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What We’re Reading: Beast Feast

2015 January 8
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What We're Reading

Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence (Ahsahta Press, 2014)

I was lucky enough to hear Cody-Rose Clevidence read in Oklahoma recently and as a result, bought this book immediately. I was enticed by the various forms of the poems on the page and compelled by the poet’s warmth and integrity. Creatively ferocious and enduring as a guidebook into a fair and fluid new world, Beast Feast is a must-read for the new year.

Beast Feast was published by Ahsahta Press in 2014 as the sixty-fourth book in the press’ New Series. Cody-Rose Clevidence studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop and now writes from the Ozark mountains.

At the core, this book is intentional, careful, and wild. Even before the title page, an epigraph from the included poem “[Hammer/Tulip]” sets the tone for the reader: “is an arsenal enough to free an orchard? swampthing, inebriate. I’ll arm a garden. we can all live there.” And before the table of contents the poet instructs the reader to prepare for many forms. I love this explicit address; it prepares the reader to accept the deconstruction of form and destruction of expectation in the coming pages. In fact, formal shifts occur not just between poems, but within poems; “XIST,” for example, shifts from long-lined shorter stanzas to end with four verbose prose stanzas. The effect is the same as with many poems in the book, to create then destruct. Prepare then surprise.

I was taken into the book by a theme which emerges early on in “O))))))))))))).” Here, seeing is explored as a way of knowing, of having, succumbing, and ultimately: “[the gaze that holds us in reveals / us to us reviles us].” What Clevidence also does in this book is to allow associations, and even clichés, to deconstruct language; they* start with an apple, which leads to eye [read: apple of my eye], then to I, and to an ox-eye daisy.

I have a skinned eye

I have a skinned “I”


I have an I made out of skin

I have an eye which is a whole in my skin




I have (an) ox-eye daisy(yes) scattered over the surface of the world.


there is no making sense of the senseless

except with what senses you sense with

This re-creates each signifier by calling into question its signified. Such a project crumbles language conceptually; as such, the poet calls us to question not only the constructions of language but of all normativity.

There are varying opinions circulating the Lit world about readability, accessibility. This reviewer believes that the reader does have responsibilities when taking on a piece of literature, certainly to engage with the material and, to an extent, to seek understanding of the form and content. Clevidence certainly challenges the reader’s attention in the section titled “This is the forest” where six consecutive poems are written in narrow columns with irregular punctuation and capitalization. When I first perused the book, I thought these poems might be anti-linguistic, using symbols to “paint” a picture of chaos. However, once I sat down and really investigated these poems, I found that “ZYG” and “XYLO 2” are two of my favorite in the book. “XYLO 2” is a litany of the forest:




















ES […]

This forest is full of everything, and as the last line states it always has been: “[…]THISF/ORESTWASN/EVEREMPTY.” At this point in the book, you feel the wildness of all nature that Clevidence writes to portray; you might also sink your teeth (as I did) into their metaphor that “commerce,” “economies,” and “regimes” were a part of the forest even before we (humanoids) superimposed our perspectives.

After the reader has experienced the feast and forest, the eye returns in “{everything that is beautiful is edible}.” Whereas the “I” wrestles with the wild throughout the book (“a landscape / is a volatile animal”), here, the “I” succumbs to its place within nature: “I’ll roll over   promise / ‘obey’—   I am in the eye of the blossom.”

Certain poems clarify the project at hand with fairly directive language, such is the case with “A State of Nature / A Natural State.”

          <<each flower represents a different global market & you, standing in the meadow can watch as the fluctuating market economy bows & twirls & spouts & blooms.   each stalk of grass or stem of flower a stock or share in a multinational graph of gubernational investments.   each piece of trash represents a city scattered among the daisies, burdock & violets.   each bit of dirt, glass or gravel represents a ‘man’.

this symbolic horseshit is symbolic.

this field is full of shit.>>

The poem ends with the rich image and sounds of the forest: “/ in the depths of the forest you can hear the low moans & grunts & quickened panting of numbers propagating in the dark.”

Such lines of auspicious clarity cut through the dystopia Clevidence is not afraid to put down in language. In fact, what I’m taking from this book as a poet, and a human-beast, is to be fearless.


Tell us about an intention you’ve formed for yourself from a recent book, story, or poem.


*Use of the pronoun “they” is an intentional choice of the poet. As stated in “ZYG”:


What We’re Reading: CHINOISERIE by Karen Rigby

2012 May 3
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What We're ReadingChinoiserie by Karen Rigby (Ahsahta Press, 2011)

Winner of the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, judged by Paul Hoover, Karen Rigby’s Chinoiserie is a refreshing body of work. Let’s start with first glance: the contemporary design gives each poem plenty of breathing room (read: white space). And the designer isn’t the only one who appreciates white space: there’s the form of the poems themselves. While many poems move straight down the margin of the page, there are just as many that meander, pulling us back and forth, creating dynamic white space; a visual form of enjambment.  Not only does this white space please the eye, but it naturally aids the reading, creating thoughtful pauses, asides, and focus.

The poems work themselves through history with a singular vision. Tantalizing and smart, there is a confident sense of movement throughout. More than anything, Chinoiserie is a sensual feast. Hoover (who selected Rigby’s work to win the Sawtooth Poetry Prize) describes this collection beautifully: “Karen Rigby sees with feeling the magic of things shaped by language… But here also are the musical cadence, subject range, and ceremonial precision of true poetry.”

Also refreshing: in poetry, I appreciate unexpected images that surprise me with how well they work. Rigby is a master at delighting her reader with unusual phrasing (just to pull out an example from a host of them: “Each rib / could hold the weight of a balloon” — from “Design for a Flying Machine.”

Oh, alright, here’s another example (I just can’t help myself):

Downtown, a canyon
of brick & avenue
moves toward the river,

water folds over pockets
of walleye. Orange is girder
& rusted flange, citrine

(From “Orange/Pittsburgh”)

Rigby brings the reader to their knees in “Knife. Bass. Woman.,” an emotional poem about rape:

The bass hangs, its zippery spine
loose. Each stroke brings down
a host of scales. Skin rolls
like hose.

These poems dig into their subjects with a painstaking honesty. This unrelenting eye is apparent even in poems that could be romantic or sweet, such as “The Lover”: “her body as shorthand / for what his body mistook for love.”

Finally, from another one of my favorite poems: the sexy, vibrant, and violent poem “Red Dress”:

Red lotteries, accordions, telenovelas
flickering emergencies.
Red you bitch-heel
                        past avenues humid as horses
                                  rounding a wet track


A woman’s carriage from the waist-up
The belly-dance hotter than shaved

Rigby’s poetry has been published in two previous chapbooks (Savage Machinery and Festival Bone), as well as in Poetry Daily, Washington Square, Meridian, Field, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West and New England Review. She is also a founding editor of Cerise Press and also freelance writes reviews and more.