Reviews - October 2012

'Imagined lexicography opens onto imagined anthropology'

A review of Ben Marcus's 'The Flame Alphabet'

The Age of Wire and String (1995), Ben Marcus’s debut collection of stories, gave us the manual for a bizarre and wonderful alternate reality, a “catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String and beyond.”[1] As in Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus or Raymond Queneau’s 1948 novel Saint-Glinglin, important predecessors, Marcus’s alternate universe emerges out of the methodical strangeness of his language.[2] Fabulism and verbal experimentation become mutually entwined. Marcus’s primary method is the imaginary lexicographical definition, and the bulk of The Age of Wire and String might be thought of as a collection of entries from some unreal dictionary. For instance: “Yard, the Locality in which wind is buried and houses are discussed. Fine grains line the banks. Water curves outside the pastures. Members settle into position” (65). Imagined lexicography opens onto imagined anthropology, with impossible rites and technologies described in eerie detail.

Short statement in five parts on 'Statement of Facts'

A review of Vanessa Place's 'Statement of Facts'

1. Context

Vanessa Place composed Statement of Facts through the deceptively simple act of “reproducing some of her appellate briefs and representing them as poetry.” Because she’s a lawyer who represents sex offenders, the book is basically a reframing of victims' narratives used as evidence in sex crimes cases, and is, as you might expect, a “disturbing” read. Already the book has generated strong reactions, and these reactions have dictated the content of most interpretations.

'To throw doubt in the poet’s mind'

A review of Andrew Shelling's 'From The Arapho Songbook'

Some years ago when I was a graduate studying poetry I enrolled in a Sanskrit class. I was fascinated by a language that used mythology and poetry as its primary texts: the sky, landscape, gods greater and lesser abounded. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had to make a decision: would I quit the class or would I spend the rest of my life entranced, perhaps enthralled, to this ancient and extraordinary language?