06 June 2011


I've been told by a number of friends recently that I would love Jamie Townsend's work, and then suddenly two chapbooks arrived in the mail within a few days of each other: STRAP/HALO on Brenda Iijima's inimitable Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs and MATRYOSHKA, thanks to Dawn Pendergast's Little Red Leaves Textile Series. I don't know much about Townsend's project, but I read both books with great interest and found them difficult and provocative and demanding, which means, of course, that I did, indeed, love them! I arbitrarily decided to dig into STRAP/HALO first, a work that certainly speaks its own language while harboring a heuristic element that trains its readers how to comport. The poems are super dense, and the linebreaks create a sense of vertigo as new units often start at the ends of lines, rotating sense like a helix:

a soft touch you said the minister
came dragging weight bent A shallow com-
pression above it was in the eyes that taketh
to dwell within nature wilts evening each order
gathering harvest together smoke-light leaning
into brown foundation just habits   ditch-weed
before a concerned trip to vespers small engines
palmed burn the relics touch scapula   pectoral
cemetery plot where I buried little else for fear
of fear in future tensing the length of a hand
can unstring my bow spill out law fingering
ark from mouth stall hot breath on the lid
insistent |an exile from your cloth|

I'm most struck (so far) by how the body factors in this work (though this might be a product of reading a ton of Eleni Stecopoulos last week!). There's this technosomatic element to the work that reminds me of those gene-splicing-cyborg-monstrosity-minority-report-style surgery scenes in science fiction films, in which the body is rendered tensile through the very technological interfaces by which it comes to understand itself:

|self-immolation ritual| ingesting at
once a lifetime of placebos trying to
break thru the still find me between
diacritical marks impossible flesh
of videos develop chemical bonds
zones of body-work digitize nerves
cold metal pins awaken to rhythmic
doubling cell production fine-tuned
mitosis where the deepest blue light
filtered thru detachment blooms I
fall to pieces
again & resemble burst
intention curl extremities back bound
to the pull of satellites |shells| weight-
less desire grounds fear its partner held
close hatching |crosses| our leavings

The language creates this interesting tension between the organic and the plastic, so that the body figures both warm and aerated, and totally lifeless and ersatz. Take this string of lines from across the chapbook:


plate curved to trunk exiting slight the dead flesh
holding live nerve no riddle in wounds chosen


to spires   thick braid of optic cable
siphoning scrambled transmission with-
in my unsure being to harden each root-
less message or hand around wrist reaching


abandoned to genetics parceled out leit-
motif a splinter gathering dark blood day
made waste made blood enemy in relation
our core broken at points |borne new response|


being adjustments | rerouted surges smooth
casing for best performance this active
null-spot sole form of shared architecture


revelation brushed from lobe to lobe removes
heads atomizes attention steady now hushed
sincerity attempts at holding to a course
that could fold itself around a pin prick warped
hollow curve to fill or circumnavigate


pinning vessels held negation eyes
completely drained refine my
capacity - where all capability
implodes   where to be followed
for unseen generations yields
biocomposites rifts-|-rhizomes


The term "biocomposites" captures what I'm getting at here: life produced through a mash-up of inorganic material: "|syntaxes - synapses|" - synthetic/sensual.

The final poems in the chapbook shed light on this reading, especially the following prose block:

approaching a lip of blue streamers twinned color guard speckled silver ovals
float searing phosphorescent palindrome fanned spore in pixel band of historic
post metallurgy post vision stylized body projectile ultra chlorine finish hands
like powder nano metallurgy for sense woven viral our collective electric fields
so over remixed creep encoding |thin_distinct_user_| could be more decibels
possible blocked ration of thin snapfrost metal plates shattered octagonal
percussion consider rubber tension a latex armory monolithic summer notes
ground fine no amount of distinction holds erupt at sound | water's film of
blood deciding factor rippling through high density material its material axiom
inlaid LED senesce state kept forking series of perfect angles keyed shapes a
basic animal crystal geometrics in salt-peter stringing lucent |head rushes|--

Camille Roy mentioned in our recent interview the notion of the "uncanny valley." She wrote,

"Language, received from the dead, has an uncanny aspect. This causes the linguistic body to ripple with horror as well as pleasure. There is a wonderful idea relating to the uncanny that comes from robotics: the hypothesis of the uncanny valley. It states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels. The moment of revulsion, where the robot is recognized as non-human, is called the uncanny valley."

There's something of the uncanny in these "basic animal crystal geometrics," these "stylized body projectile(s)."

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