Lucas Klein on Bin Ramke’s Tendril

Bin Ramke, Tendril, Omnidawn Publishing


Bin Ramke’s is a poïesis for linguists. In “An Esthetic (Ars Poetica),” the first poem of Tendril, his newest collection, words and their sound components dismantle against meaning: “wish” flushes into “wash,” a “retina” “retained,” and as for “Beautiful,”


someone said: aye, but buy, eat. Beauty

is as beauty used. Does its duty. Did. Used to:

be a duty.



While further down the page,


the history of future is a version, aversion is a kind

of aesthetic. As if. The beautiful is a form of that



the spelling of “aesthetic”—in contradistinction against the “esthetic” of the title, reminds us of the relationship of art’s dissolution of meaning with both feeling—in Greek, aisthētikos, “of sense perception”—and unfeeling, the anesthetic.


Tendril, whose meaning is the curlicue connective between a vine and what it grasps, often focuses on the sinews of language, connecting word to word. Appropriately, etymology is central to Tendril’s poetics, as witness “A History of Mortality”:


They know the code

but do not know they know


[a. L. codex, later spelling of caudex trunk

of a tree, wooden tablet, book, code of laws.]


And the light shineth in the darkness;

and the darkness comprehended it not


the word in Greek, comprehend, [katalaben],

second aorist tense, emphasis on punctilier action,

no regard for past, present, or future



And, hinting at the work’s title and the work of the poet (as Ramke says, “Poet, Greek for Maker, bricks, too” [“Never Odd or Even,” 103]), undoing the metaphor—since Ovid—of poet as seamster:


Mitosis is an opening, a ripping, from the Greek for thread,

mitos. Threads part, seam ripping, opening into.

(“Protein Folding and Enzyme Catalysis,” 51)


Yet even here the poetic act is a creative action, as mitosis is not only cell division but cellular reproduction, and the history of writing takes us from pencil to its derivatives:


(from Old French pincel, from a diminutive of Latin peniculus

‘brush,’ diminutive of penis)

(“Gregg Shorthand Dictionary,” 30)


But etymology does not occupy all of Bin Ramke’s poetic product any more than it is all of linguistic science. Slippage between words, particularly of homographs, occupies as much of Tendril’s project. Consider the proximity of “Can you touch?” to “You can’t, ouch!” introduced by the following two stanzas:


“Pear” and “pare” and other doublings

play in the fearful boy’s mind in the night

the light beneath the door a comfort

against lightning. The wind winds

its way down a hall


all waking in the night adds up

to a wound he is wound in the sheets

that tear, his tears he is a boy after all,

small. Sleep well, a deep source of darkness.

(“Social Conscience, Well Meant,” 24)


While linguistics may seem dry to some, and eggheaded to others, it typifies a literary paranoia (“the word fear is related to fare and it fits” [“Birds Fly Through Us,” 85]) penetrated before by Thomas Pynchon’s hyperconnectivity. Or, as Ramke defines, in “Eclogue,”


Paranoia, para plus nous, mind … a parallel mind,

a second mind, being of two minds, being overly

mindful, mind your manners, minded matter.



And, to demonstrate the pathology of recurrence, Ramke gives a rhymed—and rhyming—translation, in “The Consolations of Defeat”:


Might I quote myself? “a minor note, etymology—

Paranoia is para plus nous, mind … a parallel mind?

a second mind, being of two minds, being overly

mindful, minding manners: a matter of kind-


ness, and a manner of speaking.”



Tendril’s paranoia and wordplay are rooted in the individual’s personal propensity to confuse, as expressed in the section, “From the Chapter ‘Jesus Speaks to Judas Privately,’” in the closing sequence, “Tendril”:


I would write “sacred” for “scared” or sometimes

“scarred,” and needed no analyst

since it was only an error. Eros.



Confusion—fusing together—reveals profundity; further down the page, the speaker laments, after quoting a translation, “I should know the French”


and not rely on this carrying across, this.

But in that shadow, that shaped space

which is the wrongness of the best

translation, is asylum. The original

was wrong too. Eros.



In a poem about Jesus, the “carrying across” of translation has never been closer to “carrying a cross.”


The linguistics of etymology and homographic inquiry reach their apex in “Tendril,” the swan (or vulning pelican [“Tendril,” 105]) song of this volume. Bookish knowledge unites with personal pain in sections like,


“Replicate” can be pronounced several different ways—one of these, as an adjective, can refer to an insect wing folded back on itself. From the Latin plicare, to fold, also replicare, to unfold or to reply. An answer as an unfolding. To speak, for instance, to a figure with wings, and then to see the wings begin to unfold, as your answer. As in, “I love you,” and she unfolds her wings to leave you.

(“Tendril (B),” 101)


Following this paragraph, the line


Replicatory can mean, “of the nature of a reply.”

(“Tendril (B),” 101)


Means something it did not when appearing verbatim on the previous page: then, it was true, but here, Replicatory does not indicate response, but rather replication, and the changes that occur in seeing the same thing twice.


“Tendril” is an echo chamber in which not only the words of Anne Bradstreet—“Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,” from “The Author to Her Book”—can appear and reappear (“Infant,” 94; “Of the Past, the Unspeakable,” 110), but elements from earlier in the book, as well. 


The dew is vulnerable, the boy sleeping the girl sleeping are

vulnerable, to wound and be wounded, wound

in sleep which has elements, requirements and rewards

(“Tendril,” 107)


And even


They know the code,

but do not know they know

[codex, later spelling caudex

trunk of a tree, wooden

tablet, book, code of laws.]

(“Hard to the Touch,” 108 )


These echoes are tendrils, just as the etymologies and phonemes contrasted and contracted. What they reflect, what they obscure as much as they reveal, is the grasp our language has on us, and on our cling to each other inside language, the static born between “alone” and “all one.” Or, as Ramke writes:


alone. All one. The greatest betrayal happens

alone, always from the others and when

the very light itself delights in it, it heals. Itself.

(“From the Chapter ‘Jesus Speaks to Judas Privately,’” 96)