The Dusie Chapbook Kollektiv initiated by poet Susana Gardner aims to bring together some fifty poets in a spirit of collective creating and sharing, bypassing the economic need to sell and promote one’s work; the Kollectiv operates under the auspices of reciprocity and the gift of the poem. The idea of the gift of the chapbook is a term I‘m borrowing from poet and Dusie participant Jen Hofer, who prints in the back of her chapbooks that these items are a “gift.” In exchange, one is gifted as well with a collection of hand-made books that are often individually unique and that allow the continued conversation between writers and words to flow freely, unbound by the constructs of careerism and dollar value. The chapbooks are all scanned online, so members outside of the Kollectiv can also enjoy the construction of these books as well as the poems they contain. For this review, I graciously received about a dozen handmade chaps from 2011 participants. This review will discuss four that I think offer a range of constructions in terms of the art of the chapbook, combined with a range of poetics that reflects the range of poems found in the work of the Dusie Kollectiv group.
Sewn in cloth bound covers of recycled textiles, Dawn Pendergast’s chapbook leavefallleaves is done in the style of her press Little Red Leaves Textiles Editions. Measuring roughly 5x4 inches, her chap includes six poems in various styles. It opens with a small poem of puns and playful line breaks: “I’m a little wander/ er, a little wand/ am I, a wad of dawn-“ and continues with a series of poems called “Notes on the Fold,” poems presented in small boxed frames three or four across the page spread, with one occurring right where the book folds. Each poem in the box is entitled Card One, Card Two, etc., so that the series is reminiscent of reading the cards as one would with a tarot deck. In the first spread of three cards, they seem to represent past, present, and future. In Pendergast’s construction the present aptly lies on the fold, an indictment of its being split between past and future as well as a nod at the flexible movement, the bending spine of where we are in the moment. The book ends with a longer poem, “Leaves Fall Feaves,” in which a play on the title is continued throughout as Pendergast weaves together a rhythm of sound bites in lines such as: “I set it done/ I set it was done/ in shambles of leaves/ utterly unchosen onion ones.” Pendergast uses visual line breaks indicated by forward slashes within the poem while she plies her poems with line breaks in the lines and combines the leaf imagery of piles, shredded, and dried, or fallen with the speaker’s desire to “set it” and be done as one is on the page or in the process of printing and making a book. In a sense the poem falls as the leaves do, both seasonally and yet in unexpected designs that make us step back to take in/enjoy the view.
Turning then to Susana Gardner’s Of Idylls & Rushes, a chapbook of complicated folds and stapled sheets bound by what appears to be sheets from an art book and with a delicate feather from a bird tucked inside to mark a page. These poems are raw, intimate and have a hard edge as they tell you: “I’ve heard your bull dog bitch. / Winter coughs her up like the/ women hastening buzzard’s shit/ about your neck” or, from another poem, (all of Gardner’s poems are titled “(one)”): “My misshapen veil, my wry/ form-in short preludes/ among violet&blues, I represent/ awakening—frantic chatter,/ trembling.” Each poem is a new persona, a new “one” that shifts and changes the speaker and yet they cohere in their daring language that throws about the “whimsical bounty me” and “your dark ugly mug.” My bird feather marked a poem that ended with the phrase: “ladyscape light,” an apt designation for the “she” who dances among these pages.
The Animal by Sarah Rosenthal is a double sided chapbook made with recycled paper with images by Amy Fung-yi Lee on one side, which opens to reveal a long page of images that are reminiscent of cave paintings or crude children’s drawings. Turning the book over and around, one is presented with the accompanying text which is a book length poem entitled “The Animal.” This poem is inhabited by two pieces that merge with the poem, one is a narrative memoir piece and another is a letter to a character named X. Both pieces reside within the longer piece which is characterized by lines that tell us what Animals do: “The animal is/ hungry in winter/ after wars” or later: “Animals are metaphors/ for animals. Facts/ are shapes, dim/ outlines seen through/ animal eye.” Both the memoir piece where the speaker recalls moving to San Francisco with “$80 dollars in my pocket” and the letter to X where the character S says: “I’m sitting at a Lazy Susan table thinking if it were filled with food and there were a family, how perfect to spin and share” provide personal snippets that offset the objective lines that outline how the Animals are defined. In combination, the overall poem presents a construct where we move back and forth between the observing eye to the lyricism of the speaker’s narrative story; the hook is in the exchange as we ponder who the animals are and what is being made metaphor in this poem’s universe.
the last will be stone, too (excerpts) by Deborah Poe uses art pieces about death as points of departure for the poems within this side-stitched chap that is bound by a postcard style cover overlaid with a semi-transparent parchment sheet on the front and back. The collection opens with the poem “Death Mix” constructed with lines from Paul Celan’s poems. Following this are four poems tinged with loss, regret and nostalgia, but they also center around geography and the tactile notion of place. The note at the back tells us that these poems were inspired by art pieces about death. Noah Saterstrom’s art video Empty Houses informs the poem “A Lot Named Marooned” which tells us: “If separate then stannic and nowhere drawn in where a hole shapes meaning.” In “Foundation, Choctaw Street, 2010” the poem tells us: “To think what living braced before your migration/ before city became something other.” These four poems may depart from meditations on death, but they constellate place, map, geography and the texture from where one emerges. As the final poem tells us, they desire: “to walk into the unknown center.”
There’s an incredible power in giving over one’s words combined with the innovation of creating an object to transport them within; the Dusie Kollectiv not only calls upon poets to frame their words but also invites them to pour forth trading their often dearly hand-made items to poets who are total strangers. The return to the gift or the exchange recalls the historic value of the poet’s worth, to record and shape their time and to answer a calling that is a vow to pay attention to the world’s details. It’s an innovative way of making community across a vast space in an intimate way.