17 May 2014

12 June 2008

Review of Ten/Ampersands by Clarence Wolfshohl

Ten Poems About East Asia & Kitsch Nebula Ampersands And, by Ralph-Michael Chiaia (Coatlism Press, ISBN 978-0-9802073-0-9, pb, $13.95)

The press release for Ralph-Michael Chiaia’s Ten Poems About East Asia & Kitsch nebula Ampersands And calls it a book of experimental poems. What do we make of such a label? We could consider any free verse poem experimental or any genuine attempt to say something new and personal in any form as an experiment in language. But obviously something more specific is meant if we say “experimental poem.” Something that is out of the ordinary—perhaps extraordinary—and displaces the familiar.

As the title may indicate, this book is two chapbooks in one, and the first section—Ten Poems About Asia—is fairly familiar unless you count the poems. There are twelve. The titles are place names from Asia, and the poems are visual or psychological snapshots of those places. Of the cities, as in “Bangkok,” which catches the multiplicity:

It’s moving like its [sic] set to bhangra music:

all the massage parlors, clothing stores,

schoolgirls in uniform, perverts.

It’s seething like a flu patient

yet calm as a Buddhist in prayer

wearing his shaved head and saffron robe.

Or of individuals, as in “Kuala Lumpur”:

She’s up early to go to law class

in her tank top and skirt

sunglasses on.

The Imam sings.

After a movie

she’s on the grass with a notebook under her

looking at the twin Islamic star towers.

The Imam sings.

And the snapshots cannot avoid the history of the last half-century. In “Phnom Penh (circa 1975)”

. . . the Khmer Army,

all boys,

took all the guys wearing glasses,

the doctors, the teachers,

the nurses

to labor camps

the killing fields . . .

In “Phnom Penh Revisited”

one little girl still retains

the moves of ancient Khmer dance

her mother kept its secret in her blood

throughout the labor camps

of the Khmer Rouge.

In the second section of the book, as again the title may indicate, the poems are more consciously experimental. Sometimes with subject matter—“Ode to the Pillow,”

“Ode to the & sign (the ampersand)”—or sometimes with form as in the four parts of “Conversation between Person and Mushroom” scattered throughout the section. The poems in the second section abound in wordplay, as the opening line or URL of “Error 4(♥)9, 357”:


or the intricate assonant music of

it’s damn tough to tie one on

easier to untie bras

regret it the next time you see

her, an unending ethics question:

restraint. Better to get slain

by indulgence rather than restraint. (“Mind Slain in Nebulae”)

Chiaia’s formalistic experiments appeal to our curiosity, but his experiments in conjuring a familiar world in a personal language are compelling. We get both in this nicely produced book from Coatlism Press. The press and Ralph-Michael Chiaia are new to the small press world, and I look forward to more from both.

19 April 2008

Joe La Rosa reviews "Ten Poems & Ampersands"

The poems in this slim volume prove that the beat aesthetic is not dead, or a mere remnant of the dim past. I don't subscribe to the term 'experimental' because it implies that the work is an expedient means to an end and does not stand for itself, so to speak. That may be fine for the discipline of science, but it's antithetical when applied to poetry and art in general.
With few words Ralph-Michael Chiaia avails essences of places, transforming cities into states of mind and being that manifest themselves in lightning flashes of revelation. Personal memory gives out to a broader, collective phenomenon of mutual recognition of places and things at once strange and eerily familiar. The images and syntax invoke deja vu-like sensations of what it might feel like to be remembering the memories of someone other than oneself.
The poet is adept at mixing haiku with spontaneous bop prosody, stark visual illumination with a playful lyrical sense, resulting in effects that are the products of the paralogical discipline exemplary of all fine art. At times an otherworldly light shines through the lines and one can almost see the face of the poet caught in the mesh of time, unconscious of being glimpsed by a future self in anticipation of its emergence from the deep sleep of meditation upon its own reflection in the still waters of what Lorca called "dark sounds."
The language in these poems is bold, striking at the core of awareness itself as the phenomenological world unveils its anatomical scaffolding in one sudden illumination after another. In the momentous process of this existential exposition the poet never loses the enthusiasm for sheer play characteristic of all beautiful art. Modernity, in the spectral manifestations of the high-tech trappings amidst which we find ourselves choicelessly embroiled, avails itself in the poems in its tenuous, hallucinatory charms and fragmented concentrations upon the intrepid details in which the daemons of its glory and inescapable doom are to be found, hidden in plain sight in the very places we always expected to find them.
Joe La Rosa

Lo Galluccio reviews RMC's chapbook

Ten Poems About East Asia &
Kitsch Nebula Ampersands And

Poems by Ralph-Michael Chiaia

Coatlism Press, copyright 2007

Pages = 47.

