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.