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Ocean Plastic by Orchid Tierney
reviewed by Stephen Bett

Ocean Plastic
Orchid Tierney
BlazeVOX Books


Only an innovative, critical eco-poetics can track language unit by unit while simultaneously showing us nasty fibrous bits from the clothes washer that spill into the food-chain in our water systems. In her new, impressive (and pointedly impressing) chapbook, poet Orchid Tierney melds together units of speech simulating or riming with the synthetic microfibers of polyester (how appropriate for our post-postmodern times!). Her page by page, ever expanding text adds phrasal chunks together in cumulative strings mimicking the gross indignities we inflict on the natural world. (If you eat fish, the poet tells us, you can be sure that you’re also eating plastic.) And her methodology similarly reminds us of parsed sentences, of dependent clauses trapped like splintered shards inside independent ones, at their beginning, middle, and end. The ultimate chop and change of generative language globs. Accruing, accumulating, like clogged up lengths of stringy garbage. “[An] amputated sea welts sympathy,” we’re told, and we can sympathize graphically: a living praxis of mish-mashed phrases coiled to the point where our brains actually throb. Positing an inventive, water testing vocabulary to outline what we do to our ecosystems likewise.

Throughout Orchid Tierney’s steadily self-generating text we find ourselves spinning inside the swirling machine, moving from “airy spines spun with sea gull stomachs” (the opening page) to “polymermaid / … / gritty grains gauge / … / garbage gyres / polyester /… / a hurd of nurdles / … / polyghosts / … / nylon-riots” (closing page). Advancing the work so ingeniously foregrounds both text and texture, linking a spiny, tight phrasing with polyester’s poisoning of the water. Units of speech accumulated, then, right to the sharp-eyed edge of our eco-madness. (We are, after all, water bred creatures.) Tierney’s language strings spin-cycle us along in a seasick ride from her opening page’s single phrase to a closing 35 unit conglomeration of brilliantly messy bits, buried at the singular heart of which the—literally, central—phrase “finger lichen good,” voyaging us from this (washer) load of piled up phrasal clutter to the final site of our inevitable ocean-cide. With our natural resources now truly at stake, we’re really getting to the drowning point here, where the washer hits the waves, spilling those spikey microfibers ghostlike into the food-chain: “guppy globsters tumbling over gill filters / … / partial polyghosts soupify in garbage gyres.” Turning and turning indeed in widening gyres. Feels like we’re hitting the catastrophic end.

Stephen Bett writes from Victoria. His forthcoming works include a collection from Salmon Poetry and a chapbook from Finishing Line Press.

This review originally appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books 24.