Author: Randall Horton

Randall Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award and most recently a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. Randall is a Cave Canem Fellow, a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a member of The Symphony: The House that Etheridge Built. Randall is Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven. An excerpt from his memoir titled Roxbury is published by Kattywompus Press. Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press will publish his latest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy in Spring 2013.

Representative of a Collective Body

Representative of a Collective Body

Remica Bingham's WHAT WE ASK OF FLESH

About three weeks ago, I received a review copy of Remica Bingham’s What We Ask of Flesh; however, given the constraints of time, I was not able to read the book until my school’s holiday break. What a treasure! First of all, let me say Bingham exhibits an effortless language while confronting issues of womanhood coupled with spirituality and religion, which Bingham queries in fresh and neoteric ways, presenting myriad scenarios/situations, allowing the reader to process the information howsoever she chooses. The female body becomes instrument/foci, a way of navigating What We Ask of Flesh. As Patricia Smith notes in her amazing introduction, “Her voice rises, sole and singular, above the fray as she conjures a soundtrack for the wife, the mother, the sister, the daughter, the colored girl who has quietly preserved while resisting attempts to change her beliefs, her history…” Perhaps the idea of an “everywoman’ is more adequate with these poems as they mirror the “ever forming” [body].

“The Body Speaks,” which is a long poem in various aesthetic movements, appears first in the collection, echoing Smith’s observation perfectly, as Bingham begins to lay a foundation around the body. The body, for Bingham, acts both as literal and metaphorical. The epigraph connected to the poem is biblical and is taken from Judges 19:29, 30. The premise of the epigraph centers on a woman taken as concubine by a male conqueror, and when they are lodged for the night in a foreign land, the woman is taken out of the house and ravaged/raped by local male villagers. Her owner/conqueror receives the woman back in the morning “damaged,” and when he gets her home, he cuts her body up according to her bones into twelve pieces, sending the bones out into the land of Israel. What’s interesting in Bingham’s poem is her analogous comparison to the fragmentary as part of something parenthetical, as in (us), as if these parts of the woman are representative of a collective body. She writes, “torches/by being sole/points of light/become stars/in the process of being broken/this sum becomes every broken body.” For Bingham the fragmentary functions as foundation for the whole, and the body (literal and metaphorical) operates from a point of language rooted in the traumatic—the echo of the unremembered. If we can agree violence is at that core of (us), perhaps through dichotomy/dualisms’ friction, then we have to acknowledge language, in all its contradiction, transmits this violence.

The culmination of this bodily experience is realized through what I call the Mt. Rushmore of African America Women Poets (minus Gwendolyn Brooks): Lucille Clifton, Ai, and Carolyn Rodgers, all who passed within the last year, but whose work embodies not only what it means to be woman, but to be human as well. The poem, “How I Crossed Over,” echoes Roger’s National Book Award Finalist’s how I got ova and Clifton’s Blessing of the Boats, encompassing aspects of the female and the [body]. In the final section of this three-part poem, the section that echoes Rodgers, Bingham says:

So I become
my blinding self:

black bird

home, free

I would like to think this is the fragmentary that is woman, a subset (along with man) of (us), multiple bodies forming the [self), a sort of aesthetic/human freedom. What We Ask of Flesh explores these possibilities along with many others. This is the gift for the upcoming holidays that will keep on giving.

Remica Bingham:: What We Ask of Flesh:: Etruscan Press

A Multilayered, Sequestered Event

A Multilayered, Sequestered Event

Christopher Stackhouse's PLURAL from Counterpath Press

Adequately titled Plural, Christopher Stackhouse’s first full collection of poetry is a mellifluous explosion of language and connotation, intersecting at the point of meaning. Plural is a long awaited full length collection since Stackhouse’s joint collaboration with poet and literary scholar John Keene which produced Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), a book that “penetrates the common ground between writing/literature and drawing/visual art, creating a revisioned landscape where much of the work is abstract or abstracted or both.” Plural then becomes an extension of Stackhouse’s aesthetical progression, which is steeped in art, philosophy, poetics, and critical discourse, even turning satirical at times.

The poetic work of Stackhouse is a multilayered, sequestered event insomuch as “events” are how we give valuation to language and perhaps aesthetics as well. Plural, which appears this November from Counterpath Press, “is an experiential immersion in the daily life of an artist, arts critic and poet who weaves and juxtaposes aesthetic ideas, personal circumstances, philosophical questions, and societal situations while aggressively experimenting with poetic form and content.” The collection is impressive as a whole, often exploring the ordinary through a set of aesthetical ideas, perhaps a math equation, or the discrepancy in language itself.

