Poetry at the axis of nothing

A review of 'u&i'

u and i


Cassandra Smith

Omnidawn 2015, 80 pages, $17.95 ISBN 978-1632430106


how one might roam. how two might meander. (v)

Poetry as connection: historically, finding kindred spirits and laying claim to literary lineages, while maintaining a critical posture, as a necessary practice of writing under the sign(s) of self and community. The literary as the deeply personal.


Writing about nothing, a pursuit, nothing that connects and builds. Around that axis, meaning and association are relentless, relationships between positioned and counterpositioned nothingness construct a matrix of their own. Such a matrix of relationships are the basis for philosophically complex investigations of social interaction. The preeminent example of such arrangements is community. Community as an inevitable result of nothing, nothing as it is articulated and distilled for its craft and quality.

Gentrified narratives about community, those that might openly propagate community to no critical end beyond the record of their own political ethos, do not apply. They fall by the wayside under the pressure and threat of thorough investigation. A mode of such investigation takes shape in poems and collections of poems. Cassandra Smith’s u&i is written in this mode, an extension and set of collected connections. Community appears inevitable, not as narrative, but as practice. It would not be a stretch to say a social practice. 


u&i: a network of speech, thought, and affect. Experience: real or projected. And so it extends the boundaries of its immediate network of experience to all parties concerned, existing as an internal network, as networked autonomy, indifferent to the problematics of association, possibly to the point of necessary solipsism.


i seem to cant go on without you. (xii) 

One is well served to take Smith’s word for it. The idea of going on without you, some you, or kind of you, even if abstracted to the point of being a mere linguistic referent, is a way of exacting connection and the possibility for human connection as a necessary way of existing in the world. It is a way of feeling and remaining carnal amidst serial, and most often digitized, networks and networked social realities that make the sensual diffuse and the intimate public.

 At issue, however, is the transmutational reality of participation in collaborative networks (networks of networks) characterized by constant integrative flow and surplus. The mechanical (programmed) nature of networked activity threatens to render the activity altogether automatic, and devoid of carnality, desire, and artistic specificity. 

Beware, Spain, of your own Spain! — Cesar Vallejo 


To think of a poem, or a collection of poems, as a discrete network is apt: surely internal complexities exist within and across modes of speech and thought where any good writing is concerned, but it’s shortsighted to expect that a network can exist in isolation from other networks. Each immediate or seemingly immediate network of speech and artistic endeavor is made diffuse, and offers little recourse but involuntary access(es) to serial networks and inevitable intercourse with multifarious and seemingly endless associative machinations.

Similarly, poems and relationships network, community may result, or remain inevitable.

We link too many things together. — Agnès Rouzier 



an alone is made of where things aren’t and u&i in the middle of meadow and forest and wood had never been alone because nothing had ever been taken. in forest and meadow and wood there were only things to look at and things to hold. there was the smallest light to play in and this was the place of holding another closely. worry was a thing to be done only to the things that would enter and when they would enter they would soon prepare to leave. (xlv) 

(u&i, as a reminder to care for your associations and to pull them close, in person, and to press them to your lips, perhaps flesh to flesh, but at least virtually, for at least the skin feels something in addition to and perhaps beyond technologically abstracted desire, and while both may exhilarate, it’s preferable to have choices.)  

Smith cultivates a sensitive expression of human needs and desire; carnality and social experience are the vantage points by which these poems find orientation. u&i, in this light, does not bask in the genius of private innovation but remains somewhat indifferent to such standards of distinction. Smith’s work is concerned with the lyrical possibilities of connection and how connection may be interpolated within the context of social discourse among friends and associates on the margins. It is the poet’s attempt to construct a poetic system that might adequately articulate the demands of such a discourse. And while it’s not an attempt at a perfect system, there is a resonant optimism that suggests an attempt to allude, at the very least, to the possibility of such a utopic system, marred as it may be by human subjectivity, social dilemma, and networks that extend beyond certainty.


One: under this sign I regard u&i as a significant debut collection of poems that are intimately, and intricately, networked across personal interests and external proximities of personal investment. In this way, u&i is a rendering of experience rather than a documentation of it. Objectivity, in such a case, is moot. Smith’s language thrusts and parries on the periphery of experience and memory, wrangling with its fleeting and impending nature. The poetry and the poet exist in, and through, these poems, closely tethered to each line and thought, tautly, as the title suggests with its lack of spacing: u&i.The title embodies Robert Creeley’s idea of a singular compact: a contiguous though surely fragmented complex, where language, experience, and desire constitute essential verse and existence.

Desire: beyond the singularity of such a compact, Smith offers work that includes not only the breadth of an individual poetic expression and experience but also, importantly, the expression and experience of individuals seeking and finding common accord. 


Obliquely, these poems (mostly prose blocks) are an approximation of feeling and remembrance (past and future?), while remaining outward in their optimism. An optimism that is not naïve about the world and the crushing realities of inevitable loss and heartbreak, but one that carries forth in the face of despondency and remains committed to the idea of engendering a critical posture open to the possibility of human relationships with all their messiness and reward.

A hope for connection is palpable, while maudlin calls for community-building are eschewed in favor of the pursuit of an adequate articulation of one’s effort to find and unite oneself to others through and across language.


And interruption.


According to these poems there’s a fragility to associative powers that extends to that which is subsequently associated, that which is bound together has been done in the face of uncertainty and remains bound to an uncertain fate, but for human effort and care.

a community of those that have no community. — Georges Bataille 

A generosity of articulation speaks to Smith’s desire for an imagined site, a complex of robust encounters, and a troubled social space where experimentation is not an academic pursuit but a place of precarious (and sometimes perilous) engagement. It is community askew in many ways but a community nonetheless that these poems intend to render. 



u&i as silhouette of laughing and dancing.
u&i in footsteps.
u&i in falling in a garden.
u&i as an object of interruption, a sound but what in this case may be         

following through.

are we an obsession or a device. are we a we if there is no difference
between. (xxiii)           

More on possibility: one with others. 

u&i as the articulation of possibility: it’s the possibility of what one and others can be, as well as what one with others may be when vitalized and informed by generous (and generative) optimism. Language is the mode by which this possibility is expressed but also by which it is made available in the world. One is written full of hopeful possibility, as is one with another, we (are we a we if …) and so exists to fulfill or exceed the parameters of its unselfish circumscription that operates as a form of self-disintegration in a mode of unrelenting inclusivity.


Poetic speech (u&i) as antidote: at stake is the effort to maintain and constantly reentrench the activity’s singularity and its ability to reverse power relations, to act in and perpetuate the resistive safety of singularity.