Sunday, April 22, 2018



(The Mute Canary, Lockport, N.Y., 14094)

Geoffrey Gatza’s A DOG LOST IN THE BRICK CITY OF OUTLAWED TREES offers an interesting premise: presenting as poems what are actually scores for performance. That is, inspired by “change ringing” which Gatza explains to be “an English method of ringing church bells to produce a rich cascade of sound set in a predetermined series,” Gatza wrote poems “set up for performance. They are scored for people in place of bells.”

These poems range from pieces set for three readers in a “plain hunt” up to an hour-long “quarter peal” set for ten readers. The number of performers can range from three people all the way up to twelve. A plain hunt is the simplest method where all the voices “hunt” in or out, following the idea of odds out, evens in. “In” refers to going down to the lead (the front), the first word is the second, “out” refers to going up to the back, and the first bell to reach the back is the fifth. Then they all plain hunt up to the back and down to the front in turn. The first section is set in colors to illustrate how the patterns function and weave in and out. The other sections are set in black text so that the group of performers can find their own way in the pieces.

Here’s the beginning of the collection’s first poem:

Plain Hunt – for Three Voices

Spira Spera Spiral
Spera Spira Spiral
Spera Spiral Spira
Spiral Spera Spira
Spiral Spira Spera
Spira Spiral Spera
Spira Spera Spiral
Spira Hope Spiral
Hope Spira Spiral
Hope Spiral Spira
Spiral Hope Spira
Spiral Spira Hope
Spira Spiral Hope
Spira Hope Spiral
Spera Hope Breathe
Hope Spera Breathe
Hope Breathe Spera
Breathe Hope Spera
Breathe Spera Hope
Spera Breathe Hope
Spera Hope Breathe
Spera Spera Hope
Spera Spera Hope
Spera Hope Spera
Hope Spera Spera
Hope Spera Spera
Spera Hope Spera
Spera Spera Hope
Hope Hope Breathe
Hope Hope Breathe
Hope Breathe Hope
Breathe Hope Hope
Breathe Hope Hope
Hope Breathe Hope
Hope Hope Breathe
Breathe Breathe Spera
Breathe Breathe Spera
Breathe Spera Breathe

Gatza says readers can read his poems any way they wish but, for this first poem that suggests “For Three Voices” and presents the text in the book in three different colors, one can certainly envision three readers reading from their “assigned” places. What results, then, is sound poetry … even as what’s being sound-ed are not sounds (as with church bells) but words with meaning.

It’s interesting to consider the effectiveness of this approach. I, for one, recognize the poems as poems but am I going to sit through the pages reading each word? I didn’t. I didn’t so much “read” as “scan” several of the poems in the book. But my behavior does attest to how the poems are “scores.”

(Btw, I once created a sound poem based on using words from a language in which I or my anticipated readers are not fluent; I published the text in one of my books but had/have no expectation of readers literally reading the words which were/are meant to sound out sounds in that the letters (deliberately) produce no meaning to English readers. Gatza’s project, by offering comprehensible words, offer up a tension between meaning and sound, a difficulty similar to that tension between meaning and design when using words/letters in visual art.)

And yet. Perhaps “scores”—even though the term itself is used in the book—may be a tad simplistic as to what these poems are/become.  Epigraphed by this wonderful quote from Victor Hugo—

And if you wish to receive of the ancient city an impression with which the modern one can no longer furnish you, climb – on the morning of some grand festival, beneath the rising sun of Easter or of Pentecost – climb upon some elevated point, whence you command the entire capital; and be present at the wakening of the chimes. Behold, at a signal given from heaven, for it is the sun which gives it, all those churches quiver simultaneously. First come scattered strokes, running from one church to another, as when musicians give warning that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, behold! – for it seems at times, as though the ear also possessed a sight of its own, – behold, rising from each bell tower, something like a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. First, the vibration of each bell mounts straight upwards, pure and, so to speak, isolated from the others, into the splendid morning sky; then, little by little, as they swell they melt together, mingle, are lost in each other, and amalgamate in a magnificent concert. It is no longer anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly sent forth from the numerous belfries; floats, undulates, bounds, whirls over the city, and prolongs far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of its oscillations.

