pleth by j/j hastain and Marthe Reed
(Unlikely Books, Lafayette, LA, 2013)
I've long considered j/j hastain to be among the most intriguing thinkers in the world of contemporary poetry. hastain, presents from xir Author Statement as "a pomosexual, post-binary-genderqueer, educator, musicial, gender shaman, sound healer, psychic surgeon and writer [whose] interests involve projects regarding the intersection of quantum mechanics and queer theory, spirituality, philosophy, poetics and body realities/realms" has been prolific with poems exploring xir concerns. In attempting to describe hastain's works, I initially thought to use such adjectives as "subversive" and "innovative" (along with more benign but nonetheless adjectives like "interesting" and "witty"). But it occurs to me that I might simply call this world and point-of-view that j/j hastain explores and manifests to be "open." Open-minded. Open-hearted.
pleth, the book titled after the pronoun that hastain invented from being dissatisfied with "binary-oriented pronouns," is a collaboration with Marthe Reed. And their project can be described indeed as "open," as well as subversive, innovative, interesting and witty. hastain's contributions are visual poetry collages while Reed contributes text-poems. In presenting pleth, it's useful to present the book's two epigraphs and here they are:
“For me, the problem with binary-oriented pronouns (that are strictly relegated by social norms) is their lack of flexibility. pleth is a pronoun I invented. I consider it my ultimate and preferred form of reference. pleth is a monosyllabization (pronouns, in general, in English, are monosyllabic jolts) of the word plethora. pleth: plethora as both description and place, a place to call out to, a place to call out from. Call me what I call myself and you will have made a non-debatable home for yourself in me.”
“Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualism in which we have explained our bodies….This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.”
—Donna J. Harroway
I take it that the reference to Harraway partly relates to some of hastain's sources as hastain made the poem-collages. The visuals can be considered abstract but some of the more clearly figurative imagery present parts of bodies or bodies in seeming transition, rather than whole bodies -- perhaps befitting how identity and gender are ever in flux. These images then are often inlaid with text. Notwithstanding the weight of the issues relating to hastain's works, the collaged results do not come off as polemical. They are evocative/lyrical, often impressively gentle, luminous and (one of what I consider to be hastain's strengths) intriguingly erotic. Here is a sample on Page 26 whose collaged line I found so moving (“there were times when changes in the mirror saved me”):
I do not know how hastain and Reed collaborated, whether they went back-and-forth as they made the poems. But I believe it would be difficult to present text-poems alongside hastain's visual poetry and be effective, e.g., not be overcome by the powerful depth of hastain's visual poems. But Reed accomplishes such, and does so impressively by making the alignment logical. Reed's poems collaborate by not inhabiting hastain's terrain but standing alongside it in a welcoming -- thus, importantly, related -- way.
Here's an example of Reed's poems that also clearly relate to the concerns of pleth:
by way of wayward
the sweet im-
bone planet ab-
arch cogent this
hence trembling succulent
succors the warm red
being and becoming
The sonic interplays (wayward / way word), the words broken by (but then continued after) the line-break, the open parenthesis but no closed parenthesis implying continuation of process, and obviously clear reference to "architecture" all relate to pleth's consideration of identity. But, as do hastain's poems, Reed's poem also gives a physical sense of the body ... and does so in an erotic manner. The two poets do justice, individually and collaboratively, to pleth and the history that birthed this pronoun. In reading this book, I was moved, aroused, and then gratified by having again seen a persuasive expansion of Beauty's definition.
Thank you, j/j hastain and Marthe Reed.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza at OurOwnVoice; and her 2004 book MENAGE A TROIS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, was reviewed (along with Joi Barrios' poetry) through the essay "The Self Revolution of Radical Love--Externalizing Internal Worlds of Freedon in Filipina Poetry" by Michaela Spangenburg at OurOwnVoice. Eileen invites you to her new blog, EILEEN VERBS BOOKS; poets are invited to participate in three of its features: "Poetry and Money," "What Are You Reading?" and "What Do You Re-Read?"