by Sawako Nakayasu
Les Figues Press, $17 (paper)
With deadpan humor and the Surrealist’s combination of clarity and incongruity, Sawako Nakayasu’s book of prose poems, The Ants, makes a tiny insect the center of the world. Nakayasu’s ants participate in sports, travel internationally, haze, and hitchhike. Like the lives of their human counterparts, theirs are short and sometimes feel meaningless, raising the enormous questions of how any life achieves significance and how any act rises to the level of art. The poems’ occasional human speakers relate to the ants with nostalgia and longing, an orientation that seems increasingly rational as the book proceeds. But sometimes they coldly dissect the ants into literal parts: one lost speaker weaves ants into a blanket, another fuels a car with ant bodies. Nakayasu gives ants individuality and then takes it away, showing how fickle imagination can be. In one poem ants at summer camp in Tokyo engage in a swimming competition, not realizing they are on the surface of an oil painting, not noticing “the artist and brush hovering nearby like the evil clouds that they are.” After reading The Ants, you are likely to see ants everywhere, and they are everywhere. More, you may start to see art as doom, the body as ant-farm, the self as, at best, mere observer of a world more teeming than you dared think.