The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is highly experimental and mixes poetry with photos and art, and much more.  It is broken down into five sections, preceded by a list of dramatic personas in a couple of instances, which in fact set the stage for what comes next.  While experimental in form, there are traditional elements as well, including references to Greek myths and the journey of Odysseus.  Through this experimentation, readers must pay closer attention to the words, phrases, fonts, and other elements in the collection to discern meaning or the story.  This is a thinking reader’s book, but it’s also a book of pure lunacy and fun as the personas take over and yell at one another in a banter that just generates smirks and laughs.

“‘You really need to figure out what’s next for you, Sadie.
Math, theology, whatever. Why don’t you put out a book?’ (Jughead)
‘Well, Jug, the truth is, you’re my first book.
I’ve been editing you since we met.’ (Sadie)” (page 17)

In many ways, looking at the verse on the page and the conversation often resemble the complex nature of compositions made by musicians.  When looked at in pieces, these compositions can befuddle casual viewers, but when put together and played in conjunction, the music soars and fills the soul.  In this piece, there seem to be elements of Jazz, a musicality that leaps off the page in a mixture of elements that like the collaboration of Amen and Harris works well.  However, the improvisation can be overwrought in some instances.

“The patio party:  I’m tired of these spoiled suburbanites.
I prefer back-river ingenues and trailer-park bullies
brimming with rage and remorse,
perhaps a seance staged at twilight,
blood on a pool deck,
blood on the geraniums and forsythia;
the runaway’s bones, buried beneath the mad-blossoming magnolia,
suddenly singing to my neighbors.
I prefer a final showdown with the cops,
the proverbial shootout in the cul de sac —
everything at stake, all the time.” (page 35)

Many of these vignettes are about seizing the moment, stopping the procrastinating, and relishing the exuberance and exhilaration. There are moments about the aftermath of love affairs and tales about strange personalities. Arcana is a well used word here for indeed some of these verses and tales are mysterious and hard to understand, but these lines and mixtures of text and art require additional discernment on the part of the reader. However, readers also must keep in mind that not all of these vignettes are true or to be taken seriously — there is a bit of dry wit and sarcasm here in these pages.  The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is unique, confusing, fun, and even mysterious; well worth reading for a challenge, but definitely something that will take more than one read through.

About the Authors:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Photo by Charles Weinberg

Daniel Y. Harris holds a Master of Arts in Divinity from The University of Chicago, where he specialized in the history and hermeneutics of religion and wrote his dissertation on The Zohar. He is the author of Hyperlinks of Anxiety (Cervena Barva Press, 2013), The New Arcana (with John Amen, New York Quarterly Books, 2012), Paul Celan and the Messiah’s Broken Levered Tongue: An Exponential Dyad (with Adam Shechter, Cervena Barva Press, 2010; picked by The Jewish Forward as one of the 5 most important Jewish poetry books of 2010) and Unio Mystica (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

For another perspective, check out Shiny Book Review.

This is the 29th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


  1. Not sure I’m up for a “thinking reader’s book” at the moment, but it does sound good.

  2. Now this is the kind of challenge I could enjoy. What a wonderful, creative concept.

  3. Beth Hoffman says

    Oh my gosh, this sounds fantastic!

  4. Wow, this sounds very creative. I like the messages in the book.