about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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The Body Double
A Review of The Body Double
by Jared Harel

Spencer Dew

Freud finds the idea of the double uncanny, and the uncanny, in turn, he finds a category revealing of psychological development. In short, the double reminds us of the narcissism of childhood which we have all outgrown. Yet Freud finds more to the double than this. Indeed, “the old idea of a ‘double’” takes on new meaning when we consider our ability “to treat the rest of the ego like an object.” Stories about doubles, then, aren’t just unnerving, they also offer some sort of reflection on our ability (our compulsion?) for, as Freud puts it, “self-observation.”

What the double does in the pages of this chapbook is aid with simultaneous exposure and concealment of some “self,” the speaking voice that bemoans being coupled to this somewhat-duplicate. “Double shall be and not be Me,” reads one poem, a contract spelled out in a parody of legalese. “An existential crisis is bliss / compared to this,” another declares. In this same point the original and the double, sharing a bed, “kick and scratch, fight / over blanket.” The double makes relationships difficult: a girlfriend, trying to read two minds, finally gives up and storms away.

Yet at the same time, this “original” is augmented, even freed by the presence of his double. The double is the more devious one, if only because he owns up to it: after trespassing together and getting caught, “I eyed / the grass // as though I’d misplaced / a razor. My double / smiled like he’d just / found a tooth.” The double can be more daring, dressing in the discarded clothes of others after some selective thrift store shopping, dazzling women with his physical beauty, living more loudly, closer to danger. The body of the double allows the original to study his own, or search at least “for echoes of my own.” The double offers release, even if it comes at the cost of replacement: “My double tells me / I’m away on business / and won’t be back / for quite some time.”

This slim book begins, however, without any double. “I will tell you anything / if you promise to listen,” the speaker says. This person’s “mind is a truck stop. My heart, / whosever knee is near.” And he urges himself to “Confess everything: how you passed out in the prom parking lot, tuxedo stained and stinking of beer. Renounce all ties to mind and body. Break your finger to show them.” The second person births the double, the self-at-a-remove—treated like an object, as Freud says. The speaker who states that “There are tricks to everything, / none of which I know” manages to seal off the vulnerability of the earliest pages by the imposition of this double, this other, this mask. “I showed you / my penis. I pointed / out trees,” we hear, of a memory, raw. But once the double is on the scene—“all snowy like a broken TV”—this most intimate sense of revelation is always itself at-a-remove.

The double masquerades, in “Shirts bearing numbers no longer / in service, shirts bearing services no longer in business. / He is Otis the Plumber, an NRA member, / #49 for the Glenwood Seagulls.” The double does the work of distraction, such that we cannot be horrified by the sharpest images—“a soiled syringe,” for instance—or wince when we’re told to “Picture a spider the size of a toaster. / A high slider. A wild pitch. / A kiss is a kiss is a kiss is a fist.” The words rolls us away from danger, travelling fast. The double is a defense.

In one line, the double dies, but that doesn’t end anything. After several minor crimes he resurfaces “at the wedding / of a mutual friend. // It’s clear he’s on something, / twirling his wrists, / trying to grind / with the Maid of Honor.” The double is doing what the thinking, speaking self refuses to allow himself to do. The double is all action; the speaker, reflection in words. As a way to live, this is disastrous; as a strategy for a chapbook, it is clever and funny, surprisingly original.

Official Jared Harel Web Site
Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site

Unpublished Poems
A Review of Unpublished Poems
by Broc Rossell

Spencer Dew

Known knowns and known unknowns, as the man said, in a statement met with ridicule rooted in the wider circumstance rather than the phrase itself, the categorization, the stating, baldly, of the existence of the known unknown and the unknown unknown. That bit of epiphany-via-vernacular is not unrelated to the work of Rossell, which explores the subtle possibilities and impossibilities of language, of the spoken and the silent and the spoken silent, the silent spoken: “Today was not winter // Fog” or the seemingly more intimately significant “I become the poem.”

