Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"After the Long Party"

This week's* featured chapbook is a collaboration between Stephen Dunn and Lawrence Raab: Winter at the Caspian Sea was published around 1998 by the now-defunct Palanquin Press, and it's a pleasant read. Dunn & Raab explain their collaborative process--a sort of modified "exquisite corpse" with a few other parameters thrown in--in the introduction, and confess that their wives, as first readers, were usually dead-on accurate about which prized lines belonged to which writer. I've read much more of Dunn's work (most of it, going way back to Full of Lust and Good Usage--still a great title!--in the mid-80s) than Raab's (though I still feel more drawn to his early work--The Collector of Cold Weather, for example--than the last two books), but found it was easy enough to forego the game of who said what? as I read through the poems, enjoying instead their sometimes surprisingly recursive qualities (surprising because, for me, one of the joys of writing collaboratively is--well--the surprise, the unexpected territory into which the poems sometimes leap--or fall).

The book is handsomely produced on heavy papers with nice cardstock covers. It's saddle-stapled, alas, but I was lucky enough to get a copy signed by both authors. Mine is #88 of 300.

Incidentally, I tried a couple years ago to reach someone at the press when they were still housed at Aiken (USC); I wanted to teach John Repp's Things Work Out along with several other chaps in my poetry class. I left messages by phone and e-mail but never heard from anyone; I heard just today from someone that the press relocated but went under after that. A shame. Maybe somewhere out there is a box with a few extant copies? Why don't a few independent presses step forward and take on the service (because it is, after all, purely that) of distributing these (presumably) remaining copies, or at least piggybacking a small press's backlist onto their catalog or web site? I don't know all that much about such things, but it seems to me that this could be done.

Anyway. Here's a poem from Winter at the Caspian Sea:

After the Long Party

Silence once again was looking to conceal itself
as if there weren’t enough of it to last until morning.
I looked up at the stars, their vague invitations,
and you came out to join me, your words tremulous,
hanging in the stilled air. Then neither of us spoke.
I felt something was burning up all over the world,
reducing itself to ash. Maybe it was language itself,
its misuse, its tendency to adhere itself to power.
You said you didn’t want to be like some circus elephant
made to stand tiptoe among the din of children.
Yes, I agreed, better to throw a tantrum and destroy
the big tent, trample a few of our tormentors.
Things would really get quiet then, I said,
everything so fragile, suddenly small, and desperate.

* - After trying to keep up with my "Friday chap" and then failing even faster with a "weekend chap," I'll do my best to feature a chapbook once a week. Somewhere in the week. Or weekend. Or even Fridays. But don't hold me to it.

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