Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PASSIONATE POLITICAL COLLABORATION: A review of Jennifer Karmin's '4000 words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimisim...'

It was one of those emails from one of those fantastically creative friends that just came along on the right day to get a response--a word. A single word. One to be added to so many others. Then addressed, arranged, painted with, reflected on. A word as mark, as tombstone, as flag, as spark of life. Jennifer Karmin's invitation to check out her show and then send her 1-10 words, as she explains below, to hand out to pedestrians, paint, install in her art commemorative project, was one of those things I just participated in, off-handedly, to see what syllables came to mind as I looked at her art project online and thought on her topic.

As Jennifer KARMIN explains the origins of her new chapbook:
"In April 2008, I began collecting 4000 words as a memorial to the 4000 dead American soldier who had been killed in Iraq.  Submissions came from friends, students, writers, activists, soldiers, and those who read about the project online.  I asked each person to send me 1-10 words, gave parts of the poem away to pedestrians during public performances across the country, and painted the words using the American flag as a writing utensil in two installations."

Now those lists have again taken new form, been redialogued, in a chapbook free to read online in  4000 Words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimism / An American Elegy: 2006-2012 at:  http://www.jillmagi.net/sites/default/files/Jennifer%20Karmin%204000%20Words%204000%20Dead%20chapbook_0.pdf

IN this kind of political My Life-esque booklet the lists come and go, numbered, between and around and amid long textual blocks of sometimes words and sometimes whole lines in the first 9.5 pages (if one looks at pdf page 4 as pages 1-2 of a booklet). This  chapbook echos the theme of memory, recollection in word collection, and nostalgia found in Lyn Hejinian's now-iconic collage autobiography My Life. For 4000 Words... opens here, in lower case as if already in the middle of its thought or speech: 
                                      "sad and memory children april quicken burning" 
                                                                                              (Pdf p4, left side, which I call p1)
The accumulation of sound that follows is, on some pages, deafening. A cacophany. A yelling to be heard. 'PEACE' cries one, 'lost youth hope now destruction' murmurs another. But then, halfway through page 10 (pdf p8, right side) there is a horizontal gap, a kind of margin, break, breath. This is followed by the very direct and also moving:

 Here the word gives way to the O at once opening of the mouth, the call to be heard, the call to make heard, the surprise -- O!--and the sigh --O-- as well as the numeric deletion, the zeroing, the erasing, the bodies lined and lined and lined generically over fields in battles--the Os in rows making lines, visible lines, as of meaning, of a story, or a graveyard, or a regiment, a company, a set of troops lined up to head out, to head onto the next page.

There, too, the pages that follow are more dialogic--in a titled poem "Revolutionary Optmism" which opens with questions which are asked of America on page 11 and 13 where the lines go back and forth and are printed in a bold typeface while, on the facing pages (p12 and 14) a set of tercets and couplets wend their way like a river down the page, thinking aloud, in a frail, old-fashioned typeset that recall memos and telegrams. These floating tercets and couplets are all in very different voices--potentially of a torturer ('loosen/this guy/up for us'), an idealist ('tears are wiped away and replaced with peace') as well as politicians, or even a member of clergy at the end, etc. These particular pages recall what Jennifer said about the origins of this project--as she explained: "4000 Words 4000 Dead is a companion piece to Revolutionary Optimism, a response to Abu Ghraib based on confessions from Iraqi prisoners, sympathy cards, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Both texts were published together as a chapbook by Sona Books for Veterans Day 2012 and released online for Memorial Day 2013.  More info here."

But following these 4 dialogic pages, the 00000s return, and on the online pdf the pages recall tombstones or perhaps oddly the image from the old, colorized biblical tales of Mosses with the 3 tablets who, in that film version I recall seeing every Easter waiting for my parents to awake, drops 2 so we all end up with the 10 commandments and not 15. Here, too, there is a little bit of stumbling from some outside source--the photo of the page gives them this aspect of being about to close up, crumble, shake. There is a tremulo as the Os pass from pp 15-16 to where they again trail back into the mix of prose block and word lists on the top of p 17 (Pdf p12, left hand side). Here the O gives way to the incantation of O-m. At once 'Om' of meditation, of joining all to one, but also almost a very American Oh my exclamation or even a partial echo of the many poets who have cried out in their poems "non omnis moriar" (I will not wholly die) where this OM is part of the whole, the entirety of each of us, sewn together in sound-site on these little pages. 

