I, NE: Iterations of the Junco is a collaboration between John Chavez, Megan Gannon, Rachel May, and Joshua Ware. Illustrations by Meaghan Perry. Letterpress-printed on 18 file cards in a handmade paper slipcase. Edition of 100.
Review by Elizabyth Hiscox
Straight out of the gate this book from Small Fires Press is a captivating package. Printed on a series of unbound file cards peeking from the slipcase, the poems are punctuated by Meaghan Perry’s avian etchings that vaguely illustrate the content: tender juncos, gloried juncos, juncos in distress. The use of the recurring central image of these prints echoes the method of the text, although it should be noted the poems explore a variety of subjects. The individual poems, eleven in all, are assigned to the poets as a group: John Chavez, Megan Gannon, Rachel May, and Joshua Ware.
Granted, I am the target audience for a limited edition art book. Letterpress fonts can make me giddy and handmade paper (in this case, cotton with unbleached abaca & banana added) can enchant me. While the Kindle and similar next-gen technologies are cutting a wide literary path, there is an equal and opposite reaction in printmaking. Whether to deckle an edge is appropriate conversation again. But, don’t mistake it: I don’t like it all. You can’t judge a book by its paper.
Granted, I am also the target audience for the collaborative poem. I admire and defend its production and am especially inclined to the approach this text takes: allowing each poem to move past individual poet to become an un-assignable work that transcends a particular style or voice.
Granted, I, NE: Iterations of the Junco is my kind of book, but I was prepared for it to be otherwise. It could have been a gimmicky catalyst cast-off. It could have been a by-product of a concept. It could have been better suited to the vapid ranks of art object. It could have been other than it was.
The poem “Yet Limned in Watercolor” admits “Of course, the story, as with the junco’s stutter is contrived.” By extension: the poems. But contrivance is good in this case, as with the song of the bird. It is artfully devised. An implication that wild things play in structures too.
After the initial title card, and prior to the first poem, is an image of a songbird with an eruption of [light?] [sound?] lines skyward. Titled “Report” it carries the call and its response and suitably, subtly pulls us into a work of revelation mixed with repetition. There’s an earnest intelligence here, but there is also a sense that this is a bit of a romp with language. The sincere smile if not the sly wink in its pages. For example, the cards which open and close the collection are tabbed “hello” and “goodbye.” It’s as though you, the reader, have been allowed in on a space, a conversation. At times, a heated discussion. And this is, perhaps, the paramount appeal of these poems: that strange tug of shared process – the resonance becoming different each time a word is revisited – heard again and against the tenor of another.
Here’s a taster; these lines pulled from “The Word You Cannot Erase [Part One],” “Cotton-Glass & Parrot-Bells,” and “The Autonomy of Air,” respectively.
Come back to the junco call, stuttered white noise, drops of some- / thing from my body: coin, tooth, horizon. Even the airplane hears / the frog’s sigh, the radio white noise that swallows every sound,[…]
Kestrels hollow white noise as hovering ice limbs erase / the scrim of an early waver-light.[…]
[…] Another sentence descends & the junco alphabetizes the similes of its own syntax: kestrels, / moonlight, a newly leafed tree, and thistle-burrs. […]
There are moments of greater similarity than these in the book: moments where almost punctuation alone offers alteration. But to extract an emblematic set of lines would be to ignore that the poetry is un-extractable at the same moment that many of the phrasings and combinations produce immediate beauty [“We must’ve been invited into the aperture / of the morning just then,”].
In the end, to write a review of this book is to try to contextualize a project that already exists in a context that is at once fixed and fluid. The reader picks up on what is happening, gets the basic rules of the game and to a point that feels situated, and then finds the iterations informing themselves [in image, in space, in verse] and opening up again.
In the end, to write a review of this book is to try and contextualize my betters. “A Note on the Process” that accompanies the poems situates the project eloquently and as accurately as possible with poems driven by erasure and self-professed nonce form:
“Externally, these iterations may appear similar. Internally, these iterations produce difference: an irreducible and dynamic concept vibrating through temporal, spatial, and linguistic contexts. As such, each poem works to alter the conceptual freight of the entire series, or the ‘passing and repassing [of] decentered centers of the eternal return.’”
Yep. That sounds about right.
To see more pictures from the chapbook, go here. Or, go here to get yourself a copy. A series of Joshua Ware's poems appeared in HFR #44.