On Adam Clay’s A Hotel Lobby At the Edge of the World

Here’s a great review of Adam Clay’s book, A Hotel Lobby At the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions, 2012), which first appeared in Cant Journal issue #4. Adam Clay has a new book, Stranger, coming out through Milkweed in the near future, so keep your eyes open, and pick it up when it arrives.

hotel lobbyOn ADAM CLAY’S A Hotel Lobby At the Edge of the World. Milkweed Editions, 2012.

At one point in Adam Clay’s second book of poems, A Hotel Lobby At the Edge of the World, he writes about the experience of staring at a familiar painting, only to realize his observations have been incorrect. Rather than a painting with a naturalist landscape of birds, Clay’s speaker in “Goodbye to All That, the Birds Included” now sees that these birds were actually pieces of trash floating in the air. The realization that he has been choosing to see incorrectly is jarring, and he mourns the loss of his optimistic perspective: “What is there in this world that we do not say goodbye to?” (62). Moments like this are emblematic of the collection, where we receive a remarkable amount of insight into Clay’s humanity, both as poet and as witness. These are poems that are caught at the intersection of the natural and the urbane, urgently striving for connection to the world while embracing all of its disparate parts.

The title of the book establishes the notion of the traveler, and the poems within depict a transient figure who internalizes all that is external; whether Clay is writing about cherry blossoms or parallel parking, his speaker is one with a desire for clarity in a world of complication. Of course, his relationship with language is part of this struggle as well. Throughout the book, there is a curious lack of separation between language and the natural world. Instead, this is a world where the struggle to communicate is as urgent as the struggle to survive. In “Sonnet,” he writes:

I am trying to find a line of tenderness
to walk tonight. But wishing for something—
A deer, a possum, a squirrel, anything—
To make its way across the boulevard
At this moment would suit me fine. Do we wish
For words and then they come to us? Do we wish
For words and say the opposite of what they mean?
Syntax has never eaten from my hand…(8)

Clay’s preoccupation with a language that literally lives and breathes on its own is fascinating poetic fodder already. But he pushes the idea even further—if language is indeed alive, in what ways is it an independent decision-making agent? What happens when it won’t be our friend? What happens if it chooses not to reciprocate our love? Many of these poems confront the complexity of this fragile ecosystem while maintaining a remarkable level of charm and energy.

Later in the book, in part 16 of a long poem titled, “As Complete As a Thought Can Be,” Clay writes, “We are the words,/ yes, but we are swallowing/ swords by the second, by/ the handful” (40). This poem, like many others, is steeped in danger, and while there is frequently a playfulness to dampen it, we understand the urgency and severity as those of us in the world increasingly detach and withdraw from one another.

The epigraph by Bob Hicock before the final section of the book says, “Let us all be from somewhere. Let us tell each other everything” (65). Adam Clay gets this exactly right. These poems embrace the whole of the American landscape in Whitmanesque fashion. Where Clay separates himself is how these poems have the domestic heart of someone who more than anything wants to share some good conversation with dinner and a friend. When Clay tells us to “Look at a leaf and see your face./ Look at the sound of one hand clapping and hear it forever./ Look to the noise of a newspaper in the wind/ and hear it become the wind,” (54) we do it, because we are utterly swept away by his infectious, authentic enthusiasm. A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World is a tremendous display of a poet who is constantly searching but always participating, and one who we are grateful to ride alongside.

-Lucas Pingel

Come On. Saddle Up. Let’s Scoot. By Erika Jo Brown

Here’s a book review of Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People that appeared in issue #4.

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On GABE FOREMAN’S A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People. Coach House Books, 2011.

As its title suggests, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People, Gabe Foreman’s debut poetry collection, is populated with personalities. In it, you’ll find adulterers and amateurs, zombies and zookeepers, and all manner of sundries in between. The book manages to stay a factual compendium, alphabetical, rife with referential conventions, while acknowledging the absurdity of such a comprehensive undertaking.

