about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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pungent dins concentric
A Review of pungent dins concentric
by Vanessa Couto Johnson

Spencer Dew



Poetry is a kind of engineering, after all, predicated on precise calculations, a mathematics undergirding its imagery and expression. Such square rule and compass work gets foregrounded here, with mathematics as a mode of perception—“Plaid is a plain of perpendicular grass. Obtuse geese fan the sky.”—and action, like the processes involved in successfully parallel parking to how “Hipsters move like original chess pieces in the hand of an unknown Romanian.” The calculations of language that help build poems, of course, are different than the sober triangulations behind, say, bridge construction. To tinker with language is to make, even inadvertently, music, games. Most playful, here, are puns, sounds echoing, folding, ricocheting with rich, multiple meanings, from the cringeworthy—Eating garlic for its health properties is “a sinus the times” and “One of your clocks simulates a Chihuahua, tail pendulum. Trick tock.”—to the somewhat sublime slippery slope of innuendo, a shadow puppetry of words: “I tell you I do want to bowl. Put three fingers. Most people learn in high school, maybe a field trip. // Have you ever accidentally used euphemisms. I mean, a real accident.”

The engineering of bodies and their dovetailing collision is also a concern here: “The wheels and the levers and the pulleys go. Fulcrum down.... // I’m interested in your technology. Screw. Ramp. Inclined science plane hammer time. Squared seconds with located mass.” Language only takes us so far, after all: “Sometimes performing ventriloquy on silent films can be fun, as well as ignoring a classic through kissing.”

There is such remarkable craft behind the arrangements here, like miniature origami or an architecture built from unexpected, minutely-handled bits. These are poems to reread, poems that tempt you to pop the hood and figure out how the pieces fit together. Yet they read easy, overly lubed with humor, with such perfect observations about the accents and rabbit’s foot keychains of youth. “You eat clam chowder only because you cannot tell what the / creatures look like,” one poem observes, while another voices a longing, “If we could only be the real animals we were meant to. I could be / alone with the moss instead of worrying I may hit a biped on a / skateboard.”

An apt summary of this delicious volume occurs early in the text, a dinner, with “pandas on appropriated tables in a Mexican restaurant. If bamboo were onomatopoeia,” wherein the diners “spoon nutrients, crave and carve and cave of deepening morphemes.” There is a visceral pleasure in reading the phrases here, in experiencing such an expertly curated array of words. There is pleasure, too, in the tongue-in-cheek reminder, even insistence, here, that “if something is too much. We can / always get a box.” This book, indeed, is such a box: a faithfully refilling doggy bag, a veritable buffet, portable, its portions equally enticing and exact.

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