Encyclops by seekers of lice

Reviewed by Ryan Ormonde

Encyclops has a past life as a set of paper bags, written-on, smeared, blotched and adorned with cut-out pictures. This ongoing work by seekers of lice (the lower-case pseudonym of an artist and writer) references encyclopaedias (which in part explains its name), and its present book incarnation consists of 176 ‘entries’, text only. 37 of the entries have no text directly beneath their titles; the writing is allowed to run on and spill over, every title marking a point of stress:

malachite mapping the tension

flatbed truck & theodolyte

immediacy the only thing you can trust

marble dust

mental calculation skills

and photographic memory

Is the rhyme of ‘trust’ and ‘marble dust’ here accidental – a chance outcome of the alphabetisation of the series – or has the author allowed intention to regain hold of the text? The sound patterning throughout the book is shaped by a pull between the conscious written response and the systemic pattern of the poem. An alphabetic system will necessarily produce an alliterative effect: for example, as words beginning with the same letter are sequenced.

The A-Z ordering of the writing also affects our response to the text as a series of thoughts. The first entry, ‘alike’, seems to set up a possible reading for everything to follow:

literal is not literal any

more but metaphorical

a line descends

Yet its authority as an opening remark is undercut by the prospect that the position of ‘alike’ in the series is an alphabetical fluke, like the very first name read out in a school register. It is therefore tempting to see through the imposed linear order of the book to consider its units as encircling thoughts.

What are these thoughts? Some borrow their titles from the names of pigments: ‘pozzuoli red’ is one of the self contained title-entries; ‘indian yellow’ seems to have a straightforward definition (‘transparent yellow pigment used in oil paint’) while ‘rose madder’ references Ovid, and perhaps Poussin’s painting Cephalus and Aurora:

rose madder

dumb delicacy’s Cephalus &
Aurora    turnstile
photograph photograph
first past salt pillar
creating light through density
his preferred preposition is from

Some titles sound like everyday speech, e.g. ‘isn’t that the case?’ and ‘put everything back as you found it’; some are stranger, like ‘the meat world’ and ‘snap swivels’: regularity of form encourages the reader to approach every title in the series with due care.

Aside from the alphabetical sequence, little is predictable here: there’s no telling which of the titles will hold forth, and every time one of them does it tends to perform a little trick of its own. I begin to see a series of animated personae in the entries of Encyclops, pushing the book towards another life, a time-based performance enacting a playful tension between utterance and silence. A poetic work that resists its own pages, Encyclops is a resting point for an exuberant, many-eyed swarm.