Apollo by Geoffrey Gatza
Geoffrey Gatza's stunning multimedia work, Apollo, offers readers an insightful discussion of the individual's place in a larger literary tradition. Presented as classical ballet, with a cast of dancers that includes Marcel Duchamp, Dorothea Tanning, Gertrude Abercrombie, and Leonora Carrington, Gatza's new book raises fascinating questions about the ways in which one should inhabit artistic histories: Are the works of other writers ours to reimagine? Who owns a literary work, and the aesthetic heritage that it represents? To what extent does homage blur into revision, or even destruction? As Gatza explores possible answers to these questions, he offers readers a provocative matching of style and content, particularly as his formal choices serve to illuminate and complicate his thought-provoking discussion of the Modernist canon.
Gatza works with a wide range of literary forms, including found templates that are not germane to poetry (such as a chess game, complete with photographs of rooks and pawns), lyric interludes, couplets, and tercets. What's striking about Gatza's engagement with form is the way that he envisions the relationship between artist and audience. Much like his Modernist predecessors, Gatza calls upon the reader to assume a more active role, and to participate in the process of creating meaning from the text. He ultimately asks us to reconsider our ideas about authorship, particularly when it is the reader who actualizes the literary text. Consider this passage:
To thing day way year
After as same
Small do come see take
After same not
Little work do come
Up a that
Here Gatza inhabits a traditional literary form, yet fills it with subversive content. By doing so, he suggests that it is one's life as a reader and an interpreter of literary texts that allows one to create new works. For Gatza, one's process as a reader and process as a writer are much the same. Both involve an active engagement with, and even a revision of, the literatures that came before one's own. In the end, both reader and writer must take liberties with past works of art in order for them to hold meaning for oneself, as well as for a contemporary audience. Apollo is filled with poems like this one, in which traditional literary forms serves as an extension of content.
Gatza's use of images also proves noteworthy as the book unfolds. Frequently using one medium to complicate his work in another, Gatza calls upon the reader to forge connections between different elements of the text. In much the same way that he constructs a narrative around the vestiges of literary tradition, his audience is invited to actively speculate and assign meaning. Gatza writes in "Nota Bene,"
On January 31st 2012, a woman slowly transforms over the period of twelve hours into words. Beginning with the hairs on her arms then to her skin then her body coverts into empty space marked by all the words in all the worlds dictionaries present and past. Her words take shape, organizing from short phrasings into longer texts [...]
By juxtaposing this poem with Dorothea Tanning's "Birthday" and describing it as a "response," Gatza invites the reader to speculate as to the nature of this response: Are the poems intended as homage, appropriation, revision, or critique? To what extent is it possible to separate one of these things from another? For Gatza, these questions have no easy answer. The meaning of the text resides not in any single aesthetic "statement," but in the process teasing out possibilities, particularly when thinking of how one should relate to past works of art. Throughout the book, what is portrayed as significant are the gaps, the liminal spaces that leave room for the reader's imagination. It is this process of participating in the creation of meaning that Gatza sees as more significant than any given manifesto, interpretation, or school of thought within the arts.
Approached with these ideas in mind, the photographs beautifully convey this valuing of process over product, as many of the images also document the book's composition. The relationship between artist and audience is refracted, multiplied as the reader of Apollo participates in Gatza's deconstruction of his own literary heritage. Gatza elaborates,
In 1913 at his Paris studio Duchamp mounted
A front bicycle fork with its wheel onto a stool.
It had no purpose
He simply enjoyed
In passages like this one, Gatza allows the reader into his composition process, illuminating myriad influences from the past. Yet Gatza also allows us to participate in the artistic process of those before him, inviting us into "Duchamp's Paris Studio" and also allowing us to deconstruct, revise, and appropriate Duchamp's work alongside him. What I find so compelling about Apollo is Gatza's ability to not only blur the boundaries between reader and writer, but also to refract, multiply, and complicate the relationship between artist and audience. In short, Apollo is a truly spectacular book.
Apollo by Geoffrey Gatza