Poetry Review: Two from Talonbooks

Friendly + Fire and For Love and Autonomy

Two books from Talonbooks, which did their work to unsettle my stones and burn my rafters. I opened covers and the fires of my communist days (and daze) reignited (and revitalized) turning me over into epiphany and crisis in my 21st century schizoid privilege and mediocrity. Books that evoke (or invoke) crisis (or crises) are like bells ringing throughout the town, and these days those bells, analogical or literal, rarely ring.

Whether you, reader, read for the visceral transfer of image and experience, the funneling and absorption of the rawest emotional palates, or the reflection on a world of politics, conflict, and social unease, or some combination of all the above (and more, or less) that represents the truest truths, the most interpretable fictions, the most gorgeous beauty and synchronicity, or incredible duress and entropy, these books are for you. They wrangle. They call. They impress. They impose. They bring order, they bring forth, and they stretch the meaning of our unready minds.

Both Danielle LaFrance and Anahita Jamali Rad represent the astute inspection of our realms of existence, our owning to ourselves the concepts of humanity. They stand for love, but they stand for a searing, sincere surrounding of all concepts, and an exploration of the spectra of violence through astounding lingual anglings. In other words: these authors have prepared works that will blow your mind again and again, and again. My responses to them do no justice, act as no realist reflection. My brain is too tiny for paying proper due, and so I proclaim read them. Read these writers, these artists, these poets, these people, and understand the progress they’ve put the work in to make.

Friendly + Fire by Danielle LaFrance (Talonbooks, 2016, 119 pages)

a sullied ink splotch   a computer screen

simple tanker   sincere poke means . . .

. . . degrees separate scream

outside grasp letters   proper nouns   diction

designate wannabe needy natter

H.S prep-o-incisions at at at to to to

. . . trigger tense repeat trigger

– from “Red Bells Still Hang on Many Doors” (page 9)

It was a question of pacing. And it was a question of confronting, edging into, a verse of strength. It was an experience reading Friendly + Fire and the experience forced me to stop, question where my entitlement and leisure class triggers were placed and why there were placed where they were found. Crisis of the male reader before the examiner of Man. Sputter to a stop. Heart beat and anxiety. This is what we ignore. This is how to ignore it. And now we don’t ignore no more. Naivety? Perhaps. Intentionality? Perhaps. A grotesque and liminal existence? Perhaps. These qualities resonated with me as they did the quasi-anonymous (or quasi-archetypal) H.S, LaFrance’s moniker for Harry Schmidt, USA military, criminal, or at least psychopath.

A combination of expose and manifesto and critical historicism, this book gutted me and brought to light the actions and reactions of my daily existence as a testament to the reality of a masculinity shrouded in the subconscious, in the unexamined, in the latency and laziness of the being “dude” (sluggish, slightly gross) in the second decade of the 2000s. And for all of this, I am thankful. For all of this, the writing here before my fingers can’t be anything but personal, just as the book LaFrance has written, an explosion to my 2017’s January, a kickoff sending the object spiraling across the ether examining the trail it leaves behind itself.

what happens when I make decisions for myself?

there is nothing friendly or funny?

hard plate burns a badass bitch

politeness fucks women in trouble

loaded dumb, dirty hairy

packed here in my fanny

suicide-stoked. Triple

threat to one bowlegged

squirreling species beating

hurts so good

hot stinging flesh of the catamite

toxicity cosmos divest. H.S waxed-moon chest

in the napalm of H.S hand

– from an untitled poem (page 21)

About ten pages into the book: “H.S looks like Harry Schmidt . . . but also looks like HIS without the “I” . . . “ says me, thinking crucially and cruelly of the transformative power of LaFrance’s language. That slight implosion becomes an explosion. That slight diminishing becomes an awakening. The slow drawl of one man’s errors as representative of an entire institution, of perhaps most of one of the sexes of a species. But you don’t know who Harry Schmidt is, unless you read about him, in the news, the killer, the bomber, responsible for the “Tarnak Farm Incident,” a Major, a man who splattered blood across 2002, redefining “friendly fire” in an age where perhaps sometimes we forget . . . but LaFrance’s mission is not to forget. Not to forget the atrocity that comes when the ammunition gets spent on our own. Not to forget the manipulation of systems that quake us and still us through their chilling aftermath. Not to forget the precision of humanity in all its protections and all its vulnerabilities.

