Thursday, August 24, 2006



Cornstarch Figurine by Elizabeth Treadwell
(Dusie, 2006)

As children our minds are open to exploration. We concoct potions and conduct mad scientific experiments caught within discovery’s grasp. Who will forget the first time they mixed cornstarch with water and wondered whether it was a liquid or a solid, according to defined states? Elizabeth Treadwell’s writing is one such enigma and her new book Cornstarch Figurine elucidates its prowess. Her poetry’s flexibility is that of an acrobat’s guaranteed to stretch the brain’s elastic, yet it is solid and grounded in matter not easily created nor destroyed. Treadwell is able to tap into one’s explorative mind through her mastered playful and complex use of syntax. Invited to witness phrase structure trees branch and root into and out of one another, much as compounds move in and out of phases without losing their properties, we discover that what we might not be able to see is matter. As from "Portraiture":

holy. barn. entry. silver and gold narrativity. once in every generation
name. a simple evening. monographs all at once. remaindered.
bridegroom lightly anarchy. the anarchy of myself, she sembled, she
could barely speak but nod, palms flat against the ground. arbiters
of the true. portrait of explicit. neither in nor out. hearsay. to forsake
entirely. achromatic fleur.

Elizabeth Treadwell’s verse has the immense ability to reveal narrative through parameters or lines that sketch form’s suggestion enough so that it is not lost in either concreteness or abstraction. Through careful cuts and meticulous lines she is able to illuminate precise points of a story or character that pierce their fundamental significance or heart. In "Portraiture" she recreates a history and begins to frame a woman whose mystery unfolds into further mysteries. Almost akin to a story within a story within a story within a person:

                               her past emptied out behind her, and
though she strained, she could not see the frames.

At the same time she recognizes that these points do not appear the same to each individual perspective and addresses their discrepancies. In "The Lovers of Petra Sloven" she paints a historical figure’s portrait by unveiling how different, “some”, people interpret her. Each fragment is a slice of the whole, a slice of the truth that will build, ultimately, into a more intricate figurine. However fluid the description flexes, there remains a firm substance to this character that comes off of the page and questions one’s own interpretations.

               The doors to her innards were imagined by them in rich and
flapping detail. “Oro!” screamed one. “Neverland!” another. And yet
one more just grunted.

               The lines of her orchard were strict for some, for some they
were fence-sitting; still others found them floaty.

Treadwell is a form dancer, comfortable in its constant morphing of frames. Utilizing language’s musicality and incantatory possibilities, Treadwell builds word structures that are a delight to hold in the mouth as much as they are to salivate over intellectually. Even the book's cover is done up in pink and white stripes, reminiscent of the old fashioned Brach’s candies behind display cases in the corner stores of our youth. The poems inside its covers were written between the years 1992 and 2002 and are organized into nine sections with titles such as “Milk & Relic” and “My Hello Kitty Rulebook.” Each section contains anywhere from three to eight poems that build and play off of one another to conceive new contexts, relationships and conclusions. The poems found within each section range vastly in form yet, their content speaks directly to each other. Some of the poems (within their sections) were written in relatively the same time period and others with great distance in between. Regardless, it is very difficult to discriminate between earlier work and latter because Treadwell’s lexicon is so distinct and well developed.

Looking closely at the poems, "Echo" and "Through the Palace Arcade," in the section, “Donkeyskin” one is able to find transparencies in their contents that otherwise vacillate in form. Echo is a short two line poem, similar to an Emily Dickenson aphorism and opens the section:

how long ago a girl has been
cut out of the advertisement

This at once suggests that “a girl” is perhaps excluded from bartering possibilities when she has been “cut out” and hung on a wall. Yet, in being removed, the real “girl” is perhaps liberated from the world of sale entirely. These two short lines have countless interpretations as so much of Treadwell’s work does. Similarly in "Through the Palace Arcade," we move through the shades of what “a girl” could be as well as investigate whether or not she exists fully in a recognized dimension.

Her methods of hesitation

It was as a girl that she first spied looking glass and through banister
Her prince.

Tyrannized space : secret dividing

This poem not only utilizes the underline as a punctuation/literary device but uses semi colons as well, to at once set up a comparison as well as a division. Her freedom with these tools is not something completely unconsidered, rather her use of them leads to a greater flexibility of interpretation. Recognizing in full the work of her predecessors like Mina Loy and Gertrude Stein, Treadwell’s verse is extremely versatile.

Elizabeth Treadwell has been the director of Small Press Traffic for six years. Cornstarch Figurine makes apparent her exposure to and consciousness of the experimental realm. One can immediately discern that this is a book of no small consequence and in affect has taken years to perfect. Constant throughout her work is her willingness to buoyantly investigate languages boundaries and push their limits while remaining anchored in gut substance. From "Bunny (a sci-fi horror)":

“the way language gets codified blabla”; by the next zoo;
fantastic, everyday whatnot; holy vile landscape or land; butter.
Parti(cita)tion or substance one: columbine high or the first door, the
first exit taken.

Once hailed by Carol Mirakove as the “queen of the prose poem,” Cornstarch Figurine proves Treadwell’s reign to extend into the outer regions of what is considered prose. Punctuation, diction, syntax and form evolve from Treadwell’s use into things that demand questioning, re-evaluation, and new utilization. Her invigorating experimentation is presented entrancingly, Cornstarch Figurine is something to marvel at, hold and wonder with. To use Treadwell’s own words, it is:

the philosophical potion of
the basic understood experimental


Anna Eyre is a professor of English at UNM-Taos. She is also a reading tutor for middle school students at Taos Pueblo Day School and served as the assistant editor for the 2005 edition of Traffic. Her chap book Metaplasmic was published by effing press in 2004.


At 8:07 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Other views are offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #25 at


by Nicholas Manning in Gr #10 at


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