Wednesday, December 17, 2008


December 17, 2008

[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles or click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to the referenced article. Since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review that interests you.]

By Eileen Tabios

Michael Caylo-Baradi Reviews SHORT MOVIES by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány

Rachel Daley Reviews ZONE : ZERO by Stephanie Strickland

John Olson Reviews SCAFFOLD by Joel Chace

Eric Gelsinger Reviews SO THAT EVEN by Tawrin Baker

Kristina Marie Darling Reviews TORQUES: DRAFTS 58-76 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Denise Dooley Reviews THE SENSORY CABINET by Mark DuCharme

John Herbert Cunningham Reviews CAUGHT BY THE TAIL: FRANCIS PICABIA AND DADA IN PARIS by George Baker and I AM A BEAUTIFUL MONSTER: POETRY, PROSE AND PROVOCATIONS by Francis Picabia, translated by Marc Lowenthal

Eileen Tabios Engages DEMENTIA BLOG by Susan M. Schultz

Pamela Hart Reviews THIS IS WHY I HURT YOU by Kate Greenstreet

Jon Curley Reviews A WOMAN'S GUIDE TO MOUNTAIN CLIMBING by Jane Augustine

Karen An-Hwei Lee Reviews MENTAL COMMITMENT ROBOTS by Sueyeun Juliette Lee

Tom Beckett Reviews SUBSISTENCE EQUIPMENT by Brenda Iijima

Lisa Bower Reviews TRADING IN MERMAIDS by Alfred A. Yuson

Thomas Fink Reviews PARSINGS by Sheila E. Murphy

Michael Caylo-Baradi Reviews PERSUASIONS OF FALL by Ann Lauinger

Tom Beckett Reviews STRING PARADE by Jordan Stempleman

Karen Rigby Reviews THEORIES OF FALLING by Sandra Beasley

Wendy Lynn Cohen Reviews THE GREAT WHIRL OF EXILE by Leroy V. Quintana

James Stotts Reviews ITERATURE by Eugene Ostashevsky

Tom Beckett Reviews YOUR TEN FAVORITE WORDS by Reb Livingston

John Herbert Cunningham Reviews BLANK VERSE: A GUIDE TO ITS HISTORY AND USE by Robert B. Shaw

Elizabeth Kate Switaj Reviews IN NO ONE'S LAND by Paige Ackerson-Kiely

Wendy Lynn Cohen Reviews POLYVERSE by Lee Ann Brown

Eric Gelsinger Reviews OPEN NIGHT by Aaron Lowinger

John Bloomberg-Rissman Reviews ANIMATE, INANIMATE AIMS by Brenda Iijima

Eileen Tabios Engages HALLUCINATING CALIFORNIA by Richard Lopez and Jonathan Hayes

Emily Schorr Lesnick Reviews ARDOR by Karen An-Hwei Lee

Linda Rodriguez Reviews ROUNDING THE HUMAN by Linda Hogan

Helen Losse Reviews AFTER THE POISON by Collin Kelley (1)

Sam Rasnake Reviews AFTER THE POISON by Collin Kelley (2)

Robert E. Wood Reviews AFTER THE POISON by Collin Kelley (3)

James Stotts Reviews IN COMPANY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF NEW MEXICO POETS AFTER 1960, Edited by Lee Bartlett, V.B. Price and Dianne Edenfield Edwards

Denise Dooley Reviews UNBECOMING BEHAVIOR by Kate Colby

Tom Beckett Reviews WORLD0 and NO SOUNDS OF MY OWN MAKING, both by John Bloomberg-Rissman

Michael Caylo-Baradi Reviews THE SINGERS by Logan Ryan Smith

Wendy Lynn Cohen Reviews HOW TO DO THINGS WITH WORDS by Joan Retallack

Lars Palm Reviews PLAYING THE AMPLITUDES by Christopher Rizzo

Karen An-Hwei Lee Reviews BOX OF LIGHT / CAJA DE LUZ by Susan Gardner

Jeff Harrison Reviews WALDEN BOOK by Allen Bramhall

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Reviews BONE PAGODA by Susan Tichy

John Bloomberg-Rissman Reviews ISSUE 1, Edited by Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Reviews WOMEN POETS ON MENTORSHIP: EFFORTS & AFFECTIONS, Edited by Arielle Greenberg & Rachel Zucker

Eileen Tabios Engages TORCHWOOD by Jill Magi

Karen An-Hwei Lee Reviews SHADOW MOUNTAIN by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan

Patrick James Dunagan Reviews GLAD STONE CHILDREN by Edmund Berrigan and DRUNK BY NOON by Jennifer L. Knox

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Reviews SAVAGE MACHINERY by Karen Rigby

Patrick James Dunagan Reviews ALL THAT'S LEFT by Jack Hirschman and ONE OF A KIND by Jack Micheline

Adam Halbur Reviews EYE-SENSING by David Jaffin

Steven Karl Reviews STATE OF THE UNION--50 POLITICAL POEMS, Edited by Joshua Beckman & Matthew Zapruder

Eileen Tabios Engages RED by Marilyn R. Rosenberg

Brett Duchon Reviews PRAU by Jean Vengua

Wendy Lynn Cohen Reviews LOUISE IN LOVE by Mary Jo Bang

Steven Karl Reviews SHY GREEN FIELDS by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

Nathan Logan Reviews THE ROMANCE OF HAPPY WORKERS by Anne Boyer


Brett Duchon Reviews COMPLICATIONS by Garrett Caples

Linda Nguyen Reviews BRIDGEABLE SHORES: SELECTED POEMS (1969-2001) by Luis Cabalquinto

Linda Rodriguez Reviews THE PORTABLE FAMINE by Rane Arroyo

Reed Boskey Reviews WHAT THE FORTUNE TELLER DIDN'T SAY by Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Rebecca Holohan Reviews THE SPLINTERED FACE: TSUNAMI POEMS by Indran Amirthanayagam

Katherine Levy Reviews KALI'S BLADE by Michelle Bautista

Monna Wong Reviews MUSEUM OF ABSENCES by Luis H. Francia


Aileen Ibardaloza Reviews PASSAGE: POEMS 1983-2006 by Edgar B. Maranan

Eric Gelsinger Reviews WHEN I COME HERE by Ryan Eckes

Nathan Logan Reviews ON THE FLY by Amy King

Aileen Ibardaloza Engages BARING MORE THAN SOUL by Reme A. Grefalda

Michael Caylo-Baradi

A PREFACE: Angelo Suarez engages with the works of Philippines-based poet-artists Bea Camacho, Costantino Zicarelli, Buen Calubayan and Cesare A.X. Syjuco

Angelo Suarez on THE POETICS OF INTERMEDIA: Bea Camacho’s Eulogy to Art

Angelo Suarez on A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS MORON: Constantino Zicarelli and Buen Calubayan


Allen Gaborro Reviews DOVEGLION: COLLECTED POEMS by JOSE GARCIA VILLA, Ed. John Edwin Cowen

Patrick James Dunagan Reviews EVANGELINE DOWNS by Micah Ballard

Tiny Poetry Books Feeding the World…Literally!

A German Shepherd Most Assuredly Shall Grace the White House Lawn


The recession has arrived at Galatea Resurrects (GR). Due to extensive travel in the past six months, I had to collapse two issues into one...and the "recession" in people's time for poetry reviews may be seen in how this two-in-one issue only generated 72 new reviews/engagements. Oh, wait -- 72 new poetry reviews/engagements! Actually, that isn't so bad, is it! Which is also to say, in its two-year existence, GR has presented 610 new reviews, covering 275 publishers in 15 countries!