With this volume following a chapbook and full length, LaFrance is no foreigner to the proverbial pen, and thus every instance of her existence is at once personal and external, prospective and retrospective entwined. The six sections that compose this book are a response to a crime. And they are also an independent and striking look at the retributive act of reflection. An appropriately intelligent book that does not hold back for any person or anything. It rouses, coughs and spits in protest, defies and enlightens all the same.

The demands of this book are powerful enough on their own inspection of the insurmountable terror of the military industrial complex, but when faced with the entwining of the self, of the speaker, of LaFrance, the demands become unforgettable. There is a measured grace here, a grace that is genderless and poignant, but also directly feminist in both core intellect and surrounding response to patriarchal oppression and the chaos of the world of the H.S. LaFrance walks the line between the voices of herself, her selves, her core, and those of H.S, of man, of everything horrible in the “fire” of Friendly + Fire that demands a justified and overdue critique.

A melody, a chant, a complex exploration through dynamics in tone, LaFrance brings her voices into the book as much as she does H.S. The voices become entwined, wrapped, coiled together where at times there is a stunning confusion (that is, I was stunned and confused) to see what I was reading: the expressive farcical nature of H.S or the expositions and liberated awareness of LaFrance. All said, the book as a whole rounds itself out with some of the most prophetic and enduringly personal exclamations I have read in recent years of poetry. To say captivation is the result for the reader is too broad. To say intense inspection is not visceral enough. The awe is there, but it is a studious, unpretentious awe that gives this book life and respects the reader through a powerful self-awareness.

H.S epitomizes   masculinity and femininity

I am so woman   right now

bare back, machine gun, and strong, sound legs

nightmare brunette posts my best  strangle pose

inability to see

(and be seen)

is ultra-high V12

Mercury bottoms out

Saturn’s Return Policy

store credit   there are thirty-three of me

– from “Reproductive Labour is Reduced Thanks to the Removal of CLP” (on page 61)

All of that said, this book is difficult in its form, content, context, visioning. And it is, to use an understatement, heartbreaking at times through the legitimacy and transparency of LaFrance’s perspective. And so I return to my pausing, my pacing, my putting the book down as the anxiety of “Man” erupted flutters and flusters of fragility within. My personal experience aside, I imagine, envision, a readership that has a common experience, that connects with the book personally, profoundly, and is left sifting through the rubble the same way history sifts through H.S’s rubble on a daily basis, forever, as emblazoned by this book.

In its grimmest moment, Friendly + Fire reminds me of who we are and who we have the potential to be. Reading it made me remember my greatest moments of holistic happiness, where I shared universal entitlement with the diversity of other. It made me remember dancing with friends in high school in my bed room, reminded me of being on a beach with my closest in my 20s. Reminded me of the sharing of a good joke. In the horror and reality of atrocity we find ourselves, the strictly serious and the undeniably traumatic must be countered: through the rigorous and thorough examination of what brought upon the atrocity, and the resolution serving as anchor, counterpoint. By bringing in her own everyday and embedding the brutality of H.S with powerful images of her own, LaFrance successfully inspires us to all be our own person, beyond the rubble, so that we may look down and step forward.

For Love and Autonomy by Anahita Jamali Rad (Talonbooks, 2016, 95 Pages)

Because it should be done out of pure love.

You and I and some others walk through a park and climb over a fence. We act like we’re really doing something. It’s like we’re multiplying on the other side. We act like we never end, like our bodies expand into each other and another and another and another until there is no barrier. The cars on the other side still reflect light off their shiny steel surfaces. Are bathed in a pinkish light. Lay around on the road, or race by without glancing in our direction. Pretend we’re not there. Aggressively, pretend we’re not there.

– from “against the industrialization of our bodies” (page 7)

The ten sections that make up Anahita Jamali Rad’s For Love and Autonomy are straight out of the dredges of the metropolis, straight out of the aches and groans of life within the machine, the same life you, dear reader, and me live within as well. Urgent and incising, these poems follow wide swaths of form and expression through a Marxist and Post-Marxist love and search for equality. They are as intimately woven scenes uttered after the cruelty of human bondage as they are vilifying critiques of the society that does not end and mauls us all. They are in part confessional as we are all confessional, and these poems are also in part movements toward a future where the liberation of poetry binds us together, and not to the oppressor.

