EILEEN TABIOS Engages
As They Fall by Ivy Johnson
(Timeless, Infinite Light, Oakland, CA, 2015)
It’s fitting that Ivy Johnson’s As They Fall arrived “damaged” in the sense that the grey paper wrap around a set of cards was torn: it arrived fallen. Thus, to take the project out of its mailing envelope was to take an unbound set of cards already falling from each other to reveal what some of the cards say. Thus, I as recipient was facilitated to engage with the cards, flip through them, check them out … rather than set them aside in their neat boundness to explore at some other time when I had more free time. But you know what, I never have free time so what the hey: I engaged!
As it turned out, I was empathetic right away. Each card presents text and a poem (created from words on all of the cards) or shorter poems (from some of the cards) that can be created from random orderings of the card. Here’s an example from five cards I chose at random from the pile:
i can feel the light of the universe upon me
the echoes rearranged
It was true.
the word planted seeds
Nifty. I love the result. It’s a legit poem, or I recognize it as such in the same way the author presents the project as a poem. The grammatical formality of the fourth line even works to dramatize the last line.
Anyway, I was saying I’m empathetic right away because of my own poem-written-from-random-orders of a database of lines (see “Murder, Death andResurrection” or “MDR”). I am moved by an author’s letting go of total control to have the universe (if you will) collaborate in the writing of a poem. It reflects my own ars poetica as I captured it in an old couplet: “To bring the poem into the world / is to bring the world into the poem.”
Three factors elevate Johnson’s As They Fall into a highly effective poem. First and most important, the resulting poem(s) can only be as good as the inventory of lines. Johnson’s words are highly resonant and well-crafted in that the lines don’t carry unnecessary words; these words are not notes or jottings—they are lines in a poem. Here are three examples again chosen at random:
AS IN A MIRROR
I had a dream that I walked crude architecture
And sure: I consider the above tercet effective as a poem, too. What As They Fall illustrates, as the best of this type of poem-making does, is what Gertrude Stein et al understood: meaning can arise from random combinations of words.
The second factor that makes this project effective is that the words on each card are handwritten. That’s better by being more personal and drawing you (the reader/viewer) into a more intimate space. Indeed, the all-capitalized line (in above excerpt), “AS IN A MIRROR,” loses its loudness or becomes softer because it’s handwritten. Here's one view:
Speaking of intimacy, the third factor is the project’s structure of cards (not, say, lines on a page as is the case in my MDR project or lines onscreen manipulated by a computer program, which is another way poems-writ-at-random are created by others). The use of cards means the reader/viewer is forced not just to engage visually with the poem but engage physically with the poem. One must touch and manipulate the poem. That’s all good and apt for a highly personal project—“personal” as affirmed by the project’s description by the author and/or publisher:
“As They Fall is a vivid, sensual journey through the haunted landscape of the self [of Ivy Johnson].”
Form, here, mirrors content and it’s lovely to see, touch and feel this poem. Here’s a couplet randomly created … for another instance of radiance:
drawing is silent
our voices sound the cry of the earth
Thank you, Ivy Johnson. And the photographers Emji Spero, Otis Pig, Justin Carder and Caitlin Enwright whose photos used on the cards depict light in many splendiferous permutations.
Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS. Forthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com