137.1: Kathryn Cowles:: Glossary: Transcript & Glossary: Postcard & Map 137

A charm a single charm is doubtful. This sentence, taken from Gertrude Stein's "Nothing Elegant," has always struck me with its playful skepticism: In an era of mass production and mass reproduction, can any object or experience really be called singular? Kathryn Cowles poses a similar question in this week's selection. I was there, she'll tell you. Breathing original air. But then she'll acknowledge it's already a copy, this postcard that gives the poem its name. Cowles' various objects—a transcript, a postcard, a map—are all copies of copies. We know how Plato would worry about such attachments. But Cowles reminds us that something to keep is also always something to give. And these are generous poems.

Two of the poems in this week's selection serve as entries for Cowles' "Glossary" series. This series unravels its eponymous genre. A poem like "Postcard," for instance, dismisses the definite vocabularies and sureness of a glossary. Readers encounter "a copy to fold and keep" in the same poetic space as Montana. And Ohio. And trunks underwater and people standing under an arch. Cowles' poetry does not reconstruct the definite knowledge of an exterior postcard; rather, her poetry pastes the many facets of her associations like so many shards of colored glass and urges the reader to peek through the lens and see an afternoon that burned for her once, only once. The effect is playful. Profound. This working toward a charm made up of so many other parts, this rediscovery of here and there, you and I. Ryan Winet


A printed version of a recorded version of a sound. A written version of an audio version of a person talking. A mountain taken down on a page. A printed version of a mountain, printing pressed. A copy. A copy of a copy. As in the letters pressed into paper resemble the tree’s branches. From the Chinese character. A tree. With a bird sound. A printed version of the bird sound, representing the sound a mama bird makes as it feeds its baby birds. A black bird with orange parts. A chicken and an egg. Transliteration. Using the closest corresponding letters or sounds of a completely different alphabet. Shorthand into full sentences. A printed version of a recorded version. A new arrangement with an entirely other instrument. Transcribed for cello. For piano. For a choir. A bird sound rendered in hyphenated lettering. Taken down. A copy. A mountain. A mountain.


A picture on the other side. A pointing back. A copy. With space for a small message. With space for mailing address. No return. A pointing forward. A blank. An explanation. Roping calves at branding on Flathead Creek. Montana. Ohio. Livre d’Heures, mois de septembre. The color of the sea around Sifnos. The size of the mountain. The type of bird that was common. Looking ahead. A copy of the painting. For use with a stamp. A printed version. A copy of the castle. Of the page from—. A photograph of the dish with fish and tomatoes. Anchois de Coullioure. Sans envelope. Out in the open. Word and picture as rivals. At odds. And I was there. And while I was there I spent a half an hour. A record. Thinking of you. And this is the size of the Blanchard River flood that year. Taken from above. And this is the size of the whole island. You can tell by the relative size of the small fishing boats. By the trunks of trees under water. By the people standing under the arch. Looking up. A scope. A miniature. And I was there. And I breathed the original air. A collection of what. Of where. A copy to fold and keep. And give. And here.


Look up: it is flat.
Sky stretched tight just
above our trees, great white lid
flat screen projected with
the movie of a sky (no plot)
great white parallel lines, sky, ground,
a whole house gone blank as if between mirrors, smaller and smaller.

Sky pieced with light clouds brown white
washed blue new floodwater
and I can tell I am in Ohio just by the sky and
the parallel horizons line up thusly, mathematical:
huge cloud line, pieced top, like reflected farm plots then
thin line of bright horizon and
then the ground.