In “Notes from Lecture/The Subject of Art: A Lacanian Ink Event April 1, 2005” Stackhouse uses an Alain Badiou lecture to intersect narrator and “subject (Badiou)” into an aesthetical investigation. For instance, the idea of an artistic event becoming “form” from something that it was not:

     [I like his illustrations]

[achieving the dignity of a work of art.]

name as body, to new something new in the
work which events itself in the world of art
this could be new experimentation, [a] new tendency
of artistic creation – comes in this subjectivity
is the immanent infinity – infinity of form itself
[perception] – new form is new access –

In many ways the poems in Plural exhibit philosophical tendencies drawn from theorists such as Badiou, hinting at Kant, Adorno and perhaps Derrida to name a few others, offering “new accesses” through poetic investigation. However, the ideologies are many, and one can’t just peg a distinct poetic lineage of work from say a Whitman, a H.D. or a Duncan, but they are there, as well as many others.

The untitled poem for “John Cage” uses quotation, the idea of temporal space, and the connection time and space have on “being” to create a new subject of discourse. Consider:

“Chance operations.”
                                 —John Cage
“Based on the question . . . ”
                                 —John Cage
“Coming from the nature of . . . ”
                                 —John Cage

Obviously, sound is important and acts metaphorically to create aftersound, which creates afterimage, which becomes image. The subject is given valuation through temporal placement. This is just a small sample of what can be found between the pages of Plural, a book that will keep giving long after the last page has been turned.

Christopher Stackhouse:: Plural:: Counterpath

A Door to Another Ending

A Door to Another Ending

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs' TWERK

When Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution came out in 2007, I marveled at not only Hong’s word play, but also how she married languages and dialect to create another language. The book, which reads as part poetic sequence, part science fiction, offered a blending of genres and how we even imagine a poetry collection. Hong’s book became groundbreaking more than anything because the author was not afraid to take risks. LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, author of the upcoming poetry collection Twerk from Belladonna* Books, deserves as much initial fanfare as was given to Hong. Making its debut in February of 2013, Twerk is an experimental phenomenon in that each poem stands at the precipice of a new beginning, ready to leap into neoteric meaning, sounds and symbolisms. I call the reading experience an explosion of sound.

There is much to like about this work, how the language gets in your bones, and your insides start doing the happy feet. The integration of languages, of idiom and vernacular create myriad avenues. For instance, the poem “gamab click the bedouin remix ii” which includes lines in italics come from Aimé Césaire’s Notes of a Return to my Native Land, exhibits some of the range of Diggs:

                                                                                 light up di egrets plumage
                           dey sky needles di record on dey turntable of epiphany proudfoot
blazin’ pele’s bass line over runneth di clouds wit kravitz’s arrows

                       in di rain di blanc-mange seeps from dey dirt
                                  in di mountains maestro spare a seed n sow in peyote stitch

ink loves dey ache; loves dey gamab magma
    so listen sparrow hawk who holds the keys to the orient.

Within the same section of “no me entiendes,” which wonderfully plays off the unknown in Diggs work, are what I call bilingual contrapuntals, allowing the reader to marry language into another language. Within this structure Diggs plays (as in Derrida’s play) with the idea of the freeing of constraints through the villanelle “¡cucumber!”:

Lucid to ‘awapuhi que ósa bautizaba ngahuru
           Lucid and ginger like lagoons baptizing autumn,

Que tanja iglú flirtatious – corría
           like tangerine igloos flirtatious – flowing,

te llama pikaka loli, tu eres onaona ni nalu
           your name is jasmine cucumber. You are fragrant like waves.

In Diggs’ work, there never is a complete ending, only a door to another ending. This is not a drive by book where you think you are going to read it in one sitting. Oftentimes I found myself caught in another world, a world authored by a poet unafraid to mix languages for the sake of something new and indeterminate. This book is a giver, it keeps giving.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs:: Twerk:: Belladonna* Books

To See the Earth Before the End of The World

To See the Earth Before the End of The World


Throughout his writing career, Ed Roberson has remained committed to the deconstruction of dominant linguistic/poetical practices for the sake of language and the ever-forming body it encompasses. When I speak of the [body] I am referring to that collective which operates through what Kant would term “phenomena.” I first became aware of Roberson through his book City Eclogue, which was commissioned by Atelos, whose main mission is to publish “writing which challenges the conventional definitions of poetry, since such definitions have tended to isolate poetry from intellectual life, arrest its development, and curtail its impact.” The book seemed to be a collision of language in collision with itself. The multiplicity within one poem impressed me so much that I went back to his first book, When Thy Boy is a King, and then traced his writing trajectory. In that first book, he writes: “To dream is not to dream if waking up is never finished.” This is the feeling I get when I come out of an Ed Roberson poetry collection. I never finish waking up inside of Roberson’s poetics.

