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Reviewed by Mike Bennett
bill bissett’s prolix but fertile time consists, in part, of an ambiguous take on some important philosophical issues–namely, temporality, change, and the metaphysical distinction between stable being and fluid becoming. The book can be read as a reflection on the kind of moral or social formations that emerge in a world characterized fundamentally by change. Given such an ontology, what does love look like? What about personal identity? bissett hints that the flux calls for jubilation, as we have cast away our traditional baggage. But the nature of time presents us, basically, with a moral challenge:
we ar all bcumming
closr 2 our destinaysyuns
although thos ar alwayze sew
changing thers no staybul gate
or dreem no pure life style uv
ths or that lets b ok with each
othr is all (88)
Of course, bissett is best known for his idiosyncratic orthography. Here its regularity, tending toward opacity, produces an uncanny effect, which requires the reader to tarry at the surface, to read carefully and decipher, preventing (or at least postponing) the resolution of the words into flavourless conventionalisms.
Essentially, bissett insists on taking time seriously. Time is not an accident that befalls existence, but the very condition of existence in general. This insight, bissett admits, shocks and terrifies us. It tempts us to flee in the face of the horrifying anonymity of fundamental reality. He asks,
[…] arint we redee 2 accept life
in all its xceedinglee non narcissistik
moments ium saying life its reelee not
abt aneewun (26)
bissett’s eight-poem sequence about death late in the book (the “going 2 spirit pomes or as erthlings say / deth pomes” ), neatly encapsulates the dynamic: hospital visits, interferon treatments, et cetera put us face to face with something unsettlingly deep. Here as elsewhere, bissett is continually knitting three dimensions together: the metaphysical dimension (the questions of time and “bcumming” as they really are, divorced from the “anthropomorpik”  prejudice), the cosmological (the shock of death in the series is correlated with planetary death and ecological crisis), and the practical or moral.
The majority of bissett’s book is dedicated to how the metaphysical commitment to time and change gets decanted into social life. Here the temptation to flee from scary, non-narcissistic reality can be inverted into something equally problematic. In the absence of impermeable borders between individuals, it seems in principle possible to merge them together. Such is the imaginary function of “love sickness now kalld kodependensee” (70). The theme of bodies melting together or becoming indistinct permeates the book, and is mostly linked to sexuality: “yu melt in / my mouth… / […] / wher ar yu going yu / askd me / inside yu i sd” (48). The text is periodically interlarded with bissett’s drawings. Virtually all of them depict human forms, but indirectly. As in a kind of optical illusion, the contours of the figures materialize in the interplay of discrete, small-scale lines and shapes. The identity of the figures is insubstantial, a higher-order emergent property of the image. Perhaps this is the case for three-dimensional earthlings also. Yet, bissett insists, the pathos of separation remains, and “kodependent entangulmentz” are undesirable (94). Fluidity calls for caution as well as joy.
On the whole, bissett’s poems present these metaphysical, cosmological and moral issues in a sensitive, sophisticated way. The ambiguity of his take is refreshing and provocative. Fundamentally, bissett asks: what is to be done in a world of change? What does change mean for our relationships with ourselves and with others? The villanelle-like final poem ends with the consolation: “look 2 th moon sew far its alwayze ther / n ium cumin home 2 yu soon wher is / home wher is home wher is home” (160). We should not be fooled by the apparently naïve reference to a safe and welcoming “home.” The security of this home is undermined by the reference to the moon. Its permanence is a function of scale only (in this case, distance). If everything is a phase transition, everything a change of state, differences of scale, however vast, ought not be hypostasized into permanent essences. It is to bissett’s credit that he presents this to us as a problem. On the back cover of the book, he explains that “time is reelee abt how evreething is fleeting n how we deel with that.”
This review first appeared in The Bulf Calf in 2010.