The story of Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland

by Michael Peverett

Cover of the printed book

"And lying soft enclosures gently died and overdied with story" (Landed gently, p. 63)

"Collected stories joined inside her body
At night she sweated language on her sheets" (All the buildings made of voices, p. 72)

"told each stories to make the time" (Circumference, p. 97)

It's customary to begin by saying that other readings are of course possible. In this case I might go a lot further. The present effort is more systematic than just a personal reading and can arguably be termed a wilful misreading, since it focusses on narrative and progressive aspects of a poem whose narrative progress, if any, is very much in question.

This reading takes its principal structural bearings from the eleven titled parts (I'll call them chapters) into which Tomorrowland (Shearsman, 2009) is divided:

1. The Argument. (TA)
2. It's all good. (IAG)
3. Treasure Island. (TI)
4. Sirens. (S)
5. Neptune's open mouth. (NOM)
6. Bulwarks. (B)
7. Landed gently. (LG)
8. A little history. (ALH)
9. All the buildings made of voices. (ATBMOV)
10. The body's charge. (TBC)
11. Circumference. (C)

I think it was exposure to the audio version of the poem that provoked my interest in the story of Tomorrowland. The transforming vocabulary, syntax and punctuation of Lisa Samuels' "new sentences" (to borrow Ron Silliman's term, originally applied to Bay Area prose poems) necessarily transforms story into quite a different thing from what it is in, let's say, a Conrad tale. Nevertheless, listening to these superb readings-with-soundscapes brought out what I was inclined to call a long-range narrative sweep. Here I want to pay tribute to that startling impression and I also want to encourage new readers to discover this amazing poem for themselves.

Cover of the double CD version of Tomorrowland

The audio version was first made available as a double CD in 2012 (you could try contacting the author if you want one). It's also available online at Penn Sound:

It's arguable that the reading offered here leans far too much on the distinctness and progressiveness of the eleven chapters, while some other significant (though inaudible) formal features are for the most part ignored. Two in particular: the subdivision, marked by asterisks, of each chapter into up to five sections; and the fairly regular alternation of paragraphs with and without line-capitalization.

It treats the first chapter as preludial and the eleventh as postludial. It assumes that the sequence of chapters develops in a progressive and quasi-narrative manner.

As a consequence of its focus on narrative, it takes an interest in the four named characters, while acknowledging the fairly numerous other figures in the poem who are not named. To this predilection it may be objected that what we have here is not so much four characters as four structural principles, or even four multi-functional instruments that can only be grasped heuristically.

My main regret is that this approach rather neglects the close details of verse and text, because I believe it's at that close focal range that Samuels' poetry is most easily appreciated as the essential thing it is. However, I've already said plenty about that in two earlier pieces:

Review of Paradise for Everyone  (2005)

Review of  The Invention of Culture (2008)

In compensation, and also to avoid the tedium of a poetry essay that doesn't contain any actual poetry, I've included a couple of extended quotations in their proper places.


1. The Argument.

The second difficulty is the sphere itself
As I plunk on an inclined plane

These are the opening lines (p.11).

They hint at the illustration on the book-jacket, Camille Martin's "Hieroglyphic Night". At least, that seems to show a figure plunking on an inclined plane, while in the distance we observe the rather troubled sphere of a moon.

Subsequently, the word "sphere" will make a number of what seem like quite important appearances in the poem.

"we need a bluet sphere" (IAG, p. 19)
"You see our love desire laughter whom / I recognize most thoroughly ensphered" (NOM, p. 38); "in flat spheres" (NOM, p. 42).
"as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard" (TBC, p. 91)

Reading The Argument as a whole it's apparent that the "plane" of line 2 is also an airplane, e.g. "when the four bumps hit the ground" (p.12).

"Who have hanged peripheries so many years" (p. 11). The word "hang", throughout the poem, tends to suggest Jack, though he is not actually named until the third chapter, Treasure Island.

