April 2, 2007

Review: The Ohio System

The Ohio System

Octopus Books, $6

“It’s the Ohio system of ending things with a pause or hold for safety.”

Tynes and Howsare’s collaboration is a synesthetic thicket of body and landscape. Muscles become caves, brains resemble trees, feet are thorns, and clavicles bloom. At times, ideas and images fold over and into one another:

The bargain of the century is the bones of the face.


You tell me whatever you know. A word that means both storm and sadness, where we could have lived but didn’t, the difference between one mile and another.


The manufacturer is a city and a fairy, claiming no loss, only kilowatts. Numbers turning. Bifurcated geography pits tongues against necks.

Throughout this chapbook-length poem, metaphor pushes against metaphor and objects continually reappear. Perhaps the most persistent metaphor, though, is that of branching or splitting. There are roots, veins, maps, trains, and a delta. On one hand, they are paths that constantly divide into other paths or tributaries, but if viewed from another angle, they also grow back into themselves to form something singular and whole.

The physical landscape—when one exists—is rural (“Some of it is so rural it rots.” ). The poem is full of fairgrounds, small towns, horses, barns, fields, blackberries, and villagers. It is a place where the “innermost country is made out of hark,” where nothing seems able to exist independently. The persistent emergence of objects out of other objects fills up the landscape.

Each line or sentence in the poem is at once a start and a stop, a “system of ending things with a pause or hold” before things begin again. The effect is one of call and half-answer. Statements don’t typically respond to or answer one another, but they all fit within or grow out of the same “system.” The poem itself functions like a map, and each line is a glyph marking the topography. With The Ohio System, Tynes and Howsare have collaborated on something that’s both mysterious and enlightening: a document of divergence and unification.

by Nate Slawson

This is the third in a series of eight reviews on the chapbooks from Octopus Books.