Uncommon social bodies

Dickison and Staiti on disposals, on retrievals

Steve Dickison, Disposed (The Post-Apollo Press, 2007), 49 pp.; Erika Staiti, In The Stitches (Trafficker Press, 2010), 39 pp.—What is the significance of symmetry as a manifestation of proceduralism? This is one of the questions Dickison's book and Staiti's chapbook address in relation to private and public, personal and social, bodies. For Dickison, the penchant for writing is, as it was for a tradition preceding and succeeding Freud, inescapable from neuroses modified into acceptable behaviors. These are posed against another meaning of disposed, those “others” for whom English is a second language (“may I use please your phone to carry some speech?”), for whom law and order is meaningful force (“what brand of people come invested in/plastic handcuffs?”), so easily reduced to the noun (disposal), the excrement of the social. At the same time Dickison muses how intolerance of certain bodies goes hand in hand with the appropriation of others’ culture. The real issue, though, is how to play perception against memory, how to render visible and perceptible what is hidden (in memory), excised from, as, history. Dickison’s strategy is to place his one-page observations (composed between July and September 2004) on the recto pages. On each accompanying verso page the last word or words of the poem serve as a simple title to a blank page. One can thus read each set of pages as framed by the same words, though the “top” word/s exists on a separate page or one can read the poem and then go back to the verso page where the last word/s of the poem are repeated. Or one can do both. The effect is a dramatization of memory as the insidious repository of habit. In literary terms Dickison formalizes the post-Romantic deconstruction of “originality” as secondary to the derivative, the copy, repetition, etc. As it turns out these ‘effects” constitute our history; “ethnic” cuisine is simply another manifestation of jazz compositions reduced to tunes in Hollywood films like the 1966 version of The Killers, itself a remake of the 1946 “original.” Thus the symmetry of Disposed “reflects” history as told to, taught to, the citizens of the United States of America. On the other hand, the symmetry that defines In The Stitches is not, strictly speaking, stanzaic; rather, it is lineation itself that organizes Staiti’s chapbook, a fold-over pamphlet of mirrors. The first twenty-one pages are reversed and flipped upside-down and constitute the last twenty-one pages. Holding both halves together as a kind of stitch or signature is the poem on page 23. This poem is the only one whose first eleven lines are reversed in the last eleven lines. Furthermore, the stitch of this twenty-three line poem is line twelve (line one of the second of two eleven-line poems): “a new song    social body.” In the Stitches offers, per its structure and its thematics, tempered progress, chastened hope. The doublings and mirrors render affects, effects its readers, not only at the levels of book, page and line but also at the micro-level of the repetition of words, often in different grammatical forms. These latter “motifs” are deliberately polysemous: “social body” is both an individual (“the social body walks”) and a community (“inevitability/ of the group’). For example, the word “reactor” refers to both the Japanese nuclear leak (“unbalanced reactor”) and a person responding to another person (“she said no/ i said why not/ she said no”). Other terms repeated in at least two semantic contexts or syntactical forms include brim, react, cognition (incognition), etc., all of which are “doubled” in the second half of the chapbook. Moving among the social bodies in public, in personal relationships, in one’s own head (the book begins “one anticipates/what might come/become of one”), In The Stitches registers personal and social trauma, private and public hope, though these binaries are actually blended or fused into the “same’ words, the “same” thoughts. An analysis of both formal ambiguity and human ambivalence (“one anticipates”), In The Stitches is a hypnotic, troubling record of stunted maneuvers and opening possibilities.