A POETRY BLOG AND TWO CHAPS by SAWAKO NAKAYASUNICHOLAS GRIDER Reviews
Insect Country (A) by Sawako Nakayasu
(Dusie Press, 2006)
Insect Country (B) by Sawako Nakayasu
(Dusie Press, 2007)
Insect Tutelage Blog by Sawako Nakayasu
Though sometimes the miniature narratives that make up Sawako Nakayasu’s ongoing “insect” project (which includes both the two chapbooks reviewed here and on her Insect Tutelage blog) are compelling and interesting in themselves, what’s most interesting about the project as a whole is Nakayasu’s use of space, time and rhythm between and around the individual poems. There’s no grand narrative or consistent set of characters (except that the pieces mostly have ants or other insects as protagonists) or even a consistent point of view presented by the poems, which forces the reader to either slow down and consider each poem on its own (which is generally worth it) or attempt to find/build an architecture for how these poems fit together other than surface similarity.
There are two points of entry if you’re looking for architecture. The first is the first half of Insect Country (A), which almost functions as a brief, taut apostrophe to the rest of the poems, and has a distinctly different relationship to rhythm than the other poems, presented as small, justified-margins blocks of prose both in the book and on the blog. Recalling her previous work nothing fictional but the accuracy and arrangement (she, the run-on sentence that leads off Insect Country (A) is rendered highly rhythmic by its visual arrangement: at one line per small page, the poem rushes across the page, and while there aren’t any line breaks as such, new pages seem like hard enjambments:
A trail of anything – insects, hamburgers, bicycles /// popsicles, miniature lightning bolts, road maps – anything, all of it /// lined up assiduously, all imagining the small of my back, envisioning it, /// bare, exposed to the light, sunlight, moonlight, halogen, florescent, /// all of it –
where something like “lined up” gets special emphasis because of poem/book design and where “all of it” rushes headlong into a blank page, followed in the rest of Insect Country (A) and all of Insect Country (B) by recalcitrant and meditative (by comparison) vignettes involving insects that approach but stay a good distance away from the surreal, as in “Parade”:
Today is a unique holiday, commemorated by a parade of black, four-legged stools going down the closed-off street. All the neighborhood ants come out to take a look, most of whom take a very critical stance.
There’s a lot of ambiguity to explore here, not the least of which is the question of whether the stools are anthropomorphized (and if they are, how that frames the anthropomorphosis of the ants and their “critical stance”) and that’s both the charm and the frustration of the remaining poems in both chapbooks: the rush of the opening line/poem creates a kind of vacuum for the other work that can make the poems sometimes seem slight when considered alone but that also prevent the poems from adding up to anything more.
Given the ample demonstration in Nakayasu’s other work that she’s completely masterful at what she’s doing, though, that leads me to Architectural Entry Point #2 – the blog that predates the chapbooks. The easy production of and lack of external editorial control that is part and parcel of the idea of the blog gives the form a bad reputation it doesn’t really deserve. Make what you want of blogs, but the interface architecture of the blog distinguishes it as a form with two primary characteristics: inexorable accumulation and a window/monitor that only permits seeing a small part of the whole at one time. (You could easily argue that a commonplace book or diary—or any book—functions in the same way, but bear with me for a moment.) Nakayasu’s insect work is, in a sense, the perfect “blog” poetry project, and I mean that as a compliment: taken together, the individual pieces add up to a whole in which the quality of addition is important—not just that other poems remain on your mind when you read any given poem, but that each new poem is at once a reworking of and addition to a whole history (or, in this case, country) of insect poems. I’ve been trying to avoid the corny metaphor, here, but when looking at the chapbooks the obvious is, well, obvious: the individual poems, too carefully laid out and thoughtful to be rough fragments, are like so many ants themselves slowly and constantly at work on an anthill constantly in the process of being rebuilt.
Nicholas Grider currently lives in southern California.