Saturday, April 22, 2023

Some Alphabets Review at Colorado Review

Here’s a brief snippet out of a review by Shannon K. Winston of Some Alphabets up at Colorado Review:

Latta’s poems are simultaneously playful and cerebral, joyful and contemplative. Language, and more specifically the sense (and nonsense) of writing in language, is one of the collection’s themes. For example, in “Poetry,” the speaker meditates on the writing process by explaining: “We get to its end / By beginning some other thing.” Here, writing is depicted as nonlinear and cyclical. In the poem “Bent,” writing is sly and elusive as its speaker takes on “the formal ruses of / The sentence.” In “Contempt,” language becomes the protagonist of its own story—in the speaker’s words, “The motion between two lexicons / Is narrative.”
Read the complete review here.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

A Short Interview & Three Poems

Here’s a short interview about Some Alphabets (Agincourt Press, 2022) conducted by Ruth Park, a student at Colby College in Waterville, Maine:

And three poems out of the book: “Cordial,” “Xenolithic,” and “Promontory and Clove.” (Go to full screen to read along.)



“Promontory and Clove”

The book is available here at SPD.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Announcing My New Book Some Alphabets

Pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Some Alphabets, just out in the Opuntia Books series of Agincourt Press. It is available to order here at SPD.

The back cover copy reads:

          It’s in the gnarled wonders of its diction that John Latta’s poetry has its most immediate charm. The 130 poems of Some Alphabets fizz between levels of diction—the demotic, the formal, the high theoretical, the archaic, the futuristic, the expansive, the pinched, the ordinary and the just plain weird—so that every sixteen-line stanza becomes a foray into the delightful unexpected.
          Latta has always had a way with words, a kind of weighty insouciance everywhere evident in Rubbing Torsos and Breeze, his previous collections: the ability to spin out simultaneously concrete sensual observation, offhanded bon mot, and penetrating insight. Some Alphabets focuses that linguistic multi-tasking to an abbreviated, impacted pitch, and stirs into the mix a dark and glittering compost of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century language. . . . “Stubbled profligate, I / Paw th’ancients, who paw me.”
                                                                                                  —Mark Scroggins, in the Introduction

          Born in 1954 in Willow Run, Michigan, John Latta spent early childhood in the Pigeon River Country of northern lower Michigan, and later attended high school in Ann Arbor. He was educated at Cornell University (A.B.), the University of Virginia (M.F.A.) and SUNY at Albany (Ph.D.). Since 1997 Latta has worked in Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, in a variety of positions.
          Latta’s first collection, Rubbing Torsos, was published by Ithaca House in 1979. A second collection, Breeze, won the Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry (selected by John Matthias) and was published in 2003 by the University of Notre Dame Press. Between 2006 and 2014 Latta kept a lively blog called Isola di Rifiuti.

                                                                  *       *       *

Poems collected in Some Alphabets originally appeared in the following publications: 1913: A Magazine of Forms, American Letters & Commentary, Backwards City Review, Bird Dog, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cello Entry, Chicago Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Conundrum, Critical Quarterly, Crowd, Damn the Caesars, Electronic Poetry Review, Epoch, Famous Reporter, Fence, Free Verse, Gam, Good Foot, Harper’s, Intercapillary Space, Jacket, LIT, Magazine Cypress, The Modern Review, Near South, New American Writing, The New Review of Literature, No: A Journal of the Arts, Notre Dame Review, Origin, Parakeet, Poetry Review, The Poker, Puppy Flowers, Rossocorpolingua, Skald, Sonora Review, Typo, Vanitas, Verse, Where We Put Our Hats, Xantippe, and Your Black Eye.

                                                                  *       *       *

Three sample poems:


A daunting map is all

We got, smudgy-ink’d in

Green relief. It lends airs

Of disbelief to our fever’d

Marginal lot. Books we read

Are the sort antiquarians recommend—

The frenzy of a zealot’s

End, the history of a social

Obligation, sexual exercise for sport.

Out the tent-flap door

One sees the piercing blued

Stretch of a lake obtrude.

An envoi reports ‘the way

Is mere wavering,’ unmark’d, and

Apt to sully souls used

To hours of senseless hammering.

                                                                  *       *       *


The lumbering bumblebee is out

Buttering up its bronze thighs

With pollen’d orbs of echinacea.

It’s a period piece, a

Gap in the goldenrod, dud

Erasure against vetch-trifled embankments,

Hap what hap might. Toot

A coup I got ‘promptitude

O’ the toong’ and I

‘Misewell’ make something of it.

