Category Archives: Reviews

Circuits by Jennifer K Dick- A Review

386204_143866762391482_1126872668_n
Click on the image to buy a copy of the book

Jennifer K. Dick, American poet who currently teaches American Literature, Creative Writing and Civilisation at the Université de Haute Alscace, France, unleashes a surreal, tantalising look into the poetics of psychology. Her current academic research focus is the merging of the field of poetry and of visual poetics. She has written three books and four chapbooks to date. Circuits, her most recent publication, was published in 2013 by corruptpress.

Circuits is a poetry collection based on George Johnson’s 1992 book on the science of memory, In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build the Worlds Inside Our Head. Throughout, Circuits echoes the scientific side of this work, sometimes falling short when translating it into poetry. Poems within Circuits are rarely less than one A4 side in length with few line breaks and thus, it is definitively a challenge even to the sophisticated reader of both poetry and psychology.

Despite this, when the technical language and concepts begin to strengthen in the brain as the collection goes on, what the reader is left with is a difficult, confusing, at times frustrating and other times, liberating exploration into the poetics of psychological memory. This exploration is best narrated through this segment of Dick’s work,

“the idea that memory is a bright light in the brain, one neural network responds to its intense competing hypothesis – different features for what is already open to scepticism. It was much of what Anderson was leading to: Certain brains pick the horizon as just another star, but deep inside are the various ways to guess it is Venus.” (‘Resonance and Reality, p.8). Enigmatic and esoteric, Dick has created a poetry collection unlike any other I have encountered.

Circuits is a poetic exploration of psychology and neuroscience and it is not a collection catered for the layman. Prior knowledge of these scientific fields are almost essential, unless the reader wishes to spend dedicated time looking up words such as ‘erythrocytes,’ ‘dendrites,’ ‘calmodulin’ and ‘neurotransmitter’. For the unprepared reader, this could be an enduring process. However, in spite of this, many of the poems come together by the end, as after reading them, revelations about memory, human behaviour, love, lust and confusion is bound in a purgatorial state between science and the arts. Dick’s poetic ability is not really in question, with stunning visuals such as, “She woke, tongue of her tulips, Marlboro or Lucky – the packet shaved. Cool tile in the blue-eyed auburn night crossing the doublings.” (A Hostile Reception, p.22) and “It was possible you were building an architecture we could be models for, human skulls stacked book-like on the shelves peering over your shoulder.” (Intuition & Ambiguity, p.30) Nevertheless, these pieces are rare gems to be plucked out from larger poems, leaving stanzas more exciting and together than the whole, due to the intellectual nature of the work.

Circuits captures in poetic sentiment the inescapable reality of a materialist’s focus: that we are merely our brains – soulless and without a mind – running on sophisticated algorithms (or Circuits, as the title aptly articulates). On the other hand, Dick’s has finesse within her writing that fleets about topics like a dragonfly’s non-linear movement over a lake. She exposes memories and emotional states at their most dreamlike in a precarious state of collective uncertainty, for example, “He was quick as the sound of room. Dirt. I mean space. I mean I need some.” (An Exotic Phenomenon, p.35). These shorter passages are what separate this book from being a condensed academic summation and into the realms of poetry where the imagery is vivid and interesting, tossing the reader between the taxing natures of mysterious wordplay and academic psychology.

There are moments when society is beautifully reflected in Dick’s poems, for quote, “try soup with multivitamins under surveillance” (The Porcupine Effect, p.4) crosses the barrier between lab experiments and modern life, a concoction of consumerism, prescription drugs and surveillance. One of the tasks of poetry is to make the work relevant to the day, as poems become as much of a historical artifact as they do a cultural magnifying glass on contemporary society. There are abundant times where Dick achieves this fundamental aspect of poetry.

The standout poem from Circuits, personally, was ‘Celestial Navigation,’ which evoked a poetic, psychological perspective between science, belief and faith as it merged the various topics seamlessly together. The human instinct to rely on their memories as a playback machine rather than a fragmented recollection, merging memory and imagination as highlighted, “Memories. Even in truth,” you began, / “is rooted on gut in faith.” (Celestial Navigation, p.47)

Overall, Circuits is a collection for anyone who is intrigued by science and art formulated together into poetry. Dick’s intellectual platform is fascinating and her work echoes human behaviour dressed up in metaphors using neurons, thought patterns and lab experiments. It is a collection which demands attention and reading around the subject area, but if the reader is dedicated to accessing an enigmatic collection of work and puts in the right amount of focus, not only is there solid writing laced with more than just a twist of psychology, there is a lot to be learnt from Dick’s poetic interpretation of science. It is not the sort of collection you are likely to curl up with on your sofa and read in one sitting but the power of this work exists through the readers’ willingness to learn.

