Fence Books, 2016
Winner of the Ottoline Prize Selected by Brenda Hillman
What is it to be contemporary with one’s time? The exaltation of the quotidian! These are dystopic times surely: broken intercoms, “American infrastructure getting a D”, samsara breathing in & out of each individual pore. Human heartbreak in all the realms, from the suffering of beloved animals, to emotional intensity of partners, friends. It’s highly charged, pithy and “personal”. What makes this interesting is not only Szymaszek’s honest engagement with particulars of blood, guts, vomit, sick rat etcetera but also her chosen form: short quips, slashes, epigrammatic poetry that hits hard and fast on the senses. She’s shadow boxing with the phenomenal world! We also get bird’s-eye view from within the dynamic downtown New York poetry scene veering back and forth to Carroll Gardens and its colorful contrasting dailyness. The voting line is slowest there. Icons Walt Whitman, Peter Hujar, Joan Mitchell, Robert Duncan surface as the macaroon shop closes. Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals is a brilliant tantric meditation on the endlessly fascinating urban charnel ground.
Read this book. Carry it with you like a psalter. The poet’s journal becomes my journal as all distinctions between author and reader dissolve into my days/daze. An inventory of pet peeves, pet virtues, and pet loves, this collection recalls the lessons of Everybody’s Autobiography and Stanzas In Meditation, two very different aspects of Gertrude Stein both found here. Word stelae mark the mourning of lost feelings to rejuvenate our devotions. Stunning enjambments and astute diagonal slashes are used to separate file and folder names in path statements. A Baedeker’s guide to future ruins. Each line is a testament to timeless preoccupations with diet, attachments, and mortality. The poet’s family is our family. We are sick. We are well. This book is the poetic equivalent of Michel Foucault’s The Care of the Self. Moral, cunning, and passionate, Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals traverses country to city, reporting news of crumbling aqueducts, the dyspepsia of public life, and antiquity in its last days. Our bodies, our buildings, our pleasures—this volume becomes us.
It is the rare gift of Stacy Szymaszek’s Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals that the ordinary, in all its beautiful complexities, is extraordinary. These are journals of pure human yearning mid-grime and love, mid-ordinary anxieties (landlords, health, toxic waste, bloody leakings of the ill animal on every thing in the house, the patience of that). Initially poetically restrained as if to fend off the ugly, the walking body increasingly streams “ordinary” sadness: Greenpoint, the East Village (toenail fungus of a shoeless man sitting), the subway, the apartment—until almost opera in the best Pasolini sense. I love the graphic tracking of dark and light of domestic love, of the beloved dog’s last hard hours, of work, friendship. “journal of ugly sites” is a dazzling pulsing rendering of a time and place where poetry is made.