Louise Landes Levi

A review of two books from Shivastan Press

Independent publishing is an increasing rarity in the corporate dimension in which we are, by the merciless law of the state & the state of affairs in the new millennium, compelled to live and hopefully, despite obstacles, to evolve. Shivastan Press, w. books printed in Katmandu, Nepal & distributed fr. Woodstock, NY, is the rare exception, printing handcrafted finely-illustrated chapbooks by some of the finest poets of our times, both those known & those lesser known.

Ira Cohen has an international reputation as film maker, photographer, story teller & eclectic poet. The treasury of images & the symbolic correspondences to which his mind seems so particularly adapted have found their way into esoteric collections around the globe, but if one is not in the privileged situation of being his friend, his work is not that easy to access. Large collections of his photography are now being published, one, albeit in Germany, Up Close & Personal (Papageien Verlag); but, regrettably, no inclusive collection of his poetry is as yet forthcoming. Each of his chapbooks thus offers a rare glimpse of the poet’s mind, his dedication to the muse & his insight into the mysteries exceeding her.

Whatever You Say May Be Held Against You, handwritten on Nepalese rice paper, is illustrated w. the author’s portrait of Allen Midgette, “the last of the moccasins” (to whom the book is dedicated), several of the poet’s own collages in black & white & a portrait of the poet by Marco Bakker handsomely printed on the black back cover of the rice paper book.

The poems span a broad time cycle, beginning w. Cohen's seminal work in Katmandu fr. the mid to late seventies, where he also fathered Bardo Matrix Press, in some ways the predecessor to Shivastan, the one in which his work is now represented.

fr. Himalayan Journey
After 15 days/ walking in the Himalayas/we arrive at a strange place (Seta Gompa)/ at nightfall/ my head is empty of all thought/ as I enter the Lama’s room/ filled with great cauldrons/ & charred pots,/ golden ochres,/ Rembrandt browns/ the wood of demon masks/ gleaming under layers of/ smoke & butter/ Outside as the light breaks/ clouds above & below/ like a domed ceiling/ painted by Tiepolo.
Later & more recent poems concern the national & international crisis of 9/ll—(Cohen’s girlfriend is visiting & dreams about the catastrophe the night before it occurs.)

fr. Today's Headline (May 20 2002)
There’s a sucker born every minute/ is the credo of capitalism/The Age of Reason has come/ & gone/ with the wigs of/ authority & self interest/ It’s not them, it’s US
& the general artistic milieu of NYC, or what's left of it, when Cohen returns to his mother’s apartment on 106th & Broadway after years of world travel

fr. A Concert of Evening Ragas, in memoriam Pandit Pran
The discovery of poetry as an art of swimming/lucid breath in transparent water/ ...No fear of drowning/ in this ocean of sound.
Many of Cohen’s closest associates—Sheldon Rochlin, Vali & of course Angus MacLise—are given complex & sweet farewell by the poet who eulogizes them. At the same time, he prepares his own mind, w. a warmth that exceeds conjecture, for the inevitable.

fr. Creeley's Poem
by the time you figure this, that will overtake you/ archaic wonders, my ass, it’s the last inning. Time for some heroics/ Fame is faint in the mirror/ the man in black is my affinity.
Cohen has escaped category & has reason to both rue & celebrate his isolation. I was happy to see a generous selection of his poetry included in Chris Felver’s BEAT & recommend Whatever You Say to those unfamiliar with his work & also, of course, to those who have read his other recent chapbook, Chaos & Glory ( Elik Press). His aggressive script on delicate lokta rice paper will add an additional level of intimacy to the contemplation of his multi cultural & luminous poetic inquiry.

fr. Lost Words
It is the eye of the spirit which opens under water/when you seek you will not find me./ I am already here.
Whatever You Say is a collector’s item.

