[This week, our invited guest writers for the One-Sentence Review Series are the anonymous members of the William Hazlitt Brigade, a clandestine cell of poetry activists from Milwaukee, Chicago, and Kenosha, who are currently preparing flash civil disobedience actions at various poetry institutions and events. We will be inviting a new writer or group to contribute for each of the twenty planned rounds.]
1] The title My Way, a book of various writings by Charles Bernstein, published by the University of Chicago, in 1999, points to the author’s obvious sense of his chosen path as a singular case, one totally apart from the common, humdrum lives and careers of other current U.S. poets, and he is of course quite right to feel that “way,” for what other poet can say that he or she has traveled, in but a quarter century, from being a self-announced anti-“Official Verse Culture” rebel figure of the poetic Left to becoming a proud holder of an Ivy League Endowed Chair of English, funded by and named for a Reagan Administration war criminal, who was infamously complicit in the genocide of indigenous communities in Central America (this appointment being a sort of gapingly symbolic mass grave for ideologically dead bodies in the field of U.S. poetry, which many dozens of self-appointed progressive cops of the Po-Avant academy, always eager to stomp on any ideological infidel or slightly tipsy pedestrian who’s wandered into their suburb, have never brought themselves to even notice, and that, as you can see, if you carefully look at the grammar of this very long sentence, is both a question and an admonition).
2] Collected Poems, by Elizabeth Bishop, gathers the vastly overhyped work of an anti-communist poet who–from her comfy perch in a lush and flowered high-class district of Rio de Janeiro–held in fawning high esteem the murderous Brazilian military dictatorship, forerunner and inspiration for the obscene run of U.S.-backed neo-fascist regimes of the 1970s and 80s in Latin America, which, you could say, is one of those unpleasant bits that often get swept under the rug for hallowed, consecrated bards, while less connected and more gadfly ones will usually get strung up in public and beaten senseless, for whatever stumble of much more innocuous kind.
3] The Romantic Dogs, a book of poems with traditional line breaks, by Roberto Bolaño, is, with some exceptions, strangely flat and weak, given that he is the author of two of the greatest, most moving epic poems of the 20th and 21st century, anywhere in the world, written in lines that have no patience for being broken: The Savage Detectives and 2666 (Distant Star and By Night in Chile are two other book-length poems of similar, genius kind); however, nearly all major poets are capable of uneven work, so he is more than forgiven.
4] It has been determined, contrary to legend, that Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was not composed during lunch breaks, on an Olivetti, in the early 1960s, in the company’s ultra-cool midcentury showroom, down the street from the MoMA, where O’Hara worked, as a curator; it is surprising, I think, that it never occurred to one of the cool Conceptual poets of the 2010s to type up a manuscript of those poems, copied on an Olivetti from the relevant year, presenting it as a work of high art, exactly as O’Hara would have typed it according to the myth he carefully created for himself, but Conceptual poetry is now a dead horse, alas, and why we should continue to beat its forgotten, rotting body of fat and bones is beyond us.
5] Discrete Series, by George Oppen, is a profoundly lovely, precisely cut, phenomenologically chaste book to make a minimalist proud, and one which the Art-world darling and powerbroker sculptor Donald Judd, himself a fine writer, would have read and loved in his surprisingly non-modernist living room in Marfa, overlooking the vast barren scree to the horizon-hills, had he ever been aware, that is, of its (or Oppen’s) existence.
6] War on Words: The Tomaz Salamun/John Bradley Confusement, by the great, yes, John Bradley, of DeKalb, Illinois, is one of the most significant (along with probably five other of his works) surrealist books of poetry in the world since 1929, accompanied only in English-language mind-blowing greatness by most of the books of the almost equally under-the-radar George Kalamaras, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, albeit with close competition from the prose poems of the monster of nature named John Olson, whose present location is unknown to us, here in Warsaw, in 1911.
7] It is terrible to say, we know, and perhaps it shouldn’t be said, like most reviews of poetry which have no real reason to be said, and we’ll probably regret saying it, why do we still do it, can we not help ourselves, it sounds so callous, but, anyway, New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, seems more or less to poetry, all in all, what a Hardy Boys novella, by the orthonym Franklin Dixon, is to prose.
8] The Auroras of Autumn with a Pop-Culture Twist, by Peter Gizzi, is a pretty good book, not the greatest, but better than, you know, most other soft-serve, hybrid-flavored “avant-garde” poetry.
9] Mountain Interval is a 1916 collection written by American writer Robert Frost; it is Frost’s third poetic volume and was published by Henry Holt, though Frost made several alterations in the sequencing of the collection and released a new edition in 1921, where five lyrics of the earlier collection were compiled under the title “His Wife,” signed, William Hazlitt Brigade Commander Susan Bialosky.
10] John Barr, a very wealthy energy investor and the first President of the Poetry Foundation (from which position he energetically chastised the ethical failings of “elitist” contemporary poets), is the author of Grace: An Epic Poem, a book written entirely in a florid Blackface patois, and who is not to be confused with the poet John Barr, born in 1809, who later emigrated to Otago, where he was the founder and first President of the Robert Burns Society of New Zealand, which is ironic, perhaps, since Robert Burns was an avid champion of, and investor in, the international slave trade.