V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




Hit it!—The Love Song of Jericho Brown’s Please

Voice and voicelessness is the book’s
phenomenal extended metaphor . . .

Too many times in the past few years I have finished a recently published volume of poetry and put it back on the bookshelf thinking, “Okay, okay, I get it: not only have you suffered but you’re really clever.” Jericho Brown’s Please not only led me away from this begrudging confession but allowed me while reading to become far more aware of the poems than of the poetry. That is, the book seems less a grand endeavor that orchestrates to bring attention to itself as such than a collected set of deliberate, sharply crafted pieces which reflect an unpretentious yet demanding batch of sensibilities — each poem is both gift and plea. Maybe I should put it this way: Brown’s debut volume avoids the self-conciliatory, self-congratulatory tone he might well have taken on, and that’s not because there’s nothing here to mourn or be proud of. The poems are smart and raw, but readers will recognize this as distinct from clever or pitiable, in part because the writer does not ask his readers to recognize them as such. Any insight, any complexity here is the result of intricate tonal and metaphorical maneuvering, crafting, nuance: questioning and requiring all at once, the way the word please is both a desire and a demand.
    What makes avoiding self-conciliation and self-congratulation more of a feat is that, among poems that clearly employ personae and others that do so more opaquely, all are to varying degrees and by various means self-referential, and with lesser frequency but equal intensity, reader-referential. Brown opens the book with “Track 1: Lush Life,” a familiar scenario in what might be a jazz club but with such an unfamiliar and pointed analogy as to be applicable to the reader in both an eerie and endearing way:

        The woman with the microphone sings to hurt you,
        To see you shake your head. The mic may as well
        Be a leather belt. You drive to the center of town
        To be whipped by a woman’s voice. You can’t tell
        The difference between a leather belt and a lover’s
        Tongue…. She does not mean to entertain
        You, and neither do I. Speak to me in a lover’s tongue—
        Call me your bitch, and I’ll sing the whole night long.

