Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Small press book festival

This past Saturday I spent a little while at the Twin Cities Book Festival, an annual one-day event for the past few years organized by Rain Taxi Review of Books. It's a good place to run into people I don't generally see otherwise, and of course a good place to forage for books.

The event in recent years has taken place in the ground-floor cafeteria space of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College at the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis. It's a vast airy room full of sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the building. Rows of tables lined up from one end to the other, occupied by the small press exhibitors and their books. Noisy and full of echoes. I got there around 11:00 in the morning, and between stopping and talking with people, sampling books here and there, and stopping to catch my breath, it took me a little over an hour to make my first rounds of the room.

Like with a lot of these kinds of bookshow things, there was a wild range of every kind of printed matter. Tables full of postcards and cartoon illustrations. Children's books. Wooden racks of ancient used books, some semi-rare, some weird and curious. Aliform Publishing featured Spanish language literature, a few of the books translated in bilingual editions, most in the Spanish only. Varangian Trade and Plunder had a small odd selection of old books of Scandanavian literature and history. Sam's Dot Publishing from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a table crowded with science fiction, and also featuring On the Other Side of the Eye, electrically charged book of poems by Brian Thao Worra, who was himself there to sign books; his was one of the items I took home with me.

Beaver Pond Press. Big Time Attic. Conduit magazine. Dislocate. Farmer's Hat Productions. Laurel Poetry Collective. Nodin Press. North Star Press. Raven Productions. Red House Records. Scarletta Press. Turtle Lake Publications. Wet Paint. Picking names at random from the listing of exhibitors in the program booklet... Also there were the handful of big-time local publishers, Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, New Rivers Press (all of which originally came here from somewhere else.) Also Jim Perlman's Holy Cow! Press, which started here in Minneapolis many years ago, and in more recent times has settled in Duluth, Minnesota.

I was disappointed not to see the Minnesota Atheist Association there this year; previous years at the book show they've had a table there, giving away brochures about their organization, and small orange "Get Out of Hell Free" cards. (I carry a couple of the cards around with me, just in case...)

On the table of Musical Comedy Editions, I found Invisible Jazz by John Christopher Shillock, exciting book of poems just recently published; it comes with a CD of Shillock and singer Tabatha Predovich performing some of their collaborative works. (Musical Comedy Editions has no website. Chris Shillock's book is cover priced at $13.00, CD included; it can be ordered from Musical Comedy Editions, 5136 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55405. My book of poems The Idea of Legacy, cover priced at $8.00, can be ordered from the same place.)

At the table of Holy Cow! Press I came away with Ringing in the Wilderness edited by Rhoda Gilman, an anthology of articles, poems and other writing from the North Country Anvil, a great magazine of radical life published in Minnesota during the 1960's and 1970's and a little bit into the early 1980's. (The above link to the book is to a page in, which is where the link in the publisher's website goes.)

At the Red Dragonfly Press table I found, among other things, Heaven without a Passport by Fereydoun Faryad, a contemporary poet of Iran; Faryad translated his poems into modern Greek years back; the Red Dragonfly edition is translated from Greek into English by Scott King (publisher of Red Dragonfly Press, and a fine poem himself). These are brief fleeting poems, often barely an image or two, startling in their concentration. And, also from Red Dragonfly, A Bumpy Ride to the Slaughterhouse, odd eccentric prose poems by Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåug, published in a bilingual edition with English translations by Robert Hedin and Louis Jenkins.

Red Dragonfly Press is the publisher of two of my books of poems, If There Is A Song and What Is Buried Here, both available through their website (see the link in the above paragraph). I also got official word that Red Dragonfly will be publishing another book of my poems, titled (tentatively, at least, unless I come up with something I like better) The First Light Touches Me. It will likely be a little while before the new one is out; Scott does patient careful work with the books he publishes, and I've always been more than happy to wait however long it takes.

Eventually after walking around grazing on books and talking with people, I was wiped out, the room was getting warm from all the collective body heat, and it was a mild sunny blue sky day outside. Before I left I picked up the most recent issue of Spout, probably my favorite locally published poetry magazine these days, and the most recent issue of Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America. I highly recommend both.

* * * * *

In other book news, I just finished reading Drive: The First Quartet, epic collection of poems by Lorna Dee Cervantes published by Wings Press. It just blew me away, left me breathless. I'll write about it more fully here in the blog in the near future.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


How quietly the air parts

It must have been sometime in the 1990's that I first read poet Kimiko Hahn, her first book, Air Pocket, published by Hanging Loose Press in 1989. I'm struck now that many moments in her poems have stayed with me over the years, even though the poems themselves often have a deceptive simplicity, a tone and language often just slightly more compressed than speech or written prose.

