To attempt to catch up on an overload of old business and learn how to handle some new business, I've had to refrain from reviewing a number of writers whose work I admire. Although enough time has passed to prevent me from bringing more detail than fuzz to the discussion, I'd like to comment on the work I couldn't review. It's worthy not only of mention but of critical attention, as well. The writers might not be household words, but when the next generation of literary households appears they should be part of the updated decor. My comments appear in order of occurrence, not importance; the works are all highly recommended reading.
Several years ago, I accepted Ghost &Ganga, Kirpal Gordon's trio of intersecting novellas, for publication in Big Bridge Magazine's fiction section. Ganga was one of the most captivating characters I've ever seen portrayed in print and each of the book's pieces revealed a new, unexpected aspect of her character. During a long delay in Big Bridge Magazine's production, Gordon found a publisher. I had to accept, with some regret as an editor, but also considerable excitement for the author, that Ganga and her magical fusion of song, spirituality, beauty and sensuality would breathe first life as a publication of Leaping Dog Press, an important publisher of innovative fiction. Ganga, an Indian-born vocalist, teams up with Ghost, her pianist, in this magical realistic celebration of the jazz mystique, and easily recreates the styles of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and almost every other renowned vocalist in jazz history. Ghost, a gritty jazz mentor, knows her voice possesses a power with origins in deeper sources, philosophical and spiritual, and continually urges her to harness the power throughout their journey through the jazz night, creating a tension between master and diva that moves the work forward to resolution on a ringing tonic note.
Gordon knows his subject first-hand from living the jazz life with his partner, Claire Daly, a baritone saxophonist who deserves Down Beat's Talent Deserving Wider Recognition Award for her full tone and fresh phrasing. Gordon, a gifted poet/spoken word artist, frequently recites with Daly's ensembles. He's the only jazz poet I know who can recite a free verse poem so that the bridge of the tune has relevance to his recitation. Neither Kenneth Rexroth nor Kenneth Patchen could do it successfully.
Several of Gordon's earlier books, such as the phantasmagorical Jazz Tales from the Ghost Realms, set the tone for his haunting tale of Ganga's journey toward the ultimate promise of the jazz night. Gordon takes his verbal music all the way out in Ghost &Ganga, a superb orchestration of style and substance. For me, the book was a joyful read, a brilliant combination of sensuality, sensitivity and advanced spirituality, all coming together under the haunting latenight shadows of the jazz life.
I suggest that you read Gabriel Ricard's inspired review of Ghost &Ganga and his interview with Gordon in the latest Unlikely Stories at http://www.unlikelystories.org/10/ricard0510.shtml. If my own words don't inspire you to read Ghost &Ganga, Gabriel Ricard's will.
Turning to poetry, Ric Carfagna's work has excited me ever since I first read it a decade ago, when a mutual friend in Worcester introduced Carfagna to my work and vice-versa. Carfagna's sense of linguistic and visual adventure combined with his sure-footed explorations into metaphysics (from the Philosophy Department not the New Age bookstore) not only impressed me, but pushed me to take my own work a little further. His tasteful fusion of text and graphics challenged my sense of how to lay out the page.
In his extended work, NOTES ON NON-EXISTENCE, Carfagna delves beyond the binary paradigm of existence and non-existence as opposites to contemplate non-existence as pure void. From the work's early chapbooks, Carfagna has embraced the paradoxical nature of Being and non-Being with an alchemist's attempt to catch lead at the precise moment it transforms itself into gold. FRACTUS CORPUS, possibly the final volume of this extended work, is a substantive longpoem in itself. It's a 383-page powerhouse of poetic exploration, the verbal alchemist at work with concepts that his grasp paradoxically captures as the same instant they elude him. As a work of metaphysical poetry, FRACTUS CORPUS explores not only Carfagna's continuing philosophical concerns, but the integration of text and graphics, with stanzas appearing on the page from different angles to comment on the main thread or supplant an alternate possibility. Challenging the manner in which the reader experiences the page underscores Carfagna's postulations on the nature of existence, its opposite and its absence. His asymmetrical graphics, tastefully rendered, sometimes resemble musical clefs that establish different tonal ranges for reading each page. As I read the work, my hands felt its power. FRACTUS CORPUS is a longpoem that commands your attention---not to mention serious critical consideration.
If FRACTUS CORPUS isn't the conclusion of NOTES ON NON-EXISTENCE, Carfagna has nevertheless turned his linguistic musicality to a new format in Symphony No 1, an ebook published by Chalk Editions (http://www.scribd.com/doc/32170981/Ric-Carfagna-Symphony-No-1.) Since my own projects and personal matters prevented me me from giving the work my full attention, I intend to reread it in the near future. But I maintained enough focus on the work to see that Carfagna has
employed a degree of restraint and returned to more orthodox techniques, using them in unorthodox ways.
Carfagna's sensibilities extend beyond the traditional symphony form, creating a work more typical of a contemporary composer. He limits the range of his literary motifs, then rearranges them to express a variety of perspectives. For the first time in my years of reading his work, he employs repetition, which gives an unexpected power and an authoritative tone to his language-centered phrases. He has, for this work, at least, eliminated the visual element, concentrating instead of the incremental climactic power of his textual materials. His departure from past practice may lead to a new stage in his creative evolution.
