“Gothenburg” from Three Geogaophies: A Milkmaid’s Grimoire by Arielle Guy
(ypolita press, 2007)
For me, reading the chapbook “Gothenburg” was like perusing the transcript of a sketchbook. On some pages, the narrator shares her thoughts in the form of prose paragraphs. On other pages, they appear as short, irregular fragments—too orderly and deliberately positioned to be described as islands or floaters, but the white space between and around the phrases immense and present as the texts it surrounds. The unconventional punctuation (including dashes following commas, and spaces preceding colons and semicolons) contributes to the impression of stop-and-start jottings—of someone repeatedly distracted as she tries to set down her thoughts.
The dropping of vowels and other departures from formal spelling also foster the sense of haste—and also of intimacy. The narrator trusts whomever is reading her words to decipher them, either by knowing her well enough or by taking the time to sound out the missing and the approximate. This is particularly true within “Geogaphy”:
My eye in high winter
one hpon, delicate llid.
Hesisation. “When do I get out?”tarnilla asks.
Letters, numbers, script we read
theere light in the orthouse, flesh in the whell.
Trhe way disaster strikes. of feather.
dhattaered clavicle, houseing heart.
-unleashed on the siuspected : pwettern of oil in brouth
I still don’t have a handle on whether there’s more to the word “Geogaphy” than just the missing “r,” although I would hazard that there’s a playfulness on display: the entire chapbook is full of unexpected space, so one could argue that it’s an exhibit of gaps rather than graphs. For instance, in “Prayer,” the visual delay between “recognition’” and “: this happened before” conveys a pause in the narrator’s own processing of her surroundings—a long gulp of breath between seeing something and connecting it to the known:
recognition’ :this happened before,
A few lines later, there’s a similar stretch of space that suggests a search for just the right word:
fossil-rich: blooming on the —curve.
The dash in front of “curve” portrays the suddenness of locking onto that just-right word.
“Gothenburg” is a sampler of mystery and texture. I found myself less interested in the overall narrative and more in lingering on certain choice phrases, such as
Space like a period within outstretched cloths [“Threadnotes”]
Stronghold the heart in a paper bag, bound with string and string and string [“Telemetry”]
glossaries in tight braids, letters arranged as silence [“Avar”]
one window lying justified at our feet [“Incline”]
etched into my hand with the pin containing your borough [“Book of Constellations”]
“Gothenburg” is populated with boats and tarot cards, windows and fish. Michael Cowell’s cover features a woman in a plain dress, cards spilling from her left palm. Did the man standing behind her jar her hand, or is he providing her someone to lean against? The cards seem almost garish compared to the somber palette used for the rest of the scene—the washed-out blue of the harbor sky, the stark black cranes, the brown and gray specks and spatters that both frame and stain the piece. The rough, jagged shapes in the foreground of the back cover—are they chunks of city concrete or the backs of abandoned cards? Like the texts inside, the illustration contains hints of both decision and stagnation, complementing the mood of observations such as “even in summer, the dark was deep” (“Book of Constellations”), as well as the inventory of curiosities such as (within the same poem) a map that depicts a fortune-teller sketching out the patterns of the stars in red.
Peg Duthie shares a house in Nashville with a tall man, a large dog, and a short piano. She blogs about poetry at Vary the Line and tweets about it now and then (@zirconium).