"We land to divination..." (p. 12). The primary narrative fact, especially in the first half of the book, is arrival. See also: "Well, initial" (IAG, p. 13),  "The crackling / Of fires will announce you found arrival" (TI, p. 28), "Arrival's song" (NOM, p. 38), "though it / thunderously keeps arriving" (B, p. 55), "Well it's been a week" (LG, p. 57).

With arrival comes the mild euphoria of those sensors switching on to a new terrain. "silly with excited premonitions" (IAG, p. 21). And especially in TI: "everyone was lovely over there"... "A curious newness in their eyes in love with acquiescent / Barriers"... "people are so perfect"... (TI, p.23).

"handmade try ... crux ..." (p.12).  Reappears as "a crux of handmade try" in IAG (p. 20).

It's noticeable that the last part of one chapter often preludes the next, and that's the case here. In this last part the surroundings become recognizably urban, and here we get our first glimpse of Eula:

"With Eula mobilizing narratives in a café" (p.13)

(WhatsApp-ing her friends, maybe)

[Eula] Eula is the most pervasive of the four named characters, appearing in every chapter but two (TIC), but not the easiest  to get your head around. (The other characters will be discussed when they first appear.) The name, in software licensing, can mean End-User License Agreement. Eula often tends to suggest to me power, technology and intellect. Perhaps "where we've come from" : Europe, LA. Perhaps us : the poem's author and readers. Yet Eula can also be associated with Maori face-marking (ALH, p. 65) and with the small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal society (LG, p. 59). Eula is a real name, commonest in Spanish-speaking countries, short for Eulalia - "sweetly spoken" (Greek eu + laleo ).


2. It's all good.

This first full-length chapter is distinctly "metropolitan-inflected" (p. 15). "Thus both about the city we did stroll" (p.15).

Eula is the only character named in this chapter. But it's important not to limit the narrative to those four names. Tomorrowland is liberally strewn with pronouns (I, we, you, he, she) and these are considerably less random than in many experimental texts. Sometimes these unnamed characters are consistent enough to develop little quasi-narratives about themselves.  For example the "he" of  IAG p. 16, or the "man" of S pp.30-31.

But wait, could we have some help here? The book version of Tomorrowland (though not the audio version) contains some,  in the form of the epigraphs and, particularly, the page headed "Further Reading" - e.g. Marco Polo, Robinson CrusoeComus, and modern studies of cosmopolitanism and social space (the latter evidently relevant to IAG). Argentine author Julio Cortazar. Sylvia Ashton-Warner's book about teaching Maori children (B, LG, ALH). New Zealand author Janet Frame's only poetry book The Pocket Mirror. (Lisa Samuels' own emigration from USA to NZ around the time of writing Tomorrowland is a relevant background.) Rev. John Butler's Journals - New Zealand's first clergyman, he arrived there in 1818. Michel de Certeau - tactics (of subjugated individuals) in navigating everyday life. Henri Lefebvre - Critique of Everyday Life , the underdeveloped sector colonized by capitalism. William Henry Hunt (actually Burt) and Philip Grossenheider -  A field guide to the mammals. Consulting these books, or some of them anyway, would shed a flood of light on Tomorrowland; I'm sorry to say I haven't done so.

According to the back cover of the printed book, "Tomorrowland is a book-length poem of bodily transit and colonial forgetting". Inasmuch as this means the experience of arriving and settling in a new world, it makes complete sense; but of course the term "colonial" comes freighted with all sorts of serious political ramifications, and openly provokes a group of questions that every reader will have to tussle with. To what extent does Tomorrowland delimit its scope to the experience of the colonist - the explorer, trader, preacher, teacher, emigrant, tourist - and exclude the experience of the colonized?  For a poet who has grown up within western culture, is transcending that limit even possible? Would attempting to transcend it lead inevitably to something analogous to blackface? Does failure to transcend it constrain one's sense of what the poem, for all its marvellous ambition, can amount to?

This may also be the moment to say, what I keep forgetting to say, that there's a great deal of comedy in the early chapters of the poem. We're not a million miles from The Ambassadors here.