Circuits is an interesting collection which captures intrigue, contemplation and inspiration, but that – occasionally – falls short of its potential due to its ambitious and demanding nature.

_

Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Bullets & Orchids by Rewa Zeinati

bullets and orchids
bullets and orchids

(click on the image to check out the book)

 Bullets & Orchids is a cryptic, yet highly relevant collection of contemporary poetry written by Rewa Zeinati, a Lebanese-American poet currently based in Dubai. It was published by corrupt press in 2013.

At first glance, Bullets & Orchids presents itself in a manner which is as surreal as it is intriguing, evident by Zeinati’s skilful manipulation of juxtaposing imagery in the title. This sets the tone for each of the 58 poems within, all titled with merely a number and rarely following a numerical chronology. Even this represents something stranger, something more hypnotic. Zeinati manages to create successfully a unique, gloomy atmosphere, piecing together fragments of glistening imagery from the depths of empathy and her own experience. Bullets & Orchids deploys themes which illuminate the darker perplexities of our times – prevalent themes such as war, famine, love, loss, corruption, greed, religion, death and trauma – are weaved from dissonance into an elegant poetic tapestry, alive with an essence of uncertainty.

Zeinati is not afraid to pull you into her psyche from the beginning, the collection jumping at and around the reader like a restless dream; an incessant thought which can neither be pinpointed nor grasped:

“She travels,
her body still//

Upon the bed…

Sometimes it hurts.”

Disparity is echoed throughout the work and as the pages are turned, Zeinati puts a spotlight on the perils of sleepless nights:

“The ceiling: so tired of leadership. It must come down in the morning.

No one to look down upon until dusk.”

Though many of the poetic ruminations in Bullets & Orchids show a level of philosophical pragmatism, Zeinati is not concerned with making her work palatable; defying the casual reader an easy route to the heart of what the collection is ultimately about:  the Self and its relation to the human condition. Bullets & Orchids is filled with imagery sure to resonate in the psyche of the attentive reader, with segments likely to grip, such as, “And if memory fails / Then memory, / wins.”, “Nothing left but the glint of steel and bloodstained sand”, and, “Like weeds pulled from the earth. That’s how you get rid of the past”. However, there are times when this type of enigmatic writing becomes almost nonsensical, with parts of the poem becoming more memorable than the whole. Meaning is lost sometimes in the stuttering nature of the work, which can lose the message the poem seeks to convey.

Throughout Bullets & Orchids, repetitions and references to poems in various parts of the collection are found. This ties together the different themes. For example, one poem ends in, “I saw bullets though. Many were shaped like tongues”, and later on in the collection, the words, “did you ask me? The artery asked the bullet”, jumps out at the reader with an emotional realism, unique to Zeinati’s poetic voice.

Every now and then, complete poems (or, perhaps more aptly, fragments), come in the form of a single word, seeking relevance from the poems around it. This may come across as contrived, as the words; “nothing” and “today” form whole pieces, which can be frustrating. The disjointed nature of the shape of some poems disrupt the flow, distracting the reader from the full enjoyment of the work, as incomplete sentences read more like hiccups than a flowing voice.

Bullets & Orchids illuminates the absurdity of the world we live in, highlighted by the bluntness of the poem referencing the death of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, “A 42 year dictatorship ends. Another one continues,” (42.) and this is the clearest indication of Zeinati’s frustrations with the world; that one regime terminating does not solve the complex, political and historical problem of oppression.

Bullets & Orchids presents itself as a collection for the enquiring mind, for it takes significant thought and effort to find roots of meaning within the poetry. This should not put off the avid reader, for one of the challenges of poetry is to break from tradition, regardless of whether or not it reads easily.

My favourite poem from the collection; the one which bore the most resonance with me, welds parts of Zeinati’s poetic expression to my own consciousness:

“London burns and Libya burns and Egypt is thrown behind bars. And the same old man wakes up in the morning like nothing ever happens and wears a suit and tie. The same suit and tie. The same morning. His beaten wife asleep in the next room.

Mistake?” (52.)

_

Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Previous Vertigos-Nina Karacosta

pv_0

(Click on the Image to check out the book)

Previous Vertigos | Nina Karacosta
  A review by Aditya Menon

There are three types of vertigo: objective (your environment seems to move), subjective (you sense yourself moving) and pseudo (something seems to be turning in your head).  Or so Wikipedia tells me.  Does this classification carry over into poetics? You could say that some poems foreground the linguistic object, others the lyric subject, and still others create their own little worlds of expression. But wait, Wikipedia on vertigo takes a skeptical turn: “While this classification appears in textbooks, it has little to do with the pathophysiology or treatment of vertigo.”

