-Reviewed by Rosie Breese-
It’s an odd feeling to be writing a review in the knowledge that it may be later used in the construction of a poem. Reviewing is generally a one-way street; it’s rare for an author to respond to reviews, or indeed to publishers’ rejection letters. But that’s just what Freke Räihä has done with his innovative collection Standard Form for Language Resentment, in which template rejection letters, editorial feedback and reviews of the author’s work are chopped up, re-ordered, reframed and shot through with the author’s own subversive voice in order to create a highly original volume of ‘unoriginal’ writing.
There is a very conscious framing of the poems through the four or five introductory paragraphs which explain the various roles of publishing house staff, editors and mechanical translation in the production of these texts: “The translations to and sometimes back to, English was made by the machine and second-to-none language skills. Sometimes the machine won.” There is a selective relinquishing of authorial control and a hint of conflict in this statement, both of which are picked up many times within the appropriated and rearranged texts that follow.
The frequently word-for-word reproduction of submission guidelines and rejection letters makes for fairly miserable reading. The sheer volume of these texts, the tedium of their stock phrases, the desperate scanning for any kind of personal message within them —all contribute to a creeping sense of hopelessness; a despair, a sense of powerlessness in the face of this tide of polite impersonality:
‘Thanks for your request and
we wish you good luck
with finding an alternative home for this work.
Thanks for the submitted texts
and your interest in the journal.’
But there’s something else going on here. Räihä is at the production line with a Sharpie marker, doodling on the bits and pieces he assembles. From time to time, a rogue voice shows up in a piece that starts out innocuously polite, seeming to pastiche the faux-sensitivity of these mass-produced letters:
‘We appreciate your continued support and your purchase of our books.
Sorry we could not find any room for your work in this issue.
Sometimes this happens. Do not despair.
Comfort yourself with nostalgia,
remember fondly innocent, previously perverted acts in pastures.
Sometimes, Räihä’s ‘machine’ seemingly jams on a particular word or phrase, creating lonesome monoliths of repeated text:
Here, any heartfelt sincerity is drained by repetition; we’re left with a column of poignantly empty signifiers. This piece has the uncanny feel of a mechanically-created text. It’s eerie. It’s as if a computer is trying to imitate emotion and getting it tragically wrong.
But this is no mechanical error. Räihä’s manipulation and reproduction of these texts is human. It is deliberate. It is, as Goldsmith puts it, ‘creative reading’. More than this, it’s the creative reading of texts which are not usually responded to. Monologic texts are reconstructed dialogically, and herein lies the sense of conflict mentioned earlier. There is a sense of cynicism, of resentment towards the publishing ‘machine’ and the tools of its gatekeeping. There seems to be a desire to tweak and manipulate them until their absurdity leaches out of them like battery acid.
The flipside of this conflict is hope. This isn’t merely a volume of rejection letters regurgitated by an embittered author. There are, of course, acceptance notes: ‘I get hungry. But yes, yes, you can probably count on that / we want to publish you.’ And there is this gloriously comical re-imagining of the rejection note, which was worth wading through the slew of repetitive text for:
‘…This letter will not reach you. Sure, you might say that you cannot fuck a book, therefore, you can not love it. I agree, but not my wife, who does not own a single copy of you or your love. We have changed our phone numbers, address, last names, ISBN:s, place of publications and positions. You can reach us at the printers. We have changed printers. We are on holiday, we have changed holiday, we have replaced the holiday industry. We have changed hands, language, currency and/or government — which regulates the bits, bytes and the domains hexagonal source. We have no contracts, no obligation. We have only the nagging grounds in the coffee room. Unfortunately we have no way, you are one in a million. This letter will not reach you.’
Räihä seems to relish this triumph of individual creativity over the reams and reams of opinion and automated text generated by publishing’s gatekeepers. With this volume, he has exposed and exploited the malfunctioning pathos of the stock phrase and opened up a dialogue that could potentially go on forever. I will be interested to see what he does with this review.