Surfing the web I found this wonderful review of No Face that Dale Smith put up on Bookslut back in July 2008. Original URL is http://www.bookslut.com/marsupial_inquirer/2008_07_013233.php but who knows how long it will be there...
No Face, by
poet and mathematician Judith Roitman, maximizes the strategies of
techniques of serial poetry to create brief narratives. Rather than
relying on an expressive rhetoric of personality or the objective
deployments of plot and character, these poems trace an experience of
the world. Each page questions accumulated details of one’s life, from
phenomenal objects to personal “thoughts,” appetite, and desire.
Roitman uses language to discover environments rather than determining
them, and the experience of reading these serial works gives readers an
opportunity to reflect on their own habits of mind and attention by
way of her compelling example.
Formally, Roitman’s writing puts the serial poem to work in
different ways. The opening poem, for instance, is written in long
lines. It organizes the space of the rhetorical situation to inquire
about relations between poet, words, and an outside world. She writes:
The mystery of the inhabitants. The mystery of the staircase,
of the rug, of the refrigerator left shining, of the random
lamp still plugged in.
The lie of saying what you are expected to say
and the lie of hewing to ideology.
The lie of saying what you have been taught
and the lie of trying to please everyone.
The lie of categorizing
and the lie of defying categories.
The lie of saying you eat matzo
and the lie of eating it.
The lie of telling the family they will not be killed,
and the lie of the woman as she strapped her husband in.
These lies subvert common assumptions about how we are socialized,
opening awareness of an uneasy relation to others through the
categories we use to describe the world, even as those categories are
imposed distillations of our own projected disorder.
Elsewhere, the nameless narrator and characters are revealed through
a rhetorically strategic language that de-emphasizes the role of the
poet in order for the poem to apprehend a common world.
Because everything depends on the body.
Because my word isn’t your word.
Because it is so hard to remember.
Because he moved restlessly through the house at night.
Because she convinced herself she could see through walls.
Because she was in two places at once.
The questions and answers in this book are distributed
incongruently, leading a reader to reflect on the process of questioning
and answering -- that they share essential goals in language, to
unhinge stuck modes of thought.
Other poems turn to a floating, broken-line verse while some are
composed as prose. In one, “Cosmogonies,” Roitman opens, rather than
narrates, a reflective field through which she meditates on cosmic
relation. She examines the contribution of quotidian form to how we
understand cosmos. “As a lizard waits in the sun,” she writes, “so
taste starting as light on tongue expanding into more light & color
spreading like cloth in winter.” With this she notes, “[t]he origin is
lost we have not found it but coolness, every year another disease and
the seduction of etymology to believe we can understand it.”
Roitman’s writing examines the process of thinking and feeling, but
in ways that remind us language, more than thought and sensation, is at
stake in our apprehension of the world. There are directions and paths
in these serial narratives through which we find the unexpected.