MEGAN BURNS Reviews
Lucky by Mairéad Byrne
(Little Red Leaves, Textile Editions, 2011)
A Reduction by Jimmy Lo
(Little Red Leaves, Textile Editions, 2011)
Innovative Designs: Lucky by Mairéad Byrne and A Reduction by Jimmy Lo
Little Red Leaves’s Textile Series presents small chapbooks beautifully wrapped and sewn in cloth from remnants of shower curtains, bed sheets, and other recycled materials. The result is a pocket-sized chapbook that is durable, green, and most importantly stocked with an amazing array of words and images. Editor Dawn Pendergast employs an innovative way of using the space to create variations within the page restrictions that both surprise and enhance the text. . For this review, I wanted to look at two in particular that utilize this blend of images, words, and innovation to produce stunning adventures while still maintaining the glory of the chapbook: perfect one-sitting reads.
Abigail Lingford, “a trained scientific illustrator” as her bio states, provides amusing drawings to Mairéad Byrne’s Lucky. The chapbook opens with the drawing of a purple centipede next to the first poem, “The Centipede + The Laptop.” The drawing complements the mock scientific discourse that accompanies the poem as it elucidates the differences and similarities between the two: “The centipede is dead. Or could be dead. Until it moves./ The laptop comes to life, like a woman, on a finger-stroke.” The centipede recurs in the next poem with more close shot drawings of the insect to offset the text which reflects on the illustration: “the image of the centipede, whether by print or digital, is conducive to sustained looking by virtue of the removal from the scene of flailing limbs, whether human or centipedal.” Bryne is a master of turning the phrase when you least expect it as well as maintaining both a cerebral discourse in the midst of an introspective thought. The poems are smart, brimming with witty juxtapositions whether she is talking about insects or floodlights. Her casual voice gives way to complex digressions and in some cases horrific scenarios as in “Fall” where the narrator tells us: “I was walking up a hill in Providence + I was looking at the asphalt + I was looking at the leaves + I was looking at my boot + my eyes fell out.” Again, this text is coupled with a detailed illustration of an eye both in socket and in media res of detaching all the way to Fig. 5 with its predictable conclusion. For a chapbook size of work, Lucky manages to showcase Bryne’s talents by giving voice to the many different tones in her work, from the investigative to the surreal and from the conversational to the philosophical. The drawings work to enhance the text subtly allowing Byrne’s very strange and yet appealing imagination to take center stage.
A Reduction by Jimmy Lo is one of the first chaps I’ve come across to use illustrated plastic slides to create windows into the pages both highlighting and dividing what appears in the translucent space. For instance, in opening the book, the reader encounters a small window decorated with an abstract image that obscures part of the author’s name, so all that can be seen is “A Reduction/ Jimmy.” The author’s identity is the first reduction in this text. The plastic slides, reminiscent of high school biology labs where one smeared a sample to be put under a microscope, offer up blotches and stains as the author states: “I wish to be microscopic. Not invisible, that, but microscopic—anonymous, among the worms’ paths and their soft castings.” On the left hand side of the page, the semi-transparent slides work to cut windows onto the text the reader has just read; a prose poem becomes simply several words some of which are cut off in the middle. Literally, the words are reduced to syllabics, to letters or former notions of what they were contextually. In several cases, two slides will be aligned on two separate pages, so that the words beneath the window become clearer as one page (slide) is turned and conversely on the left side, the former words become murkier as another page (slide) is turned. This is a text that one not only reads, but that one reads through backwards and forwards; the poems are made in the field of the page and then again in the constraints created by the slides and their stains.
This is the beauty of the chapbook when it is used to its most artful end. Unlike the mass production of a perfect bound book, the chapbook can contain a unique and particular experience weaving textures and images with words and ideas. Dawn Pendergast and her small press have created a truly wonderful reading experience with their Textile Series. From the cover to the content, these poetry chapbooks are inspired and inspiring.
Visual images of the exterior and interior of these chaps can be found on my blog, Solid Quarter.
Megan Burns blogs here.