Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Release: Unusual Woods by Gene Tanta

Unusual Woods by Gene Tanta

$16 Buy it NOW

Read more:

“Gene Tanta's Unusual Woods is at once shocking, lively, and oddly nurturing, imprinted as it is with the down-home authority of language's deep hands.”
—Annie Finch

“The poems in Unusual Woods are energetic little bulletins from the front.”
—John L. Koethe

History with its betrayals lurks behind Gene Tanta, lends his writing wisdom and gravity, but he’s also playful and wickedly humorous. Infused with a deft surrealism, these subtle yet startling poems are like parables, brief films, elegant dreams, baffling skirmishes or erotic near misses. They demand and reward repeated readings.
—Linh Dinh

Gene Tanta’s Unusual Woods is just that, a journey through the dark forest of the poet’s mind. Tanta’s poems are at once playful and haunting, turning the everyday into the grotesque, the carnivalesque, the beautiful. His is a world in which, “sometimes the squeaky wheel / gets the hammer.” A speaker in one of Tanta’s poems says, “I too want to fully conjugate the human heart.” In Unusual Woods, in Tanta’s unique way, a way simultaneously foreboding and alluring, he already has.
—Shaindel Beers, author of A Brief History of Time

In the 50 demi-sonnets that make up Unusual Woods, as original a debut collection as I've ever read, Gene Tanta asks us to enter history in unusual ways:  through the noose of a joke, the music of assassins, the slippery holes in the sidewalk of logic.  This remarkable sequence reminds me that there is no music more beautiful and terrifying than an open mouth, breathing, singing, dreaming.  How Tanta, a child of Romania and Chicago, became heir to so many rich traditions (Dickinson, Berryman, Simic, Popa, to name only a few) is our pleasure to discover as we chart the terrain of an important new voice in poetry.
— Maurice Kilwein Guevara

Gene Tanta’s “Unusual Woods” should come with a warning label: Handle With Care. Contents Extremely Volatile. Each thirteen-line poem is a powder keg taking on politics, history, and language itself. While in search for the “myth or origins”, Tanta experiments with sounds and striking, original images, in turn creating new worlds that are entirely his own. Tanta writes in the surrealist tradition but he is no follower. This is poetry as it should be—irreverent, visionary, breaking expectations.
—Andrei Guruianu

“Where are we, in Gene Tanta’s Unusual Woods?  We’re where Charles Simic would live, if he’d been born a few decades later, under the signs of ellipsis and disjunction.  These are woods with at least two borders running through them.  The first of them divides the surreal anecdote from the elliptical meditation, and along this border we find deformed aphorisms, slippery allegories, cryptic personifications, and parables bent out of shape and away from meaning.  This is a zone filled with almost-expressive artifacts like faceless dolls and faded photos.  The second border runs between Tanta’s Romanian past and his American present.  Both Eastern Europe and the United States appear in fragments of iconic figures: Stalin, fortune-tellers, gypsies, elders with samovars, spies, and Paul Celan; or Black Hawk Indians, Gulf War veterans, teenagers dancing the funky chicken, and Ernest Hemingway.  No one but Tanta lives at these exact poetic co-ordinates.  You’d be wrong not to visit.”
—Robert Archambeau

"Gene Tanta's Unusual Woods is deceptively simple and candidly devious. Reading it is like looking in a funhouse mirror for the first time."
—Mike Topp

Gene Tanta sees the world through the “two-way mirror of my (that is Tanta’s) itchy eye.” He is positioned on both sides of the mirror at once. He watches reflections of his self against an ever-changing background of unusually absurd situations. Like dreaming about having a dream of being lost in the woods.
—Yehuda Yannay

“Gene Tanta’s poetry reads like documentation of the lost, just come to light after being hidden in an ammunition box buried at the site of some anonymous atrocity. It feels personal, ravaged and beautiful, hovering on the far bank of some inexplicably authentic nightmare, the first and last thoughts of a band of survivors. Distant light is intensifying but it’s not clear if dawn is on its way, or some further conflagration.
Unlike some of the leading-edge poetry of recent decades, Gene Tanta’s does not impersonate an explosion. There is no scattering of attention or resources. Instead, we are in a verbal landscape of aftermath and preparation. The work is careful and inclusive, each fragment of dream and vision brought back to the table for inspection and reassembly. We are invited to participate at this stage as if it mattered: as if the orchestration of meanings had to be collective because of ethical imperatives it is now too late to ignore.
Behind these poems range the ghosts of victims and the ghosts of poetic forms. None is banished. This generosity is a gift to the reader who (tired of the brash, cocky or complacent) may feel that here is a poetry adequate to our times: an art humming with political and aesthetic urgency, and with a resonance that feels at times mythic.” 
—Peter Hughes

Gene Tanta was born in Timisoara, Romania and lived there until 1984, when his family immigrated to the United States. Since then, he has lived in DeKalb, Iowa City, New York, Oaxaca City, Iasi, Milwaukee, and Chicago. He is a poet, visual artist, and translator of contemporary Romanian poetry. His two poetry books are Unusual Woods and Pastoral Emergency. Tanta earned his MFA in Poetry from the Iowa's Writers' Workshop in 2000 and his PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 with literary specialization in twentieth-century American poetry and the European avant-garde. His journal publications include: EPOCH, Ploughshares, Circumference Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Watchword, Columbia Poetry Review, and The Laurel Review. Currently, he teaches creative writing online for UC Berkeley Extension.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A poem from Unusual Woods:

    (turn) in the fast darkness of ancient forests,
    shadows cross our dreaming faces (turn)
    in the movies, an oak tree is always more there
    after it’s gone (turn)
    this way, a saw emphasizes one thing (turn)
    formalwear, night fog rolling in
    dressing the silver-blown accessories
    (turn) in the morning,
    when the rain goes to work,
    the cemetery trees shade the cemetery dead
    and spiders (turn) play the harps of corners
    when the wind sighs, weathercocks turn
    to look for a reason (turn)

  3. Excerpt from the introduction to Unusual Woods:

    As with Waldrop, Simic, and Dinh, doubt seems my method for seeking formal innovation as a poet, as a researcher, and as a teacher. Perhaps my doubting nature is cultural, linguistic, if not indeed an intuitive almost kneejerk response to Ceausescu’s oppressive dictatorship. … Cultural identity has multiple and simultaneous histories and motivating factors but this does NOT make it arbitrary. For instance, my particular experience matters, not more than anyone else’s, but as much.

  4. Brooks Lampe interviews Gene Tanta:

    Brooks Lampe reviews the introduction to Unusual Woods:

    Brooks Lampe reviews the poems in Unusual Woods: