More “Spawn”

The best literary criticism engages a text in an intimate, and even erotic, way.  In Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media, Laura U. Marks calls this “haptic criticism” (ix).  When we write about literary texts (especially audiovisual media), “the task is to make the dry words retain a trace of the wetness of the encounter” (x).  My experience of Andy Campbell’s “Spawn” is an emotional one, a sensuous one, a flirting with the slimy textures of the image, as my mouth bends around the words and my hand fondles the mouse in an attempt to reach deeper and deeper into the poem.  “Spawn” doesn’t frustrate my attempts to read it; the poem doesn’t resist interpretation.  Even as the sound acts as a sort of barricade (for me), the constant dance of the image and bite of the text lure me in.  I find myself edging closer to the screen, as if I could read the poem with my fingers.

Campbell writes, “everywhere i look i see ceiling / arms reach from radiators / rugs o o o shelves o o o plaster / between forefinger and thumb / a blue needle pinched / aching.”  “Spawn” is contained on the screen within a small frame, its size determined by the resolution of each reader/viewer’s computer monitor.  It’s a closed frame; i.e., nothing ever crosses its edge.  The poem is on the inside of the frame, and the rest of the world outside the frame is just blackness, suggesting there is no rest of the world beyond this one surface, this one upside-down jar.  There is no option within “Spawn” to make the poem appear full screen, so it is framed again by the browser window, and again by the bezel of the monitor.  Again, nothing from within the poem crosses these edges.  It is contained, a world with nothing but “ceiling” on all sides.

Still, as I’ve described, my experience of the poem is not consistent with this.  Even though I can’t, I do feel as though I could (or do, at least figuratively) reach into the frame (like the “arms reach[ing] from radiators” that Campbell describes).  No matter how closed the world of the poem appears, the content of the poem suggests the possibility of an open frame, the possibility of an open container.  The upside-down jar looks, at first, to be sealed; the dancing black pods inside are unable to escape.  However, there is a viscous liquid spreading out (and bubbling with decay) on the surface beneath the jar, suggesting that only the jars solid inhabitants are contained.  And, even these inhabitants have found ways to escape: “rugs o o o shelves o o o plaster,” and there they are outside the jar, little circular pods, “o o o,” dancing amidst the furniture and even inside the “plaster” of the apparently impenetrable walls.  The little “o”s are also in our hands, “between forefinger and thumb”; and their bite is like the poke of a “needle,” which breaches our skin, a closed frame that won’t stay closed.  In the world of “Spawn,” the frame is permeable, walls are permeable, skin is permeable.

Andy Campbell, “Spawn”:

[More on “Spawn”]


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