coda: fluttertongue book 7

2 March 2022

coda: fluttertongue book 7
by Steven Ross Smith
Published by JackPine Press
Review by Elena Bentley
$20.00 ISBN 9781927035467

When I think of poetry, I don’t immediately think of fun and games. But coda: fluttertongue 7 is just that—it’s fun! It’s a playful, tactile, tangible poetry experience. Steven Ross Smith brings to a close his decades-long “exploration of methods of poetic composition” with this highly innovative final installment of fluttertongue.

Made in collaboration with artist, illustrator, and graphic designer Brian Kachur, this handmade chapbook is not your usual book design. The pages (die cut in the shape of a Roman numeral seven) are held together in the top left corner by a metal pin. This means you have full range of motion to turn and swivel the pages. And trust me, you’ll need to! Because while Smith composed the poem, Kachur organized the lines to flow and move around the holes in the die cuts. At times the lines read left to right, then swing downward, and at other times, the lines head upward, then curve back right to left again.

Spoiler alert! Sevens appear everywhere: seven sections, seven pages per section, and seven splotches on the edge of the page that flutter when you thumb them. What I find most compelling about the hidden sevens is that seven also guided the book’s conception; Smith explains that he “drew from the first six books—selecting phrases using an ‘every-seventh-line’ method.” The lines were then “manipulated, morphed, and embellished.”

Being, admittedly, unfamiliar with books one through six, I had no preconceived notions about what to expect from book seven. But Smith’s poetry is unlike anything, both visually and aurally, I have ever personally encountered. Smith says he’s not a “lyric poet,” nor does he “deliver epiphany;” instead, he let’s “language lead [him] into what [he] might say, as opposed to [him] having something to say.” So don’t expect the reading experience to be easy; in fact, it can be challenging, like a word puzzle without an answer key. Smith incorporates various fonts, font sizes, symbols, punctuation, and accents among the letters in unique and original ways: umlauts resemble “ëyës,” square brackets become a “wind[ ]w,” and arrows show where you’re “go→ing;” @ stands in for at and X means cross in “X-road.” Words even appear within words: “Ja(U)m(l)e(y)s(s)J(s)o(e)y(s)ce.” These are just a few examples of Smith’s many creative typographical choices.

The most rewarding aspect of Smith’s poetics is the musicality. Smith is a master of sound: “th rapture game proceeDSZ JDunsScooter & Janny-Z, ratcheteddapperrappers list,en,in’ to jabbercrow tGRAAWWKalk wonky wAAWWlk in vi(cor)vid w,raAAAWWpture.” I read the whole of coda out loud, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Like a catchy song on the radio, your favourite lines from this one-of-a-kind chapbook are sure to get stuck in your head long after you finish reading it. You’ll find yourself fluttering around the house, repeating “I can tell you, I’ve been,“sht” my shin on th po(stump)em, on the arb(re)itrary trŸs.”


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