Karen Mac Cormack, Quirks & Quillets (Chax Press, 1991). Reviewed by Loss Pequeño Glazier.
This review originally appeared in the Small Press Traffic newsletter, 1996

Quirkes & Quilits

Some tricks, some quillets,
how to cheat the diuell.

-Shakespeare

Quirks & Quillets is a book that you HOLD and that holds you. In what terms might I describe what this book is physically? I am greatly impressed by how it responds to one's hands, which I think is partly because Chax Press has designed here a horizontal rectangle rather than a vertical one (a small "plot of land" or grid of activity for its words,) the way its text "crops" its own verbal activity-

grids are common in some way crops shape

the elsewhere occupied needles health

derives its singular strand fluid clear circle

through (30)

to the weight of the pages. The pages stay open, hold open in your hands (the way children's books can have the same shape, insistence, the pages weighty and W I D E enough for the eye to roam with comfort-that is, the page says: read me here or dally with me or do you see this is also a visual "feeling.")

Each page is itself a self-constituting typographic work. A generous point size makes words physical, engages, corralled into a justified "plot" at the center of each page. White space gathers the words into a physical fete in the center of the frame. ("Not rhythm yet repetition she said so it was/ written to be recorded but if heard then/ listened to attentively without false moves.")

The words are slippage within this frame. Where they might point is slipping ("minus cement lessen/ the load," i.e., lesson). The lesson of their texture is that it bleeds (slips) into the pattern of their fabric. ("In this small way the body translates to taste or/ smell compared for lack of equilibrium...") Or, the words are the weights that hold the semantic "pages" open, as the parsing itself has weight as solid as atomic weight (and plays):

Assigned blue water is clear conception's

more than that could show fox prints early

in the h's night swift owl or surly bands

signal the impression wind before window

whatever that means to the letter... (35)

THE PLAY. Show becomes snow to both a fox and an owl (h issue). Water is a linchpin with blue and clear similar weights, radiating outward to assigned and conception's equal weights. The "h" in night as the ahhh or quirk or night activity. The wind before window is both the wind outside the window but the word itself. (And where are the willows?) The four letters of "wind" wind up attached to "ow" and though both wind and window are transparent, one is something that you look through while the other might blow through you. (My ear still hears the "ow" from "owl." That's MY "h," still howling...) Of course the point is that this is PRECISELY what is meant-indeed "to the letter."

So then what is a quillet? (Is this word less frequent in U.S. English?) We can presume to have a sense for "quirk" (an oddity. However, present day usage denies much of what is buried there in "quirk" since it is not only a "sudden twist, turn, or curve," a flourish-with particular reference to writing and drawing-but also a "verbal trick, subtlety, shift or evasion" as in "quillet"-so that the title itself is circular, "a plaster likeness admiration comatose.") Quirk, in this sense is not quirk alone but is chased by quillet. A "quillet" is a small plot or narrow strip of land or a verbal nicety or subtle distinction, a quirk, quibble. Otherwise it is a small quill or tube (Mac Cormack has a previous book titled _Quill Driver_. I would note here the phrase in Yonge's _P's & Q's_: "Rolling up her papers into little quillets.") Or, as a verb, to quillet is to quibble.

Linking and entangling causes

with insoluble quirkes and quilits...

These words written in 1609 were only waiting for Quirks & Quillets. So that the sense is physical, something is actually moving, not just flourishes, but quibbling over each letter-the composition TURNS on these. As indeed the original sense of quirk WAS physical-as these quirks here (echoed in the physicality of this edition) are physical-not figural.