Your Very Own

22 June 2022

Your Very Own
by John Nyman
Published by JackPine Press
Review by Elena Bentley
$30.00 ISBN 9781927035443

As soon as I saw Your Very Own by John Nyman, I knew I had to read it. Because what 80s and 90s kid didn’t love reading the Choose Your Own Adventure series? I certainly did. Now, as an adult, I also love erasure poetry, and this chapbook published by JackPine Press is a delightful combination of both.

Nyman, a visual poet and erasurist with a PhD in theory and criticism, calls himself “a theorist posing as an artist.” For those unfamiliar with erasure (sometimes called whiteout or blackout poetry), it’s a form of poetry where the poet or visual artist removes certain words from the original work; thus, producing a new poem. Your Very Own uses as its source text Choose Your Own Adventure #43: Grand Canyon Odyssey (1985) by Jay Leibold and Don Hedin.

Divided into three sections “composed of three voices, or three ventures,” Your Very Own acts as “a kind of excavation.” “Much of what it excavates,” writes Nyman, “are products of a worldview that is cruel, ignorant, unjust, and violent.” Nyman trusts that we, as readers, not only “see this worldview as it is,” but that we might also consider what it means to choose. That we might reflect on our own “habits of thought and expression.” Given the problematic colonialist nature of the source text (a young Navajo girl guiding a young white boy through the American Southwestern terrain), the erasure form lends itself well to considerations of whiteness, “choice, responsibility, and the act of reading.” Nyman acknowledges, however, “that no quantity of whiteout will ever make up for injustice, no matter how many corrective layers are applied.”

Nyman doesn’t just modify the text–the cover and interior illustrations have also been modified. The book design is clever and unpredictable, and it goes without saying that it wouldn’t be a JackPine Press publication if the book design wasn’t clever and unpredictable. To someone glancing over a shelf in a used bookstore, Your Very Own could very well appear to be a real Choose Your Own Adventurebook complete with a masking tape price sticker (marked at fifty cents) except for one obvious difference: the incomplete cover art. This pattern of missing graphic elements continues throughout the book. In addition, one page within each of the three sections is die-cut. The final die-cut page is the most memorable, for the character has been completely removed from the page and all that’s left is the rock he’s standing on–a pretty poignant way to end the book.

“Erasure,” notes Nyman, “whether it works to rectify error or bury truth, is a long and perhaps endless process. We can’t expect to be done with it in a hurry.” This type of poetic approach is an interesting thought experiment, for it encourages us “to grab hold of / and pull on each / wrong.” And, I might add, it would also be wrong for you not to read your very own copy of this unique chapbook. Choose wisely!


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