What would a writing look like that tried to place this waiting in suspended animation? One that founded its emergence on a refusal to differentiate between unfolding and concealment? This is one way of experiencing the work of Valeri Scherstjanoi, a selection of which is now held within the Marvin and Ruth and Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, acquired by the University of Iowa’s Special Collections in 2019. Scherstjanoi, born in Sagiz, Kazakhstan and now based in Berlin, pursues a poetry rooted in sound, performance, and ritual. The writing that results is often asemic, documenting something more like texture than sentences. Such is the case with Wie Verbindungs – i (n). Constituting itself from connective (Verbindingung) vertical and diagonal strokes of the pen, Scherstjanoi’s poem flirts with crochet, making meaning in the space between the shifting directions and the varying thickness of a mark.

Fig. 10. Scherstjanoi, Valeri, Detail of Wie Verbindung – i (n) from das russische abc – scribentisch, 1990, Image courtesy of University of Iowa Special Collections

Elsewhere he has pursued something more like the simultaneous creation of a performance and its score, as in ars scribiendi / poesia sonora. Linking each of his invented symbols with both an accompanying sound and a particular memory, Scherstjanoi improvises his composition while drawing exclusively upon this associative repertoire of signs and sounds.

There is something enticing and unsettling in the diligent work of a person seeking to be a friend to his own mind. And something almost evanescent in the resulting textures as they unfold an ability to absorb the contradiction of being exposed and remaining unknown. If it is another antidote to the problem of relays and waiting, it is one that requires an act of splitting before making the parts work in tandem — meticulously and flamboyantly — so that the question of your subservience will be deferred instead of resolved. 

The interplay of glyphs and hisses, buzzing loops, low growls and little jags are not willful act of regression but they are not exactly innovations either. They are more like a spell against forgetting; that something in you is always available to obey something just to the side of you; that your mother’s mother tongue was music.