Jena Osman

1699: Stuyvesant’s wall becomes a hindrance to growth and development and is called “a
monument to our folly.” Finally taken down, its stones are used to build a new City Hall
at Wall and Broad.
1703: A cage, whipping-post, pillory and stocks are placed in front of City Hall. Slaves
are regularly given public lashings on Wall Street. An Act for Regulating Slaves allows
slaves to receive up to 40 lashes.
1711: A slave market is established on Wall Street at the East River pier.
1712: Slaves set fire to a building (an outhouse?) on Maiden Lane. As a direct result,
“An Act for Preventing, Suppressing, and Punishing the Conspiracy and Insurrection of
Negroes and other Slaves” is passed by Congress.
1715: Stuyvesant’s “White Hall” mansion is destroyed by fire.
to think
to bring to
goddess of
juno, the warner
a dutchman buys manhattan with jewelry. see mind.
the guard.
fort amsterdam at its foot. the Latin root, to think, acquires the causative derivative (root),
to cause someone to think (hence, to remember).
the guard remembers.
first there is a hog and cattle market, then it becomes a parade ground. hence to call
someone’s attention to, especially as injunction.
you’re too close; stand back. then a poison gas and yellow police tape.

colonial notables use it for lawn bowling, thus the name. washington, everywhere at that
time, bowls. whence Vulgar Latin, Old French, Middle English (? after) ‘to’ now archaic.
royal crowns stud the top of the fence pickets, then disappear during the revolution. on
stem of the past participle, arise, oblique stem, whence (probably via Medieval French)
the English adopted whence.
his breath is different now, shallow with a short cough that exaggerates with nerves.
a statue of king george is melted down for bullets. the greek goddess of memory adopted
by romans became epithet of juno= “the warner.”
the guard is the connection that nobody notices, the faint red dotted line that stretches
to all hubs.
the fort becomes the government house, the first white house, never used because of a
deal with philadelphia. hence, juno’s temple at rome, guardian of finances. the
government house becomes seven elegant row houses, which then become shipping
company offices, thanks to fulton’s invention. thence coinage being struck there, a mint,
hence the minting process.
he’s at the bottom of a long ramp, sitting at a desk below the vacant houses.
the shipping offices become the custom house, designed by cass gilbert at the turn of the
20th century. hence coins, money, cash flow.
he no longer needs air; tracks the body on etched glass or through an interior
the collection of revenue, the registration of international commerce at sea. 
the body, hardly substance, empties a safe deposit box.
the derivative Later Latin adjective accounts for English = French whence ‘to’, whence. 
1752: The New York Mercury is published by Hugh Gaine as a Royalist paper. After the
revolution he starts to print books, including Robinson Crusoe.
1754: The city’s first library opens in City Hall. Classes are taught at King’s College,
located at Trinity Church; King’s College later becomes Columbia University.
1757: Etienne de Lancey’s grandson turns the house on Pearl Street into a store.
1762: The Wall Street slave market is abolished and lighted lamps are installed on the
streets. Sam Fraunces, a West Indian (part French part African), buys the store that used
to be Etienne de Lancey’s house and opens the Queens Head Tavern on Pearl Street.
1776: 150 patriots with fife and drum corps, “invade” Trinity church services because
the rector is a Loyalist and refuses to omit the prayer to the crown. Wall Street is fortified
once again, this time by George Washington, using slave labor. Washington opposes
recruiting slaves or free blacks to fight for the patriot cause. The British, however, have
no such reservations and create slave regiments and workforces.
1776: When the British occupy the area, Wall Street becomes their headquarters and City
Hall is turned into a prison. The Presbyterian Church where Jonathan Edwards had once
preached (located at Wall near Nassau Street), becomes a hospital. Houses deteriorate
and trees are cut down for firewood. A fire begins near Whitehall that destroys a quarter
of the city. Trinity Church burns down.