So the three vertigos turn out to be “previous”, no longer relevant to medical practice. Still, this very irrelevance makes the vertigos particularly relevant to contemporary poetics. [Pardon the belabored analogy; I do not mean to trivialize the real experience of vertigo. ] A rhetoric of opposition—speaking vs. writing, subject vs. object, conservative quietism vs. avant-garde experimentation—makes for good categories. The “confessional school”, it would seem, asserts the transparency of a message. The “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school”, by contrast, asserts the opacity of the medium. That said, the classification of poetry into antagonistic schools has recently been an object of critique in its own right. Such critique might play with avant-garde polemic; take Keston Sutherland’s Theses on Antisubjectivist Dogma. Or it might shift the focus of the debate. In Lyric Shame: The “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry, Gillian White suggests that a “lyric I” is an object of “shame”.  Thus it has an uneasy pervasiveness, with “opponents” sometimes perpetuating and “defenders” complicating it. This “lyric I” is not a well-defined object, but a way of reading.

How does “Suds”, the second-last poem in Previous Vertigos, and the only one that does not mention a physical object, ask to be read?

 

The experiment is

not

in

the

experimental

it is in

the experience

the exposure

the expression of unsatisfaction

the expulsion.

Are you extending?

No,

you are

a

follower

of the

experimental

standing in

the

middle

of

your

crowd-

for you there is no extreme, no extravagant

no ecstatic.

The poem strikes me as a reflexive piece, engaging the “lyric shame” that White identifies. Is it an ars poetica in defense of the lyric subject? In a context that fetishizes “the experimental”, the speaker turns the tables on those who would shame her. First, a statement : experiment is not in the experimental. Then, a question, which dramatizes the exchange: “Are you extending?” sounds like an “Are you listening?” as much as an “Are you experimenting?” Finally, a condemnation. The speaker shames the addressee.

But what are the “suds”? Expelled, ecstatic results of the experiment? [The Wikipedia disambiguation page informs me that SUDS is an acronym for “subjective units of distress scale”, but this would be a stretch.] And who is the you? An absent interlocutor, the poet herself (a possibility that Afric McGlinchey’s review raises), or a hypocrite reader? If this is a manifesto, it is a reticent one, in spite of its auditory insistence. After all, the repeated sound “ex” is a prefix that can signify the previous, the passé. Not that we should take this sense uncritically; the repetition is so emphatic that makes a close reading feel absurd. The constraint of the “ex” words draws the poem beyond whatever statement Karacosta initially intended, if any.

Previous Vertigos appeared in 2011, before Sutherland’s manifesto or White’s book. Still, I think it bears reading in light of these critical trends. This is not to reduce it to a symptom or magnify it into an intervention. It is one among many possible configurations of the elusive lyric “I”, and happens to be one that I like.

At first glance, the collection seems firmly on the side of the confessional lyric subject, whose existence we just problematized. Skimming the book, you encounter a figure worn down by drugs and war and consumerism even as it is expanded by global travel and cross-cultural exposure, and yet alert to the body it inhabits, the landscapes through which it moves. The persona that moves through Karacosta’s pages does not coalesce into such a caricature, but it does gesture to all these possibilities. Some of the landscapes are explicitly marked: Greek coast, English countryside, New Mexico desert. Relationships, whether with people or substances, feel plausible and even “compelling”. An abundance of multisensory imagery, framed in verbally exuberant phrases, brings various pasts to life in visceral, often vertiginous form. The word “I” appears over sixty times.

For all this, the chapbook is not the diary of Nina Karacosta, Greek-American poet and actor, regurgitated for your vicarious consumption.  More often than not, the people, things and places appear in a disorienting space or time—in the immaterial past of memory, the insistently material present of text, the conditional of genre. Here and there, you find imperatives. One poem, “War Games”, consists entirely of such imperatives. It ends with these: “Count your bones. / Breathe air.” Both injunctions involve bodily awareness; one seems oriented toward death, the other toward life.  The emphasis on bare life makes the poem feel “universal” even as it evokes an individual body.  The chapbook doesn’t give a  gloss here, but an online version presents it as a “response to events in Gaza in 2009, meant to highlight the absurdity of war”. The phrase “highlight absurdity” can hardly exhaust the poem’s effects. The second-person imperative invites empathy, and the specific imperatives—while they have no immediate effect on the actual victims—offer this second-person subject an ethics and/or aesthetics of bare life.

