Knot by stacy doris. university of georgia press, 2006. $16.95. reviewed by karla kelsey.
Via both form and content, Stacy Doris's Knot
undertakes the task of writing all that occurs in a single moment, in a
single flash. "Entrance," the first poem and introductory note, aptly
describes the complexity of this project: "This book's actual shape is a
meander that articulates its construct by showing all of its vantages at
once, including the movement which creates them." The dual function of
this piece as first poem and introductory note reveals the practice of
the book: the moment-flash of Knot is not simply one act of perception.
Rather, the book kaleidoscopically evolves from the perspectives and
sensations that simultaneously comprise each moment. As "Entrance"
operates as introduction and poem, enactment and explanation, the
project as a whole spans a single moment of a life and all moments of a
life. It encompasses individuality and multiplicity, the interior and
the exterior, the poetic and the meta-poetic.
A famous illustration of Einstein's theory of relativity demonstrates the driving force of Knot: two lights blinking simultaneously on a railway embankment will not be viewed simultaneously by a passenger on the train. The velocity with which the train moves causes the passenger to see the lights blink one after the other. In reality, however, the lights are both blinking simultaneously and in succession, depending upon where one is standing and how fast one is moving. Similarly, Doris invites us to take a stance that is both stationary, across from the embankment, and that is in motion, along with the train.
Knot's form enacts this multiplicity in several ways. First, all of the poems - with the exception of "Entrance" - can be read both as prose poems and as long-lined poems. Doris achieves this effect by capitalizing the first letter of each "line" and by leaving the right margin ragged rather than justified. Each poem in the book is composed of three stanzas or paragraphs. Thus Doris provides multiple reading options: we can read the line breaks, we can read the prose by overriding the line breaks and capitalization, or we can do both. Since each poem has this form, the reader gets plenty of practice performing this unique mode of multiple reading. In the course of moving through the book we settle into a natural rhythm of both reading in a lineated and non-lineated way - simultaneously.
Multiplicity extends into what "Entrance" describes as
the book's "deformed or queered pronouns and the myriad disagreements
between nouns and verbs." This practice results in simultaneous vectors of
meaning. For example, poem i.XIX begins thusly:
Bitten, feasted upon, anyone explode. Breaks out thus released where
What gather's radiation. We's nullify, and so caught,
repeat. Freed, we laps
The subject-verb disagreement of "anyone" with "explode" in the first sentence renders the sentence multiple: "anyone explode" can first be read as a mistake. The mind reads the disagreement and simultaneously corrects it to "anyone explodes," becoming a silent editor following the rules of grammar. This reflexive correction reminds the reader the extent to which we are beholden to these rules. In addition to provoking this editorial awareness, the phrase can also be read as a command telling "anyone" to "explode," shifting the meaning and emotion of the sentence. The speaker shouts out a call to arms - a suicide mission—to anyone who has been "bitten" and "feasted" upon. And in the next line the multiplicity strides on: the phrase "What gather's radiation" can be read as both apostrophe's mistake and fortuitous shift. Here "gather," the verb-become-noun, possesses "radiation" and the expression becomes an investigation into what kind of "gather" or act of gathering brings something toxic (radiation) into its fold.
Knot's simultaneous approach is not restricted only to formal, grammatical concerns of the book, for in this project language is integral to the very fabric of the "moment-flash" under investigation. Formal multiplicity allows us to engage with a subjectivity - and a world - also composed of simultaneities. While the book works with the concept of a single moment of perception it shows, at the same time, the nearly infinite layers of sensation and experience involved in a flash of perception. For example, poem i.II begins:
Into some distance, everything empties. Explosions riddle nightfalls now,
And bombs partly originate sound: thus echo unending. In radiance, cells
Determine clashes and covering. Convert. Somebody, numb sheathes in
Incomprehension. But touch medicates. In each caress, we takes shape as
Dwelling's axis. So another's hand insulates us, cocoons meaning cordons.
If the content of this moment-flash is something like the act of watching bombs fall on a distant landscape, the passage itself is like the many-layered nature of that moment of watching. Here, perception operates not simply as something externally grasped by sight and sound, but functions internally as "cells / Determine clashes and covering." Perception is not a solitary act, but rather an intersubjective experience that "touch medicates." Furthermore, such perception isn't just a function of watching a scene with another person; the very undergoing of an experience together creates a sense of identity, a sense of "we" for "In each caress, we takes shape as / Dwelling's axis." In such passages, Doris shows us that in perceiving the world we are created by our act of perception. Like the movement of Einstein's passenger, such simultaneity transforms the subject's view of the world while contributing to the constitution of the subject herself.
Knot's transformative acts provide us with a new kind of poetry, a new type of reading experience. Doris empowers her readers to multiply tie and untie the language of the book, actively shaping and following simultaneously unfolding paths through the text. Such reading work demands a high level of attention but yields one of poetry's ultimate achievements: an experience capable of transforming the mind engaged with it.