The Return of Micro-Review Mondays: The Obligatory Garnish Argument by Meg Ronan

We are thrilled to announce the return of Micro-Review Mondays, with Brian Foley paving the way and bringing us mini-review morsels to start each week of right. Check back each Monday for one or two little delights. Enjoy!

The Obligatory Garnish Argument
by Meg Ronan
Springgun Press

 A distrust in decoration reaches back as far as Plato, who thought ornamentation a symptom of deceit drawn from what he deemed the poet’s affinity for the “divinity of madness.” In the Obligatory Garnish Argument, one of Meg Ronan’s arguments chimes, “But of course, my aunt told me not long ago/ the crazier I get the more she wants to read!/ So maybe that’s it…you are all just waiting for me to crack.”

The word obligatory drawing attention to the poet’s awareness to the fact that poetical language is itself often persecuted as no more necessary than a parsley sprig on a plate, Meg Ronan’s first collection is a multi-modal display of voice intentionally alternating between confidence and neurotic uncertainty towards the medium she chooses to use.

The self-titled poems interspersed throughout are three-line stanzas of dynamic, microtonal word play, continually in flux, but keeping the argument in refrain. At their best these poems are reminiscent of Stein’s Tender Buttons, a book that might also be considered a garnish argument. 

Cut throughout the rest of the book is another meta-voice, pleading at the reader to stop, repeating “why are you still reading this”, “why are you still suffering” in numerous ways. The effect is charming, smart, often funny, as this admission of guilt welcomes the reader in more than it pushes out.

Yet despite the warning shots to back off, it’s an ironic move, as Ronan knows this is a conversation that needs to be had, as shown in the final poem

an argument so efficient as to
unglue all that metaphysic gloom, so
perfumed a premise, yes, the obligatory garnish argument

 —Brian Foley

iO: A Journal of New American Poetry » A CONVERSATION WITH: BRIAN FOLEY

A constellation’s a man-made illusion of connection. Its up to us to make them appear. Every stars’ it’s own island. But so what. They’re still beautiful and unfamiliar each night if you want them to be. So we continue with the stories. We make a shape and feel better.


The Constitution is my attempt at a shape.


--Brian Foley in iO: A Journal of New American Poetry

The Self Unstable Web Roundup

The internet is abuzz this week with Elisa Gabbert's The Self Unstable. Click the linked text to read up!

Find new poems by Elisa up at PEN, a sneak peak of her poems in the forthcoming anthology from Black Ocean, Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (ed. Andrew Ridker, Black Ocean 2014).

Read a review of The Self Unstable in The New Inquiry:

These lines are like tweets I would like to favorite: “If you find anything other than food or sex interesting, it’s signaling.” “To have enemies is a coming of age.” “Regret is a kind of certainty.” “In the moment, we value stability, but we prefer our painful memories.” “Schadenfreude complicates utilitarianism.”

And another on H_NGM_N's Tumbr:

The poem-essay things sort of eat their own tails when they work well. (But I would not say the word “ouroboros,” which is not exactly the same thing.) My favorite ones nimbly navigated authority and skepticism and wonder.

Then give yourself a treat by reading this interview with Gabbert and Travis Nichols:

But writing comes out of life; you can't write anything interesting in an isolation tank. Experience, thought, talk all feed into the work and are thus part of the work. You can't extricate writing from life.

Get in on the conversation yourself! Purchase your copy of The Self Unstable here.

LitBridge Features The Self Unstable

You can find a short interview and profile of The Self Unstable right now on LitBridge. In the interview, Elisa Gabbert speaks about her latest Black Ocean explaining how it came about: 

I started writing this book about four years ago, after my first book was published. I had started a job that involved a lot of writing and was finding it difficult to transition from writing prose all day into writing traditional lineated “poetry” in my off hours. 

Read the rest here.

Swamp Isthmus Reviewed

Colorado Review and Cutbank both reviewed Swamp Isthmus Recently.

