Chapbook, Gary Barwin, above/ground press, abovegroundpress.blogspot.com, $4
Chapbooks with gimmicks can be a risky enterprise, but Gary Barwin is no stranger to themed works. His Franzlations (2011), for example, was a collection built on Franz Kafka-isms.
The six selections in Seedpod, Microfiche could either be viewed as the poetic version of a word ladder puzzle (the type of brain-teaser that asks you to change one word into another, in a certain number of steps, by altering a letter at a time) or a written game of Broken Telephone. Barwin is changing more than one letter at a time, in these poems — he adds, removes and rearranges several words from poem to poem — but the effect is similar: the opening poem (titled “1”) is transformed, bit by bit over six pages, into a wholly different verse, while retaining a glimmer of its original meaning.
This could be considered a safe approach to writing poetry, but it also provides some desirable security for the reader. There’s an extra level of satisfaction to be garnered from a set of poems that are intimately connected, and Seedpod, Microfiche delivers that gratification.
The connectedness of these pieces is of course assured by their shared foundation, but it’s also enhanced by the repetition of particular imagery: the power of dew drops to magnify, fish swimming silently, and a stethoscope (used literally and metaphorically) that pops up in the closing stanza of each poem. The titular Microfiche appears repeatedly, as well, and the sentiments it generates are apt: zooming in; many from one; shining a light on part of a whole. (Scott Bryson)