SCRAWL by SUSANA GARDNEREILEEN TABIOS Reviews
SCRAWL by Susana Gardner
“Ocular-matopoeia” means a word that looks like its meaning. For instance, “boob”, an example that always makes me giggle (and maybe “giggle” is another example, too!). And I’m ruminating: what would be the term for a book that looks like its nature, including “meaning”?
I don’t know, so let’s call that term “bull’s eye” for now. And Susana Gardner hit it right on the spot with her chap, SCRAWL.
The word “scrawl” can be argued to be an example of ocular-matopoeia. Particularly when “scrawl” is handwritten so as to emphasize an informal splay and sprawl of the letters. I don’t raise gratuitously here the reference to “hand” for its presence is ubiquitous in the way SCRAWL was created.
The chap’s physicality is so eye-catching that one’s first stroll (s...crawl?) through its pages is just to look versus to read. Galatea Resurrects received two review copies and both are made differently, which raises the possibility that each chap is unique. This bolsters one of the pleasing conclusions to the project: this is “book art” as much as it is a poetry collection.
One chap, sized at 5 3/4” x 3 5/8” has a cover of pink, grey, red, black and burgundy vertical stripes set against a white background. Pasted quad-center is a cutting from the same patterned paper that, lying horizontally, cuts across the stripes. A gold vertical edge signifies where the cover ends along the right side—a significant edge since the otherwise white backdrop would have been seamless against the whiteness of the first page.
Visually, why should there be no seamlessness between book cover and internal pages? Well, as with the second review copy, there is no cover text—no title or author’s name—so that one can interpret the book covers as visual art. The book cover’s edge then should be part of the frame to the cover image (in the like manner that a book cover can frame interior text). The vertical striped image(s) evokes Op Art, for example.
The second review copy, sized at 6” x 4 1/2", offers a primarily black cover. Its left edge is the tattered edge of a faux animal print in brown and beige with black spots. The black is not pure black—at certain angles, silvery glitter can be discerned winking against the dark background. The glitter, along with the animalish border edge, offers a plane evoking certain monochrome paintings—how the canvases are supposed to be one color each and yet that singularity of color (in successful works) does not preclude activity, resonance, depth and imaginative interpretations.
Beyond the covers, none of the interior pages are cut straight and the right black edge looks ripped—again befitting the lookness of “scrawl.”
And so, finally, we enter the book intending to read. We note the obligatory Title/Acknowledgement/Copyright page and then see the first word. It is the first poem’s title:
P RO EM
Simply marvelous. I read it to say: the project is pro-poem!
“P RO EM”’s concept (as I interpret it) summarizes, too, the multilayered text that follows. First, a distinct majority of the words serve as visual poetry. I’ve seen poets feature vizpo by tinkering with individual words, but Gardner’s text is the first time I’ve noticed lengthy poems that string together such words. The example of
becomes more obviously feminist/political when embedded in the one-word line
Gardner is clearly interested in wordplay—and not just visually but also through sound. There are puns and riffs—the latter would seem particularly a logical effect from doodling. Doodling, or scrawl-ing. Thus, from “Aster Asterias” we get that poem’s title as example as well as its first few lines (N.B. in the featured excerpts, spacings between words and letters are uneven, scrawled, and not necessarily replicated here due to Blogger constraints):
A REALISM LOST HER NAME : M A R I E (O) SHE SHE STROLLS IN HRS
NAMES MARI / S/HE TELLS HER/E &HERS &HER HRS SO(U)LS AS ASTER HARMS IRES
TELLS (O) A HARM IRES LET LOS (O) A SEASHELL TRIM OR, A LARAMIE SUN
LESS ATLAS SIR, AN HRS ASTRAL ASTROL ASTROL O()R MUSES
HER HAT HRS IN & SO, A GRANDAMES ERR HER LATERAL LOSS LOS S/TILLS
Or the first three lines from “MINARETS”:
ASTER ASTIR TATS A NAME SIR, A MANE STIR, A MEAN STAR AS
REMAINS ARE MAIN, SIR ARE MAN IT’S NAMER IT’S A N M E
SIT(OR SAT) A NAMERS NAME IT REMAINS TRI TRIM&TAME MEANT
One admires Gardner’s lines for showing how scrawling is not inherently sloppy. The poems combine lyricism and philosophy, as also exemplified in these first two lines from “SCRAWL”:
from the markings of the small her( o) when morning wakes b r i g h t
wakes unfoldednewgestureinthespaceof ortowardabalanceorpossibilityof w h a t
This is intelligent work. And it is steeped in its times. Nothing is ahistorical and Gardner nods to her times with this “interjections” from “:her(o):” from which I excerpt:
yes, the small her(o) must surely
wonder where feeling went
toward the end of the 2oth
When narrative and confession
Begged prosaic 7 so chill
&so to be
heard again when the next
g e n e r a t I o n
m i g h t very well r e a d
as is merely broken parted&
distorted us/we as thoughtless
or unduly heralded&
such &so side-stepped
in way of marginalia
Wisely, this is not the ending tone to the collection. Gardner does not let didacticism have the last word. Instead, here are the lines from the chap’s last page, which is to say, joy in language carries the day—a fitting ending since this project is foremost pro-poem:
and all this when her coming &all is so need-f u l l&
inevitable as it always was so demanding and intriguingly s e d u c t I v e
in its speechless revelatory stasis provoked any suns previous “I” might w h i c h
set eyes upon her or had wondered or imagined when s/he& t h i s her(o)
her prescience desirable as any as small s h e& o v e r l o o k e d she (in way of voice)—
wayward she wary she so pointed always gives new breath as she is so surly b ent
I don’t believe chaps need to be mere harbingers of longer work. I think a chap’s offering can be its own integrated whole (and what to excerpt is also a creative choice, after all). But even though SCRAWL literally—visually and physically—succeeds as a stand-alone project, the texts do make me long for a loooo…o…nger book by Gardner. I’ve love to see someday the longer text(s) from which this project concedes it is “from”.
It’s also worth noting that Gardner’s reflection of the (her) times is evident in the materials that went into making the chaps. The pink yarn that sews together the binding as well as the slips of paper that make up the book covers and papers are small enough to seem to be left-overs from other projects (and I am aware that Gardner makes chaps by recycling material). It is a small but nonetheless heroic gesture—recycling the most tiny portions out of a big-hearted concern for the environment.
Even the scale of the chaps—smallish, intimate, tender—don’t seek to displace many trees. The beauty of language is that words can communicate as effectively even when their fonts are teensy. Against the bluster of the times, this is a gesture of empathy with nature…even as, again, the small scale befits how one usually scrawls on tiny fields, from the back of an envelope to the inside of a matchbook cover, to a napkin scrap and so on.
All a long way to saying that, ultimately with SCRAWL, Gardner has achieved a fragile but most definite harmony.
Eileen Tabios' books are not eligible for review in Galatea Resurrects because she edits this puppy; these orphans languish here; here; here; here; here; and here.