Growler Reviews AmFrac

I haven’t had any time to update recently, but I’ve got a few topics loaded in the chamber and ready to shoot — just need time to write them up, and time doesn’t come cheap this time of year.  I’ll have an official count on Rattle Poetry Prize submissions by the end of the week, but we’ve already broken last year’s record (“even in this economy”) and still have a two-foot stack of hardcopy submissions to log.  In the middle of this, we’ve decided to move to a new apartment, sacrificing some space and solitude for the ammenities of modern life.  Who would have guessed their contest entries would spend time in a U-Haul?

I did have time to notice a bump in my Amazon sales ranking — shot up to #50,000 for the first time in a few months — so made a note try to figure out where that came from.  And I think I just did…  Googling around, I found this new review of American Fractal by Michael Turner on Growler.  Thanks, Michael, your publicity paid for my coffee this morning (if I ever sell enough to trigger royalties)!

Growler is new to me, but two years old — a smartly designed and well-written compliment to the equally choice Barrelhouse magazine.  One of my to-do posts is a list of other lit mags fans of Rattle might like, and Barrelhouse was already on the list.  Anyway, Growler reviews first books of poetry, so if you’re looking for new poets, it’s a great place to start.

Michael Turner’s review is my favorite to come out yet.  When I put the manuscript together, I worried that it would come across as a hodgepodge of poems, rather than a collected unit — that I hadn’t left enough clues to resolve the broader picture of the “American fractal,” as it were.  Turner gets it, and I have no idea who he is, so I’m pretty sure I never explained it to him.  In fact, he sometimes articulates the theme better than I can.  Here’s the conclusion, read the whole review for the rest, obviously:

Many of Green’s speakers seem to desire to disappear, to re-work the equation for subtraction. It is the frustration caused by a world that fails to allow disappearance which provides this book with a convincing uncertainty. Green’s is a world where one cannot distinguish between the ending and the beginning simply by the sound of the applause.

Very cool.

__________

p.s. The Odd Life of Timothy Green.  Gotta try to say that phrase every once in a while, as part of a Google-Bomb Defense Shield.  Haven’t seen any updates about that deadly movie, but it’s already creeping up the search rankings, and it’s still in rumor-phase.

BookMark Review of AmFrac by Marjorie Maddox

The above review appeared last Wednesday on WPSU, NPR’s central Pennsylvania affiliate.  The clip is from BookMark, a weekly book reviews show.  This is just, I think, the second review of the book to reach the public, and the first time my name’s ever been mentioned on the radio.

The coolest part is hearing someone else who you’ve never met read some lines of your poem out loud — and then still hearing them as they sound in your head.  Poetry works!  Here’s how Maddox ends the review:

Indeed, as Timothy Green claims in ‘Hiking Alone’, perhaps all we ever want is ‘a little darkness to climb out of.’ In American Fractal, he provides the dark, the light, and a rope of words for climbing from one insight to another.

__________

p.s. Marjorie Maddox has reviewed for Rattle in the past, but I only just discovered that she’s written a young adult book of baseball poems.  How cool is that? Looking around a little more, the poems seem to be good, too: “…all hard-pitched hope outthrown, thrown out/of luck, of heart, of the hard heat of summer/and what won’t be.” If I’d read that in 8th grade, I would have gotten into poetry sooner!

The Post in Which I Explain Once and For All What Makes American Fractal a Fractal

conversationsindminor_by_stacy_reedYesterday I gave a new (for me) example of what fractals are — objects for which scale is irrelevant, because the same patterns repeat over and over again regardless of scale. Viewed from above, a photograph of a barren desert could be a mile wide or a meter, and there’s no way to tell the difference.

The idea for the book — and I won’t deny that it’s a mostly post-hoc idea that I contorted a collection of poems around — is that American culture exhibits the structure of a fractal.  Viewed from above, without any assumptions about perspective, there’s no way to tell what size social unit you’re looking at.  The same patterns echo like a standing wave through the personal, the familial, the political, the metaphysical, and back again.  Our national identity is just as nuanced as an individual mind — all the passions and paranoias of the microcosm reverberate through the macrocosm.

