Zine Review: How the alphabet was made, [an instructional]



Chapbook, rob mclennan, above/ground press, abovegroundpress.blogspot.com, $4


This collection is loosely patterned after a Rudyard Kipling tale (of the same name) from Just So Stories (1902) and opens with a set-up quote from poet Pattie McCarthy’s book L&O, which itself riffs on the Kipling work. Kipling’s writings from the Just So Stories collection were crafted with the aim that children could comprehend them, though at their core they tackled complex topics — in this case, the semiotics of language.

For his contribution to the discussion, mclennan examines a chosen set of letters (and variants, such as F#, Ph and xxx), not only from the point of view of what the letters represent as a fragment of language, but also from the perspective of what their shape, sound and use might symbolize or evoke, regardless of their primary function. The poem “A,” for example, describes the titular letter as the “Calcutta of key-strokes,” transforming its placement on a keyboard into a geographical state. As “A” continues, mclennan stirs up familiar imagery with “bull by the horns,” “We, who are wonderfully large,” and “Sidebar” — all phrases and words that seem to refer to the shape of the letter A.

This is certainly one of mclennan’s more accessible above/ground collections, though his penchant for cryptic statements remains intact. These poems appear to be constructed from cut-up and collaged words and sentence fragments that, though they don’t necessarily have anything in common with each other, are all in some way conjured by the letter the poem focuses on. Trying to unearth those connections — which in some cases perhaps only mclennan can see — is an intriguing endeavor. (Scott Bryson)