C. S. Giscombe
John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse
1913 Press, 2006
Seismosis, John Keene’s collaboration with Christopher Stackhouse, moves and moves in more than direction. From the title—which suggests the motion of earth and the motion of liquid—onward the book celebrates mix. As the back of the book tells us, the text samples work from a variety of writers and performers (Guy Davenport, Leonardo da Vinci, DJ Spooky, Charles Olson, Marjorie Perloff, and Cecil Taylor, among others) and here, in that act, is the mix of languages that makes poetry—here Keene and Stackhouse have taken their collaboration outward and, in so doing, have brought the world into it. The very end of the book, the one-line poem called “Process,” is signal and also, playfully, serves a summary function—“In the mark we choose and lose signature.” The text of the book, I would argue, has very much to do with signature; that is, the concern here seems to be with acknowledging limits or borders and then crossing them or, perhaps more to the point, “showing the work” of crossing borders. An early poem in the book, “Azimuth,” begins, “With respect to true north, each angle.” The poem continues to offer respect (the phrase, “with respect,” repeats) and then (in each instance of the repetition) dissent. But the dissent becomes part of the marvelously unwieldy whole and the poem ends, “With respect/ to result, no values are refuted.” (And the next poem, which follows pages of drawings, reiterates this in its two final lines: “… Always an edge towards true being/ mingling all expression, becoming anew.”) There are many restatements of this through the book but I’m wanting to highlight one that comes two thirds of the way in (on page 65), the poem, “Folds”—“What follows reconstruction, continuous after rupture. What/ follows: architecture and layering, the vibrating definition. In the interstices, what comes after our/ intimate games.” Here I feel the book coming again not to “a still but not deep center” (Roethke) but to a statement (via re-statement) of its collaborative project. I’m struck, throughout the book, by the play of collaboration. The book seems to me to be an examination of what collaboration might look like if it crossed borders. And here, in Seismosis, with its implicit ruptures of earth’s crust and violations of membranes, borders are being crossed.