By Lucy Ives. (Slope Editions, 2009)

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As ambitious as it is self-conscious, Lucy Ives’s first full-length book charts the frustrations and failures of recollection through a series of investigative sketches that retain the conceptual detritus of remembering. Ives navigates an interior landscape and offers liminal glimpses of how it is to know: “for each thing” that is “understood something else had to be taken away.” It is this compulsion which operates on the text through the recurring commands “write” and “cross out.” These counter-gestures stubbornly—perhaps maddeningly—resist conclusion. Yet, as Maxine Chernoff notes in her introduction, “this duality allows the reader not only to witness but to engage in the compositional process, reading lines even as the writer deliberates on their future.” Thus, Ives challenges the reliability not only of the writer’s memory, but also of the reader’s, revealing language’s power to shape and misshape consciousness.

 

Write, “The beech forest was not that beautiful, because I was

embarrassed about other people there seeing me”

Say, “Why were you embarrassed?”

Cross out “embarrassed,” write, “feeling lonely”

Cross out “not that beautiful”

Write, “a place where people wrote names on the trees”

Say, “Who were they?”

Cross out “about,” write “for”

You can cross this sentence out

 

Unlike the amnesiac symptoms of erasure poetry, which constitute a partial or total deprivation of information, Ives’ Anamnesis resides in a burden of data, unable to black out information. A flexible interrogation prevails as “Why were you embarrassed?” becomes “Why were you feeling lonely?” Ives highlights the poetic occupation of establishing comparative structures only to torment the linguistic foundations on which they are based. The text occludes the making of a manageable recollection, since the thing remembered is at once mutable and disposable. This effect both carries and calcifies content: the afterimages of words and meanings appear and disappear in real time, and are reminiscent of the erasures and alterations found in William Kentridge’s animated films. Like Kentridge, Ives performs a kind of mental trickery as the medium allows for the appearance of progressions. Kentridge’s drawings—when captured in succession—create the illusion of movement, much as Ives’ constructions collect meaning—jerking through affirmations and negations, reflecting the false starts and reboots of living. However tortured by a sense of inadequacy or indecision, the speaker at last seems to accept that the “most important thing is just knowing what’s not going to matter.” And while poetic erasures often distill or reconstitute ideas through exclusion, Ives’s achievement in Anamnesis is inclusion, allowing conceptual plaque to contribute to the texture of meaning.

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