Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elevator Express

Jessica Smith. Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002-2004. Charlottesville, Va: Outside Voices, 2004.

This is an incredibly well-made book.
An impeccable book, even, if such a word doesn’t sound archaic. From the lush tapestry of green on the cover, the thick black endpapers, the erudite Foreword sparkling with serious insight into the art of poetry, architecture, music and painting, all the way to the poems themselves, each moment of a reader’s looking and touching encounters a new thing of verbal and visual beauty. Jessica Smith has composed a work with a dynamic range rarely seen—a book as a performance, a score for reading which permits wild permutations for each poem, and a poetry of scholarship with continuous insistence on considering the distances from the spoken to the seen, the eye and the ear, the eye as a means of reading language, and the ear as an organ of spatialities. If this book of diverse poems—54 in 6 sections, divided into 2 halves—can be described in a single sentence, it might be: we learn more about the degree to which our senses are cooperative functions of a synthetic relation from their strict separation in a work of art, in a single aesthetic encounter, than we do when they are submerged in a thematic, conventional work in an established genre. We are more lastingly challenged to consider our ways of making meaning to the degree that more of our senses are engaged in simultaneity and succession (terms she defines in her Foreword). This is a book of many places, an artography (drop the see), yet she has assiduously followed Creeley’s advice: keep looking. This is splendid artifice, a painterly architecture, a making, and the site of her έποίησε.

Here, to the best of my skill in transcribing it, is one of her poems.
To set a work like this in a blog takes careful composition, and must be built line by line. This is the poem “Locations along the Rust Belt” from the section “Canal Series” in the division “Chronography” from the book Organic Furniture Cellar:

[i spent an hour trying to format this--couldn't do it. I am not "web ready" as they say. This isn't the poem, these are all the words in the poem, but they bear no relation to what this poem is, or how it should be enacted.]

fascination with



grain elevators
in order

if you want to remember
glasses with limes at the a loved one, sloss furnace
bottom turn up around the
comfort lose it .let
cities everyday activities.

remembering is suffocating,

b ear

suffering vulcan
7. g dying under
buffalo drives

drink recover its name. If someone has died


the light

may be red.


It has taken me three years to give Jessica Smith’s poetry a composed response. We went to school together. I consider her a friend. We’ve shared, at some remove in age and space, similar experiences in the attempt to compose distinct careers as writers. We’ve studied many of the same texts, and were trained in the same, distinct tradition of aesthetics, one recognizable by its differences from a more conventional approach to writing, the page, and the poem. One major component of OFC is the way she is able to acknowledge that tradition and take it into the future, deepen it, expand it, fulfill it by exceeding its limitations, by expanding the ground & source from which it emerges.

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