Cardinal Formants: Emplacement, Tangence, Witness, Rapt


[for Cecilia Vicuña]


Kenneth Sherwood






we are the walkers of the dry sea

the walkers of the dry sea


It risks becoming a commonplace to image the post-industrial estadounidense as a driver cruising in Humvee, and for whom, even clotted in suburban gridlock, there is no place -- but roads, networks, multi-lane shunts that bypass by design the particulars of place or locale.  Reading Vicuña on the hummingbirds chasing automobile tail-lights that pierce the smog of Santiago streets,  one suspects that she knows El Autopista del Sur of Cortazar, in which an unreal cessation in traffic flow brings travelers out of their automotive shells to enter a mutual space, a flickering of utopia before the movement is resumed.  Premonition of the local, lost.


Vicuña speaks "on location," in situ, eschewing compass and G.P.S.  As one learns from Dennis Tedlock, this is not anomalous but fundamental to such "other americans" as the Zuni or the Maya.  And not just at the scale of architecture or monument or ritual act, but as a function of everyday living. Vicuña orients herself--to the cardinal points (or four directions), the wind, light, topography and ecology--with equal intensity whether gazing from high in a university building in upstate New York or scanning the horizon in west Texas.


Accessed again with texts, audio tapes, and notes sitting beside one, the performances overlay physical spaces and remembered locales: the canvas "Ode to Joy" hangs behind the podium in Capen Hall, Buffalo New York . . . a flotilla of ice shards sweeps towards the falls at Niagara . . . late light tinctures the tributaries of the St. Johns River become earth's veins in Jacksonville, Florida  . . . wisp of Swallows sweeps above the flatness of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas.  Each performance begins in place, bringing it--the placeness of the place--freshly to the minds of the locals who should (but as often do not) know it . Then the coming inside, entrance into a performance space and the space of language.


it was hard to come in


because outside

you know you have this terrace

you've been to this terrace?




Plural Tangence


do you know what's inside the word peace

look at the word

it is not a word at all


Or it is not a word in the fixed, singular sense.  The event creates a pluralized space, employing various media.  But more than the simple multiplication of media--a chanted song, the silent video of dancing figures weaving, the images of a cloud-net, rays of light (threads) superimposed upon poet, audience, screen, room--it is an effect of tangence.


The book. Joining in space and through sight/sound from tangent to tangible (from tangere, to touch).  In: touching the linguistic dimension.  On: touching the visual dimension.  Off: touching the temporal dimension.  Words' forms weighed and weighted, assuming sound shapes, page shapes. Before us, language transpiring (breathing), "connecting" through patterns of repetition, etymological riffs, puns, and rhymes.


imagine the sound of writing

bringing about the page


the page of peace

are we in the same page

you say?

are we in the same pact

pacting peace


The performativity brought to her readings foregrounds less the expressive spontaneity associated with improvisation, and more a kind of listening.  Roland Barthes writes: ". . . whereas for centuries listening could be defined as an intentional act of audition (to listen is to want to hear, in all conscience), today it is granted the power of playing over unknown spaces . . . listening grants access to all forms of polysemy, of overdetermination, of superimposition . . . by definition, listening was applied; today we ask listening to release . . . ."  Place the performance/transcription of  "Tentenelaire Zun Zun" (Zit Zit, Hummingbird) against the pages of Unravelling Words (74-75).   Grounded in the text, a virtuoso crossing between languages unfolds.  The conventional bi-lingual page of the translation enforces a kind of cultural separatism; in the performance, a fusion or melding creates a new, local arrangement -- in Spanish and English, with lines ommitted, repeated, reordered--a new versioning.


Versioning--the creating a new arrangement of a poem during performance -- shifts our orientation towards the poem, or the Vicuña poem.  Nick Piombino writes:  "There is a distinction that can be made between written works that can be appreciated by means of ordinary silent reading and those in which each word should be heard read aloud or individually sounded out aloud in the mind.  With the latter works readers are encouraged to experience the poem by sounding it out internally in a process of concentrated, yet freely imaginative listening and reading ... (Close Listening 62)


The witnessing of a performance encourages one to begin to read as a listener, entering and stretching the language itself and the "texts" of the poems,.  We sound out the words in an echo of the composing process.  Vicuña embodies the "poet [as] researcher who must listen closely to the sounds and voices of actuality to discover where the poetry may exist within it" (Close Listening 65).


are we of the peace

do you say


do you say a peace

pac pac pac


Burnt Witness


the word comes to you

as a bird to a nest

who is she

who is she

it comes from others to you


does it come to you

it dwells in you

it speaks in you

it comes in you


Here oral performance exploits the mutable, the fusion of syllables and tongue.  The page, the sounding.  Sounding takes the form of a resistance to forgetting, as if it never ever ever happened.  Sounding and forging, as if every every happened, an other. 


Somehow the performances foreground the ethical, historical, and political in their enframing of a communitarian space.  Whispered, gestured towards: the towers and the architecture.  Here too resonates Nathaniel Mackey's observation on the experiencing of September 11th not as a sudden crisis but as part of an ongoing catastrophe.  For Vicuña, there is the need to construct poems amid some thirty or more years of dust and debris.


