not so, sea COVER

linkage & spinal

A Review of Mg Roberts' "not so, sea"

jai arun ravine

Cover Design: Melissa Sipin

Mg Roberts
not so, sea
Durga Press, January 2014
SPD | Price: $15.00 | Purchase Here

There are two paths of energy and perception in Mg Roberts’ debut collection, not so, sea. One is the linkage between units of sound, or a filmstrip. The second is spinal.

“Dear American G.I. No. 1, I watch Post-Vietnam era action movies to be closer to you,” writes Roberts (13). The “white/dark/white strata” that she invokes brought to mind the ending of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Siti Company’s production of “A Rite,” performed at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco last year.

One of the dancers/actors, who plays the character of a war veteran, runs along the back of the stage between a white scrim and darker panels spaced at even intervals. It is lit in such a way that the visual patterning turns the three-dimensionality of this running into something like a filmstrip. Though it appears that seconds/frames have been removed, the image remains (haltingly) continuous.

Turning pages, arriving “cut,” missing in action. This is the kind of pacing and patterning through which the subject is glimpsed—as immigrant, mother, orphan—and these discarded, omitted pieces become the raw materials from which the subject reconstructs meaning. In an epigraph Roberts quotes Jacques Lacan: “The effect of mimicry is camouflage. It is not a question of harmonizing with the background, but being against a mottled background, of becoming mottled…”

Mottled. The subject “stained throughout” (43). She sees herself in a jungle next to a soldier, on a movie set made to look like a jungle next to an actor. Like a card drawn, and then flipped over. Appearing in the forefront, and then vanishing to appear again elsewhere. Roberts, in one of my favorite parts of the book, writes: “Someone told me I was Amerasian today. / [I did not answer.] // I find myself becoming less poetic” (41-42). The subject, racialized and silenced, finds that she has neither the privilege to be abstract nor the ability to become more concrete. She learns to shift from looped stills to bone, to become more grounded, more whole.

The second path of energy and perception in not so, sea is spinal. In the introduction, Reiki Master and poet Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey describes paths of energy in the body: “…light streams in through the top of the crown, down the sushumna nadi and out the soles of the feet. To ground the body. And then it travels up again. To connect the fragments” (ii). For Roberts, the spine is a channel of sound, a conduit of connection, and as energy travels from sky to earth to root, and from root to heart to sky, the subject can “recall details through what’s broken” (19)—each vertebrae, each node bursting into a kaleidoscope.

Reavey also makes note of the conflicting desires in Roberts’ text—the tension between a desire to locate the edges, to seek out the boundaries, to grasp the omitted histories—and a desire to disappear, to run into and become lost. “[T]ell me how to root in sentence form … tell me where to dissolve?” she writes. (71) In the “running time” of each sequence, in the “hurry to belong” (24), Roberts moves from memory into texture, viscera, pulse. From the filmstrip to the spinal cord and back again, Roberts writes the felt sense of a mixed race Filipina immigrant experience, complete in its omissions and contradictions. As Reavey suggests, this oscillation—and its embodied, somatic response—is how we are able to arrive in our bodies, continue, heal, and let go.


Jai Arun Ravine is the author of แล้ว and then entwine: lesson plans, poems, knots (Tinfish Press) and the director of the short film Tom / Trans / Thai. They previously worked as a Staff Writer for Lantern Review.