I still remember starting GR hoping to reach as much as five reviews per issue through the generosities of whoever is out there paying attention in the internet. Well, thank you to GR's numerous, generous volunteer staff of reviewers. You make it fun to indulge in statistics -- such as moi running tally up to this current issue:

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 11: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice)

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews
Issue 11: 46 out of 72 new reviews

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE.


In this issue, I have the pleasure of offering reviews by students whose critical eyes were being trained by two poet-professors: Kristin Naca over at MacAlester College's English Department and Catherine Daly during an open assignment course in 1999 called "English 3xx: Reading Poetry" at Antioch LA. As then-student reviewer Wendy Owen says, "Catherine did something here that I thought was the best way to learn poetry -- reading and critiquing it, not pretending you might know something to impress the teacher but really getting into the head of the poet and finding the key to the poet’s intent yourself. I got to know lesser known poets, not over-exposed and perhaps over-considered ones. And I fell in love with some of them."

I'd like to make this offer to educators out there, to do as Kristin Naca did: have your students use some of Galatea Resurrects' review copies (list available HERE) for assigned poetry reviews. For those you deem worthy, feel free to submit them here for potential publication. (Of course, as with all review copies I send out, please return those review copies if your class ends up not doing a published review, so that I can continue to try placing them with future reviewers). While the review from Catherine Daly's class took place in 1999, the students of Kristin Naca availed themselves of GR's review copies.


One of Galatea Resurrects' special features is its openness to publishing more than one review of the same title -- in this issue, for example, three folks review Collin Kelley's chap AFTER THE POISON. But it's also interesting to see how one reviewer writes two different reviews of the same book, to wit, Patrick James Dunagan generously gives GR a review of Jack Micheline's ONE OF A KIND. But you also can see his different review of the same book, published in the SF Bay Guardian, at Enjoy!


As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).


Last but not least, here are some photos for ye German Shepherd aficionados (but if you really want to understand this breed, you need to read poetry -- Woof!): Achilles and Gabriela wishing you all a Happy Holidays!

With much Love, Fur, Santa Hats, Unfinished Construction by Big Burly Men, and Poetry,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
December 17, 2008



Short Movies by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány
(cPress, Finland, 2008. Free .pdf HERE )

Abbreviations in Lucidity
Luminous appropriations in Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány’s Short Movies

The dream: to know a foreign (alien) language and yet not understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, community, or vulgarity; to know, positively refracted in a new language, the impossibilities of our own; to learn the systematics of the inconceivable; to undo our own “reality” under the effect of the other formulations, other syntaxes; to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance, to displace the subject’s topology; in a word, to descend into the untranslatable, to experience its shock without ever muffling it, […] (6)
Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

In the passage above, Roland Barthes clues us into the nature of human instinct in dream-state, a space where knowledge does not undergo a process of evolution but is already there, given; it is given, in a sense, that it is not produced in the struggle to understand, nor is it an achievement of some sort. Knowledge in that state is the air inhaled and exhaled. The movie The Matrix may come to mind, here, wherein programmed knowledge, from another space, through a few keyboard strokes, can be easily transmitted and lodged in someone’s faculties, in seconds; time in transmitting that knowledge is almost negligible, here, because it doesn’t constitute a process of achievement, or struggle to attain that knowledge; indeed, although the matrix is a state all its own, it’s almost comparable to dream-state; however, readily-transmittable knowledge in the matrix may only be limited to technical knowledge and doesn’t necessarily include downloadable programs on moral and/or philosophical knowledge; unless, of course, if that technical knowledge can be upgraded, to give them metaphysical slants and auras, making them Marxist, Llorcan, Kantian, Tabiosian, Sillimanian, or Sadean. But the difference between knowledge in the matrix and dream-state is that in the matrix knowledge is often transmitted through a request, while in Barthes’ dream-state knowledge is just there, ever present, not subjected to epistemic concepts of time. Certainly, this dream-state doesn’t necessarily mean dream inside closed eyes, while asleep, or in daydream; this dream-state can, indeed, be in quotidian experience itself, experience that is inundated with information through media technologies, such as movies, books, the web, music, or the telephone. Information through these technologies informs us of things beyond our immediate surroundings, that there’s a there, that over there are ‘others.’ Recognition of these others can shake the sensibilities of our reality, morphing and transporting aspects of that reality to a space where distant others and their otherness must irrevocably be considered. This space of alterity and difference takes the characteristics of dream-state, one that lives in one’s consciousness, but alien, foreign. Furthermore, I emphasize this, because the passage above is contextualized, with Japan in the mind of Barthes, the Japan of Barthes, a space that encloses a universe of difference to anything that challenges the Occidental in Barthes. Barthes then encloses Japan in dream-state. Thus, in Empire of Signs Barthes doesn’t seem to struggle to expose knowledge of Japan, but something he already knows, in the fictions of his imagination; the book then is simply the textualization of dream-state, and doesn’t necessarily explain what’s in it. Barthes appropriates a textualization through the language of comparison; his reference point is the Occident. And this appropriation may sound exotic, but it isn’t necessarily new. Travelers or tourists in places foreign to their physical and mental space experience this similar dream-state, a state in which their minds are seduced, unconsciously, to make immediate comparisons between concept of the place in their mind and the materiality of that place, where they are on. One can argue that immigrants and business travelers often experience lapses of this state, in diverse degrees and intensities.

My process of seeing Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány’s Short Movies may be comparable to the way Barthes sees Japan in Empire of Signs; contextualized in dream-state, I somehow know what’s in it, because, as reader, audience, viewer, or spectator of Short Movies I could devise my own Short Movies, in the fictions of my imagination. Now since this is visual/luminous poetry, my process of engaging in it is witnessing it, giving it the attention one gives an event, be absorbed in the scene. Short Movies is an event I’ve witnessed more than twice. Recalling each piece in it, I’m sometimes tempted to think about them as quick, very subtle commercials, and the product advertised is the title of each piece; sometimes I think they’re preludes to a major television commercial that’s about to be aired, minutes after a popular prime-time mystery feature.

It’s easy to be absorbed by the narratives in Short Movies, because of their visual impact; but it may not be easy to absorb them. That impact can flow in you like a subtle gesture that can almost be easily ignored. But in hindsight, you realize that gesture may have proposed something in you. Being engaged in a work this way can no doubt offer delights to the voyeuristic nature of the digital eye, a promiscuous and ever-hungry eye, one that devours anything that is visually fresh, especially in a whimsical way but with a serious message.

Now in most events, the witness is prone to engage in talking about what they had seen, usually through the narrative of gossip, a bit fraught with a mixture of shock, curiosity, and wonder. This is what I feel like doing, after witnessing Short Movies. However, in textualizing or ‘gossiping’ what I’ve witnessed, I realize I may not be giving the work justice, which must simply be absorbed. But seeing Short Movies is a bit of a shock. Let’s just say, I’m writing what I’ve witnessed to recover from that shock, whatever that recovery portends.

Like Barthes, I use comparison to textualize the dream-state of the work in question. Although my reference points may not be universal, and express strains of myopia, they are still reference points that are recognizable in the realm of human thought. As audience and spectator, I “descend into the untranslatable,” to use Barthes’ phrase; but I’m partial about ‘descend’, here, and prefer to replace ‘descend’ with ‘infiltrate’ or ‘penetrate’; because infiltrations and penetrations suggest more conscious intentions that melts in solipsistic acts of determination in dream-state.


In Cosmology, the cosmos is dominated by the riddle of a hotdog…or, wait, sauerkraut? Could this be the cosmos of a drive-in, or the heart of the cosmos is sauerkraut fever?