Ears hear: The word comes to you /as a burnt witness.



Chatter After Rapt


Doors opened to a performance and the space was filled, or rather syllables performed its dimensions. Words as worlds as warders, watchers offering themselves up, leaving the memory of shared space and words.  Then from the audio file which runs on past the end: sightless digitized sound replicates a space, a vertiginous, stereo simulation.  Shifts, tensions, patterns as invisible migrations across a transparent sky, or the settling into order of tracks across a blank field.   Voices cluster, breaking the crust and the words rush back as air into a vacuum.  High-fidelity chatter after rapt.




Vicuña, Cecilia. Poetry Reading.  11 April 2002.  Minidisc recording.  University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Odessa, TX.




[Melodious Chant - Vocables]



a la salud    ustedes






ay ay ay ay


gracias a todos por venir

gracias a ken por traer me

gracias a todos


you all understand that don't you?




you know

what's the origin of the sound GRAA



he thinks its very funny doesn't he



gra   in its most ancient form

is heart


and the idea is that when you say gra

it's like saying heart aloud

so each time you say gra  cias

it's like you bring the Aloudness

of the heart



heart    aloud

gracias          concha y tu mar





. . . .



it was hard to come in


because outside

you know you have this terrace

you've been to this terrace?


so you can lie      flat

watching the falcons

play a game with the swallows


and the swallows do just like the hummingbirds

they pretend

that light

is flashing

on their bodies


TAH    they go like that

and turn the ray

in a different direction

so I will begin

with a hummingbird poem for you

because this is what they do

some of these creatures they have

this is the males

they have this red plumage

here in the front of their breast


and this is how they catch the females

they play with the light in such a manner

Tah they go like that

and Fum, throw a ray of light

so she

will catch

the one          

that  throws the best

rays of light





La luz



es el primer animal visible de lo invisible.



is the first visible animal

of the invisible.







Tienes algo que communicar, Colibrí?

Lanzas rayos


el jugo de tus flores


te ha mareado Colibri

lanza rayos  

lanza rayos,




Chiripá Guaraní


Have something to say,


Hummingbird flashes

rays of light

The juice from your flowers

has made you dizzy

Hummingbird flashes


of light!




Zun            Zun



La luz


Traga néctar




que vuela


Oro tornasol




bicho fulgor


Vence a la muerte


Altarci         to licor


Light plays upon you


[you] sip



[nectar in death]


[fly in death]


Mirror in flight


Iridescent gold


Chalice of petals

[shine           shine]        shining critter


beat death



liquor shrine


Child licking      Sip sip



[chupá chupá] picaflor!


Nadie es lo frágil

Quicker than quick



Pico en perfume

Flying prism

light of the edge


I'm off

to work

Ven a



Viso y derrumbe


Cálamo zúm


Humming [the] feather












el pobrecito hummingbird I

I had not thought of him


do you have them around here?



They've been hiding from me though


I haven't seen them around


I never saw before the association between that

the red light

somehow in you made me think

it was really them

doing it


in reality

when I thought of showing you this film


it's because that film

I did in 1999


years before it all happened


do you remember that line

that says


we will all

go away



a new




is born


imagine the worth

of the whole


as a new




imagine that


imagine too

that this is my second 11th of september


imagine that in the second

for you

it's the second

because for you this one will always be the first


but for me the first

is 1973


do you remember the american pilots flying chilean planes

to bomb la moneda in Santiago

do you remember that


remember that

remember that flight


forgotten in threads

forgotten in threads

forgotten in silence


as if it never ever ever happened

gone into the black black hole





form addresses shadow


Tsao  Chien says



into the shadow






do you know what's inside the word peace


LOOK at the word

it is not a word at all

it is a state

it is an inner core

it is

something I cannot even see         

here in the page

the scribbling goes round

I cannot see

it says the three are a trelice

the first meaning of peace was a trelice

a trelice of hands?


a trelice for vines?


a trelice of words?


the origin of page

a pact

pact in peace

an accord

as if the page agrees

to be

with us

as if we're in accord

waiting waiting for an accord


as if the page

the sound of the page is bound together

with us

as if the sound of this page

is moving



is moving about

is moving




imagine the sound of writing

bringing about the page


the page of peace

are we in the same page you say?

are we in the same pact

pacting peace


are we of the peace

do you say


do you say a peace


pac pac pact


the word comes to you


as a bird to a nest

who is she

who is she

it comes from others to you


does it come to you

it dwells in you

it speaks in you

it comes in you


walkers on a dry sea

on a deep blue sea


someone asked

what is this permian basin

floating about

floating about this dark oily sea


we are the walkers of the dry sea

the walkers of the dry sea


last night

we were on the fourth floor of this building

looking out into the dry sea


people flying kites

kites against a deep blue sky


floating about

the dark dark oil


going up in flames

going up in flames

going up in flames