Flat-Pack by Anney Bolgiano
Grafting a plant requires the fusing of a root and a shoot; the two parts meld together to create an entirely new plant. How are we similarly assembled? Anney Bolgiano’s debut poetry chapbook Flat-Pack questions what assemblage means to the construction of the self, and the dangers of its ease in disassembly. One poem asks: “is the aim of this sort of poetry / To regraft After tragedy?” Indeed, Bolgiano grafts together disparate text and images. The slim volume of concrete poems combines text from Roman Emperor (and famed Stoic philosopher) Marcus Aurelius in Meditations with images from assembly instructions for IKEA’s flat-pack tables, including human figures and tools. Each poem is an analog collage made from the found text of Aurelius and these images, which have been re-configured into new arrangements playing on the tension between the mechanical and the human. Bolgiano destabilizes the idea that anything is fixed, whether it be physical objects or ourselves. While the poems highlight the absurdity of clutching onto concepts of solidity, they still demonstrate a tender compassion for the desire to do so as a means of finding safety in a frightening world. The ability to change the self is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s what’s necessary to heal.
“Who is this self?” the speaker of one poem asks. Any certainty of the self is only an illusion, as the apparent hardiness of a table can be swiftly reversed with a few turns of a screwdriver. Flat-Pack mirrors the construction of the physical body with the construction of furniture, neither of which have the same constancy as their appearance. The figures Bolgiano has repurposed from the IKEA assembly instructions have a similar, slippery quality, being rendered as black-ink line drawings with interiors devoid of color. The black-and-white color scheme can make the figures appear eerily empty, with only the outlines given to show us their presence.
It’s difficult to not read the human figures as characters, a desire that feels strange knowing the figures were created solely for corporate purposes. Bolgiano deftly draws intimacy from them, however; through her analog collages they find a kind of life. The figures hold and saw and screw—at times various pieces of hardware, or text, or each other. One poem depicts two figures at the center of the page, one sitting directly behind the other while reaching over their shoulder. They are enveloped together in a moment of serenity despite the halo of enlarged screws and nails protruding from them. The movement of the screws can be read two ways—as emanating from the couple, or dangerously threatening to puncture them. The text in this poem (as throughout) can similarly be read multiple ways as Bolgiano toys with the notion of linear text. The message accompanying the couple could be “are we forever undone?” or “undone? forever we are.” The arrangement of text defies traditional lines; in this case, each word slants down at an angle. In another poem the text forms a circle with no clear beginning or end, and another has words wrapped around the outline of a round piece of hardware. In a work investigating the very meaning of permanency and construction, introducing new ways of reading the written text is fitting. Flat-Pack disassembles the instructions we’ve been given, by IKEA and Marcus Aurelius alike. With Bolgiano’s guidance, we see new avenues for making knowledge, new paths of existing in the world.
Despite the sense of intimacy created by the figures, the theme of isolation permeates the chapbook, beginning with its inscription, a quote from Zadie Smith’s book Intimations: “Early on in the crisis, I picked up Marcus Aurelius and for the first time in my life read his Meditations not as an academic exercise, nor in the pursuit of pleasure, but with the same attitude I bring to the instructions for a flat-pack table—I was in need of practical assistance.” Intimations is a book of essays responding to the isolation of lockdown related to COVID-19, and while Flat-Pack could also be read as a response to the pandemic, Bolgiano works broadly to address the permanent crisis of how to live knowing that you will die.
The speaker of the poems is unafraid of speaking plainly about death while maintaining a kindness toward the reader. One poem prompts the reader to “think about / life—life itself— / your / perpetual / endurance.” This compassion for the reader in the face of death creates an intimacy between the reader and speaker, perhaps indicative of the sore need for companionship in life, during times of pandemic or not. The human figures gesture toward this desire, too, through their interactions with the text as well as each other. The occasions of kindness add nuance to the mood of the collection, preventing it from being depressingly morbid. One poem depicts a table being constructed only to end up in a trash can. The words accompanying the images note, “Have you noticed how many modest / pleasures and unselfish acts pass through this / wily-nilly / reality show?” Though there are aspects of the absurd in impermanence, there are moments of beauty as well, which are not to be discounted even if all will cease in the end.
Questions of how to accept the transience of life are not new, but Bolgiano gives us a fresh perspective of how the issues even Aurelius wrestled with can be taken apart and re-assembled to mean something new in our modern age. Her poignant, reflective voice is as enthralling as the visual world she’s created, where each page serves as its own work of art. Flat-Pack is a beguiling introduction to Bolgiano’s mind, its shapes and vulnerabilities, and it will surely be the first of many works she’ll create to assist readers in navigating this ephemeral life.
PHOEBE MYERS is a writer based in Tallahassee who's pursuing her MFA at Florida State University. Her work has appeared in Tricyle, Adelaide, and Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, among others. She has been awarded two residencies at Art Farm Nebraska, where she collaborated with visual artists and learned how to use a reciprocating saw.