Shivastan has also published Laynie Browne’s evocation of the perennial philosophy, Original Presence, as part of its wide reaching publication &, in some cases, republication of esoteric works in the context of the late 20th century & the early millennium. Many of its authors—Anne Waldman, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Janine Pommy Vega—spent decades studying & traveling in the Far East, The Middle East & Asia in efforts to comprehend the roots of disaster in the occidental worlds & to first hand, absorb the last traces of the wisdom cultures of the East, even those threatened by consuming winds.

Laynie Browne & her contemporaries, Juliana Spahr, Lee Ann Brown et.al., born in the generation following the above-mentioned, did not take to the road, but stood firm, in their endeavors to create a post-beat sensibility & a new voice with which the greater Feminine might express itself. A generation of women writers emerged in America, 1985 & onward, for whom the Beat generation was NOT a major reference but whose model of collaboration & mutual sustenance nevertheless informed it.

In Original Presence, Laynie travels inward. The book is dedicated to Avram Davis, & the Cabalistic axis upon which the poetic intonation is turning & to which it is tuned is unmistakable. The book is again printed on rice paper & is illustrated w. surreal & poignantly detailed collage by Toni Simon, an illustrator of other works by Brown, Web of Argiope (Phylum Press) & Pollen Memory (Tender Buttons).

Toni Simon: Girls' Faces

Original Presence is divided into 3 parts: The Girl of Salt, A Quiet Flame & Sudden Inscription. Laynie’s exquisite line, her ability to condense her voice into near crystalline essence is evident through out.
I went to see the girl of salt/ She gave herself to water-/She gave herself to question/ She was nowhere apparent & yet I went to her
Laynie defines, redefines & undefines her search.
The salt girl can reconstitute hersellf and leave the sea/ girl of wax/ girl of paper/ not the watcher/ but the center...
Brown makes indirect reference to hermetic teachings & their language systems but does not depart fr the stylistic innovations that qualify the aesthetic formulations of the century she inhabits. The tensions between the urgency of her meditation, the maintenance of her personal linguistic & the richness of the metaphor she inherits formulate the matrix & mysterious lucidity of this text.

Quiet Flame introduces substance to the seeker’s domain
the candle alone shines of itself and for itself/ practice of the maiden’s chamber/wherever the line is the sand
whereas in Sudden Inscription
Nevertheless, my closed eyelids are encoded with breathing letters/Do you say then language is a garb? A cloth with which to cover the raw head of vowels?
the author reclaims her autonomy.
You write upon my hand as if to say/ Come goblet, come fixture of mind/ Remember the liquid cunning of the sky/Return to my uniform of hands/ pressed upon you/ allowing you to stand.
One reads this book in acrobatic suspension,. sustained in a visionary apparatus, that like all true poetry, is nevertheless tuned to the fundamental of the human harmonic & to its form.

Brown is a master of the postmodern school & sensibility. Those who have followed her work—Rebecca Letters (Kelsey Str.), The Agency of Wind (avec) & Gravity’s Mirror (Primitive Press) et.al.—understand this. In Original Presence we are introduced to an esoteric journey. Brown crosses the divide bringing her study of ancient text to intimate contemporary presence.

Toni Simon: Octopus Woman

Typed script & surreal image, printed on the blankness—at times almost textual—of the rice paper page, bring a third element to the visual field, at times dissolving it completely.

Louise Landes Levi's The Deep Diamond, portions of which were included in issue two of Otoliths, is forthcoming as a Shivastan broadside.

Shivastan Press books are craftprinted in limited editons of 333 copies in Kathmandu, Nepal, & are distributed by the publisher, Shiv Mirabito, 54 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY 12498.

A selection of Ira Cohen's poetry, On Feet of Gold (poems 1968-87), was reprinted in connection w. a photography retrospective at the OCTOBER GALLERY, London, Nov. 2007 - Feb. 2008, & can be ordered on line from the publisher, Synergetic Press.

Laynie Browne´s latest book is Daily Sonnets, published by Counterpath Press, Denver.
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