Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Ohio System

Tynes, Jen and Erika Howsare. The Ohio System. Lincoln, NE: Octopus Books, 2006.

Tynes and Howsare’s collaboration contains a series of untitled prose poems that undertake a meta-exploration concerning the (a/e)ffects of conflating identities and genres, more often than not through the trope of a constructed body. Beginning with the incipient poem, the collection greets readers with a “story” that has “twisted its head back,” “Oblique fibrous bands,” a “knee-joint” and a “clavicle,” as well as “your ligaments, my tongue…tailor’s muscle” and “the bones of the face” (5). The body is “the story” and “the story” is the body. In other words, while the content of the poems references various parts of the human anatomy, audience members must also consider the fact that the text itself is a body which has been constructed, in other words, composed. But, due to the fact that there are multiple authors constructing the body named The Ohio System, readers cannot assign a unified or authoritative identity to the text as a whole. Perhaps, a more appropriate manner in which to comprehend the text is to recognize not just the constructed qualities of the text-body, but to grant particular attention to how the construction occurs. For example, in one piece the poets write: “Amusing how the river begins from me, ends at you” (12); while the “me” and “you” function as binary nodes, what is between them, “the river” which Heraclitus claims is never the same due to its perpetual flow, will constantly alter, transform, and necessarily affect the “me” and “you” at either end. To this extent, the authors acknowledge the transformative interlacing of their identities when they write: “What it meant on our end was a braid of two waters” (12). But soon the water imagery becomes untamed and breaches the surrounding banks, “braid[ing]” itself with a nearby city’s “architecture” (12) and the previously mentioned body imagery. The result of this “braid[ing]” is a fantastical new body composed of all three: “the tiny cities of inflammation began moving downstream. Town inside its lower jaw…What seem like cathedrals at the source were, at the mouth, the inner parts of oxbows” (12). Such metamorphoses, which entail a head twisting backward and a town lodging itself into a lower jaw are just a few examples of “how we will grow into each other” (20), or stated differently, how “one planet folds into another” (23). But while each transformation is a “condensation” of disparate images into a connected (but non-unified) aggregate that acts as a “gauge of its own violence” (31) and produced by a “violent muscular effort” (24), this is not violence for violence sake. In fact, violence is a necessary precondition for metamorphosis in that, to alter an object’s fundamental traits, a certain amount of force must be applied to it. Yet, a particular, self-imposed decorum between writers, images, and readers inheres within this violence, thus merging it with mutual respect; or, as we are told midway through the collection: “You are what keeps this place respectable” (19). More precisely, there is an expectation of etiquette predicated upon full disclosure that necessarily is equivocal; or, as the poets inform us: “You tell me whatever you know. A word that means both storm and sadness, where we could have lived but didn’t, the difference between one mile and another. But join with each other…give way to concentric disturbances” (6). Stated differently, “A word that means” is not a singular meaning, but a “word that means” means a multiplicity of meanings; moreover, although one can “live” in one meaning, a more advantageous position would be to “live” and maintain a location within “the difference between one…and another.” Such a stance is not a position aimlessly adrift, but a pragmatic position that is concomitantly conciliatory (i.e “join with each other”), yet inherently effused with “disturbances” (i.e. metamorphic violences): the poem as prose, the author as a complex network of identities and physical bodies, and the body as an amalgamation of disparate objects.

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