Iteration Nets by Karla Kelsey
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2010)
Son[net]s of addition and erasure
In Karla Kelsey’s second full-length poetry collection Iteration Nets, also with Ahsahta Press, she incorporates lines from outside texts and homophonic translations to construct a sequence of sonnets, which she then “explodes” (Kelsey’s verb) into prose poems, and finally erases into fragments. She explains how in “A Note on Process” on the Contents page, clearly foregrounding her intriguing procedure.
The book is divided into three "movements." In the first, Kelsey appropriates lines from texts by philosophers, scientists, and writers, especially poets, thus questioning individual authorship while entering into conversation with these multiple voices and historical and contemporary writers of sonnets. An “Authors Sampled” index lists the names corresponding to each poem, though not the specific texts sampled. Dante, Shelley, and Stein appear, as do St. Augustine, Wittgenstein and McKenzie Wark, among others.
The poems are numbered, connecting their permutations throughout the book -- 1.1, 2.1; 1.2, 2.2; 1.3, 2.3, etc. In movement one, for each sonnet the first A B, C, D, E (etc.) lines are borrowed from outside texts; the subsequent rhyming lines are Kelsey’s “loose homophonic translation(s)” of the borrowed lines, creating what she describes as “tight little rooms of sonically driven language.” For example, in sonnet 4.1, sampled lines 1 and 2 (A, B)
Left in the ground it, rooted, grows
so that the roses glow forth in a higher red
cleft. Tin of sound, excluded, goes.
Go at a Moses flow, mirth tins and tires, says
These sonnets use various rhyme schemes and are mostly 14 lines long, but they eschew other elements of the traditional sonnet, such as a set meter or a clear turn. Along with appropriating some of Ted Berrigan’s lines, Iteration Nets reflects his methods in The Sonnets, with their sound-translations, repetitions, disjunctives and collage-like feel, and their exploration of the possibilities of language. Kelsey’s sonnets gather twists and turns of sound, word and image to build a present and continual “arc” of meaning-making.
This "arc" continues through the book’s second movement, in which Kelsey “explodes” her inter-textual sonnets into prose poems, transforming the sampled and sound-translated lines by weaving in “threads of narrative, philosophy, landscape, and lyricism.” Shared experience enters into this section: taking walks or drives, relationships and memories offer moments of relation and presence. For example, in prose poem 6.2, a dream and a childhood memory appear:
In the beginning heat of summer I dream a recurring February dream. And in that dream the light of the world goes out. Stunned by the pull of stars it exudes plasma stabilized in vast quarries of marigold then goes dark as we come to Earth’s rescue, make a little sun and drop it, there, in the garden blooming out sunset in the image of the bomb I found, age 7, sprawled with the National Geographic on the tiled California floor. Turnip, flock and gull. …
This “explosion” all from the first two lines of 6.1:
The light goes out -- it exudes
plasma stabilized in vast quarries of marigold, turnip, flock and gull.
Although these poems offer moments of connection, what seems more important is how the elements -- the borrowed lines, echoes, and images -- are juxtaposed, transformed and afforded multiple meanings. As the title conveys, this collection is a net (son[net]) that catches and then weaves words, sounds and images. Often repeated words recall the sonnet’s traditional themes of love, sin, mind, but they evolve in combination: sin bent, sad bent, mind bent. Reoccurrence is inherent to the process and the form, as in the linking of the sonnets by last and first lines; for example, sonnet 6.1 ends “tried glean. Missed. And then I throw,” while 7.1 begins, “I threw away abstraction. Mind-tried focus…” (8-9).
In the third movement, Kelsey “strips” (her verb again) the prose poems into fragments. But, unlike a similar exercise done by Jen Bervin (Nets, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2004), in which she “erased” Shakespeare’s sonnets by bolding her word choices and leaving the original text in faded type, Kelsey simply leaves the retained words from the prose poems in the same position on the page, allowing her chosen words to radiate into white space:
The poem numbers appear in faded type, and the space between the poems is removed, creating out of the fragments a single poem, only one of many that could be wrought from this text. Kelsey's book moves from the spliced sonnets of the first movement, through its word-dense middle, to the openness of these final fragments.
Iteration Nets' methods of inter-textuality and erasure are compelling, as are the results of Kelsey's gathering, listening and weaving: the second movement extends the vibrations of the first, and the final poem opens to sound and silence. These poems do not offer resolution or meaning-encapsulating lines. This is a challenging book, one to be perused, paging forward and back while letting go of concerns of linearity and logic. Although it may seem that the method is most intriguing, the poems are enjoyed more after letting go of form and sense and focusing on the “re-iterations” and evolutions of sounds, the multiple connotations and associations of words and the beautiful blend of images. Without trying to determine authorship, or pinpoint a turn, or make sense of it all, readers enter the multiple conversations and the "folding, unfolding" of sound and meaning (7). Kelsey's Iteration Nets re-emphasizes for poets and readers alike the essentiality of sound and music to poetry, the contemporary complexities of authorship and the multiplicities of language and meaning.
Tammi McCune currently lives in Hyderabad, India.