Dan Disney Reviews the deciBels Series

24 March 2015

Jerilderies Toby Fitch

Toby Fitch’s part-archive takes two objects in particular (Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter and his famous helmet) and verbs and verves proverbially, bullet-proofing against empire-inflected antipodean creation myths. Sampling from and selectively redacting Kelly’s letter, Fitch never simply breaks syntax into wilful (perhaps feral) non-sense; these ‘Jerilderies’ are bewilderments if, by that term, we can agree with the etymology: to bewilder is to thoroughly lead astray, to lure into the wilds. On the first page of this small book, Fitch provides a key to his analytic, redacting all but white space:

– though by the time we arrive on page 39, Kelly’s helmet is corrupted into a pixelated version:

Beyond ‘the English yoke’, Fitch is urging technologised readers to understand how Kelly can be a still-relevant icon of transgression (but of course) and, breaking new territory through erasure, seems to act coronially, reanimating Kelly’s wish:

            to acquaint you
with the 	   spewy ground
speedy dispatch to
Kingdom Come

Fitch is enshrining Kelly as our alternative monster-originator, running wild within the boundaries of a recently-occupied domain. The poet extemporises on the Irishman’s plate-iron armour as a first iteration of the antipodean sublime, stumbling through scrub to fill the nightmares – and, later, mythologies – of transported versions of polite society. This deciBels book is loud with a straggling fury, and in the final pages Fitch simply selects verbs from Kelly’s letter:

assisting belonging
commanding mustering
boiling turning getting s
ending showing
obtaining stealing bush
ranging living warning
reading reading giving
warning

An implication seems clear: readers are being lured onto wilder grounds of a conversation about just who it is that we, the ‘wrong-footed’, may be. Like Kelly, we the alter-occupiers are stumbling yet.

Petite Manifesto by Don Mee Choi

‘What spectacle does an Asian eye behold, you ask?’ Often, in Petite Manifesto, lexical matters obscure Choi’s spectacles; one wonders which manifesto is ever petite? From the outset, the author delivers an associative and punning, politicised, carnival-esque prose style:

I was sangfroid and so I sang Freud and dragged out joints of cliché – say we, may we accept sherry? Manegg was born innately. Let me put an end to son envy and colonialism with natalism – that was my intention, ambition. Nevertheless, I stand up to urinate and wave hello in my halo of amniotic trance. Ugly egg, chicken-sized, and natally late. At any rate, you have one (or several). It’s not so much that it preexists or comes ready-made, although in certain respects it is preexistent.

Raucous stuff, though readers may be inclined to ask: are these prose poems, or ficto-critiques (writ large in Choi’s work are themes of neoliberalism-gone-wild), or Sebaldian montages, or Wikileaking exposés (‘A while back, I submitted a short poem by Kim Heysoon called ‘A hole’ to a U.S. literary journal’), or subaltern stylisations shot back at an empire, or Steinian/Kleinian kiss-and-tell-alls, or a kind of slapstick wisdom literature, or a fervidly antagonistic écriture féminine (‘During and after the Korean War, my mother feared going out of the house for fear of being raped by Yankee soldiers’) or, simply, word salad (‘Betty=Bitter=Butter=Batter=Better=Butter=Bitter’)?

The Facts of Light by Stephanie Christie

‘I’m afraid of the new weather’, Stephanie Christie begins, continuing:

and the passivity of witness.

Our real sickness grows resistant
to penicillin and metaphor.

If poetry is indeed a ‘song of omission’ – and in this Christie signals intellectual sympathy with Marianne Moore – then these free verse lyrics suggest a poet stopping from saying too much while at once confessing to how, as a species, we are ‘crazy for self-reflection’. Perhaps Christie is locating toads of affectivity within these imaginary gardens; some of the poems seem as if manias, others tranquil (or tranquilised) reflections. Many enumerate those minutiae distracting us from what the poet perceives as an impending ‘ultraviolent catastrophe’:

Our personal god, our personal debts,
blind dates blossom into blind relationships

            you feel meaningless
but it’s impossible to do nothing,
so you stick close to the house
and torture yourself in imaginative ways

If indeed these are confessions, the poems are revelations of disequilibrium both personal (‘my very best dystopic mess’) and collective, Christie contextualising the human project as ‘smaller / than land, weather and ocean / and survival’s the only mastery’. These poems about love, belief, action, and cataclysm interrogate not only how ‘Living spills consequences / all over your dress’ but oddly and authentically celebrate how ‘The fuck-up’s exquisite’.

Memory Cards – Dogen Series by Susan M. Schultz

Appropriating quotes from Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen and using these as starting points, Susan Schultz’s prose poems are of a different order altogether to those proffered by Choi: what is remembered by this poet is that ‘You are neither sentient nor insentient’ (Dogen’s call) and that ‘I am the sentence that I write. My sentence walks across the screen like a mountain in its folds’ (Schultz’s response). Each poem, taking its cue from the Zen master, is in turn a cue for readers to look and memorise vistas Schultz memorialises as impermanent: ‘The mountain erodes like anger, trees at odd angles, an unrazored chin’. Written over six weeks (each poem footnoted with, presumably, the date of its arrival), these chatty eschatologies are explorations and elaborations (of space, affect, connection) which poke holes through appearances as if anamnestic divining tools:

Although mountains belong to the nation, mountains belong to people who love them. Mountains lean like mothers […] If memory writes fact, we are tattooed skin, nerve, synapse. We know the mountain exists because our brain has been altered by it.

This collection (is it visionary? Revisionary?) uses a bagful of lenses to look and then look again: ‘Eidetic means ‘what we see’, John says. What is visible is marked. Think of what inhabits your losses now’; populated by sons and daughters, sick athletes and neurologists, mothers staring inside restaurants, dogs, birds, a deaf cat, a cat comb, knives and mountains everywhere, these mantra-narratives resist clear sense-making and this seems precisely the point: performing an internal logic, each page is filled with a lifetime’s evidence of not-knowing, each of Schultz’s texts an elliptical and energetic shift toward silence.

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