Linh Dinh

Linh Dinh is the author of two collections of stories and five books of poetry, most recently Jam Alerts and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy. He recently published a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present and many other places. He’s also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001) and the translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker by Phan Nhien Hao (2006).   His poems and stories have been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish. He’s also published widely in Vietnamese.

There’s something wonderfully paradoxical about Linh Dinh’s poetry. The poems are full of surprise; from the first line I can never predict where they are going to end up nor how they will jump there. To call them wild seems like a gross understatement; they are more feral than wild. At the same time, they have an odd and wonderful sense of form. Like any great lyric, there’s an organic shapeliness about their music and movement. To put it another way, his poems reflect the depths of our culture’s banality and violence, but they never feel just like culture randomly talking.  They feel effortless and inevitable.

As the poet Hai-Dang Phan wrote on his blog, “Linh’s is a poetry of revolt, even revolt against poetry’s own death, sounding a dissent against what’s truly revolting about the State of the Union.”

Or as Dinh puts it in his poem “Eating Morphemes”:

“No longer held or possessed

This word has wandered off

And can not be slotted in any

Long masticated

Macerated mess”

–December 2011

Cedar Sigo

Cedar Sigo is the author of Selected WritingsExpensive Magic, Portraits and Music For Torching, and his new collection of poetry, Stranger In Town, from the new City Lights Spotlight Series. He has collaborated with many visual artists and ghosts.

In his jaunty lyrics, gaps and pauses matter as much but not necessarily more than the city’s chatter. His work displays a consciousness equally as attuned to the “rulers of the interior” as it is to acid-washed jeans.  His poems capture the dreamy matter that jangles around between and outside of words, but also the fragments of reality that bang and rustle as one walks and observes.

In his sly manifesto “The Sun” Sigo writes, “Even if poetry may appear to be just odds and ends. It’s what the voice has come to.”

We are lucky to have this voice with us tonight.

Maureen Owen

Maureen Owen, poet, editor and publisher, is the author of ten poetry titles, most recently Erosion’s Pull from Coffee House Press, a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and the Balcones Poetry Prize. Maureen currently teaches at Naropa University and is editor-in-chief of Naropa’s online ’zine not enough night. She has a long relationship with the Poetry Project, having worked as the co-director in the late seventies and the program director in the early aughts. Her next title is forthcoming from Chax Press.

Maureen Owen puts the free in the term “free” verse. Reading her poems, one is not just playing tennis without a net, but without ground under one’s feet.

Her writing is characterized by a fearlessness that can be seen in her long, two-pronged titles and kinetic approach to projective verse.

To read a Maureen Owen poem is to fall in love with her buoyant personality and sense of humor. She knows how to wield an exclamation mark like no one else. Bernadette Mayer calls Owen’s work “quantum poetics,” which I think suggests the way Owen is able to jump between images and ideas without the reader being able to predict where she is going or see how she got there once she arrives.

There is also, of course, a wisdom to her work. She knows “the essential and transient nature of people and places” and that “sometimes it’s not who you are with/ but what happens to you when you are with them.”

As Alice Notley wrote, “Maureen Owen is one of those American originals whose work could never be mistaken for anyone else’s: her rushing phrasal line, her architectonic wit, her conjunction of elegance and down-to-earthness.”

–March 2011

Joseph Lease

Joseph Lease’s books include Broken World (Coffee House Press, 2007) and Human Rights. His new book, Testify, was recently published by Coffee House Press. His poems have also been featured on NPR and published in The Best American Poetry, The AGNI 30th Anniversary Poetry Anthology, Bay Poetics, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence and elsewhere. He is an Associate Professor of Writing and Literature and the Chair of the MFA Program in Writing at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

It seems fitting that the covers of Lease’s last two books, Broken World and Testify, look so similar. Both works explore in serial, fractured voices what it means to write poetry or seek moments of non-commodified joy at this particular moment at the end of American empire.

There’s always a sense in Lease’s work that language may be the only salvation—the only way to reach the spiritual—but also that it is insufficient. There’s a difficultly inherent any gesture towards speech. As he writes in Broken World,

“You are getting it and you are getting it

here or there or somewhere you are seeming or you are seeming here”

and in Testify,

“We Lost the Word virtue. We lost the world sister.“

and “Authentication failed.”

