Hayden's Ferry Review


Contributor Spotlight - Sarah Vap

Jeff Encke Potty Trained My Son While I Wrote This, and Other Miracles of the Gamble in Verse

It’s like bibliomancy on a heroin roller coaster. Tarot à la Encke. It’s a manuscript of poems printed, in fragment, on a deck of cards. Fate and chance order the reading, not the poet, not the reader, not the book pages. Play is inextricable from the reading of the poems, for you play cards. Fate is inextricable from the reading of the poems, for you are dealt a hand.

biding time
on lawns of false signs,

I think of that kiss,

from a handshake

Interpretation is heightened to oracle-level: I assume, like a deck of Tarot, that there is something else at work-- something beyond me at work. As the cards are shuffled and dealt, or as the cards are picked through and pondered (as I usually do), the short poems or figments of poems on each card begin to form relationship to each other. A longer poem is built as I am given my hand. The fragments, themselves, become clue, or revelation, or koan, or remain a complete mystery when I look at them singly:

At your feet, a flask
of lung water,

at mine, a box
of preternatural tissues

When they burst right open with a personal meaning, however, I laugh aloud, delighted, as I do every time I notice synchronicities. When they remain mysterious, I assume I’ve accidentally chosen the wrong card, and grab another. Or, I assume they will reveal themselves in time… little oracles. The longer I carry around the deck of cards, the more important it becomes to me. The more personal associations I make with each of the cards, and the images on the cards. In the spirit of the deck, I randomly choose one for an example:

scuffle over the toilets
echoes of past,

I learned to forge
these machinations

So, several minutes have passed since I drew this card, and now I can report that this is indeed good news from The Gamble! I mean, really, it made it just too easy for me. (Here is what I mean when I say the cards periodically “bursting right open with personal meaning.”) My son is just now potty training, he’s been peeing for days flawlessly in his potty-- but was very hesitant to poo. And, I shit you not, pun intended, that he pooped for the first time in his little potty just moments after I drew the card. Scuffle over the toilets/ echoes of past,// I learned to forge/ these machinations. (Thank you Jeff Encke for potty training my son?) It’s these biobiomantic moments that personally resonate, that continue to give me relationship with the cards and poems. That create the heat and enchantment between me and the deck.

But there is a deep seriousness, too, which I don’t mean to diminish with my joy for these cards. There is a great intention on the part of Encke as he has written these poems, and then released them to his readers and to the invisibles, to Chance, to make their meanings.

and years later,

as my body
entered change,

you flooded in
with your amens,

your ricin tinctures

(I’ve often daydreamed about what Sylvia Plath’s Tarot deck looked like. Someone must know which deck she used? If you know, please tell me.) While at times these cards might act as a medium between the reader and their universe, Encke’s intentions remain intrinsic in the experience of the reader. The two Joker cards (perfectly appropriate place) give some information about Encke’s intentions. A Jorge Luis Borges quotation on one Joker reads “The pressing social reality in which we all find ourselves touches on the card game but goes no further; the bounds of its table is another country.”

On the other Joker there is printed the typical publication information, plus a clue: “The verse excerpts quoted in this deck derive from an unpublished manuscript of poems by the author.” The text on the cards, then, are fragments, excerpts, from a larger poem context, and from a larger, book-manuscript context. It is as if Encke has literally shaken apart the poems to add space for the ether between his lines. (Someone needs to publish this original manuscript, soon, from which these cards were drawn.)

Here, more good information, is a Product Description on Amazon.com: Most Wanted is both a deck of playing cards and book of poetry. The face of each card features a unique design, blending such imagery as DNA autoradiographs, phrenological diagrams, satellite photographs, x-rays, fossils, flora, and hooded figures (including a modified Abu Ghraib abuse photo). The back of each card depicts a reproduction of the author’s hand with the word "matlub," a rough transliteration of "most wanted," inscribed in Arabic on his palm.

And in an excerpt from a publication bio for Encke it includes this about A Gamble in Verse: “a deck of playing cards featuring excerpts of love poems written to Saddam Hussein and other war criminals.” Love poems. To Saddam Hussein and other war criminals. An archetypal light and darkness, with emphasis on love, underscores Encke’s increasingly complicated and compelling Gamble. All these bits to help you start to get an idea of the mystery that is this object.

The images on the cards: just as resonant as the words.
The object of the deck: just as resonant as the words.

For me, having this deck, carrying it around, accumulating experiences… it begins to feel modernly enchanted and deeply personal. At the same time I understand that this deck of cards/ poetry collection is a heated response to contemporary international relationships, American aggression against Islam in general, and Iraq and Saddam Hussein in particular. It’s a response to aggression and modernity and capitalism and ongoing manifesting destinies. It’s a deep consideration of the concepts of “gamble”, of “wanted”, of “play”, and of “fate”, isn’t it?

Love poems written to Saddam Hussein and other war criminals… mingling with the beyond to give me a message on my son’s potty training. The range of all truly human moments are covered, are possible, with The Gamble.

And the final card of my hand:

the morning fog


as it rolls from my mouth.

Sarah Vap is the author of Dummy Fire, which won the 2006 Saturnalia Poetry Prize, and American Spikenard, which won the 2006 Iowa Poetry Prize. Her next book, Faulkner’s Rosary, is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books. She is editor of poetry for the online journal 42 Opus, and lives with her husband and their two sons on the Olympic Peninsula. A series of her poems appears in HFR #44.