“Can’t Talk About It” takes place on the page and in the body. Here, the body is that of a first-person speaker. The right-aligned part of the poem describes a surgery. Then comes a left-aligned meta-narration that explains and stops this account: “Doodling at the edge of the white paper / I want to write about burning three fingers / and ending up in the emergency room / but instead keep doodling” . The last few lines, right-aligned again, seem to have moved back from the medium of writing to the spoken message, but the terms have moved from real to surreal.  It ends “I am / a corridor of rain,” (is “rain” a sublimation of “pain”?) without any closing punctuation. In this line, the lack of punctuation places the “I” in suspense, while the words themselves designate an impossible interior.

“Psychotropic Hurrah” is tentative in its ecstasy: “i can maybe write a pow wow poem”. I am drawn to its phrase “attic cylindrical frenzy”, which evokes an impossible interior like “corridor of rain”. Gloss “attic” as adjective, meaning “Greek”, and a different shape emerges.  It recalls, at least for me, the Grecian urn that Keats invoked as “attic shape”.  Whereas he read movement in a static object, Karacosta shapes a stasis out of her disorientations.

Perhaps the lyric subject of Previous Vertigos is new, after all—if only in its precise groundlessness. Consider the last lines of the first poem, “Solitaire”:

I am not

me because if I were I would know what

I’m not. All this adds up to nothing.

To suspend.

Nosratolah Masoudi

Nosratolah Masoudi
If Plato, the transcendentalist philosopher, abandoned poets from his ideal city, he had rightfully predicted the revolutionary power of poet and poetry. If soon later, his disciple, Aristotle protected poets and poetry, he deeply believed in the remedial impression of arts and poetry. In our contemporary world, where, people struggle with numerous predicaments, social moderators like music, poetry and painting may soften, in turn, that very society. 

The main gap between the Iranian Classical poetry and Modern poetry was the constitution period (1906) when Iran breathed and experienced a fresh air in culture, arts and politics.  Among such poets in Iran, though, after a century, arrived Nosratolah Masoudi, a poet, fiction writer, journalist, playwright and actor who received such an inevitable position in Iran and Lorestan in particular, that his amatory poems has spread its scent all over the new generation. 

Aside from his political life and his highly renowned academic career, Masoudi has always pursued his concern for love and his contemporary people. His soft and dedicated words invite people to peace and love.  Love, the dominant theme throughout Masoudi’s poems is never decorated with complicated philosophical expressions or images. The simple but immensely sensitive language is always blended with such sincerity, it is as if the poet is voicing out his own grievances:

One April day

I will grab

Your sweet scent

From a newborn bud.

Masoudi’s beloved could be a real human being or an imaginary creature. For him, it does not matter either sides. What is important is a mental support that one can get from love. Love would be the most protective shelter for human beings in such a cruel century, without which, one may not tolerate life itself:

Blessed is a dog

Compared with

The doggish life I’m leading.

In such a disparate misery

I keep my rambling

By the side of this

Narrow one-way road

Looking for the mercy of a

Brakeless truck.

The simple and daily language, the objective images and the metaphor of a dog resemble the disparate life for the contemporary century. The images of a ‘truck’ or a ‘narrow one-way road’ are our daily tangible observations. What has happened to the twenty and twenty first century man to compare his life with a dog, waiting for a brakeless truck on a narrow one-way road is Masoudi’s main concern. Such objective and dark images walk neck to neck with T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste land’. If Eliot’s solution for his corrupted contemporary society is religion and morality, Masoudi’s solution is to love and to be loved. For Masoudi, the only excuse is the love itself:

You are the only excuse for

My inhale and exhale.

That’s why I breathe.  

For Masoudi’s lover, committing a sin is a charity; for it will bring about sunlight in the lovers frozen heart:

Let’s commit the sin

And share its charity.

I have been frozen

From this killing

Sunless shadows of loneliness.

Let’s commit it soon.

As a playwright, director and actor, his poetry speaks for itself. The verbal aspect of his poetry gives the credence to his mastery over poetry. We rarely face overstatement in his simple but profound poetry:

Such courteously

And so kept in sanity

Devoted to you,

So much so that

I can’t love you

Without your consent.

But,

Now that you are

Too lost in distances

To beg your permission,

How can I take your mercy

For the moment

To cry my heart out?

Masoudi’s imaginary beloved ‘Parmida’ is a combination of all ideal females around the world. He himself confesses that “I have created her out of all my ideal females I have ever read about, seen or wished to meet”. He is so devoted to such an illusive beloved that cries out from his heart:

Do not believe

If only for a moment

I have ever loved you,

Except the moments

I have been breathing.