[Cracks] "The garden faces by a crack uneasily in its palm" (p. 16). "Crack" is a word that comes up quite a lot, possibly in connection with the poem's interest in building-works:  "To mortar acts and build". At any rate built texture is an important theme of IAG.  Cf. "a subterranean crack" (p.21), "This would be historical enactment / Seen from the position of a crack" (NOM, p. 42), "where the cracks peeked through a glint of green" (B, p. 45), "oh laud that cracked-up paper" (B, p. 52), "my amanuensis following the crack over the rocks" (B, p. 52)

[Ships] "he builds the little ship we fly up..." (p. 16).  The dedication of Tomorrowland is "for honest dealing, and for ship goers". Ships are named and alluded to frequently throughout the poem. E.g. ""having landed their domesticated ships / with aches and prejudice intact." (TI, p. 26);  "a whole set  / life modelled after vacant ships whose keels lie / down in soft sand partly filtering..." (S, p. 29); "ship-arriving hollerer .... how does it feel / To own so many ships..." (NOM, p. 41); "when the boat comes in" (B, p. 48); "The ships piled in with separate rain, / Some from the sea and some from sky..." (B, p. 49); "disinherit the never merely boat again (LG, p. 61); "stave the boat" (LG, p. 62); "the midnight ship" (ALH, p. 67); "The boats are moralistic now" (ALH, p. 68). Nevertheless, the locales of the poem seem to me nearly always land-based, though coastal; we have almost no sense of being on a ship, but rather of having arrived from a ship.

[Birds and feathers] "Ohmygosh trees, flagrant birds..." (p. 18). Birds and feathers are frequent motifs in Tomorrowland.  E.g. "Big Bird... chorus of silent flitterings..." (p. 19); NOM, p. 42; B, p. 52; ATBMOV pp. 74-75; C, p. 97. For feathers cf B, p. 56; ALH, p. 65 (twice).

"we need a bluet sphere" (p. 19)

The bluets (Houstonia species) are small but pretty milky-blue N. American wild flowers, somewhat resembling old-world forget-me-nots or speedwells from the ornamental point of view.


[Image source:]

"Our Eula" (p. 20) matches the first appearance, in the following chapter, of "our Manda" (p. 24).

By the end of "It's All Good" we've reached a space that may not be quite so uncomplicatedly "all good", and are looking back and out to wilderness, a suitable introduction to the next chapter.


3. Treasure Island.

It begins with the "island gurney". Sounds like an animal or bird, but the only definition for "gurney" that I have encountered is a stretcher-trolley.

"Treasure Island" begins with the most sustained bit of island paradise in Tomorrowland. (Along with a crescendo of the traveller's euphoria that I mentioned earlier.)

This nature poetry is, of course, not left unproblematized; to an extent it arrogates what it doesn't own.

          While he takes his myth and puts it out there
          In the literal sense, over again incorporating oysters
          And their total inability to resist. (p.25)

[Manda] "our Manda sees inside the cells" (p. 24). The first appearance of Manda.  Manda is short for Magdalena in Croatian/Serbian, or short for Amanda in English. The character is maybe somewhat associated with childlike perception (as here) and domestic activity. According to Wes Tank's  radio talk about plans for a Tomorrowland movie (, Manda is the trans-historical female and Fasti is the trans-historical male; he may have been told this by Lisa Samuels herself but I'm not sure.

On p. 26 "I fell in love with time's indisputable eraser..." begins a passage of a dozen lines or so that's closely shadowed, sometimes word for word, in (p. 49, beginning "I fell in love / With the moon's disputable mirror...").

[Jack] "Thus coastal disproportionate form is hanging Jack / Poorly for his unplanned sup while we watch..." (p. 26).  The first named appearance of Jack, who "plays death", according to the back cover of the printed book. Certainly Jack is associated with death and violence ("escalation's fury Jack" (ALH, p. 68)). It's Jack who is presumably referred to in "he hanged himself that's what he done" near the end of TBC (p. 93). The word or idea of hanging, passim,  tends to suggest Jack. Perhaps a jack tar. Or a flag. Origin: the old world: Protestant northern mist.

