Jessica Smith – Organic Furniture Cellar
This is careful architecture. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly random shards and splinters of letters spattered across the pages; Organic is a text that requires more out of a reader that simply translating from page to mind. This work demands an active and constructive reader to build the cautious and sparse phrases into a set of unique meanings.
The most immediate response to Organic is a resistance of the traditional left-to-right reading style. Making expert use of white space, the reader is forced to construct each poem in a completely individual way; the spatial arrangement causes it so that there is no one way to read Smith’s poems. Smith’s poetics, elegantly laid out in the opening essay “The Plasticity of Poetry,” is one of “reciprocal becoming.” One of her most frequently used techniques is to drop the first or last letter of a word, and let the other part of that word dangle a few lines above; she complicated this further by have many words that the letter could apply to, such as in her striking piece “January”. She further refines the poem by implementing a technique described as “nodes” where words are clustered closely together, bunched in a way that encourages the traditional means of reading. The reader is forced to choose a word, a direction, a cluster of words, making the meaning of the poem in the process of choice and reading. Her poetry then becomes an “interdependence of agency and architecture.”
Her resulting technique produces poems that emerge as natural, organic, growths of human spontaneity and collision. The strongest poems are poems like “Philadelphia” where the context is defined in the title, and the words have less exposition to do and are to be activated in more evocative and passionate ways. Where the poems are forced to define a scene in its body, the works tend to lean towards sentimentality, distancing the reader by what seems like a forced emotion.
But, in the “Chronology” poems especially, Smith provides a set of well mapped rooms, populating them with carefully placement of furniture, words that fluidly guide from one to the other. This is a poetics extremely sophisticated in design, difficult to theorize and even harder to actually accomplish. Organic not only executes but flourishes.