Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Jim Leftwich engages

farnessity, wordslabs by Randee Silv
(dancing girl press & studio, 2018)

In the context of this book, "wordslab" means prose poem. Perhaps it is a slightly self-deprecating neologism used to create a little distance between these prose poems, and the vast history of the form. The prose poem itself is a somewhat slippery and amorphous construct, instructively malleable, erratically endemic to a wide spectrum of contexts and lineages. If we look, briefly and subjectively, at an aggregate of possible histories, we can identify as prose poems some of the works of Peter Ganick, Aase Berg, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Thomas Lowe Taylor, Leslie Scalapino, John Crouse, Russell Edson, Carolyn Forche, John High, Charles Simic, Friederike Mayrocker, Rosemarie Waldrop, Michael Peters, Robert Bly, Gertrude Stein, Cesar Vallejo, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Aloysius Bertrand, William Blake and the translators of the King James Bible. We have no choice but to read the poems in farnessity as a continuation of this subjectively mythologized lineage.

The first word in the book, the title of the first "wordslab" is "Overall" -- an entirely impossible introduction to this or anything else, "taking everything into account" as a starting point. What can this first word be asking us to think? It can only be admonishing us to remember everything as we pass through the book, as if there will be a test at the end, administered to us by ourselves. Having pondered for a moment the title of the first poem, we now proceed to the first sentence: "They said he had reached a dead-end." What are we to make of this, as our entry into this book? Perhaps "they" refers to all who have written prose poems before this one. Perhaps "he" refers to any writer, he or she, who is considering writing prose poems today. Perhaps "they" refers to readers past, all of them, and "he" refers to the present reader. Maybe they are warning us: don't go down there, to the dark end of the street, it's more dangerous than you think. But we know better, and will ignore them.

The second poem is the title cut, "farnessity" ("necessity at a distance" is my associational guess at its denotation). "Volcanic pillars eroding from multiple attacks can't always be neglected."  Denotations are of no assistance here. Stability of syntax discourages sense. "Unusable = Inventiveness."

Poem 4, "Example" -- "He said he was an instrument at the juncture before nothing made any sense." Do we really want to translate this into another English sentence? "He" is in this case the writer/reader as reader/writer, of a world -- an environment, a setting, a stage, an ecology -- and only metaphorically of a book. Experiential = instrumental. Processing, filtering, ruminating, pondering... constructing, destructing, deconstructing, instructing, obstructing, restructing (struct, from struere, build, pile up) = deprogramming, where programming refers to socialization and assimilation in submission to a dominant culture.

Poem 5, "Nextness" -- the hinge of the book, where a reader might find itself, of a sudden, at book, with little or nothing between the reader and the read. Next to, skin against page, barely a breath to pass between them. Lines like these are fed as in osmosis from the page through the skin into the bloodstream in the body:

"Knowingly destined to change only slight, she / like
them, stark, firm / takes just seconds in the elevator.

That is the first sentence is this nextness. The next sentence is this: "Earsplitting thunder scrambles parched systems stashed into discolored heaps, pushing and pulling more than can be blotted." We can imagine it being translated, as an "imitation" from English to English, to: "Volcanic pillars eroding from multiple attacks can't always be neglected." (Here is John Dryden, who does not approve of "imitation" as translation, describing it in 1680: "I take imitation of an author, in their sense, to be an endeavour of a later poet to write like one who has written before him, on the same subject; that is, not to translate his words, or to be confined to his sense, but only to set him as a pattern, and to write, as he supposes that author would have done, had he lived in our age, and in our country.")

Yesterday I sent Randee an email to thank her for sending her book:

​Jim Leftwich
6:52 PM (23 hours ago)

Hi Randee
I got your book yesterday and am reading it now. There are within it, here and there, passages -- sentences -- of a pure disturbing wonder. I have been reading the first two sentences of "Nextness" over and over. The denotations of the words recede just slightly into a distance. We are left with a kind of shop talk, which I absolutely love. The sentences are talking to their readers as if those readers are automatically and immediately also writers.

That is indeed how it works, but it takes a little while to get there.

Your writing is an extremely enjoyable way of getting there.

"Violent, violet, it doesn't seem to matter." But -- in order to have reached that sentence, which is about the choice of whether or not to type an 'n' (that decision is the sense, the meaning, of the sentence), and then to end it with a period, is to have decided in favor of the overwhelming excess ​of ​meanings in which we as humans are immersed. It has to have mattered, immensely and in every ​​minutia, as a sentence, written one letter at a time, or else it could not have been written at all.

Thank you for sending this book.



Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Recent publications include  Volumes 1 , 2  &  3  of  Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016, 2017, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett), Tres tresss trisss trieesss tril trilssss: Transmutations of César Vallejo (Luna Bisonte, 2018) and Sound Rituals, collaborative poems by jim leftwich & billy bob beamer (mOnocle-Lash, 2018, edited by Olchar Lindsann).