William Allegrezza’s new collection of poetry still. walk., published by Gradient Books (2014), offers the reader the intrigue of a hybrid text melding a poetry of experiment with the trope of a sci-fi/alternate reality narrative. Composed in nine sections, still. walk. traces an evolving series of language experiments from the vantage of an extraterrestrial intelligence having encountered the languages of the human earth. Instigated perhaps by an encounter with electronic transmissions or the onboard files of deep space probes, such as Voyager, the precise details are not revealed. Instead, Allegrezza attends to language as interface, a material of encounter and alienation, possibly comfort. A passionately inventive and playful engagement with language, still. walk. reconfigures the meeting of human and alien intelligences entirely through visual and linguistic tropes in poetic form. The unidentified, and evidently solitary, narrator of this collection, having encountered evidence of human existence and language, struggles to translate its own understanding and language into human corollaries. Allegrezza recapitulates that deep longing of intelligence to communicate, to escape sequestration from other lives and minds: still. walk.’s solitary alien adventurer traveling through the lonely vastnesses of space.
The first section of still. walk. encodes the narrator’s initial encounter via a collaging of letters from the Roman alphabet as signs with repeated fragments of text. Presented in pictographic arrangements, these collages create literal signs, billboards perhaps, signaling an urgency to communicate. Deploying a visual rhetoric of paragraphs that mimics the visual rhetoric of letters, our wandering narrator signs to us in flashes akin to the gestures of ASL, though here marked upon the page as images: “m / is it cartography?”
Partially occluded by the central large format letter, the text below, also “m,” hints at our narrator’s dilemma: alone, perhaps lost, the purpose of its voyage no longer parse-able. We glean only hints: of a “future self”, of meandering, of “the others [who] are gone.” What cartography might prevail against such uncertainty? When “you lose your voice,” even the possibility of speech, or writing, the message scrawled in passing, vanishes. Sign reduced to cipher.
Gradually our narrator’s efforts evolve, step by step, these further encounters expanding across a range human languages and systems of writing. In the book’s second section, long narrow swathes of phrases/words/lists unspool streams of thought and discoveries as the struggle through alien systems of language unfurls. Later we encounter the “I was here” of graffiti—“revising my words for this wall”—and the plea for “us” to respond in kind: please, leave a note on the wall. Next appear repetitions of messages in various written languages:
Allegrezza’s narrator then composes a single message using multiple written languages tumbled together, one upon the other. The message becomes its material, language as systems of signs, images, sounds from which we may or may not parse the signified, the associative links upon which we depend collapsing in the desperate noise of translation. At one point, the alien narrator codes its communication in a right-to-left spelling and reading of English, reading, in an Alice-like fashion, through the looking glass: English and yet not English at all.
In still. walk. Allegrezza confronts us with the materiality of language, its slippery mutability and infinite variableness. Top to bottom, left to right, right to left. Letters, characters, kanji, glyphs. Pictographs and hieroglyphs, paintings on the wall of a cave. What do we mean when we say, or write?
As Allegrezza’s collection unfolds, we come to discover that our narrator’s “I” may be “we”, that its, and our, identity is also mutable and plural: “arrived i as a we and stopped. / is there a reason to keep moving? that question again.” Interwoven of various languages, these fragmented lines signal the potency of the narrator’s desire to connect, to say and be heard, to hear—“i walk. i wait for you to catch up.” Though is “you” here a fragment of the lost “we”? Our narrator asks, “when will i wake up?” The instability of the text is one of its primary pleasures and a very fine one.
A mark perhaps of despair, the speaker’s loneliness and isolation giving way to the fact of silence—“signal. all signal is for me a direction in this directionless place”—the final section of still. walk. records a movement back into the noise of the sign, as written systems and grammars collapse into a jumbled collage of languages, characters, forms, and fragments.
Like a comet racing across the arc of our terrestrial sky, these poems coalesce, glow vividly, and dissolve away, signaling that deep-rooted desire: hear me, speak to me, be together with me in language even across the aching distances of our mutual alien-ness. Deploying an urgent pathos of language adrift in the frozen reaches of interstellar silence, still. walk. recasts the human dilemma of isolation and the desire to transcend it, doing so in ceaselessly inventive, visual/ textual experiments with poetic language and genre.
still. walk. is available from gradient books in book form and as a free PDF
Marthe Reed is the author of four books of poetry: Pleth, a collaboration with j hastain (Unlikely Books 2013), (em)bodied bliss (Moria Books 2013), Gaze (Black Radish Books 2010) and Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink 2007). A fifth book of poems will be published by Lavender Ink in Fall 2014. She has also published chapbooks as part of the Dusie Kollektiv, as well as with above / ground press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her collaborative chapbook thrown, text by j hastain with Reed’s collages, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest and will appear in 2014. She is Co-Publisher of Black Radish and the Editor/Publisher of Nous-zot Press chapbooks. Her reviews have appeared or are forthcoming at Rain Taxi, Jacket2, Galatea Ressurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, and The Rumpus among others.