Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook 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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What we have here have letters in them, are formed from and of letters, dots, and lines. Squiggling out, organic, from near logo-like simplicity to, by the end of the book, swirling conflagrations across the page, like music if music had tendrils. There’s two-dimensionality, but Beaulieu’s dry-transfer lettering defies that, to the eyes: the letters here, spinning streaming out, seem to stretch out through the fourth wall. What we have here as “poems,” then, are images: roiling on one page, mathematical on another; a small array of a’s stacked around one upper-case example, a rectangular cloud of t’s in various type-faces, even an example (maybe an o?) where the letter itself has been abstracted into fluid geometrics—lava-lamp-as-poem, collage-of-print-as-poem, used-type-writer-ribbon-in-the-wind-as-poem.
“Concrete poems need to be cognizant not of readability but of lookability,” writes Beaulieu in an author’s note that has the feel and function of an artist’s note in accompaniment to a gallery show. He has thoughts about corporate culture and the ubiquity of words-no-longer-words, text transcended in the realm of sheer sign (from the act of reading to the experience of a look), though for me the obvious analogy is magical, particularly the practice of sigil work as it developed in the chaos magic of the 1980s and on: phrase your desire, write down the letters of that phrase, write those letters in overlap, build an image out of those letters. Text has been sacrificed to something that, via embodied practice, feels more primal. I can only imagine something of that feeling playing out in Beaulieu’s dry-transfer process. The liberation of the counterintuitive: taking letters and, instead of spelling, instead of lining them out into a word, he makes creatures, he gives birth to these evolving things (post-textual poems?).
On page 56, for instance, we have a compact form, seemingly beaded, with a little paunch and some stalk-like structures that look like legs, a circle of lower-case f’s as an eye-like shape, a little trumpet of a’s, a pixilation of sweet little e’s, a feathered surface of u’s and more u’s. There’s whimsy in this shape. Yet to approach the thing as a poem, here is a poem at once incomprehensible and knowable. In his note at the end of the book, Beaulieu insists that he believes his poems “should be as easily understood as airport and traffic signs.” Yet, he says, “instead of leading the reader to the toilet, the directions they impart are spurious if not completely useless.” The spires of page 38, for instance: another poem in which the identity of letters are effaced in the arrangement, leaving us with two central circular forms and a vertical thrust, ellipses and layered lines. A subversion of sense? Beaulieu tells us “Kern occupies the page in the same way that the Nike swoosh sits on a show, or how the neon overwhelms the Tokyo streetscape...” ending his note (the readable page of this book) with a gesture toward his read (unreadable, but inviting) work: (...). That unspeakable sign for text growing beyond itself, for speaking the as-yet-unspoken, the always “and then more”: dot, dot, dot: a poem at once concrete and immeasurable.
Official Derek Beaulieu Web Site
Official Les Figues Press Web Site