Friday, June 18, 2010

Complex Sleep

Tost, Tony. Complex Sleep. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2007.

Complex Sleep, in a strict sense, is an investigation of form wherein particular and, to a certain extent, arbitrary constraints create texts with a “Structural sensibility” (43) that “summon[s]/ precision” (55), but also produces an ethereal language that is “perpetually speculative” (45) as to meaning because form dictates content, often times at the expense of transparent comprehension. For example, the footnote to the title poem informs readers that the main text “is an index of alphabetically arranged sentences...that made up a prose poem” also named “Complex Sleep” (64). Such a re-ordering of language presents the audience with a radically different text, thus fostering a radically different reception; or as Tost writes: “A change of words is more or less/ a change of minds” (64). More specifically, since the “footnote alerts” (65) readers of the new arrangement vis-a-vis the old arrangement, one continually speculates as to the relationship between the way in which the sentences were originally ordered and the final version's order: What was lost? What was gained? The poet acknowledges this space between versions when he writes of the “weird displacement” (96) that occurs in “the spaces between words” (95) and our reception of them. In addition the the fragmentary nature of the sentences' content and the curiosity the footnote imbues within the reader regarding the meta-commentary, another characteristic the alphabetical reconstruction offers is a repetitive, often times anaphoric auditory experience. For instance, over the course of the first six and a half pages, the incipient word of each sentence begins with the letter “A”; moreover, the first word of each sentence on the opening three and a half pages is the indefinite article “A.” The anaphora and alliterative sounds foster an accumulative musicality that “set[s] up a few/ fetishistic patterns.../ in order to create a sense of...obsession or/ suppression” (78): obsessive in that the form is compulsive, suppressive in that the form delimits. The serial poem “Ink Drop,” like “Complex Sleep,” employs a specific, albeit arbitrary, form; all nine poems contain ten lines, and each line contains five words. While, no doubt, the phrase “Stranglehold offers form” (37) speaks to the manner in which line-and-word counted form constrains both the poet and the poem, it also offers “Vibrating stabilities. Improvisations” (35). Neologisms are the most evident of these “vibrations” and “improvisations” found within the poems: in order to fit the proper number of words into a line, Tost combines words to create new ones, such as “Twittersong” (39), Dreamdead” (43), and “Flowchant” (45). Another technique employed to maintain the word count of lines, and thus the poems' “vibrations,” is a liberal elision, more than not generated through inventive use of punctuation. Take for instance, the following excerpt: “Repeater: identity's specificities/ capabilities atmospheric; perceptive, bitter” (44). The sentence elides relational language, instead opting for radical parataxis predicated upon relational punctuation (i.e. colons, semicolons, and commas). Finally, in the poem “A Northern Eros,” the phrases “the genius of your legs” and “another rose” (33) repeat throughout the poem, but each repetition mutates slightly based upon the context in which it is found; or, as the poem states, the poem as a whole becomes a “Tape-loop” of “another rose doubling” (33), as well as the “genius of your legs” doubling that is “Mostly bound (to sound)” so as to enact a “Verbal pressure” (34) and a “Gray magic of blood repeating” (35). With such a premium placed upon the sonic capabilities of these poems, it is no coincidence that in the “Notes” section that concludes the collection, Tost references a slew of musicians and bands that “patterned” and provided “scaffolding for” his writing, such as Bob Dylan, Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices, the Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, and Captain Beefheart, just to name a few.

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