Satire might be one of Masoudi’s weapons in the battle of his society. As a satirist he has received many prizes from different festivals in Iran. He believes that in a society where one cannot express him/herself freely, artists have to use their old tricks; irony and satire. That is why he ingeniously kills two birds with one stone:

How dare I

To pass the security guards

Carrying a bomb

In my heart

And a memory loaded by

Gunpowder of your odor?

Writing eleven books of poetry, two books of play, many short stories, writing for many journals and newspaper for more than three decades, directing and acting in more than thirty plays, he still  pursues his literary career with the same vigor. Some of his poetry has been translated into English, Italy, Arabic, French, Germany and Kurdish.  


Dr. Sasan Bazgir

Picture from http://faramarzsoleimani.blogspot.com/2010/04/aprilmonth-of-poetry_07.html

 

 

‘Parted’ by Justina Semetaite. A Review.

Parted                                 (Click on the image to check out the book)

From making intellectual observations to relaying the most sensitive and cherished emotions and thought, poetry encompasses an innate ability to express and reflect the most intimate of emotions. That inspiration can derive from the most tangible source or simply, a moments’ pensive surrender.

In our first Literary Review, we take a look at the chapbook “Parted” by Justina Semetaite, published by CorruptPress in November, 2011. Justina was born in Lithuania, in 1989 and currently resides in Vilnius. Both the author and the chapbook deal with the subject of parting from the most intimate perspective conceivable. The eight poems displayed in the chapbook are written in a touchingly poignant manner. From reflecting on the separation from a homeland to the departure of a lover, the chapbook covers a wide spectrum of emotions that are profoundly articulated through a gritty and raw arsenal of metaphors.

All the poems are imbued with a deep sense of separation. Each title hinges on this overarching theme, vindicated by the motif within each title with words like “‘goodbyes, postcards”, culminating in the final poem “‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger.’” Every poem in this chapbook resonates with that despair. A sense of longing is brought into the forefront with simple and accessible imagery that refracts the complexities of dealing with the subject of parting in a surrealistic form of poetic catharsis.

The last poem in the chapbook is an exceptional poem that with each line; carries thematic imagery that continues to accumulate (beginning from the first poem) throughout the chapbook. However, this, in no means, detracts from the quality of the other poems. There are great lines sewn into each work, but, as a critic, it would be negligence on my part, not to discuss this
concluding poem in further details.

‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger’ is a poem that reflects on a failed love. It follows the narrative exposition of a memoir, with the stylistic freedom of a post-modern piece. The poet expresses her anguish and raw emotions through using intricate, classical allusions, as well as creating an entirely new set to draw from in future works.

The poem is told as a memoir of golden days laced in an undercurrent of bitter foreshadowing. It is perhaps enduring because of its juxtaposition between a hopeful beginning on the surface and the carefully construed cynicism lying underneath (that proves justified as the failure of the love prevails).

“I will ask you to bury me in the basement of your laughter and I will promise to be a shy flower, translating itself into dust “(lines 55-57). The constant recurrence of the motifs in the poem are embedded systematically throughout, The words and phrases are repeated constantly to reinforce the readers with a sense of impending, provocative empathy (not sympathy however) for the narrator of this poem.

‘Dying, Remember, Forgotten’ repeatedly used, reinforces the thematic overture of ‘Parted’. It completes the chapbook in terms of definition and resolution, attributing the sentiment of ‘Parting’ to deep rooted separation beginning from the opening lines of the first poem “The jelly shadows of the birds, sitting on the fence, teach me to fly with my eye” (Lines 1-3, I’m talking to myself about the good-byes’).

The line ‘The streetlights are of no use at all’(lines 131-132)  mimics the candor of W.H Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ to further illustrate the dramatic extent of that void of separation in all forms..

All eight of the poems in the chapbook share with us, a little part of the poet’s soul. An attribute any poetry enthusiast can perhaps, connect with.

I would recommend this chapbook to buy and read.(The link to purchase the book is placed on the cover)

In conclusion, I will perhaps ‘remember the dying things’ as was pointed out and use both the poet and chapbook to vindicate and highlight the search of young poetic talents like Justina Semetaite for ‘The Luxembourg Review’.

 Syed Shehzar Mukkarrim Doja

Founder and Editor-in-Chief
The Luxembourg Review

____________________________________________________________________________
*Next week we will continue our review with an exclusive interview with the poet*

*If you have any questions for the poet, please leave it on the comment section, we will do our best to include some of them in the interview*