From cover to cover, I found my eyes fixed and yet wobbling as Rad’s work carried me from page to page, causing within a rethinking of my entitlement and a reappraising of my own essences remarkably damned as for so long mostly a member of the status quo. Through such confrontation, it was astounding to witness Rad sifting through and pulling forward such personal experience yet maintaining a posture of unlimited potential. Through For Love and Autonomy, throughout these poems, there exists an anonymity, an unsculpted block of matter, and it arouses the imagination. Of the many resulting effects, a reinforcement of the universality of struggle, of love, and of independence is achingly present. There is an underlying energy representing deconstruction supporting progress. Feminist underpinnings mixed with political collage are consciously and thoroughly inspirational despite the grim contexts and circumstances of life in a late Capitalist’s West.

And in certain cases, anger becomes idealized as romantic hate.

When you or I are in hierarchical power relations, and participate in systems of stratification in which some are viewed as inferior, and others viewed as not inferior, those who are viewed as infe4riro are hateable. And the object of this idealization (that hateable other) becomes the holder of all bad qualities. There’s no questioning how capital got into this one.

– from “sick of codes” (page 65)

Her works bend from personal illustration into literary allusion. Empowered with the canon and all it has to offer contemporary thinking, Rad infuses her work with an array of brilliance still capable of demanding of the attention of the 21st century mind: from Fanon to Marx to Mejabi to Sedgwick to Cocteau—to name a few—there is a resilience in the presence of history here. Rad knows the music of the tools that so much energy built before us, and harkens them forth, harkens them here, now, into the immediacy of a poetry exploring the self as it explores the anonymous communities plagued by capitalism and development.

The poetry is refreshing. Whether stark, disjointed and grammatically voided columns, or impressions of stanza blocks cascading from segment to segment, this poetry is its own. Thinking of similar writers, I watch as Rad’s expressions go beyond the visual wilderness of Donato Mancini. It is a poetry extending its range of emotion beyond the mechanical and Kafkaesque escapades of another similar writer, Robert Mittenthal. It is a poetry of vigor and recognition. A poetry that sets pages on fire and opens doors by removing them entirely from their wall’s frames.

[. . .] Parallels are drawn because the body and the concrete body and the laboring body and the reproducing body and the power relations between our bodies are always already built not only just because – she doesn’t even have the time.

– from “a body scripted” (page 79)

I think of Rad’s platform, of the form that her spirit takes to express itself. In this case: the body of poems.

What does it mean to be a collection? What does it mean to write and express, to create and then to consume? Where is the radicalization of poetry within a grouping? Where is the breakdown of the housing that carries the words that do so much damage to us on a regular basis? These sorts of questions have answers only in that they exist out of a world of instants and moments. For Love and Autonomy, which collects, heartens and embodies, and represents a diffusing, succinctly brings together the moments into a single whole, the intellectual equivalent of a center of gravity. From the staggered sputter of short lines showing an equivocal but enduring pressing through the murk of non-conviction (the distant, muffled voice of the shrouded other), to the empowering and towering flow of prose that causes us to pause and look at our processes and, more directly, our humanity, with greater endearment and new levels of openness, the writing here is more about building than it is about deconstructing.

As I read it, anyway, and I believe the mighty and the majestic of the world, those points of view that can give us hope when much seems lost, are through recovery and empathy, as crystalline is fragments it is still equal, and reinforcing, through totality. These are poems representative of that totality, embodying a form of love that requires an acceptance of and moving beyond that which currently sits in front of our faces, which surrounds us, which brings us joy and brings us pain and brings us submission and brings us freedom. It is that future imagining Rad’s work withstands, carries as a burden, erupts with new forms of light from within. The cause is “Essentially / the body / felt through / the body” (from “modifications of the cry of distress” on page 69) . . . and the effect is however and forever the reception through these pages. This visceral experience crafted by the expert explorer, the ultra-aware, the path-finding of a leader and visionary of today looking into the leadership and visions of tomorrow.

And yet equally powerful is that this book, as complex as it may be, as true to time as it may rely, is also a collection of powerful poems that serve to inspire and educate in their own independent ways. The collective of this verse is a collective of equally effective smaller bits and pieces, allowing for a great span of relevant voices and tones. For Love and Autonomy is a collection that will remain relevant for if “we” are “we” and if “us” are “us” its crystalline multiplicity of facets will inspire the reader into consistent action and revision of action. Even as I type this, I hear the eruption of Rad’s voice from this powerful book’s pages and look forward to all its future impacts on me and any who engage it.

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