Here, the cosmos is horizontal rectangularity; and so it has boundaries. On the other hand, rectangles do not have to suggest they are bounded by boundaries, the edges of the rectangle. Indeed, the cosmos can have any shape we want it to have, circular, ten-dimensional, oblong, like a pimple, or rectangular. All shapes we can think of about the cosmos are valid; it’s like visualizing the image of God: it can be a river, James Dean, death, cinema, or the unconscious.

Now something moves from the left of that rectangularity, a big smudge, a purplish cloud; it’s direction seem to be the right, as though movement in that direction is the only movement it can muster and appropriate. And right in the middle of its journey, it drops something, a curve-like entity, the left half of a parenthesis, its shape a miniature simulacra of a hotdog. The half-punctuation falls, but stops in the middle of the cosmos. But while that curve is moving downwards, it is followed by another punctuation, a period. Or could this period be the top or bottom view of an exclamation mark, dropping sideways, and all we see is its top or bottom? Now the period stops moving downward right in front of the parenthesis, as though to act as substitute for the other half of the parenthesis duality. One wonders after the period falls, if there’ll be a rain or tempest of punctuations. The period is the last dropped, while the smudge continues to move, and soon transforms into a pair of white clouds, soon to move above the signifier of fastfood, before disappearing, moving beyond the realms of the cosmos, eternity, invisibility, spirit.

Now punctuations certainly can suggest many things; but I’d like to think of them as representations of the boundaries of desire. Punctuations enclose desire; they can end it in the period, explode it in the exclamation point, ambiguate it with the quotation mark, give it a character of partiality in the ellipsis, or endow it with a sense of dimension and depth in the parenthesis. The parenthesis is quite special, since to parenthesize something is to give it an appearance of being occluded, be forced to step back from something, a sort of hesitation that invites meditation.

The fall of punctuations, here, can signify the precipitation of the boundaries of desire, in fate. Now, this is serious, because those boundaries can be receptacles of ideology, morality, or politics, elements in our cosmos that guard, dissect, or violate the freedoms of desire. Indeed, only two punctuations are dropped. But they can, indeed, contain a tempest of boundaries that can implode, then seek subjects they can be with to explore and explode. And it’s intriguing that after the punctuations are dropped, the smudge, the purplish cloud turns into two while clouds; a burden has been dropped, to lighten up something in the smudge. God drops his boundaries, and is glad to be had of that burden, on to something lighter, now cruising as white clouds, toward a more appetizing dimension, advancing into the space of reality, the hotdogs. Somewhere further in that cosmos is a hamburger, some burritos, tacos, further hardening the exclamation of hard, tactile materiality.


Prophecy is a diptych: two vertical, adjacent rectangles, as though two pages in a book, but the beginning pages of that book. On the upper left-hand corner of the first rectangle is the number 1 and on the upper right hand corner of the second rectangle is the number 2. On each space, the background color is white, untainted, or unsmudged white. In both spaces is the letter q. The first rectangle only contains the q, but the other space contains other letters besides the letter q: f, m, b. F and m are in bold fonts, situated towards the upper right hand corner of that space. The b, on the other hand, is situated near the bottom right corner of that page, capitalized, but a smaller figure. All the letters have a specific color; all those in the second space are letters with the color black, while the one on the first rectangle, the q has a somewhat caramel color.

In the course of the piece’s narrative, we notice that letter f, m, and b start to disappear, slowly. First, b disappears towards the bottom of its ‘home’ rectangle, m moves toward the top of the rectangle before it vanishes, while f moves eastward before disappearing. After the disappearances, only q is left behind. For a while, both qs are now the only ones left, as though they are the sole and irreplaceable owners of the space they are in. Could there be pride of the qs chanted in silence, here, for being the only ones left in each their spaces? Do their similarities in form, not in color, cause them to somehow move closer to the other, unite? Soon, the q on the right rectangle moves toward the q on the left rectangle, as though the q on the left has magnetic force, the force inherent in similar entities that allows them to seek and bond each other. It’s hard to tell if that movement is reluctant or urgent. The movement ends when that mobile q disappears in the boundary between the first and second rectangle. The aim of reaching out to its probable other is reached in non-unity, eternal invisibility.

The q on the first rectangle never moves, as though movement is not necessary for its being, but is rather nourished in pure non-movement, undisturbed stasis. Since that q is on the first page, we can assume that q is that of innocence, preserved in what it has always been, locked, immobile, not subject to desire, and its convulsions, urges, prognostications. But the rectangle on the left is the rectangle of vibrant activity, movement, travel, voyages, of moving towards boundaries, disappearing there forever, advancing towards death. Perhaps f, m, b are looking for something like themselves, a simpler version, their innocence. On the left rectangle, q is probably lucky enough to see the image of its innocence and moved towards it, only to disappear and reach it somewhere, in a different form, substance. The emptied space on the right rectangle is a premonition, and assumes not peace but emptiness, perhaps burial ground for lost desire, vacancy, stared by q, innocence. And the narrative ends there, q as monument of innocence, before and after anything, outside time.

With regards to the letter q in the English-language alphabet, it’s perhaps one of a few letters of the alphabet that resembles a musical note; the others are lower-cases g, b, p, and d, and the upper-case P. When saying each four letters including q, all four end with the long ē sound, while q’s pronunciation ends with the long ū sound; what’s further different about the q among these note-like alphabets is the formation of one’s lips inwards when pronouncing the q, while one’s lips are spread out while pronouncing the other four. The elongated formation of one’s lips creates an opening, a readiness to ingest, while lips forming inward denotes a unity of the lips, folding, attempting embrace of each other’s skin, becoming intimate, a kiss. There must be something special with the q, or if it’s not that special, something relentlessly queer about it; that’s why this letter is given unconventional attention here.


Voyage is a triptych. Three horizontal rectangles enclose soft colors, as though from a deep, unfocused camera shot trying to capture an image of many colors. This unfocused-ness somehow forces the colors to look like they’re about to overlap, collapsing each other’s substance or identity into each other, blurring boundaries, subverting the meaning of clarity. But these colors are simply the background. At the heart of this piece’s narrative is the figure number 2, the protagonist. That figure moves from the first rectangle to the next, in the center, from left to right, the direction of the Western, reading eye. In the middle rectangle, the figure drops down the bottom of that space; here, the drop, poses as conflict. But the figure makes it up from the bottom, moves up the middle of its journey, and then continues to the end of the last rectangle.

The figure 2 can stand for many things that signify dualities. Simple dualities can be derived from the human body’s specific equipments that come in pairs, and function as congruencies: two eyes, two arms, two ears, two scrotums, or two breasts. But there are more complex dualities that exist not necessarily as similarities, but as oppositions that define a sort of unity: life and death is human existence, a man and woman unite to produce another life, night and day to comprise a twenty-four hour period, or thesis and anti-thesis evolves dialectic. In complex duality, the figure 2 becomes a representation of substance, that one must need another to have something, invite being. But the journey of 2 becomes not merely a representation, but more so, a production of substance in 2, the layering of substance, simplifying it into the heart of 2. The production of that substance is certainly not easy, because it involves tight negotiations, compromises, power struggles, love and hate, subversion and expression, or secrecies and demonstrations.

It’s also significant to emphasize that the figure ‘2’ is not spelled out as ‘two’. The visuality of ‘2’ proposes a unity of two elements into one visual element, while the visuality of ‘t’, ‘w’, and ‘o’, proposes something else, perhaps a visual trilogy that is anachronistic to what two means, the sense of paired-ness in that signification, a collaboration. But there’s a suggestion of cynicism in the collaboration that happens in the journey here. The figure 2 looks the same all the way, from beginning to end. The 2 may have recovered from a fall, but it continues without visual metamorphosis. Perhaps the assumption here is that metamorphosis cannot always be perceived visually, but rather assumed, or proposed as something within. If we can extract an idea of progress proposed in this piece, that progress can be derived in the space or context of time. The voyage of 2 cannot subvert time, because it is within frames, measured frames, bounded. Thus, progress here is perhaps the idea that it can move from one point to another, points that form a space, an idea of itself, a voyage.