Jennifer then spills from the abstract O-M into the very concrete all-caps HEART which she follows by the organ's more abstract, sentimental forms: HEARTBROKEN HEARTFUL on the same line and one begins to get worried about the sentimental boat one might be falling into, too saccharin, the wholehearted bleeding-heartness of this, and then the text catches itself and adds two more soundplays off of this base beating organ: HEARTLESS HEARTY. Here, Jennifer has moved the reader at once to a counter-emotion (the heartless instead of heartful) but then better yet is the tactile, the weighted, the body and almost perky happy "hearty", with the hefty undertone of voice and body that clearly shift this and embarks the text on a kind of set of counter-listings. 

From this point to the end of the book, Jennifer Karmin continues to deepen the varied explorations on the page that she has set up between the named dialogic poetry pages, the prose blocks, the numeric lists and the OOOOs in rows until the text begins to take on a percussive feeling, repetition, variation, juxtaposition, shift of sound, image, tone, voice, piling and piling and piling atop one another like... perhpas those bodies, those wars, those pasts, those lost reasons, those justifications? The list certainly goes on. Hers? It comes to a halt about 80% down the final page:

Here on the Pdf p15, right side Jennifer Karmin's 4000 words comes to a close on the word "artemesia" but that also drifts, like an ambrosia, into the air, not dotted or held in place by any punctuation, still gaining a list-momentum, it invites the reader to turn back, add on, keep hearing the sounds and reflections. :

And oddly, as she follows the final page of the text with her explainer notes, lists of venues from the shows and performances and also lists--as I will do here--those who, like me, contributed 1-10 words to her, their names, my own, feels also like it is part of the 4000 dead, connected to them in some sort of pre and post-language sounding space. It felt like a homage to creation as much as to loss and war and rebuilding, reading and looking at this chapbook. I hope that you, dear readers, friends, family, strangers, travellers, will also find this chap and project as exciting and worthy of sounding out, sighting, reflecting on, admiring as I have. Thank you, Jennifer Karmin, for making a few syllables into resonant sound.