There is a sense, in these pages, that literature, if not all language, is also a labyrinth, endless re-writes and re-scriptings from which one pleads “Lead me to the end / Where simplicity begins” The concrete things of this book are always mediated by words. An El Greco is a reference; “Ambient sour light” a phrase, and “my city / Where things become each other more slowly” part of the process of a poem, unfurling.

“I open myself selectively,” says another poem, followed by selective references to art history, selective pauses, selective allusion to violence in the world outside the wonder of these neatly printed words. The piece that puzzles me the most is this: “The attitude of great poets is to single out each one of us / Silhouettes afore the crepuscule / Feverishly pumping in a city park every time someone shields a child from gunfire.” It is, in its way, a silence in words, white noise, inscrutable, to me at least. “There is a simulacrum of that truth in most software applications,” worn certainties, the already-known. Then an image (if it is an image) like “While bats flow / Into the bright failures of themselves, / Wings beating echoes / Of this poem’s lines” etc. “Into the ambition / of utterance.”

The cover of this chapbook is the title, seemingly fading in or out of view, and a simple but moving ink image of a series of what might once have been struts for a pier, worn, reflecting in water that has nearly risen above them. An echo, visually, of the verbal longing to escape the “Resonant structures” of the world, to move from old human song to immediate animal instinct, the moment, as it is. “The moment I end is happening,” as one poem declares, in frozen record, in words, on a page. This is merely one theme here, perhaps, but it is a known unknown, a silence recognized, a gap that Rossell minds and carefully contemplates.

Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site

Dream-Clung, Gone
A Review of Dream-Clung, Gone
by Lauren Russell

Spencer Dew

If you see something, the announcements and posters on various forms of transportation urge us, say something. The phrase is a relic of 9/11, as sure as any cruciform chunk of smoldering I-beam or chain-link fence scabbed over with tattered “missing” fliers. There is a sadness to it, but also proof that we are still here, still stumbling through a world of hubcaps, beer caps, castanets, a world Lauren Russell gives us in several forms, ranging from the slice-of-life rhythm of Frank O’Hara (on a subway with a horny conductor, catching a glimpse of a headline and spinning it into song) an impulse to categorize and hotlink, like how we treat identity or a Wikipedia page (“In which box, I wonder, did I put the bottle of long-expired / disinfectant, held onto for years before a dead man / once used it to clean a cut on the sole of his foot”) and “an aching” for “shifts in syntax formal / fragmentation...” whether it give expression to rage or loneliness or, in this slim book’s startlingly strong start, a meditation on style itself “like a nonrestrictive phrase / flanked by commas,” a person wants their hair to be—and then we are given glimpses of such a simile, phrases for the physical, the manifest:

“, running away from school bus and braid,
white flecks flaking for the awkward itch,”
                 “, at eighteen shorn with sewing scissors
                 in frenzied pursuit of butch,”

more, and then more dazzling weave and trim with words. Russell sees and says, the whole coin-operated world and its disjunctive shuddering. Recipes, dreams, reference to Duras, electroshock and the verbal equivalent thereof. “I’d tear out / their tongues and glue tampons to their throats / to poke out through their teeth,” snarls one first-person voice, while another announces “I am lonely because there were too many cherry popsicles. / I was holding out for mango, and thus I missed the lesson on sucking up” before warning that “I was there for the lesson on ventriloquism.” These are poems to steam up the room, to dismantle the associations and thread them on wires across the walls, poems written to capture the “Undertow of dive bar juke unboxed” and the song that it emits, “a moaned trance” before “the clang of a dream-clung gone.”

Official Lauren Russell Web Site
Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site

