jeffrey winke | i’ll tell you so

28 06 2010

Poetry Dispatch No.324 | June 28, 2010


Editor’s Note: As the book review pages of major and minor newspapers and periodicals dwindle in today’s high-tech/non-reading culture, it’s difficult enough to land a review of any significant book, let alone an insightful reviewer who understands the art of the review-essay. With that in mind, it’s damn near impossible to find a small, independent press receive a line of ink anywhere but old fashioned little magazines (the conscience of American literature) and some superb online literary sites such as Jeffery Woodward’s excellent site, devoted to the haibun.

In the early days of Cross+Roads Press (well over ten years ago) I was fortunate to occasionally receive a review of the books I was publishing in the local newspaper, The Door County Advocate. But that was under the independent ownership of the publisher/editor, Chan Harris, who happened to be a literary guy and was very supportive of the arts in this community. That all disappeared once the Gannett Corp. began its take-over of every local newspaper it could gobble up. These days, I’m forever thankful (as many of us small press writers and publishers are) for all the effort and work that Wisconsin writer, Charles Ries, does to distribute his reviews of countless important small press books to many fine print and online publications throughout the country.

I’m thankful as well to Jeffrey Woodward and the reviewer, Tish Davis, for the thoughtful and incisive review of Cross+Roads Press author, Jeff Winke’s new book of haibun that recently appeared in Haibun Today. –Norbert Blei

Review of Jeffrey Winke’s I’ll Tell You So
by Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio, USA

I’ll Tell You So by Jeffrey Winke. Ellison Bay, WI: Cross+Roads Press, 2010. 5” x 8,” perfect bound, 102 pp. ISBN: 978-1-889460-23-9. $12.00 USD.

The eighty-five works in Jeffrey Winke’s first collection of haibun are fresh and innovative, portraying scenes and characters, whether real or imagined, from middle-class America. Winke capitalizes on the ordinary, offering first and third person narratives—snippets of characters and their conflicts—presented in ways that evoke compassion, a smile and sometimes a full belly laugh.

The haibun in the book are not arranged in thematic sections but, based upon their titles, in alphabetical order. Before reading the book from cover to cover, I found myself making initial selections by skimming through the titles such as “Electric Green Chokers,” “Hunchback With the Toy Poodle,” and “Reflective Tape Stripes Around Each Leg.” I quickly observed that Winke pulls his titles directly from the prose—something typically frowned upon in haibun. However, this did not deter my enjoyment of these works whose characters include a young couple awaiting passage at a security crossing, a group of friends enjoying a Wednesday night dinner, and Ernest, the parking lot attendant.

These selections are typical of a style that allows the reader to enter the piece from whatever vantage point he chooses. Sometimes the reader might recognize a friend or an acquaintance; sometimes the reader might see himself. Often these outcomes reveal weaknesses in the human condition and Winke uses that to make the reader both reflect on the situation and to laugh. Consider “Reflective Tape Stripes Around Each Leg” (70), for example. Even though the description focuses on Ernest, there’s also an implicit connection with the silver-haired executive and his date:

With the 18-inch red glowing parking wand visible, the stout presence of Ernest stands solid in the dark boulevard wearing his fluorescent-yellow breathable safety pants with two horizontal reflective tape stripes around each leg that makes him feel god-like powerful while directing the steady flow of luxury automobiles streaming their headlights into the gated parking lot where he occasionally—just for fun—halts a shiny black Jaguar XK to a full stop to leer at the strapless twenty-something trophy sitting in the passenger seat while growling, “ you gotta slow down, bud-DEE” to the silver-hair captain of industry who glares at Ernest with utmost contempt.

closing time bartender
collects empties
filled with stories

The leap from prose to haiku is very effective. Winke’s intentional ambiguity allows the reader to become both observer and participant. As the light dims, the reader can reflect on what version of the story the characters in the haibun might have told or the setting can revert to a bar perhaps familiar to the reader, and to stories known only to him.

