Sunday, September 10, 2006

Susceptible of Measurement: Sawako Nakayasu's nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she

Quale Press, 2006

Reviewed by Paul Klinger

Sawako Nakayasu’s second book, nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she, raises questions about the subtler ways that language manages the problems of sizing our perceptions. Proportion, scale, scope, distance are all peripheral concerns that radiate from the book’s central concept of geography:

takes a good look at food as the marker of geography, time a
geography, weight a geography, the color of her own voice even
further tied to geography—dislocates in order to make color, to
skew time, to let things sink in

It’s an expansive concept; even the physical circumstances of articulating words fall under its banner as Nakayasu writes: “delivers words according to geography—long letters with more / distance, short bursts to an ear, distance of a turn of the head.” The idea of dislocated geographies shows up repeatedly, as the narrator often speaks through her shoulder. This interest in the utterance of words, the shape of the mouth, and the original site of sound make certain that geography, as it pertains to voice, covers much more than the regionally measured premise of dialect.

Continually, Nakayasu challenges the assumption of measurement as a fixed unit. If you treat the poem as a flipbook, you will see that no spatial arrangement carries through the whole poem. This motion arrested, Nakayasu finds “liberty to stay, put.” Ultimately, the book frames “staying” as an act that runs counter to sizing language, which could be interpreted as transgressive in its scaling (up/down) motivations:

stays, and stay persistently—regardless of which solution, solutions,
or lack thereof—finds the solution not in any solution or
some lovely overrated bout of clarity, but in the fact and the
unmistakable act of her staying—questions of sustainability aside

The idea is striking but exceeded by Nakayasu’s observations of the geographical problems themselves. Notice how the following meditation opens by slipping:

shies away from insects, forgetting all politics and ideology—the
smaller the more insidious the faster the more fearsome—a fifty-
gallon garbage can for a milligram of sect

Here, Nakayasu translates a psychological reaction into a problem of size (containment). It happens elsewhere in the book, particularly noticeable in a passage that follows Steinian techniques of observation: “asks a question in the form of a city—as a preface to a serious / question, as if trying to be convincing.” This same passage ends with the apposition, “recoil of geography,” linking the motive behind this disguised interrogation to the reaction that shows up in the “sects” paragraph and in an interesting coffee exchange: “asks for the wrong kind of coffee in not that kind of place—layers / of explanation simply to get to the real questions.” In this last scenario, the site becomes inadequate because it is not large enough to offer the right kind of coffee, another form of “recoil” that unsettles the poet’s idea of language’s measure.

Incongruities and retrofittings provide Nakayasu with her comic material. The book’s keen social observations seem a natural extension of its own balance and ratio, qualities which grow out of the book’s catalogue form and the rhythm that structure affords. It’s a rhythm easily tilted when Nakayasu breaks habit and doubles something, such as adverbs in the line “desperately inhaling deeply via a cigarette.” The adverbs push for notice, but sitting the preposition “via” next to cigarette demonstrates how finely attuned Nakayasu is to the determinative role size assumes in our daily communications. Here, the improbability of this usage reminds us of several assumptions surrounding the scope of “via” and provides a pretty sharp jab at the cycling rhythm of the poem, a moment of self-consciousness that feels like the poet coming up for air.
Similar attention is devoted to what could be called underdeveloped language. Nakayasu leaves the insufficiency of certain descriptions to whip up awkward moments that fold under questioning, such as when the poet offers this little puzzler: “follows a bird until she is too short.” The clause reveals something central to writing’s efforts to grapple with motion, in this case, transforming the subject’s height to accommodate a change in perspective as well as the spatial relationship to the object. The willingness, on the part of the writer, to recede into this kind of under-statement presents itself delicately, without flourish.

The same proves true when Nakayasu writes: “asking for intimacy now / please really, barking in the wrong forest,” although this time, idiom is the target. The pluralized form of “barking up the wrong tree” demonstrates how rigid jargon can be, as recognition of the original saying threatens to disappear after the slightest transformation to its grammar. The wonderful irony underlying Nakayasu’s gesture is that “intimacy” sought for is nullified by an attempt to resize a stylized expression into something more idiosyncratic.

After reading the book’s back cover, you might be surprised to find it labeled as Prose Poetry (its own fifty-gallon garbage can for sect). Such a label seems at odds with the book’s success as a “moving target of timing and geography.” The contradiction apparent in Nakayasu’s espousal of both moving and staying sharpens through multiple readings as a self-confrontation set against a geography that’s encouragingly wide.


SAWAKO NAKAYASU was born in Yokohama, Japan, and has lived mostly in the United States since the age of six. An excerpt from nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she was first published as an e-Faux chapbook. Other publications include So we have been given time Or, (Verse, 2004) and Clutch (Tinfish chapbook, 2004). She edits Factorial, as well as the translation section for How2. Check her website for more info.


PAUL KLINGER was born in Baytown, Texas. He is a member of Tucson's POG Collective. Some of his poems can be read at Dusie, hutt, and Snorkel. He is now at work on a website called White Buildings and an erasure of P.J. Bailey's "Festus." Check out his blog, Sea Quills, here.