A Review of Joel Chace’s "Maths"

Around two-thirds of this book is the sequence "Maths." I much appreciate Joel’s Preface, explaining his method of construction. In general, each piece has a central text—Chace’s own work—clips of smaller text, pasted in (and looking so), and hand-written mathematical formulae. You need to see them, read them.

Each of the 40 Maths is a stand-alone, and while they share a page size and similar elements, the visual affect and arrangement varies a lot. Each of these could easily be magnified a couple times, framed and hung. Never seen anything like these.

Being me, I root into the core texts, and these are so marvelous—humorous, surprising and tender:


“One foot of her compass
in retirement she keeps
dropping odd words: “and yet”;
“value,”. . . (15)


“Could weariness really be the point? Of
course. No height; no width; no depth; no
color:  all the made purposes of a mad universe – which
you can write down but probably shouldn’t say aloud” (31)


So resonant, Zen angles, so creative. Would these core texts work as stand-alones? Yes. But the full, necessarily subjective, effect of each piece—the elements and their arrangement—takes the work to another mind-space, a different perceptual dimension, at times ineffable but always communicating. The mathematical formulae are a foreign but not unfamiliar language to me, and I prefer to just see them rather than figure what they mean, where they’re from.

The last third of the book, "Physics," is 14 individual, text only poems, most of which has some lines in italics, which often feel like they’re from a source other than Chace. In some poems, like "Hindsight, Sight" the italics and non- are interleaved:


“Footbridges arching over
streams in winter gardens . . . tomorrow
if God extends for us a
horizon of dark clouds
. . . Calligraphic
shadows of ancient elms . . . or designs
a morning of limpid light,”


As in "Maths," Joel’s creativity and variation in tone and perspective are refreshing and evocative:


“As if they’ve been re-fleshed, his bony
parents are so breakable; but he still
must guide them, one or even both,
whenever they appear.”  (Relations)


One of the qualities most important to me in media is creativity, and Chace’s work is abundantly so, in all the text and also in the visual composition of "Maths." A book to be more experienced than read. I could be tempted to leave individual pages around town, to mystify and engage whoever came across them. But the book is a unified synergistic collection, just the right size physically, another fine production from Joel Chace and Chax Press.



dan raphael

dan raphael's most recent books are In the Wordshed, from Last Word Press, and Maps Menus Emanations, from cyberwit. More recent poems appear in Impspired, Mad Swirl, Lothlorien, Otoliths and A Too Powerful Word. Most Wednesdays dan writes & records a currents event poem for The KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Saturday, February 3, 2024 - 21:01