Virulent Ekphrasis: MJ Gette’s Majority Reef by Mike Corrao

Majority Reef is a work of materiality. The poetic form rendered onto the eight faces of an octahedron (perhaps floating somewhere in the void, a space conversely immaterial). Each surface is occupied by text that fluctuates between reflexive, introspective, and ekphrastic.

An octahedron is a set of two pyramids connected at their base. It resembles crystals and metal ions. An eight-sided die used in role-playing games or astragalomancy. “A style I am calling Weeping Lemon Meringue, or echo-poetics, the ant-I narcissus.” Gette’s writing moves fluidly between theory and poetics. The ant-I narcissus appears as this analysis of the text-reflection, not of the author in itself. Later, there are moments of intimate person experience, but early on Majority Reef operates in this realm of phantom introspection. Taking the form of this interrogation of the text before are sure of what it is, or even what shape it will take (beyond the constraint of its octahedral presentation).

Without a fully-formed self, the text searches for subversive forms of emotionality. It imbues art with personality / persona. “Maybe it wanted to be left alone.” Each work becomes an autonomous body, with its own desires and plights. Ekphrastic traditions are reoriented into a reflexive tool. Something that the text (and the poet) can use in order to mine their own interiors, to find whatever information they feel cannot be accessed directly. This unconventional ekphrasis as well begins to reflect back onto the text itself. At the end of each section, there is a list of footnotes. Some are traditional citations, but others appear to be reader feedback. The text creating space for it to comment on itself / for external voices to burrow into the page.

Throughout Majority Reef there is this visceral engagement with media. At times, the text is written in the body of an email or over a series of text messages which are then projected onto the page. There are low-fi image edits, beautiful and chaotic collages. Photographs. Paintings. And none of these elements are ever supplementary. They are not a visual aid for the text. Or a gimmicky shift in form. They present these expansive microcosms. Alternative means of utterance. When language, in its raw form on the page, will not suffice. Images and alternative mediums attempt to evoke that which more traditional poetry finds itself incapable of conveying. “I gaze at the wound on the internet.” Tweets / posts / etc. become historical documents. A sort of digital archaeology. The unearthing of artifacts. Data is converted into poetry, as if looking to recontextualize the innocuous information embedded within. Utilizing them to test new poetic forms / aesthetic depths.

Later, discussing Christo and Jean-Claude’s work of land art, Surrounded Islands, Gette begins to remap the function / intention of this massive Miami-based project, trying to shift perspective from the shallow sentiments of its creators to something more expansive and meaningful. “What is your relationship to water / hot pink drag?” This whole book feels like it’s being dictated from a post-climate catastrophe raft, maybe on the outskirts of Miami or in the Gulf of Mexico. Where the author sits alone with coveted objects. “Does the live thing love back any better?”

Ekphrasis extends into a broadened encounter with the inanimate. The text performing as object two-fold. First as the book itself. Second as the octahedron. Coalescing into something simultaneously abstract and material. Abstract in its coordinates and material in its visual tactility. It is a shape that you can hold in your hands. Each surface then acting as a segment of the inanimate, one of its many faces / personas. “(an accumulation of surfaces)” First taking shape in the esoteric kindlings of the introductory section and then expanding into the periphery, circumnavigating this three-dimensional shape. Each surface is unique. Surface 1 being an encounter with Surrounded Islands. Surface 3 being a set of collages. Surface 6 seemingly occurring in Google Chat.

The ekphrasis initiated by Surrounded Islands begins to infect its surroundings. “God and Garbage simply change form.” The hot pink polypropylene of Christo and Jean-Claude’s land art proliferates throughout the interior. Images are saturated in pink. Surface 8 sees a mutation of type coloring and the poet’s lexicon starts to spiral around this phrase. Hot Pink Polypropylene. Inserting it into everyday conversations and seemingly unrelated poems. A virulent ekphrasis begins to form. In which the initial intention of engaging with another artist’s work becomes an inescapable intertextuality. Even when Surrounded Islands is not being discussed, even when there is not a more general discussion of land art or hot pink, this phantom lingers. It is in the back of the mind. Floating just behind the page / screen. Loosely shrouded.

This occurs linguistically as well. Namely on Surface 4 where the poems begin to flow smoothly between base-text and epigraphic quotations. Each building off one another and forming this three-way conversation between the poet, the exterior, and the interior. Appropriately this section is titled, “Reef Necropolis” partially utilizing these quotations to evoke what feels like a Homeric underworld. One that can be visited and used as an introspective tool.

Images of the necropastoral inevitably speckle the landscape. As they often do in this kind of ec(h)o-poetics. A distinction forms between natural and unnatural language (i.e. biological/geological language and human language). Gaia speaks in an undetectable and indecipherable manner. We speak in a way that is noticeable but easy to misinterpret. The hot pink polypropylene tarps of Surrounded Islands resemble humanoid contraptions haphazardly laid over something natural and robust. A virulent ekphrasis is not necessarily immune to self-destruction. And this isn’t a bad thing. The work of art, when encountered so intimately, will inevitably reveal its shortcomings / weak spots / scars. The necropastoral becomes a means of accelerating this revelation. As if operating on Bug Time. The text rapidly mutates from one surface to the next. Each acting as a reflexive (and often metatextual) sequence. The exterior of the octahedron becomes unstable.

“MY BOOK WILL EAT ME.” The virulent ekphrasis undergoes notably biological processes, infecting text, suffering vaccination, mutating new strains, re-infecting. Crude facsimiles of Surrounded Islands are projected onto the page. Pink MS Paint style brushwork circles the natural islands. The footnotes feed the text new directions / new content. Unknown sections of the book are removed and replaced with what we are reading now. The reader is very much the witness to an active process. The text is never quite complete. There is always something pending, something yet to be fully realized. Majority Reef is a living, breathing work of poetry. Proliferating into the flooded world, as its root rests at its octahedral center.







Mike Corrao is the author of two novels, MAN, OH MAN (Orson’s Publishing) and GUT TEXT (11:11 Press); one book of poetry, TWO NOVELS (Orson’s Publishing); two plays, SMUT-MAKER (Inside the Castle) and ANDROMEDUSA (Forthcoming – Plays Inverse); and two chapbooks, AVIAN FUNERAL MARCH (Self-Fuck) and SPELUNKER (Schism – Neuronics). Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AMCollagistAlways Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis. @ShmikeShmorrao

July 8th, 2020|