Madder ’n a mad hen

Is how I been lately—

One summery day a redhead

Hopped off a blue bicycle,

Order’d a scoop of mocha-

Chip. Her razor smile. Period.

                                                                  *       *       *


That final lassitude. Oh shepherdess.

Fed up with Greek antiquity,

Drowsy and remiss. The ample

Sky fills up with thousands

Of soot-daub’d swifts circumnavigating

Fiery smokestacks. ‘To God, to

God’ the chittering goes: hungry

Men bang incinerators open one

By one. ‘What falshede is

In mariage’ means the sign

Is hanging off the door.

So the dare, the haughty

Zone, th’unpresuming shrug. So th’immense

Defiant pity for what one

Cannot say. Moon is not

Moon, moon is sawn bone.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

“The Universal Screech”

A prescient snip out of Paula Fox’s excellent novel, The Widow’s Children (1976):
He no longer liked to read. The sight of a printed page filled him with a faint but persistent nausea. He read nothing except the manuscripts for which he was responsible. On weekends, he drove miles from the city, staying at an inn if he could find one, but more often at motels where he watched television programs, or, if there was a bar, nursing one drink for hours, or walking in any kind of weather until he was tired enough to sleep. But then, at least, he was away from the ceaseless din of publishing, out of reach of the culture experts, many of whose manuscripts ended up on his desk, and whose juices flowed, he had come to believe, for no other reason than the excitation of maintaining their names in print, who performed, deaf to their own failing voices so like the voices of aged singers, lest they faint into the sickness of anonymity, who could never be still but must add their own noise to the universal screech of opinion, their oppositions or agreements equally meaningless since both were only advertisements of their will to persist. Yet he knew that they were humble and depressed, too, like eternal suitors. They had entrusted their selves to public keeping, they were dependent on the careless, fleeting attention they got. . . . The public had a mouth so blind and avid it swallowed anything, its jaws frozen open in perpetual appetite. . . . And somewhere, he felt a fugitive sympathy with them, if only because of his lack of any sympathy whatsoever—and his helplessness—with the newer writers, the ones coming up, with their staged outrageousness and their shrewd grasp of business practices.
In an era of relentless and unrestrained “public keeping,” isn’t the pertinent task now one of unflagged—and unflagging—refusal and retreat? “I would prefer not to.”

Monday, December 08, 2014

Stray Notes (Walking)

Out of yesterday’s tramp. Twenty acres of turnips gone unharvested, rotting in the earth: their local cloying stench unbuffeted by the breeze. A bald eagle, immature, strafing forty or so mallards, who erupt into the sun, and a bevy of goldeneye, who dive, remarkably, in concert. A great horned owl (Leonard Preserve) stuck like a paper bag up in a Norway spruce, unmoving. Kestrels partout, three on wires along the road. One hovering interminably, tail splayed, correcting minutely, and diving into tall grass, quarry hid. A brown creeper flitting and nervous, continually recommencing its whorl up a trunk. To stand among oaks, their strewn browns and coppers, to look down into the variable gray entanglements of a buttonbush swamp. (Think of Thoreau’s huzzahs in “Walking” for “the impervious and quaking swamps”: “When, formerly, I have analyzed my partiality for some farm which I had contemplated purchasing, I have frequently found that I was attracted solely by a few square rods of impermeable and unfathomable bog—a natural sink in one corner of it.”)

Writing it down, “to preserve the mind’s chastity.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stray Notes (Patrick O’Brian, Thomas Pynchon, &c.)

Patrick O’Brian, 1914-2000

Reading, of late, with something akin to preternatural joy and astonishment, the “Yarn-Spinner” Patrick O’Brian. The epithet is Pynchon’s, out of Mason & Dixon (1997):
      “Cheerly. Cheerly, then, Lads. . . .”
      “Excuse me, Captain, problem with the Euphroes again.”
      “Get O’Brian up here, then, if it’s about Euphroes, he’s the one to see.”
      “Hey t’en, Pat. Scribblin’ again, are ye? More Sea Stories?” Not only does O’Brian know all there is to know and more ’pon the Topick of Euphroes, and Rigging even more obscure,—he’s also acknowledg’d as the best Yarn-Spinner in all the Fleets. “Euphroe Detail again.”
      They are in the southern Latitudes at last, hence the need for Awnings . . .
I love it. Anachronistickal kudos by a tar. Slipped into another yarn’s interstices. (Euphroe, Uphroe, Uvrou: out of the Dutch juffrouw, also juffer dead-eye, literally, “maiden.” Crowfeet dead-eyes. “Uphroe, an oblong block made of ash . . . used to suspend the awnings.”)