"If it weren't for Shakespeare we'd never have Jane Austen if not" (p. 27). Compare "If it weren't for whales we'd never have fishes if" (LG, p. 60).

The final part of TI focusses on ants.


4. Sirens.

"the atolls / (Neptune's mouths)..." (p. 31) Usefully glossing the title of the next chapter.


          (A hundred years ago) the nerves of Fasti's feet
          Agree a doorlatch patiently apart
          My patrimony truly far from home in a necessary
          Curse... (p. 33)

The first appearance of the fourth named character. Like the others Fasti is a real name, though obscure (old Scandinavian). Perhaps more relevant, "fasti" are chronological lists of official and religious events (Roman, as in Ovid's Fasti). Generally he seems to me priestly. He's associated at various points with logs (in the sense of records, I think) and with astronomy. The "founding Fasti" suggests a pioneer patriarch. There's a relatively long quasi-narrative about him and his mother in the middle of ATBMOV.

[Latch] "Latch" (as in the lines above), is a word that becomes more prominent: in the second half of Tomorrowland (LG, p. 63; TBC, p. 85, 90; C, p. 96).


5. Neptune's Open Mouth.

The preceding chapter, Sirens, links to this one via its final line ("you dip your legs into your class just testing").  [Apart from its modern-cityscape and newly-discovered-tropical-island type locales, there is also quite a lot of educational loci in Tomorrowland ; such as this "class" (in one of its meanings), in which "you" is either a teacher or a student. Cf "warm and gentle schools" earlier on the same page.]

NOM is, unsurprisingly, watery. Water is associated with sex, birth and death. (The coupling of land animals involves a temporary, damp, private re-creation of the watery environment in which our far-distant ancestors lived out the whole of their lives.)

          Under the tide my legs are musical
          display on moonlit net  ... (Opening lines of NOM, p. 36)

Both the opening and closing parts of NOM are vaginal. Hibiscus and sea-anemone, shell and fold.

Within, the following set-pieces stand out:

5.1. A semi-emergent lyric called "Arrival's Song". That is, I should say at once, a dubious interpretation. The title words appear bracketed, as if introducing an embedded lyric, but the text that follows it isn't clearly demarcated or distinct from the rest of NOM.

It might strike the reader that "Arrival's Song" arrives a little belatedly. After all, we're five chapters in, aren't we? Isn't it a bit late for a spontaneous effusion?  That sense of a willed, even heel-dragging, performance is latent here.

And could there be the complicating hint of "A Rival's Song"? The pun seeming to be authorized by "a plea / a look a rival" (B, p. 54)

(Parallel to the Shakespeare sonnets about the rival poet, e..g Sonnet 86.)  In both an alienation effect, because lyric poetry is no longer associated with this activity that we're sharing now, but with that other person's activity (an unwelcome one, to boot).

5.2. A group of stories of a mythical or ritual type. These include a Metamorphoses-style account of a yearning lover turned into a tree, and a relatively long account of water ritual in the days immediately following a child's drowning and before the child's spirit is fully at rest.

5.3. The curiously impressive apparition of a woman, near the end of the chapter, "with hair the colour of microphones".

This is Ovidian-in-reverse. The woman appears to metamorphose out of a bird standing "gradually" on the beach*, moving its "mouth" side to side and casting off feathers. At the same time the statement that "the woman stepped out shining" suggests a bather emerging from the sea.

[* The stuttering standing of a bird, always ruffled by the startle instinct and apt to hop about a bit. Gradual:  gradually calming down, becoming less flittery. But also gradus = a step: still moving about.]

She has a shadowy audience of men, to whom the words "deferential" and "cautious" are attached.

The side-to-side head movement of the bird/woman is reminiscent of the robotic Eula in the closing lines of ATBMOV .  And this final section of NOM names Eula several times  (the only one of the four to be named in NOM).  So is this emergent woman Eula? That seems far too definite an identification. But the impression that Eula has a cybernetic aspect, part technical and part bird maybe, is pervasive.

