Anna Rabinowitz Award
Selected by Mónica de la Torre
Mónica de la Torre on JJJJJerome Ellis
The Clearing is an indelible record of the way in which language, in the process of being emitted by JJJJJerome Ellis, becomes song and the basis for page-based verbivocovisual forms. It is an emphatically dual project manifesting as talismanic book object and LP album in which the sonic, semantic, and visual properties of words and letters are tended to and rendered inextricable. That, in itself, is a feat. Yet what stops me in my tracks is Ellis’s thesis on what disfluent vocal performance opens up: a loop to a dimension outside whiteness’s linear time. A thesis is not only a theoretical proposition, in music it is also a downbeat. And so it is that amid loops and beats, Ellis converts stutter and glottal stop into melisma and rhythmic patterning on the pages of a Concrete poetry book. A book that is a Mobius strip that is a collection of scores and the transcription of a sonic essay weaving together reflections on the black radical tradition with anecdotes, lore on other stutters, and snippets of conversations. There is no point in establishing precedence. Demosthenes is said to have put pebbles in his mouth to overcome stuttering. Resisting fluency and, quoting Glissant, JJJJJerome Ellis sings, “I build my language with rocks.” And thus proves his thesis solid.