Yield Architecture by Jake Syersak
Burnside Review Books 2018, 85 pp
Reviewed by Zack Anderson


I read Jake Syersak’s debut full-length Yield Architecture in and around Terminal A in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I circulated through the corridors, pausing to read at multiple identical franchised coffee shops, the route always bringing me back to a bare tree, painted cash-green, twisting above me toward the light from its cupola. As I circled and read, I returned to a line from “Soldered Opposite of Weather Was Yourself”: “because I can’t see the economy I am I am the economy I see // a seedling.” Though produced by an accidental conjunction, this lurid tree bears more than a passing affinity with Syersak’s dendritic collection, a book that asks the reader to consider the spaces that structure human movement, the thresholds between signal and noise, human and nonhuman, and language as an “invisible environment.”

As much as Yield Architecture speaks to contemporary experiences of capitalistic space, the book keeps one eye fixed on such European Modernists as Tristan Tzara, Odilon Redon, Charles Baudelaire, and Guy Debord. In particular, Syersak seems interested in exploring how these artists conceptualize the modern subject as shaped by the historicized structures—in both literal and figurative senses—that surround it. For instance, the opening sequence titled “Skins, Skeins, History, Hysteria & Dust” begins with the speaker’s dream of “throwing forget- / me-nots into helicopter blades” and the wish for radical proliferation of meaning, “for ‘bluish’ to arrive as ‘ish,’ unglued as though a window.” As the sequence (one of four major sections in the book) progresses, the epistolary address to “dear architecture” begins to fixate on the weight of history:

history breaks with us—& if not,

skin—& if not skin, an arc until arched into ark

of texture, into a claim of

yield architecture

The generative instability produced by the breaking of history recalls one of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” in which he writes, “The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” Here the title phrase becomes at once a request for respite and a celebration of semantic production, evidenced by the metamorphosis of “arc” to “arched” to “ark.”

The poems in Yield Architecture often rely on the fragment, on the level of the line like in the “Appendices” series or through the dissection of words into morphemes, as in the movement from “thing” to “ing” in the opening sequence. However, the fragments do not seem to suggest loss or ruin, but instead hint at a rhizomatic field of possibilities. The poems often move along this horizontal plane, hazarding tendrils, exploring zones, and changing course. “Notes to Wed No Toward” embraces this approach explicitly: “This is an accurate depiction of memory: the spores of asymmetrical rhizomes combing the intestinal labyrinth of magnetry.” In this poem, the promise of the fragment lies in its magnetic ability to aggregate, or as Syersak puts it elsewhere, the focus is on “coalescence not correlation.” This book is beautifully disorienting in its associative leaps, yet it takes care to remind the reader that “[c]oherence is a styled vanity & this isn’t a contract, it’s a conversation.”

Perhaps part of this collection’s gripping strangeness is due to the translator’s gaze that Syersak casts on his book’s raw material. There is a real jouissance in sounds and textures (“breathy licks // of blackbirds lace the grass”) as well as minor orthographic shifts that produce major slippages in meaning (“how hollows howl”). Syersak’s translations of Moroccan poet Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine have been appearing online in recent months, and Yield Architecture retains the fascination of looking at one’s language through the membrane of another. The phrase “invis-enviro” crops up multiple times, alluding to Marshall McLuhan, who wrote in 1967 that “[t]he really total and saturating environments are invisible. The ones we notice are quite fragmentary and insignificant compared to the ones we don’t see. The English language . . . as it shapes our perceptions and all our habits of thought and feeling, is little perceived by the users of the English language.” Yield Architecture is an important book because it reminds us of these invisible environments—built or spoken—that shape us as subjects. This is both a warning and a field of possibilities, since “[w]hat you can’t speak of / becomes ingrained in you, outplays you & perforates you into newer / static.”