Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Body Clock

Sikelianos, Eleni. Body Clock. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2008.

In addition to mapping a space created between the body and time, where “in the many directions in which a body grows, it grows or shrinks in time” (32) to the extent that “a human [is] so shaped like an hour” (34), Sikelianos' Body Clock explores the transitional zone between speech and sound, language and body, and image and text. For instance, the poem “Experiments with Minutes” asks “If we could shine a flashlight/ through the edge of a minute” and “see the membrane's red/ corpuscle,” could we then “Move the flashlight out on eternity” (35)? In other words, does the temporal dimension, in this case “a minute,” have a physical dimension enclosed by a visible “membrane”? And, if it does, what about the the time containing all of time (i.e. “eternity”); can it too be enclosed in physical space? But more than rhetorical questions, Sikelianos investigates the possibilities of an embodied temporal space through a series of text-image hybrids. More specifically, the poet, within the time-frame of one minute, draws a circle with “small freckles of scattered” dots inside of it so as to visually delimit the “conception [of] a minute...though not perfectly” (36). Of course, through the “not perfectly,” she further problematizes the visual concept of a minute when she informs the reader that “This..minute...only took 34 seconds to draw” (36), and the following image “took 31 seconds to draw, but accidentally depicts 61 random seconds” (37). Moreover, when she succeeds in drawing “a// minute that takes exactly a minute,” it “required” her “to sometimes speed up, sometimes slow down” (39) the velocity of her visual minute. Certainly, the poet posits no definitive answer as to the relationship between body, image, text and time, but the multi-dimensional poem does complicate our understanding of each. Later, in the section of the book titled “The Abstracted Heart of Hours & Days (Body Clock),” Sikelianos extrapolates her previous investigation of the minute to the length of an hour. But not only has the temporal space expanded, so has the visual space. Instead of drawing a simple circle enclosing “freckles,” the poet creates elaborate floral patterns surround by time-stamped text so as to imagine how a flower might “rhyme with hour in sound and shape” (99). In this manner, Sikelianos goes “Chasing a minute inside an hour's burrow” (103), while “seconds are peeling off the hour” like “petals floating into a vast distance” (100). In the “Note on Minutes and Hours” that concludes the collection, readers discover the creative and intellectual scaffolding for these pieces; the author explains: “I tried sketching portraits of minutes, attempting to contain them within that temporal allocation. Later, I graduated to hours...Soon, I realized...that these were poem-drawings” (149). These “poem-drawings,” composed of both floral patterns and handwritten words are followed by “typed language...which appears as footnotes [and] is the language residue of the experiment” (149). To this extent, the handwritten words and the typed words sometimes mirror one another, such as “the hour's seeds scatter” and “the hour's seeds scatter” (112), but at other times contain unique moments; for example, Sikelianos draws a wavy blossom next to the inscription “a minute expands into/ an hour,” but the typed-text below reads “she calls I// answer swer a swerve a/ brush of air” (108). In this way, the “residue” of the “experiment” bears no direct linguistic relation to its predecessor, but, no doubt, contains an oblique, almost invisible, conceptual link to it wherein “each word opened upon/ the limb” (78) so that we can “see language the trees” (76) and plant-life. It is, of course, a matter of looking in a particular fashion, one in which the “body exposed...to word, erodes” (88) into the new by traveling through a contested zone of transition where “The poem can be as risky as the body” (107) by challenging readers to conceptualize body-poem-text-image-time-space differently.

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