First Readings

First reading of Sawako Nakayasu's 'Couch' (4)

Hank Lazer

Is a first reading possible? Perhaps a quick reading, or a reading on the fly… Inevitably, even my quick reading has a trail – from learning to read (“sound it out”), to habits learned in school (close reading; theme-based reading; the ongoing baggage of New Criticism), to the informed readings we are expected to practice in essays and reviews. There are plenty of other theoretical, historical, and cultural frameworks that (for me) might become a part of subsequent readings. In this reading, what I mean by a first reading is one that does not reach much beyond my initial impressions and thoughts. Or, another way to think of a first reading is (ideally) a radical empiricism, or a reading that moves in the direction of beginner’s mind.

So, a quick first reading: what strikes me first is the deliberate absurdity of the prose poem’s plot. The prose poem sets up its own logical world, with the ants as the doers, as the ones called upon to solve the divorce difficulties of the unnamed couple – human? something else? It is interesting that what they are is unnamed. The penumbra of the absurd spreads as we read. The first substitution – for lawyer, counselor, relative, friend, advocate – breaks the simple logic of the poem. Until the ants appear — “they give up and decide to call the ants” — all is “normal.”

First reading of Sophia Le Fraga's 'W8ING 4' (4)

Kimberly Lamm

Kimberly Lamm (left) & Sophia Fraga

Until I looked at Sophia Le Fraga’s “W8ING 4 ,” I never really thought of seeing the lines of a “text” on a phone as lines of a poem. Since I love the look of poetry, the visual arrangement of words on a page, it seems silly that I didn’t see those parallels until now.

There is a lot to look at in “W8ING 4 .” The rows of emoji leap out at me with sentimental feeling. They make me think of sticker collections, tiny patterns on cotton dresses, little parts of Joe Brainard paintings. They are buttons, digital and tender.  

The human figure Le Fraga’s texters are waiting for is abstract, grey, and genderless, which means it could represent a man. But the poem the texters create together is animated by a girly liveliness: notes in bubbles, all the “likes,” the instant transmission of intimacy, the slangy surface of their writing, the big-hearted depths. “I was starting to think you/ were gone forever.”  “W8ING 4 ” is the girlification of Godot.

First reading of Sophia Le Fraga's 'W8ING 4' (3)

Alejandro Crawford

It’s probably safe to say that to read about this work online you need to do so in Safari, or you need to download the Chrome extension Chromoji. In Firefox you’ll need to follow these instructions. In terms of this Jacket2 piece (in terms of character support), your browser or operating system or whatever may not display the following character correctly: .

First reading of Sawako Nakayasu's 'Couch' (3)

Robert Archambeau

I’ve been asked to have a look at Sawako Nakayasu's prose poem "Couch."  In a very nice email Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis say they “really hope you will provide your initial approach to the experience of reading and trying to discern or understand or deal with the poem as you encounter it.”  Already I feel I’m in trouble.

First reading of Sophia Le Fraga's 'W8ING 4' (2)

Ann Vickery

I considered Sophia Le Fraga’s “W8ING 4” as a conceptual video-poem. I immediately placed it as a contemporary revision of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the opening phrase, “nothing 2 b done.” Le Fraga’s work also seemed more play than poem in its use of the mobile phone screen as a stage and deployment of texting as a means to update Beckett’s famous exploration of meaning, modern alienation, and the nature of human bonds.