Cadenza by Charles North
(Hanging Loose, 2007)
Doing 70 by Hettie Jones
(Hanging Loose, 2007)
TWO FROM HANGING LOOSE
Hanging Loose Press has been around since 1966 and is going strong, dedicating time and energy to supporting work by a variety of poets who often go under-recognized in the crowded world of small press poetry publishing. Doing 70 by Hettie Jones and Cadenza by Charles North are recent publications demonstrative of the broadness of poetry the press covers. The poems in both collections are strong although there is much disparity between the respective styles. Regardless of whether the reader favors one poet over the other, it’s to the credit of Hanging Loose for making the new work available. Jones and North are both residents of New York City and Hanging Loose is based out of Brooklyn, both poets amply reference east coast city living, yet neither is easily categorized. Each of the works demonstrates a committed dedication to observation and the poem as documentation.
Charles North began writing poems in the latter half of the 1960s and shortly thereafter enrolled in the last workshop Kenneth Koch taught at the New School. His work bears resemblance to some of what has been termed “New York School,” but stands distinctly on its own merits. Reading the poems there is no doubt that North would be writing them with or without there being any such grouping. He is pursuing his own interests and the result is a unique blend of humor, sharp observation and bare statement.
The pizza crawling with government buildings, three-star hotels,
staircases wandering in stone… that’s piazza.
Actually, no, it’s the present sitting casually on its wall of
rush-hour traffic grinding past, people beginning to parachute
out of a murky sky…men in business suits, women in “flame-colored
—one cradling a baby in one arm while gesturing to would-be rescuers
who paddle furiously or hold out a powder blue sheet like a
and the brillig evening, I don’t know what else to call it,
drives a Mercury Cougar past barns and disappearing farms.
The descriptive approach North takes is appealing in a philosophical manner. Awash with action, the lines glide into one another, hesitantly distant but a richly visual appreciation remains. As unusual as it gets there’s a deliberate stillness that holds the attention. It’s not surreal, more of an ultra-real visionary scene of city life at the rush hour escape: the “brillig” hour, a term coined by Lewis Carroll for four o’clock in the afternoon, time for broiling things for dinner. The pizza (most likely a frozen substitute rather than the real thing) that awaits the zooming driver of the Mercury Cougar, on the mind from the first line of the poem, & the farms disappearing while so many continue to go out to live among them, a lament for all that is being lost amid consuming suburban spread. With subtle references to well known recent tragedy and also everyday sort of observations, the poem awaits further readings.
The opening title poem lives up to the improvisation implied in its name, a long piece that explores the attention given to the writing itself. North writes towards writing and even when he appears merely to be going along without any useful agenda, surprising rewards arise.
“Thinking on paper”
is one aspect. Another is
the ghostly traces of mind that hover
over whatever is in the process of being constructed,
whether lyric poem or midtown office building.
“Ghostly” because the connections between
mind and world are invariably impossible to make out,
not to speak of the “rewriting aspect” seemingly built
into the nature of things.
He starts in the middle of a thought and takes it from there. Beginning in medias res (“The longer the life / the roomier the harbor. // Well, not exactly…”) North not only locates an immediate grounding but builds momentum and comes to a conclusion by the end of the writing. The piece doesn’t just trail off. It is a pleasurable a performance, North captures the unusual and surprises, his hold is superb.
In a crowded off-Broadway theater,
a heckler refuses to sit down despite mounting threats
from the relatively large audience. Several of the costumed and in
some cases masked actors
(they are doing Shakepeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in
though visibly distracted climb down from the stage
and form a protective ring around him. Bottom
appears to be the ring leader.
North appears to be writing away from any sign of influence of other writers, past and present. His interests are uniquely his own. Repeatedly, there is a heavy emphasis on the visual image.
It must be daylight
Your painting of chicory dividing a dark green field
Fills on all sides with light.
It must be daylight.
Some of the portions which are out of sight
Become what the painting yields.
It must be daylight:
Your painting of chicory dividing a dark green field.
The embedded repetition of the patterned lines yields a visualization of the painting, itself a simple enough sounding landscape. What strikes North is the attention the painter has placed upon the light streaming in from beyond “some” of the given field of vision, his poem in turn marks the crispness of a meditated landscape turned mindscape, the visual made mental to give back a further visual.
