Shanna Compton


Populating Lewis Baltz's photographs

Elsewhere someone asks about ekphrastic poems inspired by photographs, and requests links to the images as well, to use in a writing class. So I gathered these and figured I would post them here too.

In Brink, there's a poem called "Back in Seaside." I wrote it in April 2011, after visiting the National Gallery of Art, where I was particularly fascinated by the photography of Lewis Baltz. The show included 50 black-and-white photographs plus a 12-panel color work that was backlit and displayed in a darkened gallery.

Here are some of the images.

Seaside 1970

Ideal 1976

Monterey 1976

Gilroy 1967

Fairfax 1973

Ronde de Nuit 1992–1995

The only one I mention by name is Seaside 1970, and I remember other images that I can't find online right now. I particularly love the lettering on the glass and the reflection in Ideal. A vocabularly of images repeats and recycles through his work, so other photos that are not part of this series also resonate.

Here is the poem (at the Academy of American Poets site, Baltz's photographs only rarely have people in them—so I provided those.


Designing a cover for The Sonnets

Just realizing I never posted the cover design I had talked about a few times below, based on one of Joe Brainard's.

The Sonnets by Sandra Simonds is coming out next month (Nov) from Bloof Books. Here is the cover we chose:

And it is inspired by this design by Joe Brainard, for Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets:

Joe Brainard: Cover for Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets
Gouache, 13 x 10, 1964
At first we were going to mimic it exactly, and create a gouache painting just like Joe's but with Sandra's name penciled in. But after we mocked that up and talked further about it, we decided an updated homage was better, and Sandra wanted some color too. So we incorporated those ideas and went with a digitally created cutout look, keeping the original's composition and choosing a stencil typeface. In keeping with the original too, I didn't measure anything with placing the objects in the layout, so it's paste-up in that sense, like Joe's was.

When we revealed the cover, a few people recognized the reference right away, and there's a note inside the book too. (Sandra has written about how sonnets are always copies, of the form itself and of their well known precedent examples, so this concept and the other ones we discarded all had to do with copying, including some photocopied backgrounds, etc.)

"Addendum: The Mountain" at WGLT's Poetry Radio

It aired a few times last week and is now available online and via the Poetry Radio podcast.
Addendum: The Mountain (mp3) 
Publish Date: 10/02/2014 11:25 AMRun Time: 1:59written and read by Shanna Compton; music by Brad Mehldau & Mark Giuliana (Sassyassed Sassafrass from Taming the Dragon)
This poem is from Brink.

The poem is a sort of answer (or addendum) to a poem in my first book, Down Spooky, called "Contraposto" [sic, not contrapposto].


I'll be in Philadelphia next weekend

I'll be at the Philalalia Small Press Poetry & Art Fair all three days: Thursday–Saturday, September 25–27.

On Friday the 26th, I'm giving a book-making workshop at noon, at the bookfair.

Later that night, I'll be part of the reading above, with Coconut + Bloof.

Hope to see you there.


An interview by Sarah Marcus at Gazing Grain Press

Shanna Compton Talks Bloof Books, Poetry, Labeling & Feminisms

I don't think I mention it there by name, but the title has changed for the new/forthcoming book: The Hazard Cycle.

I can explain. Another poet recently used Seam as a title. Though our work is quite different, I didn't want to create confusion or detract attention from her book. The new title is actually an older title, one of many that the manuscript has known. But this fits, and I like it better now, so I think it will stick this time.


A new review of Brink

Surprised and grateful for this thoughtful look at Brink, by Stephen Burt.

It appears in full in the current issue of the Yale Review, but is excerpted at the Bloof blog.

