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by Eleni Sikelianos
Coffee House Press, $18 (paper)
Eleni Sikelianos’s fourth book of poetry is a motherhood poem that forgoes the mawkishness such a description might suggest. This eight-chapter poem is also a study of human existence in the space-time continuum. As such, the epigraph from Scottish biomathematician D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson prefigures the sense of the poem, one “of spatial magnitude, or of the extension of a body in the several dimensions of space.” Sikelianos fiddles with the binary between the empty modern autonomy of the ironic “Sweet City” and the meaningful intersections of lives and bodies in communion; this is partly a study of the arbitrary movement of particles in space and partly a study of the key relationships between these particles. Compare “nanotechnologists of the celled night // in us: 100 trillion tiny containers, / apartments for vacant lots” to the later line about the poet’s newborn daughter as “a bit of life // touching all the quantum fields you walked through to / greet me,”and we feel, with the speaker, the consuming exigencies of death and life. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the work is how Sikelianos helpfully complicates the reading process. She acts as an intimate linguistic scientist, using “poem drawings” from “experiments” she makes with minutes and hours. Each drawing combines sketches and handwritten words, presented in what looks like a photocopy of her journal. She privileges her “experiment” over the typed “language residue” that follows each entry, but the reader will find new meanings somewhere in between the visual and the textual. In this way Sikelianos grants the reader access to her process and, moreover, her personality. It may be in Sikelianos’s diction that we find a susceptibility for the overwrought (such as the striking “school buses line up, yellow metacarpal / matchboxes with no momentary children”), yet it is in these extremes that we find her best lines, conspicuously innovative and evocative: “If we could shine a flashlight / through the edge of a minute,”or “Straight from my Robot Womb / comes this grandiloquent news.” In the end, we can almost understand Sikelianos’s attempt to “pierce the / porous skin of / a minute see time bleed out.”
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