Wednesday, March 30, 2011



X (ANGEL CITY) by Joseph Lease
(Sacrifice Press, Corvallis, Oregon, 2010)

Sometimes, to write literary criticism on a poem is to swaddle that poem in a heavy wool blanket, which is to say, it deadens the thing to try to articulate something that cannot be articulated, e.g. the effect of a poem.

I feel that way about many of Joseph Lease's poems--their deft, adept, light lyricism. Yet it's ironic to feel his poems as so much lightness when, actually, they're quite political. Therein lies one of Lease's strengths as a poet: a political lyricism whereby politics don't bog down his verses even as his verses do raise political content.

And so I avoid reviewing (for fear of being a writing bull in a china shop) his recent full-length collection--though I recommend it--TESTIFY from Coffee House Press (but Galatea Resurrects's got review copies and I encourage someone else to please review it!). But I can at least share my pleasure over his slimmer chap from Sacrifice Press which provides a single poem, "X (ANGEL CITY)."

"Angel City" can refer to several things. I don't know why I insistently conflated it with the WWII detention camp Angel Island (perhaps the blockade-ish looking building on its front cover). And because it begins
            before you broke me I thought I

was free (sinful but free)--how awful to live in

this box--I said I wanted to stop using the word


But, as with many effective poems, what are evoked are larger than the specificity of the reference. In this single poem, Lease talks back against Empire--
property is death

USA was a parasite, a way of happening, a seizure

floating between word and meaning

Lease makes the poem matter to the reader by not leaving the words to simply proclaim. He brings in the reader with juxtapositions of personal references and intimacy:
they had a body crammed into a mailbox and it
was just a brown suit with bones
            sticking out

                                    prisoner /

                        Dear You,

In the above, what was "a body crammed into a mailbox"--a description that by itself facilitates a distancing from the reader (like something you read in a newspaper about someone else) is turned about to be someone so close to the reader it may even be "you".

Thus, it seems to me that Lease is a political poet who never loses sight of how language matters so much that it inherently concerns itself with reader-response. Indeed, that language matters so much that language must even retain its beauty. I'll illustrate and end simply by quoting Section 6 in its fabulous entirety:
            Can you slide inside some wind,

Can you slide the sun back home,

            Can you pray inside your play, fray

Inside your day:

                                                You want to glint

Electric rain, it's hard to think of anyone but

You, hey shadows playing shadows, say the

Names, I'll try to flow like hair, like wind, like


                                                I'll try to glint like

Birds behind the rain


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed or generated responses by Joey Madia in The New Mystics HERE; Allen Bramhall over HERE; by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; by Leny Strobel over HERE; and by Jean Vengua over HERE and HERE. Her THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I is reviewed by Edric Mesmer in Yellow Field and reprinted HERE. Her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1998-2010 is reviewed by Arpine Konyalian Grenier over HERE. Allen Bramhall also reviews the "Hay(na)ku for Haiti" series over HERE. If the latter two get you curious, please note that participating in this fundraiser for Haiti is supported by Marsh Hawk Press, publisher of THE THORN ROSARY: if you order at least $15 worth of booklets, you will receive a copy of THE THORN ROSARY which is priced retail at $19.95; this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.

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