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Cara Benson on Chris Vitiello

Irresponsibility, Chris Vitiello
ISBN 978-1-934103-00-5
Ahshata Press, 2008 (Boise, Idaho)

What is the irresponsibility of this work? That it is in our hands, perhaps. That it isn’t any more than it is. “The resultant text seems a waste by-product.” (author statement) and “Everything must be thrown away.” (80) Yet, the product exists, complete with ISBN. So the question at stake here is: What is the responsibility of the author to the reader? Additionally, Vitiello is asking (himself), what is the responsibility of being a poet // a person alive at this time on the planet?

As a result, this becomes a provocative book, more, then less, and again more so than expected. It directs us to engage page by line by arrow pointing to the next white space making places for the reader to take part by taping her hair into or writing between his words. Vitiello really does want to see these pages acted on, abandoned, re-membered.

Enter at any point and be told to put the book down. Go outside. Be with others. The ones you love will die. “Think of the shape of this system” Vitiello writes, and Wilder’s Our Town, Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, and Hejinian’s The Rejection of Closure come to mind. Wilder’s moral appears through a Salingerian dramatic bomb of a book in a footnote. Though in Irresponsibility the ‘bomb’ is already exploded, and what we hold is the blast’s vestiges. Enter Hejinian.

But first, the ‘moral.’ [1]

“Michelle’s dead” (80) occasions the sole footnote in the book. The message, “Put this book down and go be with other people” (80) has already surfaced (“Stop reading here and do something else for 45 minutes” (67)), yet it acquires a poignancy on the heels of the line it accompanies. We don’t know who Michelle is,

(For that matter, we only partly piece together any of the characters and their relationship to the “I”. A fair amount of information is to be found in the author’s statement on the publisher’s website. Vicky and Iris, the names that appear most, and the names especially to which the work is dedicated, wife and daughter. Brent and Tony are quoted on the back cover. The book ponders how people (“names”) appear in our lives (more Hejinian). In Irresponsibility, there they are repeatedly and with a familiarity prior to the book. Now the names make me think of Berssenbrugge. I write this, as Vitiello writes, exposing the writing, as this does here.)

but her first appearance is in death (enter at any point), so we assume her importance. Traditionally, asking a reader to extend this type of investment without being given the stuff of the importance is considered a dramatic flaw. To consider this work through the lense of drama seems somehow off. But yes, this book contains story. An accumulation of (enough) similar characteristics gathers for us and we can make (enough of a) story of it. Even if Vitiello might (want us to) resist this. After all, there is no ‘avoiding’ it.

justification images an access method No avoiding that (76)

Irresponsibility opens at the ocean on the pock-marked beach. Though he claims the waves are not metaphorical, the iteration and reiteration of water on the sand and the interconnected processes of sand, erosion, water, and rock emblemize his work. These images are access points and also models for comprehending the text. Like ocean, Vitiello composes his system (“Zorn’s “Cobra” is a system not a / composition” (84)) through shape-shifting, variation of repetition, telling us to read backwards, and providing holes and interruptions.

In Irresponsibility, the interruptions take on a significance that is central rather than tangential to the work. Is this book an interruption of our lives? Is it more than an accumulation of characteristics or a “bag of tricks”? (92) Is the writing an interruption of Vitiello’s? Or is it vice versa? And yet, “[i]nterruption is interaction”. (30) Does this interaction meet the author’s responsibility?

Vitiello puts the book in our hands as a dialectic. It is an event. It also wants to inform us how to be when we do not hold it. Think of the Williams line, one cannot get the news from a poem…. If we are not interrupted, we will not so fully interact with that in which we were engaged prior to the interruption. (Read this review backwards.)


[1] This is one reader’s projection into the book: that it contains a Moral. And, that the moral is the one delineated herein. Some texts are more open to projection than others. Hence, Hejinian.

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