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Everywhere There’s Georgia

By (February 1, 2010) No Comment

Petals of Zero

Petals of One

Andrew Zawacki
Talisman House, 2009

Paul Valéry, in The Art of Poetry spoke of the poet creating a world unto itself of language, an “illusion of a world” whose ordering principles were entirely impractical, a “universe of sounds” deduced from a “universe of noises.”

In his newest collection, Petals of Zero / Petals of One, Andrew Zawacki walks through the night of Valéry’s universe of noises with a big black fluffy microphone, collecting everything in his path, then filtering and selecting and shaping the noises into a visionary analog recording of pure sound.

compact discs in the cherry trees

if only the electric lines

if only the birds if

only the birds

sequencing in ultra-

sound and laying down a synco-

pated lead soprano track

Zawacki begins Petals with “Georgia,” a “tromp-l’oeil” nocturne which, at its core, is a translation of Philippe Soupalt’s (1897-1990) twenty-eight line poem “Georgia” from the French into English. He uses the translation as a skeleton to hang his own Georgia, building up whole new worlds, whole new Georgias — “opium” Georgias, “hotwired” Georgias, “mercury” Georgias, “ricochet” Georgias — carrying out what Kenneth Sherwood has termed ‘transpoesis riffs, the riff being “a continuous version, re-version, and repetition” of certain lines, themes, and motifs.

The clouds are low they will tumble down Georgia

I spread my arms they get tired Georgia

to catch them Georgia from shattering Georgia

my eyes they get tired I don’t shut them Georgia

Here the line “The clouds are low…,” coming on the twelfth page of Zawacki’s poem, is a direct translation of the fifteenth line of Soupalt’s “Georgia”: “les nuages sont bas ils vont tomber Georgia.” The other twenty-seven lines of Soupalt’s poem are scattered throughout “Georgia” like “buckshot”. Everything is breakable or breaking up. Soupalt’s poem gets spattered like “paint flecks” and “blown in Venetian glass.”

In Poetry and The Fate of the Senses Susan Stewart writes that literary nocturne employs the “picaresque details of the night wanderer . . . finding his or her way, meandering through a tune until finding him or herself returned to the initial theme.” Indeed, Zawacki’s poem begins “I don’t sleep Georgia,” and ends “I won’t sleep Georgia.” In between we are taken on an incantatory romp through “orchestral branches,” where “the stars are of mescal / casbahs of tin,” where “snowflakes tatter the shutters,” and “heat lightning daubs the collodion hills.”

Everywhere there’s Georgia: “It’s sad Georgia / I’m sorry Georgia / too far Georgia / you twang Georgia.” Certainly there’s pleasure in the repetition, a repetition that carries us through the poem. And thankfully Zawacki never allows the repetition to become predictable or boring. He has an innate musical sense, knowing when and by how much to vary his recurrences, line lengths, echoes and tones. The enigma at the center of the poem though is the apostrophe. Who is this Georgia? Is it an extension of Soupalt’s very personal Georgia? or is it the poet’s adopted Peach State? Arguments can be made for each, but by far the more compelling case is that for a more abstract, universal Georgia, a Georgia of the south and of the mind, a highly personal Georgia that’s never quite human. The direct address does grow ironic at times — “I know almost nothing of language Georgia” — but he uses this irony only sparingly and for maximum effect.

I don’t mean a single word that issue forth from my own mouth

“What lies / outside us. . .” Georgia “. . .is not formless, it’s

as we are, the sound itself”

The second long poem of Zawacki’s triptych is “Arrow’s Shadow” — its title compactly symmetrical, an arrow pointing toward “Georgia,” its shadow darkening the book’s third section “Storm, Lustral.” “Bowstrung toward the weather’s intermezzo”–we are assaulted with neologisms, oxymorons, and novel juxtapositions of words. What are “peripheries” for some are for the poet “the centers of other things.” While in “Georgia” we might feel soothingly lulled by the piece’s easy movement — even with its insistent ballistics — in “Arrow’s Shadow” we must stay constantly alert. Outside becomes inside, analog grows digital, even architecture, the most solid of disciplines, becomes in Zawacki’s hands “anarch-/itecture’s fraktur arch.”

Initially, we freeze, entering a world reminiscent of another sound poet’s “mazed interiors,” that of the contemporary Berkeley writer and translator of Ernst Bloch’s Literary Essays, Andrew Joron. Indeed, Zawacki shares many of Joron’s concerns, from alliterations to wordplay to the creation of virtual worlds through an emphasis on sound over meaning. Even the title, Petals of Zero / Petals of One seems to be referencing Joron’s Fantastic Prayers — “Zero opens / (a zero rose) / sideways in time” — which is itself a nod to the Dada poem-cycle Phantastische Gebete by Richard Huelsenbeck. But where some of the Dadas were intent on rendering syntax and semantics meaningless, Zawacki would rather put “a ping-ponging searchlight on the sound” though “the least, the last thing said” is:






Arrow’s shadow.

Zawacki does surprise with the singular way he breaks the line not only at the word, but at the syllable too. So we get

the ana-

gram and gram

mar of mar-

gins and mar-


He works the margins, pulling words apart and reassembling them, contorting them and busting them and playing with them until they are bruised or almost wholly unrecognizable. There’s clearly a joy in this exercise for him, though occasionally it left this reviewer scratching his head:

an an
-acrusis and colophon

of cantata barometrica, of Celsius madrigalia

But his “conjugations of gold” redeem him. He comes back down to earth in the last poem, “Storm, Lustral,” his “UNEVENSONG” saying:


it’s okay


white flame in a white

fog in a windflower coming

to meet us

and he gives us the “dancing of of” in “a broadband rainfall,” “midnightsewn,” “oiling a rusted / track orange,” crashing “through thaws of ourselves,” “in phenol red” through “a fuckload of beautiful noise” “in nil-nil time.”

Ed McFadden is a writer living in Portland, Oregon.