Hello, and welcome to the Spring, 2023 issue of Posit! In keeping with the season, this issue is alive with generative intensity. The work collected here manages, like alchemy, “to mix / transformation into transformation” until “from lead: gold’s blood // pulses” and “sequence becomes epiphany” (Elizabeth Robinson, “The Voynich Manuscript”). These accomplished and provocative pieces derive their energy from the determination to transform surprise into recognition, mystery into insight, and suffering into resolve. It is a pleasure and an honor to present innovative literature and art that can engage the pain and puzzlement of our lives with such grace and depth.
Carrie Bennett’s powerful poems move from descriptions of familiar objects and daily tasks to the deep secrets of our fears, our histories, and their embedment in our bodies. We “want words to grow into something / green with leaves and it is never so easy / for the wound to close. / When I say rain is it the sound / of a chainsaw or how a father can drink / until his eyes are lost in his face?” But, as painful as it is to be alive when “[e]ach house is encased in its own danger,” there is always more to uncover: “[a]ny moment can be a pointed flashlight.” A poem considering the difference between poetry generated by men and women ends up comparing poetry to life and exposing the gap: “my body isn’t a leaf or a thought though it did make another body,” one that “is full of milk and shit and spit-up.” Reality may be “nothing like an idea of something else,” but we need poetry like this to bring the idea to life.
Zoe Darsee’s intricate poetry builds and dismantles structures in our lives, both actual and emotional. The structure of the poems themselves models the emotional experience, beginning as a bleak observation, and building to a spiritual plane, as if the object has ignited the emotion. In “House of Dandelion,” the description of a house starts with the impossibility of description: the house is gone. But it’s not just the house, lies and promises are at stake: “To promise described house, let it quiver in mouth like frame of word. // If I have ever once lied, describe promised house I said to you.” As the poem progresses, the narrator describes another impossibility, a place where they are “trapped, in which I describe myself with the vocabulary of a construction site.” The end of the poem finally names the problem: “To describe said house is to trap a lie in four or more walls.” Another poem, slyly titled “This is not about you, love, or your bride,” contains a poem within a poem, and begins with actual disaster: “There’s a house on fire in the avenue.” Loss, of place, love, and life take the breath away, but the narrator reads the mind of the lover: “You love the tree because it breathes opposite air. You think, the tree is all that is left of me. . . // There’s truth and then there’s tree.”
Jasper Glen’s poems apply a unique and muscular lyricism to grapple with the ‘watershed’ between artifice and nature, whether embodied by poetry as opposed to “its / Absence, all earth and forgettable body,” or a florist’s attempt to “replicate an outcrop reaching natural capability” with a “fine mirage” as opposed to the “[i]intoxicating green complex” of a “[v]eridical / coniferous / rainforest.” Cartesian doubt (“If not at the skin does speculation end / Somewhere?”) and psychic pain (“But if the body is practice, / Do I love this place?”) lend breadth as well as depth to Glen’s quest to “[h]ave an open focus,” “[f]orget the body,” and “spar in a dark field” for poetry.
Kylie Hough returns to Posit with three prose poems about the dark side of conventionality and the falsity with which it represents itself with “[a] kiss, a hug, a dozen lies swallowed.” In these satirical, bracingly painful poems, the “monotony rampant in the suburbs” is contrasted with the “Disney endings” and “castles made from yellow bricks” that might make “high school sweethearts” expect “all we hoped for. Except it’s not.” Instead, the narrator entrapped by these false narratives is “an unrealised nobody moulded from midnight,” for whom “freedom looks like walking fully clothed into salted black water.” The angst at the heart of these pieces insures that Hough’s prose is “not akin to some field trip to the zoo. No, this is warfare. This is sculpting a tin man with gloved hands.” Her penetrating wit and pitch-perfect pacing not only confer meaning, but offer the possibility of a better alternative to the wasteland they confront.
In keeping with Jane Kent’s practice of layering her compositions from a foundation of what she calls “bland forms” in order to “uncover the oddness,” the prints featured in this issue take mirrors, frames, and windows as points of departure from which to explore the nature of reflection. These works cast light on the notion of “reflection” in multiple senses: not only the self-consideration of any self/viewer, or the self-reflectivity of the artist contemplating her own practice and its constituent elements like light, color, and the nature of the frame, but the contemplative thought inspired by these bold, pared-down, almost sculptural illuminations of the liminal zone between representation and abstraction. Just as mirroring entails alteration and reversal, these works invite the viewer to reverse the artist’s exploratory process, probing the deceptive simplicity of their graphic power to unpeel their layers of implication and insight. Even Kent’s transformation of reflected light into bands of solid, almost metallic-seeming color is a comment upon the transformative nature of the act of looking – a truth whose relevance extends from the human psyche to the building blocks of matter itself.
