How the Universe Is Made: Poems New & Selected, 1985–2019

reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

It is with theoretical physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs in mind that Stephanie Strickland writes “The reward for / getting past the failings of language? To be found / un-readable.” She must be cognizant of these words’ relevance to the aims and challenges of her own poetics, which strive to innovate new approaches to language. Those already familiar with Strickland as a pioneer in digital and hypertextual spaces will find here an opportunity to explore the origins and evolution of her unique project; for newcomers, an expository gloss at the book’s end offers insights essential to the reading of a collection that contains numerous works meant to be encountered digitally, in spaces more dynamic than these pages allow. Even page-bound, the poems yearn toward a multidimensional existence: “Gentle Reader, begin anywhere. Skip anything. This text / is framed / fully for the purposes of skipping. Of course, // it can / be read straight through, but this is not a better reading, / not a better life.” As observing caged animals in a zoo can cause us to long for the freedom of the natural world, perhaps so too does the act of corralling Strickland’s work into a chronological, text-only volume call into question the authenticity of a volume of this nature. Still, and ultimately, the impetus here is not to reject traditional forms, but to invite those forms to collaborate with the languages of technology and mathematics—“creating, or leaving, a structure more and more / open, of sparkling points.”—so that they might grow, as we do, into a future unknown to us all.


 

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This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2019.

Black book cover for How the Universe is Made, by Stephanie Strickland.