Randee Silv’s new chapbook, Farnessity (dancing girl press 2018) introduces us to a classification-eluding language event that she calls wordslabs. A first read-through can feel both seductive and disorienting. The content and rhythm of the first sentence or two might seem, often enough, to signal narrative, perhaps even fiction, but very soon afterwards, the threads start shifting so much that one has to wonder just what this writer’s up to.
Each concentrated, rectangularly positioned, single paragraph block ends abruptly, and this stop motion levies an after-effect that’s surprising. The momentum that had been churning all along reverberates back to the first line and throughout, and, like an aroma, or a stereogram, one starts to hear another way of feeling one’s way through the text.
A wordslab often gives us something that seems like story, but who’s speaking goes unnamed. There’s overheard conversation, witnessed events, declarations, interior commentary, non-discursive bursts of pictorial imagery, acerbic political takes, dream speech, seemingly cryptic ruminations coming and going without introduction or explanation.
Between each fry without ketchup he sipped dark roast. I’m not sure which smelled stronger. Expressions varied with silent debates that led nowhere. If I had only walked on the surface I would never have slipped. She rummaged through them. It was hard to know their worth. Yes. Being consumed being overused is worse than a dirty brush. We differed on when to insert unproductive surprise with narrow alleyways. Nobody took off their jackets.
She, he, they enter & leave, and it’s tough to be sure when one who has switched to another who. Sometimes this feels like realistic portrayal of urban attention in flux, but a “real” that also evokes a sensation of the surreal. Deliberately incongruous shifts in location, person, occasion, direction and sense drop the reader right between the lines into the spaces, moments and perplexities between and behind the words, in and out of the slips and tricks of language itself and into sensations of being “there” minus the protective filters of categorization.
All this sweeps by like a page turning thriller deadpan laced with film noir tension. Scenes cut across scenes as if Godard and Eisenstein had been taking turns in the editing room. The syntactical flow from sentence to sentence rolls on so persuasively that a reader doesn’t necessarily notice all the disruptions until one’s surrounded by them and has already become immersed in some unanticipated circumstances.
This filmic construction seems just a little less surprising when one learns from her online writer’s bio that Silv “writes like she paints,” alerting us, somewhat, to the sort of eye and sensibility in play. Silv’s identified, specifically, as an abstract painter, which invites us to look for parallels with that practice.
One of the defining features of abstract visual art is that it trips up the cues that lead to a viewer’s classifying what’s seen as a depiction of something else. Versus interpreting illustration, attention gets diverted toward the more immediate and somatic, toward color, shape, texture, kinetics, proprioceptive sensation and so forth.
Silv’s narrative syncopations exert a similar effect. It’s more about where the dynamics of a line take a reader, about how the implications of one phrase bounce off the others, about what each piece, as a whole, does, than whatever exactly it might say. In other words, much of what’s happening in a wordslab goes on between and around the words as well as among the words themselves. It’s as if she’s indeed applying language like a physical material the way one would paint. And, language’s materiality necessarily includes its sound.
Earsplitting thunder scrambles parched systems stashed into discolored heaps.
Wordslabs are powerfully aural constructions that should also be read aloud. These should be heard. Their pulse is almost always percussively rhythmic with a formal plasticity reminiscent of Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman. Phrase lengths flex and vary. They stand. They circle. They pile up. They spurt ahead. Loop back. One could even act them out or dance them. Sound, rhythm and breath team a coherence that often propels a reader through the occasional dizziness of some fast shifting imagery.
He talked about replication. She talked about unsealing. He stepped. He stepped. He paused. He hadn’t gotten very far. She recited a section about constant leaving, She rejected modular vulgarity. Slippages details modifications. Filtering reducing calculating. People eat and drink at different speeds. Square table with a manuscript.
The temptation to wonder what the hell this writer is talking about never really goes away. That tension, however, comes to feel more like a strategic component of their tensile strength. Some wry wit is pretty evidently at work here. Reading them over and over turns progressively more refreshing, and the labyrinths somehow feel each time more interconnected, although one might not be able to pinpoint exactly why.
Once one gets the flavor, these wordslabs can become an addictive pleasure to read—delightfully on edge, mystery tinged excursions that compact such diversity one might even imagine one’s read much more than what’s actually on the page, and one probably has.
Link to book at dancing girl press, click here.
Link to audio of book, click here.