Nevertheless, this sea of harmony is not a chaos; great and profound as it is, it has not lost its transparency; you behold the windings of each group of notes which escapes from the belfries.
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

—the book shows that the poems are not just sounds but words and, yes, narratives… in the manner of how, in Hugo’s description, one can see/hear not just a “sea of harmony” but also “the windings of each group of notes.”  Because I am a reader too tied to meaning when I look at words, a poem that straddles sound but also a more complicated narrative works more effectively for me than others. It’s no coincidence that I prefer the poems meant for “Eight Voices” over the ones meant for “Three Voices” with their resonances based on meaning. You can get a gist of what I mean by the titles of two poems:



The former poem has text like this—

I Hate Capitalism but I Want to Fuck Santa Claus
Yorkshire Surprise Major – for Eight Voices

I hate capitalism but I want to fuck Santa Claus
I but to want Santa Claus fuck

I to but Santa Claus want fuck
to I Santa Claus but fuck want

to I but Santa Claus want fuck
to I Santa Claus but fuck want

to I Santa Claus fuck but want
to I fuck Santa Claus want but

—while the latter has text like this—

You Can’t Destroy Time; It Has No Place To Go.
Yorkshire Surprise Major – for Eight Voices

You Can’t Destroy Time It Has No Place To Go
Time Destroy No It Has To Go Place

Time No Destroy To Go It Has Place

No Time To Go Destroy Place It Has
No Time Destroy To Go It Has Place

No Time To Go Destroy Place It Has
No Time To Go Place Destroy It Has
No Time Place To Go It Has Destroy
No Time Place To Go Destroy It Has Time
No Place To Go It Has Destroy

You get the gist. But while my brain stayed with the words of the first poem—“Spira,” “Spera,” “Breathe” and “Hope”—my thoughts continued past the texts on the page for the two poems for “Eight Voices.” The latter two poems made me think past the words I read as I considered their presented thoughts on capitalism, Santa Claus’ becoming a symbol for commercialism rather than … whatever Santa was before, and then all sorts of cogitations arose at the idea of destroying time or the impossibility of such.

And yet. Having said all that, let’s say that Gatza went to a poetry reading with this book and perhaps some friends to help him “read” from the book. Who knows? It may be that the poems with more emphasis on sound may be more effective live performances.  In a performance venue, it’s possible that (some or many of) the audience members are more focused on the moment and thus can attend to each sound as it occurs, versus mentally pausing to consider the meaning/implication of narrative while the performance is continuing past that narrative.

And yet.  I am writing this review concurrent with reading through the book and so, after I’ve stated what I’ve stated above, I then come onto a poem on Page 87 that shows that I’m also presenting a binary that doesn’t always hold. That is—and this attests to Gatza’s wisdom, and certainly sophistication, as a poet—on Page 87 we come across a poem that begins as such:

When a Poet Dies An Entire Library Dies As Well
Cambridge Surprise Maximus – for Ten Voices – for Tom and Norma

When a Poet Dies An Entire Library Dies As Well
When An Library Poet As a Dies Entire Well Dies
When As Library An Well Poet Dies a Entire Dies
When Well Dies As Entire Library Dies An a Poet
When Dies Entire Well Dies a Poet As An Library
When Dies a Entire Poet Dies An Well Library As
When Poet An a Library Dies As Entire Dies Well
When Library As An Poet a Well Dies Dies Entire
When As Well Library Dies An Entire Poet Dies a
When Well Dies Entire Dies As a Library Poet An
When Entire Dies Dies a Well Poet An Library As
a When Dies Poet Entire An Dies Library Well As
An When Poet Library a As Dies Entire Dies Well
As When Library An Poet Well a Dies Dies Entire
When Well As Dies Library Entire An Dies Poet a
Dies When Well Entire Dies a As Poet Library An

Like the other poems, this poem goes into various permutations of the words that make up the title. But there’s something about that line, “When a Poet Dies An Entire Library Dies As Well,” that makes the reader (me, anyway) consider its truth, its complicated truth. And I can easily envision myself at a live performance continuing to mentally ruminate over the phrase’s implications while enjoying the sounds being voiced by the performers.  Perhaps it’s the articulation of a particular line whose effect breaks down my earlier-described binary that makes a great poem in this particular style. While I get this effect from “When a Poet Dies An Entire Library Dies As Well,” I don’t receive a similar transporting effect from, say, “A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees.” But if it’s this perspective that determines the “analysis” of Gatza’s collection, then we can say that identifying which line works better than another is subjective so this paragraph is not identifying a flaw per se in Gatza’s project.

What we do know is that Gatza has taken an inventive approach towards making his latest poetry book such that the mind is not only appreciative but would anticipate a chance to see this book performed in such a way as to please other senses besides sight.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects (GR)She loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1and the forthcoming ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. She is the inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku” which will be the focus of a 15-year anniversary celebration at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries in 2018. More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.comShe is pleased to direct you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION (MDR) was reviewed by Zvi. A Sesling for Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.