With that said, To See the Earth Before the End of The World could be considered Roberson’s magnum opus, a masterful practice in the pursuit of aesthetic freedom. Perhaps my favorite section of the book, “Chromatic Sequences,” offers a complex look at history, the fallacy of skin color, and the social construction in a language that always seems to be in state of becoming. Consider Section i:

The colors of light
arrived as a time of day
sat in the whites only.                Formal or not

the torch of film caught up with changes and American
color           photography was invented with blood.
everything turned golden brown done        in a low sun. The cities burnt.

Roberson uses photography and the idea of manmade images that get up caught in the silent frame, the shutter. The poems fill in the silence or erase the erasure as Roberson has said on numerousness occasions. The dexterity of language and double jointed meanings offer the reader an experience rather than a simple reading. In this book there is a language that keeps on giving long past the exit of the poem.

I would call Roberson’s work controlled distraction capable of stepping outside that control to chaos language into exposing itself as flawed. What remains pleasurable in this book is the one-on-one relationship with words, with language. He asks the reader to do a little work while he is investigating the idea of human/humanity. Further along in the sequence, Roberson critiques the human race in “What The Tree Took, on the Table” as he writes:

we don’t get away
we don’t get off         race
though we know genetically does not exist

does not erase but is
enacted as our history in us is enacted as
American        the tree

While this section draws on history and that which defines humans (for good or bad), whatever the subject or non-subject matter Roberson addresses in To See the Earth Before the End of The World becomes a multiplicity of myriad meanings, each connotation building on an idea that crumbles into another idea. Roberson is always at the edge of the world—always seeing.

Ed Roberson:: To See the Earth Before the End of the World:: Wesleyan University Press

Thursday & There Lived a Family with a Daughter & The Weight of All Things & More Clearly To See


waking to a vertigo [state]ment
      between calendar days   i yell-

.o. suppose wednesday’s imbroglio hooks
      not but for nothing else      & then

subconsciously allegorical
      one eye straggles. to the other   red i

believe hump day failed conceptually
      like monday.    & ordered promise

i have learned to be certain   is speculative.
      hypotheses no more mathematical

to cradle than lines etched in your hand.   & listen ::
      the reel/eight track or digital divide.

subtracting always already equals
      what becomes of bebop is what

i asked my-main-mane-leon. the other day
      holding up the corner—: a column liberating

his body parts. interdependent synonyms
      nothing but bone—: he said dig it  cuz’

life doesn’t have to be. a recurring sequel
      the progression in the frame’s [shudder]

hybrid & rainbow leon was   topography
      in the air. i left my last word up.

There Lived a Family with a Daughter

there is a flash flood on minnesota ave., the light
april rain drumming against the rooftop. a bedrock

of blue rattles inside the apartment. no one sleeps
here. small remnants left in the abandonment.

another thunderclap       .tonight.       where lil lulu?
a forlorn aftermath through windowpanes will not reveal

once, the bumbling dance of mortals, the bleakness
ate itself into cracked walls, o the despair, o the echo

of music still here. laughter, a family once laughed
drowning, a chorus of spirituals could not save them.

there is a flash flood on minnesota ave., the light
our father’s did not salvage nothing but an elegy

on the avenue, in broad day or night there is a shadow
hear lil lulu whistling to the johns in the alleyways.

The Weight of All Things

once there were particles, atoms clung
together & glue

there were noises from the bang

another universe begun, life
& the body formed, a shape

obtuse the head splendid. o human.
o being—

heaven often fails the galaxy
lifted from a sinner’s pocket

come now & reconsider. come now,

the body writhe—

creational myths begin in err—

inside the receptacle a door
opening to another door

biology & bees alongside birds

to earth’s rotation we build.

More Clearly To See

for Ed Roberson

one could wonder simply about nodal points—the long black camera’s lens, aerial shots & each quadrangle more linear & the green ever-so-clear. rotating helicopter blades churn splitting quite freely decomposition. but the brain will think not about narration but it is. atmospheric within conditions weathervanes point southeast but more lower. the central region crisscrossing & a shooter all focus in on the [object]. feathering away a description of swallows murder the skyline more tranquil. curving the bent trajectory between blades the shooter looks out to get more closer in. photography demands sepia through the scope but it could be a barrel. outside the grassy knoll certainly (shots fired) the view under the clip of a pine banking northeast hung inside another horizon—