Often, poets spend most of their allotted time reading from their most recently published book. Not Nicole Cooley or Kimiko Hahn. While Cooley's The Afflicted Girls and Hahn's The Narrow Road to the Interior were on display (and on sale) last night at KGB Bar, the poets read predominantly from various projects in the works. I like these sneak peaks.
Cooley, who was raised in New Orleans, read from her new project The Flood Notebooks, a cross-genre project focusing on Katrina and the hurricane's aftermath. It's easy to see that pop culture's saturated with paparazzi photos of celebrities and reality starlets and magazine articles that turn their personal lives into urgent drama for public fodder. And often it's hard to miss the flaunting of material possessions and how bored they look with the excess. Using newspaper clippings, personal narrative, and text from George Oppen's daybooks, Cooley shifts the attention away from a media immersed in glittery surplus and asks us to examine the social and political ramifications when the excess is flood water, the deaths of your neighbors, and the destruction of whole communities. Beyond the natural disaster, she questions the disparity between our engagement with and attention to the media, and the seemingly rampant complacency of politicians and citizens who watched the events unfold without further intervention and action. In this bewilderment, she admits in one poem, "I'm looking for something tiny and unfindable." In the second half of her reading, Cooley read from her forthcoming book, Breach, which also concentrates on Katrina and incorporates her trip back to Louisiana a year after the storm. These poems are packed with descriptions like "houses like sick fish waiting for gutting" and statements like "It swallows and swallows and swallows" that let you feel both the expansiveness and emptiness of the landscape.
In poems like "Borough Hall 2001," in The Narrow Road to the Interior, Hahn mixes a refined imagism of traditional Japanese poetics with close attention to the visceral details of the WTC clean up crews: the attention to flowers and nature intertwine with the melting bootsoles & SSNs scrawled on body parts until there is no melodrama, only the act of experiencing the tragic in relation to the commonplace. Switching gears to her new project, the crowd especially loved her meditative and wry poems inspired by the NY Times science section. Hahn claimed, "The language of science is utterly exotic to me. I love it and I have no idea what they're talking about." Her poems prove otherwise.
-- Julia Cohen