Sunday, March 30, 2014

Forrest Gander Poetry Trading Cards

Fact-Simile is excited to present the featured poet on this month's Poetry Trading Card: Forrest Gander.

Author of more than 28 books and translations, including Core Samples from the World (a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize), Forrest Gander is an American poet, essayist, novelist, critic, and translator.

Patterned after a 2008 Topps baseball card design, Forrest Gander's poetry trading card features a new poem titled "Anniversary" on the reverse side.
Fact-Simile Poetry Trading Cards are printed on recycled cardboard and available for just 99 cents on our website.

Subscriptions to the entire 2014 Poetry Trading Card Series are available. Plus, all 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Poetry Trading Cards are still available individually or as complete sets.

Thanks for Reading,

Travis & JenMarie Macdonald
Fact-Simile Editions

TOTEM by Brian Foley

In the category of long overdue, we here at Fact-Simile are happy to announce the official release of TOTEM by Brian Foley, one of the winners of our last Equinox Chapbook contest...

TOTEM is a modern-day "girdle book" adapted from the medieval monastic tradition of important texts meant to be worn on the reader's belt. It is set in Trajan Pro and printed on 120 gsm Arches Text Wove. Each of the 100 unique books in this limited edition print run are bound in upcycled denim with a reclaimed leather strap.

Brian Foley is the author of The Constitution (Black Ocean, April 2014). His poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Fanzine, Everyday Genius, Denver Quarterly, and The Volta. He is the editor of Brave Men Press and works in Western Massachusetts. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Susan Lewis’ “State of the Union” (Spuyten Duyvil) and “How to Be Another” (Cervena Barva Press)

Reviewed By Rob Talbert

ISBN 978-0-923389-91-8
Lewis’ chapbook, appropriately titled “State of the Union,” delves into the kaleidoscope of emotion and obstructions that arise in hyperactive urban landscapes. Juggling one’s personal desires with public image in fast-paced daily life, compounded by the constant discovery of new experience, forms the central conflict with which the poems are concerned. “This is not a movie” Lewis opens her chapbook, “but now & then it feels like one, & often has the same symptoms.” These “symptoms” she references are addressed in the successive pages with busy and overstimulating streams of prose poetry. Thickly constructed, the inundation carried by Lewis’ lines serves to emulate the swath of urban influence that is “spontaneously irrupted, inter- if not co-, exogenously layered like that sexy cake you sport to shield you from the reign of expression.” Every poem is a strong current of sounds and implanted thought, of shifting gears and approaches, but within that current is a distinctive cry against the confusion. A cry for the unfiltered, unarmored, connection. Reading through these poems is like walking through rush hour pedestrian traffic, and in the barrage of advertisements, smells, sounds, and ideas you suddenly lock eyes with someone passing you, someone gorgeous. And then they’re gone. Swallowed up by the environment. “State of the Union” is an overview and structural parody of our collective behavior in densely populated areas, specifically, how we often let one another fall by the wayside in the overwhelming world.

The full-length “How to Be Another”gives similar attention to these themes, yet carries a more personal, confessional, tone. The book turns away from the larger audience “State of the Union” addresses and begins a private conversation, one-on-one with the reader.

“In the metropolis of my psyche, no one is mayor. It’s a minefield in there, a bed of thorny roses. You may not be simpatico, but someone needs to dive in. Someone must swim these waters. Everyone will drown.”

If “State of the Union” is from the exterior looking in then “How to Be Another” is from the interior looking out. It is a collection of poems constructing multiple passages toward empathy, which is exactly what it means to “be another.”

A unique strength of the poems is their refusal to specify the nature of personal relationships. Most poets eagerly take us right into their bedrooms and relationships. They tell us specifically who said what and the colors of the furniture in order to bridge their experience with the reader, with the interior and exterior worlds. But Lewis does this without the cast of characters and props. Only a “you” or other personal pronoun is mentioned in her poems, rarely is it ever a sister or husband or friend or garbage man. “How to Be Another” is an account of the we, him, or her. This obscurity allows the reader to engage solely with the effects of conflict rather than the people who cause them. The effect Lewis creates is welcoming because to include these specifics would change how I read the poems. I’ve been angry before but never at my brother, because I don’t have a brother. Eliminating this  “overload of blurred identities” allows the poems to be entered with necessary neutrality. We read of experience without the vessel who carries it, and this direct, pure interaction produces a kind of clarity. As Lewis explains, “False consciousness adorns our sparkling smiles, like spinach, like bling, like a koala clinging to his fix, but that certainly is no excuse.”

Wordplay is another credit to Lewis’ book. Each prose poem is woven with highly developed assonance that brings both richness and new dynamics. As the poems address the repetitiveness of daily life through subject, their construction simultaneously takes on repetitiveness in sound. The cadence is an intended parallel to the habitual patterns in our lives.

“On & on towards death & its weak-kneed counterpart. But enough about us. […] Say again what I might knead, seeded & sown, thrown like caution to the wind, wound like any toy keyed up to meet its maker.”

The use of the ampersand in place of the word “and” is consistent throughout the entire book, and I sense its presence serves as a subtle reminder of our dependency on symbols. Symbols are myriad in the overload of urban environments and missed intentions, and symbol, by its very nature, demands inference. Like the McDonald’s arches or Nike checkmark, the ampersand in Lewis’ poems is a structural illustration of something larger. In this case, the danger of inferring what you think you know.

Playful and unapologetic, “State of the Union” and “How to Be Another” are not just easy to step into, but easy to inhabit. Each book rapidly addresses our fragmented concepts of anonymity, narcissism, appreciation, sympathy, diplomacy, physics and other concepts we brashly agree to understand. The voice is frank and forever in the flux of shifting emotion and environment. The poems are brief and acute. They are narratives, signposts, windows and fragments that stream heavy lines pulled right off the sensory-packed urban streets. Within these lines lies the struggle for each of us to connect and empathize with others. The struggles to clarify what symbols, what sounds, mean and how they affect us. Rife with misunderstanding and wordplay, the situations in the poems are all too recognizable. They threaten with the noise and confusion of lost focus, collectively emulating a crowd of people, all talking at once, while a crowd of ideas floods their minds. “Pay attention,” Lewis warns, “or the clamor in your head might very well prevail."