Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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1: If you think the subtitle of Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson’s collaborative book sounds like a gimmick, go to paragraph 4; if that is not your opinion, proceed...
2: The illustrations here are, at times, terrifying; at others, poignant. When the two artists met, “a cloud-like swarm of . . . 4” by 6” watercolor and ink drawings” covered Nelson’s studio walls, along with a phrase, reminiscent of Kenneth Patchen, who offers a useful parallel here, sometimes sweet and often brutal, sometimes starkly horrific, sometimes smoldering with despair, “like a sobbing sunbeam.”
3: Here is a ribcage, standing like some kind of noxious mushroom, some ashy black mass inside. Here are twins, or twin-like creatures, as much thing as people, joined at the tongue, an elongated and wound-tone band, vulnerable as it is muscular, linking mouth to mouth. Here is a monster, here is a monster, here is something unnamable, a mass of it, a tangle, and here is a headless sister next to three beasts, a line of poetry under them with a blank inside it, a line in a line left open, empty, then: “Join the chorus,” but the only chorus is these four things, these nightmare visions, creatures of the kind of whimsy that exists among the clear-eyed and wise of the very real world in which we live.
4: The structure is based on homophones, on a particular text, Worchester’s New Pronouncing Spelling-Book from the start of the last century. Sees versus Seize, for instance. There is a map at the end, itself a poem, sprawling. The technique of “choose-your-own-adventure” becomes here a way to engage with the play of language, sound and signification, the wait and weight, the rays and raze. Like the accompanying images, the writing here is as lacey and razory, like silk with an edge: “My breath in your ear: smaller than 3 words,” or “Each year after fighting the antlers fall off, but we can’t stop lamenting lost velvet and bone.”
5: “When I say filament, I meant forever.” Stair, stare; succor, sucker; wrest, rest. “That_______is a mighty fine woman,” for instance.
6: One of the most delicious aspects of this book, this experience, is—along with the sense that you, too, are co-collaborator, wandered in the wonder of the thing, this reshuffling, this disruptive reinvention, this juxtapositional jaunt—how found it often feels, like you’re playing a game with the dictionary, some old encyclopedia. This is play, with risk and enticements. A pink shadow, two strange shapes, nudity and something truer, then the line, in parenthesis, (pseudomorph: a cloud of ink, similar in shape to the creature that emits it, that may serve as a decoy).
7: This is a lovely book. “I am all,” “startle and” “undone.”
Official Loren Erdrich Web Site
Official Rose Metal Press Web Site