A fascinating collection of serious and playful poems that tap the inventive possibilities of the anagram and other constraining forms
In Stet, poet Dora Malech takes constraint as her catalyst and subject, exploring what it means to make or break a vow, to create art out of a life in flux, to reckon with the body’s bounds, and to arrive at a place where one might bear and care for another life. Tapping the inventive possibilities of constrained forms, particularly the revealing limitations of the anagram, Stet is a work of serious play that brings home the connections and intimacies of language.
“Stet,” from the Latin for “let it stand,” is a proofreading term meaning to retain or return to a previous phrasing. The uncertainty of changes made and then reconsidered haunts Stet as its poems explore what is left unsaid through erasures, redaction, and the limitations of spelling. How does one “go back” on one’s word or “stand by” one’s decisions? Can a life be remade or revised, or is the past forever present as in a palimpsest? Embodying the physicality and reproductive potentiality inherent in the collection’s forms and figures, Stet ends expectantly, not searching for closure but awaiting the messy, living possibilities of what comes next.
By turns troubling and consoling, Stet powerfully combines lyric invention and brilliant wordplay.
About the Author
Dora Malech is the author of two previous books of poetry, Say So and Shore Ordered Ocean. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, The Best American Poetry, and many other publications. She is assistant professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore.
Read an Excerpt
ESSAY AS YES,
begged off bad beginnings, false starts of a star-sat self, her benched head cartoon bird spun, stunned out a long season. I came to claim I wouldn't burden you with the trailed-off scrap heap of all the times I tried to explain (plain) already, but even without evidence of wadded paper, snowdrift of not that, it is those attempts that act as apologia, sense in absence, itinerant iterations' cairns at the crossroads, hobo code in chalk or coal, worlds not long for these words. In other words: in other words, diary's everyday no entry, inverse relationship between clarity and efficacy. I needed forms that could flail, fail, lists listing back toward their not-so-fresh catalysts, sepsis of afterbirth still lodged in the body, that which once nurtured lingering malignant.
The I, just talk: just like that. Same went for the you(s): free on what messy out. I didn't want to spill it — it meaning guts, etcetera, but mostly guts — because they weren't all mine to spill, those two tin cans strung from the ends of viscera, the what-we-listen-to and where-we-feel-it, so to speak. In my belly, twisted sum [sic] sine in test. It's an old story, sure, and came in waves. I left my name at the front desk. I waved. I left. Abbreviation: sin. The take lodged in to speak that leaves us P.S., postscript as remaindered O, sighed apostrophe to what we turn away (from).
Even some years later, when the nurse explained the blood test, I felt the familiar flush as something else made sense. Material released: information that circulates in the bloodstream. To point to the center and say there wasn't quite right after all. There were bits of the story flowing through me. In fact, the old imperative, echo of act in the sense of what's done. Is done. What is, in a manner of speaking, riveted to the text? In his anagram notebooks, Saussure said God(s) and named names.
Of this, the scholar writes, "Language's tokens make sense because they correspond." Raise your hand if you're who here can't hear the heart.
Under wraps, rapture, sous rature's insistent autocorrect. The trace createth (archaic ache) Zürn's "old, dangerous fever," Mackey's "exegetic sweat": open (source, sesame, letter, book). Pen, stain one mouth [and] the mountain opens. Bromine cant: recombinant. The lab in labial, the utter in, well, utter. Late tale: I hold the same old doll as me. Not a simulacrum left that the bad birds haven't pecked up, antipathetic, now violet night, violent insight. Cite anti-path as no road home, lips lit [to] spill it.
Called hum [sic], hone [sic], a song sharpened in the singing, then ground to gone. Sic transit authority (see [sic] changes in signage): mind the [God of the] gap[s]. I always forgot the second I in liaison, and the screen scratched its red line ragged below our best in trysts [sic] (something in us) as I tried to make a dance of distance, move on. Something thumb sings of tapping into: the smallest screen's green flame, time-stamped out but still smoldering, or, hinge-stung, the rise in bruise as blood's chorus roars out its resistance. It's not exactly the same seam, but remove or rearrange and the trace remains, asks after, echoes back into and of its origins —(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stet"
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Table of Contents
Essay as yes,, 1,
The can't not's the constant, 4,
As[ ]k, 5,
[ ]or[ ]ask[ ], 11,
face to Hex, 15,
lay and try, 16,
Daisies is ideas, 17,
Assail as sail ails as, 19,
Descreation Myth, 20,
sure ruse, 21,
Are not no tear, 22,
[See: erosion], 23,
a time balm, 27,
Writ in Ore, 28,
Writ in Fire, 31,
Something wonderful is about to happen to you, 39,
Writ in Motion, 40,
Road Not End, 41,
tuned: lit, 42,
I do, 46,
Cry unto Country, 47,
This, Certain, 49,
Q & A, 50,
then reading in the garden, 51,
After Plath: Metaphors I, 55,
After Plath: Metaphors II, 56,
After Plath: Metaphors III, 57,
After Plath: Metaphors IV, 58,
After Plath: Metaphors V, 59,
After Plath: Metaphors VI, 60,
After Plath: Metaphors VII, 61,
After Plath: Metaphors VIII, 62,
After Plath: Metaphors IX, 63,
What People are Saying About This
“Obsessiveness bears with it intensity, and so these taut, fraught poemsstrung on strands of anagramssear in their double duty to the alphabet and to the demise of a love affair. Part tour de force, part cri de coeur, Stet enacts a transposition: the system of language is given a mutable body while the feverish spirit straps itself to the rigor of patterning. Dora Malech’s feats have made for a knotty and mesmerizing book.”Susan Wheeler, author of Meme