They only look like difference scales because we’re locked inside our singular plane of experience, full of referants to always remind us of where we are. We’re like the kid I was in the title poem, standing between two mirrors in my grandmother’s bathroom, staring at an infinite recession of smaller and smaller heads, stretching back so far that the horizon line becomes a point — and that point we’ll never see, because no matter how far we twist, our head is always in the way.

A good example has to compare two poems.  I won’t post either of them now, but you can read “Cutlery” in Rattle e.6.  In that poem, a woman with schizophrenia can’t sleep because it’s raining cutlery — “bare arms shielding [her] face from the tinny drizzle.”  Obviously, the poem is inspired by my time working at the group home — and it’s a story that may or may not be true (yes, I’m being coy) — but what might not be obvious to anyone but me is that the entire poem can be read as an allegory for American militarism.  (“Everywhere I look there’s more of it…“)  The obsession, the pride, the paranoia — the schizophrenic’s inability to distinguish between threats real and imagined.  (“so much to sort by sunrise…”)  There’s no a single reference to war in the poem, except for maybe the vague threat of cutlery used as a weapon, but it doesn’t matter.  The pattern is there.

Another poem, “Playing Our Part,” moves (or can move) in the exact opposite direction.  Ostensibly, this is a “why we fight” poem.  The epigram is from Nietzsche — “Under peaceful conditions, a warlike man sets upon himself” —  and it springs into a little narrative of a warlike God up on a hill, the villagers below resigned to fight so God won’t get bored and turn the rifle on Himself.  Honestly, the idea always strikes me as a little too quaint, but kind of funny.  Maybe it works for you, maybe it doesn’t.  But when you look through the lens of the fractal, you start to see that the poem isn’t just about militarism — it can also be read as an allegory for the perpetuation of violence within a family unit.  Every bully at school has a bully of a father (or father-figure).  It’s often explained as hierarchy, where the bully is stripped of power at home, and so desperately seeks to fill that void while at school.  But there’s more to it than that — there’s also this Lacanian psychological certainty that the father, the king bully, must be justified in his behavior, and so the cycle of violence is really a kind of pyramid scheme, always working to restore faith and solidarity with the father above. (“And so our factories whir incessantly…”)

You can play the same kind of games, finding various structural dualities, with every poem in the book. Every poem can be read as a metaphor for some broader or smaller subject.

That might sound impressive at first, like I did a lot of work burying all these meanings, but the truth is that the fundamental structure of human experience — and thus, the universe — is a fractal.  All of thought is metaphor and metonymy; it’s all relative, always.  We’re just locked inside our isolated plane of individualism, so we don’t usually notice the whole.  We confuse all these mental objects for concrete.

Zoom out into near-earth orbit, leave all your preconceptions about what it means to be human on the ground, and try to distinguish our civilization from a colony of bacteria in a petri dish.  We clump into cities that quickly expand outward, sometimes connected by arteries, consuming resources and excreting toxins at an exponential rate in a race to see if we’ll suffocate before starve ourselves out.  Some bacteria even give off light.

Not that I’m necessarily criticizing humanity or American culture, I’m just pointing out the repeating patterns.  I’m just talking about America because my experience happens to be American.  Fractals don’t judge; they only wave.  After all, who knows if we might be making champagne.

American Fractal

AMERICAN FRACTAL

We are like two chasms,
a well staring up at the sky
          –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

two mirrors face each other            my hands over my face            the

porcelain soap dish            an angel’s wings & a mile of its offerings           

pink on pink on black tile            I’m in the bathroom            close the door

shut the light            down the hall the tv too loud            bob barker & the

price is right            shut that out too            I’m on the other edge of

something            of adulthood            of a gulf            a canyon            looking

down down            no vultures circling picking bones though            no

heaped bodies to climb over            no fall to cushion            or to be

cushioned            not the body that matures this time            just this

hollow wooden door            the lock my parents could pick with a belt-   

.

hook at any moment            the hot glare of the vanity lights making

my pimples glow        I said shut the light            shut the light            the tv

too loud mother won’t get up            get up!            the friend visiting

from florida            her baby james sucking grapes            he wouldn’t eat

anything else            just the grapes            the seedless orbs like eyeballs           

sucking them            each green globe with a little pop            a little giggle           

wouldn’t take the formula            wouldn’t take the mashed carrots &

peas            brown mush from a jar            the rubber spoon an airplane           

but still nothing            a silent protest maybe            maybe reading into

things too far            we fed him grapes for three weeks            he kept               

.