And that’s where the fun begins. A Complete Encyclopedia is a veritable smorgasbord – rich with puns, illustrations, and formal play ranging from experimental screenplay to traditional villanelle, with a recipe for cookies thrown in for good measure. Foreman restores your faith in the absolutely strangeness of the English language, with its capacity to surprise and delight.

Foreman’s diction is descriptive and specific, without getting snagged in minutiae or reverting to cliché. He puts pressure on sonic resonance, breaking open rules of sensemaking in order to accommodate verbal patterning. In “Late Bloomers,” Foreman observes:

      I watch enthralled
as she chucks a whole whack of carrots
into a damp case of loam

Overabundant sonic density and rhythmic ghostie patterns reminds one of Stevens, another sonorous writer, who occasionally privileges sound over content. After all, the content in A Complete Encyclopedia is already established – everyone and everything that language can touch.

From tonal shifts to musical riffs, Foreman’s poetry is – dare I say? – decidedly fun. The poem “Bad Apples,” begins with a pie chart, delineating “average dudes” and “jerks.” It goes on to observe:

the soul is, like, super ripe
on the twisted branch of life.

You can core it or score the peel.
That mist? Chefs call it zest.

Structurally, the book illustrates the breadth and depth of quirkiness available within a pre-set form, whether poetry collection or encyclopedia. For instance, the poem “Queue Jumpers” appears between “Bargain Hunters” and “Bookies,” its out-of-orderness imbuing a little naughtiness. The beginning of “Identical Twins” is so vivid, so delicate:

If humans were more like plants,
a bee might make a pitstop at your crotch
to sprout a family tree you never planned for.

It takes a moment to realize it is a genetic “match” or an exact duplication of the poem “Accident,” which opens the book. Foreman also makes great use of the standard reroutements founds in encyclopedias. For “Blind Dates,” the reader is directed to “Optimists;” to “Working Stiffs” for “Zombies,” and to “Underdogs” for “Werewolves.”

To further illuminate its serious play, A Complete Encyclopedia has three false endings. One, the alphabetically appropriate “Zygotes,” redirects the reader to “Little Bundles of Joy.” Without making too grand of a gesture, this maneuver intuits an alpha-and-omega circuit between the end of the book and the origins of life. “Appendix,” also sends the reader to a different poem, this time “Organ Donors.” The final ending is “Last Lines,” a literal concordance of last lines throughout the book, often quite affecting. A sample juxtaposition resounds: “It isn’t even funny,” one ends; “It most certainly is,” the next answers.

Foreman’s puns can be reminiscent of Loki-like tricks or pranks. After all, there’s something melancholic about continually having one’s expectations subverted. But, the mythological trickster is a catalyst for action, a character that relies on cleverness and wit to shake up rigid preconceptions. This whimsical upset is essential to the narrative, resilience, and innovation of contemporary poetry.

The content and stories within the entries of A Complete Encyclopedia are both generous and sui generis. While his poetry is self-deprecating, it also catches light like a prism, reflecting more accurately levity and loneliness, melancholy and mania.  “Queue Jumpers” is full of simple beauty and emotional resonance:

If the ocean drains to a puddle
of briny disappointment,
we will swim.

In its play, its humor, and its elegantly wrought language, A Complete Encyclopedia forges a unique empathy between author and reader. The poems bolster optimism and offer fresh rewards in the wake of anxiety and change.

The most challenging part of reviewing A Complete Encyclopedia is that each page is an uncracked kernel of imagination. So, in the spirit of experimentation, I leave you with two quotes to stitch together that reflect the experience of reading this fine book. “It can never be satisfied, the mind, / not really” (Dish Bitches) and “By the way, Roy, thanks for the pears.” (Bargain Hunters).

-Erika Jo Brown

Cant Issue #4 Reading: Matt Hart

ATTENTION DEAR FRIENDS! In order to celebrate the awesomeness compiled in Cant Issue #4, we asked some of our contributors to make videos of themselves reading selections of their work from the journal! We’ll be posting these sporadically, so stay tuned! Below Matt Hart reads his two poems in Cant Issue #4!

