Kevin McPherson Eckhoff. Rhapsodomancy (Coach House 2010).
Rhapsodomancy is simply great fun. And perhaps a lesson in alphabetical hubris. Eckhoff, a clearly talented visual poet (& perhaps a fine sound poet; I have not heard him) has taken on both Sir Isaac Pitman’s Shorthand & John Malone’s Unifon (the latter of which I had not known) & found a variety of means by which to turn them into engines of visual imagination.
Beginning with some lovely old fashioned verse in praise of Shorthand, he introduces us to both its & Unifon’s ‘phonic alphabets,’ attempts to capture all the sounds of English in one-to-one signs. Having done so, he then starts to turn up the heat with a series of mostly visual pieces, in which he plays with these signs in a variety of settings. The signs themselves are marvelously graphic, each ‘letter’ or word a picture on its own, or in combination; thus we readers do not need to understand them to take aesthetic pleasure in Eckhoff’s arrangements. But Eckhoff offers a number of larger pictures, as well, such as the full page ‘Disavowals : Optical Allusions,’ highly complicated visual displays that are both allusions (to, among others, bpNichol) & illusions of a high order.
Still, although Rhapsodomancy presents itself as ‘visual poetry,’ there are a lot of words, in lines, here, & they, too, undermine our common sense of language as representative. Some are simple puns, often on famous literary phrases, & attached to an image, such as ‘Cubomancy’ (one of the many pieces in ‘Apantomancy’), in which two die with Shorthand signs rather than dots on the sides hover above the line, ‘a throw of the dice will never abolish chants.’ ‘Logomancy’ is a poem in which the first half of a line is in Shorthand (or looks like it) & the second half a phrase that gathers a kind of sense-ability as we continue reading. ‘Geomancy I’ & ‘Geomancy II’ are homages to Steve McCaffery & bpNichol. As Eckhoff’s note explains: ‘Divination through dirt thrown to the ground or marks on paper. These symbols, made with closed eyes, have been read as Shorthand inscription.’ And the lines attached to them are lovely, punny, & slyly alliterative.
Drawings, comics, the ‘Gordian Denouement’ sequence of rope tied into knots representing the Unifon alphabet fill out Rhapsodomancy, definitely a visual delight, but also I suspect full of entertaining vocalizations.