No Matter of Insistence
by Jesse Seldess
Kenning Editions, 2011
112 pages / $14.95 Buy from Kenning Editions or SPD Books
Jesse Seldess’s work asks for time. It doesn’t demand time, it just gently requests it. A space to sit with it, a time to read it aloud, to perform it yourself in your own voice and body.
In his two books—Who Opens and Left Having (both from Kenning Editions)—Seldess writes short echoing, transmogrifying lines, separated often by large spaces on the page. The poetry is formed out of these minimal bits and their steady repetition: lines that subtly alter as they repeat in various forms over the course of the pages.
If I let the ending continue
If I left impending continue
If I left the end to you
We can meet in this place
Previous to seeing his books, I’d heard Seldess reading his poetry in a recording on Pennsound. I was blown away by the slowness, the paused rhythm, the continual stops. It felt daring to stand up and read in this glacial way, and yet his voice was so unassuming about his slowness. At the end of one reading, he says, “Thanks for your patience.” It’s an endearing experimentalism, an quietly apologetic foray into a different kind of poem. I like the playful timidity of his work, his awareness of the space it takes up in the world. An antithesis of (and antidote to) avant-garde bravado.
In all of Seldess’s work is an attention to the spaces between: “Incompletely binding // Little things / With.” This hanging preposition signals the silence that often serves as a super-structure for his work. In his readings, Seldess carefully matches the length of his silences to the size of the spaces between lines and stanzas on the page.
This very concrete relationship between page and performance appears to be one of Seldess’s central concerns: from 2000 until 2012, Seldess published antennae, a journal of experimental writing and language-based music and performance scores. (Issues 1-7 are available as free pdf downloads. Issues 9-12 are available for purchase. Issue 8 seems to be in limbo.) When work is so intensely aural, the page begins to function as a score for performance.
In one of his readings on Pennsound, Seldess says of his first book, Who Opens: “all the pieces in the mansucript in some way are concerned with the issues and dynamics of formation, sort of an awe, wonder, and appreciation of it, and at the same time a fear and skepticism of it, ranging through that spectrum.” I felt this powerfully in both of the books: an attention to how words build or fail to build, to how the mind is able or unable to form something out of words.
Some of the poems in Seldess’s first book emerged out of his work in social services with the elderly, specifically with those affected by dementia and Alzheimers. This awareness of the mind and its failures is powerfully present: all the time thinking about contact: “To be close // Near that mouth / From here instance.”
January 21st, 2013 / 12:00 pm