Louis Armand & John Kinsella
Litteraria Pragensia Books, 2012
Paperback, 107 pages
Reviewed by PQ Contributing Editor Shauna Osborn
Armand & Kinsella’s choice of the name Synopticon, without doubt, is accurate. A collaborative project composed during extended email exchange, Synopticon is a mix of poetics, cultural archaeology, and textual collage. The project records the authors’ investigation into authorship and authenticity in the construction of social texts and cultural artifacts. From the Author’s Note:
The term “synopticon” was intended to suggest, also, a type of generative textual synchronicity-machine, at work on the universal archive—questions of power and surveillance are implicit and their structures are matter, herein, for synoptic détournement and deconstruction.
If you were not convinced the project was drenched in academia and theoretical concerns from the title and Marjorie Perloff’s blurb on the back cover, that first page will clearly prepare you for the experience of reading the poems. Or, if you are one of the many people who are not in need (or want) of this proximity to the poetic avant-garde, you can at least stop yourself from reading any further.
The book is definitely not one for the casual poetry reader. The look of pained thoughtfulness as some of my friends picked up the book on a random page was humorous, although I cannot be sure the looks I saw did not mirror my own while reading the densely encyclopedic and arcane language found within the poems. Even with the introductory material, I felt as though I had been dropped in the middle of a sea of words with a broken paddle. There is very little in the text to ground a reader—no discernable environment, no persona or visible characters, only language on a specific topic as far as your eye can see. Some poems were more accessible than the rest. Poems such as “A Symposium,” “Refractions,” and “Protologistic Poem” felt cohesive enough for me to read in their entirety without having too many literary spurts and sputters. But I must admit, for the first time since leaving graduate school I wholeheartedly wished that I had access to an entire classroom of intellectual minds and opinions to discuss a book. I wanted to discuss what I had read so badly with others that I yearned to hijack an upper level poetic theory course for a couple of weeks to flesh out what this book was saying, what it was doing, how it was accomplishing it, and whether or not readers find it successful in its intentions.
There is no question that the work is poetic, witty, and engaging. The language choices throughout Synopticon are lyrical and rhythmic as well as educated. For example, in “Triptych: Diseases of the Eye part 2. self/portrait (solarisation):”
a priori – through morbid reflexes, geothermal, pedantic,
in the virulence of its own phantasms – splitting hairs,
the gauche protest belies the take my point
of it, the internally focused eye of a mise-en-abyme
where the temples & forehead (bold as heraldry)
have received the electric power of recti-
Reading this passage on the page may not show the clever sound play that becomes all too apparent when reading aloud.
The expertise of the authors’ use of line and segment throughout the project is enviable. There are several poems created using such long lines the poems are printed vertically and to read them easily you must move either the book or the angle of your head. This visceral and tactile experience of the poems mimics the interaction of the reader to the book as a whole. One must change perspectives and expectations to delve fully into the text.
While Synopticon does not lend itself to an embracement by the literate masses, I found the project to be engaging, thought provoking, and complex. Well worth the multiple readings and research time spent. If nothing else, the book deserves an award for being the most highbrow poetry book to include the words “slapstick poodle puffs” and “poop scoops” within one of its poems.
Shauna Osborn is a Comanche/German mestiza who works as an instructor, wordsmith,and community organizer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received her Master of Fine Arts from New Mexico State University in 2005. Shauna has won various awards for her academic research, photography, and poetry. Her first collection of creative nonfiction is currently being considered for publication.