Saturday, July 17, 2010

The PoPedology of an Ambient Language

Torres, Edwin. The PoPedology of an Ambient Language. Berkeley, CA: Atelos Press, 2007.

Torres' collection is a multi-valent text that encourages readers to interrogate the nature of language, inscription (whether text or image), identity, and the book as artifact. At the level of language, the poet shapes an “Ambient Language,” which is a “surrounding revolution of sound” used to create a “blurry feedback tongue” (104). Stated differently, Torres creates an ethereal and suggestive language that is both aesthetically and politically progressive by making it “blurry” and self-referential, instead of clear and communicative. To do so, he employs a plethora of techniques. One of the most evident blurrings is the poet's use of neologisms; “unwords” (27), such as “understandment” (14), “clutterdust” (24), “whyness” (26), and “socikal” (28) can be found in nearly every poem of PoPedology. Likewise, word fragmentation, wherein “The body gives / me body when / it breaks” (22), so that “body” becomes “the bod now” (22), and language becomes “lang -a ” in order to convey “incomplete thots” (167), proliferate throughout the text. Agrammatical constructions abound as well. By incorporating greater than and less than signs, hyperbolic use of semicolons, and, in some cases, the absence of any punctuation, “cycles of syntax” and “unheard disjunct[s]” (91) develop so as to pose the question: “what little version of yourself repeats in semicolon” (105), mathematical symbols, or no symbol at all? Moreover, “what little version of” the poet or reader appear when Torres writes bi-lingual poems in both English and Spanish? This is of utmost importance, because, in the poet's estimation “the birth of danger is ingles,” in that, when employed traditionally, it fosters “comfort word[s]” lacking revolutionary aspects. Another feature of Torres' collection is the use of inscription, particularly, the manner in which text and image interact. On the one hand, the written word is a “trying to understa/ breathing in this/ alphabet of pageness,” and on the other hand, “images apparitions in/ guise of meaning” (167). To this extent, the former attempts a truncated “understa”ing of the relation between body and book, while the latter is a visual ghost of “meaning”: something there but not there. By placing text and images (e.g. concrete poems, random/unpronounceable characters as visual fields, photographs, and abstract shapes) side-by-side, Torres asks us to “stare against the unpronounceable” images and “speak through the cracks” of language in an effort to generate “a third space where the eye is an ear” (90) and the ear is an eye. Not surprisingly, then, the author claims to be “a visualist in command of the lingual” (92). As far as identity is concerned, PoPedology challenges readers in many ways. Within the register of genre distinction, several conflations occur:“In Cocktease” confuses theater with poetry, “Catlan Bonanza Translation” television script with poetry “Bottle O' Chutney” popular music with poetry, and “The Interferist Knows Mad Flow” academic discourse/treatise with poetry. What results, then, is a “hybrid species” that, while “Untactical,” is nonetheless the “very prognosis/ inherent of ambient age” (176). Torres' poems, especially during the latter-half of the collection, investigate ethnic identity as well. The poet states that he is a “Latino, un-Latinized by non-Latino speak” (176), but in an effort to assert a less “non-Latino” identity, he engages in a process wherein “language will blur/ by language// crossing limit,” which manifests a “transforming” or “limitless/...shape-shifting” that actively undermines “empirical tyranny” (169). By placing a premium on language, “race be language/ before nation” so that “each tongue/ be/ sacred nature” (169). In other words, Torres implements a radical artifice within language in order to effect a constant becoming that, in and of itself, produces a unique identity predicated upon language and not upon a particular nation-state. In such a manner, “Breath [becomes] king-queen-country” through “Ambient Breath” and ambient language (174), both saving and newly forming a Latino identity. Finally, PoPedology investigates the material realities of the book as artifact. In the middle-section of Torres' collection, titled “Wallism,” readers will immediately notice a marked difference: the paper stock alters from non-glossy to glossy, thus highlighting the “book as tactile memo” and a “contactualize[d]” (168). The alteration engages readers on a sensory plane typically neglected in poetry. Moreover, “Wallism” contains several images of pages, so that the page in the book contains images of pages: “a copier copies...pages/ with a code of symbols across the top” (18). Cracking that “code,” it would appear, enables readers to recognize and set in motion “static structures” (88) that normally delimit a text; when a reader cracks the “code,” the poems literally escape the artifact. For example, in the book's concluding section, Torres dedicates an entire page to the phrase “environmental/ white noise” (113); shortly thereafter, there are several blank pages. If one meditates upon the phrase while starring at the blank pages, something interesting occurs: the poem leaves the page/book and becomes the ambient noise heard in the surrounding environment: a unique experience for every reader: the sound of breakers crashing on the beach, the rattle of a subway car, a conversation between strangers, or the clicking of a radiator. Not surprisingly, Torres later invokes the name “john cage” (169), whose 4'33'' activated silence and ambient noise in a similar fashion.


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Jacob Russell said...

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