Shanna Compton


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 pursue 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)


Bingo: Another cover by Joe Brainard

Here's another cover by Joe Brainard, for Bingo, a play by Dick Gallup (Mother Press, 1966).

I love the hand-lettering, of course, but especially that g. The comics-style solid-not-solid black is really good too. The idiosyncrasies in the drawing offset the formality of the geometric bingo grid, as does the pink square. And of course the title is playful, as is the way he's broken Gallup at up, and then dropped that down.

So there's his tension, as well as the tension created in the variable heights of the letters in the title—the way the i and g get a little shorter to fit the box. I like the way the letters in the title are more perfectly drawn than the small caps in the byline, which though regular in height and positioning within the grid avoid becoming totally stiff because of their intentional imperfections.

There's so much personality in these, don't you think?

Brainard also had illustrations inside. Excerpts from the play had previously appeared in issues of C Magazine (which also had Brainard covers).

Read more about this cover at Mimeo Mimeo.


More re: Joe Brainard covers—& a whoa-inducing discovery

So just a few minutes ago, I'm looking at my bookshelf, thinking I'll pull the copies of all the stuff I have with Joe Brainard covers. I figured my copy of Stones was pretty buried, because it's been a while since I've seen it. (Alas my shelves are deep, maximally stack, and completely disorganized except all the poetry is separated out from "everything else.") But there was a good chance it was vertical and in a particular case, because it's hardcover and has an acetate covering, and I tend to shelve those first each time I attempt to rein in the chaos.

I found in within a few minutes. Went gaga over the cover again, the type (though the uncial-inspired titles inside are very dated-looking they are charmingly so), the way the titles are aligned flush with the poem block away from the spine (so they mirror on facing pages), and the (now foxed) deckled fore-edges.

Bonus: it smells amazing.

I don't remember when I bought it, but I know it was about ten years ago and at a used bookshop, not in New York. (Maybe one of the ones we tend to hit in Maine. Or one of the road trip "book barns" we stop at whenever possible. Who knows. Sometimes I remember clearly, but not in this case.) The receipt is just adding machine tape and isn't dated or marked with a name. I paid cash. Certainly I got it someplace it was undervalued, because it's a first edition and was only $12.

What I hadn't noticed before was this handwritten ex-libris inscription:

I think this book was previously owned by poet-translator Coleman Barks?! (Here's a signature of his, to compare. This is not a signature obviously, so less swooshy. But the top of the C? The loop at the bottom of the B? What do you think?)

This isn't the book cover I'm imitating but I feel like this is a significant sign. Of something.

Cover concept for Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife

I posted Joe Brainard's remarks below because I've been reading him as I work on a cover design based on one of his. I can't show it yet, but it's been a lot of fun researching his methods, finding photographs of the mimeograph book, looking up the original materials and dimensions, and working backward from these details about how he made the piece we're mimicking. I need to track down a few more bits of info, to make sure we get it just right.

Just trust that'll all make sense when you see it. I'll post it in the next week or two, as soon as the author and I are both happy with it.

I've also been working on a new chapbook for Bloof—Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife. 

Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife

Here's the description of the design from the Bloof site:
The "artifact" design concept is inspired by the same figurine as the poems themselves. Like the Woman of Villendorf, each book has been colored by hand, rubbed with natural earth pigments—red ochre and yellow ochre, plus river valley soils dug in Bloof's native NJ. The title plate appliqué is inspired by a museum display, printed in archival ink. The interiors are laser-printed on natural white acid-free, archival-quality paper. Handsewn in natural twine.
You can read more about Natalie's chapbook here.


Joe Brainard: Doing cover designs and drawings for books and poems is something else entirely

"Doing cover designs and drawings for books and poems is something else entirely. This I love doing. And I do it very well. I know how to work with or against words in a good way. I don't think I ever fall into the 'elegant' trap. Or the 'arty' trap. (Too beautiful.) (For the coffee table.) (Etc.) There is always something slightly unprofessional about my graphic work. Which is probably the best thing about it. My drawings for words do not fly off into being too beautiful in themselves. Sometimes I do this by being a bit boring. (Very straight.) …Another ploy of mine is to set up a little tension. But not too much. Tension can make things work well together. A little tension. Not too much. One thing I always keep in mind when I do a cover design is how it will look in a bookstore. This, I think, is one reason why my book covers always end up looking a bit crude. If you have ever seen Stones by Tom Clark in a bookstore you will know what I mean. It sticks out like a sore thumb. And a beautiful one. Well—I am really giving myself pat on the back today for a change."

The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (Library of America) edited by Ron Padgett

Two poems in Sink Review

Cover art: In Static Canyon, Eric Amling

There's a lot of great stuff in this issue of Sink. I am still reading it, but for instance, read these sonnets (after Berrigan) by Bruce Covey. (There are three there, and another poem. Use the "next" button.) And this excerpt from Carrie Lorig's long poem "The Pulp vs. the Throne."