What is Hidden: “A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees

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Work often conceals as much as it reveals. This is true whether the work is made by the corporation, at the construction site, in the art studio, or on the page, in writing. The metaphor is the great human hiding place. The poet stores nuts in poems buried in clay pots. Reading is an anthropological dig. A writer often spends as much time working on what to cut or shut out as what to include, to hold within. Readers are seduced by hidden artifacts, by craft and handiwork, also through secrets, gossip, whispers, and shadows. Can the writer trust the reader? Can the reader trust the writer? Writers have the advantage, since they can hide behind the narrator, while the narrator may hide within the story. The narrator may provide a voice-over. There may be other voices.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees, begins with a secret that Stephanie, the protagonist, won’t be able to keep for long. She lives in Florida, calls her mother in Brooklyn, and explains her predicament, asking for help. Abortion is an existential question for the community, but it comes down to an existential question for two, Stephanie and her child. The theme of shame falls with its wet curtain, but Stephanie transcends the community’s efforts to use shame to control her decision. Who or what is the antagonist?

The writing in “A Shadow in Yucatan” is experimental and mesmerizing, experimental because it wrestles simultaneously with both what should be told, when, what kept hidden, and how the story should be told, mesmerizing because the language seems to have been distilled, its poetic form and novella length (divided into two parts and 21 chapters over 109 pages illustrated with 31 black and white photographs) resulting in a potent mixture of page turning pleasure. This is a book the reader falls into. I read the hard copy, having started with an e-edition, and the reading experience is simply different with the hard copy, more satisfying, both the text and the photographs, though there are of course the advantages of e-editions to readers who prefer them. But somehow, with the hard copy in hand, I could better hear the cadence and symmetry of the sentence structure, see the overall layout of the short chapters, hear the strategy of different voices, understand the purpose of the use of italics throughout, appreciate the fall of the black and white photographs, almost all suggesting something hidden as much as something shown.

Stephanie works in a beauty salon, where her story opens and closes in the symmetry of everyday conversation infused with irony; everyone seems to know something someone else does not, but all the knowing is connected. And of course a beauty salon is where people go to prepare a hidden course of action, to prepare hair and face and nails to improve circulation in the community. The tones of sarcasm and irony that shade Part One give way to a slight risk of sentimentalism in Part Two that is quickly washed away by inflexible socio-economic demographic persistence, where the demographic form is the child’s story, a nursery rhyme, told with the cadence of a lullaby interrupted by an inscrutable language only those properly initiated comprehend. Stephanie is a member of several communities throughout the book, and the nonjudgmental Miriam is something of a “smithy” of an angel.

I very much enjoyed reading this patiently crafted book. The form and content (the how and what) are perfectly blended. The writing is clear and concise, the diction carefully wrought, the sentence structure always varied and interesting, the dialog compelling, the text artistically cast and purposefully divided to invite reading. The dominant impression is of a sculpture, because what could have been a huge novel has been pared down to its essential shape, but the novel is still there, at once exposed and hidden.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” a novella by Philippa Rees, Cover Design by Philippa Rees and Ana Grigoriu, Book Interior by Philippa Rees, First Print Edition 2006. Collabor Art Books.

Note: The slide show at the top of this post contains photos from my collection. These photos are not connected to Philippa’s book except through the theme of something hidden.

Two Hep Cats and the Cool Comma

Punctuation Marks on Beach Trip Holiday

Scamble: I met a comma at the bus stop this morning. … Did you hear what I said? I said, I met a comma, at the bus stop, this morning.

Cramble: Be wary of commas. They’ll be on you like fleas.

-Did you know the apostrophe is the feminine form of comma?

-Band of punctuation pirates, the lot of them. Some witch of an exclamation point once hexed me into a pair of parentheses.

-Yes, life is hard enough without being labeled a parenthetical expression.

-Imagine impossible to break away from the vice grip of your parents.

-The bus stop comma seemed a cool enough little fellow.

-What was he up to?

-Just pausing, to say hello.

-I once dated an apostrophe, a beach volleyball aficionado, as I recall.

-Cool comma wasn’t going to the end of the line, Line 15, though, where the periods have apparently gentrified the neighborhood, the so-called Pearl District.

-No more comma splices. A few fragments, still.

-What’s the point of periods, anyway? We never really stop we get up and go again. He got off at the very next stop, the cool comma did.

-Why I prefer the express bus no all of that stop and go busyness biz.

-Punctuation implies patience.

Mkgnao!9: Alien Cats from Outer Space (A Minidrama)

Mkgnao!9

Abducted by alien cats from outer space and whisked away to a faraway planet then shot back to Earth from a circus cannon cocked with physicist rubber string theory, a cat cannonball, Scamble tries to interest Cramble in a tabloid worthy extraterrestrial tale!

Cramble: [Silence]

Scamble: “And you have nothing to say?!”

Cramble: “Does this have something to do with my recent cloture motion?”

Scamble: “No! The cat planet is called Mkgnao!9. It’s all bushes and trees, birds and fish, and dunes of kitty litter. It’s a cat’s paradise. Everyone there is a hep cat!”

Cramble: “If all are hep, none is hep.”

Scamble: “Nonetheless, no matter what radio station you play, Mantovani! The planet is lush with the sounds of birds and strings and bugs flirting about hither and thither and streams of white wine full of fish on the lark. I’m thinking of moving to Mkgnao!9. Do you want to go with me?”