Winke’s haibun average 150 words and all are written as a basic unit of one paragraph followed by one haiku. The settings vary but are typically mundane, ordinary places such as the office, kitchen, or laundry mat. Several haibun take place in bars, diners, night clubs or restaurants. However, this is by no means an indication of cookie-cutter haibun where writers, upon finding a successful formula, merely replicate a previous success. Winke’s variations are proof of a writer who knows what he wants to achieve.

In “Tilted at a Severe Angle” (86), one of my favorites, Winke’s use of tight, but figurative prose places the reader in a jazz club just as a sultry blonde arrives:

She sits at the bar next to Lamont. His black fedora tilted at a severe angle. She isn’t here for Lamont. Her snug blouse is open enough to the neck to show part of a spider web tattoo that flourishes behind soft cotton. She lights up a long-filtered cigarette, draws deeply, and swivels her dark-eye gaze to the sax player. With lips slightly parted, she exhales completely. The saxman nods recognition before bending his alto into one last passion sizzler that eventually melts back into a sweaty finale.

just barely
her breasts
in my space

The shift from the suggestive exchange between the blonde and saxman to the narrator is deftly handled with its implication of pheromonal influence. Although the title again is drawn from the prose (and yes one could argue that it could be deleted without loss), one can also assume that the narrator has readjusted his position on the bar stool in order to get a better view, thus allowing this phrase to serve a dual purpose.

In “I believe I am” (46), Winke again pulls his title from the prose, but here, it did not balance the piece nor did it strengthen a work that I found to be too introspective. The haibun begins:

I figured it out. I think. My life is a mystery novel. There are plots, sub-plots, and intriguing side characters who, at first, appear to be more prominent than they are. Things unfold for little reason at all, so it seems.

As the haibun progresses, the narrator, who doubles as protagonist in the imaginary novel, confesses that when he can no longer control the variables in life, he “holds his breath and waits for the narrator to jump in and add a sense of calm to the situation.”

The most promising part of this composition is the concluding haiku, but it failed to compensate for the deficiencies in the prose:

bigger, stronger–
that’s what the spam says
so it’s true

Winke’s voice is one we’ve come to recognize as light and witty. Even the best stand-up comic falls flat occasionally, so the reader should not be unduly disappointed by the few works in I’ll Tell You So that did not hit their mark.

The strengths in this collection are the third person narratives. “A Jar of Paint,” “Bait Floats to the Bottom,” “Below the Shallow Arc,” “Every Night and First Words,” “In a Slurred-Word State,” and “Slides Into the Keyway” are a few that come to mind. Here, the images linger and, when reread, can be enjoyed again as if one is meeting the characters for the first time.

Winke is at his best when the pathos is subdued and is combined with his lightness and wit. Consider “Thinks While Growing Impatient” (85), a work that on a first read might easily be dismissed as “alien humor.”

The crinkle sound is barely audible, but the dog hears it and perks her ears. The tall alien is preoccupied. With one of several lipless mouths it’s busy chewing on a one-pound bag of Twizzlers® artificially-flavored cherry bites—red licorice. Its content-analyzing mastication glands find little nutritional value. “Another oddity,” it muses . . . when it hears the low rumbling growl of the dog slowly padding down the carpeted hallway under a gallery of family photos—everyone looks happy, even Uncle Gary who had bit the end of a Glock last year. “Any time Anja,” the tall alien thinks while growing impatient at the designated pick-up point on the designated day at the exact designated time.

brisk rain—
she protects a letter
to an old friend

I enjoyed the image of the alien eating candy that’s artificially flavored, perhaps a little envious of the family whose portraits hang in the hallway. Of course, he probably has no way of knowing that their smiles are artificial too. Winke asks the reader, “What is real?” He provides the answer in the haiku that closes this evocative haibun.

I’ll Tell You So is a collection that can be read and reread, enjoyed “as is” or studied for its contemporary techniques. The cover is avant-garde, but the book’s roots are traditional, revealing American characters and themes uniquely presented by a fine writer.