This well rounded collection closes with a lengthy set of journal notes “SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY” a continuous tracking of North’s reflections on day-to-day visuals.
June 25. Rainy and esoteric.
July 30. A Hunt Cantata of clouds.
Aug. 2. A water pipe crawled out of the woods.
Sept. 25. The ghost of a day. Partly rainy. Partly sunny. Partly not there.
North places poetry in the hands of words (where else would it go?) sloughing off his own thoughts and preconceptions as chair and desk give way to visually layered ruminations of language at work within itself.
Hettie Jones is vibrantly alive inside her poems. This is popular poetry. She celebrates life, the joy, along with the sorrow, that accompanies the run of days. Jones isn’t so much concerned with furthering poetry as an art but rather utilizing it as communication of one’s inner beliefs and thoughts to others. She seeks to celebrate community, poems offering up praise and recognition of friends and family, and attend to her daily business.
For Margaret of Sixth Street
who is probably dead, RIP
Whenever I met Margaret
the rest of the day was magic
Margaret might have been ninety-some,
she never would say. One day
after years of meeting her
on the street
I took the plunge
and kissed her cheek
then watched her grin
around her three
The language is simple and to the point, sounding out a gritty little bit of song. Jones knows precisely what she wants to get said and does so. She captures quick, accurate transcription of speech.
Jones is aware that one of poetry’s greatest values is of testament. She writes of her own immediate experience and that of others she discovers to declare that it was lived, not forgetting the importance maintaining social and cultural awareness.
known only as Debora
fought and died with the Underground
in Warsaw, 1944
twenty torn, burned, fused-together
pages the size of playing cards
written in secret, stashed, and
as she has instructed
from behind a radiator
in the ruins of Resistance headquarters
By her friend, Lusia,
who held it sixty years, then
dying instructed: restore
Some words from a preliminary translation:
bombs fire angels Nazis
mother’s coffin a pile of corpses
Ghetto is certain death
To not record the words is to forget and to forget is to deny. Jones isn’t about to allow for anything or anyone she cares for to be forgotten. She is adding to the historical record of her generation a voice of celebration, a passionate refusal against silence.
The long title piece of this collection, “Doing 70: A Passion Play,” is a delightful recounting of a flirtatious adventure Jones found herself having after car trouble returning to home from Boston: “On the Mass Pike, at first rest stop past Boston, / the starter breaks.” The dedication is to the recently deceased Helene Dorn, the correspondent whose letters she has driven to Boston to pick up. Dorn and Jones having known each other since the fifties when their husbands at the time, poets Ed Dorn and Le Roi Jones (Amiri Baraka) were close friends and the families often visited together, it’s clear that the relationship between the women ran deep.
The box of letters is heavy every
way. Thirty pounds, four decades,
two women, one dead, the other
Luckily for Jones when the tow truck arrives the driver is a very capable young man, whose masculine prowess is not lost on her.
a flatbed roars into the sunburnt parking lot.
Waving and pointing, I run the rest of the way,
an audience has gathered, a three-generation family
with two awed children. Everyone likes a driver,
and here’s a young, good-looking, acrobatic one,
who parks precisely, load-ready, then
in one quick movement swings out,
takes my keys, turns on the lights and radio, and says
it’s probably the starter.
Well I know that.
But Ryan, as I’d know him, notes
at once that I’ve gone past cause to effect.
He tells me the terms, admits he’s been
to New York twice, though not in many years.
In no time Jones is riding home, sitting next to this young driver with her car loaded up on the back of his truck. And it’s clear that she enjoys every minute of being so close to a new strange attractive man. Despite her age Jones expresses her delight and the reader shares in it with her.
But of course we haven’t gone far
before I’m in love. Every time
we hit rough road the glove compartment
falls open into my lap, and my bare foot
closing it seems
though I know doing seventy means
giving up the pretty boys
The urge is of course to reassure Jones that one never does know.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at the library of USF. Recent reviews have appeared in Artvoice (Buffalo), St. Mark's Poetry Project Newsletter, and Jacket. Poems recently appeared in Cannibal and One Less Magazine.