Source Jamming

by Harry Thorne


Scratch Sides: Poetry, Documentation, and Image Text Projects
Kristin Prevallet
Austin: Skanky Possum Books, 2002
Paperback, $10 (ISBN 0-9703952-3-X), 77 pages


Poetry will not raise mass consciousness, although it will articulate new systems in which sources, language, lyric, document, collage and process come together as presentations of an alternative logic . 1 Prevallet's Scratch Side is a manifestation of this alternative logic. In a series of eight short works, Prevallet's poetry investigates and disrupts both source texts and master narratives, and in doing so challenges us to change the way in which we think about the poetic experiment.

In ‘Lead, Glass and Poppy' two parallel texts face each other. On the right are extracts from newspapers “synchronized around themes of the sun, burning and cultural destruction” while on the left is a poem that “connects these themes.” Yet, the poem connects only in an oblique manner; the lyrical charge of Prevallet's poetry provides multiple points of connection, leaving it open to the reader to pursue different ones. Thus we read on the right, “At least a third of the world's inventory of human cultures have disappeared completely since 1500,” while the left side declares, “And what of the shuttle through from I to you.” The juxtaposition of the global with the intimate opens up the issue of personal and the political in a novel way, at the same time as giving a new twist to arguments about the political utility of lyric verse.

Many of the experiments in Scratch Sides involve an engagement with images. In the fascinating ‘Reading Index (Texte Indice),' Prevallet invents a series of graphs that react in different ways to adjoining texts. For example, the third graph is designed to simulate people's reaction to propaganda on a scale that runs from confusion to anger. Thus the line of the graph rises as the text reads: “They have destroyed (     ) and (     ) in order to install their own form of aberrant (     ).” The missing words emphasize the often formulaic nature of propaganda, while the line of the graph acts as a reminder of its social consequences.

In ‘Key Food,' Prevallet performs a move akin to what anti-globalization protestors call culture-jamming. She takes a series of Key Food (a US supermarket) vouchers and defaces them with a darkly comic commentary. Next to a picture of “Iodized and non-Iodized salt” she writes, “Give me a Cookie, I'm going to hell.” Few poets will have used supermarket vouchers as their inspiration, but Prevallet's humorous interventions are exceptionally effective at forcing a meeting between an avant-garde poetic project and the objects of the everyday.

Not all of Prevallet's poems engage with non-poetic source texts, however. In ‘ After It by Clemente/Creeley ' she constructs a poem by merging her reactions to poems by Robert Creeley and pastels by Francesco Clemente:

lost in an embryonic lull
where color and speech
are the string around
a finger forgetful
of emergence as such

These meditative lines show a different side to Prevallet's craft, yet like her engagements with found objects, her response to Creeley and Clemente is concerned with the way in which poetic process can transform source materials. Prevallet's fascination with method leads her to include an appendix called ‘notes on composition aka demystifying the process' in which she explains how she went about constructing each poem. This democratic gesture is an appropriate one for a book that is consistently urging us to think about ways we can challenge and transform the world around us.


1. Prevallet, Kristin. “Investigating the Procedure” in Mark Wallace and Steven Marks ed. Telling it Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the 1990s. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.


BIO: Harry Thorne has recently moved from Brighton, England, to New York City where he teaches English at the College of Staten Island. He is working on a full-length study of Ted Berrigan's poetry.

alerts index

table of contents