[from: A Quarterly Journal, Jeffrey Woodward, Editor. Volume 4, Number 2, June 2010]

Jeffrey Winke by Jeffrey Winke

lyn hejinian | yet we insist that life is full of happy chance

7 06 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 323 | June 7, 2010


Yet we insist that life is full of happy chance

The windows were open and the morning air was, by the smell of lilac and some darker flowering shrub, filled with the brown and chirping trills of birds. As they are if you could have nothing but quiet and shouting. Arts, also, are links. I picture an idea at the moment I come to it, our collision. Once, for a time, anyone might have been luck’s child. Even rain didn’t spoil the barbecue, in the backyard behind a polished traffic, through a landscape, along a shore. Freedom then, liberation later. She came to babysit for us in those troubled years directly from the riots, and she said that she dreamed of the day when she would gun down everyone in the financial district. That single telephone is only one hair on the brontosaurus. The coffee drinkers answered ecstatically. If your dog stays out of the room, you get the fleas. In the lull, activity drops. I’m seldom in my dreams without my children. My daughter told me that at some time in school she had learned to think of a poet as a person seated on an iceberg and melting through it. It is poetry of certainty. In the distance, down the street, the practicing soprano belts the breeze. As for we who “love to be astonished,” money makes money, luck makes luck. Moves forward, drives on. Class background is not landscape—still here and there in1969 I could feel the scope of collectivity. It was the present time for a little while, and not so new as we thought then, the present always after war. Ever since it has been hard for me to share my time.. The yellow of that sad room was again the yellow of naps, where she waited, restless, faithless for more days. They say that the alternative for bourgeoisie was gullibility. Call it water and dogs. Reason looks for two, then arranges it from there. But one can imagine a madman in love. Goodbye; enough that was good. There was a pause, a rose, something on paper. I may balk but I won’t recede. Because desire is always embarrassing. At the beach, with a fresh flush. The child looks out. The berries are kept in the brambles, on wires in reserve for birds. At a distance, the sun is small. There was no proper Christmas after he died. That triumphant blizzard had brought the city to its knees. I am a stranger to the little girl I was. and more—more strange. But many facts about a life should be left out, they are easily replaced. One sits in a cloven space. Patterns promote an outward likeness, between little white silences. The big trees capture all the moisture from what seems like a dry night. Reflections don’t make shade, but shadows are, and do. In order to understand the nature of the collision, one must know something of the nature of the motions involve–that is, a history. He looked at me and smiles and did not look away, and thus a friendship became erotic. Luck was rid of its clover.

From: MY LIFE, Green Integer 39, 2002, $10,95


Recognized today as one of the great works of contemporary American literature, My Life is at once a poetic autobiography, a personal narrative, a woman’s fiction, and an ongoing dialogue with the poet and her experience. Upon its first Sun & Moon publication—expanded from the 1980 Burning Deck edition—Library Journal described the book as one that “is an intriguing journey that both illuminates and perplexes, teases and challenges, as it reveals an innovative artist at work.” Poetry Flash observed that it has “real, almost hypnotic power, obvious intelligence, and [is] astonishingly beautiful.” It received the 1987 San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, and was a finalist for the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Book Award.

Since 1987, My Life has been taught in hundreds of college and university courses around the world, and is a favorite book of thousands of readers. This current, reedited edition represents its sixth printing.

Lyn Hejinian | Photo by Gloria Graham

Lyn Hejinian (born May 17, 1941) is a United States poet, essayist, translator and publisher. She is often associated with the Language poets and is well known for her landmark collection My Life (Sun & Moon, 1987, original version Burning Deck, 1980), as well as her book of essays, The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, 2000).

Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Berkeley, California with her husband the composer/musician Larry Ochs. She has published over a dozen books of poetry and numerous books of essays as well as two volumes of translations from the Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. Between 1976 and 1984 she was editor of Tuumba Press, and from 1981 to 1999 she co-edited (with Barrett Watten) Poetics Journal. She is currently co-editor of Atelos, which publishes cross-genre collaborations between poets and other artists.