giggling            sleeping in my bedroom            a crib of blankets in the

cedar hope chest at the foot of my bed            grapes & grapes & the

husband flying up finally to take him home            to take her home           

a quiet man            a mustache            all five-foot-five of him fumbling           

down the hall the showcase showdown            the systolic bleep of the

wheel slowing to rest            a dinette set            a new car            flashing

lights            cheers & screams from the audience            mother’s best

friend in the intersection held her baby            cat-walked the dotted

yellow line & then sat down            the baby crying            the headlights           

horns            she sat down            then the police call at midnight            do you           

.

know the father?            then driving home holding the baby while my

father shifted & swore            the soft skull            the soft neck            way

past bedtime            past due            stay up!            stay up!            his head so

heavy            mother on the couch again won’t get up            won’t blink           

a crack in the ceiling holding her there            mesmerized            like the

root of that word something animal            doctoral            doctor mesmer

on his glass armonica            the women in tubs of glass powder           

iron fillings            the magic of the wand            relax relax            my sweet

baby james            singing from behind the curtain            go to sleep            go

to sleep            they had words for it back then            hysteria                                           

.

distemper            the doctors in the waiting room more mysterious           

more clinical            we had clinics now            post-partum depression           

they said            bipolar disorder            they said in their white robes           

behind their stethoscopes & clipboards            their shoes so soft they

moved soundlessly down the long hall the price is right on a

television hanging from the ceiling            I sit down in the bathtub           

how can you blame them for sitting down            things getting so

heavy?        for what do we hold onto eventually?            eventually

what don’t we hold onto?            mother in the living room            on the

couch            shake her shake her            wake her up            & father            at the       

.

bar he says            late at work he says            & the bathroom with its

cheap lock            that convenient clasp            & the light on            & the

light off            & the mirror into mirror into mirror            that silver-

backed glass            looking like her            looking like him            the images

playing off    themselves in the glass            divide            divide            & how

could they know            each one            each image into infinity            how

could they know?        each image one moment behind the last           

catching up & catching up            until the last            & finally letting go

the last            like a leap into no faith            letting go    that smallest star           

that grain of sand            that simplest & finest point of light                                       

.

–from American Fractal
first published in Runes

Cooking Dinner

COOKING DINNER

Spring again. Its warmer breeze. Open screen door.
Another war buds up, pliant and green,
thick spores of restlessness
like pollen in the air–you could sneeze with it;
your heart could stop beating in a moment.
____bless you, you’re whispering.
                                    ____bless you.
As if a soul could leak like steam from its
            cellular prison, as if words alone
could draw it back–white light, white light,
a sheet, a flag.
Every day more words to be wary of, that space there
in the blessing, that monotone
on the radio with its figures and dates and facts
and facts that rattle on long after
you’ve pulled the plug, glued shut
                        your ears, rattle on,
rat-tat-tat like something you won’t say
while you drown yourself in a cold water bath,
pry loose your silver fillings
because you’ve heard that story–oh yes,
you’ve heard it before,
but maybe it’s your whole body that’s
transmitting their signals this time, that subsonic
                        headache drone, your bones
the antennae, your marrow electric,
pulsing, mortar crumbling, bricks
knocked free, windows smashed, bits of glass
like blue gravel, tires and dumpsters
            on fire with looting, the whole world
coming loose, thin thread being
pulled and pulled, wound tight
                                    around your_____.
But there she is over the stove.
            Relax, she says. Just relax. She’s cooking
dinner. Egg noodles and mushroom soup.
The kitchen dizzy with steam. Her apron
stained from years of fancier meals, wasted
energy, messes not worth
                                    cleaning up.
Not coming loose, she says,
                        been loose. A grocery list
of wars, holy wars, hunger.
These pots just boil with their watching, is all.
Out on the porch the clatter of a small animal,
                        a neighbor’s cat. The faint stir
of last year’s dried-out leaves against the fence
            finally being looked at.

from American Fractal
first published in RATTLE #22