Saturday, October 22, 2011

from Gloss by Giles Goodland (Dusie, 2011)

At first glance, the cover art of Giles Goodland’s from Gloss suggests a fixed position. The front cover is a detail from a map, and on the back is a list of coordinates for a number of international cities. For reasons I cannot articulate, this cover art brings to mind something Derrida once said about how the self is situated in language, and how there can be no self, indeed no idea of self, without the language by which the self is expressed.

This vision of self is best observed in a young child who is still navigating the difficulties of speech. He treats language not as something separate from the world, but as something of the world: not as a system over which one achieves mastery, but as a practice that one undertakes without knowing what its consequences will be. As we age, literacy teaches us that language has rules; those rules impose distance and estrange us from the very world that language seeks to illuminate.

Goodland sets out to bridge the distance imposed by these normative rules. Flipping to the first page of from Gloss, we see a list of phrases, each beginning with a specific letter of the alphabet. On closer inspection, we see that Goodland’s idiom is sprinkled with neologisms formed by the combination of several root words:

                    Timesweeper, minesleeping erasearcher.

This line can be parsed in many ways, depending on where one places emphasis or breaks the syllables. For instance, timesweeper (time sweeper, time’s weeper), minesleeping (mine sweeping, mind sleeping, mind leaping) erasearcher (era searcher, erase archer, eras ear sure). The longer one stares at these lines, the more unstable the words become: they break apart, drift and coalesce, like tectonic plates. In a militant move against stereoscopy, the reader of Goodland’s text must misread and disread, often pushing the poems headlong towards nonsense, returning language to its most playful and primordial form.

The sonic elegance of this text amplifies these strategies of syncopation. Many poems use cadence as a carrier wave to propel the reader through the text, but the rhythms of from Gloss are more tidal than linear. Goodland’s permutations push the reader forward, only to yank her rudely back, like the undertow of the receding surf. No sooner is one line complete, than its words reconfigure themselves, necessitating a re-reading. Meaning, as Goodland’s poem indicates, can only find its expression through a continuous process of starting forward and doubling back.

A friend from San Francisco once pointed out that people in large metropolitan areas tend to measure distance by using units of time. In other words, even though San Francisco is only ever ten miles from Oakland, its actual distance varies, based on factors like traffic congestion. Therefore, Oakland is much closer to San Francisco at night, when traffic is sparse, and becomes farther away in the morning, when millions are en route.

Goodland’s chapbook achieves a similar effect: it transposes space and time, and in doing so, makes from Gloss a potentially infinite text. How complex or simple, how long or short the experience, depends entirely on the reader.

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