Hejinian has herself worked on a number of collaborative projects with painters, musicians and film makers. She teaches poetics at University of California, Berkeley, and has lectured in Russia and around Europe. She has received grants and awards from the California Arts Council, the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, Guggenheim Foundation. She currently sponsors the Radiohead DeCal course at UC Berkeley.


  • * a gRReat adventure Self-published, 1972.
  • * A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1976.
  • * A Mask of Motion. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1977.
  • * Gesualdo. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1978.
  • * Writing is an Aid to Memory. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1978.
  • * My Life. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1980.
  • * The Guard. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1984.
  • * Redo. Grenada, Miss.: Salt-Works Press, 1984.
  • * My Life. (revised and updated) LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1987.
  • * Individuals. (written with Kit Robinson) Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 1988.
  • * Leningrad. (written with Michael Davidson, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten) San Fancisco: Mercury House, 1991.
  • * The Hunt. La Lasuna: Zasterle Press, 1991.
  • * Oxota: A Short Russian Novel. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1991. ISBN 9780935724448
  • * The Cell. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1992.
  • * Jour de Chasse. trans. Pierre Alferi. Cahiers de Royaumont, 1992.
  • * The Cold of Poetry. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1994.
  • * Two Stein Talks. Santa Fe, NM: Weaselsleeves Press, 1996.
  • * Wicker. (written with Jack Collom) Boulder, CO: Rodent Press. 1996.
  • * The Little Book of A Thousand Eyes. Boulder, CO: Smoke-Proof Press, 1996.
  • * Writing is an Aid to Memory. Reprint, Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996.
  • * Guide, Grammar, Watch, and The Thirty Nights. Western Australia: Folio, 1996.
  • * A Book from A Border Comedy. Los Angeles: Seeing Eye Books, 1997.
  • * The Traveler and the Hill, and the Hill. (with Emilie Clark) New York: Granary Books, 1998.
  • * Sight. (written with Leslie Scalapino) Washington DC: Edge Books, 1999.
  • * Happily. Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 2000.
  • * Chartings. (written with Ray DiPalma) Tucson: Chax Press, 2000.
  • * Sunflower. (written with Jack Collom) Great Barrington MA: The Figures, 2000. ISBN 9781930589056
  • * The Language of Inquiry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 9780520217003
  • * The Beginner. New York: Spectacular Books, 2001.
  • * A Border Comedy. New York: Granary Books, 2001.
  • * My Life. Reprints Sun & Moon edition; Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002.
  • * Slowly. Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2002.
  • * The Beginner. Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2002.
  • * The Fatalist. Omnidawn, 2003.
  • * My Life in the Nineties. New York: Shark Books, 2003. ISBN 9780966487190


  • * Description. poems by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1990.
  • * Arkadii Dragomoshchenko selections in Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, ed. Kent Johnson and Stephen Ashby. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
  • * Xenia. poems by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. LA: Sun & Moon Press. 1994.

jackie langetieg | jazz

2 06 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 322 | June 2, 2010


Jazz *

I don’t want to go to Chet Baker’s house

Let him come to me, lean his back against
the scene of ancient Chinese mountains in my living room
Let me serve him Metaxa brandy in a water glass

Don’t let the smoke leave the room—nothing should fly out
on the wings of notes coming from his horn, his voice, his hands
words left hanging on black clefs of minor chords

I’m loose on the sofa, robe slightly open hoping he’ll notice
baby grand ready for the touch of his fingers
like the counting of my ribs, each finger placed surely
on the steps of my spine

I feel his concentration on the music
I’m just a body temporarily in his way for tonight
The old serrated trees on the panel behind me sway
and fantasy fills my head. The music trails off and he joins me

We speak little, lie to each other, talk of insignificances
Soon dawn is opening the curtains of night and he drives off leaving
me lost in the smoky night music still at play in the room.

Editor’s Note: * First publication of this poem

About the Author: Jackie Langetieg, Verona, Wisconsin, is the author of three books of poetry and has been published in journals and anthologies, most recently in “Love Over 60: an anthology of women’s poems,” edited by R. Chapman and J. McCormick and published by Mayapple Press.