"The World" St. Marks Poetry Project
Review by Tiara Buchanan
The St. Mark's Poetry Project's quarterly publication, The World, is a flat, random, stagnant assortment of current poetry with the featured visuals of artist Royce Howes and several older, lesser known poets carelessly lumped into the volume. While the poetry project is a respected part of the literati world, much of that respect has been gained through past notables like Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Riche, and Alice Walker. Unfortunately, it seems this literary tradition has fallen off in recent years and sunk into that realm of narcissistic, vacuous poetry often described as contemporary. For the most part many of the poets seem to deal with metaphysical questions of identity, occasionally touching on issues of ethnicity and sociopolitical realities. A common problem with collections like these are that you aren't able to get a sense of any specific poet's style or political standpoint, and while The World does give you an ample sampling of several poets, it seems they aren't the stronger poets in the anthology. "Zaps of Zombifying Powder" by Denize Lauture sets the blurred tone for the anthology. While the poem attempts to deal with the specter of an overwhelming, oppressive beau racy, "They smear our country's genitals the creation of the word zombifying, and its overkill within the poem, trivializes whatever message she's trying to pound into our heads. The phrase zombifying powder appears fifteen times in the four stanza poem. And while refrains can be used effectively, without a careful execution the repetition becomes mundane and even silly. That's exactly what happens in this poem and the rest of the collection.
Lauture's poem sets the general tone for the rest of the book. What follows is the lengthy unfolding of mediocre, amateur writing. The anthology includes poetry, scripts, short stories, and excerpts of novels along with photography that seems to have no immediate relevance to the literature. Like many literary magazines, Royce Howes' work is meant to visually aid readers, but ultimately confuses and blurs any concrete interpretation a reader might have. Howes' photographs are all distorted figure and portrait studies that make no stride towards an explanation of any of the written works. With most of them placed at the center of the book, they struck me as showy and unnecessary. In a volume that stretches nearly two hundred pages I found four bearable poems. I could take the time to deconstruct just why so many of the poets upset, offended, or bored me but then you'd be bored and offended, so let's move on.
Victor Hernandez Cruz's Moroccan Children appealed to me if only because he offers a completely different perspective on North African culture, outside of the American or Euro centric construct. Somewhat lengthy, the poem explores the world of children in a Moroccan marketplace. Perceived through the lens of a Latino poet, the poem moves quickly and steadily to reinforce the playfulness and freedom that seems to be characteristic of these kid's lives, exchange fingers/they swift back to the skirts/of their mothers -- I loved the diction of swift followed by the next stanza that claims, Timing is their happiness and with that the poem continues to invent a beautifully autonomous portrait of these children's lives. They are not ravaged by civil war, bitter in our post-colonial era, or worried about future revolutions, the tribes hidden from the global investors are satisfied to live their lives and embrace a somewhat distant poet who finally enters near the close of the poem with, in this place, in such place to suggest not only the fullness of their culture but the complete and natural Atlantean connection he finds between Moroccan culture and his own, I hear sound in Arawak/ the man is speaking Arabic . There are some problems with this poem ( i.e. the word repose ) but considering what we're dealing with, I was grateful.
This poem appears early on and it isn't until nearly halfway through the book that you run into another poem that allows a sigh of relief. Kimberly Lyon's Mysterious New England conjures just that air of ambiguity that the title suggests, though the end left me a little blunted, as if, well, I were in New England. Then there's Gary Lenhart's Table Talk. A clever prose poem written in a clear, definitive voice, complete with believable dialogue yet lacking an equally clever or clear title. Table Talk barely connotes the ideas expressed in the piece. Perhaps that is the ultimate problem with The World journal -- lazy writing. Many of the poems seemed to have definite, even ambitious, direction but little imagination. Despite the experimental, block layout of Anselm Berrigan's from Zero Star Hotel, nothing prepares readers for the excerpt of Edward Sanders' new-fangled approach to poetry in his presumably epic piece, America, a History in Verse, vol. 3 . Pretentious? Only slightly. Not to mention the silly sketches, staggered stanzas, and pop culture jargon screaming, America is important! Look how important we are! Look how important I am! I barely got through it and it ultimately struck me that this poet has no idea who he is and is attempting to deal with himself in terms of nationality. Translation: if America is the greatest country in the world, then I'm the greatest poet in the world. Get over yourself. That goes for Ed Sanders and the St. Marks Poetry Project.