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled. (7)
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)

Even though “the relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled”, the relationship remains a marriage that cannot contemplate divorce; thus, it’s a marriage that’s settled not merely in negotiations, and/or compromise, but, also, and ineluctably, in both the quiet and bloody power struggle in violence. In that struggle, knowledge, in the end, gives in to new, fresh perceptions availed in seeing; but it gives in reluctantly. But what perhaps binds seeing and knowledge is seeing not necessarily what’s before and after words, but rather the interval before and after words: the word itself, the well in the internal life of text. Seeing in words is knowledge is indelible to poetry; the world’s saturated visuality melts into the visuality of text, words, and punctuations.

Now the visuality of textual poetry can be transformed into something else: the substitution of text with something, say, more visual, and not necessarily looking for something to represent text; this can be a tricky distinction. And I sense this is the proposal of luminous poetry. But in order to create a visual vocabulary, this form borrows images from anywhere, from print text, punctuations, media images, digital visual inventions, or anything from popular culture. In this poetic form, producing something that can have some narrative appeal can, indeed, be an experience, as though in a dream, in an irresistible neon shock. Short Movies gives me that dream-state; it gives me fresh illusory perspectives and correlations when I think of visualizing cosmology, prophesy, and voyage, not to forget q, 2, and an image of a hotdog.

The hotdog is particularly intriguing, because its corresponding existence in real-life can be masticated, then digested through molecular processes, unlike the other non-culinary elements in the frames, the movies. The image of that fastfood can be a hint of ideology and politics; but I’m textualizing dream-state, a space that’s already mired and loaded with multiple combinations of fantastical, phantasmal, or liberal totalitarian ideologies and politics; and discussing politics in that state can certainly be elided, because it’s beyond words, and thus fits the ‘visual discussion’ afforded in the visuality of luminous poetry. I have also avoided thinking what the poets were thinking in terms of words, when they were creating Short Movies. In many ways, I like the idea that as I read or witness the images I become mystified; interestingly, I’m even mystified at the textualization of those mystifying images myself. I am not surprised; I’m textualizing dream-state, although one that would soon diffuse and melt into my everyday reality, demystifying itself there, crawling in my urban reality like rhizomic, digital energies, in the voracious freedoms of the unconscious. But tomorrow I will continue to have my regular fastfood break at the hotdog stand, only adorned with ketchup and relish, habitually relinquishing the palatable but negligible benefits of mustard and onions. I will sit and talk with others around the stand, and for a second there, I may look at the sky, and wonder about things falling; then I’ll just look away, forget that sky, and talk with others around me whose words suggest the inspiring, claustrophobic freedoms in work. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a parenthesis may already be planning a rendezvous with a period or an exclamation mark. Then I’ll remember some movies I’ve seen lately, including some eventful short movies, as I immerse myself in the unfolding, cinematic cosmos around me.

Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs, Hill and Wang, New York, Translated by Richard Howard, 1997.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing, BBC and Penguin Books, 1972.


Michael Caylo-Baradi lives in Southern California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in XCP:Streetnotes, Tertulia Magazine, OurOwnVoice, elimae, and Kartika Review. He occasionally contributes op-ed pieces to the Los Angeles Daily News.



Zone : Zero by Stephanie Strickland
(Ahsahta Press, 2008)

Pink Acid Cloud and Digital Love:
The Slipstream Worlds of Stephanie Strickland’s Zone : Zero

As a reader/writer with a new baby, my perception being deflected and refracted through the senses of someone just learning to use them, I'm positioned differently in relation to things I read. Previous to parenthood, I consumed reading materials by way of tools honed to maximize an output of applicability to my own writing, which meant marking these materials with reference points by which I could "make sense" or decode these materials. I would understand what I read by way of things I had already read, and so could categorize and interpret according to rules of categories and interpretations generated by reading what I had experienced or read in the past. This is a very commonly-taught way of reading: read for patterns and then apply what you learn about those patterns to the next thing you read which displays those patterns. And in my case, I was particularly interested in how to torque an interpretation, or take advantage, of what I read for the purposes of something I was writing.

But having a baby has changed all of my machinery for categorizing and applying the rules of categories to objects and phenomena. For instance, while at the bagel shop across the street this morning, I walked with my baby toward a door stop that was mounted on the wall adjacent to the women's bathroom. My baby didn't point out this doorstop to me, or make bodily motions indicating he wanted to be nearer to the doorstop. But because I was holding my baby, and trying to do whatever I could to occupy or interest him, as I always do, some part of my mental functioning, of which I was not totally aware, told me to walk the baby over to the doorstop and point out the doorstop to him. The doorstop was mounted at waist-height, and was a rubber-filled metal ring. I thought surely the feel of the rubber and the 3-D aspect of the doorstop would interest him. And it did. The doorstop turned into a baby-point-of-interest for the morning.

So, my goal in reading the doorstop as a new mom was shifted from what it was as a non-mom. Specifically, as a reader going about in the world among things and people, I am now not only reading phenomena in order to understand them and apply that understanding to other tasks (such as writing, or opening doors non-destructively), but am functioning as a facilitator of someone else's reading of these phenomena. I have a role in producing the readerly experience for someone else.

It seems my openness to this new understanding of the shifting function of doorstops required first having a baby. That poetry can make such shifts in its readers' perceptual frameworks is taken for granted by readers and writers alike, including myself. But these shifts in the reading experience don't actually come along all that often, and when they do, they feel as noteworthy as my doorstop experience (which is to say quite noteworthy!).The Wordsworthian free-verse lyric (whose rhetoric uses print-poem techniques which have been around for a long while) is going strong. But when a poem tries out some new technology, lays out new sets of terms and tools for its readers, actually producing new uses and meanings for the act of reading, is when poetry really feels like it's doing its poetry thing. This is how poetry defines itself. And this is how poetry as a practice is renewed as relevant, applicable, accessible, and understandable: when it opens readers' own mechanisms for reading language to a slightly unprecedented but shared capability.

Stephanie Strickland's Zone : Zero enacts and constitutes this shift. The language and structure of the book arches its ingenuous eye toward an interrogation into what poetry does. Initially this happens via the question of how poetry is contained; the book is segmented into five zones ("ZONE ARMORY WAR, "ZONE MOAT ELSE" "ZONE DUNGEON BODY," "ZONE RAMPART LOGIC," "ZONE MOTE ELSE") the language of which (with the exception of "MOTE")* describes these zones as enclosed defensive structures which may or may not act on each other and which may or may not supplement each other's work. These are distinct enclosures/containers, not to be confused with acts of a drama or with personal narrative segments conjoined by a unified lyrical voice. Zone : Zero's structure maps out five parallel disjointed territories. The zones are enclosed places, each zone performing its own work across the fabric of a plane parallel to other planes. What the zones of the book share, in addition to a sense of pre-occupation that results from each section's intense focus, is the fact of their purposeful activity. Each zone performs work that none other could perform.

That said, there are strong threads of linguistic texture crossing through and linking up the ecosystems of each zone, which work together to pull the reading activity into the reader's body: there's sand, dust, colors, crystals, shadows, faiths, lyrics, roots, myths, and histories all skirting each other parabolically. The language bestows real tangibility to the experience of the poems. While the business of the poems and their sections progress, there's also a palpable sense of levity from a lack of the neurotic dialogic double-backing that plagues some lyrical free-verse modes. In a way, Zone : Zero has the best of both poetic-tradition (the one it creates, and the one from which it is born) worlds.

