This is a spread from Ornithopter Press’s third book, Peter Yovu’s Imago. (200 copies in the first printing; see ornithopterpress.com.) The quality of design, printing, paper, deserve the epithet “fine press item.” Ornithopter books are edited and designed by Mark Harris. There is a coherence beyond the usual fine press item: all three of the books explore a view of language that acknowledges the limits of the sayable but also honors the desire to communicate the incommunicable. One might be tempted to call the style “minimalist” but in another sense it is maximalist.
Imago further defines Ornithopter’s mission. Peter Yovu’s language suggests the following description from Rowan Williams’s The Edge of Words: “If our language is systematically indeterminate, incomplete, embodied, developed through paradox, metaphor and formal structures, and interwoven with a silence that opens up further possibilities of speech, it is a reality which consistently indicates a ‘hinterland’ . . .”(170).
The page reproduced above is typical. When contained on a single spread, the layout adds a spacial dimension that seems part of the intention of the form. The gaps between the parts are part of the meaning.
Even the title has gaps: “For Beauty I wept Butterfly Pins.” We are OK up to “pins”! At that point we have to reread and reinterpret, but to no avail. This language is bent on bending the complacent reader out of shape. Or into a new, transitional shape.
The broken sense of language is a kind of violence, but Yovu is no sensationalist. Yovu’s forte is sharply realized bits that impact the senses of the reader and suggest new and undetermined sense: “a small bird’s/thud against the glass”: befitting its position at the opening, that “thud” is quotidian. It does happen just like that. After a space, the thud is followed by a sort of metaphor: “my house/ closing in.”
This is a good example of how Yovu’s texts move ahead dialectically. There is a strong sense of the body as well as of embodiment. “spiraling / into an ear’s / galaxy / the wren’s inch.” Please refer to the photo above t see the lineation, which is part of Yovu’s art.
So far, the “hinterland” is inward, the dialectic immanent. And so it goes. Each bit is a wonderfully wrought verbal artifact, and each bit makes room for another equally well wrought bit. The scale shifts often, from large to small; and the environment, inside and outside, shifts along with the scale. There is constant movement. The effect is fascinating.
The final line exemplifies Yovu’s talent for compressed meaning: “the sky’s blue gong an orange in my hand.” A sort of surreal koan, if we don’t press the comparison too far! More analytically, the compression creates an impression of weight, of entropy. The collision of the two images is somehow sustained by Yovu’s imagination. By juxtaposing two complex but finely realized phrases, a new but unknown entity is made possible. This is Yovu’s hinterland, his sublime. It may be more “inner” than “hinter” but with such skills Yovu has plenty of reason to test his method against a more transcendent other, to free his desire to move beyond dialectic into the back of the beyond.