Out of O’Brian’s Master and Commander (1970):
      On his knees, and with his chin level with the top of the table, Stephen watched the male mantis step cautiously towards the female mantis. She was a fine strapping green specimen, and she stood upright on her four back legs, her front pair dangling devoutly; from time to time a tremor caused her heavy body to oscillate over the thin suspending limbs, and each time the brown male shot back. He advanced lengthways, with his body parallel to the table-top, his long, toothed, predatory front legs stretching out tentatively and his antennae trained forwards: even in this strong light Stephen could see the curious inner glow of his big oval eyes.
      The female deliberately turned her head through forty-five degrees, as though looking at him. ‘Is this recognition?’ asked Stephen, raising his magnifying glass to detect some possible movement in her feelers. ‘Consent?’
      The brown male certainly thought it was, and in three strides he was upon her; his legs gripped her wing-covers; his antennae found hers and began to stroke them. Apart from a vibratory, well-sprung quiver at the additional weight, she made no apparent response, no resistance; and in a little while the strong orthopterous copulation began. Stephen set his watch and noted down the time in a book, open upon the floor.
      Minutes passed. The male shifted his hold a little. The female moved her triangular head, pivoting it slightly from left to right. Through his glass Stephen could see her sideways jaws open and close; then there was a blur of movements so rapid that for all his care and extreme attention he could not follow them, and the male’s head was off, clamped there, a detached lemon, under the crook of her green praying arms. She bit into it, and the eye’s glow went out; on her back the headless male continued to copulate rather more strongly than before, all his inhibitions having been removed. ‘Ah,’ said Stephen with intense satisfaction, and noted down the time again.
      Ten minutes later the female took off three pieces of her mate’s long thorax, above the upper coxal joint, and ate them with every appearance of appetite, dropping crumbs of chitinous shell in front of her. The male copulated on, still firmly anchored by his back legs.
Stephen Maturin, amateur naturalist (and ’cellist), surgeon aboard the Sophie. “Strong orthopterous copulation”* is simply a delight, and so, too, “a detached lemon.” The whole rather unparalleled—funny, precise, euphonious. One thinks of Jean-Henri Fabre’s numerous Souvenirs entomologiques and other writings about insects. Fabre, translated by Bernard Miall, out of Social Life in the Insect World (1911):
      We are near the end of August. The male Mantis, a slender and elegant lover, judges the time to be propitious. He makes eyes at his powerful companion; he turns his head towards her; he bows his neck and raises his thorax. His little pointed face almost seems to wear an expression. For a long time he stands thus motionless, in contemplation of the desired one. The latter, as though indifferent, does not stir. Yet the lover has seized upon a sign of consent: a sign of which I do not know the secret. He approaches: suddenly he erects his wings, which are shaken with a convulsive tremor.
      This is his declaration. He throws himself timidly on the back of his corpulent companion; he clings to her desperately, and steadies himself. The prelude to the embrace is generally lengthy, and the embrace will sometimes last for five or six hours.
      Nothing worthy of notice occurs during this time. Finally the two separate, but they are soon to be made one flesh in a much more intimate fashion. If the poor lover is loved by his mistress as the giver of fertility, she also loves him as the choicest of game. During the day, or at latest on the morrow, he is seized by his companion, who first gnaws through the back of his neck, according to use and wont, and then methodically devours him, mouthful by mouthful, leaving only the wings. Here we have no case of jealousy, but simply a depraved taste.
And: “I once surprised a male, apparently in the performance of his vital functions, holding the female tightly embraced—but he had no head, no neck, scarcely any thorax! The female, her head turned over her shoulder, was peacefully browsing on the remains of her lover! And the masculine remnant, firmly anchored, continued its duty!” Source material for O’Brian? Because of the way “consent” seemingly makes a pivot-point in both Fabre and O’Brian, I reckon so.
* I note a little sadly that in the endless lumping and splitting continuum of systematics, mantises no longer belong to the order Orthoptera, now being classified amongst the Dictyoptera.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Stray Notes (Cy Twombly, John Berger, &c.)

