Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Review of Sawako Nakayasu

Texture Notes by Sawako Nakayasu. Letter Machine Editions, $14.

Reviewed by Amani Morrison

Sawako Nakayasu’s collection of prose poems, Texture Notes, is “too buoyant to lay low” (“9.12.2003”), as her narrator optimistically traverses through and pontificates about a dismal existence filled with endless lists of objects (especially eyeballs) and concepts, where one suffers from “a breath of fresh air that arrives too late” (“5.26.2003”) or can “end up on the ground as a result of someone else’s good or bad intentions” (“8.12.2003”). Throughout the work, the narrator explains her experiences through references to thickness, layers, and texture, ranging from the “texture of a field of fried umbrellas” to the “thickness of the anti-tropism,” from “[l]ayers of loss” to “danger as a texture.” Drenching reality with waves of whimsy, Nakayasu constructs a world with scientific precision, in which it seems only natural for the narrator “[t]o provide a physical, chemical, psychoanalytical, or textural analysis of it. To assign it values of beauty” (“8.22.2003”).

A portion of Chris Martin’s abstract Glitter Painting appears on the front cover of Texture Notes, serving as a gatekeeper that provides as much information about the internal content as the title does. The reader cannot fully appreciate the unlikely masterpiece of “acrylic medium, spray paint, and glitter on wood” and “assign it values of beauty” before reading Nakayasu’s first entry, entitled “6.2.2003”:
Bicycle texture.

Take five radically different groups of people. The groups may radically differ in the usual categories (such as size, shape, color) or others (such as surface area, scent, hair texture, politics, emotional predicament). Lead them by the hand, and then let go and give them a choice: field of flowers, field of gold, field of dreams, field of vision, field of applicants, field of corn, field of bicycles, field of bicycles.

Martin’s painting along with the “five radically different groups of people” provide a precursor to the conglomerate pieces in the collection: they “may radically differ in the usual categories. . . or others. . . .”

Using numerically-formatted dates as titles, Nakayasu draws attention exclusively to her poetic conflagrations, persuasively inviting the reader to “relax and get fuzzy” in a seamless existence of “Needing Yellow,” “girls, women, all ages and sizes, who have. . . diarrhea like a motherfucker,” and “a four-year-old tree attaining twice its current height thanks to the tears of a widow.” Despite the informal tone and disturbing hilarity of the content, Nakayasu organizes her notes in a fashion resembling a formal paper—the first isolated line of each poem serves as a thesis statement, and the lines/paragraphs following justify the initial claim with examples and further explication, convoluted though they might be.

The self-conscious narrator (there seems to be only one) exists in a state of oxymoronic harmony—she is amused and horrified, judgmental and meek, sober and fantastical. Consider the speaker’s recount of a “nightmare about hamburgers” in this excerpt of “9.2.2003”:
I think I see a light in the distance.

Though it might very easily be a lump of fat.

But worse yet, clearer yet, I begin to smell smoke, a gas-fired barbecue. I call out, distressed and damselled to the hilt:


For lack of a better way to describe the situation—and I am quoting some long-lost love poem, and so I am.

Immediately following this poem is the equally revealing “6.3.2003”:
What do you miss about America?

A woman, a very very fat woman, I trace her and to what extent she gives, and what of her takes as I dive into her rolls, loll around and find a press, a fold, fresh laundry out of the dryer and keep tracing her, linger on the inside of her elbow, insider of her armpit, fall into her heated neck I keep tracing her with my finger her tracing her and she bites me and I go back.

As the narrator explores the textures of the world around her, she resorts to science, math, and inference to make meaning of what she finds. At times, the speaker is child-like, reverting to elementary practices and thought practices (although not necessarily language) to deduce her findings—such is the case in “6.3.2003” as the inquisitive narrator relates, “. . .I keep tracing her with my finger her tracing her and she bites me and I go back.” She guiltily confesses her unconventional behavior later in the collection, stating, “Whenever I meet new people I want to touch them first and find out their texture” (“9.19.2004”). At other instances, however, the speaker grapples with seemingly more complex subject matters, for which she employs equally complex, even impossible theories and equations, as in “10.6.2003”:
Combined sum of the texture of one word at each moment everywhere, thicker than it is true. The true number, when taking into account the combined sum, which amounts to how many false answers.

The narrator’s hyper-awareness of the eccentric and the mundane paired with her curious, exploratory nature push the reader beyond the bounds of the ordinary, stimulating contemplation of “ant-sized objects,” “Tokyo advantages,” and “the pressure of a speeding vehicle or even that of an angry nation.” However, Nakayasu does not present the reader with a narrator who is simply exploring to make mischief. On the contrary, Nakayasu’s narrator arduously seeks “layers of clarity,” to find answers to her questions and offer solutions to problems she encounters in a world where it is possible for something to be “true and false.” Consider the following excerpt from “5.28.2003,” which is also printed on the back cover of the book:
When the compression finally comes forth, allow for the bodies to settle, before measuring the resulting thickness. Measure the authenticity. Measure the artifice. Remove the artifice.

The giant shall not be held responsible for the removal of the artifice.

In Texture Notes, Sawako Nakayasu becomes a master artist as she creates a congruous cacophony of images, perceptions, problems, and word play. Nakayasu deftly ensures that “a distance, a thickness, a slightly twitching texture is created between the first and last layers, a measurable distance that surfaces out of nowhere but an internal and external longing for a presence or good word” (“11.16.2003”).

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