Norma Cole
The Vulgar Tongue
San Francisco: a+bend press, 2000

The first lines of Norma Cole’s book begin, "at some point, or at gunpoint/ human is to wander." And so I’m wondering if Dante wrote his De Vulgari Eloquentia in exile what corresponding exile might inhabit the space of Norma Cole’s The Vulgar Tongue?

borrowed nature, neighborhood
dated by experience
"I’ll kill that bitch"
She escapes into the margins

might be an appropriate response to this question. For maybe there isn’t a corresponding exile but a thread of displacement from language in this work, a kind of alienation where the vernacular struggles to know itself. "What is depicted is zero/ between the figures and an elsewhere". How does it form, how do we make it, support it? I don’t mean this in an etymological kind of way but a mysterious way that we, the regular masses make and build language. "Plan one: as if we’re all the whole supporting// cast. Plan two: you let your thought drift through the wall."

There is a dependence on the mini-narratives throughout the piece to flush out the spoken. And I feel like I could name them: the one about the stolen purse; the guy with the naked children; the death dance. But when I go back they are fragmentary, all seeming to be in service of the speech or words which compile them. The ‘"I actually" said Miranda’ and ‘"my treat" to Rosa’ seem like nods to Dante’s criticism of Italian dialects but without the rancorous judgement. Still, there is an echo of, "If you have said this…" in the pages.

This text also incorporates phrases like: "Xtreme reading" and "superior user experience," with the same respect accorded to older language, not using it as a sign of alienation but a sign of movement. Much like the cover photo of the graffiti tagged semi. Language is always moving, coded, art for everyone.

– Sarah Anne Cox