Reviewed By Sean Reynolds
- Ahsahta Press (2018)
- 144 pages
We do not read the opening pages of Flung Throne as much as we notice them. And what we notice is that something seems to have gone wrong. An error must have happened to the file the book was saved on, or maybe it was written on an outdated file type and opened by an incompatible application. The first page dunks the reader under a stream of punctuation marks that clutter and variegate before spasming into letters:
These letters begin to take on the character of elements. Elements bond into character. In the following pages we begin to make out primal word-parts—“aeon,” “oxy,” “proto-eye,” “geo,” “arch.” Now we surmise that we must be within the birth of a cosmos. And this birth looks very much like a glitch in the system.
In Flung Throne, Cody-Rose Clevidence traces the evolution of life on Earth as a series of crackling and dazzling overloads—poetic blown fuses. The glitch indeed serves as a useful conceit for this book in its entirety; as long as we understand that glitch is not just any error. It is a sudden, spasmodic occurrence of too much. In their author statement, Clevidence claims that the book took shape around their own confrontation with an internal glitch: namely, the too much of our human consciousness:
My general thesis was that it was a really big mistake for humans to have evolved, that we, psychologically speaking, are ill-equipped to bear the throes of our own mental, social, and emotional neural chemistry, and that our consciousness is a cruel trick the universe has played on the world/ourselves. I was feeling all that and also I was falling in love with the woods I found myself in, and this book comes out of both of those.
For Clevidence, the world is not too much with us; we ourselves are simply too much. The spasmodic leap of life made into the human was all out of proportion—consciousness was just an extended error message. If Clevidence does try to present cosmogony in this book, it is one filtered through a deeply inward pattern of misery. And the unbreaking pattern of misery filters it all. When you are in misery, you will see it as more permanent than the Earth. Even in the beginning, before the waters and the rocks . . . there was my misery.
Out from the stream, silences and stutters, reoccurring characters soon emerge—darkness, light, and rock. They are three internally homogeneous, uninteresting characters—uninteresting only in the sense that they cannot introduce any conflict into the narrative of creation we have entered. Darkness, light, and rock stand adjacent to one another—undisturbed—waiting for some glitch to introduce them to life:
A darkness shines in the darkness timid as an eyeball, sightless as a rock.
A darkness shines in the darkness a cloud covers the sun the shadow of a
thought, shadow of a face turning away, a dimness shines around & is
swallowed, a small gulp, catch-in-the-throat, a brief disturbance in the
pattern; it was no rock that opened itself into itself onto that rock throne.
Do all minerals strain towards living?
Consistency and pattern, for Clevidence, are the true antagonists of creation. From the silence have come the elements and in patterns they added up to minerals. But this is as far as order can take them. Inside darkness shines more darkness, inside rock we find rock. They wait, unable to interrupt themselves.
Into this vigil, Clevidence introduces three streams of molecules—three cascading lines made up of three-part compounds of phonemes:
Read downward, they often form homophones with molecular or cellular resonance, as in the sixth row, which reads across the three columns: “rib / o! / some, // am / in / o // look, / a / minnow.” These three particles appear ready for the outside “interruption” that will steer them off their course and allow them to combine. Together they can be classified as what evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin calls the “triple helix” of living organisms—the third strand is what he calls the “developmental noise”—the strand unaccountable to interactions.
A cord of three strands, says Ecclesiastes, is not easily broken. And by the latter half of the book we do see that these strands ended up together. In the section entitled “CTRL+ALT+ESC,” Clevidence’s poetry has thickened into fully formed—and internally inconsistent—cords of DNA:
What, though, has introduced the “brief interruption of the pattern” that brought out life from rock? Clevidence may be suggesting that the human—or even—the suffering human narrator—is this first cause.
How do we reach the paradoxical assertion that the human—who stands at something of an endpoint of the evolutionary chain—can be held responsible for its very beginning?
Structurally, Flung Throne is not the kind of book that invites the question of narrator. Yet, we know it to be a human (it names the ape as its ancestral angel), but specifically a typing human. When the “speaker” does rise its head above water to reveal itself, it does so only to tell us that they are a product of the analog keyboard, the keystrokes, the training of a student going through their typing exercises:
Derive me from no math but this:
alksjdfh lkjsdlfkj lkd glaksjdf askj
Is the QWERTY keyboard here with us because it is the best developed to meet the needs of its current environment? No, that’s just how we found it when we found it. We were born with it here. So too the subject and author behind this text seem to be placed somewhere among the three nodes of intention, typo, and the givenness of letters. The givenness of the world we have found ourselves thrown into, flung into, and can begin to edit and play around with.
To say that there was the human at the beginning of creation seems altogether analogous with saying, at the beginning of language is punctuation. After all, punctuation is typically a very late-stage development in language creation. It’s so late you might even call it unessential in many cases. Clevidence, however, places punctuation as the first and last in the universe—placing us in an inverted cycle of causation. This cycle becomes narrower and narrower in a way that very much resembles depression. In a world that gives us woods so wonderfully present, Flung Throne suggests we cannot get ourselves out of a solipsistic misery without some inexplicable “disturbance in the pattern”:
The ground is crawling
I am a microcosm I
am a macrocosm I am a plasm a phlegm
a spasm an ache is a stitch across the surface relentless
Sean Reynolds is a literary scholar, poet, and translator living in Chicago. His critical work on poetic translation has appeared in Postmodern Culture, Journal of Modern Literature, and Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies. His book-length translation of Gustave Roud’s Air of Solitude will be released by Seagull Books in fall 2019. With David Hadbawnik he edited Jack Spicer’s Translations of Beowulf, which won the 2016 Howell D. Chickering Prize in Translation.