Reviewed by Maureen Thorson
First off, gotta hand it to the designer at NewLights Press (which appears, sadly, to be webpage-less) for an ultra-nice cover. This 5.5″x8″ chap is bound in handmade, straw-colored paper with an agreeably construction-paper kind of feel, and the front features a wide, single column of what appears to be random text. But get this: the majority of the text has been white out, by hand, with ye olde office-type correction fluid. The only words left unblocked are the title and the author’s name. Nice!
And, to top it all off, the design reflects the work itself, a series of short poems that work their way across the “B” section of a 1994 American Heritage Dictionary. Various words within the poems appear in boldface, as if they were dictionary entries, or broken into syllables, like so: ba_by’s breath. But the poems themselves don’t seek to define or denote their subjects, but to refine and connote their meanings through reference to their neighbors:
“An inflatable bag containing the words
of a cartoon character.
The work also invites the reader to partake in a sort of word guessing game — as the poems proceed up and down the “B” section, I began to guess ahead at the word that was being talked around —
“small domestic fowl
small aggressive person
small aggressive boxer
between a flyweight and a featherweight.”
I think these guessing games are important to the work, as they return the reader to the excitement and fun of words in themselves as communicative tools, as expessors — much as other sections that rely on wordplay bring us back to the fun of the sound of words —
“my foamy ba_lo_ney
light, soft, buoyant wood,
insulation, floats, and hobby crafts”.
While there are 20 poems in this collection (the chapbook magic number?), it seems even shorter as some of the poems are no more than 3 lines long. The shortness lends the poems a crisp quality that wavers between creepy and joyous, moving from “A city in/ A country/ of hanging” to “a Christmas tree of people/ on the arm of Baltimore” within a single page. These poems may, in fact, appear somewhat disjointed at first — thrown together only by their ties to the dictionary itself, but I think this is all part of what the author is getting at — the ties, nebulous and all too important, that our big old evolved hyperglossic monkey brains make for us, and between us —
“Marked by manner
Marked by language
Marked by savagery
Marked by language.”
This collection was published in an edition of fifty! Yikes! And no press or author webpage, seemingly . . . I’ll poke around a bit more and report back to you.