Friday, April 23, 2010

Figures for a Darkroom Voice

Gordon, Noah Eli and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Figures for a Darkroom Voice. Townshend, VT:
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2007.

Gordon and Wilkinson’s collaborative book contains several different poetic forms, such as prose poems; fragmented lyrics separated by horizontal lines; and extended, lineated pieces absent of punctuation that read as angular, streams-of-consciousness. In many regards, the poets act as “alchemist[s]” who are “busy bending” the words on “paper” into “the softest music” by “deranging the proper techniques for” (8) poetry. These efforts create “an altered photograph” (9), or unfamiliar images, that both confuse and entertain the reader, encouraging a reconfiguration of both representation and poetry. But, even more curious than the manner in which the poets attempt “to collapse the world” (10) and words with their poetics, is how the images of Noah Saterstrom that are scattered throughout the collection interact with the text. The book, in fact, opens with a drawing of what looks to be a nineteenth-century-style dress or nightgown. On the following page, readers encounter the collection’s incipient sentence, which is: “A girl draws a picture of a dress & becomes kingly in her substitutions” (7). The first half of this sentence engages the drawing from the previous page, and thus creates a direct, representational relationship between text and image; but, as the fantastical images within the poems begin to accumulate, peculiar transformations begin to occur. For example, teeth are not teeth, but “Their teeth, winter”; likewise, “their hand, gauze; eyes, little lions” (12). As such, the “substitutions” mentioned in the first sentence acknowledge, perhaps, a post-structural indeterminacy wherein a signifier detaches from its signified. Therefore, the drawing of a dress is not necessarily a dress, and the word “dress” is not necessarily an actual dress or the drawing of a dress. To this extent, the drawing functions as an allegorical substitute of all the images one encounters, thus shifting our expectations from signification to symbolic (i.e. allegorical). But the code-switching that the audience encounters with the first image and its relationship to the text does not cease. The second image, found on page seventeen, is that of a deer standing below a painted/scribbled over crescent moon. Although the text on the opposite page references “pollen dusts a little stream from the moon” (16), which could obliquely correspond to the drawing, little else connects the two. To this extent, the image becomes, primarily, a conduit for an affective response, in that it simultaneously engenders within the reader an anticipation (e.g. When will I find out the purpose?) and confusion (e.g. What is the purpose, and how come I do not know?) over the course of the next several poems. It is not until eight pages later when the reader is informed that “these paintings don’t accentuate the walls as much as expand them” (25). Now that the questions fostered by the previous image have been answered, the relationship between text and image once again changes: no longer simply a producer of affect or representation/symbolism (i.e. the image doesn’t “accentuate” text), the images “expand” the poems. Or stated in other words, the images become part of the poems themselves. Of course, no one tells the reader exactly how this is accomplished, so the transformation is ambiguous and multivalent. Should these be read as ideographs, imagistic extensions of a fractured and chaotic narrative, or something else entirely? The next image, not surprisingly, forces the reader to re-contemplate the text-image correspondence yet again. We are told that “One hundred painters interpret this, but not equal to the way you’ve startled afternoon’s sputtering engine” (26); on the opposing page, there is an abstract drawing composed of lines that look vaguely like a tablecloth or waterfall. Does the word “this” refer, eidetically, to the image, the sentence, the previous sentence, the poem, the book, or the word “this” itself? It difficult to tell, but what is clear is that the poem acknowledges the difference between interpretation and affect, or the manner in which one is “startled,” and tacitly asks us to consider the image in both ways. The oscillation between modes of reception is promoted further when we read: “sketched like a screen, the thought continues in its flexibility” (30). The sketches on the “screen,” in other words the page, continue to develop a “thought” pattern constituted by its very “flexibility” to move beyond “thought” and into the realm of affective response.

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