Sunday, November 29, 2015



cessation covers by Steve Halle
(Funtime Press, 2007)

WHY I READ STEVE HALLE’S cessation covers (2007)
That’s none of your business, really, but I’ve wanted to read it for years and had trouble getting a hold of a copy until I saw that Galatea Resurrects distributed reviewer copies.  I have a plausible lie, though:  the spring publication of Halle’s magnificent chapbook The Collectors (Mean Bee Chapbooks) merited a (re)examination of his earlier work.  So now I’m a poetry reviewer.

This book seems kind of big—tall, that is.  It’s noticeably bigger than Halle’s other chapbook.  It’s bigger than other chapbooks I’ve read.  6 x 8 inches maybe?  5 ½ x 8 makes more sense.  cessation covers sits awkwardly on my bookshelf, as if it doesn’t get along with the other books.

There’s a woman on the black-and-white cover.  I asked the author at a conference who she is (a classical Hollywood actress, I think), but I forgot what he said and am too embarrassed to ask again.  It’s not Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, or Kathryn Hepburn.  Maybe Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly?  (After reading, a google images search indicates it’s not Rita Hayworth, could definitely be Grace Kelly.)

cessation covers has a unique “look” to it.  Like The Collectors, cessation covers is less than 30 pages long, but—unlike The Collectors—the pages are unnumbered.  Each page contains two quatrains (until the final page), and they’re not long lines (2-6 words).  Because of the conventional typeface and font size (and the aforementioned bigness), there’s lots of white space around the edges of Halle’s poetry.  The spatial economy reminds me of my copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyām that has two quatrains per page.  That book is expressing a kind of luxuriousness with artsy design stuff around the quatrains.  cessation covers seems almost parodic in its use of white space devoted to printer-papery whiteness.  How to read it then . . .

            Like a few books that employ quatrains that I’ve read (the Rubaiyat for instance), one wonders how to divide up the poem into coherent units.  Obviously, these are four-line chunks, but is cessation covers one “long” poem?  Is each four-line chunk a “separate” poem?  Does it matter?  Complete sentences bookended by a capital letter and a punctuation mark are nowhere to be found.  Maybe we’re not supposed to think of them as quatrains.  Sure do look like quatrains, though.  The semi-complete syntactic units sometimes bleed from one quatrain to the next or even from one page to the next.  A favorite (don’t worry about the beginning of the syntactic unit; the last “terminal” punctuation is a mile away, several pages earlier): 

. . . everybody get

out of a gourd
into a pie
out of pie
into the streets

world’s largest roundabout
roll around about and over (lines 136-42)

The first “//” is also a page-break.  “everybody get” functions like the beginning of a series of hilarious commands.  Here readers are radicalized.  We’re called upon to “get . . . into the streets”, but we must first enter and exit the essential checkpoints, the most essential of which is a pie.  I’m put in the mind of an old-timey military or prison assembly-line de-lousing procedure, except the obligatory hygiene practice here involves time spent in a pie.  We’re radicalized to perform the essential revolutionary (ha ha, get it?) of rolling “about and over”.

            In other news, sometimes repeated suffixes give the quatrains a structural logic that others without repeated suffixes lack or don’t show as easily.  So we learn that “a foursome is wholesome” and

crook on the inside means suicide
crops on the downside, pesticide
boy on the cribside, infanticide
favor eyes over eyesight in homicide (lines 41-44)

Makes sense to me.  Good advice, really.  But structures like these are rare.  Rhyme is rare, but—when it’s there—it jumps out at ya.  For instance:

time in gray space
a continental floe
or six-course picnic
in knee-deep snow (lines 85-88)

            The last page of the chapbook tells us how we should have read it.  Halle discusses, in an “Apologia,” his Kurt Cobain and Nirvana fandom and, even though he situates this fandom as part of high school nostalgia for him, he can still recognize the influence of these artists on his work.  He writes, “Without Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, I would not be a poet” because his first poetic acts were copying out Nirvana lyrics and writing his own poems over the “vocal melodic line” of some of their songs.  Later, published lyrics online told him that he’d misheard the lyrics and thus inadvertently created a “cover” of the songs, not an exact copy.  The poems in cessation covers are “cover poems” that “layer[] version on top of version until only echoes and mishearings of the original lyrics remain[].”

So wait.  Was I supposed to pick up on references to Nirvana lyrics?  Totally missed that.  I feel like I should listen to some Nirvana and try again.  Maybe I should just have a webpage with Nirvana lyrics open while I try again.

I re-read this looking for Nirvana-ana and found none until the “Apologia” at the end.  The covers are total, obscuring what’s under them.  I didn’t look that hard, though.  What’s on the cover is innaresting enough.


Kyle T. Henrichs is a doctoral student in English at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.  He goes to conferences regularly to discuss contemporary American fiction, ecocriticism, and narratology with academics like himself.  He does not specialize in the lyric poetry of any period or place (yet).

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