by Frances Richard
phoneme n. (Linguistics): One of the set of speech sounds in any given language that serve to distinguish one word from another.
In The Phonemes, Frances Richard investigates perceptually distinct units of experience—sounds, energy surges, scraps of national and natural history—to create episodes of disruption and dissolution. A meteor drops, a redwood tree falls. A government, an airplane, a stock market, Adam and Eve, Odysseus, the author of a slave narrative, and a child watching “Sesame Street” slip from one state, or mode, of being into another. If such entities are composed of nearly weightless flakes of matter and/or sub-verbal increments of language, does the one-way gravity of falling and failing really take effect? On the other hand, if the basic units of significance are too small to read, how can writing communicate? The Phonemes plays with answering these questions by inserting into the poems typographic sound-effects, inventing a lexicon of marks in which, say, a field of tall grass, a humming refrigerator, a blue jay, or a car alarm can produce a legible notation.