GENEVIEVE KAPLAN Reviews
Almost Perfect Forms by Michael Stewart
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009)
Almost Perfect Forms is an accident, an erasure, an art project, a way of seeing the world. Author Michael Stewart explains in “A Short Orion,” the sort of introduction to the text, “The following was the result of an accident. I was reading Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli, and became interested in how she built her story out of lists…I circled each ‘and’ and ‘or,’ counted them, and watched as they unexpectedly began to take shape. Page after page I noticed the conjunctions creating tiny constellations.” Stewart’s chapbook contains ten of these conjunction constellations, which include “page 12. andromeda,” “page 17. capricornus,” and “page 13. an imperfect leo.”
Because Almost Perfect Forms includes very little language (aside from the introduction, the constellation labels, and the “ands” that form the poems), I observe instead of read. I notice:
· Each conjunction constellation gets its own page, and the constellations are outlined by grayscale squares, creating a visual frame for the poems.
· The book itself is large (8½ x 8 ½”) and flat and simply bound with a string. The kraft-paper-brown cover evokes a file folder.
· Stewart doesn’t actually circle all the “and”s and “or”s, as he claims in the introduction (an “or” that clearly shows on p.11 of Dreams and Stones is missing from “page 11. delphinus” of Almost Perfect Forms). Actually, the poem constellations included in the chapbook are composed solely of “and”s.
· Stewart does not present the page numbers consecutively but begins with pages 20-21 and progresses through 13, 10, 16, 17, 11, and so on.
· This—circling conjunctions in someone else’s prose and finding shapes in them—is an admittedly strange thing to do. I wonder: could one encourage Stewart’s circled conjunctions to follow another sort of form? With a little imagination, the “and”s of “page 10. centaurus” could just as easily form a smiley face.
But maybe I shouldn’t be thinking quite so much. Stewart reminds us: “Certainly, it was accidental, and I was all the more pleased for that” (italics mine). These constellations are objects Steward stumbled upon, and in Almost Perfect Forms, that same experience of stumbling upon something strange and magical and unexpected is recreated for us.
Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation's poetry publication prize, and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. She lives in southern California and edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.