Sweet Shop / Sweat Shop
By Craig Epplin
I once heard a piano instructor give advice about how to convey movement: “Start with the shape your fingers want to make. Do they want to bounce? Slide? The notes will follow…” His words, to me, said more than he intended; they hinted at a theory of everything. All relationships are essentially kinetic, he seemed to say. The essence of expression is not meaning and it’s no form, but rather the gestural energy that sets them both in motion. The details of anything are secondary to the movements that give rise to them.
Roland Barthes wrote something similar about Cy Twombly’s paintings – particularly his painted writing. Twombly’s thick, childish letters, the roots of peonies and other scribbles, are characterized by their “indolence” and their “elegance.” His writing has a red or black core that might coincide with the essence of all writing. Barthes is cagy on this point, but his expression is concise: “neither a form nor a usage but only a gesture.” If that’s what writing isn’t and is, then it’s nothing like casting a mold or making a point. It’s more like drawing an arc or waving goodbye.
Both the piano teacher and Barthes’s Twombly are gesture artists. I remembered them when I was reading some of Donald Dunbar’s recent poems. The images in these poems proceed quickly. They seem to light up a surface, each one barely announcing itself before fading into the next. Weight and elasticity predominate among them. They line up along a tangent leading away from a circle. Their vague outlines rub up against each other, each one inflecting some part of its neighbor’s shape. And shape is everything here. The details follows or they don’t, and when they don’t it’s up to us to fill them in. These images are gestures – energetic, slight, and barely drawn.
These simple observations formed the premise for a few experiments based on Donad’s poem “Sweet Shop.” We asked Donald to work with visual artist Allegra Jongeward to produce an image to accompany the poem. Their hour-long conversation produced an expanse of dark lines and charcoal nebulae, drawn and erased in succession, the page becoming the index of a dialogue that meandered and touched on everything from agriculture to Twitter, illustrious painters (Hieronymus Bosch) to infamous ones (George W. Bush). Their resultant image is based on lines both assertive and suggestive, straight and wandering: watchman trees and cat-burglar mushrooms, the space between them marking the indeterminacy of their relationships. The image’s left half has the feel of a stage set or some other interior. I see griddled floor on the edge of a roof guarded by shards or stakes. The right side has more fluid boundaries, its figures evocative of fronds or smoke or cotton candy. All these forms have condensed around the lines that emerged through the original conversation, extending and hardening them: ekphrasis in reverse.
We wanted not only to produce an image, but to document its emergence. Filmmaker Roland Wu captured the encounter, documenting its cohesion and its dispersion. We hear reflections on the poem as we watch the sheet of paper fill up. The video reveals the process of creation giving way to insight becoming analysis. As it unfolds “Sweet Shop” yet again, as if it were a slinky, we see the interplay between dialogue and action, thought becoming a graphic representation.
Finally, while gesture produces meaning, Donald’s English-to-English translation of “Sweet Shop” (titled “Sweat Shop”) explodes it. The original poem’s chain of signifiers is replaced, as the poem becomes a resource for yet another gesture. His rewriting draws on the original through the dual impetus of sound and tangential association. The new text, a more sinister translation of the original, is included here, along with a vocal recording of it.
Artwork by Allegra Jongeward.
Making of Hundred of Shelves: An Interview Donald Dunbar
Film by Roland Wu with Allegra Jongeward & Craig Epplin. Patuá Films.
Filmed at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
Revelation surgery or a police orgy?
A new accident, torrid, exotic:
man fixed with a tread/ useful tire/ past-
tense ability: am into static into cut
off: meat, cold cloth, the learning of ugly.
Swerves in reverse, now the shittiest pet:
pedestrian encoded into flora, a mob
domesticated. Amputation as “Interest”;
impaled in the tub, organ export. After
devotee porn: big wounds, gaping holes—
I have developed a passion for sobs.
Real-life sobs, old-timey sobs, hee-haws,
hallelujahs, hold me’s. All the WASPs
whittle the world away, all your Klan
sitcoms—O Our Corporate Areola
Borealis, yonder Dice Be With You,
we mean,,, fuck it. Sass vs. irradiated
salad. As nutritional as Selena, my kid
pollutes well. Ohio gozaimasu, the
Sun says, somewhere, afterward, all
fusion and fashion and angelic into
Useful; assassin tag alone, ::sigh::,
Session one: Thug Life and Thug Death—
Heat and Money. Total skin-condition-flick.
Star-spangled kow-tow. A pound
from Humbolt, expensive and loud:
some armed Care Bear, ah Christ, O Weapon,
some Jap German, Sino-Celtic-
Yahweh-Cuban, O you. Do you wanna
reinvest your intent? Sex, drugs, and paper,
foot fetish, incense, and vacation. Hair
in parabola, baby sister with mommy
while some other baby sister saps
yon babysitters of sadness. I’m a goner,
sure blue; or as polyamorous as
pussy, labia pulled back, used as
limerick, wet leather. The purpose of lasers
at dawn; as totally as Ayumi flows
twitch over flower over Yoko Ono too;
I sazerac, you old-fashioned. You butter, I ich.
I’m all, “rook takes first child,” & you’re like, “…butthead.”