"like Roosevelt or the moon..." (p. 40)  - probably has nothing at all to do with the notorious massacre of Moro people in the Philippines in 1906 ("President Theodore Roosevelt sent Wood a congratulatory cablegram..."). Here's the link anyway.


6. Bulwarks.

A bulwark is a defensive fortification or rampart.

          We built the wall with stone by stone interiors
          Admiring fashion's fit with iron's wear
          And where the cracks peeked through a glint of green
          We stuffed it with the faces of our enemies... (pp. 45-46).

This defensive construction might be necessary, but there's paranoia and panic in blocking up those glints of green jungle with our nightmares.

This is the central and longest chapter, about double the typical length. With Bulwarks the poem becomes less innocent. A steadier preoccupation with colonialism begins here and continues through LG and ALH.

[Implements, in general] "diminished sovereignty / In the crude bath and plan raids .... does not hold its own / tradition bath nor subterfuge / umbrella as it falls..." (p. 44) This isn't exactly a motif, but there's a number of references in the poem to simple, old-fashioned implements, such as a primitive colony might value. Umbrella again, p. 52. The umbrella and parasol of TBC, p. 90. Knife, p. 49 and p. 53. Also the shovel (ATBMOV, pp. 80-81). The adze. (e.g. ALH, p. 65 "she took her tat / and adzed it through the rockface / of the boat she knew she'd go on"; ATBMOV, p. 82 "The world collects itself for you / an adze and scarf waft"). Ancient tool. There survive prehistoric Maori adzes that were used for woodcarving. "The pounding of the adze" (TBC, p. 89)  (unexpected use of an adze).

          Come come let us be hither let us not pretend we are not
          What we wot is the hintermost mortality can muster... (p. 46)

A call to order for the colonists, the double negative summoning "the not of widom" against the scarier "not" of the Other, "the night of savage-not-to-be". A call to national identity and apartheid.

"Hither": i.e. not "hither AND thither". No promiscuity of cultures here! (Compare "come thither" ALH p. 58, and "gone hither" p. 59)

"Hintermost": the context implying a sense of achieved superiority, the term itself implying essentialism and isolationism.

Though Manda resists this coercion the feeling of defeat, of personal identity being helplessly dependent on domesticity, on a bulwark preserving national identity, throws up its hands (p. 48). Patriarchal Fasti appears to inspire his colonist society and to hold it in check (pp. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53).

Manda's interjections, the "protesting soul",  instead proposes a rhapsodic inclusivity (p.47); these creative hungers are suppressed in the official culture, "because satiety / is its authorized appearance" (p. 48).

Peace is superficially restored ("Again, we are holding hands by the shore...") but the opposed elements jostle, gall, and attempt to co-opt each other, a conflict underlying the communal experience of the next few pages.

"That's the moon crept through the kauri tired". Agathis australis, a North Island conifer of great ecological and cultural significance. Once much exploited for its excellent timber (cf. "grand houses out of kauri", ALH, p.66).

Giant kauri at Waipoua Forest

[Image source:]

"I fell in love / with the moon's disputable mirror..." (p.49) begins a passage echoing TI p. 26.

"Fasti's quotient" (p. 53). The expression reappears in ALH, p. 69.

The last section of Bulwarks (pp. 55 - 56) tells a story about Manda teaching unruly children, colonial in character, and about a somewhat chaotic growth of urbanization. Children's education remains a preoccupation through LG and ALH.

Francis Towne (final line, p. 56): English watercolourist, d. 1816. Long neglected, now admired. Refers back to the educational project of p.55: "books with articles about watercoloring".


7. Landed gently.

"Landed gently". This was the name of a book by Alan Hunter (1957), featuring his character Inspector Gently. Hunter in turn may have intended a pun on "landed gentry". So might this chapter ("disinherit", "heir apparent", "inheritance"...). But more important, probably, is the recurrent appearance of "gently", e.g. in the the passage quoted below.

The themes of children and education continue from B. Colonialism too. Considerable energy on the theme of civil restitution for colonial wrongs. And blood, and the natural. At one point (p. 62), four lyrical paragraphs begin with the word "Naturally"...

