Saturday, August 15, 2009

Szymaszek: Emptied of All Ships; Gander: The Blue Rock Collection

Emptied of All Ships, Stacy Szymaszek (Litmus Press, 2008)

One’s 1st unavoidable thought – given the marine imagery, the occasional typographical flourishes – is of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés, extended over 70-odd pages. But Mallarmé’s is an immediate, one-time-only shipwreck, a single long statement or canvas (a Turner?), while Szymaszek’s is a whole voyage, a circumnavigation, a Hakluyt of sailings-forth – touching islands, sea battles, reading French novels in the cabin, tattooing one’s hand with a bartered needle, the implacable boredom of shipboard. I’ve never been on a voyage longer than the Scotland-to-Belfast ferry (well, I once crossed the Atlantic, but I was only 3 at the time & don’t remember, tho my parents tell me I was blessedly immune to seasickness) but I’ve read Melville & Dana. Szymaszek, in a radically different idiom – short-lined, spare, rich in allusion – has written a voyage as redolant of the ocean as White-Jacket or Two Years Before the Mast.

The Blue Rock Collection, Forrest Gander (Salt, 2004)

I was unaware that Forrest Gander had a degree in geology, but it makes perfect sense, given his sharp eye for minerals. The Blue Rock Collection is a something of a mineralogically-slanted “greatest hits” from Gander’s previously published books, poems complemented by Rikki Ducornet’s drawings of rocks, twigs, birds’ skulls. “A Poetic Essay on Creation, Evolution, and Imagination” is a fine, plainspoken laying-out of Gander’s poetics & the ethos behind Lost Roads Books, the excellent small press he & CD Wright edit.


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