Opening the prose gates

Nov 2, 2005 at 12:00 am

Lynn Crawford has written a series of prose vignettes that began formally as sestinas, a poetic form that demands the writer make use of six primary and recurring words (riff on this six-word keyboard, this recursive pallet of words) so that music (so that paint itself) is made visible through what might be seen as a Ferris wheel of repetitions. It is a cyclical soundscape reverberating and ideally liberating the writer, summoning her to see and to slip through that sublime keyhole (a trapdoor to the eternal, not unlike Alice tumbling down that white rabbit Wonderland hole) of compositional discovery. This wields, in the end, an object (a series of objects) of associative beauty and musicality, ultimately taking readers into a new precinct, a place of truth and originality where we’ve never been taken before.

The sestina-born world that Lynn Crawford makes and remakes in her own image and renders uniquely her own is a world that finds its inaugurating voice in the disquiet of works of visual art created by a whole crew of both known and not-so-known Detroit artists, such as Chris Turner and Valerie Parks. They make works that are, by Crawford’s eye, turned lingually upside-down and inside-out through the object-making process, giving way to the book that becomes Fortification Resort.

In Fortification Resort, we enter inside and are invited to participate in a sort of post-now, new-world community where “our sky is another region’s ground.” This image of a world suspended just above another world works well as a way to see into the means by which Crawford was able to enter her poems, to see what her eye saw when it gazed openly into the 17 visual frameworks that make up the 17 entries in this book, magically and mythically transformed (by her poem-making hand, by the acoustics of language itself) and made visible by the sentence-shaping interventions of that hand (driven and guided as it is by its own private, primal urgency to make art from art).

A visionary process of seeing and re-seeing forges, for Crawford and Crawford’s reader, a bridge that moves us between the given (the visual) and the made (the artifact that then became each one of these 17 architectural vignettes). As a reader, I know of no other book quite like this book, which is, I must say, the highest form of praise that I can say about any work of art, be it made of paint or clay or language itself. I am made to think of and am reaching out toward other works of fiction that have, in recent years, given way to a similar mood and feeling (books by the syntax-torquing, fellow Black Square Edition writer Gary Lutz, or Ben Marcus’s weirdly-scientific mytho-philosopic tracts that make up The Age of String and Wire, or an Orwellian-kinned book of stories that I just recently discovered by the relatively unknown Matthew Derby called Super Flat Times).

I almost don’t know what to make of what Crawford has made inhabitable here in this strange and inventive book (a book that is, in itself, an artifact of simple beauty and eloquence and, above all else, grace). All I know for sure is that I am made to feel, am invited to feel, a new way. I am reminded, a bit — the feeling that I get when I read and reread these vignettes — of the way that I feel when I read and reread, as I do often, the play-filled words and the toddler-like wordplay of Gertrude Stein.

Fortification Resort, the book itself, is a place to step inside of, a resort of words for us to escape to, to get lost inside its strangely mirrored funhouse, to find fortification, as the title suggests, within its sublime lexicon of word subversions: to find, ultimately, within its verbally construed walls, within its formally engaged framework, a place of possibility and renewal, a rejuvenating elixir for the adventures that await us, as readers, when we allow a word-artist — not just a writer (there is, I know, a difference) — to take us by the hand and lead us through a series of “copper-colored, not silver” gates that open up, once we see and lean inside, to a world governed, above all else, by the powers and lawlessness of a language and imagination that belong solely and singularly to Lynn Crawford.

Peter Markus is a poet and literary critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]