Kimiko Hahn (according to the back cover of the book) was born in 1955 in Mt. Kisco, New York, to two artists, Maude Miyako Hamai, from Hawaii, and Walter Hahn, from Wisconsin. At the time Air Pocket was published she was living in Manhattan.

Hahn often finds poems in commonplace events and places, a conversation with a family member, a meal, a brief story or recollection. Her poems (in Air Pocket) sometimes remind me, in this respect, of the earlier poems of Denise Levertov or Adrienne Rich. These lines from the poem "Tea":
Repeat the same gesture
Until you hear how quietly the air parts
When your hand reaches for the purple cloth.
This posture speaks
To your neighbor's squalor,

The elegance of this cup's form and color--
How elegant your footstep:
Grandfather left Hiroshima
To burn sugar cane in Maui. But you are here
And after sitting on your knees for an hour

The starched socks separate from your ankles,
Walk over beside the teacher
And watch you rise quickly.
You walk knees bent. Relaxed. The silk
Around your ribs holds your breath.
Moving just under the surface of lyricism and historical moment in her poems, one sometimes finds the pain and quiet bitterness of breaking love:
[...] The girl wants
to sit for a while on the fire escape:

to listen to the water
draining the open fire hydrant

and cooling the street and children--
to figure out the look he gave

when she turned and small hairs
scattered across the pillow. But already

it's so oppressive. She would collect
all her combs and snap them in half

but a scent keeps her
from moving from the sheets.

By her sandals she notices an orchid
in white tissue. She reaches.
(From the poem "A Girl Combs Her Hair," which begins with the notation "after Li Ho.")

The force of storytelling is large in Hahn's poems. She has keen senses for finding the small almost random details that mark larger patterns and movements in the routine of daily life. A place and memory, a kitchen, a truck, a garden, fully evoked with a few simple sentences.
At Uncle Ted's farm
among rows of hybrid gladiolas
the deer tore and chewed
leaving behind dark spikes

when the truck pulled up
or until the sun rose.
I was eight and barely recall
the men working.
Rather the enormous
ragged stalks and deer droppings.

I don't remember
but we saw the deer.
As we turned the bend
their white tails froze
long enough for the men to swear
they'd shoot them.

The faucet was dripping
when I walked in,
a sign he'd been home
and rinsed the coffee cup
now face down
in the dish rack.
(From the poem "Gladiolas.")

Toward the later half of Air Pocket the poems grow longer and pick up their narrative power and insistence on telling the truth the poet perceives. Here the world of the poems becomes larger and more public -- I'm inclined to say more explicitly political, though I believe very strongly that all poetry (and all human expression) is in some way political, because it occurs in the context of other human actions in the world in which we live.
From the poem "The Bath: August 6, 1945":

Bathing the summer night
off my arms and breasts
I heard a plane
overhead I heard
the door rattle
then relaxed
in the cool water
one more moment
one private moment
before waking the children
and mother-in-law,
before the heat
before the midday heat
drenched my spirits again.
I had wanted
to also relax
in thoughts of my husband--
how we were children
when he was drafted
imprisoned--but didn't dare
and rose from the tub,
dried off lightly
and slipped on cotton work pants.
Caution drew me to the window
and there an enormous blossom of fire
a hand changed my life
and made the world shiver--
a light that tore flesh
so that it slipped off limbs,
swelled so
no one could recognize
a mother or child [...]

And then, further on, the poem moves from the immediate moment of the atomic bomb to the consideration of afterward, of will and consequences:
[...] And it would be gratifying
to be called a survivor
I am a survivor
since I live if I didn't wonder
about survival today--
at 55, widowed at 18--
if I didn't feel
the same oppressive August heat
auto parts in South Africa,
Mexico, Alabama,
and shiver not from memory
or terror
but anger that this wounded body
must stand take a stand
and cry out
as only a newborn baby can cry--
I live, I will live
I will to live
in spite of history
to make history
in my vision of peace--
that morning in the bath
so calm
so much my right
though I cannot return to that moment
I bring these words to you
hoping to hold you
to hold you
and to take hold.
Air Pocket is listed out-of-print by the publisher; the link to the book in the first paragraph above is to a listing in There is other work by Hahn which is available, including some from Hanging Loose Press (see the other link in the first paragraph). Kimiko Hahn's poems tell essential news about our world and about the significance of the fleeting moments of our ordinary lives. Go looking for her poetry.

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