David Ellingsen and Michael V. Smith — Body of Text

168 pages; 8×4 inches (oblong); paperback
ISBN 1 897388 28 4 | 978 1 897388 28 0
Fall 2008 Poetry; Photography; Performance Art; Concrete Poetry
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Body of Text — By David Ellingsen and Michael V. Smith

T.L. Cohen reviews ‘Body of Text’ for Matrix Magazine

When the Matrix reviews editor approached me about this review, I agreed to it. I have never needed to see a book before saying, “Sure, I’ll review that.” Enter Canada Post, and the always exciting moment of opening the book parcel. Enter Body of Text. Enter caveat emptor. Dance. Poetry. Sculpture. Flip book. Erotica. Brain-teaser. Yoga manual. The reader chooses the genre here, and even the form, and this is my list. Others who pick up Body of Text will find their own forms of reading. Made up of 87 pages of body-form structured silhouettes, some fully visible, some combined in letter-or-word formations, some leaking off the pages, seemingly with parts missing, Body of Text reminds us (literally, in Book Thug editor Elizabeth Bachinsky’s introduction), that “Each image… works as an inkblot test, where its meaning is more felt than known and dependent upon the viewer to make sense of it.” I showed this book around to a few people, a few more cynical than myself. One person suggested I talk about the use of white space. Another, that it’s an iconic gay flip-book showcasing the extreme bendiness of Smith (whose body forms the shapes on the pages), a kind of advertisement akin to “Hey, look what I can do, and wouldn’t you like me to do it to you?” This reminded me of being an undergraduate who, with three roommates, tried to contort herself into all of the positions in The Joy of Sex, just in case they would come in handy someday. I read Body of Text and wonder if I can do that here. Oddly, I often get this sense when reading other books of poetry. Linguistic and cerebral flexibility are always impressive, and the idea of these body positions as language strikes me as just the right kind of thought experiment. I mean, I’m not lingering over a turn of phrase here, but the fact of the book, the flipping through it, the returning to it, the showing it around, and finally, the wrapping my head around it, enjoying the pleasure of it, the tease of it, the let’s-see-if-we-can-get-away-with-this of it, makes me think about the queerness of concrete poetry. The resistance of Smith and Ellingson to convention, to spoken/written language, combined with the anonymity of the silhouettes bring me to the conclusion that others might get it too, after a while. Of course, like all concrete poetry, Body of Text — by calling itself “poetry”— begs the question, “What is poetry?” And aren’t we all bored with that question? However, I think this collaboration gives an interesting answer to a mundane question. Put it on your coffee table and bring it out when conversation lulls at your dinner parties of craven intellectuals, when the games you planned for 4-year-old’s birthday party run short, or, failing that, use this book of poetry to stretch.