Poetry News

On Kristen Gallagher's We Are Here

By Harriet Staff


Kristen Gallagher's new book, We Are Here (Truck Books 2013), has been reviewed by Hannah Ensor for The Volta's Friday Feature. If you've read Gallagher's essay from the Crayon issue entitled "On Beauty," you might have a head start on this project, in which Gallagher "decided to do something semi-procedural: I would go to 'beautiful' places with various close friends and audio recording equipment, and then later listen back to recordings of the excursions, transcribe them, and see if anything interesting emerged." Enson writes that a) the book is gorgeous and b) "In each block of text, we feel pointing happening: movement, physical worrying of a map—it’s happening and it’s physical, it corresponds to a world that exists and that our speakers are most certainly in. But it’s also not happening: not on the page, at least." More:

Since the transcription is flattened, unannotated (no “this conversation takes place in a small field west of the village on September eighth” inserted in brackets), untitled, unframed, the result is that the commonplace this-s and that-s and there-s and here-s have no antecedents. There’s no one and nowhere: we readers are not in any particular place adjacent to or populated by any other particular places to point to, from, within, toward. It’s not pointing at a place: not for us, at least. If this was once language of function, of achieving an aim, it’s now, in the context of WE ARE HERE, only language.

it would be … there? – mm-hmmm, so i guess we came this way – you wanna try this way? – no, i think we should try your way – i don’t care, i told you i’m always wrong so let’s go this way – yeah sure this way – that looks like there’s a house in the sky

As we might ask of a urinal in the middle of the room (no hoses) or of a stool with a bicycle wheel affixed to its sitting surface (each negating the other’s purpose), of WE ARE HERE’s previously-functional language we can ask: what do we do with language of purpose—especially language like this that had no original aspirations toward aesthetic value—when it is stripped of its function? What does it become if it is no longer the one thing it was uttered to be?

Gallagher, in a note after the text, describes the process of creating this book as going on outings with close friends, recording their conversations, and, when transcribing them, realizing “[w]ithin minutes … that on these trips a great deal of time was spent consulting maps and otherwise orienting oneself—and the language of that was not only interesting but often funny. It had that quality of Perec’s work that I love, his capacity for capturing those things that are so obvious, so ubiquitous, that we don’t notice them. I thought surely this language must be happening all the time.”

Perec! Read the full review here.

Originally Published: January 30th, 2013