Western Practice

Stephen Motika, Author
Stephen Motika. Alice James (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-882295-91-3
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Nervy, disparate, and mysteriously stoic, Motika’s debut is a paean to California’s artists, geography, and history that wrestles with urban diminishment and cacophony every step of the way. His spare and incantatory lines are always at odds with what it means “to be living with nature” and “the rest of rest, riding back, the heavy lidded quiet, in the rush of tunnel.” In the collection’s most moving sequence, “Delusion’s Enclosure,” Motika deconstructs and rebuilds the biography of Oakland-born composer and vagabond Harry Partch, boring into the essence of Partch’s musical genius and working his poetry into a fever pitch in the process. From “always loving, loving, loving, loving / (men)” to assembling an inventory of Partch’s manmade instruments (“Gourd Tree Gong,” “Spoils of Wars,” “Cloud-Chamber Bowls”) Motika stirs up a personal treatment of Partch in which his “baroque leaps” are all the more sensuous for the details they eschew and suddenly land upon. “Partch built a great lyre of 72 strings,” he writes. “Orpheus’s lyre had three.” “City Set” delivers a 22-year-long tour of Los Angeles’s emotional and intellectual history as Motika attempts to locate the sensuality in the distance between himself and America’s West, “Remembering the sea unseeable.” (Apr.)
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