Review of Inksuite by Sarah J. Sloat
Inksuite, 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.
This 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”:
Blue ink undoing the blank
of the first page,
my name’s a slanted reach
that reads, best begin
by leaning in.