In Defense of Poetic Nonsense, With a Character Who Shares Your Frustration

Though the situation’s murky, the syntax estranging, the form itself is familiar, for most of the book: left-justified lines, grouped into stanzas. But between these are several visual poems, much weirder to the eye. On these pages, letters cascade down in code like patterns. At first the arrangements seem random, or merely artistic — typography meant to be seen but not read. Keep looking and they start to accrue into strings, as when you stare at a word search. In one, words form the shape of a body whose head you can read from left to right. Then you reach a chunk that looks like this:

this a hand, for form's sake

If you keep reading from left to right, it’s meaningless. You have to change your strategy and read from top to bottom: this is a hand for form’s sake. In another, letters form the shape of a mask or a human face. Curving columns of lower-case l’s make the sides of the face. The last l leads into the words “loss of”; the word “identity” forms the chin. The eyes are made of lower-case e’s (e for eye), the nostrils are o’s, the mouth a line of m’s (m for mouth). Downward, the features spell “eom” (memo-ese for end of message). The satisfaction of “solving” these puzzles, or finding possible solutions, offers relief from the mystery of the rest, which might be unsolvable — much like the real problems (climate disaster, ecological collapse) the book imagines us living, or not living, after.