From PRE-

Poetry / Barbara Tomash

:: [per-] ::

the breaking (the striking or tapping)

of chest, back		stem, leaf 	with fingertips

as the hammer of a firearm against a powder cap
commit (a blunder)	hitting one body against another 	

as tambourine		as diagnosis

impose bewilderment	 	a child’s word for 	

something evil


:: [ab-] ::

the leaving out or substituting letters / the taking in & not reflecting 
	the sucking in & changing into heat

by black surface / lack as in absence of evidence / as in a line cut off   
	as in away, from, from off, down 

a small change in position / the formal giving up	
	source, cause, agency & instrument / drink, drank, drunk 

to wash off that makes clean / the failure of light rays to shudder
	the motion of earth & of light polishing

to converge to a single focus / as in entanglement (barbed wire)
	or a barricade of felled trees with branches facing

to shrink away from 
 	an error in a mirror 


:: [a-] ::

in a wind from straight ahead / in an imaginary line / in an un-
manageable condition / marks like scratches / rid of color 
to rise in waves / headless (futile) / weakened form of  
small dry fruit / no part of the body / differentiated / because of 
(harshness of words) / hyphenated or un- / a sudden shift in wind 
to astonish


From the writer

:: Account ::

The poems in PRE- spin out from dictionary definitions for words beginning with particular English prefixes. All the language is found—but, fractured and juxtaposed with a free-hand, freewheeling approach. I am working instinctually and with a method that is perhaps more common in the visual arts. I lay out the materials I have gathered—in this case words and phrases from the dictionary—and examine them disassociated from their source—then, in a process of trial and error I begin creating an assemblage out of them—the assemblage is the poem. I don’t know where the juxtapositions will take me—that is what I want to find out—that is my inquiry.

What meanings and emotions can arise out of this instinct of mine to put non-narratively attached language pieces together? I don’t want to create a new narrative—I do want to transform. I want to metamorphose the purposeful, explicatory, directive language of the dictionary into something that surprises and glows, that stumbles, make mistakes, that disregards and regards. One of my attractions to prefixes as a jumping off point is that they are agents of transformation—and that that is all they are—they do not stand outside their agency. By creating a new beginning (and they create it by the action of butting up against and thus hold the art of collage within themselves) they change the world/word into something it wasn’t before they arrived.

I don’t know what the assemblage (poem) is going to “mean” or the emotions it will hold until it starts to take shape. As it takes shape, I get a feeling that has a movement or direction—this movement is the lyric element, the lyric response—it is a response within the making, not outside it. This feeling/thinking that comes out of the act of juxtaposing directs the choices I make. Perhaps a theme emerges—and since these come out of my unconscious preoccupations, I do find shared themes throughout the work—a preoccupation with the body (female), its intimacies and vulnerabilities; the human in concert with and alienation from nature; death, transformation, and the spirit; human created catastrophe (war, devastation, cruelty), natural catastrophe, displacement, and exile.

And voice is an inquiry too—the voice of the process itself—not of a speaker, per se— I hope this voice of juxtaposition, with its odd sounds of rearrangement and strange sutures, is invitational to the reader, sparks thinking and feeling. Where I (the writer) come in as voice is as the shaper of the process, or more truly the user of the process—obviously this same process in other hands would create completely different poems. Is the hand that chooses material and makes juxtapositions equivalent to voice? Can language taken out of the “telling” context be flexible and pleasurable and emotive and even personal—a talk between writer and reader? That is an inquiry too.


Barbara Tomash is the author of three books of poetry, Arboreal (Apogee, 2014), Flying in Water, which won the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award, and The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, New American Writing, VOLT, Bateau Press, Verse, Jacket, OmniVerse, ZYZZYVA, Parthenon West Review, Third Coast, Five Fingers Review, Witness, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.