The poems of "ZONE ARMORY WAR,"* the book's first section, are wavelike and rhythmic, patterned after tides and speaking to the constancy and quietness (as in, the poem "Constant Quiet") of the most violently aggressive of human activities. Heroes and heroines, kings and commoners, rubble fields, holy wars, orange trees, pink acid clouds, birdsongs and bond-slaves all populate and penetrate the introductory section of Zone : Zero. These poems inhabit their space on a rise and fall of energy across and/or down the page that seems to have no origin and no endstop. Images of disintegrating lab equipment, trash pits raided by roving eyes, televisions left playing in the middle of the forest, biotic life in the chemical pool – all swimming their cycles in their post-millennial debris, suspended and buoyed by the cosmic rehearsal of ultimate inevitability. Sharp objects and toxic substances, floods and holy wars all come and go with the regularity of leaves on a tree, even if the immediacy of these events feels more or less apocalyptic.

The variable patterning of infinitude in this first section gives way to the book's "moat," the meandering "Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot." The back and forth playfulness of Sand and Soot, zeroes and ones, constitutes the kind of moat which is so loopy, it feels more like a stream. Very much a departure from the checkerboarded tit-for-tat tone of "War Day" in "ZONE ARMORY WAR,"* Sand and Soot's back and forth conversation is a song, a classical narrative of the passionate link between the pursuer (Soot) and the pursued (Sand):
Soot loves Sand. Every tree,
every wall, a target inscription, pierced
by Tell's weapon. Turn me on,
the swooshing sound Soot hears Sand
murmur. (32)

The hypertext version of the poem notes that the ballad's Sand and Soot refer to silicon and carbon. These are organic materials ("Biocompatible glass?" 39) matched in a game of digital-carbonic footsie. Rejecting traditional status as a purely passive love object, Sand's shapeshifting marks her as more of an interactive sort:
Sand's never the sameness fleeter than
anything Soot could get a hand, a handle,
on. Flickery swift. And yet. One finger
brings her crashing down...(42)

As a courtship narrative, "The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot" explores how digital and hypertextual technologies can degrade easy demarcations of active subject/passive love object and how the chemical, biological, and cosmological vocabularies which constitute digital creation can also be employed to describe a love relationship. And all the while, the Ballad remains, at essence, playful.
If a silly con were all Sand were.

                  If an ashy trash were all of Soot.

*                   *                   *                   *

That Zone : Zero can successfully ride these waves of gravity and weightless play is due in large part to a sense that the poems (and their specialized vocabularies) are carefully dipping themselves onto the page from their normal spheres (zones) of activity. I am not at all versed in fractal geometry, Austrian logic systems, or motion capture coding. I am not, as can be expected when reading poetry, reading solely for the consumption of this information, so in reading Zone : Zero, I get to gear up a different kind of cognitive machinery in making an experience for myself with these poems which do feature this type of information. These are poems that blissfully mind and conduct their own business, regardless of whether or not they have my go-ahead. In short, I am never, as a reader of 21st-century American poetry, being sympathized with by the activities of Zone : Zero. What I am given is the opportunity to create my own experience of reading the book, by way of handling various kinds of matter that I would otherwise be shunted from (by myself or by the discreteness of the categories of knowledge to which we all attain). Rather than describe this experience as an amateurish dalliance in things like Greek tragedy, virtual technologies, mysticisms, and math, I would describe the opportunity the poems give as a sort of nano-pricking or nano-threading of these knowledges onto or in and out of the surface of me. These prickings and threadings pick up flashes of memories and associations which then constitute a distinct sensation – one which is particular to me – of the experience of the book.

This pricking-ness, though, is the least of a factor in the third section of the book, "ZONE DUNGEON BODY."* If the poems in this zone are collectively represented by an underground cell or prison which also tangentially relates to the body, it would seem that these left-justified lyrical narrative poems are being described collectively as restricted, restrictive, hemmed-in, constricted, or contained. This is more or less a tautology about formal lyricism. (Which is to say: when your poems only come in a certain kind of package, they only come in a certain kind of package.) But that this tautology also relates to the body, to the limits of the body, creates a relation between this section of the book and the other sections of the book, which display lyrical, visual, and narrative freedoms most obviously in material and nonmaterial substances like silicon, sand, ones, zeroes, fuel rocks, gelatin-silver, and Caves. This section is a sort of departure from previous sections, or a landing back onto home turf:
Just a stone barn
and Rodney's music....

you couldn't even
figure it out, unless you
were told about it.... (53)

Stone barns and stories. In fact, "Stone Barn" includes a sort of commentary on the double-bind of material forms – how materials, being as they are materials, can be so easily hijacked for unintended uses: "...the engineer/mixed it funny, putting down/the piano entirely/when the voice appeared." But this surrender of control is also itself a sort of comfort: "Rodney says,/ that wasn't/ what he meant, but you can't/ be everywhere..." (54). Quite a sigh of relief it is to abandon responsibility for being everywhere.

The comfort of the familiar linearity of these poems is very real. It's also linguistically luscious and even juicy and rich for the knowledge-seeking head. "Absinthe: The Twelve" is in part a survey of oft-overlooked women artists and ascetics from Salt Pillar and Sheba to Patti Smith. The "ZONE DUNGEON BODY"* poems very much reassure that the book as a whole, while engaged in a discussion of late technologies which have redefined what it means to "read," is coming from a place defined by a quote unquote simple love of reading and writing words that make poetry.

The experience of reading this third section leads to the question of what it means to read for pleasure versus what it means to read for something else. Is reading with the goal of learning something definitively not pleasurable? Is it the goal of poetry to create something enjoyable? Is poetry with references to fields of learning outside the realm of poetry less than poetry? Certainly one of poetry's initial conditions, in reading it, is that you come to it with a more or less open mind/eye/ear. You're coming to poetry, to paraphrase Strickland, to be taken through doors – closed doors, secret doors, and doors you don't know are there. Perhaps the answers to some of these questions about the job of poetry can be found by determining whether or not, as a reader of poetry, you want to take yourself through these doors, you want to be taken through these doors by something or someone else, or whether you can envision a system of reading, learning, and interacting with media which doesn't require such a harsh divide between activity and passivity, producer and consumer, writer and viewer.

Perhaps yet another way of looking at these questions is to wonder whether, as a reader (or, "viewer"?), you need to have knowledge to gain knowledge. To read/view about (or, by way of) motion capture coding, for example, do you need to know what motion capture coding is and how it is made? Or, do you actually need to acquire information about motion capture in order to read information using it? What if you didn't want to consume what you read, but would rather simply view? (And indeed, how is this distinction made?)

A rampart is an embankment of earth surmounted by a parapet which is present to defend a fort. Layer upon layer of defense. The "ZONE RAMPART LOGIC"* section of Zone : Zero begins with a prisoner and ends with a prisoner, and what separates one prisoner from another is the surrender of control of the defenses, or of data, for example, to a realization that "to/ assess / motion, one needs needs that standard..." (80). The mind is distressed in these poems, yet willing to come to grips with the fact of tripping over itself:
slalom total touch re-
currently inclining
crossing to one

voice more than another
like a small creek that stays clear
through numerous findings (75)

Hats are tipped to the work of 20th-century logicians, bridging gaps between Plato's caves and those utilized by 21st-century filmmakers. But the endeavors of logic-seekers and logic-makers, parallel to the work of layers of iron-clad defense, degrade to the touch and give themselves over to the skies:
Never mind that the watch failed to summon,
or did sound, unheard. Dawn,

itself, streak after streak in the big windows, could not
pry open our dreams.

