On Michael e. Casteels’s solar-powered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth
In an Apt. 9 Press chapbook of concrete poems - beautifully printed, created with a typewriter and ample white space, Michael e. Casteels has unfolded a landscape. Solar-powered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth has weight and density with an economy of words. With the use of brackets and slashes, Casteels packs in possibility with minimalism. See for example the title “a (d)r(i/a)ft,” where in a single line he gives the reader four possible words. Casteels’s economized style is doable because of his titles, which are often longer than the poems themselves, and act as their own lines and signifier. This is seen in “moon poem 2” where the poem’s body is simply “(n/l)ight.”
Casteels can also be blatantly literal, but there is something beautiful and profound in this. In “low moon with owl” he physically intersects the “owl” with “moon,” also forming the word “low.” This technique perhaps defamiliarizes the word; Casteels turns word into object, and the page becomes his canvas, typography his brushstrokes.
The typography is then visually informing. See “night scene” and “night scene 2” where he creates a landscape of an owl and moon simply with the placement of three letters; and the image of (perhaps) a howling wolf, with the placement of four letters. Casteels is introspective and musing with his type. He manages to turn a question mark into a fishhook, a period into a freckle, and sketches the sound of water with the letter ‘o.’ In “where the loon was” Casteels creates an image of a loon taking flight in water, leaving only ripples with the use of brackets; his punctuation becomes an objects with a new, unconventional visual purpose. The author defamiliarizes the word, he also defamiliarizes typography itself. Though this technique may seem inane and lacking substance, these poems work for the chapbook as a whole, building on Casteels’s landscape, reflective and delicate.
In his economy, Casteels is subtly dynamic in his creation. His poems build on themselves, forcing his audience to make connections. See “brushing the dog” which becomes “birds/build/nests.” The reader is forced to follow this image through, and assemble their own scene. And this is perhaps one of Casteels best skills – creating a landscape out of nothing, forcing readers to enter a landscape that only exists in their mind. Casteels is also generous in his white space. Though some might find the use of his negative space overwhelming, Casteels moulds his page with attention to detail; the space allows for awareness of the word as Casteels picks away at sound, shape, and function. What is really beautiful about this chapbook is its elegance in form and the type’s seduction of white space.
Solar-powered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth is a gentle piece of art. Casteels is unique in his ability to form a minimalist landscape with intense effect. Placid and reflective, Casteels brings a new awareness to the art of type and the word, making this Apt. 9 Press chapbook well worth the exploration.