Review by Lo Galluccio

Genius book. I wanted to review it because it’s about a part of the world—East Asia -- I only begin to see through the faces and ideas of my Korean and Japanese students at Berlitz. This is not a book about that part of Asia, however, except for a few poems about Seoul. What’s super-cool though is this book is also full of what I like about experimental work: his code lists, symbols, concrete language and wild juxtapositions of great post-modern verse.

“I like to keep perspective,” Suzanne Vega adroitly sings. So does Chiaia. (His bio says that he resides on Long Island but travels the world armed with his pens and laptop-- you can tell.) This book is an enticing travelogue of portraits of places and people from New York City to Singapore.

His wings are in the mixture of cultural references, combined with a love of Asian ambience and history, and New York’s splaying multi-cultural virtues and vices. The first part of the book, Part 1, “Ten Poems about East Asia” are dedicated to his homeland of East Asia, notably Thailand. (This is my guess, though it is not explicitly stated.) Although he writes with a conscientious and lucid notation of many catastrophes-- only one of which is a scorched Vietnam from the U.S. War against it-- there is a playfulness and richness of language that seems to come from the decadence of a narcotic-filled nights in Bangkok or Hong Kong.


“She’s up in the afternoon

nose stuffed up from too much

alcohol. She washes the cum off her.


hope that tomorrow

will be real

not another fantasy --

her cellphone buzzes.”

p. 14

On the close of the Vietnam War in Phnom Penh he snaps this shot:

(circa 1975):

“the motorcycles dust bowl

the place now

where the Khmer Army,

all boys,

took all the guys wearing glasses,

the doctors, the teachers,

the nurses

to labor camps

to the killing fields

to the Teng Sleng”

p. 12

The Kitsch Part 2 Section is full of Odes to many things. There are several sarcastic but true enough Odes to America that hit hard and funny. Here’s one example:


“America big baby playing with toys

nobody else has

in a room full of boys.”

p. 33

Against this stake to the heart of America’s big boy greed and ridiculousness is a Ginsberg-esque piece called, “Ode for the Fucking Sake of it” that captures the freedom and cravings the US engenders & which suddenly darkens down with an iteration of 9/11.

“I want

the honking, smell of knishes and sauerkraut

and delicious peanuts that taste like shit

I want

The Latinas with hoops and jeeps

the parks and it’s craziness:

man in grey suit playing flute

woman in fountain giving speech

SWAT team in gear

Invisible on rooftops, in vans…”

“the bodegas selling dope

speaking Spanish

the passersby blowing kisses at men’s dates

the many saying yum to the tall girl in heels

the dog run, the chess tables, the arches….”

And then a jumbo jet turns right back into the World Trade Towers and Chiaia returns us to the brutal realities under the surface, or just behind them now, where other brutalities have taken their place:

“the terrorist attacks, the steel burning, the buildings falling,

the smoke that stayed, hovered, stank

of burning flesh and steel

the following antipathy, altruism, and apathy.”

Chiaia is a unique trip-hoppy visionary of language and this book encompasses war and peace, lyricism and death, and hit or miss mixes with strangers, especially women. It’s cover is forest green swirled with an image of a battleship the color of money and spring.

by Lo Galluccio

Ibbetson St. Press

29 February 2008

Buy Ralph-Michael Chiaia's chapbook

Ten Poems about East Asia
& Kitsch Nebula Ampersands And

by Ralph-Michael Chiaia

47 pages

Limited Edition (37 printed)
Perfect Bound Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9802073-0-9
Coatlism Press

Buy Now through Paypal (all credit cards welcome) or by check via snail mail.

Book Description:
Ten Poems about East Asia and Kitsch Nebula Ampersands And by Ralph-Michael Chiaia is a book of experimental poems, some of which were published online and many of which appear for the first time in these pages. This book has the simple charm of a haiku mixed with the rant of a Ginsberg poem. Those familiar with Chiaia’s work know that his minimal approach speaks in loud primal bass notes. In his first collection of poetry he has sat in with a string quartet and rocked it through stacked Bose speakers.

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