Category: Marthe Reed

Juliette and the Boys by Sueyuen Juliette Lee

chapletsWrapped in its iridescent pale blue cover, Lee’s Belladonna chapbook (2014) offers an intriguing collection of messages from “the boys,” whose character, age, even gender floats unstably across the fluxes of the poems. Casting the speaker of the poems, the eponymous Juliette, into the role of recipient—is she friend, lover, teacher?—the messages come from near and far. Texts, calls, questions, and letters are funneled through the point of view of Juliette, these “boys” seeking or offering news, contact, comfort, and affection.

Sometimes oblique, in vain, or attenuated, the messages signal a desire for contact as much as its reality: “P texts / writes / calls / calls again / apologizes / quits” (6). Sueyuen Juliette Lee slices these poems into short lines, often no more than one, two or three words in length, heightening their urgency. Almost utterly absent of punctuation and interleaved with Juliette’s responses, the lines are brief, elliptical, partial, offering the reader an awareness of the dynamic between senders and recipient via indirection. Lee invites me into Juliette’s experience, the “chatter” of these “boys” and her juggling of the vertiginous energy channeled at her.

what isn’t happening
between us anymore
terrains can tell
the future, too
like oxygen it’s
there all the time
doesn’t matter
so cry and let him
cuddle me
for class, Juliette
and the boys (13)

Eighteen “boys,” each identified only by a unique initial, and eighteen poems, these former lovers, friends, students, and would-be lovers are kept at a distinct distance by their designation as boys. Lee’s characters form a belt of comets or asteroids, shooting through the orbit of Juliette, each appearing but single time. Diminutive and energetic, they home-in on Juliette, “that strange gold dark / goodness you / already knew” (17), seeking comfort: “I look like / just like / his mother” (12, “R”); “he’s been / watching those videos / am I around in October / covered in honey” (3, “C”); “crossing / no bridges / just suffering re-theorized” (10, “X”). Only once is the “boy” is literally a child, “H”. Only in the final poem does the sender offer Juliette comfort: “T says,”

it’s too late where I am
he’s going to think of me
for the next hour
all night so sleep
in his thoughts
and just stop it
close my eyes and (20)

It is on that trailing note, Juliette gone to sleep, perhaps, as the flight of comets closes, the messages stop, the chaplet ends. Who gets to say, Lee asks, “Juliette”, “the boys”, Lee?

It is in Lee’s syntactical ruptures, or perhaps, collisions, that her lines obtain their potency, the strange attractors of juxtaposition:

K messages
there’s Japan
and a steel bike or
a bible somewhere
near the panhandle
in a stab and run
was it okay
am I (6)

Confounded and delighted by a sense that unmoors itself from ordinary syntax, I enter the play of language, the quite literal gaps of communication, itself always partial, always moving, like “the boys,” shooting through the atmospheres of these poems and Juliette’s life.

The potent, readerly pleasure of these poems lies in the geometry they make, the arcing vectors of conversations that reach, or fail to reach, Juliette, her gravity holding them in orbit, however briefly. Like “H” and “X” and all the others, I am drawn to this Juliette who speaks yet reveals almost nothing of herself.

Juliette and the Boys is available from Belladonna*

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.

still. walk. by William Allegrezza

bill_thumbnailWilliam 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?”
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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.