derek beaulieu on blert

Tongue Tied: Jordan Scott’s blert.
Review by derek beaulieu

Jordan Scott’s blert (Coach House Books, 69 pp., $16.95) is a poetic engagement with the physicality of the author’s own stutter, where “every vowel and consonant must be traversed, claimed, made audible by non-stop bodily action.” blert moves from language’s shorelines to the pounding surf, from the languid sandbars to the towering cliff-edges – the unstable sides of falling rocks and jagged precipices.

blert is written in alternating sections of prose poems and shorter, imagist “chomp sets,” and each section explores the typically non-poetic diction of stammering by juxtaposing the “dribble of spit trapezes” of knocking teeth and frozen tongues with the “amoeba rhythm” of a naturalistic vocabulary. For example, in “Marble Bubble Bobble,” Scott develops the impressionistic swerve of “Umbra marbles drench the ravine slot, divot light, a barreled birch grasps citrus palm as pumice, as coastal groove hulls plunge pool, the cervical troll, pawpaw bract.”

Scott continues on this slow grind of meaning and sound in a series of “Fables” which confront traditional means of ‘curing’ speech impediments with a tense, tongue-tied verbiage. Each of these fables builds a vocabulary both in sound and in description:

Eat your grasshoppers – bonbon bilobate, cert cerus. Your long crus of incus chillax maxilla, buoyant in vignette. You will take care to open your mouth, crepitate shoo shoo to Band-aid dollop. Mop up atrium of Listerine tornado slow to Lego toot-sweet.

Scott ups the ante by moving from “you” and “I”, driving a sound-based abstraction into an autobiographical elision – teasing out details in abbreviated gasps of breath, stilted sentences and short-line blerts of “cusp / munch / crunch / rump.” These abbreviated lines “slip and slide like fat suburban men in July” out across the page, gulped breaths of poetic “orchestra of tendons or bees.” The poet, knowing the readerly stammering that accompanies his text, asks “But […} how will I speak in these rooms? I answer that you will speak the curve of hyoid, cradle-rock syllable until rockabye acrobatics, and the ache for speech before dream.”

blert dwells in the moments of syllabic asphyxiation when “phonemes flutter” and the vocal chords become constrained. Working within this physical constraint Scott’s work revels in the “rumpus banter” of tension.

Breathing deeply the “exhaust in your vocabulary”, the exhaustion of a constricted vocabulary, Jordan Scott’s blert is a major poetic event, redefining how we write and speak our bodies and our voices.

Published originally in Fast Forward, reprinted with the permission of the author.
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