10,000 Wallpapers
A Review of 10,000 Wallpapers
by Matt Shears

Spencer Dew

Here is a book that offers exemplification of “...the hackneyed, / the Everymen meandering through this digitized countryside,” not narrative but the act of reading itself, this “meandering” through various forms, formal structures, genres, as well as the accumulated “spectacular stimuli” of culture. The journey traverses the passionate froth of sausages and football, old tunes and rhymes, much of it gesturing toward some apocalyptic fantasy. Shears leads us through the archives, Virgil of “The Perma-Lost,” introducing us to figures such as “Forgotten the Magnanimous,” and various parodies of heavens and hells. In the course of this exegetical voyage there are plenty of jokes and bits that read like textbook exercises, but that is, of course, the point: “in the immanence of that maundering monologue / where our dialogic imagination static clung / (untranslatable!) (unwrung!) / in the varied apparels of Bildungsroman.” Shears is on the trail of something huge, the whole zeitgeist, that near-bursting codex, and he better keep his sense of humor along the way. “O, pantaloons that I have worn!” a voice declaims from within this multi-layered meta-adventure. Here we are in culture, trying to pin culture down: “How those shamanic deliveries just tapered off then / like forbidden frequencies,” the “10,000 wallpapers” of the title being plastered in fragment over “the night-mirage of my mirror image— / In 10,000 crumbling winds, 10,000 granular cities— // O bird-encircled songscape.” Song and sorcery, long entwined, are woven tightly together again here, as the narrative presence of this text—part fool (like in the Tarot deck), part prophet, part guide, part dismayed reader, part drunk belting out a tune—seeks also to be a shaman, an incantor. Folksong is already almost myth, we’re reminded here, but we live in a time, too, of Delusion and Machinery, two points here, capitalized to mark their position on a virtual highway heading ever-west, ever-frontier-wise, lighting the territories, “with the Pistol Range and the Carousel / & the Darkhouse & Messenger Trees.” Here is a book of witness and of search, seeking some new myth amidst the ruins. As Shears puts it in rhyme, mixing registers thus comparing our vernacular tragedies with the epic scale of some imagined past: “And, O how I have seen Beauty, wretched beauty, / in a birdfeather, in a swirl of biblical dust— / And what identity has been thieved thus?” To look for beauty in an age of online identity theft: there’s a goal. Pepper it with prayers to mastodons and odes to the application of abstract expressionist principles existentialist philosophy, along with notes that cut through all theory, like “how the sunset just vaporizes, trails and trails of fighter jets,” we begin to assemble a field guide of sorts, to the fields that we live in. Which is what Matt Shears has done, here.

Official Matt Shears Web Site
Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site

Puerto Rico
A Review of Puerto Rico
by Alejandro Ventura

Spencer Dew

Brooklyn Arts Press churns out handsome books, often erudite in their approach to innovation. Here the horizon of language is contemplated, old notions like identity or love viewed afresh with lenses informed by the experimentation of the past, from Georges Perec to Barnett Newman, words and colors, various restrictions. Thesaurus paintings and baseball, for instance, are referenced, and, in the most explicit conceptual moves here, Ventura gives us a poem that is just the alphabet, in Spanish, and a two-sentence poem printed sideways that tweaks a Hemingway line. “When I am done I would read the work with new eyes, / be healed of sensation, and see myself dividing,” concludes one piece, wherein the poetic voice employs the inclusive “we” to speak of some us as “janitors in some testament to mediocrity passing as a school.”

Concrete and furniture, cherries and a lover’s smell: Ventura pursues the poetic project in a world in which “things in themselves / already amount to something without end.” The conceptual, the “experimental” framed by inverted commas, is itself always already, to the poet today, a horizon, a limit, a restriction—as limiting as foul lines, as motivating of new tricks as the rules of the game. On the one hand, “we have nothing to say save the show of our faces,” yet on the other, here is a book of poems, interrogating the idea of Easter, reflecting—in language, through language—on assorted dynamics of art.

There is a delicious pinballing, then, between the bare faces of lines like “Flan comes from a double boiler / and good meat is slightly burned” to the verge of theory in lines like “Language is half armature, and half something else.” The line that follows reads “If you’re going to love someone, do it in the open.” Again, the actor longing to strip himself bare, to unmask, and constructing, in this book, a mask, referencing other masks—schools of masks, traditions of masks, theoretical reflections on masking—in order to edge closer to that maskless state, which is (and this, as they say, is the rub) inexpressible via masks. Ventura points to the horizon in defiance of the horizon. This book reads like a preliminary study for something new, raw as the studio, the sketchbook.

Official Alejandro Ventura Web Site
Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site

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