A REVIEW OF SACHIKO MURAKAMI'S
GET ME OUT OF HERE
BY JACQUELINE VALENCIA
The Rusty Toque | Issue 8 | Reviews | Poetry | June 30, 2015
Once a year or so I travel by myself without my family. It’s not so much an escape from being a mother and a wife as an intermission. During that time, I can be myself or be a stranger exploring a foreign part of the world. On my travels, I’ve learned that the world is a community of ports and meeting places. Even if I keep to myself, I share many spaces with the world and I am rarely alone. One of those spaces is the limbo called the airport. People wait to go off to places in airports. It’s not a place for settled living. Anticipation, fear, and excitement fill the atmosphere there along with the drone of the luggage conveyor belts and the streaming announcements on the public address systems. The airport is a giant travel-assisting robot, an assembly line that delivers bodies from point A to point B. In observing an airport, it’s hard not to think of its mechanisms like the hubs and spaces of the Internet. The digital universe carries our thoughts and projections of ourselves to different realms outside of our own heads. Internet users send billions of messages out into the virtual ether while airports receive and send out physical bodies by the thousands every day. Sachiko Murakami’s Get Me Out of Here focuses on the airport as network hub, but it also examines the poetic process as a possible mode for communal conversation.
Murakami is an explorative poet, an experimenter, who finds modern communication methods poetic in their nature. She analyzes language as an inter-mutual evolving organism with collaborative poetry projects such as HENKŌ (a poem where each participant responded to a previous stanza and the whole of the poem and passed it on). Get Me Out Of Here stemmed from Murakami’s interest in airports, but finding herself blocked on how to write about them, she devised an interesting solution. She put a public callout for help, asking people to send her a single sentence from an airport. She would then write a poem in response (constrained to about fourteen lines) to one hundred of these sentences. And she then asked the authors of these sentences to help edit the poem. The result is a collection of projected thoughts, ideas, observations, conversations, and memories. It is a study of inspiration as a shared medium to create poetry or art.
The book is divided into the different sections we find in an airport: Departures, Connections, Pickups, and Arrivals. Departures is a curious chapter that stands out because of its length and its focus on the impending journey. It is a hard space for a traveller to stay present in because there is a constant stream of information a traveller must take note of before they leave for their destination: bags must be checked, gates must be found, and identifying papers must be at the ready. In the case of travelling companions, extra care must be paid to their wellbeing and their place in time:
Three New Year’s Eve travellers cuddle their carry-on doggies
Instead of responding to what the travellers might be doing or thinking, Murakami speaks from the dogs’ point of view. The dogs are unsure of what is going on, but their trust in their owners is enough for them to feel secure in the love they feel in the moment. The interaction between L’Abbe and Murakami starts off as a sentence that captures a speck of time and is then expounded upon in the vision of the poet. An everyday scenario suddenly becomes an animal fairytale.
Departures is also the section of the airport where uncertainty resides. There are a plethora of rules that the traveller must adhere to to assure the smoothness of their journey. They must pass security tests and answer questions correctly before they can get on a plane. Since the September 11 terror attacks, fear permeates air travel to the extent of travellers giving up privacy and rights. At times, this heightened sense of anxiety creates an atmosphere where all passengers become possible harbingers of death and transforms seemingly innocent objects into possible murder weapons:
The Swiss Army knife in my laptop bag cannot get me out of the trouble it has gotten me into...
Murakami envisions this knife as a keepsake from a father to his son. The knife carries a world of meanings, weapon or souvenir, but it is only between the eyes that behold it and the hands that produce it that its true function can be discerned. By suggesting a kinder and gentler version of the knife, Murakami opens up the scenario for the reader, freeing the object of its anchored meaning in the realm of the airport security check:
Colin arises from the symbolic into the real where the weapons of the real are no joke.
Connections is a much shorter chapter, reflecting the length of time a traveller takes to makes these tiny transitions. It only exists to connect point A to an eventual point B; therefore the observations are usually minimal and technical in nature. Flight paths, gate numbers, and luggage location take up space in the traveller’s periphery. However, there is a universe of poetry in this space’s minutiae:
In Newark, someone has changed the GLASS bottle recycle slots so they now say ASS.
Murkami’s responds with three mini responses that work as one by interlocking analyses of the sentence. First she takes the word “GLASS” and visually arranges it like cascading waterfalls that turn into the word “ASS” which in turn transforms into a single “A.” She then utilizes the word “REUSE” to create a surreal world where phrases, pop culture references, and personal memories intermingle in word storage containers awaiting their eventual reuse:
Here, Tolstoy’s swans watch
She ends her response to Schaberg with the stanzas in “RECYCLE” where she takes the original sentence, “In Newark, someone ...” and moulds the sentence, words, and letters that inhabit it to sculpt entirely new images and stanzas. Murakami’s mastery at the turn of phrase transcends the tangential, creating a collective expanse of poem branches that stem out from shared inspiration.
Poetry succeeds when it becomes one with its reader. The poet may be creator, someone else may be the spark of the poem, but ultimately a poem fires up in a reader’s mind and succeeds through the multitudes of interpretations that dwell there. This is why it’s important to note that Murakami sharing the production process of her work exposes her to viewpoints that some people might easily dismiss. Gary Barwin sends in a sentence about seeing a disabled young man with his father in the front of a washroom mirror laughing. Murakami answers the sentence with a stream of reworked letters and words. She imagines the disabled young man’s perspective through the resulting poem. Letters become ways of reaching out and in the end function as concrete responses to a parent’s passing. The young man’s first full recognizable, but tragic, sentence is a heartbreaking eulogy. Murakami puts herself in this young man’s shoes, suggesting that he is always communicating and that it is the outside world that chooses to misunderstand him. These views are integral to universal compassion and a mutually fruitful way of composing and reading poetry.
This collection is a thought provoking metaphor for the continual flow that exists in both physical and digital communications. Body and mind can become texts travelling into foreign hubs that birth new memory rooms, shared safe spaces, and growing comment streams. While correspondence can be inspiration fodder, communal digital poetry can create meme monsters or build communal bridges. The networking brain dreamed up a chair flying in the sky, but the creative mind still struggles with what to do with the detritus of all those bodies in the sky and all that information in the ether. In Get Me Out Of Here, Murakami fearlessly dives into the potentiality in the excesses of sharing and produces a masterwork that showcases her mercurial talents as an innovator in poetry.
JACQUELINE VALENCIA is a Toronto-based writer and critic. Her work has appeared in various publications across Canada and she is currently working on her first novel. She is a CWILA board member and a part of the Meet The Presses collective. Check out Jacqueline’s work and poetry experiments at jacquelinevalencia.com.