Michael Leong
Cutting Time with a Knife

ISBN: 9780986005008
Black Square Editions, October 2012
Paperback, 124 pages, $15 USD

Review by j/j hastain

An ultratrace element plays a significant role in the metabolism of the organism in which it resides, even if the percentage of space it inhabits within that organism is significantly less than the size of space that other elements (within that organism) take up. Perhaps the intentions that Leong ‘outs’ in the preface of his new book Cutting Time with a Knife (two of such intentions being: “to create an un-holy amalgam on which we might witness the chance meeting of a poet and a cryogenic tank” / “to perhaps quixotically if not poetically anticipate the future contours of literary history”) are ultratrace elements within the larger work? There is no singular-narrative, authoritative voice moving through the book, reminding us of Leong’s intentions, but we feel those intentions permeate pages; intensify our pulse, our pauses. What if we are being marionetted here, within a place where we can’t see any manipulator’s hands? If it is true that this is happening to me (us) in this way I have two comments: 1. It is working. 2. I prefer to not see the manipulator’s hands.

The tone of the work emits what I would describe as subtle command (something that I trust, that makes me feel trusting), both mystical and musical (as all of Leong’s works are). Each page of CTWAK exhibits diagrams, word turns (interacting with those diagrams), symbols, and a few sentences (in the shape of narrative but not as ‘a’ single domineering narrative). In this way (so many parts on each page) I found that the book can be read as two or three interacting sub-books. I am balancing on a wheel while causing a hovering wheel to spin (while it is in my own hands). In a moment in CTWAK, I find myself: here, I am a meta-manipulator too!

CTWAK is a place of equity, a place of numinous exchanges in a “numberless present” (“when we speak, we form oxygen-free air” / “the Adam’s Apple of the poet” as “integrated maturity” / “a source that is also a diameter” / “a peculiar and important penumbra”). We are not numb here. We are “inside an indiscriminate” “spectral drawing”—a “molecular learning.” No wonder I feel myself being wizened as I lean into this “flux more immediate than history.”

If there is a central figure in the work, that figure is “the poet” (of whom reference is made while the book is progressing). “The poet” is a “difficult beauty” here, because it remains as a figure, while discussion in regard to poetry (as a second central figure) is taking place (“cross-section of composed poetry out of control” / “poetry is an ongoing reaction” / “a scribal corruption” / “a new tone floating [] in a span of waste”). Are the poet and poetry at odds (“to make the great, parallel prism of the possible is to murder its original in the process”)?

The periodic table ‘in transition’, is one of the densities that moves through CTWAK. The periodic table’s presence interests me in whether or not there can be a zone (a set of pages? A grouping of symbols? Several slight or fractured sentences?) where failure is no longer opposed to succeeding; where the notion of failure, or of something not occurring ‘correctly’ no longer even need be considered.

I appreciate the continual return to fire and water in CTWAK. Though not on every page, if there were a path, a conveyor belt on which the content of CTWAK moves, I feel that that conveyor belt would be fire and water as reoccurrence. To the sorcerer, the spell caster, the cabalist, fire and water are “the first debris.” Fire and water dramatically effect surfaces, alter how the things that stay with us, end up appearing to us. Have you ever seen a book floating in a flooded basement? Have you felt the heat and ash as hundreds of family photos are being burned? Have you felt your own eyes begin to drip when you hold them open too long, staring into the blaze as it ravages the mountainside near your home? In CTWAK Leong is making a palimpsest out of the “lunar intensity of [our] liquid emotions.” Because we exist, we are morphable; we are symbols in a schema that strains.

j/j hastain is the author of several cross-genre books including the trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press) and The Xyr Trilogy: a Metaphysical Romance. j/j’s writing has most recently appeared in Caketrain, Trickhouse, The Collagist, Housefire, Bombay Gin and Aufgabe. j/j has been a guest lecturer at Naropa University and University of Colorado.