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I ordered a copy of Translations from Bark Beetle by Jody Gladding (Milkweed Editions, 2014), but it never arrived and I think if it was delivered to another by accident and not, say, shredded in a sorting machine or lost between cartons, the recipient might not know what phenomenon of a book s/he offended federally in opening. But maybe that’s underestimating mail thieves everywhere? Maybe s/he’d call up others in the biz and say, “I’ve opened a book of poems. It’s hybrid. It’s a mélange of ekphrasis, concrete poetry, transliteration, translation, mythology, field guide, reference, collaboration, collage, and handiwork. I’m keeping it.”

Having found a copy in a local independent bookstore (The Book Loft, Columbus, Ohio), I’m inclined to say the thief is naughty, but should keep this rare kind of book, which somehow honors its conceptual skeleton and covers it with the poetic ligament and muscle it takes to build a moving body. I mean that Gladding doesn’t hide the process from us, or the inspiration we might neglect mentioning in our own work; opposite the translation poems (which are so rich as to include translator’s notes) we are treated to graphite rubbings of the beetle-bored bark. We are treated to photographs of the objects upon which Gladding etched (or painted, or burned) several poems, making those objects artifacts and making the book itself (and the transcribed poems within) a record of—.

Among a great diversity of form, including those poems whose size and shape is dictated by found writing surfaces like an icicle or broken window, a particular tension surfaces again and again; while articulating the struggle to survive their surroundings, many speakers also struggle to articulate. We see it explicitly in her Salt Lake series: Excerpt from North Shore.

We read it and we see it: the greatness of the struggle (across the page) and the physical exertion, up-and-down. Even the titular beetle speaks of life’s challenges and acknowledges its difficulty in communicating. Sadly for the beetle, but somewhat delightfully for this rapt reader, is the revelation that the language of the beetles poses particular difficulties in translation (pronouns especially resist being tied down, so “the same pronoun form [indicated as *] is used for first and second person in singular, plural, and all cases”). Take a look! Excerpt from Engraver Beetle Cycle.

Thus, communication is not only shaped by one’s own abilities to find the words and arrange them, but by the way they are received. Poets know and explore this; Gladding’s exploration is made even richer by her use of found objects to either inspire or actually serve as writing surface—the objects adding another layer to her communication and our interpretation. In her poem In Land, the speaker says, “It is easier to gather than to create.” And while this is true, Gladding does both to great effect.

Jody Gladding, thank you. Mail thief, you’re welcome.