The Sound Mirror by Andrew Joron

The insistant wordplay at first seems a little self-pleased, nearly insignificant. The challenge of what Joron is doing is to bridge the gap between seemingly-nonsensical wordplay and philosophical reflection. As the collection progresses and the sound becomes slightly more open, less enamored of itself, I am forced to slow down and engage with not just the sounds but the saying of the words.

If two facing mirrors = infinity
Then I
have seen the back of your head, Beauty Hunter.


His hollow hull, that
Body to be
wrought & rotted in the same instant.


After A
sound fades faster than light.

There are a lot of pithy phrases on language, the acts of writing and reading, and the role of the author and reader:

& more: in reading, war
is worn around the eyes.

But I find myself a little tired of the easy rhymes and slipping of homonyms. It becomes so sing-song-y that it dissolves, or worse, it becomes expected. When I see “One minute” I’m not surprised that the next phrase is “too minute” – the play in homonyms between “one” and “too” and the homographs of “minute” (a unit of time) and “minute” (small). It’s disappointing to anticipate these moves, for me, because I want to be surprised or at least interested by the language. And instead I feel the grim satisfaction of having guessed at what he was going to do.

There are poems in the collection that escape this. “The Poverty of Fact” with it’s simple syntax, the neat couplets, and the oddly descriptive language are a welcome change. The much lighter touch of wordplay in this poem is far more inviting of reflection than in others:

The walls of the mind are painted
Hot pink, the color of electricity.

Either aether or ore, the barrens accumulate.
Forgive me, I have not eaten today.

I am a talking picture, nothing more
Than a tissue wedged between ages of silence.

Here the homonyms aren’t quite so easy to slip over, they don’t just dissolve into sound, but invite an imaginative engagement. It is moments like this that the strangeness of the English language are highlighted, exploited to great effect. For me, though, those moments weren’t as frequent as I might have hoped for. Ultimately the language slides so slickly through my mind that I feel like very little sticks on the page. The problem for me is that it’s too easy to move through it too fast, to lose so much in the reading. He writes in “The Keening of My Knives”:

An intent to wield wailed spilled space, therefore

the world will end today.
Here, I invent
a purpose for slow language

—perhaps vertical, or vortical—

If the purpose of this poetry is to slow language, which I might argue is the intent of a lot of poetry, then I don’t think it happens. Still, I don’t want to be so negative about this collection. The final poem in the collection, a series titled ” Citations From Silence” is full of astonishing phrases, the kind that make you want to take notes, or write in response to them:

… the long ago of language

“The universal silence is open-mouthed.”

… & beauty is unbidden body.

“Silence is the presence of nothing within something.”

… What syllable is always said & unsaid, slower than silence?

… the color of space collapses under its weight.

“Writing is the silencing of speech.”

“The eye makes space; the ear makes time; the mind makes silence.”

By words (the birds of startlement), by salivating stars (salvational), the very nations end, the destinations send themselves.

“There is only one silence.”

… The sentence is death, bare bones without weather.

Any one of these could be a glorious writing prompt, a poetic proposition to engage with, to think about. That will stick with me long after the wordplay has slid from my grasp. Here is a concentrated example of what makes the whole collection a surprising success. That the intensity of the mind at work behind the lines breaks through the apparent silliness of the language masking the thoughts, and transforms both elements into a kind of unity. A circle (a repeating trope) linking absurdity to intensity, silence to “its most minor modification” — noise.

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