Jennifer Karmin's list of 

Contributors to 4000 Words 4000 Dead include: Jeff Abell, Emily Abendroth, Harold Abramowitz, Amanda Ackerman, Carrie Olivia Adams, Kelli Russell Agodon, Manan Ahmed, Malaika King Albrecht, Charles Alexander, Will Alexander, mIEKAL aND, Andrew Axel, Carol Willette Bachofner, Ed Baker, Jenni Baker, Anny Ballardini, David Baratier, Barbara Barg, Thomas Barton, Michael Basinski, Robert Bearak, John Bennett, Linda Benninghoff, Cara Benson, Charles Bernstein, Anselm Berrigan, Cameron Bishop, Joe Bly, Jan Boudart, Jessica Bozek, Lee Ann Brown, Laynie Browne, Kate Burrows, Amina Cain, Steve Cain, Teresa Carmody, Christophe Casamassima, Mars Caulton, Han-hua Chang, Maxine Chernoff, David Chirot, Matthew Clifford, Rachel Coburn, Robert Elzy Cogswell, Esteban Colon, Alanda Coon, Stephen Cope, Colleen Coyne, H. V. Cramond, Justin Crontieri, Barbara Crooker, Kathy Cummings, Sima Cunningham, Steve Dalachinsky, Catherine Daly, Tina Darragh, Heather Davis, Joseph DeLappe, Tom DeRoma, Michelle Detorie, Jennifer K. Dick, Joanie DiMartino, Claire Donato, Carol Dorf, Samuel Dorf, John Dowling, Julie Downey, Colleen Doyle, Kath Duffy, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Kate Durbin, Patrick Durgin, Ellen Elder, Susan Eleuterio, Laura Elrick, David Emanuel, Joy Emanuel, Laura Esckelson, Yvonne Estrada, Erik Fabian, Annie Finch, Jennifer Firestone, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Audrey Fitting, Tiffany Florestal, Richard Fox, Libby Frank, Audrey Friedman, Nick Fryer, Gloria Frym, William Fuller, Sasha Geffen, Paddy Gillard-Bentley, Dan Glass, Lara Glenum, Dan Godston, Russ Golata, Elliot Gold, Laura Goldstein, David Gonzales, Philip Good, Arielle Greenberg, Kate Greenstreet, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Gwen Gunn, Therese Halscheid, Duriel Harris, Roberto Harrison, Carla Harryman, Lisa Haufschild, R. Joyce Heon, Larkin Higgins, Elizabeth Hildreth, Jen Hofer, William Honey, J’Sun Howard, Luisa Igloria, Brenda Iijima, Siara Jacobs, Lisa Janssen, Valerie Jean, Judith Johnson, Kent Johnson, Pierre Joris, Bhanu Kapil, Mary Kasimor, John Keene, Pratibha Kelapure, Kit Kennedy, Ali Khan, Helen Kiernan, Matthew Klane, Jacob Knabb, Shareen Knight, Virginia Konchan, Kathy Kubik, Donna Kuhn, Katie Kurtz, Kathleen Larkin, David Lazar, Elizabeth Lazdins, Andre LeMoine, Richard Ledford, J. A. Lee, Janice Lee, Genine Lentine, Ruth Lepson, Andrew Levy, Stephen Lewandowski, Deet Lewis, Robin Rice Lichti, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Malin Lindelow, Jennifer Lizak, Dana Teen Lomax, Carmen Lopez, Bonnie MacAllister, Bill MacKay, Jill Magi, Charlotte Mandel, Douglas Manson, Elizabeth Marino, Mario, Beth Martinelli, Michelle Mashon, Ginny Masullo, Bernadette Mayer, E. J. McAdams, Joyelle McSweeney, Gwyn McVay, Philip Meersman, Daniel Mejia, Miranda Mellis, Mark Melnicove, Nicky Melville, Philip Metres, Erika Mikkalo, Niki Miller, Caroline Morrell, Judd Morrissey, Robin Morrissey, Gregg Murray, Tim Musser, Beverly Nelson, Celeste Neuhaus, Mary Ni, Lynda Perry, Michael Peters, Allan Peterson, Andrew Peterson, Cindy Phiffer, Cecilia Pinto, Vanessa Place, Janna Plant, Deborah Poe, Kristin Prevallet, Paula Rabinowitz, Francis Raven, Monica Raymond, Marthe Reed, Timothy Rey, Margaret Ricketts, Rosalie Riegle, Andrew Rippeon, Christopher Rizzo, Jenny Roberts, Kenyatta Rogers, Anne Marie Rooney, Sarah Rosenthal, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Linda Russo, Becky Sakellariou, Lisa Samuels, Thomas Savage, Davis Schneiderman, Carrie Santulli Schudda, Susan Schultz, Steve Scott, Jeremy Seligson, Dennis Serdel, Anne Shaw, Lindsay Shields, Shu Shubat, Earl Silibar, John Simon, Laura Sims, Beth Snyder, Juliana Spahr, Cassie Sparkman, Donna Spector, Karin Spitfire, Christopher Stackhouse, Chuck Stebelton, Jordan Stempleman, Rachel Storm, Hillary Strobel, Renée Szostek, Stacy Szymaszek, Estelle Tang, Shaunanne Tangney, Gene Tanta, Michelle Taransky, Mark Tardi, Marvin Tate, Catherine Taylor, Michael Thomas, Tony Trigilio, Eric Unger, Nico Vassilakis, Marian Veverka, Matias Viegener, Erin Virgil, Anna Vitale, Gale Walden, Sue Walker, Julene Weave, Josh Weckesser, Natasha White, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, S.L. Wisenberg, Anne Woodworth, Clotilde Wright, Samantha Yams, Andrew Zawacki

Again, see for free the online PDF of this boo 4000 Words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimism / An American Elegy: 2006-2012 at:  https://sites.google.com/site/jillmagi/Home/sona-books

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