STALL, by Shane Anderson and Elvia Wilk. Keep This Bag Away from Children, 2013. $8.00, paper.
“Every thought is already over.”
This line occurs fairly early on in Elvia Wilk and Shane Anderson’s fantastic collaborative chapbook, STALL—and it should be read partly as an instruction for how to proceed through these weird and tumbling poems and partly as a clue that nothing should ever make too much sense.
On the publisher’s website, STALL is described as “A collaborative project between two American writers now based in Berlin, it experiments with all aspects of poetry, from the creative process to the final physical product.” It’s unclear, at any given moment, how this collaboration works. It’s unclear if the authors are taking turns line by line, riffing off of one another or re-writing and un-writing one another. Probably all of the above. I think it would be a mistake, however, to read this authorial confusion as a weakness. In a way, it’s one of STALL’s best qualities. There’s a constant sense of flux in these pages that keeps the poems streaming into one another. New associations and understandings are always arising and sometimes the oddest fragments leave a lasting impact, such as this excerpt below:
Medicine will not destroy me muddled
Alone before and after
Follow each other in the Graphics
Interchange Format of you in a rich two hundred
and fifty six colors melting like an Inuit
Scarf dipped in liquid nitrogen that is full
Of cuts spasmodic and pressed
Against my chest a purring kitchen
These are lines that are having fun with the sound and purpose of language, bending the meaning of singular words and their placement within sentences to create blurry impressions of intent.
Here’s another excerpt I found myself highlighting:
Who holds the record for farthest distance
She was unsuccessful the first time,
when the brick slipped and cut her hand
STALL is a playful book, both in terms of its content and its formatting. When you hold the book, you’ll see a properly formatted poem on the even-numbered pages, and a poem on the opposite, odd-numbered page which is upside-down. This literally forces you to rotate the book counterclockwise in your hands as you move through the text, further reinforcing the disorienting nature of the wordplay. This also highlights the fact that these are poems that are meant to be read and re-read. If turning the pages in a book is meant to give the reader a physical sense of progression, in STALL it’s simultaneously an act of regression.
On the final page, Wilk and Anderson actually label their contributions, making explicit their contributions. Each authors a small block of text that’s right-side-up and another, mirroring text, that’s upside-down. The final bits of text here read:
It is otherwayes with me
In the seventeenth century
Scud missiles engaged
You think good
I’ve given myself
If suffering is
In the first nocturnal
It’s a fitting and—fittingly baffling?—way to wrap up a text that instantly begs to be re-visited and re-imagined. STALL does an admirable job of reminding adventurous readers that the possibilities words allow us are endless. Sometimes having fun and getting dizzy is its own reward.
David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press, and lives in New York City.