Chapbook, Hei Lam Ng, 40 pgs, heilamng.com, $15
I first encountered magnetic poetry a decade ago on some fridge or another. I remember thinking it was a novel concept: poems could be arranged, rearranged, accidentally ruined, blended into each other, all at the same time, as clusters of cheap innuendo developing on the other side of the fridge while no one is paying attention. Its greatest strength is that it completely lowers the stakes of writing poetry, encourages collaboration across a household, and gamifies a creative act that should be fun — too easily halted by self-consciousness.
However, magnetic poetry’s greatest weakness is that it’s usually more fun to produce than it is to read. The conscribed vocabulary makes the experience feel more like cracking open a completed game of Mad Libs than finding surprising truths in a thoughtful permutation.
Blind Poems is an experiment in intuitive magnetic poetry composition. The collection describes its use of the word arrangement mechanism, saying, “all of the poems in this book are generated using a set of word slips, where each slip is arranged freely, without thinking.” Given life by beautiful design, the content chapbook is too often nonsensical. For example, “His keyboard is like a tomato in the past,” or “you were a cup of tea before this, banana swimming inside water, ever think of gazing with an umbrella.”
But while none of it means very much, I’m yet struck with Ng’s chapbook design and its interaction with her project’s aims. What first appears a dust jacket is actually something else: the same set of word slips used to write the book is literally bound into it, ready for the reader to remove, slice into bits, and arrange into their own poems. Blind Poems is not merely composed by these preselected words—they are also the materials of its construction. The text’s final words speak to an awareness of this, and propose a complication to the deceiving simplicity of bemusedly rearranging word magnets on your friend’s fridge. “After all,” they write, “When writing in English, you are only rearranging 26 letters every time.”