The collaborative effort of Victoria Boynton (poet) and Marney Lieberman (artist), entitled “Contraptions,” reminds me of a game that the Surrealists used to play at dinner parties. In this game, one person would write a word or draw a portion of a picture on a sheet of paper. The paper would then be folded over, so no one else could see its contents, and passed to the next guest. This person would write a word or draw another part of a picture on the blank space below the paper’s fold. After all the dinner guests had made their contributions, the paper would be unfolded, and there it was: a microcosm of the creative power of the unconscious mind.
Perhaps this book is itself a “contraption” for accessing the untapped resources of the heart. Using the delicate balance of poetry and art, Boynton and Lieberman hold a séance to call forth “our dark hearts and our light hearts,” and decide to “welcome whatever comes.” Beyond this, though, I am fascinated by the fact that it seems Boynton was playing a Surrealist party game all by herself. Sometimes even Boynton has no idea what is coming next in her poem, nor what has come before. Thus, the poet and the reader unfold the paper together.
Boynton is uninterested in giving a guided tour of the emotions, objects, ideas and imaginings which she catalogues so thoroughly and so irregularly throughout the book. The reader feels much the same as the narrator of “Contraption: missing part,” who spends the entire poem wandering through aisles of parts and pieces, searching for the right one. The mistake, for the narrator and the reader, may be in the belief that there is such a thing as the right part, or that it is, in fact, missing at all.
In the preface to the book, Lieberman and Boynton talk almost gleefully of “trampolining” off of each other – being both the surface for the jump, and the jumper. The creative process is mirrored in the reader’s experience of the poems. Boynton’s words are often so disparate that whatever eerie relation they seem to bear to one another must stem from the reader’s sensibility as well as Boynton’s own. In this way, Boynton demands that we provide both a jumping-off point and the readiness to jump, ourselves, into the poems.
Victoria Boynton is an Associate Professor in the English Department at SUNY Cortland where she teaches creative writing, rhetoric, and contemporary literature courses. Marney Lieberman attended Rhode Island School of Design and lived in Rome her junior year with the European Honors Program where she studied with a bookbinder and a bee keeper. Her art emphasizes the links between the body and its expressions. Contraptions is a chapbook published by Stockport Flats Press (2009). It can be purchased at http://www.stockportflats.org/v3n1.htm and at http://www.highwatermarksalon.com/.