PictureCSU Poetry Center. 2018. 130 pages.

Reviewed by Brian Clifton

Early in Orient, which won the CSU Poetry Center 2018 Open Book Contest, Nicholas Gulig states, “Pronounced across an opening, the act of listening constructs a bridge that binds a single space. This despite the distance and the violence of difference.” This quotation encapsulates one way the collection of poems approaches the gap between the tongue and the ear, the self and other, the individual and the global. Gulig’s second book embodies opposition—neither traditionally organized (lacking a visible narrative and stable, well-defined characters), nor traditionally composed (much of Orient’s text, as stated in the book’s notes, “do not belong to it,” being the fruits of “a yearlong process of transcription, (mis)translation, erasure, and collage”). And opposition, as both a practice and concept, is turned over and over throughout Orient. By looking at noise and sound (as they collide in human language), Gulig attempts to understand how we define ourselves and how we define others. In this way, the book becomes both a thing that speaks and a thing that listens. Orient exists in-between, its chiseled poems straddling the boundaries of the lyric essay and poetry.


This in-betweenness is manifested in the book’s proem, “An Image of The Book in which I Hear You,” as well as the book’s overarching form—no final periods. “An Image of The Book in which I Hear You” is almost entirely made of the first half of conditional statements (“If there is standing water in the desert. If there is water and I am standing/over it.”) and questions (“Is it imaginary?”). Structuring the book’s first poem like this begins Orient’s book-long contemplation of the paradoxical nature of noise/human language—how it exists simultaneously within and outside of the body. The if clauses imply a relationship that is unsure both in construction (since there are no main clauses to these conditionals) and in content (“If we are made/in the image of the other…/If we consent/to not be solitary.”). This uncertain relationship is echoed in the unanswered questions that sprout between these clauses. Taken together, under this idea that sound bridges the gap between self and other, this structure builds a home in the interstice between spoken to and speaking. Just as the “if” clauses need the conclusion to their conditionals to make grammatical sense, the questions need an other in order to be answered, in order to communicate. The phrases that make up “An Image of The Book in which I Hear You” are a perpetual call for response, which is developed by the omission of the final period.

By omitting the final periods on most of the pages, Gulig implies the continuation of the utterance—a poem picking up the thread of the previous one from a different perspective, a poem interrupting another poem, a blurring between who is speaking and to whom. The blurring does well to complicate the book’s initial argument—there is a gap between the self, the “us,” and the other, the “them.” So much of Orient argues that we mainly process the sounds we make to define ourselves against those around us. This can be seen most plainly in section 2 of “Book of Origins”:

When I was ten, I watched the war begin on television. I was at a party. It was a birthday party. We were listening to the radio. I called the station and requested music. They played it. We sang along. I called again. We danced. I was drinking