Cy Twombly, 1928-2011

Cy Twombly, out of David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):
. . . It’s a sort of infantile thing, painting. Paint in a sense is a certain infantile thing. I mean in the handling. I start out using a brush but then I can’t take the time because the idea doesn’t correspond, it gets stuck when the brush goes out of paint in a certain length of time. So I have to go back and by then I might have lost the rest of it. So I take my hand and I do it. Or I have those wonderful things that came in later: paintsticks. Because the pencil also breaks if the canvas is too rough. So I had to find things that I could use, like my hands or the paintsticks. I can carry through the impetus till it stops. It’s continual. . . . I use earth things and certain human things as symbols for earth—like it might be excrement but it’s earth. And I did those charts, big palettes . . . two or three paintings with palettes and all of the colours—pink, flesh, brown, red for blood. And I think with most painters you can think and it can change very fast, the impetus of what something is. It’s instinctive in a certain kind of painting, not as if you were painting an object or special things, but it’s like coming through the nervous system. It’s like a nervous system. It’s not described, it’s happening. The feeling is going on with the task. The line is the feeling, from a soft thing, a dreamy thing, to something hard, something arid, something lonely, something ending, something beginning. It’s like I’m experiencing something frightening, I’m experiencing the thing and I have to be at that state because I’m also going.
To be ambuscaded by like seizures, to accede to the lingo’s grunt-intelligibility, jouissance, palaver and blab. To be led across the language-scape by the ineradicable rut of merely going. Writing unrestrained by anything beyond its own flaunted and peccable music. (O’Hara: “You just go on your nerve.”) Twombly: “I’m a painter and my whole balance is not having to think about things. So all I think about is painting. It’s the instinct for the placement where all that happens. I don’t have to think about it. . . . So I don’t think of composition . . .”

John Berger, out of “Post-Scriptum,” a note found in Audible Silence: Cy Twombly at Daros (2002):
      It has been said that Cy Twombly’s paintings resemble writing, or are a kind of √©criture. Certain critics have seen parallels between his canvases and wall graffiti. This makes sense. In my experience, however, his paintings refer to more than all the walls I pass in cities and gaze at, or the walls on which I too once scrawled names and drew diagrams; his paintings, as I see them, touch upon something fundamental to a writer’s relationship with her or his language.
      A writer continually struggles for clarity against the language he’s using or, more accurately, against the common usage of that language. He doesn’t see language with the readability and clarity of something printed out. He sees it, rather, as a terrain full of illegibilities, hidden paths, impasses, surprises, and obscurities. Its map is not a dictionary but the whole of literature and perhaps everything ever said. Its obscurities, its lost senses, its self-effacements come about for many reasons—because of the way words modify each other, write themselves over each other, cancel one another out, because the unsaid always counts for as much, or more, than the said, and because language can never cover what it signifies. Language is always an abbreviation.
      It was Proust who once remarked that all true poetry consists of words written in a foreign language. Every one of us is born with a mother tongue. Yet poetry is motherless.
      I’ll try to make what I’m saying simpler. From time to time I exchange letters and drawings with a Spanish friend. I do not (unhappily) speak Spanish, I know a few words, and I can use a dictionary. Often in the letters I receive there are quotations in Spanish from poets—Borges, Juarroz, Neruda, Lorca. And I reply with other quotations of poems in Spanish, which I have sought out. The letters are hand-written and, as I carefully trace the letters of strange words in what is to me a foreign tongue, I have the sense, as at no other time, of walking in the furrows of a poem, across the terrain of poetry.
      Cy Twombly’s paintings are for me landscapes of this foreign and yet familiar terrain. Some of them appear to be laid out under a blinding noon sun, others have been found by touch at night. In neither case can any dictionary of words be referred to, for the light does not allow it. . . .
What Proust said (out of “Notes on Literature and Criticism” found in Against Sainte-Beuve—being a gathering of “comments scattered through Proust’s notebooks”):
      Beautiful books are written in a sort of foreign language. Beneath each word each one of us puts his own meaning or at least his own image, which is often a misinterpretation. But in beautiful books all our misinterpretations are beautiful.
Pertinently, Proust notes too: “the great French writers do not know much French.”

Cy Twombly, “Ferragosto II,” 1961

Cy Twombly, “Untitled (Bolsena),” 1969

Cy Twombly, “Untitled,” 1968/1971

Cy Twombly, “Untitled (A Painting in 3 Parts),” 1992

Cy Twombly, “Lepanto V,” 2001