INSECT COUNTRY (A) by SAWAKO NAKAYASUEILEEN TABIOS Reviews
Insect Country (A) by Sawako Nakayasu
It’s difficult to use words as visual material—the balance of reading vs. seeing the words often gets, um, imbalanced. Sawako Nakayasu’s chap, Insect Country (A), makes this tension irrelevant with one of the most charming entries I’ve experienced into a poetry publication.
I refer to the first poem (of six) which begins with the phrase “A trail of anything…” The poem takes up six pages, each of which presents one line in the middle of the 4.25" X 6" page. As I flipped through the pages, I came to cease reading the text and just follow the line as black marks across the page…as if they were not words but, indeed, ants marching off somewhere.
It was only after my eye cheerfully followed the ants to the end of the poem that I flipped back to read the words. By this point, I was quite charmed, only to have the (my) engendered good mood brighten further at the gem presented by the poem’s text, beginning with
A trail of anything—insects, hamburgers, bicycles,
Popsicles, miniature lightening bolts, road maps—anything, all of it, all
and later to end with
all of it—seeing it, wanting it, nearing, fighting for, quietly, no—silently
Crowding, my small, and—
That dash as an ending is on point, both visually extending the horizontal linear pattern as well as symbolizing how a good poem extends its life beyond text and border of the page. That life, resonance, is facilitated by what all poems share in this chap: a quirky surrealism that bites, but with such small teeth (insect-sized, get it?), that the bites do not repel.
Such delicacy on the poet’s part is admirable, and enchanting. And particularly admirable because the poems’ expanses are huge even as they relegate large issues into insect-sized (sorry, couldn’t resist) bits--which is to say, intimacy--through phenomenology. For example,
We are sitting around the table eating and
drinking and exchanging stories about
flashers, gropers, underwear thieves, your
general assortment of urban perverts.
When I tell the story about the man who
came up to me and opened up his bag and
offered me one of a teeming million
wriggling ants in his bag, the whole table
goes silent and I am reminded all over
again how hard it is to get along with the
women in this country.
That suddenly coarse (coarse, only due to the deftness of the chap’s overall sensibility) reference to immigrant problems is a blunt (and by being blunt even more effective) example of how these poems, charming though they may be, are hardly “lite”.
It seems fitting that Insect Country (A) is from that marvelous series put together by the Dusie Collective wherein participants make hard-copy, often hand-made, chaps from texts available elsewhere as .pdfs at http://dusie.org/. I’ve seen many of the hard-copy chaps from this series and the visual manifestations are often entrancing. Insect Country (A), with just text on white paper covered by a yellow cover featuring the black-ink (reproduction of a) drawing of an eye, is actually one of the most minimal of the Dusie chaps that I’ve seen. Yet, it evokes for me the multi-layered design and commercially-printed GRIFFIN & SABINE series by Nick Bantock—published by Chronicle Books (San Francisco) and printed on glossy, excellent quality paper. The poems in Insect Country (A), however, need no further embellishment to offer as huge an impact as the multi-color, overtly visual GRIFFIN & SABINE books--such is the power of poetry, as crafted by Nakayasu’s hand.
Insect Country (A) is an admirable project, and idiosyncratic enough to make me sigh, I love how this poet’s mind works.
Eileen Tabios HEARTS her dogs who often lie under a poker game here. Her latest poetry collection is THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I whose 2006 sales proceeds will be donated to SAVE DARFUR.