Saturday, July 19, 2008



Origami Shipwreck by Craig Perez & Katy Acheson
(NeoPepper Press, Cleveland, 2007)

The title grabbed me and it’s the reason I had the book sent to me. I love the collision: an origami ship would never be meant for voyages. And so the shipwreck just couldn’t be as vital as the word implies. I can picture a sodden mass of paper, not wreckage destined for flotsam. But then we all know paper constructions can be powerful, can make voyages. It’s this paradox, a momentary clarity arising from a seeming untruth in a simple title construction, this that made me think ah, yes.

So now to describe whether the ‘yes’ held, or became a no despite the title. Or whether it ended up being a ‘yes, but…’, or even the rarer ‘no, but…’ Firstly let me voice a speculative musing, something that is often a personal concern -- the importance one should ascribe to the processes underneath objects. If it is a sculpture of stone, how was it hewn? If it is a boat of paper, how where the folds made (never mind its seaworthiness)? What is the distance between idea and method? The object is of course, in this instance, a small collection of poems. And I think it is a given that method itself is no simple justification for the object -- the aesthetic pleasure of ingestion, in reading, rests on many other things. (For instance long explanatory notes bore me.) But you know this: it is likely you’re a poet yourself, and not just a ‘reader’ (note the inversion of commas); you’re at least sort of interested in the way poems and books are constructed, not simply how they ‘read’ (again…); so when you read a collection of poetry a part of your mind starts imagining the processes of production, indeed, it happens almost involuntarily: you want to engage with, even emulate (without plagiarising) the best methods of those writers you admire.) You will gasp ‘at the rime of pyres’, the layering of things. You want to know about this.

At any rate when I (and you) read a collection of poems -- this sounds general but it really only occurred to me properly, crystallised if you will, after reading Origami Shipwreck-- you kind of know quickly when the writer is making an observation / speculation gambit: seeing and pondering (albeit cross-referenced with the ‘soul’). Also, you know the walls and boundaries of a labyrinth may shift-- like the one ruled by the Ogre-King / David Bowie -- and the clues (poems) may lead you on a path to the source that is not quite so simple. As a ‘reader’ it is a place I like to find myself. Boundaries continue to shift: clues are fragmentary and seem to change character with consecutive reads, journeys: ‘like beats of music / lines bear silence’. It’s absolutely more filmic. ‘About’ statements are hard to come by and there’s adventure in that. Maybe confusing; maybe intriguing. I know ‘lyric -- experimental / easy -- difficult’ is a simple parallel scale, one fraught with omissions. But still, I think there’s something in it. Because I want to wake up and find that it was all a dream.

So the book. It is good, sure. But then you don’t want to read one of those ‘yes, but…’ things do you. Let us be stronger than that. We’ll return to the tangibility of compositional methods. You can say it doesn’t matter (and probably have) but that’s too flippant, and besides, when the processes so obviously invite you to speculate, as they do within Origami Shipwreck, it does matter. In this book similarly numbered lines in separate poems rhyme, or are associated to each other by other forms of semantic or sonic play, for example. ‘Tuesday / Wednesday / Yesterday / Yes the day’s’ are the first lines of poems 1, 2, 3, 4 in the second section. You are invited to read this collection as an organic whole, as well as one poem after another. And the joint-author status means there is obviously some collaborative method at play: did Craig write one poem, Katy the next? Or (as I suspect) is they write one after another, with a rule-based approach, and then apply a mix afterwards? I guess it’s not really a question here of ‘Does it matter?’ – more to the point is you have to decide if it matters to the extent that an overall aesthetic impression balances on this aspect. What do you think? I think the mixing, the collaborative ambiguity, enhances the poetry. Perhaps you will think so too. I think there’s a good chance, seeing as you are reading this, as you are very much interested in the possibilities poetry holds.
thought                   into recession. its
need of sinking beneath airy hollows
light buried in every opened

