Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review of Highest Hurdle Press’s Letterhead Vol. 2

Review of Highest Hurdle Press’s Letterhead Vol. 2

(Edited by Bradley Lastname, Christopher Robin, Brian McMahon, Robert Pomerhn, and Eric Johnt, Highest Hurdle Press, 2008)

{Disclaimer: Two of my poems appear in this collection. They are not mentioned in this review.}

In 2008 I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing Letterhead Volume #1. At the time I thought it quite the impressive undertaking, bringing together so many different types of poets from so many areas of the United States. Readers of that review (and that volume) will be pleased to know that Vol. 2 builds upon both the scope and quality of its predecessor, retaining all of its best qualities while striking new ground in content and form and offering what co-editor Bradley Lastname recently explained to me is a “…darker selection of work, because the times we live in are darker.”

Amen. Embroiled as we are in a time of ongoing wars and global economic and environmental crises (the key subjects explored), the role of the poet in our society, in our world, is perhaps more important than ever. The fact is, only the global and national community of poets can retake their place in society, by speaking their truth Individually, so that it then resonates with the Collective.

To me, this collection does exactly that. The opening essay, by co-editor Brian McMahon, asks at the end of its first paragraph: “what role is there for poetry?” Given the wide breadth of styles—vispo, talk poetry, visual art, word collages, mail art, wordplays, etc.—it is clear that poetry’s role is vast and multidimensional.

Vol. 2 consists of three sections. The first and last contain a mix of textual and visual poetry from dozens of poets and artists from across the U.S., while the middle section comprises works from the “underground poets of California’s west coast,” compiled by Christopher Robin, editor of the Santa Cruz–based zine Zen Baby.

The collection begins with co-editor contributions—a visually stunning multi-part poem by McMahon, followed by an edgy political piece by Eric Johnt. The poetry and visual art that follow in this first section cover a wide range of topics and approaches, culminating in a ten-page collage by Buffalo poet Robert Pomerhn (parts of which are used for the front and back covers).

Pomerhn’s vispo is ripe with irony, meaning, symbols, and layers, inviting multiple visits. His work gets increasingly more compelling with time.

As mentioned earlier, the middle section of Vol. 2 comprises poets from the California coast. The following is a taste of the dark declarations found within:

• From the introduction by Christopher Robin: “…keeping poetry socially relevant while never finding it necessary to be overtly political…” “determined to make our voices heard (in a society that has relegated poetry to the lowest form of art)”
• From Brian Morrisey: “we were children/who never minded/the taste/of our own blood.”
• From William Taylor Jr.: “My friend is a poet//which is to say//he is egocentric/half insane/and has no money”
• From Bert Glick: “Press 5/for incremental suicide/due to compulsive, self destructive behavior”
• From Nicole Henares: “The small mound of wet teeth/next to my pillow in a morning’s nightmare”
• From Eugenia Hepworth Petty: “Gather the hair from your labia/and make a nest for small rodents”
• From Nancy Gauquier: “…trapped in the stiff/boney cage of his terror,//like Hansel in the witch’s house”

The final section begins with eight pieces by Eric Johnt, encapsulating many of the styles of visual and textual poetry that comprise the book. Johnt’s range of expression in these media is impressive. Johnt, Marc Sonnenfeld, Lastname, and Pomerhn anchor the works of this last section, which charges forth with increasing edginess and energy, compelling the reader to complete this journey and, in Brechtian fashion, pick up and carry on.

Of special note are the final two pieces in Vol. 2—talk poetry by Eric Gelsinger (inspired by David Antin) and a summation of Letterhead as an idea and a movement by Robert Pomerhn, straightforwardly titled “LETTERHEAD BETTER BE READ.”

Again I say, Amen.

Copies of Letterhead, Vol. 2 can be purchased by e-mailing Bradley Lastname at bradleylastname@hotmail.com or Robert Pomerhn at pomerhn.robert@gmail.com

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