YEAH NO   by Jane Gregory   The Song Cave , 112 pages, March 1, 2018

YEAH NO

by Jane Gregory

The Song Cave, 112 pages, March 1, 2018

 

Reviewed by tyler flynn dorhoLt

In YEAH NO, Jane Gregory’s second book of poems from The Song Cave, the poet directs us to a place where impulse is often confounded by truth. The poems ask us to consider how yes and no come to be and how language can, or cannot, accurately plate them. Beginning with poems that read as incremental gestures toward clarity, YEAH NO slowly shucks the detritus of answering and begins to dwell, via longer and more linguistically-concise poems, in the post-answer world of statement—statement as lucidity, as directive, as a landing place for thought:

 

Not to know but to go

 

on / Given up to throw off

 

this bidding and its bleak stuff

 

with which [the] [S]pace is

 

turbid, by which this

 

                                       space is chosen

(“PROFICES,” 76)

 

Though this poem arrives later in the book, it signals how ideas often get going—get going fast—and how the impulse to speak and act upon them is often the thriving antidote to their leavening density. However, density does not always foam into complexity; the poems in YEAH NO also settle themselves down, and the titles are the markers for what it means to cautiously churn within an ongoingness—of sense-making and language and body.

The majority of the poems in YEAH NO are titled “PROFICES.” Think of the phrase “yeah no.” Now place a comma after yeah. With a comma, we enter the tone-bending saying, “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying but no, I just can’t.” Or perhaps something like, “here is an affirmation of your (person I’m conversing with) statement or belief (just to please you, converser) but no, I actually do not agree with your sentiment or belief and because I first said yeah, it ought to be a big sign, now that I’m saying no, that you’re, like, completely off track.”

In other words, to know what another person might be saying or doing, even if what he or she is saying or doing is not, well, right (logically, ethically, etc.), is the space of the yeah-with-a-comma-no; and so what, then, is the space of the yeah-without-a-comma-no? Is it a defiant one? Are we to read, when yeah and no are together, and without punctuation, a purity in negation, an open place to proceed in harmonious dichotomy?

Fortunately, Gregory lets us in on the first page of YEAH NO, at the end of the first of the “PROFICES” poems, with the line “everything is a pattern / of yesses and no.” But how much of an “in” is this? And do we need an in? For instance, why a pattern of more than one yes and just one no? Is it that there can often be many yesses before any one no, and the no thus wipes out all the yesses? Or, resoundingly, does a No, give way to a Yes?

I digress, but in digressing I am spun back around to where I started when I began to digress. The pattern is the important part here, and in Gregory’s poems it is especially important to understand that digressions are just as much patterns (even a method) as that which we find to be obvious patterns; and the key to reading and experiencing these poems is to hear them out by allowing them to build; they begin with increments and refract into fullness. Where they build to is less essential than the fact that they do build. Not toward finality but toward, and eventually with, movement. At once acutely aural, the poems in YEAH NO are also cleverly visual, and that is how they begin, and continue, to captivate, to force us to establish an understanding for what and how we say yes and no, to ourselves and then to our actions and the language with which we control our actions.

 

To stay what is a way [drooled] against

nothing, or a way to say

nothing over and over, different ways

[“PROFICES,” 68]

 

And so why Profices? Though it is not an actual word, when it is said out loud (and if you listen to how delicately and assuredly Gregory says it, specifically in the first, charming audio book from The Song Cave) you’ll hear the word prophecies. Yes, this could be one way to read the work—as oracular—but if so, we must do so in terms of how a certain idea or feeling becomes no or yes (side note: listening to the audio book is its own separate delight, and Gregory reads it from somewhat of an oracular lilt, a sussurant but controlled glide). Additionally,  I am sure many readers will want to make the leap toward the Latin word prōficio, a compound of the words “make” and “construct,” a word that calls attention to making progress or advancing or contributing or benefiting; yet Gregory’s choice not to use prōficio(there are intentional misspellings, or alternative spellings to many other words in this book), is a way to toy with how, regardless of our yes or no stances, we still ascribe meaning to what is close to us, especially in spelling and sound. We say yes and no to meaning. We attach meaning to non-meaning, and what is a matter with a letter, a misplaced one, if the word sounds similar to, or the same as, what we know… know to mean? Is nothing a matter then? We’ve heard our own sense, haven’t we?

Let us turn to a poem, in this case the entire page 10, itself the third page in one of the early “PROFICES:”

 

Like what                                                                                [/ well that]

we are [as] makes sense like each

to their users and what

else not to be                           overcome

 

Though here must be a bad vortexx

said everyone of where they find themselves

since everything

 

Since every known thing

only occurs to me each thing occurs

not to overcome what is else but

 

Hey     Everything                                       [Hey                Everything takes]

takes great effort

 

The right justified and bracketed phrases (in the book, these are in fainter text), act as both refrains and extractions—troweling chants, perhaps. This is the pattern of the yeah-no in action. This is sway; a way of alerting us of the vast and melodious space between certainties; or of the confined and agitated dwellings amidst agitation (listening to the audio book can help readers find out which kind of sway). Secondly, the absence of punctuation, coupled with the choice to capitalize words like “Everything” and misspell vortex (“Though here must be a bad vortexx”), invite the readers to adjust their internal megaphones and make the poem a sound, and yet Gregory still drives the poem with a kind of low-ride precision, in that the space she gives the poem, on the page, and in the gaps (look at that lingering “overcome”!), keep the poem at eye-level, swaying but laid-back. It is magical, therefore, that a poem operating on this many sonic and visual levels still strides with plainspeak—“since everything / Since every known thing.” There is comedy in this stride. The volume goes up on “every known thing” and “Hey    Everything” and not just because they’re repeated. It is because they have weeded out then tumbled forth their preceding tones. They’ve been forced to repeat and add on as they repeat, each addition an inch more toward truth.  