: pandering koan/ a risky Iraqi
who’s fucking the, you know,
end of the rifle... Ambien dreams inside
of a gerund; a je ne sais quoi tinted
jaundiced, cut with voices, mushed up in
waveforms within a dreary tinnitus
squall,,, I give you six thousand dollars
and you gut me, re-dump me, shush me,
bare all to the last newspaper man,
“When he opened the static the static ballooned...”
what says the subtitle, glowing hot in the skin
of the black screen, tall
as a Myconid Shaman, level 10, smothering our
heroes with an evocation, slaking itself with our
dude’s fat song... It so happens
you are synonymous with my nudity now, to
disrobe, to fondle myself is to yoga as
crying is to static, as when an in-tune, clear tone
juts from your leg bone, rainbow, crystal
cell in a bonus round mini-game, perfect
rhododendron, apiary bloom, a paralytic
bite to annoy you annoys you assaults
your bottle opener with a deep kiss before
sunshine, too, becomes your enemy, hymns
your dramamine, gashes/ your piss holes, pee
your scene, gold/ your enemy, glass/ your slang.
War the only good way. Yes.
I’m a veteran, a sailor.
Yes, stalking away. Yes,
mayday, yo, mayday mayday
I have been here for-ev-er, passing time sinking ships,
sexting, fourway sexting, stopping
the rhizomes of capital using nothing but my I dunno air
force/ bell curve/ werewolves/ ice machine abs/ an untold thousand
American lectures on “Themes of Loss:(” I am; appropo, I owned.
I’ve got something special for you, Jesus, a Kahlua and lysergic sponge, a voodooed
iamb, Jesús, kinda gothy,
corn syrupy, slushy... talk to me, spurn me, slap and slow-cook me; it hurts bad,
which is one of the key mantras
for learning the key mantras, or
seeming tasty to the Stasi, bleeding from the
suture, thirsty for cola, Drano,
curare, the dead, the living, the both.
Revelation surgery or a pet orgy?
Are you a timid parent? Or are you ox
mixed with an elm tree? Are you Isis &
Abby, a lieutenant and a medic, one cut
of meat one cut of moth? Learning ugly
words in reverse: the T-shirt of pretty:
Berryman as a “coed”. Anaphora used
for mastication. Are you a timid imprint? Is
your input/ output like, important? A foodie’s
norm of devotion, pig worshipping the goat.
I vote out of awe for my boss, how he
seems like he should be boss, how he
holy wars my holy wars, all the while
while the world around us wants clean
sitcoms. Are you some timid poet, or are
you a Nobel Laureate with a drone air force
and a secret budget? My parade is sacred.
My palace/ palatial. Gasoline/ my ankh. My
polling swells: Ohio thru the Ivory Coast
all my sweet spirit of free, America,
aphasia as fashion is as angel is as to
furious; as in, are you only logos, my
sweet nation, light and belief? Throng of
meat and honey, modal scale in a fractal
screen-saver? Bow to the king, drown
him in tribute. You’re expendable and loud,
one car-ride away from a cached webpage
sans jpegs; are you some opioid Catholic?
You want a plane to crash into you / wanna
reinvent the tercet? 666 as a signature,
grown intestinal roots through the named chair.
Perhaps you’re a babysitter, which makes me
, what, some babysitter’s boyfriend? Perhaps
you’re my babysitter, and perhaps I’m gonna
publish you, prolly you’re going to punish us;
later, playing dress-up: glow-sticks used as
lip-stick, pets repurposed as leather, neighbors
redrawn as Twitter followers. Are you my
Twitter follower, or do you only do Facebook?
I scissor-kick your Honda, headbutt your rich kid,
headbutt all his rich kid friends, then I look you
up and down before I lock our irises and ask you,
where’s the fucking you know
Are you acoustic or are you ambient, illuminated
or just glowing? Are you are, or are you ain’t a
jaw bone and a haircut? A smooth voice to wash
down vodka with, with an eardrum in it, into an
equally smooth stomach? I give you six dollars
and you give me a rhododendron slushy;
where are the Snowdens of yesteryear, pal?
why did no statisticians attend the statisticians’ ball?
What did one snowman say to the other snowman?
…do you smell carrots?
What did one human say to the other human? Do you smell
noses. What did one snowflake say to the other snowflake?
dude//// // what is ////fucking// happening
Are you as anonymous as you are naked, or do you do
forreal fiscal analysis bro, or do you got your name
on your truck? – sticker gothic, window tint, iPhone
jack, but your iPhone got wet? I know you. You’re
my bank teller. One naked penny in the dream of a
dollar, one part Ambien, one part library, One Big
Bite. I know you. I know you. I shop
at your store; I see you there; you sell me presents.
How have you been? I mean, how’s business? I
probably should get back to errands. Good seeing
you. Be seeing you. Yes, goodbye. Oh, I guess
we’re going the same way. Yes.
I’m parked over past Taylor.
Yes, let’s walk together. Yes,
you may hold my hand. Yes,
I have been here before. I pass the bank, stop sign,
then the next block is the MAX stop.
There is a store at the platform, under the overhang. I go inside
There are rows of shelves of merchandise, and I am to browse them.
As I am selecting from the merchandise, I am approached by the owner.
“I’ve got something special for you,” she says. “You look like a guy who
enjoys special things.”
“I am,” I say, “that kind of guy.”
“Okay,” she says, and walks past me, and I turn and follow her to the
back shelf, which is one of the candy shelves.
There are numerous candy shelves.
They seem to sway to the breeze from the tv.
There is a tv there, a Korean drama.
There are hundreds of candy shelves.
Rattapallax is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of
Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Designed on Racontr platform.