Throughout there’s an obsessive circling, a re-visioning and revisiting of tropes, an attempt to make language whole despite the culture’s pressure to tear the voice apart.

The poems suggest that if we could only say the word “wren” with authenticity, then maybe later we could resurrect the word “democracy” and begin the major changes our nation needs to be reborn. As Gillian Conoley writes, “Testify, a great book, places itself at America’s street corner of Origin and Decay. A delicate, tentative lyricism arises full of want.”

–April 2011

Jerome Sala

A recent study in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology shows that children can understand ironic language as young as age six.  For those of us who have spent the last 30 years reading Jerome Sala’s poems to the slaves in the laboratory, this was old news. In fact, specimens have been known to laugh at Sala’s lines as young as age negative four. Who wouldn’t succumb to the charms of his incisive wit?

Jerome Sala forges a poetry out of the scraps of a language defined by advertising and the constraints of capitalism. His poems explore (or perhaps detonate) the relationship between poetry and commodity culture in a way that blurs the lines between them and forces us to question assumptions and to confront the present moment in America. To me, though, what is most interesting about Sala’s poetry is the feeling of negative space, a sort of charged flatness that shines between the lines of his satiric punches.  These are poems, not merely jokes, so what is not said can be more powerful than what is.

My understanding is that in honor of Halloween he is going to be reading from his new chapbook of goth-horror poems, Prom Night, created in collaboration with artist Tamara Gonzales, but I urge you to also check out his last collection, Look Slimmer Instantly, which we have copies of in the back.

–November 2010

Truck Darling (Jeni Olin)

Truck Darling is the author of two books of poetry published by Hanging Loose Press: Blue Collar, a collaboration with the artist Larry Rivers, and most recently Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems.

Many years ago, when I first met the poet who used to be known as Jeni Olin at the Poetry Project, she was wearing a handmade T-shirt with the title of John Wiener’s book Hotel Wentley in iron-on letters, as if it were the name of a small-town little league team.

The shirt says everything you need to know about Truck Darling’s poetry.  Like Wiener, Olin writes poems that are unafraid to break your heart, to veer unapologetically into pure sincerity. But there’s also an awareness of the absurdity of this sadness. In the same way that putting a sad book’s name on a cutesy t-shirt puts a sort of kitsch frame around the idea of suffering, Truck’s poem’s veer madly between tones and modes of being. As she writes in the poem “Artist Statement,” she’s into “grief, porn and denim.” In other words, Truck’s jokey asides make the sadness and emotion no less real. The pain is just a part of poetry, instead of the predetermined center.

There’s always a playfulness about her approach to art. Just reading the book’s titles—“His & Her Urinals,” “I Am the Cheese Duh,” “Tragically Flawed is so 2009, LA,”—you get the tone, but you don’t necessarily get what comes later: the willingness to stop being clever and say what needs to be said in the most bare and direct way possible. As she writes at the end of Hold Tight, “middle finger to the haters.”

–October 2010

 

 

 

Jean-Paul Pecqueur

Jean-Paul Pecqueur’s new work has appeared recently in Fourteen Hills, So and So, Boog City and Gulf Coast.  He always used to write in his bio that he has worked as a chicken catcher, fish canner, garment worker, furniture mover and dish busser, a résumé that contrasts greatly with his sophisticated intellectual persona.

Jean-Paul is the author of The Case Against Happiness, published by Alice James Books in 2006. He soon discovered that the problem with publishing a book titled The Case Against Happiness is that hapless armchair philosophers will buy the book thinking that it is the scholar Eric G. Wilson’s book Against Happiness. In fact, according to Amazon, thirty-five percent of customers looking at Jean-Paul’s book buy Wilson’s. While Wilson’s book offers, according to Bookforum, “a reasoned call for the preservation of melancholy in the face of all-too-rampant cheerfulness,” Pecqueur’s book supplies “Rorschach ponds of spontaneous intent” and “nanotechnologies modeled on the electric guitar and remaindered primal scream therapy.”

Those who buy Pecqueur’s book by mistake will soon discover that, despite the title, the poems are surprisingly bubbling with joy. Yes, it’s true that Jean-Paul has written, “The modern age is sinking into the parched soil of the Po-Mo world,” but other poems provide “orange blossoms everywhere” and “donkeys on bikes.”

Happiness indeed.

–November 2010