Thursday, June 10, 2010


Keene, John and Christopher Stackhouse. Seismosis. San Diego, CA: 1913 Press, 2006.

The collaborations comprising Keene and Stackhouse's Seismosis contain two elements: abstract pen and pencil, line drawings and language-based poetry that more often than not employs innovative forms. The aforementioned poems range from prose poetry to lists to graphs to found text to erasures to more traditionally lineated verse, just to name a few techniques. The language within Keene's pieces, like Stackhouse's drawings, tends to be abstract; for example, in the poem “After C (4): Event Location” readers encounter passages such as : “stretching himself to a level of being gone/ at the moment of gut and presentation./ As in an incipient space, the search for an approach/ to deconstruct his erasure” (16). The question, then, becomes: what is the best manner for audience members to engage a "stretching" of language that necessarily works to avoid the concrete in favor of a more ethereal and fluid idiom that approaches "a level of being gone"? To a certain extent, Keene's provides the answer to this question in the poem “Analysis II”; he writes that the purpose of “abstract art” lies “in stressing the strength of energy released by cognition and observation” (56). What is of special interest with regard to this excerpt is the author's belief that affect, or “energy,” is necessarily stimulated by what many consider to be its antithesis: “cognition,” or intellect. In this manner, the poet attempts not so much to reconcile a binary, so much as develop an idea of how these two concepts work in conjunction with one another. Stated differently, the relationship between intellect and affect fostered within this collection produces “a formal provocation” through “a radical juxtaposition” (107) of disparate modes of engagement. In Seismosis' afterword, Geoffrey Jacques claims that one finds this provocation in “a refusal to disavow voice while paying close attention to the materiality of language” (107). In either case, the raison d'erte of the work appears to be an exploration of contradictory terms and how we as readers can exist, functionally, within both simultaneously. Of course, Keene realizes that abstract art and writing causes many people difficulty, in that it does not offer “immediate pleasure” as do art-objects traditionally conceived of as “”mimetic” (56), but his hope is that those who feel put off by such work will attempt to claw “through the layers of cell and axion” and “le[a]d [them]/ to an emotion” and “intensity” (56). Another question that arises when reading Keene and Stachkhouse's book is: what is the relationship between between text and image? The authors do not necessarily answer the question, so much as restate the question in their own words and images: “He kept drawing, wondering what it meant to attempt/ to convey correspondences, to explore percepts, feelings, impressions, rendering/ topographies of inner quests, geometries of inquiry, testimony of an interior vision” (49). This is not to say that readers are not provided with any clues as to how one best navigates the “correspondence” between text and image; in fact, the collection offers hints, even though oblique, throughout. For instance: “When drawn, however, the unnatured, “ or abstract, works as “a SCREEN made up/ of its component patterns” (46). As such, if one wants to draw back the “SCREEN” so as to find the correspondence between text and image, it would be beneficial to examine “component patterns,” or the repetitions found within and between word and image. In some cases, no doubt, the speaker wants “to map this cluster feeling...drawing it, its negative and subordinate qualities” (64), and thus abstraction, to a certain extent, becomes mimetic; in other cases, the speaker writes “independent of the drawing net, its wake or trace” (87) so that, if a connection is teased out, it is strictly a product of reader's consciousness and bears no relation to authorial intent. Either way, upon “entering” into Seismosis, and by extension the transitional zone between word and image, we as readers are “extending/ sensation into line tone time and rhythm/ mark architecture/ attentive to physical conversation” (21). In other words, Keene and Stackhouse's collaborative effort aesthetically manipulates the abstract “line,” both poetic and hand-drawn, via “tone time and rhythm” so as to produce “sensation,” or “physical conversation” (i.e. affect) through the abstract and the cognitive.

1 comment:

John K said...

Thanks for this thoughtful review!