    Besides the layered tensions of intimacy and violence (readers may gloss over the lover’s tongue as leather belt, and vice-versa, as proverbial jest, but just when we’ve forgotten the literal possibility of such an intersection, it appears, and numerously, in later sections of the volume even while images of unjust beatings — often with belts — show up throughout), we also find the layers of reverence and intimacy as well as the paradox of request and demand as a unified gesture. Additionally, the line, “She does not mean to entertain / You, and neither do I,” does two things: readers are introduced to the speaker within or beyond the second-person point-of-view, which then allows us to recognize the perspective heretofore not as a “Gotcha!” but the complication of both holistic invitation and experiential impossibility, something of a “You think, reader, you can inhabit my world, and though you won’t, fully, ever, let’s go after it anyway — why not?” We understand, too, that this is not a door opened for our use of the poet, a way to be entertained, as Brown puts it. He will not be clever for us, to amuse or to dismay. Instead, the summons is more dangerous: the poet will sing, but readers best prepare themselves for harm, perhaps pleasurable in its torment, but injurious nonetheless.
    For an example of metaphorical nuance (and it’s everywhere, but this particular instance happens early on and therefore readies us for later occurrences), take the multi-sectioned “Scarecrow.” The poem begins, as one might anticipate, with an address to Dorothy and seems conciliatory or at least sympathetic to being on a journey with a line like this one: “Everyone needs something to hang onto. / It helps us keep the crows away.” But then we move to a picnic where the scarecrow invites the reader to imagine a body, “burning from foot to breast,” hanging from the poplar at the edge of the field, and the speaker admits, “I had a mind / to cry; I shut my marble eyes / Too afraid to scare a bird.” What follows in the third, fourth, and fifth sections is a meshing of the speaker as both scarecrow and human, a tender but thorough taking on of the persona: from “Wants to Know,” section III, “What does the crow love / Other than himself?”; from section IV, titled “On Graduate School,” “I am here to learn: that which fears me / Must be crow / In this hall of heavy doors / Where my body is a blemish”; in section V, “In the Pulpit,” “I am a mouthless man of straw” is repeated three times, along with the admission, “I’m not dumb, but I wish I were. / A fool bothers the Father about a brain.” Such a complete collapse of poet and scarecrow is both pleasant and harrowing, as is the complicated symbol of the crow; further, the two references to longing after intellect demonstrate already its maneuverings so that subtlety and paranomasia (a technique Brown delightfully employs elsewhere but does not, thankfully, overuse) lead us to serious contemplation of those out in the “field,” the marginalized, the voiceless.
    The emphasis on voice — on singing, the world of music, is also one that Brown returns to time and again. One of the first and most memorable is located in “Again,” where the speaker begins with a confession of literary intrigue: “You are not as tired of the poem / As I am of the memory.” The memory is a toothache that returns, an ingrown hair which impulsively leads to a painful scratch. But then readers are presented with the memory(ies) itself: the speaker walking with his mother “Around the one-story neighborhood / That I loved / Though nothing I’ve written tells you this” and the recollection, in present tense, of his mother sleeping against his father’s chest — “Give a man a minute. / She’s asleep and I’m typing it / All over again.” Brown repeats the phrase “Give a man a minute” another time in the poem, preceded by “I know you / Don’t want to believe that / But…” and even at this (early) point in the volume, readers understand the urgency — the potential voicelessness, misunderstanding, meaninglessness — of the speaker’s reckoning with his parents and a childhood that is like the repetition of too many others: “I’m so sick of it— / Another awful father / Scarring this page too— / A bruising scratch.” Minus typical self-pity, the self-awareness here allows readers to see how worn thin the speaker is with the repetition in his own life and others’; voicing this makes it palatable.  
    Voice and voicelessness is the book’s phenomenal extended metaphor, and not one I am compelled to unpack here except to mention two aspects. The first is that the desire to speak is not commensurate with the ability of the throat and mouth to speak but, most often, the situational power of having a voice by which speech — or otherwise meaningful acts of communication — is possible. Similar to those fumbling characters in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, each one so needy not for words themselves but a voice by which to offer them and the substantial and individual ache underneath them, the speakers in Brown’s Please negotiate such a conundrum with music, and even so, often find themselves with words but without voice, the wrong kinds of voice, the wrong kinds of listener, the inadequacy of voice without the corresponding soundtrack of compassion, complexity, reception. In “Track 4: Reflections” Diana Ross bargains, “If the red sun rising makes a sound, / Let my voice be that sound.” The speaker or speakers in “Autobiography” beg(s), “Keep holding that last note     keep singing while / I get the splinter out / Keep singing for Jesus baby and everything / Will be alright.” In “Pause,” the speaker would like to ask those who believe humming is the outward expression of happiness, “If they ever heard of slavery, / The work song — the best music/ is made of subtraction, / The singer seeks an exit from the scarred body / And opens his mouth / Trying to get out” — and later admits, “If I had known the location of my own runaway / Breath, I too would have found a blues.” The speaker of “Turning 26” has “A candle / Lodged at the portal of my throat.” And Janis Joplin in “Track 5: Summertime” offers the titular confession:

        ….They called me
        Bitch, but I never bit back. I ain’t a dog.
        Chainsaw, I say. My voice hacks at you. I bet
        I tear my throat. I try so hard to sound jagged.
        I get high and say one thing so many times
        Like Willie Baker who worked across the street—
        I saw some kids whip him with a belt while he
        Repeated Please….
        God must love Willie Baker—all that leather and still
        A please that sounds like music. See.
        I wouldn’t know a sparrow from a mockingbird.
        The band plays. I just belt out, Please. This tune
        Ain’t half the blues….

    The second aspect to consider regarding use of voice in this volume is the one that Brown (or the poems’ speaker) finds, the music — often exploring the mournful wail of rhythm and blues — he and his lovers make while he alternately confronts his sexual identity and revels in the often violent but always earnest sex act(s). In “Robert,” the speaker admits, “I couldn’t place the joy / Turning a white boy / Red” but nonetheless delights that “No one can hear a drum / Beat from the belly of the whale.” The speaker offers retrospective understanding in “Derrick Anything But” by admitting to singing in the church choir to “keep everything awful / Out my mouth / If I held the high notes.” After witnessing a gesture of affection between two men and an onlooker’s scorn, the speaker in “Lunch” manages to “open my appropriate mouth / To order.” The speaker finds his voice in “Burning Bush,” but only when “entered”; in the very next poem, “I Have Just Picked Up a Man,” however, the speaker recognizes that “if he is afraid, he’ll talk. / Or if he is hungry, he’ll listen.” In “Rick,” the speaker negotiates with his lover, “Say you’ll die / With me. Open your mouth. Say / I knock on your door in the midst of a blizzard / …. Say you let me in. Say it / Like you mean it” so that say, like please, is both speculation and command. And in the final poem, “Because My Name Is Jericho,” the last lines read, “I am just as much a man / As Joshua. I’ve got the silence to prove it.”
    Throughout the volume, the intricate layers of hands, mouths, and being or not being consumed (as food, as fire) indicate both the complicated physical and psychological reality of the love and the song in the poems of Jericho Brown. As well, in these poems readers find what is smart but not belting itself out as clever, what is full of the blues but not demanding its own dirge.

