Cephalopography 2.0 by Rasiqra Revulva (Buckrider Books, 2020)

Usually, I find writing reviews about essentially performance-based texts tough as they lose so much of their resonance on the page. Even bill bissett with all his typographical innovations is better heard, and the music and meaning absorbed through that channel rather than sitting quietly down with his books. But Rasiqra Revulva’s work is a feast for so many senses that I felt reading these transcripts in a text was at least one of the necessary ways I could engage her multiple energies. Part of this was her use of the overarching, tentacled symbol-entity of the octopi-squid-ammonite that serves as a weird kind of watery grounding for everything she manifests in this collection; another echo-anchor drawing me in was how she messes with forms (not often the case with spoken word artists) from the ghazal to the villanelle, re-charging them with spurts of Arabic as in Nautilidaeism (“nacreous, chambered isolation/ya mawlana antas-salam/buoyant in bondage,/wa minkas-salam“) with salam serving as the radif/repeating word, or with bursts of scientific diction as in “Free the Niqabi!” whose triplet stanzas circle the misunderstood conditions of religious & gendered garb with the recurring lines: “Derided as weak, compliant, forlorn -” and “Inhaled through my siphon; exhaled transformed” along with words like phragmocone, viridian and spirula. These pieces by Revulva called to mind echoes of Sylvia Legris’s amazing book Nerve Squall along with the erotic slippages of Daphne Marlatt’s Touch to My Tongue. As in Legris’s book, though even more prevalent an integral element, Revulva’s illustrations, formed by recreating poem-fragments as paintings and then glitching their hex code so they become a process of “reverse ekphrasis”, make this publication a constant inhabitation of eye, along with ear and mind. The strongest pieces on the page are Manifest Destiny (“Moist sepia. With prismatic/tissue puckering into coarse, beige papillae, the flamboyant cuttlefish takes her first steps”), Breeding Grounds: Lophelia (“unseen between her legs/glistening against matted peach fibres, lies/a single faceless garnet/that will never blanch in sunlight”) and The Octopus Complex (“love was the knife/how poetry, the floating science”), along with the prior two pieces mentioned.

Revulva lost me at the end with her interactive array of word searches and crossword puzzles (my poor lil cortex finds these as complex as physics or algebra and desists, though continues to admire those whose brains are game for such intricate gamings and possibly, as John Ashbery says, with Revulva’s entrees into this genre: “Games were made to seem like that: the raw fruit, bleeding.”) Cephalopography 2.0 is indeed a nautical, ecoesque, diasporic, queered cornucopia of WTF and WOW, full of lingual flotsam, obsession’s residue, chiastic visuals, twisted forms and performative manglings. Those who’ve heard her perform with The Data Bats have been ruptured, and as one audience member told me, “The book should be taken to be organic and loop like waves or currents as during the live performances she distorts her voice to create undersea sensations.” Hey, I love creators who take risks and though I may not be able to enter-entertain all these experiments, kudos to taking metaphor and longing to their limits and to finding a publisher who can inhabit possible transcriptions of these mystical-ink-driven liquidities.

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