Argotist Ebooks has recently released his Symphony No. 2 as as ebook (http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/symphony-no-2/12297253). The publisher describes the work as follows:
“Symphony No. 2 by Ric Carfagna (and a follow-up to his Symphony No. 1) is a work not to be construed as a symphony in a strictly classical sense, as is the case with the symphonic forms of works by Mozart or Haydn, but more along the lines of works by obtuse unwieldy 20th century composers such as Norgard, Nystroem, Segerstam and Pettersson. It comprises not so much of thematic elements as it does the repetition of images in differing contexts. It starts off with a burst of dissonance then settles down into a placid, surreal, disjunctive utterance. It also attempts to conjure up the ghosts of cubist poetry (a short lived and little known poetic phenomena) with Carfagna’s own idiosyncratic spin on it.”
I haven't read Symphony No. 2 yet, but knowing the consistently superlative quality of Carfagna's work, it will be high on my list as soon as I load my iPad—and reread Symphony No. 1 to pick up on what I've missed.
You shouldn't miss Barry Wallenstein's new book, Tony's World. Over the years, Wallenstein has produced an impressive body of poetry that fuses technical excellence with gritty spirit and an urbanity
that exudes hipness while poking fun at it, as well. Tony's World focuses on Tony, Wallenstein's literary alter/ego, who appears in many of Wallenstein's superlative recordings of jazz poetry. As a jazz poet, Wallenstein works from a visceral connection to the jazz idiom. His voice, sometimes grainy, sometimes high, exudes the spot-on timing that separates him from the idiom's less successful practitioners. And Tony, as narrator or subject of the narration, cruises, crashes or amuses in his efforts to live the night life of the jazz subculture or deal with a day world that sheds more light on his vanities than he would like.
In Tony's World, the protagonist experiences enough twists of fate to form a spiral. An act of vanity dyes his hair red, then he parades his revitalized image blithely through the streets until he remembers a newspaper article whose dose of bad news dampens it and even threatens the safety of his stash. When “Tony Takes a Hammer to his Head” he ponders his klutziness until he recognizes his arm as the agent of damage and determines in a mock-egocentric epiphany, “He needs a new agent.” Tony travels through a world of family with strained relations, and a life on the margins, preferring it to its upscale alternative. At one point his travels among the night's small-time hustlers and lost souls brings him to the brink of a long stay at the “The Hotel Splendide,” but he opts out because
Hotel Splendide, come by on a whim,
gave me armfuls and respite
---not cold truths. . .
The truths Wallenstein offers in Tony's World aren't cold and aren't always comfortable, but they are essential to understanding our lives, in which our vanities and the realities of life carom off each other in a never-ending quest for resolution.
Not to change the subject, but Stephen-Paul Martin's latest work, Changing the Subject, reaffirms my belief that he is the American master of the short story. Although I've often compared his work to Borges and Calvino, to try to give readers unfamiliar with his work a frame of reference, Martin's style and vision are entirely and uniquely his own. His discursive style enables him to move from topic to topic, using long, tightly-woven sentences that offer lists of analogies that encircle each while guiding the reader to the next, and smoothly segueing from one level of reality to another. Martin routinely juggles multiple elements in his work, so that the starting subject becomes one of a number of incidents leading the reader to discover the fiction's ultimate subject near its conclusion. The suspense of his work lies not in the truth of plot, as in the suspense genre, but in the dips, whirls and shifts of reality and circumstance that leave you suspended in a state of disbelief until the last sentence---and continues after you finish reading, as you look on the world with a little less certainty and a lot more curiosity than when you began. Martin leaves you with answers that provoke more questions. In the basic narrative of “Stopping,” a story I accepted for BIG BRIDGE MAGAZINE, the restless Honey Stone searches for a place where she feels comfortable, and makes a decision to come to a stop in a park near the Brooklyn Bridge. She encounters Harry Knight, who becomes a part of her life, then vanishes. She continues to live in his apartment. At a restaurant, she encounters in passing a waiter named Lance Boyle, who believes she's interested in him. Literally, Boyle tries to pick up Honey Stone's scent, and it leads him to Dawn Wakeman's apartment. They begin a relationship that continues until she gets up from her seat in the restaurant where Boyle works as a waiter. In her place, Honey Stone takes the seat and senses something in the waiter that makes her think of Harry Knight. When she returns to the apartment she's taken over, Harry Knight steps out of the bathroom and they greet each other with feelings of blankness where one expects recognition. This bare description of the narrative thread doesn't include the characters' past relationships and their attitudes about them, the depth of Honey Stone's discontent, the sense each character experiences of stopping before some moment of recognition, just at Honey Stone did near the Brooklyn Bridge, or the many other elements that add thematic depth and atmosphere to the work. Martin weaves complex tapestries of plot, character, texture, ambience and intellectual underpinnings into fluid narratives that explore the deeper possibilities of reality while stretching the aesthetic boundaries of fiction in a sophisticated style that rivals such past masters as Henry James. Martin takes the deep, the difficult, the absurd and the ridiculous and synthesizes them into eminently readable entities that challenge our assumptions about the reality of the world we inhabit.
I hope my superficial descriptions of the superlative work of Kirpal Gordon, Ric Carfagna, Barry Wallenstein and Stephen-Paul Martin will encourage you to read them. Why wait for the future of literature when you can read it today?