* * * * *

“With A Cold, New Kind of Smile”: Stephanie Brown’s Wholesome Disdain

Brown intimately laments and rages against both the public
and private idiocy of lives punctuated by the pursuit
of wealth and entertainment and not interior consequence
towards either personal or social equilibrium . . .

The first line of the first poem in Stephanie Brown’s Domestic Interior — “They were potato chip eaters” — harkens Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Bean Eaters” but immediately locates us in a separate hemisphere of stasis and poverty, one readers soon recognize as the withering, emotionally (perhaps morally) bankrupt and privileged world of white suburbia. In “I Observe This Morphic Field,” as with any well-placed opener, what we are offered prepares us for that which follows, both tonal and situational — the speaker acts as observer and conflicted interpreter, trying to make sense of the reactions, or perspectives, or lives of those who, in this poem, watch extraordinary amounts of television:

        I mean they weren’t embarrassed by all the hours.
        I mean they thought back nostalgically to cute TV-kid actors.
        I mean they said, “awwwww,” when recalling this kid.
        I mean they sang along to the theme song without ironic distance.

    Given over to this trenchant, conversational tone, the speaker embarks on a reverie that includes 1984, the couple’s insipid animal hunger, and clean rivers — the last lines again echo a well-known poem, this time William Stafford’s “Ask Me”: “What does the newsanchor say to it? / What does the newsanchor say to the river?” By bookending with clear allusions to canonical poetry a poem about the brain-numbing, spirit-stultifying effects of, among others things, television, it seems certain Brown will accrue serious enthusiasts and sympathizers right away — among them teachers, librarians, anti-TV folk, and more generally, cultural critics. As one might guess, Brown doesn’t stop with TV. In “Domestic Interior,” a more helpful title in some ways since such portrayal, after all, is more than observation, Brown paints another scene, shines her light on another couple to reveal their domestic abuse and name the petty survival of their front: “A loose cannon always marries a wet blanket…. / Watch her: she will take on nervous, aggressive mannerisms…. / Sulky dude, he sits there, slumped posture / tree stump…. / And he softly fingered her black eye / When she cried it was wonderful / How close they felt….” The tragic elements in this situation are mediated by what is so easily recognizable — the coping mechanisms, the unattended root issues — as to be pathetic, absurd, annoying. “Private School” follows suit in rakishly depicting the ridiculous, snubbing antics of the elite:

        The volunteer today
        wears Hermès.
        She crashed the truck in Santa Fe!
        What a weekend getaway!!
        Oh my God! Oh no! offer
        her loyal foes…
        She is married to Fame and sometimes shows her belly button in too-tight clothes
        Trophy for the famous prize—
        Her husband, who never smiles, never.

    Throughout the volume, but especially in her first section (titled “Neighbors”), Brown intimately laments and rages against both the public and private idiocy of lives punctuated by the pursuit of wealth and entertainment and not interior consequence towards either personal or social equilibrium; in later poems, like “Snobs,” “Marble Obelisk,” “The Divorce of Mr. and Mrs. Moore,” and “Satanists Next Door,” there’s still the feeling that, even if metaphorically, those around Brown deserve the complex disdain of honoring all that might have been in their lives and providing the scathing truth of all that is not.
    So what readers may end up wondering, should their sensitivities be placed anywhere near my own, is this: while it may feel good to take literary aim at those who, certainly, will not be reading the poems (getting to, finally, laugh in horror, not with them but at them), and around or underneath whom most of us have suffered in one way or another, it is possible that Brown carves out too much room to feel smug about oneself, since the speaker seems almost entirely to be pointing away from herself with that sharp finger of accusation — what might pass as a Plath-like, I’m-just-being-brutally-honest spotlight, because Brown variously but inevitably flicks the switch and light floods the dark corners of these situations, these “types,” like the volunteering, rich Dads who are “thoughtful, kind, respectful, polite, adorable, greedy, luxurious, glad-handing, varsity-level.” Readers will see what there is to despise here. Readers will join Brown in despising that which needs despising. The problem is that Brown does not give readers much of a choice: at the end of “Private School,” when we learn that the speaker has pulled her child — “And I had to hang my head in shame / and walk the other way” — it not only comes as no surprise, but seems intended in its rendering to request sympathy from readers. How otherwise could readers respond to, “You gotta show your gottalottabux and if you don’t have them you have to / Pretend.” Indeed, were it not for other poems that make possible the culpability of the poems’ speaker in certain small ways, it would be easy for readers to assume Brown’s scorn is largely judgmental and not in the least circumspect, not moving towards genuine lament but its own bumptious self-congratulation for escaping the noxious, vacuous, fraudulent, unenlightened world of her neighbors.
    Most of the poems in Domestic Interior are still tinged, even if around the edges, with a pitiable sense of what the speaker has to put up with — the hard-scrabble heritage of her Irish immigrant grandfather, a mentally disturbed sister, rude patrons in the library where she works, rampant classism, an alcoholic spouse and all manner of marital strife — but a number of self-consciously, deliberately condescending poems are capable of unraveling the caustic string of pearls Brown has tied around her neighbor-folk and the otherwise impenetrable inhabitants of her world: “Invective” wins a white ribbon for its crippling irony, making forlorn any attempt to get the last, nastiest word in; “Pension, Venezia” a red ribbon for its self-imposing narrator who attacks the big questions we must all, suburban and non, ponder about marriage (echoing subtly the ways which Lowell and Sexton and Levertov, among others, have); “Ten Years” and “Temper” share a blue ribbon for asking readers to go back to those first poems and envision the speaker as observing and interpreting herself:

