I was fortunate to attend kari edwards’ book launch of hir book, iduna (O Books, 2003) at Small Press Traffic in San Francisco. Kevin Killian introduced kari and here are some of my notes from his introduction (my notes are scattered and my handwriting bathetic so assume such caveats):
” . . . iduna extends kari's range--of gender confusion . . . gut-splittingly funny when it wants to be; mystical when it wants to be . . . [challenges preconceived] ideas on heroism, kindness and lucidity . . .”
I share Kevin’s notes as I didn’t have much notes of my own--and because I think Kevin's notion of how kari's work challenges preconceived ideas on heroism, kindness and lucidity is as fabulous a summation as can be made about iduna’s vision.
But the reason I ended up not taking notes (which I often like to do at poetry readings) is that I got lost, at one point, into the rhythm of kari’s words. kari is a great reader and performer: my eyes noted with much appreciation the occasional rolling of hir shoulders as hir words affected hir body . . . and in that voluntary loss to rhythm, I mentally returned to one of my own poems and ended up rewriting--and improving--its ending. For me, an elemental proof of other writers inspiring me is when their work moves me back to my own acts with fresh eyes because of what those writers taught.
I allowed myself the brief distraction to mentally revise my own poem because in the 15 or so minutes of sitting there at the SPT auditorium waiting for the reading to start, I'd already inhaled (so effortlessly!) iduna which I bought by the entrance desk. As soon as I opened the first page, I dived--it was a helpless action as I was swiftly entranced by both the imagery as well as words. iduna is not just a revolutionary poetic text but a revolutionary way of presenting the book.
In iduna, each page transforms itself into skin – specifically (to my eyes), tattooed flesh. The verses are presented, but each page is no longer a one-dimensional field. Each page has become a layered space through a backdrop of other text printed in lighter tones; the background marks creates layers to evoke depth from what is usually the flatness of a page.
But the space is not "white space"--it is the mussed up space of flesh that's shown a lot of living: wrinkles, scars, bruises, love marks, orgasmic stains, lost teeth, calluses and so on. Visually dizzy, such that as one continues entering this *book* it was absolutely LOGICAL that the verses sometimes would be presented on their sides or upside down, rather than top to bottom. That, too, is a smart strategy--by compelling the reader to manipulate the book (to reverse it or turn it sideways), the book provides a reason for physical engagement (as with touching flesh) instead of just reading words.
When I first saw Kevin that evening, he joked affectionately, "Have you read iduna? I can't even see it; it makes me dizzy."
The book is indeed dizzying . . . but with a center of calm so that one ends up, as a result of reading it, more learned--which is to say, more lucid. How many authors can lead you into their works and release you as a much less blinded being?
But the visual in iduna is not privileged--read the words and they are still masterful in ways that text is (conventionally) judged. This poem, for instance, upends even as it pays homage to lyricism:
the hand that commits the most
I sit in those that would swim past a nobody morse code
there is harm dropping against the wall and blue screams
surround arithmetic beforehands
it is worth noting (not in any order): turquoise manners, deafen glass, and those tiny humming
condolence(s) regulate tropical pastels between stilled yellows and mechanical joy
it's vowel time now and my opponents arrive- we form exploding tongue ruts
a contortionist shifts red, the light backs up, an engine glares–
the sea crumbles dawn–
hard known tips labor in consequence–
I notice a tumbling down, a tumbling down--at half mast, as when one is indecisive in the
advances of lawn care.
upon approaching the sea I think carefully and then as before–
off-color sights arrive in their appointed side lock feelings,
the margin sits and I sit in the margin.
we envelop blank falls, out of an amassing cache of unassigned sins, sodomy lights my cathode-
ray tube, the jury sweeps by in a cause and effect maneuver–
"what we have . . . is . . . . . form . . ."
When I first began writing the first draft of this review, I synchronistically saw one of hir e-mails in which kari wrote:
“REVOLUTIONARY LIVING, REVOLUTIONARY LANGUAGE
revolutionary living is an act of living in a rolling thunder of questions; poetic language can be an act of revolution; there is no act but acting that is repetitive and preformatted, a repeatable act is a conmodification of the body; there is a living revolution in poetic language that is a continuum...their is a question that questions the question and folds in on itself... there is veggie dogs and a bun for 2.98 at Sam dogs at 28th and Broadway.... // p. or both,”
The revolution. What I appreciate about kari is how hir activities as a gender activist becomes integrated into hir words. The writing may or may not be fiction. But it is truth because, first, something was lived before it showed up in the telling. In fact, in another reading, kari would call the presentation of hir book “queer.” Well, iduna extends poetic tradition by not sticking to convention, particularly since, before a revolution, words have constrained gender. Yet though this book is “queer,” it is not alien. Because iduna manifests poetry, it is entirely natural: “what we have [indeed] is form.”
Here's one more from kari, a poem whose fabulous title is from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner:
have you ever retired a human
take a deep breath
turn the sky into a bite sized ball
imagine all the filth of time
the screams from war
blood shed particles
lost memories of genocide
exhaust, fumes, vapors and particles
from every motor, coal furnace, and nuclear reactor
the bones that have been crushed in machines by machines or become machines
all the hate and violence caused by fear times 1 million and fifty-five
isolation and madness in the upper atmosphere
each and every cry from the last of a kind each and every ten billion
greed and the road paved with good intentions
take a deep breath
I saw kari at another of her readings a few weeks before finishing this review. At that reading, she read from iduna by simply reading the titles in the book’s (Table of) Contents. It worked. It works in the same way Page 96 offers a “poem” through the image of a black square created through dense ink writing in the midst of the page--that black square contains a meaning even as it is (except for its squareness) an undefined image abstracted from text. It’s worth noting that the edges to the square are not cleanly lined--of course not. The edges remain edges even as they do not proscribe constraints, e.g. through linearity or through evoking a box that contains.
That the book’s Contents--like Page 96’s black square--presents an effective poem testifies to how kari’s iduna grasps the nature of Poetry, at least its nature for me: that Poetry is not about words but about what inspired the words and then what those words subsequently inspire. Some may call that revolution from and of the word. I would call it, “In the beginning, there was . . . ."
Reprinted from Moria, in tribute by permission of the author, Eileen Tabios, who notes "In this review, there is, btw, a deliberate 'slippage' into the 'she' pronoun in 2nd to last paragraph."
Other friends & readers remember kari
BlazeVox has release a new e-book of kari's work, having been blue for charity