On the Colorado Review, Virginia Konchan writes:

Wilkinson is one of the foremost pioneers in documentary (and erasure) poetics, which scripts postmodern cartographic texts occupied with the burden and joy, post-war, of sifting through psychic curios and actual remains in search of lyric presence...

Read the review in full here

On Cutbank Online, Caitlin Cowan begins:

You might call Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s latest book “minimalist.” But you would be wrong. The slim volume and its trim, precise, untitled poems certainly take up little real estate, but the lines contained therein shine and shatter in unexpected, exhilarating ways. A kaleidoscope of figures that are by turns menacing and elegant, Swamp Isthmus investigates chilly panoramas of longing in a way that urges us to question both who we are and who is on our side.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

Did you know Swamp Isthmus made Coldfront's Top 40 Poetry Books of 2014? Get your copy here.

Two in the Top 40

Two Black Ocean titles have been honored with a listing in Coldfront Magazine's Top 40 Poetry Books for 2013. 

Swamp Isthmus by Joshua Marie Wilkinson weighs in at #39:

The book sustains this continuum of private and public in a way that commands our attention again and again and raises the questions of what can or needs to be known. In the book’s front matter, we are informed that Swamp Isthmus is the second book in Wilkinson’s No Volta pentalogy, and this knowledge extends the possibilities of the book beyond the first and last pages. Most importantly, it frees us to let the poetry wash over us, let the poems simply be, and to look around our own lives and determine what matters and why.

and Elisa Gabbert's The Self Unstable is #8:

These poems awaken our curiosities regarding the human life and its possibility for holding any real purpose. They are philosophical yet pragmatic. They don’t expect too much of the truth; they teach us satisfaction with life’s “continual climbing, with no resolution—just an ever-building terror” because, like the self, the truth is unstable.

Check out the list in full here, and be sure to add these books to yours.

Tattooing the Moon

It's been three years since we first made our offer of a free lifetime subscription to anyone who gets a tattoo inspired by one of our books. Since then several people have taken us up on the offer. This newest piece of art comes from Abby K. of Brooklyn:

The moon cycle tattoo on her left shoulder was inspired by the chapter artwork in Rauan Klassnik's second book, The Moon's Jaw.

For anyone else interested in getting every future Black Ocean title for the rest of your life, see our original post for details on how to qualify. For all of you who have already inked your love on your skin for us, we can't even begin to express how moved we are!

The Next Monsters Reviewed

The Next Monsters has been reviewed in Heavy Feather Review and on The Rumpus. 

In David Peak's review on Heavy Feather Review's website, he begins:

Doxsee’s poems are shattered mirrors; they are fractured, jagged. If you stare at them long enough, you’ll uncover patterns in the chaos, hints of a larger image that was perhaps banished to a new and frightening dimension when the mirror was broken—like the big moment at the end of Prince of Darkness that leaves you feeling unwell. 

Read the rest of the review HERE.

In Kent Shaw's review of The Next Monsters on The Rumpus, Shaw compares Doxsee's collection to sculptures by Carol Brove. He considers how the poems are meant to be encountered, and how they engage and by his reading, even antagonize. 

The style reminds me, actually, of these newish sculptures by the artist Carol Bove. Bove arranges sea shells using metal rods to hold them in place. The whole piece is very severe, and I often feel antagonized by the work. Why? I don’t know. I feel challenged. I feel like there is an excess of control in the pieces. And that’s what I like them for.

Read the review HERE.

Want in on the conversation? Purchase your copy of The Next Monsters today.

Vouched Books with Elisa Gabbert

Check out this interview by Vouched Books with Elisa Gabbert, whose new book The Self Unstable is now available from Black Ocean. In the interview, Gabbert talks about genre designations, some of the book's inspirations, why she wants the book to "make good bathroom reading," the digital self, and more. 

Why anyone would want to encourage more confrontations with the absurd, I don’t know, but I suppose that’s what I’m doing here. Or if not provoking those moments, at least thinking about them.

Read the interview in full HERE.

