The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

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SEPT 2011 Issue

Or A Fistful of Fulfilling Fall Books

Area 51 doesn’t officially exist. The military/intelligence operation is located in a cluster of test sites, target ranges, and spook headquarters half the size of Connecticut.

Annie Jacobson’s account of this secret world, Area 51, An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, gives us a glimpse. Here, operators in windowless rooms develop things the president does not “need to know” about. Covert dealings with corporations never receive budget approval. Scary screw-ups show how vulnerable we are to blowback from dirty tricks.

Like stealth craft developed here by the C.I.A., capable of deflecting radar, the things that go on at Area 51 are born confidential. Jacobson did extensive research and interviews for this exposé. Colorful and concise, her cowboy chronicles add immeasurably to our scant knowledge of a runaway web of shadows that threatens democracy. This is a courageous and patriotic book. You owe it to your country to read it. (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

The battle for the “Imperial City’s” public spaces is the focus of The Beach Beneath the Streets, Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces, a scholarly bible for agitators. From Battery Park City to the community gardens and the High Line, thorny issues like exclusivity and self-determination are researched and explained.

The authors, Benjamin Shepard and Greg Smithsimon, catalog the activist groups that grew up around them. For instance, the Green Guerillas, More Gardens Coalition, and the Lower East Side Collective champion the fertile ground. In the late ’90s, Reclaim the Streets grew out of the Giuliani-era repression. Time’s Up! is a vibrant collection of bicycle and open space proponents.

The authors strongly agree with the dictum of the preeminent revolutionary, Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” The concept of protest as play (or theater) is given special due. Exemplifying this tactic, Reverend Billy Talen fights to keep private businesses out of public parks, ban Wal-Mart from New York City and stop mountaintop removal. In his dual identity as shaman/showman, Talen combines the magnets of modern protest movements.

Public space is possibly democracy’s most valuable resource—consider Tiananmen and Tahir Squares. This thoughtful, well-written book provides an invaluable overview of recent strategies that confront elitist municipal policies. (Excelsior Editions, 2011)

“To liberate the space where bristles the heart of things,” was Aimé Césaire’s intent. A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman have robustly rebooted his brilliant work. Solar Throat Slashed, the Unexpurgated 1948 Edition is presented in the original French with the new translations opposite.

Césaire originated the term “négritude” as a seminal concept of black cultural identity. His high-pitched, operatic surrealism won the wholehearted endorsement of Breton and others. A native of Martinique, Césaire critiqued colonialism and used Africa as an imprimatur for poetic expansion.

In “Ex-Voto for a Shipwreck” he calls on the tom toms to quell the disinheritors of exploitation. In “Idyll” a “house nigger” is denigrated. Beside each dig, each wail of pain, is a glorious rejoinder—defiant, affirmative and original. In “Noon Knives,” “Blacks go searching in the dust…” From their voices the “sorcerers make the intimate ferocity of the stars.”

A precursor to the Beats, Césaire’s improvisational skill still serves as an antidote to cut and paste appropriation that is so popular in poetry of late. His world is “sweet as a glass of catastrophe.” I’ll always drink from this font. (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)

Congrats to Boog City, the East Village-oriented tabloid devoted to poetry and music. Publisher David Kirschenbaum celebrated its 20th anniversary with a four-day festival. From August 5 to 9, 67 poets, 10 musical acts, and eight plays were featured in four venues. Funky, salon-style recording studio BTP in Bushwick kicked off the first evening with Alan Gilbert (Late in the Antennae Fields), Basil King (Warp Spasms), Rebecca Wolff of Fence Books (The King), and others.

It was great that Susana Gardner of Dusie Kollektiv in Zurich showed up. Her book Herso, An Heirship in Waves is self-described as a “(proem / toward the end / of all things surely lapsed froward [sic]…)” (Black Radish Books, 2011).

On the final night, ever-generous Kirschenbaum hosted one of his regular, meet-the-publisher events at ACA Gallery in Chelsea. The evening happened to honor Black Radish Books, which seeks to “change the relationship between writers and publishers,” according to Marthe Reed, one of the editors. As Gardner puts it: “what strange beings / daily riding swanky beat.” Ride on.


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT is a poet, publisher, critic, collage artist and eco-activist involved in the community gardens of New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

All Issues