[First appeared in First Intensity, Fall 2007, Edited by Lee Chapman]
Inverse by Maryrose Larkin
(nine muses books, Winston OR, 2006)
The Book of Ocean by Maryrose Larkin
(i.e. Press, Los Angeles, 2007)
Inverse is a small chapbook, 26 poems. Here is Larkin’s description (from her blog, October 12, 2006) of her process writing Inverse: “ I've always been interested in how words contain their opposites. Inverse attempts to discuss this by creating new definitions of words through the process of encompassing the words with their antonyms. This was achieved through heavy use of Microsoft Word, Excel, Babblefish, Dictionary.com and various sorting functions.”
Reading that one might expect A to Z, maybe a trace of automata, a taste of artificiality, a little tell-tale clumsiness.
Not so. There is the process but also there is the human reworking. The process increases possibilities. Which are digested, transformed, opened.
Here is the first piece:
Roots open rise and run
his face compare to string notation
required and where
but this cannot and without it
box step the sun and box step the moon
(The convention of quoting in italics doesn’t work here: typography is subtle and necessary.)
So this abcedarium does not begin with A. Does not end with Z. Many letters are missing. It is not always clear what the root word is. Perhaps it has been erased. Any trace of origin or process has completely disappeared. Instead we are given a steady light — cast on what? The light itself is sufficient.
The Book of Ocean is longer, 80 pages, not a chapbook. It has six sections: Book of Natural History, Book of Gardens, Book of Hours, Book of The Life List, Book of Music, Book of Ocean. Each section has between five and eight poems. Two poems are five pages long. Most poems are less than one page. Some are titled. Some are not.
Book of Natural History begins with gravity, moves to Newton’s Opticks, on to astronomy, the periodic table, and ends with Noah. Does this seem predictable? Larkin is not predictable: “I rhyme with the ground” is her first word on gravity. Later, on gravity:
the mass examination
ubiquity of free groups the vindication of mathematics
not the way I ache for ground to become rock
trying to be human and stone
and still on gravity:
“things attract blood to blood dust to dust
bodies quick return the world falls towards dust and becomes”
And alongside rigor, lyricism:
through the wood window a blurred bill rendered
through the wood window the stray of it in her mouth
(from Noah Variations)
Or the last line of the book:
O book of ocean let her wade here her sodium shadows lost
(from Charms in Book of Ocean)
The second poem in Book of Gardens is the astonishing After Shatter, beginning “we are night’s violation,” ending “we are wholly absence swung,” and in between deer, dreams, forest, “the anemone of after.”
And so on.
This is the alchemist’s dream, each thing permuted into another, abstract into particular, what is solid become shimmering, the shimmering made concrete. Categories dissolve and solidify, nothing is impossible:
is the possible
without a mouth?
(from Wintering (charms), the first poem in Book of the Life List), or:
product procession a sentence as femur
(from Femur Found by Accident, in Book of Music).
Here is the blurb I wrote for the back cover: “Larkin is not located anywhere. We can’t find her in any sense. But she speaks — clearly, with penetrating intelligence. Her language is luminous, astonishing in its range, transcendent. Time conflates, narrative breaks through, language is the connective by which vastly disparate concepts — love, snow, mathematics, gravity — flow one to another, reported with meticulous grace.”
Judith Roitman is the author of three chapbooks: The stress of meaning (Standing Stones Press), Diamond notebooks (nominative press collective), and Slippage (Potes & Poets Press). Her work has appeared in many journals, including First Intensity, Skanky Possum, Black Spring, FO A RM, Spectaculum, LOCUPOINT and Imagination & Place. Work is forthcoming in First Intensity, Bird Dog, and Crane’s Bill Books, and a book is forthcoming from First Intensity Press.