Margaret Christakos. Multitudes (Coach House Books 2013).
Margaret Christakos has always challenged herself in writing, & continually pushed her work into new areas of experimentation, & she continues to do so in her latest book, Multitudes. She takes chances, which is exciting but can as easily turn readers off as on. This book is large enough & full enough (well, of course, it contains…) to present something that will satisfy just about everyone at some point. It’s divided into seven sections, ‘Threshold,’ ‘Hoop,’ ‘Enough,’ ‘Weapon,’ ‘Mounds,’ ‘Banish,’ & ‘Play,’ although language is at play, or she is playing with language, throughout. As will probably be the case with every reader, I found some sections more stimulating than others.
‘Threshold’ sets some terms: with its fragmented quotation of Whitman’s ‘sing th body electric’ as an epigraph, it both insists on what words might do to body, mouth, tongue, etc., & asks what ‘I’ can do, thereby demonstrating how the poem can be both confessional lyric & the self-destruction of same. It also assumes that ‘th body electric’ today will extend much further than it could in Whitman’s time: these are poems most definitely of the digital, wired, age, poems emerging from the world of tweeting & texting that nevertheless insist that the body in the natural world remains at the heart of things.
Christakos pays homage to bpNichol, I think, in the little songs in ‘Hoop, like ‘Love Song’:
which is both a miniscule delight & a signal of the kind of texting-abbreviations she employs throughout Multitudes. ‘Bringing,’ for example, begins some of her word mirroring & other sound games, uses those abbreviations, yet is careful to hold to the words & phrases that push the various poetic politics of Multitudes: ‘Take back th night Hold others 2 sluggish / account Believe in rainforest / 4 th trees 4 what they r / bringing in – ‘
‘Four Years Is It’ takes up FaceBook & the ways it affects all who use it (or are used by it): ‘It behaves like a social life but gradually // erases social life as / much as it creates one / ‘I’ in your third person feels you are speaking to a // ‘them’ . . .’. As ‘Play,’ which is made up of Christakos’s own FB entries for 2012-13 (& I remember seeing many of them there) indicates, she has chosen to use, & turns her poetic & argumentative posts into the final sequence of her book, a kind of poetics-in-action that both articulates some of her processes & demonstrates them in action (‘wordinary’ & vocaholic’ just two of the smallest examples of her wordplay).
There’s so much going on in Multitudes (with its ‘multitumultitumultitumultitudes’) that it’s really impossible to fully represent all it does. ‘Wish’ offers a glimpse:
Every leaf on that tree
looks like a small hand
typing. Suddenly th tree
seems entirely inflamed! All of
nature a diarist.
4 one or