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Introduction to Issue #7 The Editors

In his review of The Poems of Charles Reznikoff, 1918-1975, Joshua Clover notes Reznikoff’s discomfort with the label “Objectivist” to characterize his poetry. Clover suggests that “Movements and schools are arbitrary and immaterial things by which poetic history is told.” This assessment is insightful, and from our purview, rather truthful, but it is only one small part of a perennial and complex debate over poetry and the formation of poetic communitas. Movements, schools, labels, and even historical or epochal periodization have long been subjects of controversy and skepticism. In our “Special Feature” for this issue, an interview with Elizabeth Willis, she suggests that labeling is “an impoverishment of literary criticism” that seems connected to “a need to neutralize one’s predecessors.” But, at the same time, she does go on to suggest the possibility of a more playful and ironic kind of labeling that pokes fun of the very process. In a personal correspondence with Clayton Eshleman, whose chapbook, The Book of Eternal Death, helps us launch our new e-chapbook series, he writes, “labels are ok if used as perceptions and not as blankets.” This seems a rather reasonable compromise between accepting any label willy nilly or rejecting them wholesale.

Also in this issue, an essay by Geoffrey Dyer “Bad Dreams: Pushing Nothingness to Nobody,” explores and, essentially, attacks one particular poetic movement (or non-movement as it were) called, “New Brutalism,” in his essay “Bad Dreams: Pushing Nothingness to Nobody.” And, in our review section, Ted Pelton writes a rather sharp critique of John Olson’s book, The Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat. We add to this polemic and 1 Clover, Joshua. “‘Words Pith and Plain.’” The New York Times Book Review. January 2006. ongoing conversation—largely over aesthetics—by publishing two new pieces by Olson, who we solicited prior to receiving the review. It has always been our hope to provoke dialogue and discussion via the writers and the writing, rather than “choose sides”2 or close off debate. We’re happy to publish the prose poems of Olson and we’re equally happy to open a critical space that allows Pelton to enter the fray with some strongminded analysis.

Much of the subtext for this issue and our rather delayed launch derives largely from “poetic labeling” and the effect or “mis-effect” of trying to quantify and categorize literature into “neat packages,” paradigms, or schools of thought. That is, we originally planned to publish an issue devoted to what we thought might be a new poetic movement called New Brutalism. The issue essentially collapsed, since, it turns out, the New Brutalism was not really a new poetic movement at all. Dyer’s essay and the editor’s preface to that same essay under the “Reviews and Essays” link, thoroughly explores this issue, and the reasons behind this “misadventure.” We don’t mean to suggest that all labels are inherently impotent or even arbitrary as Clover suggests, but, our failed attempt to publish an issue devoted to what seemed like a potential movement in poetry is very revealing. More importantly, however, what developed as a result of this misadventure is the most diverse issue we have published to date. The writing in this issue is so eclectic, it seems to challenge any attempt to categorize or pigeonhole the diverse and multiple prose and poetic voices throughout the American (and international) literary scene today. Consider, for example, the rather dense philosophical work by Michael Cross and

Jennifer Dick in contrast with Robert Lopez and J. Marcus Weekley’s fable-like (but disturbing) narratives; or, consider Alan May, Nin Andrews, and Doug Martin’s deeply ironic and concise “snapshots” beside Michael Benedikt, Forrest Roth, and Sean Thomas Dougherty’s intertwining, multi-layered tomes; or, contrast Lawrence Goeckel’s comic gestures with the complex linguistic and rhythmic constructions of Paul McCormick, John Olson and Peter Jay Shippy. In retrospect, this challenge to poetic labels seems rather consistent with Double Room’s ongoing project of questioning various literary forms. So, in addition to continuing the dialogue between prose and poetry, verse and fiction, the writers in this issue explore—implicitly in their work and explicitly in our “Discussion of the Forms” section—limitations inherent in generic labels, aesthetic camps, and poetic “brands.”

As mentioned earlier, we launch a new feature with this issue, two e-chapbooks: Clayton Eshleman’s, The Book of Eternal Death and Jérôme Thirriot’s, The Song of Souls: An Indian Sequence. Eshleman, one of the most important writers and translators of our day, provides us with an interesting glimpse at some earlier writing that predates much of his work regarding the “Paleolithic Imagination.” The editor’s preface to the chapbook, “Storm Cloud in the Shape of a Hornet: Clayton Eshleman’s Self-Annihilation Waltz in The Book of Eternal Death” and Eshleman’s own forward provide a thorough context for entering this intriguing glimpse of “an earlier Eshleman.” It is a book fraught with angst and perplexity that reveals the author’s struggle to comprehend, in part, what William Blake calls “Eternal Death”: sadness, suffering, hopelessness, desire, and uncertainty that emerge while the author was in Japan and Korea in the early 1960’s. Also, we include, as separate links, four recent prose poems by Eshleman: “Bands of Blackness,” “Another Look at Ullikummi,” “The Autobiography of Unica Zurn,” and “Bacon Studies IV.” These poems are certainly interesting in isolation, but when considered “up against” the chapbook, readers will be introduced to this writer’s immense range and the varied arch of his vast and complex oeuvre.

We also feature a chapbook by French poet and photographer Jérôme Thirriot titled, The Song of Souls: An Indian Sequence. Thirriot's sequence was translated and brought to our attention by Betrand Mathieu. Mathieu also provides an introduction which places Thirriot firmly in the visionary-traveler mold of another Frenchman, Arthur Rimbaud. This is quite fitting as both Thirriot and Mathieu live in Rimbaud's hometown of Charleville-Mézières, in the French Ardennes. In addition to Thirriot's poetry, Mathieu has published highly regarded translations of Rimbaud's A Season in Hell and Illuminations (BOA Editions, 1991). Mathieu has also published a book of criticism entitled Orpheus in Brooklyn: Orphism, Rimbaud, and Henry Miller (Florida Academic Press, 2nd revised edition, 2003). Anais Nin endorsed Orpheus in Brooklyn, stating that it was, "The best book I have seen about Henry Miller... daring flights of imaginative insights...penetrating understanding of Miller's work. It is a work of poetry in its own right, and only a poet could have written this kind of critical interpretation." We are honored to have such a distinguished translator offering the first American translation of a poet who he calls “a man of light.”

And, we are also happy to introduce Erin Gay, a new contributing editor to our continually growing collaboration. Erin is on fellowship in the MFA fiction program at Syracuse University, where she is also fiction editor for Salt Hill. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, Africa, and she has served as Artist Grants Coordinator for the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Her chapbook Portrait from the Tiniest Window is currently featured in Mid-American Review (Fall 2006). Other work is forthcoming in Ontario Review, Lake Effect, and Field. We’re delighted to add her name to the masthead! Enjoy the issue . . . .

The Editors