Cramble: “Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch? I’ll bet there’s a downside.”

Scamble: “Their oceans are filling with used kitty litter.”

Cramble: “Making it difficult to know how to pack. In any case, how will you get back to Mkgnao!9 if the hep space cats don’t come pick you up again?”

Scamble: “Silence, Exile, and Cunning.”

Cramble: “Here you go with that James Joyce cheap cheat imitation literary allusion stuff again. Anyway, I don’t get the connection.”

Scamble: “Joyce is the patron saint of cats up on Mkgnao!9.”

Cramble: “Lucky Jim.”

Scamble: “I’m going to write a memoir about my Mkgnao!9 experience!”

Cramble: “Sounds wild. I’ve heard the memoir form is popular these days. I was thinking of writing one, but I can’t seem to get past chapter one, “Begot to Nap.” But why don’t you create something new? Wasn’t that the gist of Joyce’s gig, to repair in the garage of his brain the broken bicycle of his island, rally the folks to a new way of riding, or words to that effect?”

Scamble: “I just did!”

Cramble: “Did what?”

Scamble: “Create something new!”

Cramble: “What?”

Scamble: “Mkgnao!9!”

Cramble: “It’s a good thing the id is kept out of sight.”

Scamble: “Do cats have an id?”

Cramble: “Everything’s got an id, if only you can find it.”

Casual Theory of Causality

Why pink asks blue whenGarlic at Gilroy
roused whose wheeze
where past just falls
fails new any to augur

When rash throws think
unfolds, unwraps, uncoils
relax what jeers
who held and

Wooden Clappers

Don’t let go of drop
though darkness rooms
and voices blink three
coins in a phone booth

At gas stop stuffed
outside Gilroy near
garlic beer and clown
juggling artichokes

Carriage trails from Castroville.

Hep Cats in Love: Valentine’s Day Comics

Anti-anti-anti: The Deviancy of Poetry

Pocket Poet BooksThe most deviant of poets stops writing poetry, like Rimbaud, or tries to change the game, like Nicanor Parra, whose “Anti-poems” must contain the seeds of their own destruction. If poetry is already anti-language, what is an anti-poem? Deviant < Latin: “a turning out of the way.” To turn away from, as great musicians may turn away from their instruments once they feel the deviancy they introduced has been assimilated. What is assimilated is no longer anti-anything, doesn’t sound new anymore, or has become such a part of the din it has lost its resonance.

Another David Biespiel argument afoot, stirring up a postmodern poetry desert storm, right around Dylan’s 30 minute MusiCares Person of the Year acceptance speech, in which Bob explains to his critics how some do it and others may not. “But you’d better hurry up and choose which of those links you want before they all disappear.”

Poets see something the rest of us may see but call it something else. This is deviant behavior, the web of a spider on hallucinogens, but why must it also be someone’s head aflame in the fall?

We might look forward to an anti-essay, an anti-novel, an anti-comics. The ultimate anti-work can’t be read by anyone, including its author. It’s born a mystery.

Intro. to Fragments: Journals claiming they are open to all forms of poetry, but follow with, but make sure you read us to see that you fit. Fit what? Can’t deviate from deviancy, what use is it? Well, but as a group, deviating from all this other stuff. What other stuff? Other forms? Other voices, other rooms. What room? You know, the one “where the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.”

In grammar school, the Sisters of Mercy taught us to syllabicate antidisestablishmentarianism. At the time, we thought it the longest word in English, and we learned to say it, touch it, feel it, but no one knew what it meant. There was no Wiki where we could look it up. On a dare, Laurel Hurst stole a glance at Sister Maryquill’s desktop dictionary. He returned, his knuckles raw from a ruler, and rumored it all came down to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. By high school, Laurel would become an anti-disestablishmentprotestpoet, haunted by the postmodern “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Deluxe words. I’ll take a chocolate malt, fries in a basket, and a cheesepoem deluxe.

Since a reasonable reader’s expectation or assumption is that any given poem may confound, confuse, or obfuscate, referencing some arcane or esoteric or privileged knowledge or experience about how words or ideas work, any given poem that does not do these things might look like anti-fit to a poetry critic, but will it be an anti-poem? What would an anti-poem look like? A poem that aspires to middle class respectability will like water seek its own level. Poetry needs the middle class, but the middle class does not need poetry. If it did, we’d see Poetry next to People at the drugstore checkout stand. But we get our poetry where we find it: Fishwrap.

What would an anti-essay read like? What would an anti-photograph look like? Or an anti-speech sound like? Is the anti-form always mistaken for satire or cartoon? Aesthetic standards of the neighborhood. The propaganda of advertising. Deceitful come-ons. Pathos. What’s the point of saying something virtually everyone will agree with? Those churches are empty most of the time. Who moved my assumption?

Consider Queen Mob’s TeaHouse, where you can read movie reviews by reviewers who have not seen the movie; this is theory uncrated from the academy, both feet off the ground. Alt, alt, mea maxima alt. Eliot: “…like a patient etherized….” Toto, I don’t think we’re in the Victorian Age anymore. Irony, satire, and sarcasm tools of the modernist trade. What’s the difference between an idea and ideology?

Biespiel in his post-rant and Dylan in his address are saying something similar when it comes to a moral evaluation of the use of language as art. Dylan sums it up with the quote he references from Sam Cooke:

“Sam Cooke [Dylan said] said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, ‘Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.’ Think about that the next time you [inaudible].”