        He closes his eyes, and there he goes, not believing in enthusiasm, or being talkative.

        He knows it was all about fear, nervousness, fear of nervousness, nervous feelings of fear.

        His afraid-self married my false self.

        O the wedding: soup to nuts!

        Yes, yes: Now what?

                        (from “Ten Years”)

        There is the husband, the wife, and the temper.
        There is the house, and the driveway, and the cracked, declining cement, and the temper.
        The front door, the glass bowl, the temper.
        A bill on the table. A key to your heart.

        Furry cheese and a spilled open box of rice.

        No tape—ennywhere in this entire house—!

        The doctor, the wife, the temper.

                        (from “The Temper”) 

    Stylistically, Brown’s clausal line breaks and occasional long lines give us a sense of statement, of assertive observation and interpretation, as if spoken into a tape recorder during some after-session diagnosis: these are the facts, these are my ideas and opinions, this is my conclusion. But Brown introduces intermittent use of rhyme; her language is mostly plain-spoken and sometimes awkwardly descriptive, moving in and out of poetic-diagnostic mode: “Her heart has run out of steam. / Her vitriol has run out of scream. / Her engine has rusted and died on the tracks like the strong nineteenth-century body that did manual labor” (from “Prescription Pills”). It seems to be a way of coping — to make a “lyric,” something sing-song or playful-sounding in the midst of scorn, upheaval, heartbreak, despair. If it ends up feeling a little claustrophobic, that’s because it is. The discomfort here is palpable, and that is Brown’s skill, honed and hardened and incandescent with ire.

* * * * *

Plight and Play: William Greenway’s Journey to Amusement

Greenway doesn’t shy from the existential questions here
of purpose and belonging, human connection and the tendency
toward and away from (the possibility of) God . . .

William Greenway might be one of those rare poets of our day (or any, given how recently we’ve been provided with nonstop jet service from one continent to another, hidden baggage fees notwithstanding) who can as aptly plunk his readers down on the banks of the Chattahoochee as the specter-laden cliffs of Iskeroon in Wales. Everywhere at Once seems to particularly shuttle readers back and forth, here and there, thither and yon. This ninth book of poetry draws on some of Greenway’s familiar themes, figures, and modes — his parents, his religious upbringing, that impending bodily demise called aging, his non-existent children, characters and lines from Shakespeare as well as various canonical and cultural sources for the epigrams that begin nearly every poem, and, not least, the reconfiguring of clichés and further connotative, aural richness of language. In this volume, however, we’re meant, if the title is any indication, to be whisked about, unsettled and even disoriented. The effect is in many ways pleasurable because it is not somatic — no jetlag while we bend toward another time zone, or heartburn while we try out unfamiliar food, or linguistic vertigo while getting a handle on dialects, accents, and cultural nuance. All the same, we’re meant to feel the visceral strain: in the titular poem, which happens to be the first in the book and therefore a preface of sorts, Greenway asks, “Why does my brain always suddenly / flash to the places I’ve been in France or Italy, / and mostly Wales, when I’m only / boiling an egg or putting on my shoes…?”
    Landing in these different locales (often the same places multiple times) does the psyche’s investigative work of journeying, of seeking out place — or home, if such a link is not implicit but possible — and Greenway doesn’t shy from the existential questions here of purpose and belonging, human connection and the tendency toward and away from (the possibility of) God. Consider this excerpt from “The Place You Belong”:
        All your life you try to get back
        somewhere, maybe the place
        your family went on vacations
        where you always wanted
        to live….
        Maybe Jesus dreamed in his tomb
        of Bethlehem, always thought
        he might get back, maybe even
        convert that little barn beneath
        the date palms into something he could
        live in, the desert hills in the distance
        pink as his mother’s cheeks.