1783: Revolution ends. Wall Street is a mess—trashed and deserted. Alexander Hamilton
moves to Wall Street. Washington Irving is born on William Street.
increaser of herds
fear caused by Pan
the three boys drag out from the bloody water and automatically heal in fog.
the smith street, smee street, smit street, suice street, de smee street, burghers path, burger
jorisens path, king street, the glass makers’ street, berger joris street, borisens path and
during her interrogation blackout a chip had been placed on her right scapula.
pan, whence panpipes; panic, adj. whence noun (whence panicky), whence verb. the
south end called mill street.
as the radio frequencies in her blood transmit the communications of the three boys,
the scapula chip transmits her whereabouts to them.
the noun panic probably owes something to Greek to panikon deima, fear caused by pan.
the frequencies keep her running in complicated patterns through irregular streets.
all now called william for william beekman who arrives early with stuyvesant. often
elliptically to panikon: panikon is the neuter of adjective panikos, of pan.
the splinters regroup and gather, coagulate into wax, the blubbery flesh of the
circulating body returns on etched glass.
his farm land stretches from nassau to the east river, a block above and below. whence
Early Modern French-French panique (whence the noun panique), whence the English
adjective panic. washington irving is born here in 1783. he coins the phrase the “almighty
the body reports to the guard beneath the vacant houses: her blood frequencies aren’t
doing the trick, she’ll need a better connection.
Greek panikos is the adjective of pan (itself duly adopted by Latin, hence by English). the
first synagogue. and Greek pan, var paion, arkadian paon, perhaps derives from Sanskrit
pusan, a Vedic god, the protector and increaser of herds.
the guard loads the relay split into the gun barrel, pushes himself wearily from his
desk. it always comes to this.
the corner of william and john is golden hill, where the first blood of the revolution
begins to run. arcadia is peace, simplicity, bucolic bliss. 
he slowly ascends the ramp, squints up into the light. as soon as he’s out the door, an
arm pulls him around the neck from behind.
at the corner of william and pearl is carleton house, where charles dickens stays during
his first visit to america, 1842. the greeks thought that frightening noises in the woods
(the vague fear of things unknown) were caused by the great god pan who dwelt in the
forest, and his name gave them the phrase “the panic fear.”
the relay split shatters out, changes weather patterns, dismembers the arm. hail turns
the neighborhood into a graphic field and he follows a vector out of the cloud.
dickens is almost 30 when washington irving urges him to come. rumors and rush are
signs of panic.
into the sun, he shakes off the moisture.
“all classes and conditions joined hands to welcome Dickens”
the field is a surface, a flat-bed, paper. the crowd of traders loses its dimension and
folds towards the horizon so that he sees only four still standing—one slightly ahead
of the three catching up from behind.
causing stock values to fall and some banks to fail, as investments and savings are hastily
1784: Alexander Hamilton creates the Bank of New York on Pearl Street. After the Bank
moves, the building hosts the first organization against slavery, The Society for the
Manumission of Slaves, of which Hamilton is a member. Hamilton owns slaves until his
1786: The first financial panic. Hardly any cash circulates and credit is suspended.
1787: An ordinance passed by the first Continental Congress dedicates the Northwest to
1788: Washington is inaugurated in Federal Hall on Wall Street. Washington Irving, six
years old, is in the crowd watching the proceedings.
1789: The Supreme Court is created. John Jay is first chief justice. New York is a center
for speculating in securities.
1790: Congress issues 80 million dollars in bonds. A market is created under a
buttonwood tree (now 68 Wall St.) for public sale of the stock. Stuyvesant’s City Hall
(once City Tavern) is demolished. Trinity Church, rebuilt, is consecrated. Fort
Amsterdam at Bowling Green is turned into the Government House, which later
becomes the Customs House. A petition calling for the abolition of slavery is submitted
to Congress.
1792: The traders formalize their association with the Buttonwood Agreement at 68 Wall
Street. This is the beginning of the New York Stock Exchange.
to make,
to do
to progress
as maagde paatje, it is a footpath used by lovers along a rippling brook.
the three behind have their weapons drawn on the one disguised as a simple person.
adopted from Old French-French, derives from Old French-French, whence English.
Dutch women wash their clothes in the stream that runs through.
they are flat and moving like paper ducks at the fair, a firing range of fact.
Old French derives from Old French-French, whence the English noun.
the guard stands in a field that breaks into layers; he is hidden in thick surface.
in 1712 slaves set fire to a building, perhaps an outhouse and Old French derives from the
Latin noun for advance, improvement, profit. whites are ambushed, 8 are killed from,
past participle of, to progress, hence to yield a profit. 13 slaves hang, one starves to death,
one burns at the stake, another “broken on the wheel.” forward, combining form of, to
make, for anterior etymology, factus, factum, fact. then “an act for preventing
suppressing and punishing the conspiracy and insurrection of negroes and other slaves.”
the market soars in the name of projected commerce. see prophet?
open the door or we will open the door. under their breath. they’ve got her now,
lanterns threaten outside the small shack near the slip.
free blacks cannot transfer land to heirs. from Greek pro, before and phetes, speaker from
phanai, to speak.
she evaluates her stolen goods; the network key combined with the right object will
cause a circuit to ignite.
the slave market at coffee slip in 1735 thrives.
the body approaches the boys, hardly substance.
through Later Latin prophetia and Old French prophecie came English prophecy. in 1850
“blackbirders” flourish along the east river.
the tools of their trade sliver the body without hesitation; they must keep to the task at
hand. the body slivers deep into the water, deeper now.