"war-torn ways" (p. 58); cf. "the war-torn country" (p. 59). Possibly referring to the permanent state of small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal societies.

"Admonishment's a windy task that someone / takes eventually rectangular in buildings and a tithe..." (p. 59). In ALH this is more drastically developed as "Society's a way of having to be cleared / we very soon gave way all admonition / to the punt..." (p. 67).

The "Naturally" lyric, part of which follows, reflects on the network of past generations, sex and reproduction, comrades lost in shipwrecks, among other things.

           Naturally we no longer hear that sound even when our
           radios are far up into space with limbs triumphant in
           the voice of the woman is the care she cedes to no-one
           naturally climbing the next within the eggs she lays and
           hatches in each other this structure is an ornamental
           seizure for the Fasti caught in hatches own allure, his
           hard and clement fissures never so certain as

           Naturally what is lost is what we'd have to yield our
           names and call sister brother mother father child, sea-
           tender, mind-brooder, sand-counter, bird-leader, herd-
           endurer, leaf-gatherer, whale-shooter, immigrant youth,
           sober sustainer, free baby, world-renouncing dreamer,
           cloud-watching post-successive non-accreting brain-
           inveigling doom-calm yeay-say sad-eyed so-it-is-one

           Naturally such matters move in waves, and the bodies
           of those heaped through the water bump gently, sad
           if you say so, your broken heart is latched to their
           interiors, sad if you know so, the lands are moving
          slowly toward away each other tending arguments
          against the gentle trees that stir in books we hold with
          winds upon our faces from the buildings sway

(LG, pp. 62-63)

[The audio version of Landed Gently is also on the companion CD to Emily Critchley, ed. out of everywhere 2: linguistically innovative poetry by women in north america & the uk (Reality Street, 2015).]


8. A little history.

The theme of history had been forecast in the previous chapter (p. 60).

"the leopard island" (p. 65). Three more references on pp. 65 - 66. This is almost a narrative, featuring Eula.

[Meter] "The primary formal note is the interrupted iambic", announces the back cover straight-facedly, and that's perfectly true of Tomorrowland as a whole. But ALH, more than any previous chapter, is progressively invaded by a more insistent and stricter rhythm: the pulse of tetrameter, pointed up by lots of rhyme and near-rhyme. And this becomes a feature of the later chapters, for example at the end of ATBMOV and  in parts of TBC. In general my impression is that these stricter metrical incursions signify a crisis or breakdown.  They substitute for, yet do not conceal, chasms in human discourse.

"and bridge of anger to Hokianga" (last line, p. 71):  Hokianga harbour, with its giant kauri trees, celebrated as the birthplace of the Maori nation, is 3 hours' drive north of Aukland.


9. All the buildings made of voices.

          One never sees so much as through a shutter

(opening line of ATBMOV, p. 72)

Talking about the view through a window, and hence recalling the opening of LG. With a glance, too, at photography.

"At night she sweated language on her sheets" (p. 72). Recurrent themes of ATBMOV  include sweat, buildings, construction and languages. The themes are inter-connected, with literature and building intermixed, e.g. "This sort of narrative city is what it's all about" (p. 74).

"hark the tui rises with perfume" (p. 73). (Perfume, and stench, will become insistent features in TBC, the chapter that follows this one.) The tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) is a passerine bird endemic to New Zealand, a member of the honeyeater family. "..a tui sang his three notes and laughed and sang them again" (Katherine Mansfield, "Prelude").


[Image source: Photo by Cheryl Marriner.]

Unexpectedly but appropriately, the second section of this highly-built chapter (pp. 74-78) breaks forth into extended narrative, or the nearest that Tomorrowland ever gets to it.  The story concerns Fasti, his attempts to orient himself, what he is "supposed to know", limits on what he can see, his mother's grave and his sense of isolation from her, a persistent failed quest that becomes a deportment and cannot be sustained indefinitely  ("But Fasti would be young only so long ...")

