Michelle Naka Pierce and Veronica Corpuz
ISBN 0-9726063-0-0, 2003
Boulder: Erudite Fangs/PUB LUSH $14.95
TRI / VIA, a collaboration by Michelle Naka Pierce and Veronica Corpuz, is a stylistically promiscuous work featuring prose poems, pop-quiz and questionnaire formatting, micro-lexicons, and a dose of punchy footnotes. You might say that it's a book that can be judged by its cover. The collage by Barbieo Barros Gizzi that introduces TRI / VIA is as simultaneously integral and fragmentary as the contents of the book itself. Similarly, it is not certain if the writings collected in TRI / VIA are best characterized as a series of discrete but related poems, as the epistolary conceit running through the book suggests, or rather as a single long poem entitled “Dispatch” (with a brief “Postscript”), as the table of contents would indicate.
With writing that sometimes problematizes – and often refuses – the binary oppositions in which we are accustomed to seeing the world (one/several; male/female; married/unmarried; native/foreign; here/there), Pierce and Corpuz do not so much provide a solution as restate the problem: Why ask the question at all? Why, finally, choose this or that? Does intercourse – sexual, verbal, or otherwise – depend, absolutely, on choosing one over the other?
The authors decide not to decide. They launch their exchange in binary terms:
The letter begins as
an occasion. It
begins as a message
from addresser to
But it’s not long before they have, together, modified their view:
An intimate letter
has no end, has no
beginning either, has
only middle, that is
to say “middle” as
Problems of binary thinking propel the exchanges between the two epistolary partners in this book. But a preference for some third is voiced, and it is in pursuit of this third or “middle” path that the book is written. The resulting ménage à trois interrupts the initial tête-à-tête, and to seductive, and sometimes mournful, effect. “Quick fingers are better tools than zeros and ones,” the correspondents write, before elaborating in a pining and punning footnote, “One and zero is all alone. Only a dome in solo. One solitary solace. A single son. A one on your shoe lace. Lonely tome in one ton. In tune soliloquy in a single tone. One inconsolable sole….”
The angst and melancholy pervading this book is at once offset and underscored by ludic linguistics and an engagement with the trivia of mundane existence. Some passages playfully emphasize the endless permutations of surface language, even while plumbing the scatological depths of the everyday:
This his is
Isis or ibis
Shit and sit
sins in this
as in a lisp
Other passages exalt with their tones what they bereave in their terms:
I can’t even eat this damnable alphabet soup. It’s too cold….I bed with insomnia, and your beaux have left their stink in my sheets. You have eaten them out of me….If I could say I have had enough, turn your ladle away, but I bend to spoon morsels of quotidian from your chin, hunger on your misgivings as you take the carving knife and slit me in thin slices for everyone to see. O, translucent and gullible love!
The writers are thus able to register grief, even while ironizing it with a kind of exhilarated soliloquizing.
The carving and slicing of the body in the above passage has been prefigured: “These days our sentences get cut in the middle and organize us to their architecture.” In fact, the notion of “cutting in” is prevalent in this book, and it appears in several guises. Some are formal: divided sentences, prominent white space separating lines or passages, and the interruptive nature of the call-and-response of letter-writing itself. Others are thematic: the intrusion of putative third-party voices, a concern with penetration and punctuation (from sodomy to hyphenation, from viewpoints to pointilism), and, above all, an obsession with the cutting-in of a third party on a pair (threesomes are embedded and in-bedded throughout the book).
This latter concern punctuates many passages, issuing in phrases fraught with worry and wrought in anxious precision: “Points of view:…We saw a widow. Infidelities in plural. In misery some find consensus.” Forty pages later, the sentiment is revisited:
“Points of view: insufficient, inadequate, meager, lean…Sanctity found in wedding vows and matrimonial panoply. She wore her wedding ring until it bore wedlock trench around her banded finger. Without it, she felt as if faced to a platoon. He commandeered his squadron and shifted his load. Rueful.”
But while this book addresses rue, it never expresses ruefulness – not, anyway, without an equal measure of joy. In fact, the tone of TRI / VIA is at once serious and flirtatious, and its expressions both melancholy and excited, sincere and parodic; each cuts into the other. Consider this excerpt from a mock-questionnaire, in which the critical takes the form of the comical:
1. What is the nature of your visit?
a. Divine. I rarely make house calls to tell a woman she has
immaculately conceived the Messiah.
b. I followed the white rabbit.
c. A tornado, a house, a pair of ruby shoes one size too small.
d. I can’t quite get rid of this itch.
There is a final way in which cutting-in is played out, and that is in the movement of the writing relationship itself. Just as the cover art's collage grid at once divides the individual pieces and conjoins them in a kind of union without unity, the slash that divides “trivia” is also the third party that at once engenders and unites the pair “tri” and “via.” And if this slash, this third, wounds words (and bodies, emotions, relationships…), it also holds them together, yet without resolving them. This is why the slash of TRI / VIA is reconfigured as a hyphen in the book’s “Postscript”:
The aim of the
letter is merely to
bring in a personal
the person writing
and the person
This mode of writing – and reading – might be called affection: “Indeed, dialogue, which breaks with the vertical patterns…, can fulfill its function as affection only if it can overcome…contradiction.” Affection is the “personal hyphen,” the horizontal slash, the “and” that keeps things together without making them precisely one. It is for this reason that TRI / VIA might be described, affectionately, admiringly, as depressive and exhilarated, flirtatious and serious, male and female, here and there. “It takes two to tango and many more to marry,” Pierce and Corpuz write together. And many should cut into the dance and many more join the marriage of TRI / VIA .