Woodland Pattern reviews Roberto Harrison’s BICYCLE (Noemi Press, 2015)

Join us on Friday, May 8 at 7PM for a FREE event to celebrate the release of Roberto Harrison’s bicycle (Noemi Press, 2015) and Eric Elshtain’s This Thin Memory, A-ha (Verge Books, 2015). More information here. Optional RSVP on Facebook.


Roberto Harrison’s bicycle was published in 2015, that is to say, in the midst of a necessary American upheaval — ongoing protests against state-sanctioned murder & brutality, against the overreaching arm of an American police state that protects and serves monied property at the cost of lives. And protests against the staid attitudes that perpetuate such oppression. When opening the book, then, the idea of resistance is already near. So reading the epigraph from José Lezama Lima seemed to cast bicycle as a response to the problem of power—its language & thought:

Resistance assures that all the wheels are turning, that the eye sees us, that potency is a delegated power dropped upon us, that it is the nonself, things, coinciding with the darkest self, with the stones left in our waters.

Elsewhere in his poessay, ‘Resistance,’ Lima explains:

In the world of poiesis… resistance has to proceed by rapid inundations, by total trials that do not want to adjust, clean, or define the crystal…

And the poems in bicycle are just such inundations, a barrage of images that only occasionally coalesce into moments of recognition. A re-presentation of the speed of thought; the speed of “the incredible two-wheeled velocipede” (O’Leary). Written largely in lowercase, with scant punctuation (the occasional comma to mark a breath; perhaps a period, or often a question mark, to end a thought) these poems are meticulous catalogs of near-images—impressions, really—of moments before and beside meaning. Moments that “arrive without a word.” The result: a record of the way in which “the earth / unwinds a sentence.”

The compound sentences—and images—stretch sense near to breaking; abstract out the tenuous comfort of stasis. See, for example, this passage from the poem “el moro”:

a skull inside
is written on
and full of cuts

a hunt dissolves
to ruin
random visits
in the country
of a flattened out
in the dust

Or, as in the poem “mandan (they send),” which opens with a nearly two-page list of similetic disjunctions:

like a wake in a spin
like the exits of oceans that a salmon knows
like the dust that is written with number
like a trust full of beacons of light

This coextant multiplicity is simile as similitude; an attempt to limn the ever-turning wheel of resistance. And this refusal to settle, this attempt to replicate the rush of meaning that exists in motion, posits that the barrage of sensory experience might mean apart from its accretion into a quantifiable whole. Here, then, is stasis as meaning’s absence. Knowledge built of motion is relative to a constellated set of images and experiences that shatter “a trembling fixedness.”

Such density of thought, image, and motion might seem impenetrable, or nearly so. And the images, too, are often fleeting—graves & caskets: “the casket / full of faces / and hands / that leak”; dust: “the dust of welcome, dust of others, dust of disconnected mouths”; light: “for the psychotic flower / a color drowns / and spreads / through light fields”; and breath: “falling knives / that hide / within a breath.” But rather than creating a cloistered and insular text, such acts of post-surrealist world-building animate an immersive sense of possibility.

So Harrison’s resistance is in refusing to ‘mean’ in a traditional sense; refusing to settle into, and, ultimately, enact the mythic narratives of finality and monumentality that define empire and its attendant oppressions. Resistance, here, is an embrace of, to borrow from Tyrone Williams’ thoughts on bicycle, “the fate of every form of sentient and non-sentient being, e.g. human and empire: ‘i am proof / that America / will die.’” But, while Harrison acknowledges such endings, he resists the oppressive myth of closure, instead, seeing potential in the perpetual motion of history; seeing resistance as:

an endless line
of arrival

Roberto Harrison is the author of the poetry collections Os (subpress, 2006), Counter Daemons (Litmus Press, 2006), bicycle (Noemi Press, 2015), culebra (Green Lantern Press, forthcoming 2015), Bridge of the  World (Litmus Press, forthcoming 2017), as well as of many poetry chapbooks. With Andrew Levy he edited Crayon magazine from 1997 to 2008. He edits the Bronze Skull Press chapbook series and is also a visual artist.

Michael Wendt is Program Coordinator at Woodland Pattern Book Center, where he also co-edits the WP blog and the tinder | tender chapbook series. Michael lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood with his wife and son.


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