Mel Nichols, Bicycle Days (Slack Buddha, 2008), 32 pp. $6.00—I meant to write about this modest but compelling chapbook when I was reading through Hank Lazer’s 2002 Lavender Press book, Days. Lazer’s book is a different kind of travelogue/journal, and so the differences between his and Nichols’ work were interesting. Bicycle Days is less “ironic” than some of Nichols’ more recent, dare I say “flarfy,” performances, but as the term “modest” hints at, her more recent work has a confidence and force that is largely absent from this chapbook. That’s not a criticism.
Emily Abendroth, NOTWITHSTANDING shoring, FLUMMOX (Little Red Leaves Textile Editions, 2012), 26 pp.—Tempted as I might be to read this as a screed, I want to emphasize, at least at first, its formal qualities. Specifically, Abendroth deploys a kind of send-up of the Socratic Method, statements and responses (vertically opposed on the same pages in the first part and horizontally opposed across the recto and verso pages in the second part). But this description belies the shifting rhetorical and syntactical registers on the same page, in the same stanzas, and often enough, within the same sentences. The thrust of the book is broadly ecological, both animal and human, marine and land. At the same time it is also a critique of science, of culture, of, that is, ideology: “The specimen thought, this is how important it can be to posterity/ to make an anomaly conform.” (9) Although she starts with the abuse and destruction of marine and animal life, Abendroth, in the second half of the book, yokes together experimental formalism and social conformity (“This was the trickery of parataxis, the charade of proximity as pure equivalency”), economic crises and the “health” of racial stereotyping (“Although the stocks collapsed, Tynisha remained inflated. Elated even.”), so that the sentence serves as a microcosm of the formal strategies that organize the book as a whole.
AT the time the horror of the devil was upon me, I felt I could not bear my existence: therefore I desired Mrs. Underwood to take away every knife out of the room; that, in my despairing moments, I might not lay violent hands on myself. As soon as she was gone, I fell on my knees in prayer, and could not avoid crying aloud; but could not express all with my tongue, what I felt in my heart: but, finding I had no answer to my prayers, I arose, and was silent for some minutes, listening if I could hear “the small still VOICE OF THE LORD.” But, feeling no comfort, and hearing no answer, I opened the door, and desired Mrs. Underwood to send the letters by their own directions, as none were given to me. Mrs. Underwood, in floods of tears, said, we cannot direct ourselves; and no more letters shall go out of the house, unless the Lord, in His unbounded Love, Mercy, and Goodness, will direct us through thee. She then went and told Miss Townley, no answer was given, no more directions from the Lord. The Lord had hid his face from us, and no more letters shall go out of this house: for she felt in her heart, if the Lord would not be pleased to direct us, we would not direct ourselves. She then came back to me, and told me, that Miss Townley was upon her knees in prayer and tears, when Mrs. Underwood came back with this word. Here all were alarmed; and they would do nothing of themselves, without the directions of the Lord. Then the Light of the Lord broke in upon me; and I walked the room in tears, speaking these words :