Returning to Posit with works of deceptive Dickinsonian simplicity, Kevin McLellan displays wit and pathos simultaneously in these new poems. Honest about himself, that to be “tired of /my own / company / also means / a deficit,” and that he might “kick-in / my defenses /so i don’t / hear / the good / explanation,” McLellan is no less blunt about his relationship with language: “more / truth / in hyphens / in / emphases: /please / let them / be.” There’s an intrinsic deepening of each observation, as cryptic as they may be. The very sparsity of language in these one- and two-word lines integrates silence, as well as one of their preoccupations, solitude, into their fabric. McLellan’s wry takes on the hard, sad things we discover/remember about others, and all too often, about ourselves, resonate. “[N]ot the same/people—were we?” “so now / the climb / must happen / again.”
David James Miller’s “Burn Accord” flows with tidal rhythms and the rhythms of breathing, combining elements of sea, sky and fire into a wondrous if “indistinct” whole. But what is indistinct? Images of light and dark in a controlled burn have the import of a vision. The elements exchange and re-exchange to become “an evening psalmic / accord a listening light” and remind us how even “an indistinct sign night / can articulate(s) in listening.” In a recurring lyrical field of language, Miller’s poem moves “as sea become grasses an un / knowing breath calls into / manifest shadows mnemic.” It’s as if we are standing on a vast hill in the night, listening, watching, both remembering earth’s history and experiencing it as “a horizon evening empties / of listening” and “become(s) skies.”
Pat Nolan’s poetry juggles the Gorgiasian conviction that “nothing exists” with what “Heraclitus reminds:” that “in the end all I can do is point / at the way things are.” Ranging in their inquiry from the nature and purpose of poetry itself (including “the poetry memo of poetry // “abbreviate” ) to the delicate everyday glory of “the steady glazing rain’s / constant splash murmur[ing] at the eaves” or the “setting sun’s rich / light buttering / an upturned face,” to the “fine white grains of information” that make up everything in a universe in which “information is physical” and the physical is information, Nolan’s “surprising / tangents and keen insights” offer “a travel in time” narrated by a dedicated, supremely thoughtful observer searching for meaning in the “incipient enigma” of existence.
Elizabeth Robinson returns to Posit with a transformative ‘translation’ of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, accompanied by original illustrations of its notorious asemic “script that will bear no translation.” These haunting verses make us believe in a magical book of origin written by “[w]e women with our tiny, upright nipples” that both explains the document’s imagined content and interweaves it with images of the manuscript as a made thing, yet one that we inhabit. Thus, after a history of “page after page of bloodletting and vowels” in a “[s]equence wandering without shoes, then without feet / To renege on delirium,” we find that “s]orcery says / what we shall never understand can, at least / be beautiful.” But the authors of this quasi-religious history/tale (which is very like the structure of the earliest histories in English) maintain that “[s]urely no evil can attend when magic / cannot be attributed to any source / that evil is only a salutation, a spell / in preparation” — a miracle most devoutly to be wished for our world as well as for this delightfully depicted one.
Jeanne Silverthorne’s sculpture concretizes her engagement with the impenetrable mystery at the core of the physical world, both animate and inanimate, organic and synthetic — dichotomies which are challenged and undermined by this provocative and playful work. With wry humor and deadly seriousness, Silverthorne’s sculptures devise concrete and tactile expression of the abstract, the subconscious, and the ineffable. Her spare, almost minimalistic depictions of humble, quotidian subjects like tennis shoes and wood planks, children’s books and bubble wrap, office chairs and dollies, plumb the depths of the psyche and the existential questions at the heart of mortality. For instance, Silverthorne reconstructs that almost trivializing icon of the unknown, the question mark, making it literally weighty and impossible to ignore, despite our laughable attempts to subdue it beneath layers of bubble wrap, or suspended from a meat hook. Challenging the viewer to contemplate the fleeting nature of the physical and the murky depths of the psyche (that is, to confront the known-unknown), Silverthorne, in the artist’s own description of Louise Bourgeois, “wants to rip off the lid of latency under which art boils and steams,” whose “desublimation, an art of personal risk, offers raw power as a way out of the present deadlocked, postformal situation,” using “drama or theatricality,” “viscerality,” and “startling juxtaposition” to disturbing and profound effect.
