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Satellite Convulsions

By (January 26, 2009) No Comment

Satellite Convulsions
Tin House Books

In Satellite Convulsions: Poems from Tin House, Portland’s Tin House Books has released an enticing anthology of contemporary poetry: It’s got one of those nice paperback covers with page-marking flaps, proclaiming contents by hip young poets like Matthea Harvey and hip old poets like James Tate. A flip through the TOC reveals many more of the former (the Dickmans, Alex Lemon) and latter (Rae Armantrout, Lorca).

It’s a “diverse” mix of contributors, across age, gender, and country of origin — but are the poems themselves wide-ranging, in style and tone? Not exactly. I love many of the poems included here, but if I have a complaint about the book — and this of course is to be expected from a collection of poems chosen by an editorial staff with a unified vision — it’s that most of the poets have very similar sensibilities. They write first-person lyrics that make emotional appeals and tonally exhibit a kind of exuberance which is often pleasing but, after too many poems in a row, a little annoying. If I have two complaints, my other is that Satellite Convulsions feels a bit overproduced, almost smug in its slickness — much like Tin House itself. As in, where do they get off with their huge budgets?

But surely this second is a complaint only an editor of a less well-endowed journal would make, and as a reviewer, I tend to search for potential faults. Approaching the anthology as a reader I find it highly likable. I’m happy to have in my possession Olena Kalytiak Davis’s wonderful, sex-drenched sonnets that first appeared in Tin House in 2006 (this from “Francesca Can Too Stop Thinking about Sex, Reflect upon Her Position in Poetry, Write a Real Sonnet.”):

i apologize, i offer no excuse:
but, poet, though you have right to scold
it was high-souled you who made my mouth hold
what it held and tell what it told: a truce …

Another inclusion that mixes high and low language to delightful effect is Darcie Dennigan’s “City of Gods,” which opens with the line “Thistly Augustine, disser of the shy world, I cannot consider your city” and ends thusly:

Hey god in the window, god of loneliness, god of smelly spaces
stacked with newspapers, god of walks home from the L before the light ends,
if I ask you to please turn my sooty camisole into wings
and me into an industrial moth, I am asking to be man-made—
I don’t want to be this girl anymore.

Other highlights in the collection include Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Long Queen” and Bruce Smith’s “Devotion: Medea.”

If a few of Tin House’s selections bore or irritate (like Sharon Olds’ line “I feel as if I’m like / a teenage boy in love” — seriously?) most are well worth reading and reading again.

Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of The French Exit (Birds LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press, 2007). Her latest chapbook co-written with Kathleen Rooney isDon’t ever stay the same; keep changing (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Recent poems can be found inColorado ReviewThe Laurel ReviewPuerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.