Review of R. Keith's Airy Nothings by George Salis
[This review was initially published over at isacoustic, a magazine (and recently, a book publisher- see Heather Minette's Half Light) that I cannot possibly recommend enough. Isacoustic is where the light goes to get warm in the winter. Click here to view the review where it was born.-K Taylor]
In the beginning of R. Keith’s Airy Nothings, with the opening poem “Dummy Letters,” the reader is ejected into a void of subliminal word associations strung together by velocity and ethereal filaments: “luminescent limb/ logically numb […] womb conscience/ ascend champagne […] chemist techniques/ chlorine hymns […] pneumonia ghost/ whether knot […] psychic columns/ kneel chaos.” The common dark matter here is that which is invisible to the ears, but not to the eyes. As Keith explains in the acknowledgments, the poem contains words with at least one silent letter. It’s a list that would make a hyper-dimensional Italo Calvino drool (while also scratching his head).
“Maxim Shuffles,” as the poem’s title suggests, is a rearrangement of proverbs. There’s a translucence in which the reader wades through a mental estuary of the familiar and the surreal: “Lightning is thicker than water…Fact is stranger than an ill bird that fouls its own nest…Silence is the soul of wit…He who is absent is in the eye of the beholder….” Keith dismantles heard phrases, language itself, and rebuilds it all into something original. In this case, a palimpsest: cliché advice beneath mind-tingling lies (or are they not their own forms of truth?).
With “Hearsay Photos” (“slowly. other bacteria. the breeze even and opaque. a derisive glance. is to discover a new sea. mounted on your verbal star. awake with lips full of sand.”) “Hypnagogia,” and others, Keith is “refusing language,” or performing its autopsy, or suturing our collective subconscious to our conscious mind, one is never certain.
An ostensible response to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, “Capture” is a poem born of erasure, using the manual of a security camera, with much of the punctuation left intact, suspended in white space, like floaters in the vitreous of our eyeballs, particles of light and shade.
The title poem is printed vertically and thus read from the bottom of the page to the top, something the typographical maniac Mark Z. Danielewski would appreciate as he either bent his neck like an injured owl or turned the book in semi-revolution, eventually reading the collection’s final words: “covet, the star of its own tragedy” The vertical text flanked by its only punctuation, two pairs of slashes delineating a plummeting fall.
In A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains that with empty space, when everything is taken out, there still exists a seething energy in which virtual particles spontaneously pop into and out of existence. In this vein, Airy Nothingscoalesces the primordial, fermenting an infant universe, which is not to suggest undevelopment, rather the eschewing of the effects of physics’ laws and English’s dictates. Like the deity that wasn’t there, Keith creates originality from the cliché, art from the banal, something from nothing. Ultimately, Airy Nothings is the dictionary to nonexistence, illuminating that which cannot be illuminated and leaving us with blind visions.
Airy Nothings is available here:
Reviewer George Salis is a Swiss-American writer. He is the recipient of the Sullivan Award for Fiction, the Ann Morris Prize for Fiction, and the Davidson Award for Integrity in Journalism. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, The Missing Slate, CultureCult Magazine, NILVX: A Book of Magic, Quail Bell Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Atticus Review and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil appeared in Skeptic. He is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.