SAINTS OF HYSTERIA ed. by Denise Duhamel

Review by Christian Ward

SAINTS OF HYSTERIA Saints of Hysteria

Ed. by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton & David Trinidad

Soft Skull Press
55 Washington Street
Suite 804
Brooklyn, NY 11201
ISBN: 1-933368-18-7
397 pp., $19.95

Saints of Hysteria is a fascinating anthology covering fifty years of collaborative American poetry. Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad have included an eclectic mix of poems, ranging from Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac’s whimsical Pull My Daisy to Lisa Glatt and David Hernandez’s deliciously camp Gay Parade with its candy coloured “We hoot and holler at the men dressed / as cheerleaders, their hairdos like giant scoops / of sherbet…” Many of the poems are accompanied by process notes, giving the reader useful information how the piece was created.

The anthology opens with Charles Henri Ford’s International Chainpoem, written by Ford and eleven other poets in 1940. The excellent introduction tells us that “In 1940, American Charles Henri Ford adapted this practice [of collaborative poetry] into what he dubbed the ‘Chainpoem’, which he defined as an ‘intellectual sport…an anonymous shape laying in a hypothetical joint imagination.'” This opening poem is a wonderful example of the melding together of different personalities and imaginations, seen with lines like “When a parasol is cooled in the crystal garden” (Takesi Fuji) and “Spell me out a sonnet of a steel necklace.” (Tuneo Osada)

It moves through collaborative efforts by Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, to the New York school, with poems by John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett amongst others. Bill Berkson and Frank O’Hara’s darkly comic St Bridget poems stand out with poignant lines juxtaposed next to childlike silliness:

afternoon is leaning toward drinks  I am getting
myself right now though I shouldn’t  Would

you like one, heaviness of the compost thresh-
hold? No, I want the plants to have it, for

they have died  Sometimes the streets are full
of snot sometimes the travelling ferris-wheel

Collaborative poems by Robert Creeley, Marilyn Hacker, Susan Cataldo and James Schulyer move the anthology through to the eighties. The nineties and thousands continues the eclectic range of styles seen throughout the book. All Ears by Keith Abbot, Pat Nolan, Maureen Owen and Michael Sowl, for example, is a mish-mash of Japanese traditional forms such as hokku, waki, renku and ageku woven together with a series of zen-like images:

  After rain the freeze
gnawing at the wall
          hands over heater all ears

          after rain the freeze
gnawing at the wall
              hands over heater all ears
leaves cut into a steel sky
or the gray in photographs

Cartographic Anomaly by Terri Carrion and Michael Rothenberg reads like a diary written in haiku, fused with observations made by a botanist. Stanzas such as "Michael on computer, in bed, blue glow / from screen on his face like TV image. / Big Bend National Park" are followed by details such as Ocotillo, Hectia Scariosa and Agave havardiana. This contrast between the material and the natural makes each section seem almost metaphysical on one level.

The anthology is well worth reading even if you’re not interested in collaborative poetry. There is such an abundance of different styles and imaginations from several decades that everyone will find something they will enjoy.


Christian Ward is a 27 year old London based poet and student, currently finishing the third year of a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing at Roehampton University, London. A Pushcart Prize nominated poet, his work is forthcoming in The Warwick Review, Remark and Decanto.

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