Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Q: How does one pronounce the title of kari edwards’ new O Books volume?

A: Iduna.


Sorry about that.


Iduna, if one hunts about the net using wild cards & the like, turns out to be a variant name for Idun, the Norse goddess of eternal youth who married Braggi, the god of poetry. Guardian of the golden apples of youth, Idun was once kidnapped by the storm giant Thiazi, only to be rescued by Loki, who changed her into a nut. Yeah, I like Braggi as the god of poetry too.


I’m reading with kari next Saturday at La Tazza & will be curious to hear whether (& how) this San Francisco poet reads from iduna, as it’s spelt here (edwards has a thing about capital letters, shared with the likes of e.e. cummings, David Antin et al). The book, as I view it, is an extended meditation on how do you read this? Page after page of problematized texts, more often fascinating than not, but not exactly given, at least as far as I can tell, to the ear.


If ear-driven poets, such as Stacy Szymaszek or Graham Foust often start with a page that seems absolutely empty, silent, white before syllables rise up off or out of it, edwards seems not to believe in the existence of blank pages at all. Thus on the page to the left of the table of contents we find one quotation from Catherine Clement pretty much where & as you might expect to find a quotation. But there is a second one from Deleuze & Guattari in the upper left hand corner titled at a 90° angle. At the page bottom is a line of type that reads


yo-yo    fact    iman    whiz   lobe kept lira   kook salt size land


A similar bit of verbal scat runs along the top border, upside down, starting with the words “book deep hell….” Behind all of this lie two or three layers of lettering, almost as a watermark – except that the background changes page by page – some of the letters in a solid gray pseudo-script font building along the left & right margins into syllables (gens, to, skev), others merely in outline & so large they’re hard to get a visual sense of. This is as functionally close as we get to a blank page – even the table of contents has the upside-down top border & the pseudo-watermark scripts crowding the text. Ah, but then there is the detail that there appears to be no discernable correlation between this page labeled “content” & the contents of the remainder of the book – it’s a work like any other. Palimpsest, anyone?


My immediate instinct is to register anxiety – there are more details here than I (& very possibly anyone) can absorb. Yet almost instantly, edwards lets you know that the author is fully conscious of the effects this kind of text creates:


[this can be no salvation – there’s
no moderation in the details]


reads a stanza on p. 8, on what, if “content” really were a table of contents, would be the first poem (save for the fact that its printed on the left-hand page – no blank space here!). The lines jump out no just for their content or the parenthetical markers, but also because it’s the only one that strays well to the right of the surface text’s left margin. The title of this text is it’s the sounds that ignites a thought. Beyond the sheer irony lies a second layer revealed, quite accurately, by the grammatic disagreement in number here.


On one level, these are identarian texts that remind me of first-generation gay liberation pamphlets produced by such poets as Judy Grahn or Aaron Shurin. On another, however, these are identarian texts for an identity totally up for negotiation:


I am a man being a woman

I am a woman being a man

I am a homosexual being a straight woman being a homosexual man –

I am a homosexual woman being a straight man being a homosexual woman –


reads the first stanza of “november 28th’s carrier pigeon” (which may or may not be an allusion to Thanksgiving, but definitely is playing with multiple available connotative schemas for those last two words). The second stanza continues:


I am a tree in disguise
         with an edge predicament

I am a young boy being a young girl being

whatever for gazing elder eyes

I am licking an envelope over and over and over


Suddenly the bald proclamations of the first strophe take on a whole new light. Typical example: where the long lines of the first stanza were allowed to flow over to the next, like prose, edwards introduces a stepped line – with an edge predicament – precisely in order to accentuate the fact that the third line’s turn is not, in fact, more running over but is enjambed – an edge predicament indeed! Nor is it any accident that disguise sets up the rhyme with eyes in the fourth line. But it is the complete unpredictability of the last line here that resounds most strongly for me. edwards is capable of moving, almost instantly, from the most over-the-top melodramatic agitprop to quiet utter specificity & back again, and does this well as I’ve ever seen it done.


The days when a Gertrude Stein (or even a David Melnick) would use avant forms to enable a double discourse – one in which gender & sexuality was at issue, one in which it need not be seen – feel closer now to Whitman & Wilde than they do to our own time. Post-Kathy Acker, Nicole Brossard, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Robert Glück, Bruce Boone, Camille Roy & Aaron Shurin, everything is up for grabs. What edwards does, to a degree that I haven’t seen since Acker’s early works, however, is to posit the instability of the text as the critical medium for addressing all the possible instabilities of the self & its cognates. Where so many poets find one aspect of language (sound, image, etc.) to zone in on, extending out from that “home” base into whatever new territory might be at hand, edwards seems to me most interested in that territory between linguistic (& human) fundamentalisms. All this conscious clutter – the upside-down texts, the giant fonts alongside the rest, is neither accidental nor coincidental – edwards is aiming right at the joints that hold up the entire house of cards. As almost panic inducing as some of these texts feel to me, I’m dying to see/hear how edwards gives voice to that which, as I read it, would seem to lie precisely between all the characters in this crowd.