Grace Smith’s writing captures the tragicomedy of the human condition with both empathy and irony, mining the liminal zone in which sorrow and humor, disappointment and appreciation mingle. Smith’s language is as surprising in its formulations and juxtapositions as it is spare and direct, leaving much of the crux of the matter to emerge from the unspoken: that reality is “Sadder and Deeper” for all of us struggling to reconcile what we find and lose with what we hope for, the “new / Lives” planned while drinking “a 5 PM can in the shower.” The deep sadness in these works is warmed by admiration for the heart and grace of those with the courage to keep trying, like the people who “have a bright pail of blood balanced on / the air above them, always about to topple . . . [who] laugh so easily,” or the homeowner able to admire the family home being taken by the city, whose “beautiful eyes . . . were gold like fall and trying.”
Jeneva Burroughs Stone’s advocacy and personal experience with disability informs, but does not limit, the scope and depth of her poetry. The poems featured in this issue grapple with the nature of mortality and the intense drive for knowledge. “Rapture” reacts to a child’s photograph to mourn the fragility of life, in which “[b]reath, a fabric washed too many times, wears thin” and “[e]verything evaporates.” “MRI” evokes the ability of medical science to concretize the “imagistic jazz” and “dark areas, danger zones” of a son’s brain condition which the mother already knows all too well: “[m]y anticipation . . . itself a form of knowledge.” And “Numinous” wrestles with the relationship between divinity and scientific truth, the “clean clear talk of mathematics” and the “body of eternity encoded like a closed door. I, too, want to knock and come in.”
David Storey creates self-contained worlds that stand apart from what we know, or think we know, of our own exteriorities and interiorities, even as they echo with its resonances. This work makes a persuasive case for the abandonment of common distinctions between the abstract and the representational, the observed and the imagined, the mechanical and the biomorphic, the animal and the human. Semi-abstract forms weave in and out of these paintings; design tropes that are as simple as they are irreducible to any one referent, be they scissors, surgical clamps, or eyeglasses (“Regulator”); fish or visors (“Big Sunset”); dragonfly wings or leaves (“Revolver”); fingers or tentacles (“Aquapiper”). These works offer a mind-opening sense of possibility: post-reality worlds in which physical and perceptual boundaries are transcended, making new forms of flowering — and mutuality — possible. Storey’s sharply delineated forms in bold, complementary, primary colors depict an energetic coexistence of opposites. Their complex layering creates the impression of multiple two-dimensional planes clamoring for the foreground. But the energy of their competition suggests an effusion of exuberance rather than aggression. The viewer is tempted, like Jack in the fairytale, to climb the “Ladder” of Storey’s proto-beanstalks and explore these alternative worlds, to encounter his wondrous beings firsthand, and perhaps even learn a thing or two about how to collectively thrive.
In Myles Taylor’s beautifully observed poems, different personae address our complicity in navigating the complexity of modern life: the skill and grace of the labor we take for granted, the forced secrecy of some lives, and the way we try to subsume sorrow in getting and spending. In “Unskilled Labor,” we are asked to notice how “the house painter’s pants /match every few buildings he passes, as if the city / were trying to copy them.” We observe behind the scenes at a restaurant, where “[i]t looks nothing short of telepathy, the slide / through narrow spaces like wrong sides of magnets” by “unskilled” laborers who also “has(have) a paper / to write, who’s playing a show later, who was up / until 4 am at their other job.” With justifiable pride, the narrator declares: “I only dream of labor if I can make it beautiful, / so I slice every scallion like a gift-wrap ribbon,” challenging the privilege and emptiness of consumerism: “What do you do? You take. / And you hold what you take. What a skill, / being handed things.” “Ode to the Mirror” exposes the pain of having to hide: “I take selfies in bathrooms / I could die in and keep doing / my makeup on the train. I have to limit my futures / based on where the corners/are darkest. / No one can see me because no one is looking. / But you.” And in a reminder of the line between wanting and having, the Patron Saint of Retail mourns: “the people flock to me / like a possession / could hold their grief for them.”
Nam Tran has gleaned old biographies and science books to make found poems that mirror the human psyche. The yellowed pages and the fonts themselves indicate the age of his source materials, as well as the language and syntax; but Tran has mined these works to match contemporary thought. These Zen-like aphoristic observations of “the restless waters of babble” bring to mind John Cage’s brilliant musical experiments with listening and attention. In “Primal,” selections from a chapter on How Animals Develop cleverly take the “im” in “animals” to turn the direction from a so-called objective view of other species to something very personal: “I’m an animal constantly on the move, running, breathing, catching food, eating it and so on.” And in “Child Memories,” we find an inspired conundrum about the nature of both childhood and courage: “the importance of heroism was hand delivered neatly to me in a half-whisper.”
Thank you so much for being here!
Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann