Review of Inksuite by Sarah J. Sloat


Inksuite cover, Sarah J. Sloat, dancing girl pressInksuite, by Sarah J. Sloat
Review by Kathleen Kirk

Inksuite (dancing girl press, 2013), by Sarah J. Sloat, is a wonderfully smart and funny chapbook of poems focused on font and other particulars related to printing and ink. Its Emmanuel Polanco collage cover shows a boy with wings holding a book, his eyes gone in a slash mark. And inside, as Alice in Wonderland might say, things get even “curiouser and curiouser.”

We start with “A Note on the Text,” the brief, fanciful-but-believable history of Crèvecœur, a typeface characterized as “a masterpiece that marks a tragedy.” (It’s also French for “broken heart,” a rare breed of chicken, and, by chance, the name of a village and a pillaged fort not far from where I live in central Illinois!) Inksuite goes on to pursue the personalities of various typefaces, as in “Typeface #68,” which posits that a typeface is like a human being:

Of all the typefaces in the Dardont family,
Dardont Modern appears most insecure.

The downstroke sags; its thin bones
visually shiver against the vast white.

And “Typeface #54” presents a group personality in “Sognidhia…created by an obscure order / of Florentine nuns in the 16th century.” Once again, I somehow believe utterly in the truth of this most unlikely historical account:

Sognidhia is traditionally printed
in lower case as a nod
to modesty and inconsequence.

Emmanuel PolancoThis poem continues this quiet humor, making a claim about the writers who choose Sognidhia, “both to atone for and to glorify / the shortcomings of their work.”

Not every poem here is about a typeface, but all the poems have ink in them, a book, reading, or some reference to printed matter, so it’s a unified “inksuite.” A master of the ghazal in English, Sloat includes the “Book of Hours Ghazal” in this grouping, with this indelible line about a change in the weather: “Ink bleeding into a wind that turns mean slowly.” In “Chengdu,” we go to China to see “bikes overloaded with parcels” and this gorgeous image:

Coal dust falls like pepper,
sticks like echoes, ink and the talc
of butterflies considered long extinct.

Ah, there’s “ink” in “extinct,” too! Then there’s a reference to “Du Fu, // master poet of the T’ang,” and we can imagine more ink, ancient ink.

I love the poem “Reading While Walking,” because I do that, too, and because I knew I would love my new neighbor in Chicago when I saw her reading while walking home from the el station. This tiny chapbook is loaded with books—Russian novels, Hardy novels, dusty stacks beside the bed, and even, in absentia, a Roget’s thesaurus.

But there are no page numbers, and I missed them. And I worry about the line breaks in “Flip-Book Ghazal.” Are they missing, too? Or is the seemingly random enjambment meant to suggest the flipping of pages? Ah, but what’s not to like about “Typeface #10”—Birdsong? (Hilariously spaced. “Brilliantly // and abruptly / punctuated, ….”) And what marvelous use of italics in “On Writing My Name In A New Book”:

Excuse me whileBlue ink undoing the blank
of the first page,

my name’s a slanted reach
that reads, best begin
by leaning in.

Sarah J. Sloat at Escape Into Life

Inksuite, by Sarah J. Sloat, at dancing girl press

Review of Homebodies, by Sarah J. Sloat, at EIL

Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair, by Sarah J. Sloat, at EIL, and at dgp