    Here and in numerous other poems, the journey seems to be Greenway’s frazzled, dismayed weaving toward (and away from and against and buckling on the margins of) faith. He announces in several places that he’s a preacher’s kid — a (southern) Southern Baptist’s preacher’s kid — and wears this like an angry badge; what is compassionate in some spots is wholly caustic in others. But it seems his non-relationship to God is worth exploring, even if begrudgingly, and in this Greenway departs slightly from previous volumes. In “Smackdown,” for example, he begins with beleaguered candor, “Sometimes I pray to God: okay, / if You want her that badly, take her, / end her suffering, and mine too…. But then I think, no, by God, / I’ll wrestle like Jacob for her….” The catalyst for any communication with God in this volume has, in fact, everything to do with Greenway’s long-time spouse whose frayed health is the subject of several poems, and over and again it is she who is Greenway’s savior and not a deity, the real miracle not Christ’s incarnation and resurrection but the near-literal event of his beloved’s after a stroke and coma: “There are no atheists / in hospital waiting rooms, / only… hoping for the stone / rolled away, and her not ascending / like dew-steam into some high heaven, / but coming back here, down into / the lowly embraceable body.”
    With all that said, and perhaps despite it, William Greenway seems bored. It is a troubled boredom, certainly, one that the poet honors for its pervasiveness if not its complexity. Except for travel, and even in travel we find a privileged sense of ennui (lovely, to be sure, but traveling between Wales and Mississippi, the poems insinuate, can get downright wearisome), it is almost as though Greenway wants to be filled with wonder, awe, reverence, but finds our groping, earthy set of hopes and trials one protracted plane ride after another — to be endured but not necessarily enjoyed — especially if it is a means to no known end. The veneer of the poems tempts readers to think otherwise, that he’s enraptured with the careful, corroding beauty of life’s “whirling compass, the bong / and ping of the psychic pinball / of karma,” and so, too, imply the blurbs on the back of the book, citing how various the locations and situations of the poems, how lively a companion this poet is on such a journey. What readers will find is that for half the willful accounts of the strange, busted, unjust, flailing, whirling, hapless, surprising, and gorgeous — that very human experience is flattened and deflated by an announcement of the tedium and lassitude, the repetition, hollow, and trifling: how convinced are we to be about such things when, in “Portsmouth” he writes, “…I’d ask why, but / we all hate rhetorical questions, // or at least we say we do, the way we think / we’re bored with our tedious life until it’s / almost lost and we long to pat it again like a dull // car ready for another trip to work and back.” It is a statement, though for my buck it needn’t be marquee’d quite so brightly for readers to see the sign(s). The most interesting lament of being uninteresting shines with irony; in “The Unusual Suspects,” he lampoons even this lamentation:

        If only we’d had an indecent upbringing,
        not fallen in with bland companions,
        we, too, might have made nothing
        of our lives, become most wanted, armed
        and dangerous, instead of disarming,
        smug, small-time, and still at large.

