“untitled(to reconstruct)” by Jason Nelson and Jody Zellen

Screen capture from "untitled(to reconstruct)" by Jason Nelson and Jody Zellen. Grey background with cyan images and letters scattered throughout the image. Text: "City" "to reconstruct" "human beings from" "The observer" "images"
Open “untitled(to reconstruct)” by Jason Nelson and Jody Zellen

This collaborative poem places the same text Jody Zellen wrote for “Cut to the Flesh” into a page space designed by Jason Nelson (originally for “Branch/Branch” and “A Tree with Managers and Jittery Boats”). This tree structure is a fascinating way to organize lines of verse because it creates multiple possible readings as the reader opens up branches in the hierarchy. Its cascading effect is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’ variable foot, richly analyzed by Eleanor Berry and many others as follows:

The variable foot has been taken as (1) a temporal unit, each step of a triadic line being equal in duration to every other (Donoghue, Weatherhead, Breslin); (2) a stress-based unit, each step of a triadic line containing a single major stress (Duncan, Hedges); (3) a syntactical unit, each step of a triadic line being a single complete phrase or clause (Solt, Hofstadter); (4) a unit of meaning or attention (Goodman, Hofstadter); (5) a unit of phrasing in reading, the triadic lineation constituting a score for performance (Wagner); and (6) a visual unit (Shapiro, Perloff, Sayre, Cushman).

This branching structure is different from Williams’ and attempting to examine it through observations of triadic verse would yield limited results, but it can be a productive exercise nonetheless because it draws attention to those uses of poetic language.

As you read the poem, consider the tensions between horizontal and vertical reading, the draw to complete the phrase in tension with the interest in reading the existing lines as configured. And think about how the logic behind Williams’ variable foot may have informed Zellen’s choices while cutting the lines into Nelson’s page space.

Is this the same poem as the one in her collaboration with Deena Larsen?

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