5 Tonalist Poets from Jacket Magazine

5 Tonalist Poets from Jacket Magazine

Jacket is an online literary magazine concentrating on Postmodernist and experimental work. The first ‘issue’ – work is in fact posted until reasons of space make it convenient to create another issue – began in October 1997, and the magazine was revamped in 2011, joining with PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania.

I have chosen five pieces from recent issues that showcase a ‘feralist and tonalist stance’, which, according to the site, emphasizes a sense of space, ‘a lot of sex and a huge number of amazing verbs.’

Generally I try to select the better or more accessible work to notice, but that’s a claim waived in this case because I do not understand the work sufficiently, or even know whether literary  ‘excellence’ is among the aims. Those new to experimental work may find the two website pages listed below a helpful introduction, and Laura Moriarty also provides  an introduction to tonalist poety on the Jacket Magazine site.

The first piece, an excerpt from More Facts,  is by Normal Cole and can be read here: http://jacketmagazine.com/40/at-cole-norma.shtml .  Norma Cole’s poetry has received many awards, and she teaches at the University of San Francisco.  The excerpt opens with the enigmatic:

false suns
shining through
ice crystals
what is known
to the senses

myself or outside
the paintings
of flowers

What false suns? How is being outside the paintings of flowers count, and how does it remove suspicion? We’re not told. The second section is equally baffling:


thing in suspension
that was
is far from

pretending a
circled piece of

air – the fantasy
of being

But introduces military service we are exempt form, and possibly other things, if the ‘ultramarine sky’ is included in the sequence.  Possibly also the ‘age of treason’, though that may link to the following lines:


military service
ultramarine sky
age of treason

supports or contests
breaking news in
the killer’s space

The next section is more mundane:

the fire or
a day of

where did they
house the horses

source of light
the plant

closed. By the
willingness to
stay – he was

But becomes gradually more impressionist, with things we can recognize as snapshots of consciousness:

distraught, pulling
his shirt, his blue
tie over his face

white orchids

hanging over
the city

Little in-jokes:


smaller buildings
tongue in cheek
the city itself
did not change

on this day
80% of the people
missed each other

And much else:

cars beyond
bamboo fence
sound of coffee
nobody wanted

to hear that

More than that your reviewer cannot say. The second piece is also an excerpt, from Helen, A Fugue, by E. Tracy Grinnel. It can be read here:
http://jacketmagazine.com/40/at-grinnell-tracy.shtml. The piece comes with instructions:

Helen, A Fugue is structured in parts, which follow a pattern of beats
(in the theatrical sense): eight groups of four. Parts may be assigned
to one or two voices, since they mirror one another. The beats are
indicated by “stanza” breaks and these spaces should be observed as
silences. Commas and caesuras should be taken very literally as
pauses within beats, so that a comma or caesura (or both) at the
beginning or within a beat is a rhythmic indicator to the reader. The
duration of the silence indicated by commas and caesuras can be
determined freely but should be consistent relative to one another,
and the beats.

It may be better to quote one section in its entirety, so that readers can make their own assessments of what here seems a dissociation of consciousness:

Part IV:

tongues, I
throttle among

, my
limbs are, thumbs
phantom-fleeing, succumbing
, upon reflection

shots rung out
in lines, of image-

convictions made, of stones
, pebbles,            unturned, the urns

follow my,
city, pursue

, body-figures
, cut and calloused
my, pyre

flood, swallows
, gone

messages slant from
rubble, trapped just, quartets

, as if,
the end of time

disaster’s animals
restrained, in rooms

whatsoever the dark,
earth, loves

returns, from it
every front line, rendered

lost what’s, all
is, what I lay
, here

the walls shall have it all

cloaked in songs, the brawls
hereafter, the place, I
, no more identify, than love, I
the undersigned

That dissociation is seen in the next poem, by Paul Foster Johnson, though it’s good more deal intelligible. Bronx Safe Room can be read here:

The opening lines set the scene:

Poverty obliges
a Bronx full of battlements.

Which contrasts outward architectural appearance with its street life:

Either the crystal city dispersed
or stayed fierce and polygonal
but probably dispersed
into apocalyptic slums.

However attractive it seemed from a distance:

Racing to the city
lent illusory plenitude
excitement with no object.

Though that superficial attraction is something everything possesses

When I engaged my mother in my diagnosis
her words radiated mystery.

Close to:

I may have synaesthesia
or a memoir eroded by stress
into so many pixels.

Or at a distance:

Crosscurrents of consumer desire
in the Harlem River
stoked from a distance.

Geraldine Monk’s Decade Dance can be read here: http://jacketmagazine.com/40/at-monk-geraldine.shtml Geraldine Monk has been publishing from the 1970s and the piece featured has a very welcome humour, opening with:

Two Thousand and Ten again.
I suppose it’s time we apologised to Mr and
Mrs Neanderthal for
dashing out their yam noodles against
their last cave of
pots and lip gloss –
I never for a minute thought
they were
Millwall fans.

And then telling us it’s the new year again:

Old moon.
Wolf moon.
Moon after Yule.
Ice Moon.
Gone January missing moon.
Though we are not quite ourselves yet:
To wake so early on the
new year
with wings
blotting shimmer with
massive move of dream
retreat through
slits of eyelids –
what on earth?
Hey Archaeopteryx!
What on earth are you doing here in
my inner city?

Then follow charming vignettes

The owl disappeared itself hours ago
down the warped gullet of a
dreary decade or maybe
Minerva stole it away making space for the
first bird
and its lost flock.

Which make us think:

The supernatural is full on and fierce.

Much evocative and pleasing nonsense follows:

funerals flood us with ourselves –
our memory is now all of you.
In my best mute face I tried to read the
secret recipe for hedgehog pasties now
buried for ever under a glorious


And life is really not so bad:

all in a moonless month
full of fabulous birds and their absence

A little of that humour appears in Alli Warren’s three poems, all on culinary matters, which can be read here.
I’ll quote one in its entirety: Some Greater Social Sharing

with two eyes fixed
on one profile

doing the pre
emptive poke

fetching and carrying
the cake as functionaries

in the hay
in which we are

seized only later
on in perpetuity

we do this daily
we sink our teats

in the sauce
there’s very little

one can say exactly
except to point

in parting what
one does is blink

Related Website Pages

Postmodernist peots. http://www.textetc.com/modernist/postmodernists.html

Experimental poetry. http://www.textetc.com/modernist/experimental-poetry.html

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