ORGANIC FURNITURE CELLAR by JESSICA SMITHSUSANA GARDNER Reviews
Organic Furniture Cellar by Jessica Smith
(Outside Voices, 2006)
Plasticity of Poetics,- A Most Transitory House
Jessica Smith’s first book of poetry, Organic Furniture Cellar, introduces a poetics as well: The Plasticity of Poetry (A Poetics). And so, OFC bravely sets up house, and the house is on the foundation in which of course is the cellar, the base of the structure, similar to the Arawaka and Gins art installation she writes about as metaphor in the books foreword. Poetic plasticity forms both simultaneously as well as organically in both the eye and mind of the reader. The reader: a she, who is taken to task in terms of readership and process--one in fact which varies from reader to reader and perhaps even the author herself in terms of its creation and subsequent understanding--verstandnis. Or perhaps, firstly in the cellar, like many old houses, which still has a dirt floor, low beams and many small compartments for structure….all of these things described are directly based on the STAMM or stem of the house. An ever rooting wake of language and possibility surely, literati or non, it all begins somewhere and somewhere is in the cellar. Based in the mind and experience of she as what she has read before, or what has come before her, all of which will certainly impact on what she will find and thus discover/rediscover and define as being here and which paths in reading she will choose.
Virtual in its inception, yet smartly unlike the virtual realm of hypertext, whereby the reader can choose multiple paths in reading, all said coded paths are known and set forth by the writer. So while the journey differs from reader to reader--from reading to reading--the journey and the meaning are already calculated and foreseen. Once the previous window closes there’s no going back, the screen closes and only the further path or tangle lies ahead and therefore any possible vestiges of plasticity abandoned. We could of course go back and reread or try to follow another path, but the reader is not in control of the reading space. So while hypertext often seems to rely on paths or varying degrees of linking movement, plasticity seems to rely more on base or STAMM of what is found there and so explicitly unique for each reader--a contiguous mapping of sorts, blueprinting the very house of she. Cleverly, the organic breadth of plasticity is what makes it unstable--as the reader is given the cellar or house to navigate and read as she will and might so manage. An uncertain path, she/author cannot foretell or plan what will be read or how she might so choose, in terms of order or its subsequent meaning or findings will be turned or questioned. A very daring premiere, open not only to what unexpected turns and tumbles of the reader as she makes her way but one which also undoubtedly sets itself up for a very weary criticism as well, in it bravura, youth and swagger.
A first book or house and a foreword nonetheless by the said she--the poet herself--which is brave as well as a bit reckless perhaps, announcing herself as she will in a time certainly not accustomed to a female stage presence with said aforementioned swagger of Smith, and certainly not so young. Kind of like an unknown acting and producing a debut film--not wanting to miss out on any aspect, direction or acclaim. She puts forward her house or first book on her own terms and style in way of doing all the structural work herself, a real d-i-y adventure, in way of typesetting, layout, design and publishing. Calling-out to be heard, self-published and unapologetic, she certainly could have published elsewhere, but seems to have planned and created OFC exactly to her own specifications. Perhaps even acting as a strong predecessor in terms of POD for younger poets, wanting to have more control of their work or simply get it out there. Smith still went the traditional way and published with a non-POD printer, but erected her press Outside Voices earlier. And while the reader is responsible for her interpretations, there are so many readers and so many so&so&so,- there are just so many possibilities or she’s--she’s outside of Jessica Smith and her house of poetry which does in fact seem to write of her (the authors) own life and experience in her poetics--namely through mapping, place marking and dog-earring time--but as she allows for interpretation . . . there is no set or definite reading or commitment as to meaning on her part, and this might underhand a straightforward approach or poetics--long establish and followed, long endeared and thus not jived with some critics--how dare she disrupt our house? I expect the aspect of she is as much involved with the criticism, unquestioningly. I suspect she simply enjoys the many interpretations and chatter over this she and her said house.
OFC’s house is cleverly covered with a William Morris print, much like the tapestry which guards the door to the ever mysterious and many hallowed female attic quarters of literature past. Smith instead makes us begin in the cellar, clearly as far from the attic as possible. She grows and discovers or maps and buries various words, poems and unending possibilities for said she&she&she to discover. Imparting a lot of German throughout this also influences the she/STAMM of the house…though what if the she is not fluent in German or poetic theory, will she lose her way or will she find directives elsewhere in the house? Perhaps further investigation into plasticity is necessary.
The Canal Series is compact in its format--the first leaves of Common Blues is more like an implosion which is only activated after the STAMM /root-work is established and steady. Not unlike maps or blueprints in their layout it seems to focus heavily on words as each is set alone--set off it is set up to she to navigate and find what meaning she will. The initial implosion slowly quarters its breadth and physical physiognomy in the pages which follow.
Exile is the strongest section for me in terms of shape, form and plasticity. Perhaps intentionally so--if the STAMM is meant as a poetic groundwork to build on if the entire piece be thought in terms of plasticity, versus a straight through linear read-through, perhaps she is simply finding the reading of the text itself easier as she goes, organically so. So, we are led thus far, up to a point where she is comfortable, this persona-poet she as well, with the intruders earning keep as fast guests in her house, and so perhaps at this point she just relaxes a bit? We’re in the house so long we’ve made our presence clear and it seems that we’re finally offered some tea, perhaps for our work done so far in way of her or with her. And so, the section Telling Time is given as our stay in her OFC is nearly done--in way of some pressed flower poems. Poems which neatly and compactly center on the page versus the earlier tending more toward implosions or combustions of sorts in their wild map-like leaves and disorder. Archipelago is the last section and perhaps, like a musical score, repeats some of the earlier obvious layout forms and styles of plasticity, though some Swedish islands of ö’s are thrown in for good measure--as we are in Sweden no less, a far leap from the earlier canals and German infused text--we are now put to task with some Swedish, perhaps like airy filled crumpets, as reward for our work so far. It is not difficult to see how much the beauty and curiosity of language appeals, influences and inspires Smith’s poetry and poetics.
ForM. being the dedication as much as form. It is with an interesting energy and musing that I finish the book--peaked and ever curious at the interesting end in way of the poem, After The Hours--as my day in the house of OFC closes.
Susana Gardner can be found here, here, and here. You can also see some of her reviews here.