Teens, by Francesca Lisette, because she brandishes an almost crystalline density as easily as a kid throws a rock through a window. Lisette writes so that each new word in a line inaugurates a new idiom, and by the time she's finished a clause (if she ever has—most of them are still happening) you feel like you've been driving through this neighborhood your whole life, only it isn't your life. Reading it reminded me that style itself—I mean an original dialect or tone of voice and everything (super)human that falls behind it—can be deeply moving while still remaining true to the poet's ideas/politics. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, it's exciting to watch someone bring the full force of her intellect onto the page. Each poem here is a little book and as a set they crack open new realms of experience.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
I read a couple of these poems in the first issue of The Claudius App almost two years ago and was immediately hooked. The book arrived on my doorstep in Iowa City last September and I took it everywhere I went for almost two months. I read one or two poems at a time for days on end, which is not how I normally read a book of contemporary poetry. It felt like learning a new language.
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
Besides the aforementioned stuff it's made me think about how a poet can write drama (out of a lineage that might consider Stein's Tender Buttons and John Clare's Major Works dramatic texts), poetry as performance; the athletic performance of syntax and idiom in which an impossible gymnastic move is pulled off like it's nothing: "folded in the wing of your shoulder love/ sleeps there, phallic in grey dawn that shrinks/ sky to darts else bargain on drums right & left/ (yeah haaa drunk on soda irony) the true offing/ else dwarfed by the ungoverned outline of/ beauty calling deep throne." The book's central section, Casebook: A History of Autonomy and Anger, could also be read explicitly as a kind of script with multiple rolls and voices. Of course "readership" and "audience" and even "performership" overlap all the time (especially in poetry), but I still find it moving how Lisette engages all three.
4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…
A poem from the "Casebook" section, "Witness Account 01/12":
Seizing up the weakened cradle your bent-black chest is present to, louder in the gritted wind. Notes of lice tinkle down in sun, hard with malformed lushness, muffled in swathes or a swept lip. You press me volatile to your pure solicitations, which complicates my being ONLY A TOY. Not for labels are their teeth arrowing out like angels sicked on ash vulvar. We make a face, or two, playing for feed at whites with hiccup 'self/object': sheathed in PLAYDOH. Slip away knowledge as dust booms the bar; nook hanging as a blond void, to be filled, or something like it. Renders impulse slide nectarine: breaks open the police-helmet, sniggering at small stitch. Speechless with depth, we relinquish flounce & pass on so naked, burnt as a side remainder of what catches in the real light of day.
I quote at relative length because the poem works by accumulating metaphor as if it's slang, piling it on until a whole distinct lexicon seems to be forming behind the sentence: "Not for labels are their teeth arrowing out like angels sicked on ash vulvar." As this goes on it becomes more and more difficult (if not impossible) to discern where the Witness is speaking figuratively and where she's speaking literally: "Renders impulse slide nectarine: breaks open the police-helmet, sniggering at small stitch." The police-helmet seems as concretely real as anything, but at a political moment in which so much public space is being blanketed with riot gear, it's also big enough to fit more than one head. Either way, that helmet is broken open, and what's underneath it is language that's as beautiful and dangerous as anything that can be found in contemporary poetry, "the real light of day." Lisette is totally fearless speaking in that tongue.
I keep coming back to the density. Lots of people experience difficult language as a rebuke (one student said of Tender Buttons, "I feel like I just got beat up," and he didn't mean it as a compliment), which is a totally understandable initial reaction ("Why should I give this my time if the writer isn't even bothering to do me the service of speaking clearly?"), but I actually think it's just the opposite. Instead of moving you through quickly, Lisette asks you to hang around. If you hang around long enough the bombs start going off.
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
My friend David Gorin, who loves explosions.
Daniel Poppick teaches at Coe College and edits The Catenary Press with Rob Schlegel. His poems appear in BOMB, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Handsome, The Claudius App, and other journals. He lives in Iowa City.