REVIEW: Almost Any Shit Will Do by Emji Spero


(This is the first in a series of reviews focused on titles released by the Oakland-based small press/poetry cult Timeless, Infinite Light. TIL is currently on a West Coast tour.)

by Heather Brown

Even before I read Emji Spero’s acknowledgements at the back of almost any shit will do, I was predisposed to apply the ideas of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia) to the premise of this unassuming little perfect-bound book. Spero is attempting what Deleuze and Guttari call, “lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification.”

The progress of the poems alternates between blocks of text “the movement (v.)” and “the individual (n.).” These sections are further connected and interrupted by “lines of flight,” small stanzas connected by looping black lines that deterritorialize and destratify the lines of text, connecting certain words across wide spaces while also separating them from the linear systems in which they are embedded. It is an ambitious project, with a message immensely relevant to “the shifting boundary between the individual and the movement” as this boundary plays out in collective and individual ways.

Spero is concerned with how a single person’s experience connects to the movements of the whole, and how social movements spread and grow beneath the surface of the social structure, sometimes bursting out, but always existing as an integral and unseen force on which all life depends. The book can be very quiet at times, using language borrowed from mycelium studies (mushrooms, they grow in shit) to build a network of words which Spero re-appropriates and expands to capture a felt experience of the human individual in the midst of a riot, the outburst of a societal network that has been building and moving over time, just below the surface of everyday existence.

At first I attempted to follow the lines of flight across pages, but later I allowed myself to experience the “variously formed matters” and “comparative rates of flow” in the collection as a consummate effect. This book reinforces the Deleuzean claim that “there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made.” Incidentally, it was made during am artist’s residency, part of a collaborative installation, and attributes itself to a long list of editors. It also finds its meaning in its relationship to “other multiplicities into which the book’s own are inserted and metamorphosed.” That is, it works as a machine, which must be plugged into other machines in order to work; thereby both demonstrating and justifying its own premise.

It is obvious to anyone who reads further that this book was born of a deeply personal experience, which it finds impossible to extract from a certain philosophical awareness. The tone is simultaneously laconic and urgent, from a self that attempts to detach from a painful memory at the same time as it is compelled to share its message publicly. In this way, its forms and patterns gather to a satisfying end that is both dense and decentralized, like the networks upon which it builds.

almost any shit will do is available from Timeless Infinite Light

Heather Brown received her MFA in poetry from Oregon State University. She lives and writes in Portland, Ore. and works for Powell’s Books, Inc.

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