review by Erik Fuhrer of C.T. Salazar’s ‘Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshackle Night’

C.T. Salazar
Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshackle Night
Animal Heart Press
September 15th, 2020

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In “Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshackle Night,” C.T. Salazar enmeshes concrete haiku and images sourced from online open access sources with more surreal and strange haiku to blur boundaries within and between concepts such as of embodiment, personal history, and the natural world. The haiku that are the most grounded to physicality and normative ways of seeing provide grounding for more experimental haiku that spring up throughout the poem and muddy the clear delineations provided by the former group of poems. Take for example, the following lines, which include a concrete image that perhaps invokes and reshapes Wallace Stevens’ “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” pairing down the image of 30 birds to the synechdodal simplicity of 30 beaks, so that a bird’s body becomes its sharpest feature.

thirty birds
is thirty
beaks

The concreteness of the image is replicated in the 30 small bird images flying up from the 3 spare lines, as if to remind that things are as they seem. Yet, this concept is challenged in the more surreal ideas that appear later, such as in the image in which the blurring of boundaries between part and whole in “thirty birds” is echoed and expanded upon in a more surreal confusion between body and its environment:

watched a cardinal
        fly through me—sorry
                  through a window

In this haiku, the body becomes momentarily merged with external space, only separated by it upon reflection. Here the hyphen plays the role of mediator between a realm of slippery physics and a more concrete realm. The tension between the ordinary and the strange in this book is perhaps best encapsulated by the latent transformative energy of the following haiku:

thinking
of cicadas before I
become cicadas

In this image, the human body appears as a body on the verge of becoming other. A concrete visual of a cicada on the page further highlights the nonhuman, thereby emphasizing the inevitable insect transformation of the speaker. Just as the speaker’s future is prophesied to become either, so too are we all shown to have always been other:

most of us
are born with a stranger’s
face

The concept of a fixed identity is continuously challenged in this book, which suggests that the body is constantly in contention with itself and its surroundings. The speaker briefly becomes window, is becoming cicada, was never really itself. The images keep the work in the realm of direct recognition, allowing the haiku to slide into the slippery realm of the strange, where nothing is quite as it seems. Indeed, that is how I experienced Salazar’s book as the whole: a experiment is misrecognition and sleight of hand, with the spare haiku often holding a ton of weight in their tiny stanzas.

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book info is here

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Review by Erik Fuhrer, who is the author of 4 books of poetry, including not human enough for the census (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019), and whose 5th book of poetry, in which I take myself hostage, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2020. Both of these books include images by his partner, and collaborator, Kimberly Androlowicz. More information on these books and others can be found at http://www.erik-fuhrer.com.

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