Greek prophetes came to mean interpreter. slave-running as transaction. 
the guard sees each figure as a separate layer and aims the relay split. the boys
become thin as paper against their will: translucent, veined, and watermarked. in an
unexpected turn of events they slide under the door with ease.
one’s profit (as when one is prophetic of the market) is via Old French profit from Latin.
a corridor of jewelry sales followed by trade and manufacturing.
she sees papers slide under her door and thinks they must be messages from the
connection. she picks them up.

Selected works from "The Network" and an interview with Jena Osman, as
conducted by Anna Elena Eyre for Barzakh.
AEE: The Network opens with “The Knot” and cites Cecilia Vicuña’s instruction to use
an etymological dictionary: “To enter words in order to see.” It feels to me that you are
entering the words in the etymological topography that you’ve constructed to, and I
paraphrase what you’ve written elsewhere, to really see with eyes closed without an
image. [where did I say this?] These etymological maps, for me, address a line in
particular from “The Franklin Party Section” which is “How to map a changing thing,
rather than a target of frozen particulars.” Would you describe the process by which
you came to create these maps and how they allow you to really see the invisible of
JO: The etymological diagramming began during a residency at the MacDowell Colony
(I think it was in 2002). I found an etymological dictionary edited by Eric Partridge—at
least I think that’s the one—in the library (interesting how hard it is to retrace your steps
even with a map). I have always been really interested in Vicuña’s approach to
etymologies—she proposes that if you look deeply into a word, it begins to say things
about cultural connections that have been erased/forgotten in time. So in some ways I
guess I was trying to test out that thesis. While trying to make visual maps out of purely
textual information (lots of abbreviations!), I started to notice that certain words were
related although their meanings seemed antithetical (for example, “peace” and
“propaganda”). It was as if the word roots took some unexpected turns and created a
family that didn’t really get along. Many of the words I worked through had interesting
sets of relations, and the diagramming forced me to acknowledge these relations rather
than pretending they weren’t there.
That initial diagramming led to an early fragment of “The Knot” (the first poem in The
Network) which was published in Rattapallax. I was already thinking about the history of
words alongside the history of street names (I spent a lot of time browsing around
in Gotham by Burrows and Wallace). I returned to MacDowell in 2005 and did some
more diagramming with that same worn-out etymological dictionary. When I was asked
to do a piece for a special section (on inventing a world) in American Letters &
Commentary I did a fuller version of “The Knot,” called “Aphetic Lexer Net”—but once
the piece became situated in this larger manuscript, the title seemed more distracting
than useful, so it became “The Knot.” When I returned to MacDowell in 2008, I was
working on the long piece “Financial District” and I continued to think about how the
history of streets might parallel the history of words. I decided to narrow my
investigation so that I was looking at words about finance only. But this time around I
could no longer find the etymological dictionary in the library—perhaps it had been
discarded because it was falling apart—and I wished I had stolen it on a prior visit.
Luckily, I think I located the same version in a great used bookstore somewhere in New
Hampshire. I should say that my understanding of this dictionary and the way it tracks
relations between words in time is probably completely wrong. However, the
diagramming had me thinking actively about how words are attached to geography and
empire, as well as how words are always slowly evolving/changing according to their
use. On the one hand, our language controls what we imagine to be possible; but on the
other hand, our language bends to serve our needs. And this double-capacity seemed
to synch up with how history evolves as well.
AEE: If we are to think of Vicuña’s performances of ancient knot writing or texts, The
Network performs and grapples with the space between the knots. The interesting
juxtapositions of the history of the Joker and Dutch or white sugar in “The Joker” asks
the reader to draw connections between them. The role of the writer in the text is the
selector of juxtaposition that causes tension, the writer does not explicate nor describe
their connection but parallels can be inferred. The choice of what to fill in between is
asked of the reader as much as of the writer and to this extent I think is co-performative.
I’m curious as to who your influences were in the creation of this form and why you are
attracted to it.
