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A Spider’s Mirror

Elaine Equi
A Spider’s Mirror: Click and Clone
(Coffee House Press, 2011)

Work to abolish
the most abject poverty of all —

that of knowing
only one world.

—“Manifesto,” Elaine Equi

Elaine Equi, an “expansive minimalist,” is a poet who brings culture to pop culture, mixing Stendhal with sitcoms and Nietzsche with The Magnficent Seven. She is a writer of poetic koans, rarely letting one of her spare verses go by without the pop of an insight. Equi’s readers are invited to undergo a shift of consciousness, or, just as likely, given a practical tip for living; what is uniquely Equi is that these can occur within one and the same line. Down-to-earth and surreal simultaneously, Equi has an Andre-Breton-meets-Erma-Bombeck sensibility that can only be described as zen.

In the early pages of her recent collection of poems, Click and Clone, Equi invokes Breton’s notion of the realm of “soluble fish.” This is a realm similar to ours, with its media and clones and computer clicking, but from which a door may at once open via a single poetic phrase into new dimensions, oneiric and unbound by convention. These worlds are peopled by the creatures of the poet’s rich inner life, and make clear why Equi holds that being limited to one world is “the most abject poverty of all.”

Like Gogol, another writer known for parallel universes, Equi writes about doppelgangers and clones. In “One Clone Is Too Many and a Hundred Aren’t Enough,” she cites the eerie doubles who populate the pages of Dostoevsky and Poe. There, she says:

Your shadows are always stepping on each other.


But now everyone is so busy.
No one really cares which one of you shows up.

Equi’s characters exist in a universe very like ours, with familiar movies and books and even racetracks. The poem “Daily Doubles” uses the names of the horses from the starting lineups at the Aqueduct and Meadowlands verbatim in a clever nod to the doppelganger theme. And throughout the book are a series of wonderful found poems, “Reading _____________ over Someone's Shoulder on the Subway," which give us the glimpsed words and phrases from two readers, the book “owner” and the surreptitious word finder-keeper, the poet:

Destiny says



candy-apple red

we go way back.*

*The formatting of this excerpt is spaced differently from the original.

—“Reading Meesha Mink’s The Hood Life over Someone’s Shoulder on the Subway”

Even when the cultural icons are familiar, such as the cult and classic movies of the ’50 and ’60s, there is a motion toward magic, as in the book’s poetic centerpiece, a tarot reading from classic cinematic images. Although Equi in her notes states that, as with most ekphrastic poems, the images are not really needed by the reader (nor are provided in Click and Clone), this reviewer had the specific images which inspired these ekphrastics in hand as she read.

The underwater look of these photos of television screens with their capture and immobilization of movie moments, never intended by the filmmakers, are the tarot cards which serve as the inspiration for the poet’s psychic readings. Specific moments from The Terror, The Time Machine, First Spaceship to Venus, The Girl Can’t Help It, The Magnificent Seven, Swamp Women, Black Narcissus, Black Orpheus, Finian’s Rainbow, and othersspeak to the poet, who is as intuitive as any medium:

#24 The Moon Spinners
(Eli Wallach and Irene Pappas disagree)

I guess it's no surprise
your family is against you.

Expect a roadblock
from someone close to home.

A Guide to the Cinema Tarot”

Click and Clone is also a medium for play, with trolls and gnomes and witches battling the codes and clicks that depersonalize (social media even steals the poet's body). Word play is at its very best in Equi:

Once a gypsy, always a gyroscope.
Once a nomad, always a gnome.

— “An Endearing Duration”

And there is also the comic setup and the punchline:


Homer invoked Athena.
Milton—the Holy Spirit
Hopkins—the Virgin Mary.

I wonder who I can get to help?

— “A Bowl of Snow”

And there is the magic of webs of words:


drops —

a spider
on the mirror.

the hour

like drops
of a spider's

The silver drops
the spider's hour,
the mirror . . .

—“A Start”

With wit, insight, and imagination, Click and Clone contains worlds, as tiny as in a spider's mirror and as wide as the World Wide Web.


Larissa Shmailo

Larissa Shmailo is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. Her poetry collections include In Paran (BlazeVOX Books) and the poetry album Exorcism.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2013

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