Building Codes | Belle Gironda
Belle Gironda's poems mediate between domestic and public space, using the discourse of architecture and dramas of the dispossessed. She structures each poem anew to test the tensile strength of poetic tropes. In one, you hang by a finger on Bishop's Terrace in Yosemite; in the next, you circle The Mother of Orchards (Umm Al-Basatin) in Baghdad. Gironda navigates borders, recording language's obligations to material conditions. The book's orgasms are triggered by familiar ghosts: Frank Lloyd Wright, Michel Foucault, Ruskin and Byron. But those who haunt us are lesser known folks: Shameeka Johnson-Dixon, Cat Gironda, Robert Harbison or Farley Granger. The book moves us from "Plans" to "Structures" to "Dwellers"; we end in "Occupation." Through out the journey, "pure light" marks world's edges in "quick cuts like breaking glass-> rational space." We appreciate the risks Gironda takes in cultivating empathy.
by Brandi Herrera Pfrehm, Ithaca Times, August 26, 2009
Poems are a lot like structures - they come to us in all shapes and sizes. Some of them take on the form of grand edifices, others just little boxes. Fabricated one steel joist at a time, poems might grow upward to scrape the sky. Or, they might build their case concentrically, mimicking the finest Babylonian ziggurats. And some just attempt the unattainable; layering story upon story of thick architectural frosting until the structure simply topples from too much weight, and the builder finally loses inspiration. La Sagrada Família - the poem that never found its finish - if it were conceived by pen and paper.
In Building Codes (Stockport Flats 2009, $16.00) Belle Gironda plays with poetic form as if she'd just stepped out of the finest architecture school. Her mix-and-match tactics lend the work a quality of freshness, though one can still detect the voices of masters instructing from dimly lit corners. The tactic could easily fall flat. But just when you feel the urge to tell her to make up her mind, Gironda seems to pull off the finishing touches of her idiosyncratic creations with a flourish, and saves them from the obscurity of hodgepodge.
Codes is divided into four categories: Plans, Structures, Dwellers and Occupation. But that's as ordered as this blueprint gets. Instead, Gironda lays out her plans on delicate onionskin - transparent enough to allow for interpretation, and malleable enough to welcome experimentation. In her mapping of both physical and metaphysical spaces, the design feels meticulous; every beam and floorboard placed with solid intention. Upon closer inspection, one gets the feeling that even Gironda doesn't always know where they're going. And that's more settling, because the human experience really can't be contained so easily.
By book's end, Girona's reader will experience that satisfied fatigue of the seasoned traveler; one doesn't simply ride silently across predictable topographies. They dangle from the face of a cliff, ride the tail of a comet, explore Penn Station circa 1910, and jump through space-time to end up inside a Velázquez canvas. Somehow, they still manage to wander (and get lost in) subliminal cities, and finish as refugees of their own dreams.
In "Another Poetics of Space" - a stone gray piece underscored by news of the death of her daughter's friend - Gironda employs the concrete in numerous ways. With stacks of raw material she conveys the sense of spatial limitation we owe not only to drywall barriers, but also our psyche. We share intimacies even when we don't mean to because of the thin partitions separating our domains.
"Once I worked in an office space, arranged in cubicles. / I heard my co-worker cutting his fingernails / through the same mauve divider between our desks / where we sat very close and also listened to each others phone calls, typing, breathing. / I thought then I would run out and never return. / But, there was no question / about what was happening- / OK, it could have been toenails. / I'll never know."
It's almost as if she's encouraging eavesdropping. As a reader you want to peak over the edge of her stanzas to find out what's really happening. She goes on, "This excess of information poses an interesting problem: / ambiguity and an openness / to interpretation / on many levels."
As the poem escalates, one can't help but feel a tightening where there once seemed to be ample breathing space.
"The weight starts to gather in my chest, / the way November shifts..." Gironda draws attention to the constraints of our existence based on how we decide to navigate life. Death is no exception. And she ends with the elemental, "Eventually she brings her body to the bed where things / have to be / reordered / so she can lay with me and say that / her friend, / who was powerful and good / is dead-"
Though she does a lot of homing in the socio-political particulars of war and its casualties, not all of Codes is grave. Gironda also shifts her gaze to cultural geography. In the poem "Inside the Geographical Ghost..." she states, "Zones are defined by activities, / sensitivities: / Drop zone, / Erogenous zone, / Occupied zone, / Zone of least resistance." She goes on to question the idea of being of, and belonging to, a place. Brooklyn, in this case. And ends her journey where we all do: eventually giving in to celebrate what we pick and choose to relate to.
Building Codes, isn't unlike Gaudí's most fantastical structure. As you wander through the book's polished corridors, you get the sense that this is just the first phase of construction; there may be numerous painstaking details to draw, and whole sections of Gironda's cathedral to erect. We're in no hurry. The ghosts inhabiting her body of work are enough to keep our attention until its completion.