Videotape: an obsolete technology by which we once recorded our lives. Some might say the same of poetry. Unlike its predecessor, Super8, video needed no processing before playback and could be recorded over, reused, revised, so we used it somewhat indiscriminately. Likewise the cassette tape, with its two sides, gradual degradation, susceptibility to snagging when pulled from under the passenger seat (requiring a pencil to re-wind the sound into its casing). Zawacki’s poems formally evoke both types of tape while exploiting the feature that unites them: they exist at the cusp of analog and digital media—a transitional moment we only recognize retrospectively. Videotape’s four sections, “Track A    Errormirror,” “Track B    Lumièrethèque,” “Track A    Glasscape,” and “Track B    Zerogarden,” press digital and analog together to draw attention to our own liminal moment. The two sections labeled “Track A” run vertically (evoking the scroll of film) in narrow columns. Each, titled by a pause symbol, is situational and descriptive, the product, perhaps, of a reflective silence. Each draws the eye down the page with seductive line-breaks that highlight anagram, pararhyme, and interlingual wordplay, as when the self makes itself felt in French through the broken:

 

                                                          je

                                -rry-rigged & je

-june, in June, 

steeled

                 within a girder / of welded

steel: so puh

came &

                                       shove came,

                                                     fast  (3)

 

These poems often shove self to the margin, hiding subjectivity behind a documentary lens. The poems of “Track B,” by contrast, run along the bottom of the page in 4-line stanzas evoking the roll of 4-track. Various international settings suggests an impulse to videotape or document one’s traversals: the in-between, the pause, rather than a momentous arrival, recurs. Into these elliptical landscapes, witty moments of quotidian observation intervene, a tactic reminiscent of Merrill, himself a peripatetic writer whose travels heavily inflect his poems:

 

Yesterday morning, an mp3 of

birds at the sill & clothing pinned

to the line, I lay inside a life

which—for all I know—is mine  (16)

 

Techno-references like the one above recur throughout the book, layering (potentially obsolete) technologies one upon the other so that 8mm, Beta-max, and Magnetic tape coexist with Vocoder, mp3, even EKG. Likewise the book’s lexicon encompasses letterpress, mimeo, Xerox, and Deskjet, suturing these printing methods the way the very title sutures together video and tape, optical and audio mechanisms. Zawacki creates a contemporary media-synesthesia where, filming with a “camcorder,” the speaker imagines sunlight as “klieg lights” shining through the window, casting that window’s shadow into our room, another kind of cinematic light-writing. In these poems, poetry = videotape = tapestry: all arts collapse in the act of recording. Technology is Zawacki’s sublime, such that, revising Mallarmé, “The world exists to end up on DVD” (52). These media provide analogs for the unaccountable beauty of the every-day: the seeming “CGI of blue cineraria,” “an RSS feed of / swallow / song,” “an mp3 of / birds at the sill.” Videotape thus critiques our (techno-) presentist tendency to see our own mundane lives as the center of existence and, in Steinian fashion, acts “as if to render a center / peripheral” (6). We thought we were recording something momentous, but all we got was a closet full of videotape. 

—Amaranth Borsuk

 
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