Compton – based in Princeton and in Brooklyn – writes the eclectic, distractible poetry of people just a few years younger than I am, or the same age as, but more plugged in than I am, people who grew up with electronics in everything, pursued by glowing screens. (Her first book was an edited collection about the pleasures of video games.) Though her poems of Brink belong to venerable genres – the aubade, the erotic sonnet, the sequence about a breakup, the ‘‘Panoramic View’’ – their delights lie in the verbal swerves and sparks that belong only to our time, or else to a time just ahead of ours. Her lines are a millefeuille of generational markers, coming of age between the advent of the Internet and the first season of Girls, in or near a New York of toxic assets, multiple piercings, collapsing finance: 

We’re still in the skinflint sheets 
of a place we’d rather not be, 
languid among no-account debris . . . 
I’ll pretend to miss the day we met 
if you can try not so much to mind 
the piercing when we go wrong, 
foaming in the evening, toxic refraction, 
to baffle this diminishing sun 
into peach-rust-gold derivatives.     
[Sometime  I'll Perfect My Adoration]
There is nothing quite like this exuberance, on the edge of paraphrasable sense but not over it, among Compton’s contemporaries, though many of them have tried. It can remind me at once of Frank O’Hara and of Edna St. Vincent Millay (as with Millay, we can fear it will seem dated later, or just enjoy the way it sounds now). Compton rakes in diction that has not turned up much in serious poetry before – if it is not the lingo of today’s teens, then it belongs instead to her own youth: ‘‘He gave me a nonsarcastic thumbs up in the parking lot.’’ ‘‘A neon / ring above an extincted / window showcasing something / formerly fabulous now kinda / poignantly disappeared.’’ When Compton is off her game, her poems can edge past the hyper-contemporary into the ridiculous, the quasi-sarcastic, the perhaps deliberately bad: ‘‘I celebrate the tanginess of your gruntly curves.’’ It is, perhaps, the kind of risk that any writer willing to be explicit about eroticism must take.

Compton sounds as if she knew that her ‘‘tendril-like projections / of youthful slang’’ have not often made it into poetry before, but that her topics – urban disillusion, political snafus, falling in and out of love – certainly have. ‘‘Timetables & Humble Pie’’ translates, into its twenty-first-century screen-driven lingo, Shakespeare’s sonnet 129, with its ‘‘waste of shame’’: ‘‘Alas, the day is wasted. Toss the scrapped commodity / in a pile like snipped stockings, admired / in the morning but soured by noon.’’ Compton, like Shakespeare, asks whether ‘‘love’’ names a commodity, though for her it is a commodity newly on sale: ‘‘What will we do,’’ she inquires, ‘‘if affection / is discovered to be . . . something we inhabit / like a hoodie from H&M, hot yellow / and scored at a deep discount?’’ She speaks to her heart, as Philip Sidney spoke to his, but she speaks in the era of biodegradables, of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:
Preening heart I have tended 
like a weak flame on the beach, 
do you have a box or bag 
(the tearing aside for a moment) 
to purse our decay? . . . 
Perhaps, my precious clutter, let us recast 
our likeness in plastic and endure as timeless litter.       
[One More Favor]
‘‘Timeless litter,’’ both ephemeral and perdurable, eternal and apparently without use: there are worse figures for poetry. Brink is a good book to come upon last in a stack, or last in a year: rather than complaining about how bland and frustrating everything is, in the city or in the country, Compton takes it upon herself to make everything interesting, to make daily life spark and fizz. So do the friends she imagines alongside her poems: ‘‘We shout in marquees. We stud the clamoring / traffic in our brightest, most orange cones.’’ Two sequences about couples, in love and at loggerheads (parts two and four of this four-part book), cannot retain the power in Compton’s always accelerating stand-alone poems, because their construction requires them to slow down or to look back. Even the sequences, though, can succeed in making the familiar strange: after a quarrel,
Each sentence held back an ache to crack 
the domesticated shell. It’s as if 
an illustrator has come through with a fine- 
nib pen, to hatch and crosshatch everything.         
[The Deeps]

The Yale Review 
Volume 102Issue 3 
pages 152–166, July 2014


Abstract    Order

The Two Yvonnes: Poems, by Jessica Greenbaum (Princeton University Press, 80 pp., $29.95 cloth; $12.95 paper)
Almanac: Poems, by Austin Smith (Princeton University Press, 96 pp., $35, cloth; $12.95 paper)
A Glossary of Chickens: Poems, by Gary J. Whitehead (Princeton University Press, 72 pp., $29.95 cloth; $14.95 paper)
Brink, by Shanna Compton (Bloof Books, 86 pp., $15 paper)
Lobster  Palaces, by Ann Kim (Flood Editions, 96 pp., $14.95 paper)
3 Sections: Poems, by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf, 64 pp., $22 cloth)