JO: I’m very influenced by writers who are combining different language registers—
writers who mix sound-play with historical investigations, who mix lyric subjectivity with
documentary materials, who mix poetry and the essay…that said, here are just some of
the writers (in no particular order) that I think about a lot—I’m sure their work has
influenced my forms: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (Dictee), Thalia Field (Bird Lovers
Backyard), Juliana Spahr (This Connection of Everyone With Lungs and “Dole Street”),
Charles Reznikoff (Testimony), Kamau Brathwaite (Trench Town Rock), Susan Howe
(The Midnight), Tisa Bryant (Unexplained Presence), William Carlos Williams
(Paterson), Leslie Scalapino (Defoe), Rosmarie Waldrop (A Key Into the Language of
AEE: You’ve cited Vicuña’s statement, “Debris, a past to come: what we say about
ourselves.” And written of her work that in it, “disappearance is a result of disaster at
the same time as it is a foundation for possibility.” How does this inability to recover
what is lost without possibility of recovery and the necessity to do so in order to move
forward inform your approach to history? How do you perceive of history as a poet?
JO: That quote is from a talk/essay I wrote called “Is Poetry the News: The Poethics of
the Found Text.” [] In that piece I’m really
trying to make a case for the ephemeral/found over the monumental. It’s an argument
that Vicuña makes repeatedly in her work.
My perception of history as a poet…that’s a big question…it’s connected to Vicuña’s
phrase “what we say about ourselves.” Events happen and history narrates them, so
fact is inevitably changed by interpretation and the fictional devices used in any form of
storytelling. And those interpretations derive from the needs of the current moment, the
needs of the teller. We know this—and so historical knowledge is very much a system
that relies on a suspension of disbelief. I’m fascinated by that tension. It’s one of the
reasons we did the last issue of Chain around the topic of “Facts.” I’m sure I’m not alone
in my interest in poetry’s ability to unlock a “fact” from our usual ways of knowing it.
AEE: In an interview with Charles Bernstein you said that the poet needs to be both
alive and dead—involved and removed. I wonder if you could speak a little more as to
this stance and whether or not you feel the reader should be in a similar position. How is
this paradoxical state one in which a person can culturally engage in a meaningful way?
JO: That interview took place a long time ago—when I was a grad student. I was
working on a dissertation that used Brechtian dramatic theory as a way to examine the
claims that experimental poetry encourages the reader to be an active meaning-maker
as opposed to a passive consumer of someone else’s meaning. Brecht wanted his
audience to be both engaged/entertained and critically alert/evaluative (he liked the idea
of a spectator smoking a cigar while watching a show). And so I was examining poetry
that I saw to be encouraging similarly dual reception. The Brechtian ideal was that the
spectator could stay detached enough that s/he could see parallels between the
injustices enacted on the stage and those being performed out in the world. If there’s
some awareness, then maybe there can be socio-political change. I’m not sure it ever
works that way, but I do believe that poetry changes the attention—to words and to the
world where those words are found. That is an increasingly important act. One could
argue that today all readers are performing actions and creating content all the time,
that all readers are absorbed and detached simultaneously. But unless there is a certain
amount of self-reflection, such activity is entirely passive. I imagine it’s always been the
case that poetry creates spaces for an attention that can’t really exist otherwise. It
functions as commentary, in that it proposes an alternative to cultural default settings.
AEE: The literary magazine, Chain, that you founded with Juliana Spahr was intended
to make the editorial role as minimal as possible, in that many hands would editorialize
or select and there would be no one “decider.” What are your thoughts on editorial
transparency and the role of an editor?
JO: Juliana and I have written about our editorial goals in a number of places. One
response can be found here. And you can find information about each of the issues (as
well as the new ChainLinks book series) here.
AEE: The sound in your work has a naturalness that attunes careful notice of vowel and
fricatives rather than say rhyme or slant rhyme. Do you play a musical instrument? How
does sound influence your work—do you listen to music when you compose? Do you
read your work aloud when you compose? What for you is the importance of having
multiple voices present in a piece?
JO: I can’t listen to music when I read or write. And I tend to read the poems aloud only
towards the end of the process when I’m looking out for inconsistencies. I think my
sense of listening to the pieces has more to do with a sense of balance, feeling the
weight of certain registers and wanting them to work in relation to each other. I listen to
the pieces I’m making very carefully, and my sense of what voices need to combine and
to what degree is mostly intuitive. And that listening process connects to how space is
used as well, as I’m very concerned that there’s room for the reader to breathe and
think while reading.

interviewBarzakh Mag