Often the way the lines are juxtaposed really works. The chance arrangement (if that’s what it is) spews forth a narrative of meaning and at times it makes you feel the imaginary punctuation and poetic conventions as something concrete. In the preceding fragment I imagined ‘thought’ personified as some amorphous figure -- but still a person I guess -- and I felt the character of the construction. There is a point where thought needs to sink into a kind of recession, maybe to re-familiarise itself with the’ light buried in every opened / Imaginable’ (the capitalised notion -- you just know it got there by being predetermined -- is so fitting). I thought I then caught a glimpse of an idea signalling a unifying principle behind the project -- the revivifying of what is possible, the construction of a new Imaginable. But that’s a flight of fancy just a little too neat. This is a shipwreck after all, and, as someone writes:
soon, at the brink of material, one chilled
                  to embody, the lure, does not gather words’
I am culled to narrate the swarm, thwarted

I didn’t want to write a review that went along the lines of ‘Despite the unusual way the lines are pieced together in these poems some themes, some beauty, emerges…’ because once again, it’s something I read a lot, usually within back-cover blurbs (ah this quest for new turns of phrase…where will it end?). Because it just sounds as f the whole project might be so haphazard and accidental. Of course I will admit it. Beauty within Origami Shipwreck surprises you, it emerges in arrangements of lines and phrases, and at times you have to think it’s accidental. This sense of ‘wow’ is great as it makes things more numinous and grand. But sustaining that notion denies the matrix. Sense goes from line-to-line, from poem-to-poem, but here you can read numerically, spatially, and through time. The origami poets are essential in this. You think you’ve nailed the processes, and are then surprised, again. I can’t say exactly what lies beneath this chap but it leads me to think and that’s good. There’s nothing so final as being sure.
–Delight– abhor able vessels

Saussare’s linkage of words -- in this book it’s foregrounded. But then addled a bit, with linkages being created with lines of poems. As written a paragraph or so ago, it becomes a matrix, simultaneously complicating and simplifying Saussare’s theory of language, making it an effective theory of poetry. Or maybe instead of a chapbook that is itself a ‘Poetics’ it is a poetic ‘perhaps’, an ‘Imaginable’. That has to be in some way a good thing. There are two sections in this book, Origami Shipwreck 1 and Origami Shipwreck 2. The first section feels to me like it is full if impending doom. The shipwreck approaching. Section two seems to be a reprieve: the wreck hasn’t happened; we haven’t been betrayed by the actuality of words. But then it does seem to end on a list. The ship, if not sunk, is positioned expecting that submersion. The submersion we always knew was coming. It is after all, a paper construction: ‘means become arranged / arrange your escape / re-arranging our landscape’. You have to try these things with poetry. You have to place words into position to build an escape.

A guitar teacher once issued a low-budget text of his own making to me (it was ring-bound and contained a few minor typos). In it he made mention of the ‘stimulus to creativity caused by a deadline’. Being a learner at the time I discounted his idea, and a lot of other things he tried to teach me. But the words stuck as words sometimes do, and the truth in them is anything that can become a stimulus should be recognised and given validation. The way a matrix of possibility is erected within Origami Shipwreck gives a lot to the critical reader and writer. There is a depth present in the brooding watery language, steeped in its own glyphs and rhetorical triangles. And there is also a depth in example of poetic play, of collaboration and exploration. (I should mention that this guitar-teacher fragment came back to me when I read [GR editor] Eileen’s gentle email reminder about the cut-off date for reviews. Perhaps there shall be resonances in the body proper, text that (post-edit) I have decided shall precede this passage.) So for all the fragility, Katy and Craig have built something appealing. Works of art can stimulate, they can lull; they can explore exploration itself, negotiate fear.

My copy proclaims itself number 43 of 50, so maybe there isn’t much chance of getting hold of Origami Shipwreck. But do so if you can. It’s on a cheap blue-paper, with cool dollops of black ink in woodcut design on the front. I liked this book and continue to like it a little bit more each time I take the voyage. Therefore this is going to end with this:
verse swells


Derek Motion is PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University, where he is writing a thesis exploring the way failure defines the work and reputations of Christopher Brennan, Michael Dransfield, and himself. It is to be a document full of hope. Derek works as Director of the Booranga Writers' Centre, and often writes poetry. Some of his work has appeared this year in Going Down Swinging, and MIPOesias. He blogs at

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