What awaits in the skies, on the other side of the rampart, is the way out or around or beyond the problems of lyrical and experiential limit, beyond the logic of rhetoric and the rhetoric of logic. (And as will be discussed, what follows the release of prisoners from the ramparts of logic is not so much the heart of Zone : Zero as much as it is an accelerator for a way of reading beyond rhetoric.) But on the earthen side of the rampart, experience remains measured in time, space, life, and death: "flowers awaken,/ absorb energy/ to die./ Digits throb/ red alert./ Minutes speed forward only to spread/ apart...." In this dimension, there is one side of the equal sign, and then there is another. Working the sides out in poetry means that truffles and trifles can be equally manhandled in an argument and that as a reader, you are allowed to divest yourself from the outcomes of these arguments and just enjoy the show:
nougats to be made that can't
be toothed – or distoothed – within the Rule

                  but that will be stickily true, nonetheless:
                  a caution...(77)

The words of logicians are equally words and when reappropriated for poetry play, are slanted just enough to reveal their caves and shadows.

*                   *                   *

The final section of Zone : Zero is "ZONE MOTE ELSE."* The "else" in the section's title seems to designate a reaching past what's come before, such as, "I've tried all of these, but what else?" But as opposed to the "else" of "ZONE MOAT ELSE"*, this section's else wants to retain its attachments to what culminated in its fruition. If linear narrative lyric is being stepped away from in Zone : Zero, it certainly is acknowledged as part of the recipe. This is the section, though, in which my doorstop is re-imagined and by the reading of which all other sections become doorstops.

A clue to what else exactly is next comes in the "mote" of the section's title. A mote, as a noun, according to online Merriam-Webster's, is simply a speck, as in a mote of dust or sand. As a verbal auxiliary, mote is an archaic version of may or might, from the Old English "motan" meaning "to be allowed to." Mix all of this together and you get a sense that the poems in this section are infiltrators, interlocutors, getting into secrets areas and coating motionless objects more and more thickly as time accumulates. They have, of course, been given a certain amount of permission. So if the other zones are defensive structures, this zone presents the offender, perhaps invited, who can never be completely contained.

These poems employ a variety of techniques to demonstrate their elseness, including font play, variable (wavelike, really) spacing and enjambment, and the use of programming language to create lyrical "pool.littlegreen willytadpoles" (90). Most prominent in the section, though, is the presence of a 10-part interactive Flash poem, "slippingglimpse," which was made in collaboration with two other artists/writers. The poem is printed in the book (obviously, without the Flash component), is available on-line, and is also one of two poems (the other being "The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot') on the CD included with the book.

Without the interactive component, the poem reads like the busted-up record of a conversation between mathematicians, photographers, medieval farmers, and computer programmers. The truncated bits of dialogue, descriptions of artistic process, and loopy lines about how, for example, "the compositor composits it all" lend themselves to a sense you're witnessing clouds of information spinning from their origins around a projection screen in the sky and that the poem is constructed by its composer/compositor having snatched bits of language out of the ether and landing them on the page (94). This type of reading is fun but also limited, and leaves you really with just having glimpsed a part of a part of the larger activity of the poem.

What you're reading when you're reading the print version of "slippingglimpse" is information that has put you on the production side of the poem. The language here presented is comprised, in part, of samples, recombinations, and direct quotes from articles and interviews from many different sources and on many different subject matters. This print version lives in the interactive version as the scrolling text under various video images of waves and oceanic movements. And the print version of the poem is really part of the source material for the interactive version. In the interactive version, the poem-text overlays the images of the ocean's movements, having been assigned locations in the videos by motion-capture coding technology. So the text, the language of the poem, is just one part of the actuality of "slippingglimpse."

As a moving, rhythmic, interactive piece, "slippingglimpse" is about the cycle of things coming about or together and breaking apart, about the violence of this cycle (seen in video and verbal images), and about how despite this violence and the changes that result, systems have a way of reliably returning to patterns. This echoes the first section of the book and clarifies its violence/constancy couple. The poem's notes note the name for this type of pattern ("chreods"), a designation for a concept which allows for a consideration of transition and change in the midst of patterning. The motion capture coding of the poem-text gives the poem's language a sense of this kind of patterning by animating the text with shakes and murmurs, ascents and descents, whirls and wash-outs. The language of the poem as a whole does not represent a particular authorial position or perspective; but it has trajectory as a constantly-producing and -produced piece of interactive material.

What I want to say about "slippingglimpse" is this: the poem puts the reader in the position not so much as a consumer of the poem but as viewer of the poem (for obvious reasons) and as witness to how the components of the poem read each other. As you experience the poem, you see that it is created in the course of its reacting to itself. The text bumps around the waves captured in the video. The images of the ocean impart the understanding that the language comes and goes, and origins and endpoints are kind of irrelevant. All of these different seers or readers or consumers are performing their work which constitutes the poem, and you are witness to it. As opposed to the sort of moral dictum Wordsworth might provide (as he does in, for instance, the craggy rock section in Book I of "The Prelude:" "life and nature, purifying thus/ The elements of feeling and of thought..." 410-11), there is no moral to the story here. The poem is an invitation to observe your own trajectory, as it collides with the poem, and to take the poem with you in whatever manner you wish, wherever it is that you are going. The poem creates that space at the same time that it constructs itself as an example of how to utilize that space.

It seems important to realize that motes of dust are not only constituted in large part by us, especially indoors, but are also understood as constitutive of the universe. Here, the silicon of the digital realm coincides with stardust of the cosmic realm and the dust-to-dustness of the liberal humanist realm. "ZONE MOTE ELSE"* gives you permission to reside in all of these zones. The trick is to do so with an awareness of all of them, lest you privilege one realm over another and end up pigeon-holed up at one point or another. (I mean, to the chagrin of some animators, motion-capture is here to stay.) And the trajectory of this last section of the book lends trajectory to the book as a whole, and answers some of our questions about the job of poetry.

Well actually maybe not any one book will answer definitively any questions about the nature of the job of poetry. But from Zone :Zero, you get the sense that as a reader/viewer/producer, there is an acknowledgment that you bring to the page/screen your own baggage/interests/issues, and despite any one author's determination to take you somewhere specific, you will go where you are going. In other words, you don't need to acquire anything beyond your current and open self in order to read/produce Zone : Zero, although maybe you would need to do some research in order to read/consume/interpret. And if there is any moral to this story, perhaps it would be that you can take this readerly swagger with you.

[Editor's Note: The middle word in each of the zone titles feature the 2nd word to be typographically smaller than the first and third words -- something I can't replicate viz Blogger.]


Rachel Daley is.



Scaffold by Joel Chace
(Country Valley Press, 2008)

The word ‘scaffold’ brings to mind construction, images of buildings under repair, or going up, or coming down. It suggests a state of suspension, a period of incompletion, paint splatters and chains clanking and men shouting and a look of disheveled choreography, rickety planks and rolls of blueprint. The title is perfect for Chace’s chapbook. Open it, and one sees words scattered about the page in a circumstance of weightless apprehension, as if waiting for a reader’s eyes to connect and associate them.

But the words do form images. The last line on the first page reads:
spread         among         the      barn’s      own      highest      beams

The space between the words creates tension. We sense expanse. Weights in confluence. The volume inside a barn and the structure holding it together.

