14 September 2006

EVELYN REILLY & MARTHA OATIS: 2 books from PORTABLE PRESS AT YO-YO LABS

Certainly one of the most energetic, intelligent, and dedicated workers in poetry at present is Brenda Iijima. As poet, organizer, activist, and press director, she is to be celebrated. It has been my pleasure and great fortune to come to know her and her work in the last several years. Two new books from her inimitably creative enterprise, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, have come my way recently, and I just wanted to note them briefly.

1
Evelyn Reilly, Fervent Remnants of Reflective Surfaces

What’s immediately striking here is the physical structure of the work. Before reading, you notice two entirely different conceptions of the poem in its space. First, the title poem, with all lines symmetrically centered


fold
center
fold


yet the poem curiously not so orderly as that physical presence might imply. It begins “In the reek of an era,” and acts to initiate a different history, a different sense of organizing the human species, invoking a female presence closely connected to topography.


a landscape (a She) Spreading in

topo-
graphy

On her pedestal thus the wings

fairly innocuous a near Window
opening to a continued

expansion of the flatness
she became an inverse

Graph of


There’s finally an openness of process here, in this complex connection of the physical to the mental, where “the thought (maps the rain thought),” in this poem of myriad connective tissues, connotative possibilities.

The second work in the book, also a physical as well as a textual presence, includes three sections spread left to right across each page, the middle one being from Melville’s Moby Dick, chapter 87, “The Grand Armada,” where the whale “cows and calves” visit in a “wondrous world” both on and under the surface of the ocean. Connections of whale mothers to their offspring, the “umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan” provide a way of looking at the left & right columns, that also appear to denote human and animal connections and disconnections, “small groups…….. s//trangers….. I told him/doctors…..//legs, bacon grease and//…. distr…. styrofoam/purchased seemed normal/then//therapeutic// ……. what isn’t// repor….// ….. a smallish house/windows on two//mounts…. history/thus// with women a tone.” The breeding and birthing of the whales seems enmeshed with possible breedings and birthings of other newborns in the outside and inside columns, yet while the story of the whales is clearly told, the possible stories elsewhere in the text are more enacted from the inside, without a reconfigured narrative that allows a grasp of the whole. Rather than a piece of literature one can finally handle, a reader is immersed in the work, with a sense of its vastness, our participation in something beyond us, as we end “l/ost……//floating the …. pouring//grief discolor/th, th …….. the land dumb//… mute,// nearest the vast.”

I look forward to seeing more of Evelyn Reilly’s writing, feeling more immersed in her creations, catching glimpses of the vastness she espies.


2
Martha Oatis, Two Percept

My first act in pre-reading this book was just in noticing, looking at the look of words on the page in neatly ordered 6-line stanzas, except for one page at the beginning, one at the end, and two just past the middle, which are less ordered, less about containment than about “mayhem,” “meddling,” and some other or “another” that is implied, perhaps sought, in the poem.

In the attention to formal structure and its deviations, I also began to notice the presence of repeated words, something difficult to miss in this book, even in just looking through the pages. My count could be slightly off, but not much I think; I noticed 61 instances of versus, 33 of except, 26 of but, 7 of against, 4 or so of although. Altogether, of the book's approximately 1200 words (this is a speculation, based on some word-per-page average counts, and the total number of pages), more than 10% of the words have something to do with suggested turnings or negations. In reading the work, it’s clear that negation and turning are constant prospects, in lines like “except audacious except,” and “this but except access,” and “except but but although,” indicating that constant turnabouts are what we have, possibly who we are. There may be no going through, only going back and forth.

what the mind does to secure
a non-thinking state a
dove a lark a fixation
a tone a glass
versus human versus pulling
apart and together versus the

growing and shrinking
of the intercostal muscles
during breath versus the
rib-cage allay
the friend
versus to find

Even our breathing is a matter of this and that, push and pull, in and out, turn and re-turn. Why should not all other endeavors, all thought, be so? Is there a way out? Here’s where we turn to the few pages with a different structure. Curiously (or not so) on these pages, none of these words of turn & negation appear. Instead, two things can co-exist, as the first line of the poem declares,

announcing both worlds —

a nook — abbreviated —

long pause — an explanation

two worlds — trickling

down the slip — slide — the

invention — plastic — of string

cloth bikinis — arriverderchi

an order — coming — going

where the proposition is not an “except” or “but” or “versus,” but of both together, moving back and forth between them. Even “bikinis” are composed of two parts that work together, not “against” one another.

But conjunctions, gatherings, alliances are difficult, and the book ends ambiguously, on the one hand “alliances / begone,” yet still there is an invocation of “another place” and “another time” as though there is another possibility that coexists with this one. There can be

yours —

another’s —

My praise to Martha Oatis for creating an inviting work of such push/pull complexity, and certainly to Portable Press and Brenda Iijima for bringing two stunning books into the world. Iijima’s drawings, on the covers and elsewhere in the books, are both an integral aspect of the individual works, and a lovely and useful way of joining the books as part of the effort of a singular visionary press.

Portable Press at Yo-yo Labs