Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Karen Donovan | Review of Spencer Holst's Brilliant Sentences


Review of Spencer Holst's Brilliant Sentences
by Karen Donovan

Spencer Holst, Brilliant Sentences: A Book of Paragraphs & Sentences and 13 Very, Very Short Stories (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill/Barrytown, 2000)

Perhaps you haven't had the pleasure of hearing Spencer Holst tell you a story. A few pages into this new collection and you're going to start wishing.

An ampersand unwinds.
A haunted jewel with a soul covers a cruel beauty's mole.
I fish for a name among my many noms de plume.

Is this prose? Holst describes his work as "paragraphs" and "sentences" and "very, very short stories." Is this music? He opens with an overture and avenues through frugal fugues, a disappearing reappearing act through a multiverse strange and familiar. Or maybe this is performance that escapes the page:

A fast talker sometimes needs to whisper, She is a deaf-mute who
can read his lips, is expert at taking shorthand, and gets it all
down in black and white, though she's a dozen feet away, and looking
at him in a mirror.

Parables, riddles, quixotic quickies, allegories, fables, Zenlike pensées. One thinks emptiness, perfection, no-mind. Yet one thinks with this no-mind. Waking dreams in the garden of myth, where the storyteller goes on hoeing his rows.

Even after you realize oh, he's doing this with collage, you wonder: how? The way gravity drops a crabapple in the grass, perfectly adjacent to your cup of tea? The way a skipping stone thrown by a tot knocks a quack from a duck? Pots of adjectives spun by lots of folks have tried to describe Spencer Holst since his debut in the '50s; the storyteller merely smiles enigmatically and hairpins the next turn.

The Fibonacci series yields the nautilus shell, the sunflower's whorled face, symmetry in variety. Likewise, Holstian mathematics are based on 64, two to the sixth power. Six sets of 64 pragraphs, interwoven with six paired strands from the overture, for a total of 384 singles sentences, or "unpierced pearls strung," divided into six sections.

As with nature, there are no mistakes here, only experiments. The chemist and physicist also know the puzzle deepens the farther in you stroll. First is color. Glimmering wit, a feel for the shapely story. Imagination proposing astonishing detail and moving on fast, fruitfully spending vision that never looks back. But then, when you are dizzy with color, and you grope for the structure underneath, there it is, revealed.

Photographs of sculptures by George Quasha called "Axial Stones" appear her and there in the book: the acknowledgments page calls them "precariously and naturally balanced, unworked stones, using no adhesive in maintaining position." So precisely thus do Holst's brilliant silences stand. [Karen Donovan, Rain Taxi]

Copyright (c)2000 by Karen Donovan

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