During May and June, No Tells is featuring "Recommended Summer Reading" selections by No Tell contributors.
Cati Porter's recommendations:
Serious Pink by Sharon Dolin (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003)
I ordered this book several years ago because I was interested in ekphrasis and wanted to see what others had done. I fell immediately in love with this one. The poems are very pictorial -- both in image and in their placement on the page; I reacted to these poems in a very visceral, visual way, almost as though they were written in technicolor. Three of the four sections are after works by different artists: Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, and Howard Hodgkin, with a fourth an “Ode to Color” that invokes poets’, painters’, and philosophers’ thoughts on color.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (Vintage Books, 1999).
Autobiography of Red is billed as a novel in verse, and reads like one. I couldn’t put it down. It tells the story of a young man named Geryon who falls for Herakles, who is reckless and restless. It is a recasting of the original myth in modern terms, with an introduction to Stesichoros’ work, the original fragments of his Geryoneis, appendices investigating whether or not Stesichoros was indeed blinded by Helen, and a final “interview” with Stesichoros himself. The title page reads “Autobiography of Red: A Romance”, and it is.
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson (Vintage Books, 2002)
Here is another group of fragments rescued from papyrus and pieced together into something amazing. Of Sappho’s remaining work, only one poem is intact. Carson has taken these disparate fragments and placed them alongside one another so that they form an intricate mosaic. It’s not as fanciful as Autobiography of Red, but shares an aesthetic of reconstruction and illumination of the past through a process of revisioning.
Descent of Alette by Alice Notley (Penguin Books, 1992)
Notley’s Alette is a terrifying journey into an underworld ruled by a “tyrant”. Another novel in verse, it uses a typographical device (“ “) to draw attention to and disrupt the natural phrasings of the text: “all lines” “are broken into” “fragments that” “threaten to halt your” “reading while propelling” “you ever forward”. The story of Alette is described as a female epic, and is strange and disconcerting, and amazing. I know this isn’t a new book but it really affected me and I’d like to pass that on to any of you out there who have not read it yet.
Revolver by Robyn Schiff (Kuhl House Poets series/University of Iowa Press, 2008)
I especially admire collections that revolve (get it, revolve?) around a theme (evidenced by the above). In the case of Revolver, many of the poems in this collection riff on an object, including the original Singer sewing machine, an eighty-blade sportsman’s knife, de la Rue’s envelope machine, and multi-purpose steamship furniture that doubles as a flotation device. Oh, and of course the title poem-object, a Colt Rapid Fire Revolver. Other sundry items include a custom dress from the House of Schiaperelli hand painted with a lobster by Dali, the avian flue H1N1, and an exploration of the abduction of Calvin Klein’s daughter, Marci. Schiff’s poems are aptly constructed, strictly adhering to self-imposed syllabics even if it means breaking the line on an article or preposition, or hyphenating a word. And I use the word “riff” because, while she may start in one place, she leads us through a maze to get where she’s going, but always the thing is there, and one way or another, in the end it all makes sense.
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Cati Porter is the author of Seven Floors Up (Mayapple Press, 2008) and small fruit songs: prose poems (Pudding House, 2008). Her poems appear in the recent anthologies Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel -- Second Floor (No Tell Books), White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood (Demeter Press/York U., Canada), and Letters to the World (Red Hen Press). She is an associate editor for Babel Fruit, and founder & editor-in-chief of Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry.