Fire Dressed In Fire /Review of inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel by Giorgia Pavlidou by John Olson

Fire Dressed In Fire

Review of inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel by Giorgia Pavlidou by John Olson

Edited by / Mohsen Elbelasy

John Olson (born August 23, 1947 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) is an American poet and novelist. Olson has lived for many years in Seattle, Washington. He has published nine collections of poetry and three novels, including Souls of Wind, nominated for the 2008 Believer Book Award.[1] In 2004, Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger, for whom he has written occasional essays, gave Olson one of its annual “genius awards.”[2] His writing notebooks have been exhibited at the University of Washington.[3] Olson’s prose poetry has been reviewed in print and online poetry magazines.[4][5][6] The poet Philip Lamantia said that Olson was “extraordinary…the greatest prose poetry [i’ve] ever read.”[7] and Clayton Eshleman said “he is writing the most outlandish, strange, and inventive prose poetry ever in the history of the prose poem.”[8]

One of the more persistent and fathomless riddles concerning human existence is the relationship between the mind and the body. The body is finite, mortal, vulnerable to injury and disease, and driven by a fundamental panoply of instincts and desires: sleep, food, shelter, sex. The mind, on the other hand, is limitless, unbound by anything but its own persistent logic, an indefinable energy without shape, weight, quantity or blueprint. Nobody even knows what it is. But one thing is sure: we all feel as if we’re trapped in a body. And the body calls the shots: nobody can survive long with eating or drinking, and who hasn’t – at one time or another – made a fool of themselves pursuing a sexual encounter. The 1930 German comedy-drama Blue Angel comes to mind, as does Romeo and Juliet and a thousand other dramas in which the mind and body struggle for dominance.

Giorgia Pavlidou’s inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel gets at the heart of the matter with a language that is at once troubled, incandescent and Delphic. This is a gathering of ten poems printed as a chapbook by Trainwreck Press whose central, totemic figure – a black hornet – is a species of eusocial wasp described as “solitary female carnivorous wasps that dig tunnels, capture and paralyze insects to nurture their young with ‘fresh’ living food.” It is, to the say least, a sinister species of insect, at least from the human point of view.

So why choose such a lethal creature to represent the vagaries and labyrinthine chambers of the human psyche? The answer is immediately apparent as soon as one enters the tunnel of this book. Taken as a whole, inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel is an edgy, penetrating collection of work with a vibratory uneasiness fueling its arguments and inquiries.

“The Annunciation of the Φonemic Body,” the next-to-last poem in this series, is a fascinating and revelatory poem. The lines are short and segmented in small aggregates and single lines which emphasizes the disparities and conflictual matter knotted together while the surrounding space provides breathing room and a sense of illimitable void underlying it all. There are many Greek letters mingled with the English words, such as the Φ [phi] of the title. Whenever I see Greek letters, it’s generally ancient Greece that comes to mind – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the great Greek tragedies but also – especially – Pythia, the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

The poem begins in a mode of alienated subjectivity, a little ‘i’ kicks it off: “i / once below a time / i was like – them protein bags    wrinkled sacks of bowels and bones.” Then, rather than make a segue to develop that idea, a small, four-line segment in italics is introduced: “machines / manufacturing / miniature machines / every nine months.” This isolated fragment adds to the sense of alienation, the sense of a troubled physicality, and the implication that there are forces, perhaps cultural, that give one’s physicality a determinate, finite and regimented feeling. Insects such as the hornet and wasp underlie this trope with what seems like a mechanized sociality.

As the poem unfolds, it becomes apparent that the author – the psychic energy driving this work – is a corpse-like figure in an operating room, “my own corpse appeared / ablaze in an operating theater.” Again, more anxiolytic information underlying a feeling of powerlessness. And this is where things get really interesting: “my eyelids cracked open / the morning after // when words // trembled / wriggled / swum / under my skin / glossolalic fishtails / waved inside my womb / pisces with decibel-scales // fluttered / their invisible fins /organs whispered; / murmurs-murmurs-murmurs / of / an alien syntax.”

The mathematical data running down the screen at the end of The Matrix – demonstrating Neo’s revelation that the fundamental reality of the world he inhabited was a neo-Platonic vision of numbers – reminded me of Pythagoras’s notion that the ultimate reality of the universe was a mathematics based on the number 3, “the noblest of all digits.” But what if it were words? Not just English, but Greek, Urdu, Hindi, German, Italian, Gaelic, Old Norse, Gujarati, Gadaba, Zulu, Uzbek, etc. Phonemes as corpuscles, morphemes as cells. Leukocyte nouns. Linguistic lipids. Syntactical acid chains. Monologic monosaccharides.

Isn’t DNA a form of language? Are enzymes angels of protein?

Φonemic Body, indeed.

William Blake was very much on my mind when I came to the end of this poem (“songs of innocence / excommunicated // eternally // from / their / native / tongues.” But so, too, is Artaud. I felt the spirit of Artaud throughout this work, particularly in its unresolved agitations centered around issues of agency and demonic power. Demonic more in the sense of the Greek word daimon, which didn’t have a negative connotation as it was initially understood; it meant “divine power,” much as the Latin words ‘genius’ or ‘numen.’ Albeit, given the intensities of conflict and pain, demonic in the more negative sense is equally pertinent. Artaud’s agonies were as malevolent as they were transmundane.

The last poem of the series is dedicated to Artaud, “saudade for antonin.” Saudade is Portuguese and refers to a mood of yearning, a melancholy or nostalgia. It consists of three short stanzas. The second stanza states “& the words / helped me peel a silence from myself / out of an oval form / nested inside my imagination / a form like a coffin / or a yearning.” Life and death are conflated; they’re not polarities, but correspondences, proportions of appetence.

The darkness that prevails throughout Pavlidou’s work – this phonemic tunnel – is not without its glimmers of lyrical joy, “undulating to an underground opera of inverted pigments,” “comets like erected octopuses / landing on white breath / with drops of blue semen / spilled on red earth,” “& my adjectives / look / they’re watching astral winds!” Or its more sci-fi horror moments such as “my Φonemic body was announced by the oblique / its lexical tentacles / burrowed in human skin,” which – to my mind – bend more toward humor than horror, an over-the-top scene in, say, a David Cronenberg film.

Naked Lunch meets The Fly.

Meets Blake. Meets Artaud. Meets “fire dressed in fire.”

the noblest of all digits,

as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it, and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself.

The link of the book


Originally trained in clinical psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, Giorgia Pavlidou is an American writer and painter intermittently living in Greece and the US. She received her MA in Urdu literature from Lucknow University, India and her MFA in Fiction from MMU Manchester, UK, (though her meetings with visionary LA poet-philosopher Will Alexander have been exceedingly more impactful). Her work has recently appeared in such places as Caesura, Lotus-Eater, Zoetic Press, Maintenant Dada Journal, Puerto del Sol and Entropy. She’s the main English language editor of SULΦUR literary magazine. Additionally, Ireland-based Strukturiss Magazine selected her as the main visual artist of their January 2022 issue 3.1, and Trainwreck Press ( launched her chapbook inside the black hornet’s mind-tunnel in 2021. Before devoting herself full-time to painting and writing, she worked as a clinical psychotherapist for about ten years. She can be contacted at


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