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j/j hastain

j/j hastain lives in Colorado with xir beloved and is the author of our bodies as beauty inducers, we in my Trans, prurient anarchic omnibus, long past the presence of common, a womb-shaped wormhole, as well as many chapbooks and artist’s books.


“I have read no one else whose words are so entirely without skin. Every line without shelter. Every line without line. There isn’t a single deceit. Ever. j/j’s work leaves me wordless.”

– Andrea Gibson

“j/j’s work is the new shamanism. Each intoxicating incantation, each ritualized variation of syntax, each disparate element stitched . . . amounts to a dangerous spell set to stir in the readers’ gut. Whether for minutes, days, or weeks it boils its way to the head. Beware.”

– Travis Macdonald


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Verges & Vivisections

Drawn Toward the Portal of the Mirror


For a minute or two in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I played Myst and its first sequel, Riven. I loved the way the games allowed me to closely explore the world on the screen, down to what was then an unheard-of degree of detail. To be honest, I spent more time putting my virtual nose against the pixel-shine of various digital game gewgaws than I did in actually trying to solve the puzzles and complete the games. For me, the point of playing was to prolong the immersive experience as long as I could; completing the game would mean . . . well, it would mean it was over!

Maybe that's why I enjoy viewing (and making) visual poetry so much. Because visual poetry operates on more than one sensory level, it too can provide an experience of total immersion, in a way that video cannot. Don't get me wrong; I'm not anti-video (I make video poems myself). But video perpetuates a sort of techno-tyranny, through the device-dependency of its medium and the limited opportunities for viewers to actively influence their own experience of the poem itself. On the other hand, a visual poem lets you choose the nature of your experience with it. Open a collection of visual poems and determine your own trajectory. You can start at the third-to-last one and go backwards, gliding over the pieces to get a brief collective impression. Or you can start on the first poem and gaze at it for half an hour before proceeding to the next, and so on. Hold a poem close to your face, or view it at twenty paces. What you get is different each time.

There are hundreds of visual poets all over the world, but j/j hastain is one of the most interesting and prolific. A recent collection, Verges & Vivisections, is a great choice for anyone who loves to get caught up in other worlds. Any individual poem in this collection is a multi-sensual window onto another place, but viewed amidst its fellows, each piece vibrates with the uncanny harmonics of relationship. There are a lot of relationships in these poems; the eye meanders over and into a given poem, pondering the text, the image upon which it literally rests, and their interaction. And then the page is turned and the experience of the previous poems informs that of the ones to come. Each page in the collection contains a whole untitled poem composed of an abstract photo or photocollage by the author, with lines of text affixed to the image.

For example, one piece presents a wall made of vertical pale boards, gleaming with a satiny shine. The image is composed so that the oval mirror on the wall is just above center.  The mirror reflects more planks of the same wood -- but these are horizontally aligned. This creates a pleasant, fascinating disorientation. We are drawn toward the portal of the mirror. The text at the bottom of the poem pulls us even further in:

that this is how i understood an angel

wood holding

what reflects wood

We might let ourselves become trapped in the mirror with the wood's reflection, and the angel, and our own self-awareness. Or we can turn the page and slide along to the next world. Brave viewers can also experiment with Verges & Vivisections as a single, long poem. The immersive effect is extended across the whole volume. The whole is other than the sum of its parts.

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