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The Poetics of Trespass
Otis Books/Seismicity Editions ($12.95)
by Paula Koneazny
In his preface, Erik Anderson describes The Poetics of Trespass as a twofold project of walking and writing: “Over several weeks during February and March of 2007, I walked out the letters of the word ‘pastoral’ across a span of twenty blocks in central Denver, using my apartment as the epicenter. These are the pictures of those tracings.” In writing upon his city’s streets, sidewalks, alleys, and open spaces, he is, in part, quoting Paul Auster’s City of Glass, in which a writer of detective fiction discovers that a man he has been hired to trail is walking the streets of Manhattan in a pattern that spells out Tower of Babel. Anderson here records his own, analogous “attempt to inscribe language into a non-linguistic space.”
In choosing the word pastoral for his inscription, the author expresses his desire to return the country to the city, to trace curves where experience is usually constrained by right angles. However, just as pastoral poetry describes a romanticized ideal rather than a more complicated reality, Anderson realizes that dualistic terms such as urban and rural, pristine and scarred, symmetrical and asymmetrical may mean little to nothing at all, since “the city can’t help but revert to the country—corners to curves—even as the country is transformed into the city.”
Anderson often begins a day’s walk by cataloging the cast-off objects or people that he encounters. Such urban accounting brings to mind Brenda Coultas’s The Bowery Project, in which she observes and records “activities that occurred and . . . objects that appeared on a brief section of the Bowery between Second Street and Houston.” Both poets make use of their respective cities, reclaiming them as civic space, in the sense of space utilized by citizens. While “trespassing,” Anderson encounters obstacles: streets and sidewalks laid out in a grid that make tracing an o or a cursive a difficult; urban neighborhoods that present dangers for pedestrians, as he learns when he is mugged “near the corner of 9th and Washington . . . walking unsuspectingly along a hedge.”
Writing by walking is an ephemeral, if not entirely hidden, activity. In this respect it is akin to the land art, such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Dennis Oppenheim’s Cancelled Crop, that Anderson discusses in conjunction with much larger and more enduring transformations of landscape: the redesign of the streets of Paris during the 19th century, the construction-by-reconstruction of Central Park in New York when “the hills the city’s fathers had previously flattened” were rebuilt, and an immense island-building development underway in Dubai. In fact, one can view Denver itself as a gigantic installation comprising many smaller compositions, both transient and semi-permanent, within its borders.
In addition to the layout and architecture of cities, Anderson muses about paintings he recalls, including Tintoretto’s The Rape of Helen and two paintings on exhibit in a small museum gallery devoted to “The Scholar’s Tradition” of Asian Art. Accident plays a role in his selections: he doesn’t choose to look at the painting “Mountain Landscape” for aesthetic reasons; it just happens to be hanging on the wall opposite the only chairs in the gallery. Similarly, getting mugged and visiting the emergency room aren’t part of Anderson’s plan. Nevertheless, The Poetics of Trespass ends up including a photograph of the exact spot where he was attacked while tracing the letter O.
Walking as a form of writing practice has a long tradition. Prose writing by poets does as well. Nevertheless, the shift to prose causes Anderson some anxiety: “I’m not certain what it says about me as a poet that I am only able to take long walks, write in a meandering prose, or sit in abandoned galleries staring at forgotten paintings. I worry that I am no longer a poet. I feel the poem has gone dead in me, and that this work, obsessed with poetry, is as close to a poem as I can come.” That said, Anderson sometimes achieves in his prose the kind of compression associated with poetry. For example, when he remarks, while looking up at Denver’s version of the World Trade Center, that the “bank logo at the top of one of the towers reflects in the glass of the other,” he opens up his poetics to a discourse about politics and socio-economics. That discourse, although not in the book, is suggested by the image.
“The Neighbor,” a series of prose poems or short-short essays in which the author reflects upon two movies, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love and its sequel, 2047, closes out the book. In this section, the author continues to think about cities, neighborhoods, art and the constraints built and legislated into civic space. Functioning as an addendum or coda, it relates The Poetics of Trespass, with its references to Martin Heidegger’s house of Being, to that same philosopher’s notion of man as the neighbor of being. Although not absolutely necessary for Erik Anderson’s book to feel complete, “The Neighbor” adds some tangential yet intriguing discussion to what still would be a fascinating but slimmer volume without it.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2010 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010