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Book Review:
Satellite Convulsions:
Poetry From Tin House

by Tin House Books

satellite convulsions poems from tin houseWhat can be said of a compilation from years of a single publication? The poetry has all been seen before and the journal - in this case, one of the most recognized contemporary journals to emerge from the postmodern milieu - showcases work that is self-selected and purported to be among its best. How does one judge the merit of the "work"?

Tin House, the journal, needs no introduction. Since its inaugural issue in 1999 Tin House Magazine has been presenting the world with interviews, fiction, poetry, and essays from some of today's top writers. The names are easily recognizable. And many of them are included in Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House. But just as telling of the book's quality, many of the names of poets included won't be recognized at all. That doesn't mean their poems are any less meritorious.

Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House is printed on excellent grade paper and perfectly bound with a heavy stock cover. It won't be confused with a cheap rag. The cover art is unobtrusive and appropriate to the title. It doesn't draw undue attention to itself with its dark blue backdrop and lighter blue contrasting "convulsions". There is nothing to complain about there.

My copy of the book came with uneven page cuts such that the edge opposite the binding feels ruffled. This is typically caused by less care taken in the production of the book, either in the cutting of the pages such that some are longer than others or in the placement of the paper so that prior to the gluing of the book's binding the pages slip to create the uneven open edge where the paper meets fingers and air. It makes flipping the pages more difficult, but if one were really interested in flipping more than reading then one has the wrong idea anyway. The real worth of the book - any book - is on the inside.

Of course, it could be that the copy that was sent to me was a "throw away" copy not meant for sale. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be fair not to mention the imperfection.

Tin House editors include some great names in Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House. Among the voices are Billy Collins, Rae Armantrout, Frank Bidart, Mark Doty, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Pablo Neruda, James Tate, Charles Simic, Sharon Olds, Bin Ramke, Seamus Heaney, Jane Hirshfield, and a host of other literary heavyweights. The title of the collection comes from one of the poems in the book titled "Satellite Convulsions", crafted by Ben Doller, a fairly new voice in poetics.

Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House is strikingly bold in its presentations and includes a wide breadth of work in terms of style and subject matter. Some of the poems border on porn. Others are clean as a whistle. Some titillate like a pornographic whistle. There are poems to love and poems to hate. And believe me, I ran the range.

But there is a lot to be said for diversity, and Tin House has it.

I tried to find a poem that would encompass the essence of style that is exhibited in Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House, but the task proved futile. There is no "typical" poem in this collection. There is only uniqueness. But the following lines from the late Amy Bartlett should tie together the two eras of the magazine's life, namely, Bartlett's, who was the poetry editor before succumbing to cancer, and her successor Brenda Shaughnessy.
In the fresco only the angels are agitated. They tumble and cavort in the night sky like children on the edge of a party. The night behind them is a scrim. Already the light of the resurrection fills the sky.
If you can get past the introduction by Shaughnessy (and I recommend that you skip it and just move right to the poetry for she has nothing of serious importance to say) then you are sure to find the gizzard of 21st century poetics as it has been captured in the life of Tin House Magazine. All in all, however, what you'll find is best said through the words of C.J. Evans in his Forword:

…at Tin House we like to break the rules, especially the rule that says a magazine is better served in the twenty-first century without poetry. Instead, we believe that poetry doesn't have to be stodgy, academic, elitist, my-mommy-didn't-love me crap. Poetry can be as sexy as any scantily clad youth, as gritty as war reportage, as grim as the best fake memoir. We don't care about the argument of whether poetry is dead or not. We don't care about schools or who dubs whom what. We care about the ability of a poem to leave us changed at the break of every line.

Tin House Books' Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House is sexy, gritty, and grim. The poems on its pages will leave you changed, perhaps not on every line, but at least from time to time.

Purchase your copy of

Satellite Convulsions: Poetry From Tin House
by Tin House Books

right now.

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