Awarded the 2010–2011 Poets Out Loud Editor's Prize
Continuous Frieze Bordering Red documents the migratory patterns of an Other, as she travels between countries, languages, seasons, and shifting identities. A narrative on hybridity, the text explores [dis]location as a cultural swerve while it interrogates Rothko's red: his bricked-in, water-damaged windows [floating borders], which reflect unstable cultural borders to the hybrid. A person of mixed race [hybrid, mongrel, mutt] traverses these "invisible" cultural borders repeatedly. Border identity comes with flux, instability, and vibrational pulls. An Other is marked as someone who does not belong. She is cast aside, bracketed from the dominant culture. She is [neither][nor][both]. She exists in a liminal space: in place and displaced simultaneously. That is, her identity and body are peripatetic, which is reflected in the continuous horizontal frieze. The reader must literally cross the borders of each page in order to navigate each line of text, leaving the reader in constant motion as well. The poem also functions as an ekphrasis of Rothko's Seagram murals: Rothko writes that the paintings make the observers "feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up." The hybrid is confined and isolated. Even though the Other is estranged from herself and desires a sense of cultural belonging, she ultimately wants to "acknowledge this scar tissue and proceed" so that she is not held to false measures of "purity." Continuous Frieze Bordering Red attempts to move away from pejorative definitions of "hybrid" and embrace the monstrous self.
PRAISE for CFBRed
Interruptions mingle with saturations, private intensities with social commentary, lyric apercus with skeptical suspicion—this multi-track work by Michelle Naka Pierce correlates many streams of insight and produces elegant and self-assured results.—Rachel Blau DuPlessis
The intellectual scope of Continuous Frieze Bordering Red is as expansive as its form. Michelle Naka Pierce has created an extraordinary experience of language in a page-space that is unlike that of any other book. A meditation on borders—geographical, racial, artistic—Continuous Frieze teaches us that "a border is not clean" and that "skin, in the end, is a similar shade of foreign." . . . The experience enacts the disorientation the text describes: as the text meditates on identity, dislocation, travel, and art, the relationship between the formal device and the content becomes clear. As one passage puts it, “You are in place and displaced simultaneously.” Continuous Frieze is a hybrid between poem and essay, “frieze” and sentence.—Elisabeth Frost
Michelle Naka Pierce's Continuous Frieze Bordering Red is a deeply personal investigation of hybridity, from the perspective of the mixed-race child of a Japanese "immigrant mother" and a white "citizen father." The "hybrid offspring" inhabits a double negative, "not that which is not white" and yet "as white as a non-white girl can get"; she can "no longer stand under the deluge of selves." Pierce's text is a brilliant chronicle of the struggle to "embrace your incongruent parts, to sketch a shelter out of fragments." The work's innovative form unfolds in time and space, encouraging both horizontal and vertical reading, opening up a new space for hybridity that is "Not directionless: polyvectorial."—Timothy Yu
Michelle Naka Pierce lovingly situates what the GPS will never register: the body among borders (one from the Other), the language of bodies on borders (one from the Other), the border that comprises skin (one from the Other). All bodies, borders, and tongues are permeable: "The hue: all the lines, the interrogation, the sullied plexiglas" between. Minding the gaps, "against identity," the body moves across a border, "the object of Asiaphiles"; and moves through time and nation (tendons, penetrable, scar tissue, accent, visa, dead). This stunning study abandons Locke's consciousness, embodying Butler's alterity "at the place where I expect to be myself." Dump MapQuest and hop aboard this lovely ride.—Kass Fleisher