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Joan Retallack, author

ISBN: 978-1-933959-40-5Cover image collage by Joan Retallack with detail from Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Earthly Delights,” Design & typesetting by HR Hegnauer04 01 2020126pp$20

Joan Retallack's BOSCH'D — “fables, moral tales & other awkward constructions” is passionate, transgressive and, albeit obliquely, optimistic that we can (but only with creative buoyancy) exhume a sense of viable futures for all species on this planet. The first of many BOSCH'D aphorisms states the opening condition this way: “Humor without gravitas passes through the mind with little effect; gravitas without humor is death.” With that, Retallack takes on the paradoxical, hence generative, dystopian logics she calls “our projectile legacies”— misogyny, racism, undaunted colonialism, and more. It’s where her playful and grave poetics of the poethical wager revs up. As the sun at noon illustrates all shadows, Hieronymus Bosch illuminated a beautiful and grotesque biosphere (see Fig. x) that, along with tender sensuality and ubiquitous love, was riddled with human follies and trespasses we've come to identify as the Anthropocene. “Bosch'd” (verb. trans.) does not yet appear in our lexicons. For some of its implications, we present this erudite, searching, and great-humored book.

Joan Retallack

Joan Retallack is a poet and essayist with a background in philosophy and visual arts. Poetry volumes include Errata 5uite (Edge Books) chosen by Robert Creeley for a Columbia Book Award; AFTERRIMAGES (Wesleyan); How To Do Things With Words (Sun & Moon Classics); Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont’d (Roof Books)—an Artforum Best Book of 2010. She has received a Lannan Poetry Award, a Pushcart Prize, and two Gertrude Stein Awards. Her friendship with John Cage led to MUSICAGE (Wesleyan), a volume of their conversations on Cage's compositional poetics. Retallack's The Poethical Wager (California) is a widely influential sequence of experimental essays on ethics and poetics, as well as the form of the essay itself. In 2018, Litmus Press published The Supposium: Thought Experiments and Poethical Play in Difficult Times, edited by Retallack as documentation and continuation of a MoMA event she organized in collaboration with Black Dada artist Adam Pendleton. BOSCH'D—Fables, Moral Tales & Other Awkward Constructions rejiggers ancient and contemporary wagers on textual forms of "poethical courage." With gravitas and humor, Retallack considers our species' best and worst proclivities in medias res of the Anthropocene.

Photo by David Garland

Praise for BOSCH'D

This proliferation of angels, and angles, and spectra, and scenes, and singing is all but too beautifully blur to blurb. It defies its own collection. You have to ride, or hide, in an untied thought balloon to read it. It’s so beautiful, with so much thought inside, and so loco, so such a little crazy in all its other languages, so off and errant but also so on the spot and dug in and garden’d, so unalone and shared and redshifted, so non-solo’d and so alter’d, that it becomes an altar, its music of alterity holding a delightful cultivation of flown that we can ground in, though it’s also so nonlocal, so shar’d in the general speech, that even in the preparation of its table of contents, as if it were a piano on which bizarre things have been painted as the coming of froth, BOSCH’D blindsides despair. Who is Genre Tallique anyway? Bud Powell? An owl? Wow!

Fred Moten

May language be always in motion, biomimetic, hers. Retallack’s radical intelligence is balm-like, in no small part for the restlessness and fluidity of its humor. Reading BOSCH’D I think of Stevens’ precept that “the poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.” Must has gotten musty and, yet, out of the delirious entanglements of the poem and reason, Retallack’s verse emerges, always victorious: “We are not designed to perceive most of what surrounds us or to fully understand the rest.” Anthropocentric reason keeps leading us nowhere and very well may be the epitome of our foolhardiness. In their refusal to perpetuate “past-perfected-present-participling legacies,” Retallack’s poems invariably know better.

Mónica de la Torre

I’ve encountered few imaginations as consistently delightful and nourishing as Joan Retallack’s, even fewer that can match her range of exploration from book to book. In BOSCH'D, instructional notations lead to paradox, and mathematical sketches add up to koans, and yet throughout the book, the political and philosophical implications are absolutely exigent. In Retallack’s gnomic propositions, poetry becomes almost all that we could ask of it.

Forrest Gander

Excerpt from BOSCH'D

The Ventriloquist’s Dilemma

Birdsong entered our words and left with
migratory echoes insufficiently dispersed.
We are not designed to perceive most of what
surrounds us or to fully understand the rest.
Maybe it’s true nonlinear equations drove the teenager
off the road. The self-propagating slope remains
unhindered in its x-y axis. (It’s always difficult to state
these things rigorously.) Sound waves break on the
shore making some feel unwelcome. And too, there’s
that conspicuous absence of real metaphor in nature.
Sorry, I think I meant to say there’s that conspicuous
absence of real nature in metaphor. Someone will claim
real is a misleading construct. Someone will claim
night flew into a tree. Those five words in a line.