    Evident in this excerpt and throughout the volume, Greenway seeks to amuse syntactically, aurally, and colloquially, perhaps in response to this very monotony and longueur. As Greenway writes in free verse and non-syllabics, one aspect of his poetry that would otherwise be hard to reconcile is the periodic but random use of rhyme. It’s true that form happens to be “hot” again, and delightfully so, so it ought not surprise readers to pick up newer volumes of poetry and find in their pages a villanelle or ghazal or sonnet now and again, or a set/section of poems in form, or perhaps an entire book employing form. What might perplex readers in Everywhere at Once, however, is not being able to recognize either technically consistent use of rhyme (towards rhythm, which might set itself up as a subtle gesture within or even against a poem’s thematic meaning(s)) or an inconsistent enough use to be itself a pattern or a thumbing-of-the-nose-at pattern, a move toward more fragmented “order” such that it is lilting but self-consciously not part of a rhyme scheme. What we find here, however, is more subtle thematically but also more self-saluting, as though the poet happened upon certain couplets or lyrics he found too clever to disregard and so tossed them into the poem unchecked, like stones to ripple the water (but not where we might’ve expected, say, in a poem titled “Long Love Sonnet”). Where these moments of correspondent sounds could work as a gentle rhythmic jolt or disruption, they instead feel morphic in tone, too cunning to be coy: “ravens and gulls / hawk their hungers all day, / and gales shriek at night / like a cat fight” (the only end-rhyme in the entire poem).
    More consistent is Greenway’s play with language-as-sound: homonyms like Burghers/burgers and mourning/morning; reiterations like ferries/ferry, hovercraft/hovers and corpse/corpus; one-letter variations like skull/skill and stones/scones; full-bodied alliteration like “whirl of the wheeling world,” instructional/constructional, meditation/legislation, and, in a more brutal example, “the tanker truck / backed up to the house and hosed / its bourbon into the basement / …the castanets of cassettes / on the porch as the porn man made / his rounds.” The potential for aural gimmickry is high, especially in those spots where such techniques are overused, but should one recognize this as insistence and not intensity, it’s possible to perceive Greenway as genuinely trying to amuse himself — and his reader — to cling to the story’s sounds as a diversion since the story (or reflection of/on experience) itself is, more likely than not, not quite diversion enough.

* * * * *

An Enthusiastic Non-Review of Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution

Hong’s volume of poetry leads us
into the potential of plurilingualism with gusto . . .

After attending a recent lecture by Dr. Suresh Canagarajah, a linguist who teaches and conducts research at Pennsylvania State, I found myself both more able to appreciate Cathy Park Hong’s 2008 volume of poetry, Dance Dance Revolution, and further stymied by the scope of its experiment. The premise or context of the book is its first experiment: an imagined near-future world (2016) transformed by imagined events in the near-past (1988), so that readers must first leap both time and reality to land in the space the writer carves out, a city called The Desert where global cities are represented by tourist resorts; on the outskirts of this planned city is New Town, whose inhabitants are citizens of nowhere, the political outcasts of the 1988 upheaval, and who make what they must economically out of the cultural intersections in The Desert. Readers are introduced to this landscape by two voices: the Historian and the Guide, whose family history and whose personal history, respectively, are intertwined with the quashed Dance Dance Revolution of 1988, a bloody and silenced affair not unlike Tienanmen Square.
    The second experiment, in tandem with the first, is the way these two voices tell their stories — fragmented by associative, nonlinear, and non-narrative leaps — and in particular what Adrienne Rich calls “Desert Creole,” the Guide’s language (Adrienne Rich offers a preface for the book, which she selected for the 2006 Barnard Women Poets Prize). Hong’s book has been dubbed “a polyglot explosion” by The Believer, and after listening to Dr. Canagarajah, I’m as inclined to believe that what Hong undertakes in this volume is nothing less than plurilingualism — waltzing in and out of 300 languages, according to the Historian — where no one language is privileged or highlighted, the hybridizing of which a linguist like Canagarajah asserts is both possible and already extant. To try and excerpt this meaningfully, however, would demean the reader’s experience in encountering a truly plurilingual text.
    So it is that the tidy inappropriateness of summarizing the book’s main gestures and analyzing its major themes keeps me from trying to offer a traditional review. Instead, I pose a challenge: it’s possible that readers will either be enthralled and fascinated by the project of this volume, its set of experiments, or entirely put off; instead, readers might take on one of two more obliging stances — as a cursory reader or a more rigorous one. “Let it pass,” as Canagarajah suggests, since a word or phrase not understood in the first, second, or third encounter will be understood during the fourth. Readers might also recognize that leading linguists see homogeneity as the exception, not the norm, and that Hong’s volume of poetry leads us into the potential of plurilingualism with gusto, expanding and making possible a place where no common code is expected and the process of language, rather than the product, allows the speech act to be consensus-oriented rather than a target-language to be “mastered.” This is the joy and challenge of both language (and therefore communication) as metaphor in Hong’s volume and the social-political stories of the particular individuals therein. 

Please, Jericho Brown. New Issues Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-1930974791 $14.00

Domestic Interior, Stephanie Brown. Pittsburgh University Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0822959977 $14.00

Everywhere at Once, William Greenway. University of Akron Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-1931968560 $16.95

Dance Dance Revolution, Cathy Park Hong. W.W. Norton, 2008. ISBN: 978-0393333114 $14.95

© by Susanna Childress


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