[Tā moko] The tattooed facial designs of Maori culture turn up in the poem as the woman "with blueprints on her face" (ATBMOV, p. 75) and as "our blue-stained faces revealing us as / planful admonitions" (TBC, p. 91). Less certainly, "the family carved its ink along its flesh to remember" (S, p. 30); "Then Eula took to etching ink into the hide as well" (NOM, p. 41); "Eula is a caring carving ... she took her tat and adzed it through the rockface..." (ALH, p. 65).

There's a perceptible quickening of tempo in the later chapters.... a sense of urgency, haste, multiple actions spinning out of control.  As in the first word of the passage below.

          Meantime at the mast camp Manda stirred
          the bones sighed for country
          the rearranged consent was on a paper
          bottled carefully for the occasion and extracted
          from the ground on which she fled
          seine or wood, feigned for the burial

          Such marching is as adamant as your life
          sewed stitched arrayed, loaded with wrong ideas
          stove in your head, warrantless possessions
          following each other heel on keel
          as you dance amidst the rainsocked plot
          your muddy mind could grow on
          while you gorgeously palaver all the mindsets
          close and closer to your own -- come hither hard imagined
          hard to say in this life, the blank stuff of 'knowing'
          no closer than anyone is likely to accede --
          bland parleys, blind missives, stoked defences
          piled one on one until (we reach the pinnacle
          fair minded nation state whose every desire's to
          please those waiting selves who stroved
          and borrowed just to be asked ...

(ATBMOV, pp. 79-80)


10. The body's charge.

This is the last of the main chapters (excluding the preludial TA and postludial C). That finality is announced with the opening words, distantly recalling the first line of TA.

          The second volume planned to make a method
          Of her spells and be someone entirely different collapsed
          (though she rankled trees) the fragile jeopardy stripes
          Were all along reverse of what she wrote
          She found the stripes grow down her back she reached
          Over her shoulder held the skin and pulled and
          it would not release, not go at all

The theme of an abandoned plan continues and the body is the blocker of such projections.

The poem (typically evoking Manda at this point) now enters a body-centred, helpless, sensation-centred, field.

Rest, sex, love, washing, swimming, dissolution, death, mouldering. Somehow all held together in the single word "pulcherous". (p. 86)

All this is in marked contrast to the civilizing efforts to build in time and space that concerned the previous chapter ATBMOV, typified by its calendrical stargazing and pyramid roof-terrace.

"The body's charge" -  the charge is 1. an electrical energy, a potential energy / actual cavalry  2. an indictment, accusation. (especially on p. 88)  3. A freight, responsibility, maybe an unborn child. ("Manda's swell" p. 89).

The sudden return of Jack:

            We'll lift it up and bury us as
          orange and woody sprites become recycled selves
          in bricks and troves, in scarves and trousers
          lollipop specters nuzzling each other as the decades
          pass entranced -- the shade compels the body to follow it
          as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard
          for the dictates of his person, ....

The burial follows swiftly.


11. Circumference.

This epilogue begins playfully but is soon conflicted, fragmentary and defensive, the opposite of triumphal anyway.  None of the four named characters make an appearance. The pronoun "I" is insistent.

                                                    I don't think
          you really want the end you're diving for... (p. 95)

Circumference's iterations of sweeping, singing and ringing sound like a lyric that fails to reassure and is jangled by an alarm-bell. Only in the last couple of lines does some sort of stability ensue.

          tested -- every ringing was the next we -- told each stories to make
          the time -- it was so fine, under the conditions and -- we were all we
          were there right -- each other trembling, our clothes symbolic travesty
          underneath our tremble chest were waves --

(pp. 97-98)

underneath our tremble chest were waves --


Zoë Skoulding wrote about Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland and Gender City in her 2013 book, Contemporary Women's Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities.  In the Introduction she writes:

"Acts of looking have been a recurrent interest in my discussion, particularly in relation to the panoptic overviews of mapping and surveillance. Notley, Samuels and Carol Watts, particularly, engage with various forms of resistance to vision as a form of control, asserting the poem as site of perceptual and embodied disobedience." 

That seems a useful corrective to the various acts of mapping attempted here. Tomorrowland is in many respects unmappable by design.

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