Resembly: NAPOLEON’s As first as exactly By Zach Savich

Resembly: NAPOLEON’s As first as exactly

by Zach Savich

Say the sound that starts an echo is also an echo: in 1905 Picasso paints “Gertrude Stein,” so in 1909 Gertrude Stein writes “Picasso” (the poem, not the memoir from 1938, Picasso), so in 1923 she writes “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso,” which, according to Ulla Haselstein, “both completes and effaces [her] earlier portrait of Picasso by producing a self-portrait in the guise of a portrait.” You look for the source of the echo. You see an arrangement of sky.


Upon its appearance in Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz called Stein’s first portrait “a Rosetta stone of comparison”—but what could it decipher? Hold another text closer. Can you see my resemblance.


Say her process says: “I must find out what is moving inside them that makes them, and I must find out how I by the thing moving excitedly inside in me can make a portrait of them.” What makes me makes me. This was when Stein’s portraits were composed of “talking and listening.” Looking comes later, in 1912, when by some estimates one out of four people in the United States spoke English as an additional language or else not at all.


“The way of living had changed the composition of living,” Stein said of Cubism, and the parallels are obvious. Though, as Jamie Hilder notes, pictorial Cubism is spatial but when I am talking to you this effect happens in time. If that is the case, and, as Stein had it, “when [Picasso] saw an eye the other did not exist for him.” Or if waves touch upon the land composing geography. If by implication a gallery is separate from time. “The unfinished conditional clause itself makes the text into an intimate piece of confidentiality, a disclosure of secrets, a reverie,” says Haselstein.


And goes on to venture that a literary “portrait” is already intermedial, so one morning in autumn Man Ray turned an individual into a visual pun or vice versa. Stein increases this intertextuality in 1934, when she records “If I Told Him.” In this recording, the poem (in the words of Brian Reed) “comes across as a much more heterogeneous composition, consisting of sequential sections that obey distinct formal logics and proceed according to disparate rhythms. The first distinct segment, for instance, has a questioning intonation.” Could this be the way you like to hear it. If that is different from how you hear it. Whenever I talk to myself it is a new quotation. Remember, we are talking about someone who advocated “hear[ing] with the eyes.”

*                             *

An exact illusion, or exacting allusion. If, as Thoreau says, each echo is original music. Then you hear the elation in pixelation through an erasure. Has the message been redacted broadly enough? In Marc Blumthal and Alexis Nutini’s Portrait the trenches between extant platelets reveal what I can tell you is a face. My learning recalls the “evil ditches” in Dante, in which the fraudulent are dismembered and healed to be dismembered again, a process of self-discovery reminiscent of any afternoon re-reading. If the echo is a fraud or do my eyes deceive me. Then pluck out a world and carry it in front of you on a plate.


Or ligature those trenches excised from a woodblock’s press and arrayed like rivulet traceries or kelp-worn riggings on a vinyl side. Much as paint that slices through a fire-escape? Every creature, I have been told, has a camouflage moment in which it comes as close as we can see to vanishing; there is even a word for this, which might come to mind upon seeing Christina P. Day and Christopher Hartshorne’s to exact resemblance. If what is pushed back pushes back exactly what, exactly. Though once Picasso saw a camouflage truck and said “yes it is we who made it, that is cubism,” at least according to Stein.


If that is the case, and, as Stein had it, “when [Picasso] saw an eye the other did not exist for him,” then who was this other, if not Stein? The reflection itself is no more a mirror than the air between you and the mirror is, optically speaking, itself a “mirror,” if by mirror we mean the site of a vision’s construction, and thus any air should be implicated. “And so shutters shut” in a manner that takes the place of shingles, much as one looks up after putting down a book or further into Jordan Rockford and H. John Thompson’s For this is so. Because. Can you read this back to me more easily than / can you read backwards to “yourself” more easily than because. For this is so.

as strains

present exact

say so


if land is one

or I is one     and fairly well

or me by land

and two

is might as well

as well

Another central moment is the suspension of disbelief, which I am happy to call here, as anywhere, simply “belief.” The last tile you have to play is up your sleeve or it may be your sleeve itself: see what’s pinned there, dangling verdant with the loftiness of a lost pilot lighting diesel ashore. As ore? Sh. You are higher than you thought. In Liza Coviello and Leslie Friedman’s Land you can see the altercation of sky I’m talking about; it consists of a single vent, in one place. Vines echo up. Or veins of ore. You are thinking of a word that you can make using only all of the letters.


Oh, I didn’t tell you DJ Spooky sampled Stein’s poem much later, or there was a dance extending from it. A lunchbox, too? Why not. You were wearing your Gertrude Stein heirloom. “I was not interested in making the people real but in the essence or, as a painter would call it, value,” Stein said. Could you repeat the question in my voice. Of course, every staircase is a mosaic, as every instance is a preposition and so each staircase is little more than the essence of a home. Which I suppose any site of a staircase must become. In the case of Lewis Colburn and Tamsen Wojtanowski’s Repeated Set, I’m stopped in—

with is is

so of is for

denote is coo

laid stars

*                 *

And the ground is right where I left it. As Lyn Hejinian says, “To ‘Act so that there is no use in a center’ proposes landscape with its perspective spread over a largish surface, located in innumerable nonisolating focal points. In terms of writing, this meant, for Stein, that the vanishing point might be on every word.”

About the Author:

Zach Savich is the author of the poetry collections Full Catastrophe Living (2009), Annulments (2010), The Man Who Lost His Head (2011), and The Firestorm (2011), as well as a book of prose, Events Film Cannot Withstand (2011). His work has received the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Colorado Prize for Poetry, the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Open Award, and Omnidawn’s Chapbook Award. He teaches at the University of the Arts and co-edits Rescue Press’s Open Prose Series.

to download a .pdf version of this essay, click Savich_NAP_CW_October

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  1. […] Revisit Zach’s essay for NAPOLEON’s CITYWIDE exhibition, here. […]

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