Thursday, June 11, 2009

Longfellow Memoranda Longfellow Memoranda by Geof Huth

My review

In addition to being a ridiculously prolific visual poet, "regular" poet and copious blogger, Geof Huth is also an archivist. Since my partner Rachel is also an archivist, I have gotten to know Geof in both his "artistic" and "professional" contexts; on his blog Huth enjoys telling stories about those rare instances when the two aspects of his life meet. Indeed, one would not necessarily expect them too, and Geof's work overall doesn't necessarily belie "archivism," however, his book Longfellow Memoranda, published in 2008 by Otioliths, is definitely the work of an archivist, and fascinating in its organic unison of these two paradigms.

Additionally, while Longfellow Memoranda is, for the most part, a book of "conventional" (I use this term as though it has any real meaning), "poems," it is also tied explicitly to an actual object, The Longfellow Birthday Book With Diary for Memoranda, in which Huth has composed a poem a day in 2007 in said "Diary for Memoranda." Pages of the original text are reproduced next to Huth's poems, and it is clear that each of his is an erasure culled from the Longfellow snippet of that given day. In context, these fleeting deconstructions point towards the degradation of time ("O twilight / betwixt / now & / them"), the "disintegration" of the source text both literally and figuratively. "We must all / die/ to guide us / from." In transcribing and reproducing the original text Huth is filling both the role of entropy (destruction) and the archivist (preservation)--two forces ordinarily at odds. This is also accentuated by Huth's bizarre enumeration system, counting the poems up from 1 and down from 365 (1/365, 2/364, etc.)--departing from the beginning and moving inexorably to the end.

It is this preservation instinct that makes Longfellow Memoranda more than a satisfying erasure project in the vein of Jen Bervin's Nets or Ronald Johnson's Radi Os. At the back of the text, Huth records the provenance of the original Longfellow Birthday Book, as well as the original transcriptions in the book indicating the birthdays of numerous (clearly presently deceased) individuals as well as newspaper clippings indicating births, what appear to be quotations, and an annotation indicating the date one Private Harold L. Freeman was killed in action in World War I. These transcriptions provide an interesting counterpoint to the erasure poems, pointing to the notion that both books and the people who make them and write in them are inevitably erased by time, but that skeleton of meaning, the record, remains.

As an aside, I should note also that the colophon of the book is a visual piece by Huth composed of Monotype Sorts, thus fully incorporating Huth's various vocations. Appropriate, also, insofar as after the words have ended, their embellishments remain.

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