Eight Track

By Christine Wiesenthal

by Oana Avasilichioaei
TALONBOOKS
2019/$19.95/208 pp.

In her sixth book of poetry, Oana Avasilichioaei offers a multi-frequency meditation on the various meanings of “tracks” and “tracking”—sound tracks, animal tracks, landscapes and languages as “trackscapes,” technology (old and new) as tracking devices for surveillance, “security” and control. Avasilichioaei, a tracker of tracks on whom not much is lost, reaches back to retrieve obsolete technologies such as the “eight track” not as nostalgic relics of historical interest, but to explore incisively the uses, abuses, implications and effects of such technologies as recorded sound and image. Above all, she never loses sight of representation as a form of power.

Appropriately partitioned into eight sections (with a “semi-silent” “bonus track” signal at the end), the book’s opening sequences, “Voices (remix)” and “Voices (remix) Side B,” quickly complicate and contemporize the old vinyl LP they evoke. The sonic is dizzyingly polyphonic, as Avasilichioaei orchestrates an assemblage of fragmentary, unplaced voices, leaving readers to navigate the discordant as though by echolocation. Judith Fitzgerald has said of Avasilichioaei’s description-defying work that it cannot be read so much as “experienced,” and this is true of Eight Track as well. The book’s experimental, dialogic form is one of its marvellous pleasures as we follow the poet to encounter worlds of unexpected new meanings in strategically staged, reappropriated and “found” materials ranging from radio plays sourced from CIA transcripts, to a long conceptual poem in the final section that (in the poet’s own gloss) “tracks the animal” of Jacques Derrida’s source text, L’animal que donc je suis—in order to “free the word-beast from the philosopher’s argument.”

A former writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary, Avasilichioaei is one of the sharpest intermedia and translation artists working in Canada today. Creating deliberate forms of “interference” across multiple metaphorical registers and heterogeneous materials, her newest work also “interferes” suggestively with conventional book form. Instead of footnotes, endnotes or traditional epigraphs, readers are presented with “liner notes” that preface each of the eight “tracks”; time stamps replace page references in the table of contents. The book as a whole refuses conventional uses of textual space and its implicit hierarchies of meaning—the most moving lyric essay in the collection, in fact, appears not in the main body of the text at all, but in the “Liner Notes” at the end, as a presumably supplemental appendage to the astonishing photos of Peruvian geoglyphs in “Trackscapes.” As she writes (in another marginal annotation): “The marginal note, / as usual, [is] devious.”

—Christine Wiesenthal is a professor at the University of Alberta.

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