cover image A Tonalist

A Tonalist

Laura Moriarty, Nightboat (UPNE, dist.), $14.95 (150p) ISBN 978-0-9822645-6-0

The California Tonalist painters of the early 20th century were arguably the first modern artists to capture West Coast light and space. Moriarty's long and challenging work—part verse, part prose poem, part manifesto—juxtaposes painters with composers (atonal music) and both with questions about tone, goal, and audience in experimental writing, trying to articulate an outlook at once appropriate to the West Coast and to Moriarty's uneasy temperament. Studded with quotations from other experimental writers, the volume also looks back at the texts that Moriarty (A Semblance) has admired through her own prolific career. Sometimes showing signs of the blog posts from which it grew, and sometimes distressingly involuted, Moriarty's project nonetheless makes clear its big ambitions: "The Imaginary Community" called into being by West Coast writing should, she writes, be "Real as thought/ When thought/ Plain as paint or/ Audible sings/ In tones that/ In times which/ These darknesses seem light." Not only the landscape, but the political climate, the years of the Iraq war and the seasons of ecocatastrophe resonate throughout these pages. (June)