Review of Jill Magi’s SLOT

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Slot seems to function as notes… If I should be so acquiesced to see these poems as a form of “notes,” my immediate reaction would be to explore Magi’s sense of ruin. Magi’s sense of ruin for me was relative to something Benjaminian.

“the world is made by debris…”

“please slot your next erosion event with us…”

“a monument feeling…”

“at the romance of the ruin…”

Indeed a romance. How to view the tangible objects of a ruin? There is in alignment with them a mythos, a history and a desire to fill voids. It is romantic. This desire to fill voids (of memory, events, time, lives, etc.) is center to SLOT. Even as much as one thinks of the functionality (in its definition) of the term SLOT : “a long, narrow aperture or slit in a machine for something to be inserted.” It is the “for something to be inserted” that indicates the desire – it is a space “to be filled.” These “fillers” for Magi are memorials and monuments – structures commemorating and explicating these voids. Magi’s interest is to problematize these “fillers” and to investigate their narrow and selective perpetuation of histories and myths as well as their functionally capitalistic nature. She often highlights aspects of the memorials/institutions by relaying instances where viewers/visitors are put into problematic scenarios in which they are asked to “relive” or “participate” in enactments of disasters and/or social injustices.

I might come close to asserting that “notes” function as a sort of ruin but as I understand the term, it doesn’t seem like the fragmentary notations of this poem are remnants of another more “whole” project after all. In fact, I should say that these fragments more so function as “building materials” that surround a site where something is “to be” built. Though I would be negligent if I didn’t mention how that might pose a sort of dialectic. In any case, am I supposing too much? That she possibly meant to have this book of poems read as remnants? Are they ruins? My gut instinct is to say that this was her intention. The back of the book says “poetry/essay” which to me gives me a sign that the formal aspect of the piece is essential to it’s rhetoric. Given that, it means that the fragmentary verse must be in someway enacting a facet of the subject matter that is being considered. Following this, I conclude the fragmentary quality of the language is enacting the notion of ruin or disaster. However, the ruins and disasters here are the monuments and memorials themselves or at least the bureaucratic/capitalistic nature behind them. Again, I am slightly unconvinced of my reading.

My problems lie in the didactic nature of the poem. It is heavy-handed in its judgement and assertion of how problematic these institutions are. This is not to say that I don’t agree with the fact that these memorials and monuments are indeed callous and troublesome, but there is a degree where these issues are handled somewhat poorly in the poem. For instance, when the narrator relays on page 42:

‘official attacks?’ she mishears. I attempt to change the subject:/ ‘ forensic evidence points to the fact that the African Burial Ground bodies were worked to death.’/ ‘I like that word ‘forensic.’” she responds. / Finally with her fingertips she has closed my eyes.”

My reading of this quote lead me to think of the narrator implying that the sort of ignorance she/he continually referenced was “killing her.” This to me seemed an entirely inappropriate metaphor in such proximation with actual deaths, and actual suffering. This was a theme that I saw throughout the book. In many ways the book seemed to contradict itself.

which comfort do you seek, wringing out the sorrow previously held/ in order to make way for the new?/ how much violence is an echo?/ I await your reply, which I expect will be global -” (73)

What I gather from this language is a criticism of how reductive these institutions and in this case, memorial projects, are in terms of relaying a reality of atrocity and horror of historical events. However, is not Magi seeking a comfort in wringing out the sorrow previously held? Isn’t this book in a way enacting the same projects that some of these memorial institutions implemented? Isn’t this poem in a sense a reductive account of the truth of disasters? The poem never told me it was aware of this possible reading of it, though I felt like I waited for it during my whole reading.

The problem that faces me is that – at what end do the intentions of this poem snub out its own rhetoric or purpose. In much the same way that these memorials/institutions function – at what end are they essential to an awareness and conversation regarding the atrocities of humanity and at what end are they reductive and limiting? For me, this poem didn’t function much further outside of that which it was critiquing.

I will say there are moments where I am teased into believing there is an awareness of this contradiction. Page 45

She writes back: ‘But were you there?’ / It is ‘here,’ trapped between the photographs. Meanwhile, I have only you to tell, and there is limited access to the box beam remnants.”

This alludes to an awareness of how the poem itself is functioning, but it stops short. All other instances of where the poem might be a little self reflexive seemed dull as well. My take on this is that if a poem like this is to be sensitive to the subject it is considering (which is ABOUT sensitivity), it must in a very clear and bold way, show that it is aware of the conversation it itself is partaking in. To me the poem sidestepped what was at the essence of the piece which was: How do we relay an adequate understanding of collective suffering, disaster, death, atrocity etc? The poem/essay gave no alternatives and likewise intimated (to me) inappropriate gestures such as “purchase a guidebook. Walk through the notorious gate.” At what level does this employment of irony give an appropriate consideration of Dachau? It does not. Is this to say that this matter should not be considered? Is it not valuable to discuss how these memorials function and how awful they are? Of course it is valuable – but to a degree – not in a poem, and not from a didactic perspective.

 In tone and language, I thought the poem was very interesting and well-constructed. But at the end of it, I thought it’s intentions were didactic, reductive, limiting and contradictory.   

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