In [Bosch’s] enchanted garden no color line is drawn.
— Commentary 106, Art Treasures of the Prado, 1954
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.
Praise for BOSCH'D
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
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
This book is a back-to-basics liberal education in a radical university by a poet holding a named chair in Humor and Gravitas. As such it is a whole curriculum—a unified book rich with the foci and the disparities of everyone’s education. Under all that trivium or quadrivium, BOSCH’D covers history of ideas (“intellectual heritage”), sciences and math, the language requirement, ancient literature with a particular interest in Sappho, art history, rhetoric, philosophy, history-ethnography, and political “science,” and have I forgotten anything? Yes, translation studies. And gender studies. And others—but read the book. It is a dazzling and elegant plus a very cunning and humane performance of a book.
— Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Poetry in Review