Tamar Yoseloff’s The City with Horns

  
 
Tamar Yoseloff was born in the United States in 1965. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Fetch (Salt, 2007) as well as Marks, a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art in 2007. She is also the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology. She lives in London, where she is freelance tutor in creative writing. Her blog, Invective Against Swans, explores the intersection between poetry and visual art.
 
 
 

  
 
“Every artist paints what he is”, said Jackson Pollock, the iconic figure of the American Abstract Expressionist movement. His tumultuous life and his revolutionary vision provide the storyline for the main sequence of poems in The City with Horns, Tamar Yoseloff’s fourth collection, in which Yoseloff plays ventriloquist to the voices of Pollock; his wife, the painter Lee Krasner; and his mistress, Ruth Kligman (who survived the car crash that killed him). The characters of James Dean, Frank O’Hara and William de Kooning are also woven into the narrative. And it is Pollock’s dictum that provides the departure point for other poems which chart the attempt to find hidden meanings – whether through driving blind on a road at night, reading James Joyce in a Japanese restaurant, or gazing at a concrete wall. In The City with Horns, you will find journeys through the poet’s adopted city of London and through turbulent weather, on trains, into fields that conjure up the past, and around junk yards where treasure can be found. This is Yoseloff’s most challenging collection to date.
 
 
 
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“In the title sequence of this collection, Tamar Yoseloff breaks new ground with poems that flow and rush and fizz in ways reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s paintings. From the turmoil of Pollock’s life, Yoseloff powerfully re-creates a vision in which everything knots together, a way of seeing that is intoxicated. But if the central sequence overflows with plenty, then the outer sections of the triptych speak of emptiness and pain in a poetic voice more familiar, curbed and astringent. Here, Yoseloff continues to explore territory she has made her own in earlier collections: snap-shots and “little fables” of up-rooted individuals whose tokens, found objects and souvenirs struggle towards articulacy. These are poems offering few consolations, but the strength of The City with Horns lies in its chastening honesty, its ability to evoke a sensibility that feels never less than modern.”
 
– Martyn Crucefix
 
 
 
“Tamar Yoseloff’s Fetch is a delicate book of haunting strength, of strangeness uncontained. These poems are irresistible.”
 
– Alison Brackenbury
 
 
 
[Speaking of Fetch]: “These are dark poems in the best sense of the word, edgy, unnerving, but glittering, too. Tamar Yoseloff can make a visit to the dentist or a lamb curry sexy and sinister. I’ve followed her career from the beginning; Fetch is her most ambitious book yet, and her best.”
 
– Matthew Francis
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Cedar Nights
 
Kerouac baptised the ashtray with his piss,
Rothko gazed into his glass, lost
in a haze of smoke (later he would slit
 
each arm, two razored lines, maroon on white),
while Gorky picked a fight with every stooge
who strayed within his reach (his wild eye,
 
hangdog face, peasant hands, the dreams
he couldn’t shake). De Kooning pontificated
over water (bastard) and by his lead
 
women shattered into pieces, all lips
and tits. Klein splattered the bar in black,
while dizzy Ginsberg’s angelheaded hipsters
 
swore, and sang, and toppled off their stools,
then hurled themselves into the negro streets;
Frank was brashly erecting something new
 
from shreds of Rauschenberg and Lady Day.
And Jack? He was painting up a storm,
(when he was sober), admiring his fame
 
from the summit of the Gods, until the night
she breezed into the Cedar, all ass
and attitude, looking for a guy,
 
and there he was, the prize, the mark, the Jack
of Hearts, the cover boy. She sidled over:
what’s a girl gotta do to get a drink?
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Alchemy
 
Guggenheim Museum, Venice
 
 
Just when I think nothing can move me,
room after room of Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini,
the Virgin granting me her doleful eyes,
her pearly tears,
 
I enter a cool white palazzo,
find his huge canvas, which shows me the truth
of water and fire, in this place
of canals and candlelight, a city he never saw.
 
What he made was a world
in perpetual swirl, violent red, yellow bile,
the way the galaxy might look to a man stranded
in space, before science and logic takes hold.
 
And I stand before this picture,
the man who painted it
dead, like the masters shut away
in these palaces of art, their works their tribute;
 
wanting to pin beauty to the canvas,
dusty and flightless. But this picture lives, black
against the midday sun, legions of day-glo tourists
bobbing along the canal,
 
and I feel tears
welling up before I can make them stop.
I don’t know why; I’m tired,
vulnerable in my light summer clothes,
 
he and I foreigners to a faith
which isn’t ours: Christ on the cross,
the martyrdom of the saints, spelled out in
blood and gold.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Reading Ulysses in the Teri Aki Sushi Bar
 
He would have liked the concentric circles
of the California roll, whorls of salmon and avocado,
brightwhite rice, the ginger fanned
across the plate – like Molly Bloom,
her legs apart – the saki hot
in his throat, a trill of syllables.
 
He would have admired my discipline,
my quiet journey with Leopold
and tuna maki – squintyeyed
over the page, the words
running away from sense.
 
 
The Dublin streets swell with rain,
delicate perfume of dung, and
there’s a man hurrying home,
brown eyes saltblue, with no umbrella.
          I will know him, oh yes, by the shrug
of his shoulders, hunch of his coat,
the way he looks up, suddenly,
comprehends
 
               that somewhere a girl, pretty,
captures a fishy gobbet in her chopsticks,
raises it to her lips, that first bite releasing
brine, bladderwrack, the green rot
of the ocean floor.
                           If only he
could sit across from her, worship
her perfect little teeth.
 
 
He will pass me on the street
one evening when the rain
smells like the ocean,
 
          flame memory for an instant
before we turn our separate corners,
pull our collars to our throats.
 
 
 
Previously published in Shearsman Magazine.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mannequins on 7th Street

for Robert Vas Dias, after Anthony Eyton
 
 
We desire them to be perfect:
limbs without blemish, Malibu-bronzed,
robed in fuchsia and gold, smouldering
goddesses in a city leached to grey.
 
We, merely flesh, race past, hail cabs,
jump buses, never to strike
their timeless pose.
 
We must embrace the gift of the street,
the glare of chaos, of things being various.
The frail instant needs us to record it;
the mute made audible, still life animated.
 
They keep watch from their temple
of glass, stranded in silence, all dressed up
and nowhere to go.
 
 
 
from The City with Horns (Salt, 2011).
 
Order The City with Horns here.
 
Visit Tamar’s website.
 
Visit Tamar’s blog, Invective Against Swans.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Launch with Katy Evans-Bush’s Egg Printing Explained
 
 
Date: Thursday, 2 June 2011
 
Time: 18h30 – 20h30
 
Venue: Purdy Hicks Gallery, 65 Hopton Street, London SE1 9GZ
 
For other readings, please check Tamar’s website.

One thought on “Tamar Yoseloff’s The City with Horns

  1. Jo

    I was just about to FB about this. She’s a firm favourite of mine and this book certainly doesn’t disappoint. Excellent.

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