of the poems are written in a form he calls “89,” where the syllable count in the lines as well as the lines in each stanza adhere to a loose structure based on 8 and 9. This brings us to the second epigraph from Shakespeare: “And in fresh numbers number all your graces.” This isn’t the first time that Ford has used a number constraint to create his poems. The success lies in the all but invisible deployment of the method. Far more obvious than the number form on the poems is Ford’s use of the dash to break up his lines and his use of space to cut the line cleanly and control his rhythm. Take the poem “Lizzie Borden, What’s all the Fuss About?” which begins with the line “This will be my murder ballad—” and then precedes to deliver a poem mimicing both Williams’ variable foot as well as subject matter, only to break off in the next line stating: “These fucking numbers are on every-/ thing.” In light of the author’s note, the double meaning behind such a line is even richer. More interesting to me is always Ford’s deft handling of the movement of the poem, here at once he is able to slow the line down to a crawl like William’s cat foot creeping about and then pick it back up to toss it around.  Ford also has the poet’s eye of taking a seemingly innocuous statement and placing it down amid a sea of chaos, so it suddenly resounds loudly. Take the line: “The river is deep because/ there is so much water in it.” Alone we might find this statement quaint, but in Ford’s hands this is the poem “10 Most Dangerous Places in Space” and we have been led here with this reminder: “We will never meet—in quiet/—in footprints on another globe—We/ will never meet again.” Another connection between Ford and Notley for me is that their poems often chill me to the core, and yet I can’t let go of them. Ford presents us with the familiar just enough out of place so that we can never get comfortable; his poems envelope the terror —root in the “terra incognita.”

Review of Vincent Cellucci's An Easy Place/ To Die

This review first appeared in the literary journal Entrepôt in April, 2012. 

CityLit Press (2011)

by Megan Burns 

            The oldest stories are flood stories. Here in Vincent Cellucci’s An Easy Place/ To Die, the flood that swept through New Orleans in 2005 haunts the text, shading and contouring the line of thoughts and memories contained in this carefully constructed book of poems. Carefully constructed in its specific layout, Cellucci wants the reader to know that the story of this flood reads like a palimpsest covering the oldest of written tales, Gilgamesh, and borrowing and leaning on influential texts such as Eliot’s “The Waste Land” or Joyce’s Ulysses. These markers are not integral to the understanding of the poems though as they create their own particular landscape; it simply allows us to appreciate the layered history that Cellucci is writing upon. Bleeding through the lines is the structure and forms that Cellucci insists must make sense of the chaos, must in some ways contain the terrible. Cellucci claims that New Orleans is his Enkidu, the city made flesh and in this incarnate form: the one sought. It is down into the underworld that one must always travel to understand. Cellucci may title the book with the directive “To Die” but this is a collection about thwarting death, about emerging into the light after a long trek in the darkest dark.

            The first section begins “Uruk—Cradlecasket,” establishing links from the oldest of cities to this present day city: New Orleans. Embedded in the word “Uruk” is the “Ur-” that signals a primal or precursor to whatever follows as in the “ur-poem” with its promise of the germane source of our modern texts. “Uruk” draws an interesting parallel to New Orleans in that it is an ancient city whose history is built on myth and fact. In some sense, New Orleans remains a city existing somewhere between its own myths and reality, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine its eventual disappearance and subsequent memory being one constructed on these guiding principles. The district of Eanna in Uruk is one of the earliest known cites to develop writing and architecture cementing its place as a true “ur-city.” But Cellucci knows as well as any New Orleanian that a city is an illusion and what makes it stand is as illusory as a line of descriptions pilling up to embody the scene:
“megalomaniacs line to Tip’s/ for vampire music/ & blood/ suck mosquitoes/ a domicile/ turned    sacristy/ febreezed/ smellnomurder/ comingoutfromin/ that’s welfare” (16). Unpacking all of these images reveals the interlocking nature of urban life, the music integral to New Orleans is paired with the murders and poverty also widespread in the city.  The mythology of Anne Rice’s vampire lovers paired with the reality of blood sucking insects, and in the lines, words crammed tight to signal our need to either rush past, (don’t look here where the murder lies) but that also mimic the rhythmic rush of speech.
            The vernacular emerges throughout the poems capturing the speak of every day in lines like “done made a habit out of where you live” from “Eyes Bottle You” or in “Cleaning up/ Al’s Apartment:” “we walking graveyards. inside, we all hold the dead. clean them alive.” The second section: “Ishtar Castles” present poems dedicated goddess-like to the invisible other who in turn fascinates and torments the speaker.  Cellucci employs the use of the term “nother” to further depersonalize the “other” who is the source of the emotion, but the intimacy is emitted via the intense scrutiny of the other, sometimes fierce and sometimes tender: “the world lies/  lie with me/ invent constellations/ between our imperfections” (35) can be thrown against the earlier “I want to conquer you   speaking/ of which     start pretending/ you haven’t    smothered me” (25).  Cellucci often marks line breaks in the titles of his poem as he does in the book’s title; a structure that should read as a marker for us is purposefully broken. A stop of breath is commanded by the interruption, and yet the line remains whole: broken and whole.

            Some of the most beautiful lyrics are contained in the third section “Death by Heaven’s Bull” such as in the poem “Partial:” “we enjoy the brackish taste/ of tears toppled// we take the slow boat/ to scales/ we devour” (39).  Again, in “White Azaleas/ or Axioms for my Daughter” the delicate wisdoms of: “Don’t you don’t/ Could wind be a wish on us? / Let’s leave to a song./ Use imagination, not others.” The final poem in the collection “Causeway” is a long tribute to a post-Katrina New Orleans and, like the world’s longest bridge that it is named after, it carries us on a journey from one place to another. But here, it is the bridging that matters, (coincidently, in the afterward, Cellucci notes that the poem is loosely based on Crane’s famous bridge poem). “Causeway” attempts to contain the chaos of emotions amid the surreal and heart-wrenching imagery, sounds, and smells that were post-K New Orleans. “how I love Americans/ who (haven’t) waited/ on the corner to grab canned water and MREs” it states, playing with the literal opposites between New Orleans and everywhere else. Conversations overheard drift in on absurdist wings: “ ‘Baby, I don’t have any clothes’/ ‘It’s okay, I don’t have a stomach’”(62). In the afterward, Cellucci states that “Causeway” is a presence that “perseveres collapse and immolation,” (82). Perseveres, a word so close to the word preserve, which is another thing these poems do, but perseveres implies a resistance against, a lasting in spite of. And that’s New Orleans, preserved and persevered, caught in the double bind of “being easy” and “dying.” It’s a beautiful mystery to contemplate, like an ancient tale handed down century by century, and yet, here it is among us for the taking. Cellucci’s voice embodies the complex lover/ warrior, dissident and disheartened, and yet coming up from under the rubble, as Milton would say: long is the way/ And hard that out of Hell leads up to light.