A Box, or Paradox, A Language Game

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Tesser’s chapbook slips outside certainties, authorities, controls, leaving her reader-players loose to enact their own language game, re-encountering the inherent antic plasticity of words and meanings.

The Important Thing Is, Marjorie Tesser’s playful 2009 Firewheel Chapbook Award winner, presents itself as a game: card game, word game, game of intentions. Refusing rules, though the inside box-lid gives the appearance of some, this chapbook proffers a box of cardstock sheets for cutting up. Or not. Cards with text – “you tried,” “it’s for a purpose,” “you keep it together” – for sharing round, or reading. Or not. The instructions making evident the imperative of paradox, Tesser assures us that we can “impose a procedure…or let it be a wild free-for-all”, reading and playing becoming a single space in which chance, or the reader’s impulse, decides all but the basic units of language with which one is confronted: “The rules are what you think they are, or what you think they ought to be. Or what another player says they are, or group consensus. Or not.” Pick up your scissors and start cutting.

I’ll play on my own, since, if I “[hog] all the cards”, I can shun myself and go out for ice cream, instead. As the cards say, “you let it go” and “you’ve got a sense of humor,” so when Tesser tells me, at the top of the first sheet, to “Carefully gnaw the dotted lines,” I start reading the top of all the sheets, each promoting a new premise/promise of the game: “Free set of Extra WILD CARDS!!/ Where are you now?” Where am I now, indeed? And who doesn’t want extra wild cards? Riffing on advertizing slogans, clichés, Pokemon (“Battle ‘em! Trade ‘em!”), the game LIFE, and the cut-up poem, Tesser’s chapbook places the reader in the essential act of poetry, language play: “You’re not stagnating,” “you got what you deserved.” The Important Thing Is… not wild cards, rules, or cut-ups, but the shifting associations of words and phrases, an endless round of wordplay.

Tesser introduces her dramatis personae. Whose on your team? “Expert,” “Strumpet,” “idol,” “rival.” Unsurprisingly, “anarchist” refuses to sit inside the lines. BIG and BIGGER proffer nouns, answers to her Questions: “why do I think so much”? Answer, “sex.” “would you rather fry or freeze”? Though “true-thing-hurt”, makes its own kind of sense as a response, I will have to go with fire. In the sheet labelled Bowery Poetry Club Edition, inspired by Brenda Coultas’ “Bowery Box Wishes,” Tesser’s nouns heat up, sharing space with assertions – “I LOVE MEN!!!” – and admonitions – “Fuck You!” – with lost notes and non-sequitors – “I have one tampon left!”

The important thing is, Tesser seems to assert, is to keep going, keep playing or straying, linking language together. When she asks, Is your glass half-full or half-empty? I let my eyes slide diagonally across the sheet “Pairs”: I could say, “war-joy-now-tradition”, though I must admit to being more taken by the horizontal assertion, “others-slavery-then-nothing-self’, feeling half-empty after all. If I have to settle on a single pair, then “the white suit-sufficiency” answers for all. And yet, if I back up a sheet or two, I recall that I am “a person of integrity” so “don’t have to wait in line.” I can write up a sheet of wild cards all my own.

Tesser’s chapbook slips outside certainties, authorities, controls, leaving her reader-players loose to enact their own language game, re-encountering the inherent antic plasticity of words and meanings. Keep in mind, however, that the universe has ideas of its own, so though “you might think the game is done when everyone is satisfied with cards he or she has, and doesn’t want any additional cards. Tough!…Just for that, everyone pick a card, right now!”


Marthe Reed has published two books, Gaze (Black Radish Books) and Tender Box, A Wunderkammer with drawings by Rikki Ducornet (Lavender Ink), as well as three chapbooks, post*cards: Lafayette a Lafayette (with j/j hastain), (em)bodied bliss and zaum alliterations, all as part of the Dusie Kollektiv Series. Her poetry has appeared in New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Orleans Review, HOW2, MiPoesias, Big Bridge, Moria, Fairy Tale Review, Exquisite Corpse, The Offending Adam, Galatea Resurrects, and Eoagh, among others. More from this author →