Tuesday, May 7, 2013



Dog Ear by Erica Baum
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011)

[First published in Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion 4 (2011). Ed. Calvin Bedient and David Lau]

Erica Baum photographs pages she has dog-eared so that the text of two previously facing corners now reads at right-angles on either side of the crease. As Kenneth Goldsmith suggests in his foreword, the text can be read as a single stanza or two separate stanzas of decreasing line length. While the latter approach approximates Oulipo haikuization, the former often provides the most interesting results, forcing, as it does, a juxtaposition of unrelated text, as opposed to slenderizing consecutive phrases. The turned page reveals the geometry of publishing itself: whether precisely or imperfectly aligned, it refers us back to the mechanical, rather than the authorial source of the text. In the tradition of concrete poetry, removed from its narrative responsibilities, this text becomes visual and thus material. In an interview with Mousse Magazine, Baum describes her process: “I’m reauthoring the text in this simple act of folding the paper, which creates a new view” (www.moussemagazine.it, #22). Foremost a visual artist, Baum does not so much reauthor as revise these pages: making us “look again” at language and the structure of the book itself. While the texts are engrossing because of their multiple reading paths (the book feels longer than its 24 plates since each page invites several readings), not every poem is successful (a hallmark of conceptual and procedural poetry). Dog Ear’s real achievement is the way it confronts readers with our habits of looking at and understanding text. Amid the proliferation of digital reading platforms, these images make readers aware of those elements of the book we tend to gloss over: the blue edge and yellowed paper that mark Plate III, Mad, as from a vintage novel (perhaps a Dell paperback mystery) and the centered heading in all caps (partially cut off) that marks the source of XVI, Differently, as a play. Such clues remind us how much information typeface, layout, and paper encode, and how sight enables us to absorb them. By cropping her images into perfectly bisected squares, Baum alerts readers to the fundamental act of truncation at the center of her work: folding severs words, joins fragments, and challenges understanding. The dog-ear, after all, takes the ear as its metaphor, and what is seen here can be mis-heard, as in Plate VIII, How Long [/ here indicates the crease, while | indicates line endings]:

“How long?”/e, his ear caught | “A very lon/ies.” | “Yes—yes/th
who he | want—Is/that? A | was so/       | you–/       | H/un-

The text enacts a drama of what is and isn’t visible. Words sliced by the crease become snippets of overheard dialog “caught” by “his ear” and our eye. We fill in gaps and expand what has been shortened. So “long / ies” becomes lon-ies, lone-ies, or lonelies, a word that yearns for its own completion. In Baum’s strongest poems, form and content interlock this way. Plate I, Examined, suggests her central theme:

moves a pile/ad examined | the materi/t jammed | nothing/on was |
more/ly” | b/e.

What or who is a pile-ad? Perhaps one who “moves” and “examine[s]” piles of text to find “materi-t” (an echo of materiality) “jammed.” In the last line, the a and e, turned at right angles, create a nonce letter—a materity enjambed into be-ing like the poems of this book that straddle the crease between image and text. Such abutting fragments provide suggestive moments of discovery throughout Dog Ear and invite the reader to slip beneath the turned-down corner sheets and fill the gap with reading.


Amaranth Borsuk is the author of Handiwork (Slope Editions, 2012), selected by Paul Hoover for the 2011 Slope Editions Book Prize; Tonal Saw (The Song Cave, 2010), a chapbook; and, with programmer Brad Bouse, Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press, 2012), a book of augmented-reality poems. Her intermedia project Abra, a hybrid book-performance collaboration with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher, recently received an Expanded Artists’ Books grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago and will be issued as an artist’s book and iPad app in fall of 2013. She has a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and recently served as Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at MIT, where she taught classes in digital, visual, and material poetics. She currently teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington, Bothell.


1 comment:

  1. Another view is offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #16 at