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PRESS Anthology 2009: Activism & the Avant-Garde
Various Authors; Ed. David Wolach

Reviewed by Eric Weinstein

Wheelhouse Magazine, 2009


Defining “post-avant,” that nebulous artistic (non)school that encompasses the new avant-garde, the post-postmodern, et cetera, is always tricky business, but Wheelhouse Magazine’s 2009 PRESS Anthology serves as an excellent example. A marriage of new left activism and innovative poetics, this electronic collection explores, in editor David Wolach’s terms, “how to matter” in a social and political climate engulfed in war and plagued by economic woes, one not always aware or appreciative of the efforts poetry makes on its behalf. From his editor’s note:

[The anthology covers] topics rang[ing] from contemporary ecopoetics to poetical responses to militarism and capital; from globalization and globalism to plagiarism and authorship; from class and access in text arts to post-colonialism. How to matter in relation to the daisy cutter basket of disasters that concern and devastate us…

PRESS not only serves as a sometimes surrealistic, neo-Dada-inspired exploration of the world, but also remarks upon and responds to the unintentional (and paradoxically similar) behavior of the authorities that regulate that world. As Daniel Borzutzky writes in “The Synchronous Aspect of the Bitter Folly”: “He scratches and snarls and places a bomb in the garbage can in the alley. / Post-detonation all the garbage cans are removed to protect us from / villagers and cousins.” Oftentimes it’s not the (perhaps surrealist) act that is most surprising, but the corrective, theoretically normalizing action taken by those in positions of power.

“Language is always / Facing a precipice, plank or wiretap,” Wolach writes in one of his contributions to the anthology, “Reflections on Drift, Sentence—Burst Exactly One Year to Date of Hearing.” It is this constant threat of destruction and censorship that forces language and poetics to reinvent themselves, to push boundaries and question what both are capable of. PRESS explores not only innovation in topical and thematic treatment, but in the language itself; many of the pieces, including Lionel Lints’ “Writing and Politics” and Nicholas Jackson’s “untitled” owe much to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine and the language poetry tradition in general. Several pieces are also meta-poetic or self-referential, as in Wolach’s “{eulogy for this poem}.” Poetry’s awareness of itself as a medium by which social reform can be effected allows for commentary on poetry’s role in said activism beyond the boundary of the page, thereby opening the door for further collaboration between social/political activists and local communities of writers.

The long tradition of association between activism and creative writing continues with the 2009 PRESS Anthology, and while not a manifesto in the strictest sense, it is nonetheless a powerful reminder of the vibrant work being done by young poets and the importance of their poetry in today’s unsteady political and economic climate.


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Prick of the Spindle poetry editor Eric Weinstein’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2009, Third Coast, and Colorado Review. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.


© 2009