Here is another:
that network of roots                      tousling

thinning             to silky nebulae

The image created by “silky nebulae” is a web, obviously, but ‘nebulae’ also strongly evokes cosmological phenomena, the diffuse patches of glowing material found scattered among the stars. Some nebulae are shells of gas thrown off by old, unstable stars. Others, which can measure hundreds of light-years in diameter, are clouds of gas and dust illuminated by nearby stars. The conflation of the earthly (“network of roots,” the silkiness of a spider web) with the cosmological ruptures the ordinary scale of things and opens a space for vision and the free play of the imagination. Implicit in this is a philosophy of verbal construction: what makes a sentence a sentence? How does the mind assemble meaning? Is meaning always in a mode of construction, or is it innate, a nucleus of assiduous purport packed solidly and indissolubly in the shell of a word?

One is forced while reading this book to pause at each word, each phrase, and absorb it before moving on. The impulse to connect one nebulous of words with another is irresistible, and there is a delicious tension in that, but there is an equal tendency to linger at a phrase and fully absorb it before moving on to the next. This is an issue Stephan Mallarmé maximized to wonderful effect in Un Coup de Dés, in which constellations of word and phrase have multiple meanings and forms and whose semantic and syntactic instabilities express a crisis at the heart of representation: that exquisitely tantalizing, maddeningly indistinguishable line between absence and presence, being and nothingness, which makes poetry the thrilling calamity that it is. This is implicit in nearly all systems of symbolic representation; as an increased attention to the material fact of words makes itself felt, the provisional aspects of thought and perception are heightened. One wonders, in fact, what isn’t continually under construction. What isn’t, ultimately, surrounded by scaffolding? A scaffold is a temporary suspension in space. But where are we, as writer and reader, in relation to one another? These are some of the conundrums to be discovered and enjoyed amid the scaffolding here.


John Olson's last publications include Backscatter: New and Selected Poems, from Black Widow Press (2008), and Souls of Wind, from Quale Press (2008), a novel about the exploits of poet Arthur Rimbaud in the American West. His essay, "City of Words," which appeared in Vol. 13, No. 2. of The Raven Chronicles, was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. He is also the recipient of an annual genius award for literature, in 2004, from Seattle's weekly The Stranger.



So That Even by Tawrin Baker
(House Press, Bloomington, Buffalo, Philadlephia, and New York City, 2008)

Tawrin Baker has built a book which presents unique problems to the would-be critic or bibliologist. One has to go gently around it with an insinuating eye and practice a rebellious tongue: there are no words known to name it, nor its parts, nor its imagined macrocosm, the library.

In fewer than a thousand words: Tawrin's creation is made of paper, crimson wax, and a clasping metal ring 1" in diameter. Instantly stunningly puzzling, the book is bound by the clasp which pierces and brings together the two far ends of a signature sealed on both ends by crimson wax bent around on itself into a donut-shape. If you pin the thing totally flat it looks more or less like a regular book, bound by a metal ring, but it does not work like a regular book, because it does not open. You can of course manipulate by prying apart the pages imprisoned in the ring's hermetic perimeter to see there is writing, but you can only see it, not read it.

The only script or glyph on the outer-surface is a house on its side, like it got shoved down in a schoolyard fight by some dexterous animosity. If we squeeze the book’s two pleasure points so it blossoms, we see its inner surfaces are tagged. "So That Even" reads one title; "A Lover Exists," the other, in mirror.

Perhaps if one is an engineer and a poet, one can figure out what to do with this unnamable thing which no combination of libro, biblio, sphere, hemi, semi, circa, roto, text, lexi, seems to fit (rotodislexitext? circabilbiosphere?). Naming half of the thing is equally challenging and necessary because the interested student cannot shake the notion each half is one of a pair. Two parts, which perhaps if they can be extricated from one another can be read.

What kind of society can there be for such a book? What kind of library could hold it? This is a lonely book, though it has each other.

I have held the thing up to my eye, articulated and mutilated the pages, and seen inside. Every other page is set to words and every other page offers a geometric figure of circle traversed by four gnomon-like hands, whose angles change page to page. As for the words, though reading is dizzying, I can at least look at them through my squinting hand, as I’d do any other unintelligible shape, and it's clear many if not all the sentences in the one medibook are repeated in the other, though not in the same order. And, on each written sheet I can make out two couplets -- like two lovers in bed.

Unfortunately, most things can’t be said about anything, much less something. Especially here where a riddle craftily mediates what can be known -- you can't say much at all. Yet, it's materially obvious this is a cohesive text. It's a book of interlacing every-other-pages that fits together so well it's an indivisible whole, physically. The writer is obviously a scientist of some kind. The advertised poetry within is most likely metalogical.


Eric Gelsinger is a member of House Press. Originally from Buffalo, he lives in Brooklyn and works near Times Square as an equities trader. More of his writing can be found at



TORQUES: DRAFTS 58-76 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
(Salt Publishing, Cambridge, U.K., 2008)

“Suggest Another Mechanism Of Order”:
Rachel Blau Duplessis, Torques, and the Uncertainties of Artistic Practice

In her recent collection of poems, Torques, Rachel Blau DuPlessis reflects on both the limitations and the possibilities of language when faced with loss, a thematic approach that proves striking. Part of an ongoing long poem project in the tradition of Pound and Williams, her work takes the shape of canto-like “drafts,” a form that in itself evokes the opportunities and obstacles inherent in the writing process. Often pairing the incapacities of words with suggestions of activism through artistic practice, DuPlessis raises significant questions about the responsibilities of the poet in the twenty-first century, a role that proves at once meditative and political.

In exploring these themes, the poems in Torques elaborate on two preceding volumes of work, Drafts 1-38, Toll and Drafts 39-57, Pledge, which both establish poetry as a register for the social dynamics of one’s time. Although at times portraying language as insubstantial when faced with overwhelming political grief, DuPlessis suggests that in art, for many marginalized groups, reclaiming agency truly begins. She writes, for example, in Toll:
Thus my voice is empty, but I speak and sing
only of this.
The undersentences
that rise, tides of sediment, the little
stuff agglutinating in time, debris
                  I sing.
Cannot not do it so.

In this passage, DuPlessis creates a speaker who envisioned herself as being vulnerable, an idea conveyed through such phrases as “my voice is empty” and “my shallow heart has flooded.” By juxtaposing this sense of powerlessness with the compulsion to create, or, in other words, to “sing” of the “undersentences/that rise,” the poem establishes the creative process as a means by which to record and assess the currents of history, beginning with “the little/stuff agglutinating” in everyday existence.

DuPlessis explores similar ideas in Pledge, the volume of drafts preceding Torques. Frequently invoking the political through the intensely personal, the speakers found in Pledge also express an interest in the connection between artistic constraints and social inequity. She writes, for example:
Metaphor? A snarl some of whose knots
Have been pulled so close and tight and hard
The rough, the smooth, the sleek, the rotted,
That one is compelled to act.
But how?
Unpick the knot? or cut? or both? and splice?
Perhaps it’s not a knot. No metaphor is right.
And hence this so called poem
suspects them, too much, too many, rough and ready,
uneven, demanding, illogical,
not prettied or curried in the manner of good poems.

Depicting art as being shaped by culturally dominant groups, who determine that “good poems” should be “prettied or curried,” DuPlessis suggests that conventions of art often reinforce the marginalization of groups in society, yet in the end prove subversive. Because she defines metaphor something that “compels” one “to act,” the poem, like others in the collection, implies that awareness and understanding of these social inequities often begins in the creative process. This poem and others like it establish themes that resurface at the start of Torques, which, like DuPlessis’s previous collections, considers the possibilities of a limited lexicon when faced with intense political disappointments.

By beginning Torques with a poem that describes the death of a college student by suicide, DuPlessis dashes the readers’ hopes for a definitive starting point, instead following the “tides of sediment” that she has mapped during her first two books. Using this opening image as a metaphor for subjugation in political life, the poem, “In Situ,” suggests that such iniquities have remained present throughout history. For example, she writes in this piece:
One’s building used as weapon
leaves a mark

one’s stairwell
intimate dull concrete

one’s city
broken apart,

high-pitched twist
of sirens, useless

work of a moment, it leaves a shadow.

