Reviewed by Thomas Fink
Michelle Naka Pierce’s long poem, Continuous Frieze Bordering Red, examines how others identify the poet’s speaker based on social structures of racial differentiation and hierarchy, as well as how she entertains strategies of self-identification or resistance and identifications. “Born in Japan” (back cover), Pierce is the daughter of a Japanese mother and “white” “American” father.
At the outset, Pierce builds in a formal resistance to ordinary reading. Like most books, Continuous Frieze Bordering Red gives no instructions about how to read it vertically and/or horizontally. But as soon as I tried to read the first page in the “normal” way, I found an especially severe disjunction—both grammatically (a preposition followed by a capitalized subject, then a verb) and thematically—between the third line and the one below it, and after that, frequent patterns of disruption.
Some trial and error ensued, and then I discovered that ordinary syntax and greater flow are preserved if I assume a continuity between the first line, read from left to right, and the first line of the next page all the way to the book’s end, and then follow the second line from page 1 to 68, and so on, until the fifth and final line. And yet the bottom of pages 21 through 32 each feature two to four vertically proceeding lines of verse, often with multiple indentations, near the bottom of the page.
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