121.1: John Latta:: Tenacity and Release & Stuff and Fixity 121

In anticipation of writing this introduction, I looked up biographies of John Latta. I read about his travels to France, his extensive experience with bookbinding, a childhood spent in what he calls the “Jack pine savage” part of Michigan. But what struck me most about Latta’s biography is the number and diversity of the jobs he’s taken on over the years. Only a poet with experience as a janitor and as editor for Early English Books Online could produce the work we showcase in this issue of The Offending Adam. Yes, it would be easy for me to label these poems fun, playful, eccentric, and erudite; but what’s more difficult for me to describe is the way that Latta has gotten to know each of his sentences.

I would say that Latta has given us a community of sentences rather than a block of sentences. The semantic difference is as relevant to his poetry as it would be to an urban planner. These sentences skip rope together. They share recipes. Some even yell through the wall. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, look no further than the first two sentences in “Tenacity and Release.” We begin with the sappy generalist and then run into the frank realist. Or take the observation of a nun kicking her leg back as she creates a figure-eight on ice in the poem “Stuff and Fixity.” After this image of the nun, we meet a “pile up” of words that accumulate from silence, words that are “reprobate, impoverished, scattered.” One sentence seems to take on the role of nun, another the role of mischievous Catholic school boys. In each of these poems, I think of Latta still on the “inside,” the janitor who overhears every drip, every gasp and every rumor in the cracks between sentences. And I for one am grateful he has never left this job. Ryan Winet

Tenacity and Release

Isn’t all writing a furious rosy cathectic in pieces barely assembled? No. ‘Sleeping back to back like two sticks of bamboo.’ Aptly labeled polysemous jerkwater akin to ‘Goodness, it’s nearly midnight.’ At the continent’s peaks, the banal and the audacious bow one to the other. Pleas’d to meet Miss Beecher. See Mark Twain’s wily smutch: ‘Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.’ Oh conceit of the salient, pathos of the reified: a male condor of the Sisquoc wilderness flyway is up for grabs off eBay. Hostile, pent-up and unpredictable, though skilled at fluid release mechanisms, dams, baffles, and the like. Like dying out at the final chord surrounded by an ocean of clarinets. I mock the horizon, its razor-edge of blue interrupted by galleons, buccaneers at the helm. I mock the worthy confect, its mincemeat, its adherence, its gloomy tenacity. The country is somewhere hereabouts; that country is, for love, starv’d.

Stuff and Fixity

The shouts of the skaters coming across the pond at the convent’s periphery arrive unscathed and diminished, with the collapsible white sheen of unintelligibility. Snow squall, watered silk, sunspot, v. o. re-dub. Words fetched off an illimitable shelf of words. A kind of torn fabric, ‘stuff’ without menace or intent, out of the French étoffe (meaning material), a loose skein of mouth-forged things. Mondays it’s the nuns who go skating, in long black greatcoats with white collars tall as sails, noiselessly turning and turning with the industry of belief. One repeatedly cuts a figure eight, grinding slowly backwards, one leg extended out behind. The lift of the leg pitches the bulky torso slightly earthward so that the nun reads the single groove emerging off the toe of the skate in the wettest immediacy of its making. So we speak of the burdens of speech by remaining silent, so words pile up—reprobate, impoverished, scattered. Drafts of heaven to rebut the canny meliorists, to dodge the breezily officious, to counter the smug fixity of things.