In this passage, DuPlessis conflates the student’s death with the aftermath of war, suggesting that an individual’s death proves just as tragic, an idea that is often overshadowed by the “Hollywood militarism” that “makes some dead inconsequent”. Invoking the cultural frustration present in her two previous collections, the beginning of Torques establishes such artistic endeavors as being a means toward recognizing the political dimension often present in personal tragedies, an idea that transcends specific social injustices.

Just as in Pledge and Toll, DuPlessis uses this scene to transition to a reflection on narrative convention and its potential for both activism and subjugation. In a piece entitled “Draft 59: Flash Back,” she juxtaposes linguistic convention with parodies of such traditions, a combination that proves thought-provoking throughout. She writes in “Flash Back,” for instance:
Why use the alphabet to organize,
                  and why not? Discuss.
                  Suggest another mechanism of order.
                  One form and then another.
Something that sort of ends, but sort of not.
                  The alphabet is existentially funny.
                  Lettristic vaudeville, a blood-orange horizon.

Mimicking the “question and answer” format of a classroom, DuPlessis implies that although such linguistic structures remain inevitable, they often reflect dominant ideas in the given culture. By telling reader to “Suggest another mechanism of order,” the poem highlights the unavoidability of such artistic constraints. Like other works in the book, “Flash Back” pairs hopelessness with continued attempts to subvert these narrative “mechanisms,” proving at once philosophical and grounded in concrete detail.

In doing so, DuPlessis often creates texts that can be read in multiple ways, ultimately subverting this linguistic “mechanism of order” through her use of from, rather than the limited lexicon that she describes throughout Torques. These ideas are exemplified by her poem “Scroll,” in which she juxtaposes two columns of text which may be read separately or concurrently, a form that enables her piece to take on a variety of metaphors as it progresses. She writes, for instance, in “Scroll” AT THIS LINK courtesy of Jacket).

Throughout this piece, DuPlessis mimics the format of a newspaper, a choice suggestive of the culture of spectatorship surrounding tragedy. The two parts of the poem, when read separately, imply that the speaker’s desire for a language conducive to activism, in which the “Snide Rhetorics of ‘scare quotes’” have been replaced, remains unrealistic. When read together, though, the two sections of the poem present a more complex vision of this same message, in which the audience perceives barriers that the speaker does not, suggesting that some artistic endeavors prove both redemptive and illusory.

Often examining the role of gender in shaping her speakers’ experiences of this multifaceted creative process, DuPlessis establishes feminism as being a stigmatized ideology, incorporating dark humor and a quick wit throughout. Often presenting women’s activism as futile, much like conveying political grief with a limited lexicon, DuPlessis suggests that just as with poetic endeavors, recognizing feminism as valuable remains key in reclaiming political agency. She writes, for example:
I zip my body bag, donate myself to science:
                   ‘feminist.’ And secular to boot.
Wall-eyed between suitcase and body bag
I asked ‘are alterations possible?’
                  A poufed-out plastic bag blows by,
                   ‘Pathmark’ is what it says.
                                    This is an ambiguous answer,
                                    whatever the question.

In this passage, DuPlessis creates a speaker who recognizes the limitations of claiming the label of “feminist” in today’s America, yet persists at analyzing social inequities through the lens of gender. Suggesting that feminists remain, quite literally, rare specimens in modern society, the poems in Torques present language as being at once liberating and highly gendered. Just as the speaker receives an “ambiguous answer” when caught between flight and capitulation, DuPlessis presents a complex relationship between activism, language and gender, ideas that recur throughout the collection.

Her focus on feminism and its limitations becomes increasingly prominent as the book progresses, often expounding on ideas from Toll and Pledge while creating a more complex vision of gender politics and their presence in the creative process. In Toll, for example, DuPlessis lists various literary representations of women in previous books, suggesting that even before the creative process begins, the page remains something of a gender loaded space. She writes in a piece entitled “Draft X: Letters,” for example:
Rachel, the pinkish color of a powder.
Triangle leap. Solomon’s seal…
Woman, as a well-inked
                  Letterpress. Kohl round her eye;
                  She splots on the page as she falls.
X, it marks the spot. It hits the spot.
                  And marks taboo, and intersect.

By invoking biblical characters like Rachel and Solomon, DuPlessis suggests that prominent cultural ideas, in this case Christian ones, often shape representations of women in literature. Implying that such convention can both limit and inspire art, the poem’s transition to the image of a written page evokes the possibilities of both subversion and further subjugation through artistic endeavors. The woman serving as “a well-inked/Letterpress” for established order, she also “marks taboo, and intersect,” a dual role that DuPlessis suggests marginalized individuals must negotiate while creating art.

Likewise, throughout Pledge, DuPlessis depicts the artistic process as being dual natured for marginalized groups, in this case implying that such endeavors remain encased in a biased rhetorical structure. Frequently deconstructing the colloquial, the poems in Pledge suggest that everyday speech remains a subtly politicized space. She writes, for instance, in “Draft 48: Being Astonished”:
Note how odd the story seems from what you now have called the
“other side”
of “the story.”
Try to figure out how many facets something called the other
side might have, if one said “sides.” See whether the two sides are, in
practice, enough. Forget “sides.” Enter.
Identify the qualities and textures of silence, the materials
Involved in silencing, the slight rustles or traces of the silent.

Using a common phrase to illustrate the ways everyday speech reflects undertones within a given culture, DuPlessis presents attempts at diversity and inclusiveness by those in power as reductive. A metaphor that conveys the inextricability of social injustice from language and other social structures, “Being Astonished” presents equality as involving a dramatic change in worldview—one that remains impossible within many linguistic frameworks.

In Torques, DuPlessis further complicates these themes, relating them to both the shortcomings and the possibilities of language. By invoking some of the tropes of literary tradition, such as direct rhyme, quatrains, couplets, Torques demonstrates that the literature of protest can, and often does, operate within such constraints. She writes, for example, in “Draft 64: Forward Slash”:
The poem is the fosse
in which to cower
hunching down
by warehouses of power

a sludge-filled ditch
where futurists once lay;
now backwashed debris,
now box store splay.

Presenting a dissenting message within the guise of literary conventions, DuPlessis uses form to comment on content. The poem being “the fosse/in which to cower” in the face of cultural dominance, the rebellious lines of the piece are literally dominated by the pronounced direct rhyme scheme being used. Implying that such nonconformist writings are often shaped by the tropes that came before them, poems like “Forward slash” demonstrate that tradition’s constraints can be subverted.

Lastly, DuPlessis conveys the resilience of language through a series of poems entitled “The Deletions,” which appear throughout Torques, Pledge, and Toll. By blacking out large portions of the text, the works suggest that dissenting poems like “Forward Slash” remain inevitable no matter what the constraints. She writes, for example, in “Draft 68: Threshold,” which appears in the third volume of the poem project and can be viewed AT THIS LINK (courtesy of Ron Silliman's Blog):

By censoring portions of her own text, DuPlessis suggests that the suppression of questions about powerlessness, loss, and political fulfillment remains inevitable, yet at the same time futile, particularly for the arts. “The Deletions,” like other poems in Torques, presents a complex vision of what poetry is and is not capable of achieving, particularly in the political landscape of the twenty first century, a project that remains thought-provoking throughout.


Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. She has written on contemporary literature for The Boston Review, New Letters, The Mid-American Review, Third Coast, The Warwick Review, and other journals. Recent awards include residencies at Rockmirth and Writers and Books.