Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Aleatory Geometries: A Review of E.J. McAdams' 4 X 4
E.J. McAdams' new chapbook, 4 X 4, published this year by Twin Cities-based unarmed journal (publisher Michael Mann), is a delight, drawing upon the visual and concrete poetic trajectories represented by such figures as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Aram Saroyan and Robert Grenier. Each poem, such as the one shown above, follows a rigid structure of four words composed of four letters, thus creating a kind of hallucinatory effect of language squared off, words framed. In "SAME/SAME/SAME/SAME," for example, the spaces between the letters reasserts the alienating materiality of letters themselves. I kept wanting to read "SAME" as anything but "SAME"--"say me," for example.
"SAME" also happened to be the cover for my particular version of 4 X 4--but not for anybody else, apparently. 4 X 4 is also a remarkable study in aleatory publication; each published version of the chap is unique insofar as it has randomized the page orders. In this way, it hearkens back to foundational aleatory material texts such as Robert Grenier's Sentences, a box of 500 note card sized poems, with no particular order. (Bill Howe's recent talk at Orono about Sentences is suggestive of how aleatory orderings offer a geometrically explosive number of possible iterations, such that reading the text in each of its possible ways would be impossible for a single reader.)
McAdams' poems sometimes approach public signage--if public signage were to ask for the impossible:
In an age of the Security State, such a command does not feel entirely out of place. Yet to "hand over your hell"--in addition to its alliterative beauty--is just the sort of beautiful sign (both funny and ominous) that I'd be pleased to read just about anywhere, not just above a confessional. Such a text also invites a vertical reading--I keep wanting to say "A(B)OVE" is part of the poem somehow.
In his sameness of form, McAdams' 4 X 4 presses against the purported transparency of language, re-pressurizes words, threatens explosion, as in:
"BOOM/BOOM/BOOM/BOOM" could be a sign of the ongoing wars (and their endless detonations), but it also could be read as a lyric from the great John Lee Hooker. (This particular poem also had life as a broadside card published by Ugly Duckling Presse).
Given its aleatory publication, chance also leads to some brilliant juxtapositions:
The plaintive eros of the left panel, laid against the graphic language of sex and defecation, invites us to see these as a couple split in bed, as opposites in sudden attraction/repulsion. It also invites reading horizontally across the split, as in "ARMS SHIT / LEGS FUCK / SOFT COCK / EYES CUNT." If there ever were a solidified non-aleatory version of this text, this happy chance meeting must not be parted.
McAdams, a longtime urban ecologist who played a key role in the preservation of the hawk Pale Male's nesting site on a city building in New York, might be playing with the urban grid in his formal structures, and how it both becomes a place of habitation and absence, as all cities simultaneously control and exist in spite of nature:
This collection is an auspicious debut, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from McAdams.