And so where is this weeding out? In a sense, a yes needs an opposite force and often it cannot just be no. It sometimes must be un. There is a force in un not so easily found in no—whereas no seems independent, a sharp finality, un is a stripping away—and the voice in Gregory’s poems executes from the un—“No, I am the unlimiter, untimelier” (19)—and with this execution establishes a new way to unravel meaning. A new way to UNderstand. Whereas no deletes, erases, omits what preceded it, the space of UN often restores meaning and validity. By stripping away, it admits to its attempt at regaining some of the force of a word and idea that is needed to get on, to get going. Just as much as Gregory uses un in YEAH NO to retrieve the negated—words that get play early on are unhurt, unend, unlatch, unlimit, unearth, uninvaded—there is something equally as restorative in how you cannot have unit, understanding, the unknown, an underworld, or a universe, without UN. The poems are aware of this and they proclaim it.

I keep telling myself, hey, man, you’re reading way too far into this, or way far away from it, but I feel as though, and in order to let the poems tell me what they’re doing, I must welcome Gregory’s more slippery asides—I must accept the sway—and what the poems are thus doing is addressing the air between the thing and the things that get said about the thing. This is a way of not pretending to know or be truth, in language, but to trudge toward it:

 

This is a book of greetings because its source experiences everything as a confrontation that must be recognized to first face then evade.

 

Is to face something, in recognizing it, a way of saying yeah? Is to evade a way of saying no? This passage reads as the way of the UN, and Gregory meticulously continues to address this part of the parts:

 

“and if you can see the whole                                       immediately it’s a problem”

 

And again on 35:

 

“Every con

cept’s a spell

to will its / own exception”

 

This is when, and how, readers will return to the title, “PROFICES.” If Gregory begins in a made-up space, there is no immediate need to accept sense, at least as attached to any one thing or to truth, but Gregory still has to tether the world of the book to sense. How does she do that? Through tenuous increments and sway. Each entrance of the word, of language, thus gives us sense. Each absence and each instance rakes sense. The increments flutter until the pace and language of the book set them more firmly into tone, into yes and no. Why even pretend there is anything whole, that there is anything exempt from a yeah or no? Here every addition, every word and every page, can become a call for another deletion, as in this stunning paragraph from the poem “BOOK I WILL NOT WRITE OF MEMORY AND DEATH:”

 

I want a thought to rally us, to think it. Think how everyone too is doing something at once, really really good, that begins to be an understanding for a lot of others. You are reading this if you don’t understand. It is almost, urn, as though I never was.

 

That many of the non-profices poems are called “BOOK I WILL NOT WRITE …” is also a way for Gregory to say, “how have I not—how am I not—writing this book just in being about its thinking?” To not do something is to do the not-doing. Yeah and no still end up being an “is;” and our actions can make understanding for others outside of us. But the space between our actions and another’s understanding? Yeah, no.  

Let us pause for some incredibly pleasing lines in this book. I must quote three before I gurgle my last point:

 

1)      goes on in deafness as the blaze of the incomplete completes you

2)      when speech only suffers from what happens

3)      are they fear or is it time to hurl beneath / the busking sun an upsplashed real that flares to tell

 

These lines operate as reminders that we are in a space of perpetual sense-making. Just as we know that, yeah, something is, or something is as it is because of how others see, say, or believe it, it is just as much no, not that, or not that for me (we). Gone, or perhaps only redeemable if an un- comes along. But this is not to say YEAH NO makes an excuse for its language as anything senseless; more that it grapples tenderly, and at times roughly, with how we handle truth(s).

 

Though sense itself / cannot choose but / suffragate to truth         [suff’r it, gate, get it]

(“TO HYPNOTIZE SPACE AND TIME”)

 

Gregory repeatedly calls attention to the unbalanced in YEAH NO, and balances us in doing so. But this is also a sign that we cannot be tricked, even when Gregory’s speaker presents to tell us what the book is about. For it is adorned with no’s and nots and uns but we are with it, in our own understanding, regardless of how we’ve been called to claim our understandings. Which leads me to a few lines I can’t stop thinking about from late in the book, from a longer poem called “”NOW THAT I KNOW DEATH BY RESIDUAL TECHNOLOGY.” Lines where Gregory is swift and smart to enlist a speaker who knows not to pretend whole truth, not to pretend to have mended to our otherwise, and thus go out with them, reader, go window:

 

To what belong the concepts I stop caring

 

because reason’d produced some excesses,

such as, some sense, so easily (82)

 

 

Tyler Flynn Dorholt is the author of American Flowers (Dock Street Press), and co-editor and publisher of the journal and press, Tammy. He writes, makes art, and lives with his wife and son in Syracuse, NY.