Contemporary avant-garde poets have done a great deal to question and redefine the concept of good poetry; new styles, approaches and whole movements emerge constantly. It does not happen often, however, that the notion of a “book of poetry” gets challenged. Ammiel Alcalay’s “‘neither wit nor gold’ (from then),” published this year by Ugly Duckling Presse, is precisely this sort of experiment. It contains not just poems, but also a collection of photographs, newspaper cut-outs and posters, as well as, most crucially, scans of handwritten drafts and sketches from the author’s archives of the early-to-mid 1970s. These elements aren’t linked in an easy logical manner or sequenced in any discernible way. Yet, their ordering appears entirely organic. In fact, having experienced it, a regular poetry book feels contrived by comparison.
Alcalay explains in the afterword: “I was very dissatisfied with some idea of ‘selecting’ poems since it precluded or sidestepped the very fundamental and instructive (at least for me) process of composition… working through these materials is in itself a statement about the present and how a body of work might be made not only to cohere but become the carrier of messages no longer so readily available.”