Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Hourglass Studies is a triumph of imagery, and Krysia Jopek a master of postmodern abstraction.  This book-length poem is a glorious strand of word knots, all of them forcing meanings into themselves, or at least the suggestions of meanings.  The 144 numbered parts (twelve sections, each divided into twelve smaller movements) offer no cohesive narrative, yet they are very much of a whole.  Theyre like a puzzle of an abstract painting made entirely from square pieces you fit them together in whatever way works best for you, and always with the knowledge that maybe even Jopek herself doesn't know the true configuration.

Each of the fragments in this collection (and they are truly fragments, more than a few of them only one line long) is self-contained, but each carries its weight in making the work a unified vision.  There is anger here, and there is sorrow.  There is joy, loss, mystery and even incomprehension (for both the reader and the writer, it seems to me).  The overriding feeling of Hourglass Studies, however, is an almost constant sense of dislocation.  In the midst of a constantly shifting narrative, where exactly are we, the reader?  Jopek offers no answers, only an unending flow of sensory overload, a relentless barrage of supersaturated imagery. 
The 11th part of Section II reads, in its entirety
Particles spin and spin but stay in place [some]how

and, in an oversimplified manner, this passage offers the key to the book.  All of the particles might have their place, but the places themselves are free to move wherever they want.   The work as a whole moves back past Surrealism into Dada and a written form of Cubism, yet owes nothing to either of these forms.  Jopek is too busy pushing forward to spend time revisiting the past.  Hourglass Studies is a work for the here and now.  Its a collection that both deserves and demands multiple readings.  There is no other way to get to the elusive, brilliant heart that beats inside.

  1. If you’ve ever read any of my poetry reviews (and curse you if you haven’t), you know I’m not big on quoting the poems themselves.   I gave you one earlier, sure, but that was an exception.  Not a key to the larger work, necessarily, but at least a thin trace of light shining out from underneath the door.  And if you think it looks all snazzy and happening sitting there by itself, just wait until you read the entire poem and see how it looks slotted in among its brethren. 
  2. Labels, too.  Can’t stand them.  I gave you postmodern here, and I gave you Dada, and I gave you Cubist.  And for those last two, I was thinking more of the visual art side of things, really, because that’s how my mind works.  Synesthesia, you understand.  And, somewhere, someone is still whining “But dammit, I need a point of reference!!  Hold my hand!  Spell it out for me!”  So how about this? “Cryptically prismatic”.  “Tensely kaleidoscopic”.  Or how about disco?  Do you like disco?  Of course you do.  So, picture yourself in your tight polyester, your platform shoes, working it HARD down at your favorite disco.  See all those little whirling lights spinning around the room?  THEY ARE THE PIECES OF THIS POEM.  Period.  Buh bye.
  3. And still people will say “But we need names!  Who does she sound like?!”  And that’s the point, dammit – SHE SOUNDS LIKE HERSELF.  That’s what poets want – their own voice.   I’ll give you this, though – think John Bennett’s shards, only more concise.  Splinters, if you will.  Think Leonard Cirino’s shorter, more epigrammatic pieces.  Think "language poets", and all the myriad directions they moved in.  And do you see how this doesn’t help?  Seriously:  You need to read Hourglass Studies yourself to see how truly good it is.  Now.

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