Yesterday, Sam Lohmann's new chapbook Unless As Stone Is arrived. It is a handsome publication, containing a single poem in seven parts (six plus envoi, perhaps?), variations on Dante's sestina "Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d'ombra". I guess I could plot it along my recent theme of appropriation and emotion, but I don't have much to say there. Still, here are three nice poety things about the book.
1. Two colors (colours? I need to decide whether I'm going to "go native" about these spellings) predominate in the poem, "green" and "yellow". When I imagine those colors, they are like crayons, or Pantone swatches -- solid, bulky, no nuance. But the book itself has a chartreuse cover and manila pages -- a very different (and more interesting) suggestion of what "green" and "yellow" might mean. The physical book itself reminded me of further possibilities for these words; instead of having illustrations in the book, the book itself was the illustration. (Which itself is a reminder: Until Gutenberg, there was really no need for writing to be thought of as black and white. Was it? Someone investigate that. It could make an excellent Encyclopedia Brown–style plot point.)
2. I was reading the book aloud to myself, pacing back and forth in my kitchen, and stopped on this italicized line:
His science has progressed past stone.And -- as I like to say -- I rolled it around in my mouth. I repeated it it a few times, really enjoying how the consonants propelled the sentence along. I have become a sucker for a repeated /st/. Here it makes a nice little dramatic pause before you get to the payoff -- and it switches from a-e-i vowels to an o-u vowel (which my research (and others') suggests is the major vowel divide for English speakers). And the meaning of the sentence tied in nicely enough with the Dante -- I was pleased.
And then: Sam does the same thing. He spends the next few lines rolling around that sentence, with its /p/, /s/, /gr/, and /st/ consonants:
Hiss, scient asp or greased piston;"Wake up"! It was the same thing I had felt when I got through with the italicized line and though, oh, hey, I should get back to the poem. Here it marks the end of rolling around, bringing in a new set of sounds, its meaning echoing its form.
as sign's hasp or grist turns to regress,
past's tone is graps;
as ions aspire, grass sought up a stone,
a sighing sass, poor grace to pass on:
siren's purr grates diapason
on stone in grass. Wake up,
Really, when a poem reenacts my reading of it, it is very exciting.
3. This book makes no bones about being a poem, and yet I enjoyed reading it. That is something of an accomplishment!
(Nice poety thing #3 might just be a repeat of nice poety thing #2, however.)
You can get Unless As Stone Is at Powells, and a few other places (see Sam's blog for details).