Is The Self Unstable on Your Holiday List?

Newly available from Black Ocean, Elisa Gabbert's The Self Unstable is finding its way onto many holiday lists this season, including The New Yorker's and HTMLGiant's. The New Yorker describes The Self Unstable as a "wonderful surprise," and HTMLGiant praises its ability to "[unsettle] the role of truth and [interrogate] the “I” in both literary and daily life."

Want The Self Unstsable in your home for the holidays? Click here to purchase (free shipping as always!).


Read The Best Books of 2013 in the New Yorker here.

Read a 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide by HTMLGiant here.

What else are you hoping to read this winter?


This Saturday, 11/16, at the Boston conference of the phenomenal TEDx speaker series, Michael Zapruder will play some songs from his PINK THUNDER project. Here's what the TEDx organizers have to say:



Experience Pink Thunder, contemporary American poems set to music, composed and performed by artist and former head music curator of Pandora, Michael Zapruder. Pink Thunder was selected by the Boston Globe as the best poetry book of 2012 and called “a work of extraordinary merit and historical significance” by the Huffington Post.


Pre-order Now! Elisa Gabbert's The Self Unstable Available Soon

We are excited to announce a forthcoming November release. Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable (coming November 10) combines elements of memoir, philosophy, and aphorism to explore and trouble our ideas of the self, memory, happiness, aesthetics, love, and sex. With a sense of humor and an ability to find glimmers of the absurd in the profound, she uses the lyric essay like a koan to provoke the reader’s reflection—unsettling the role of truth and interrogating the “I” in both literary and daily life: “The future isn’t anywhere, so we can never get there. We can only disappear.” 

Read a sample on They Will Sew the Blue Sail.

Pre-order your copy now (free shipping as always) and get it while it's hot! Available directly from Black Ocean HERE.

DJ Dolack on Tour

We know many of you are as big fans of DJ Dolack as we are. We're thrilled to have published Whittling a New Face in the Dark recently (get your copy here!), and are excited to see him on tour with Paige Ackerson Kiely and Kate Greenstreet. Check out this post and see where you can catch them. Don't miss it!


Black Ocean Coldfront Residency

We hope you've been following along with Black Ocean's Song of the Week residency on Coldfront. This week Rauan Klassnik (The Moon's Jaw, Holy Land) talks about "The Teacher" by Big Country, and catch up on past weeks with Joe Hall (The Devotional Poems, Pigafetta Is My Wife), Zach Savich (forthcoming!), Joshua Marie Wilkinson (Swamp Isthmus), and Joshua Harmon (Scape).

Stay tuned to the blog/Facebook/Twitter for future posts!

Interview with Joshua Marie Wilkinson on Swamp Isthmus

Swamp Isthmus is a book about the sad and wonderful clunkiness of being alive in a body that will soon be so much dust. Whatever we might try to glean from history from the materials available to us, we’re being blasted forward away from deeper understanding. Faulkner’s well-known statement that “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past” also loomed large. And I think the book’s propulsion forward yet backward looking curiosity—fraught with violence, upheaval, desire, etc.—is trying to account for both of those concerns: our lack of understanding history as its preeminent lesson, and that the past’s not passed—its dead are presiding over us.

I want my poems to goad at and fail at and long for something bigger, even if it’s steeped in impossibility.

--Joshua Marie Wilkinson, interviewed by Christopher Nelson

Swamp Isthmus on The Rumpus

What is it like to read Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s poetry?

It is like being caught in a flash mob of fine language and finding yourself swaying along. It is like twisting a kaleidoscope and watching the images swirl together, then split apart with deliberate and deceptive grace. It is the way I imagine it would be if I found myself suddenly lodged inside a snow globe, just as some gentle hand begins to tilt it upside down, and then all at once it is snowing, and the whole familiar world is made strange again—unsettled, unhinged, and perceptibly more beguiling.

Swamp Isthmus by Joshua Marie Wilkinson reviewed on The Rumpus by Julie Marie Wade

Get your copy here.