The spirit of Gertrude Stein’s inquisitions into structure hovers over the opening of Biswamit Dwibedy’s Ozalid. The formatting of the table of contents, a block of text composed of poem titles clustered in close quarters, happily upsets expectations. The spaciousness usually found on the table of contents pages is instead present in the open fields of the poems themselves, and the proliferation of meaning(s) richly present in the poems begins here: the poem titles planted closely together, the words alive as they fill the space of the book’s first page:
his voice over water / he desires to / not simply
The short, spare lines, with varying indentations and plentiful space, work like a water wheel: lines gather up language variously flowing and redirect it, concentrating its energy. Lines fill each other from above and accumulate. The effect is that of watching how the machine works, how meanings of individual words catch and turn. The parts of the poems remain perceptible, material—words as ingredients—even as the whole poem takes shape and moves, as in “Barely Touched”:
The beauty of letters
to know them
Anything might happen when words are laid end to end but, as with a sequence of actions, not just anything happens—something particular happens.
In the final line of “Hit,” we are told, “You are mad to mourn alone.” In “We,” “and the trees faded as if / we had mastered / feeling false before / an extraordinary orchestra.” Regularly we are reminded of the importance of perception, of perceiving the fullness of our environment and our position within it. Some sequences of events are negative, but not words, which can be directed and (re)arranged. Words can be “gather[ed] in answer” (“Globe”). Material words as well as their meanings can be structured (and restructured) to alter experience. The poem “7 (Lilies)” gathers this thought for its final line, “the sun goes through a hundred thousand such numbers,” echoing for this reader Whitman’s “there are millions of suns left,” envisioning our lives as moments in a continuum, envisioning atomic mingling and interconnectivity. Dwibedy’s occasional use of open quotation marks and brief quotations to spur a thought encourages a sense of all life continuing onward and outward, as if words and ideas are beginnings, always beginning, “always the procreant urge”:
aviatrix a root river
The dictionary is a repository, all the words already there, and poets bring new attention and new meaning by selecting and rearranging words. In a kind of epilogue expressing kinship with the found object/word, Dwibedy quotes Duchamp on the pleasure of the bicycle wheel, Duchamp’s first readymade. As Duchamp delights in the “movement” of his found object, Dwibedy takes pleasure in words as found objects—he chooses carefully, arranges them in his own order, and gives them space to generate energy.
The poems are richly populated with river, lake, cove, mud, vein, leaf, tree, branch, echo, sand, wind, sun, poppy, and lily, as well as other proliferating phenomena. The poems contain seeds and sources that flower and fluoresce, branch and split, move forward, upward and outward. Language is a source, both root and river, merging with the self, “your very breath / in accordance with water,” and “a single word that was / formerly moving water.” Words are joined into a precision tool to unearth more words. The line in the poem “Stairs,” “This tendency to form worlds,” serves as an ars poetica if we misread it as “this tendency to form words,” and feel that the meaning is unchanged. There are many “[o]ccurances of calligraphic resemblances” (“A Hundred Million”). The open field of the poems and the open quotation marks remind us that there is no end to speaking, no end to repeating, “Forgive this repetition” (“Lipped”). All the words are already there, and we, in speech and writing, are always strategically rearranging. Repetition returns us to sources, to (new) meaning, the way repeating any word makes it possible for us to know it again, for the first time, first by undoing it, reducing it to sound and breath, then bringing it back to the surface of recognition, washed clean of its film. Repetition propels outward, along pure energy, moving words to new meaning and arrangement. Dwibedy admirably shows us words newly, and shows us how they can be altered by proximity, as in “The [Generic Sexual Deleted] Mimed,” in which the word “perpetrated” next to “olive branch” shatters the traditional association of the olive branch as peaceful sign while extending the image for fresh consideration, or in “Spark – the Sun of”:
The word I chronicles oscillations of language, trembling, arching up
The “I” in the poems is as much a what as a who: a spirit—though with experience of body—having not, with birth, forgotten. The “I,” by chance and chant, by invocation and incantation, speaks to remind itself what it already knows, gathers up elements from its surroundings and its subconscious and carries these back into expression. The “I” seems to remember something pure and translates it across the unconscious. “REM” begins:
So slowly when I speak as an example indifferent from its stillness
of the impossibility of its stillness (insofar) as it is water, a pure
laughter is sometimes considered to be
your very breath in accordance with water
it is you
The “I” declares its concern with misreadings, misunderstandings, is the sleepless radio operator waiting up all night for a signal, listening and wanting to be received. The speaker seems to be located nowhere in particular, yet surrounded by particulars. Eyes, mouths, hands and heart frequently appear in the poems, though they often feel symbolic, metonymic, or like independent entities—“the mouth does not believe in it.” The eye and I work together, favoring the transient, ephemeral, the once removed, like the ozalid process of imaging. In “Globe,” “Lush green impermanence / refuses to be reduced,” which suggests experience, like language, can not be captured, only cultivated, and it is a beautiful moment when meaning flies out, flies apart, as in “Fossil,” “Between I was and I saw something beautiful.” This line focuses on the beauty of occupying a space between being and seeing, when awareness falls away and one is more than does; the line also holds the palindrome “was” / “saw,” the delightful play that is possible when one is awake to the materiality of words. In this spirit, we see the speaker as avid observer and gatherer, collector of jetsam, beachcomber of words and their proliferations, “I weave. I save threads.”
About the Reviewer
Jacqueline Lyons is the author of the poetry collections The Way They Say Yes Here (Hanging Loose Press, 2004) and Lost Colony (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her poetry and essays have appeared in AGNI, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Colorado Review, Florida Review, Sonora Review, and others. She has received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, the Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book Award, the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, and a Nevada Arts Council Fellowship. She teaches creative writing at Washington State University.