Five Questions: Laura Solomon

Here’s a sneak peak to hopefully entice you to buy Cant issue #4. This is the first Q & A from Laura Solomon’s incredible Five Questions interview in issue #4. Enjoy!

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AARON MCNALLY’s first collection, Out of the Blue, was published by Caveworks Press in 2007. Individual poems have appeared in The North American Review, Inner Weather, and elsewhere. With poet/bookmaker Friedrich Kerksieck, he has published collaborations in 6×6 and effing magazine, and in the chapbooks Cruel, Yes, but Company (Pilot Chapbooks) and Further Adventures. His work has been interpreted visually by the painter Jennifer Rivera, the pyrographer Kat Hustedde, and the multi-mediast Laura Riskedahl. He is the founding editor of Cant.

LAURA SOLOMON is the author of The Hermit (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) and two other poetry collections, Blue and Red Things and Bivouac. Currently she resides in Athens, GA, where she performs with the band pacificUV, whose new album After The Dream You Are Awake will be released this May from Mazarine Records.

Product Details

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AM: Tell me, as a poet who seems to somehow revere nursery rhymes as a deeply seated psychological pulse, how young were you when you remember your mother or father first reading to you?

LS: Probably around age two or three. Apparently I requested The Night Before Christmas so many times in fact that I was able to memorize the whole thing and thereafter would pretend to read it aloud, often with the book upside down, but turning the pages on cue. I think I was convinced that I was actually reading. Of course my family thought this was terribly amusing, and oh a star was born! I was a big ham about it, as I was generally when given an opportunity to perform (once I sang “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow to Mickey Mouse…there’s a picture, a crowd of people, my utterly serious five year old face oblivious to anything that is not Mickey Mouse whose hand I am holding in total confidence). Maybe ham’s not the word. I was always so earnest about these acts of performance. More than attention I think was probably seeking a certain kind of interaction that could be set apart. I know that whenever I would recite The Night Before Christmas, I was definitely doing so for the fun of it, because I loved the story and I loved the theatrics of reading it, and because I loved witnessing the surprise register on the grown-up faces, something I must have experienced as a surprise myself. Perhaps even more than being read to, I remember my mother teaching me to read. In particular, I remember long lists of words that rhymed with cat on a yellow legal pad.

Joshua Ware Gives B.J. Love and Cant a Shout Out!

Head over to Vouched Books to read Joshua Ware’s write-up on B.J. Love’s poems, which he calls “the best thing I’ve read this week,” including a reference to his poem “Grammatical Benjamin,” which appears in the current issue of CANT. Oh, and he also give’s nice shout out to Friedrich Kerksieck, whom B.J. Love collaborated with on the chapbook FOSSIL, that came out last year.

Issue #4 Ready to Order!

Hooray! cant journal issue #4 arrived late last week in these big boxes along with an odd looking Boston Terrier.

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Here’s what our most recent issue, with a slightly new design (5×11, perfect bound) looks like, which we affectionately call the Mohawk Green issue (because the cover is…Mohawk Green):

Issue #4

The contributors copies are in the mail, and will arrive later this week and early next week, so we’d like to thank all the wonderful contributors featured in issue #4! We had the pleasure of publishing poetry by Aaron Belz, Rebecca Dunham, Matt Hart, B.J. Love, Joshua Ware, Lesley Ann Wheeler, Elisabeth Workman, and Ryo Yamaguchi. Our Five Questions Interview series re-appears with a fun and intelligent interview with Laura Solomon. There’s also two fantastic book reviews on Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People by Erika Jo Brown and Adam Clay’s A Hotel Lobby At the Edge of the World by Lucas Pingel.

Check out issue #4! You can now subscribe to cant journal, or buy the current issue through PayPal on our Subscriptions tab.

Also, we’re now officially devoting all of our energy towards reading for issue #5, so submit some work to us soon through our online submissions.