Micro-Review: Michael Snediker's New York Editions

Samantha Thilen

If Michael Snediker’s New York Editions is a cipher, its messages are still tenderly, sympathetically erotic. We the readers are sometimes the cryptographers the poems intend, sometimes not. Regardless, in each of these poems I sense that the poet has conceived of me, too—noticing me looking over his shoulder, he invites me to take a crack at the code—and the generosity of his imagination makes a beloved of me. So often these poems recount misfirings and disjoints, leaving the speaker in “lone-/someness,” as Snediker calls it in “The Abasement of the Northmores.” So often Snediker’s poems parse the speaker’s lone-/someness even as they parse syntactic units blown across the page. The space created in each poem is deeply felt, the absence between each word a phantom limb.

But paradoxes like the presence of absences are neither easily set down nor easily let be. Consider the prose poem “I Ching/Egg Cup” late in the book, in which Giambattista della Porta’s treasonous messages to prisoners written on the whites of boiled eggs, revealed only after peeling the shells, become an analogy for undeclared love. “Your love sours the air it’s written on like ink from lemons, time yoking the horizon like the beginning or end of a play. Breakfast egg cup, mouths full of krill: from far enough away waiting for the other to breach the fluke registers only as a little mist, pale gray on gray.” In “The Gray Immensity,” Sophie Calle’s “La Filature” (1981)—for which Calle hired an investigator to follow and photograph herself, and then, unbeknownst to the investigator, photographed him watching her—offers the idea of love as vicarious experience, of watching or of watching oneself being watched. “The first investigator:/this was the chronic illness a music so close it/seemed to well inside (it does), and the second/investigator: this is the doctor to whose office we/are walking. And this will be love, too, to hold his/photos in our hands.”

Portuguese has a lovely word for the temperament that best describes this book: “saudade.” In his note on the text, Snediker says that the book “takes its name from The New York Edition, Henry James’s name for Scribner’s twenty-four volume reissue of the lion’s share of his prior novels, novellas, and short stories…At best superficially allusive, the titular apparatus references James’s work as a means of both marking and refracting time… [but] [t]he poems furnish their own context.” Henry James another beloved, another absent presence for Snediker.