by Matthew Schmidt
The compulsion started well before the release of Lost and. Over the course of four years, Jeff Griffin journeyed through the deserts of California and Nevada, collecting materials left in abandoned abodes. Sectioned into six different locales are arrangements of photographs, poems, letters, journals, and questionnaires. These arrangements produce, or reproduce, an unflinching, intimate view into the lives of desert inhabitants no longer where they once were.
To discuss speaker or tone in this work is difficult; Griffin’s written contribution consists of a two-sentence preface detailing the collation and retrieval of the items included in this book. Though he does not speak about the people through the collection and re-purposing of their personal history, he speaks for them. The resulting sections speak of the locale and what the owner of the document was thinking, seeing, and doing. A stark quality is present in the visceral here-is-what-remains aspect of the acquired data. And it is data—it’s a map of the existence of people in a barren landscape, a detailing of their thoughts.
Emerging from these varied scraps is the loneliness inherent in living. To live is in fact to be alone—at least in one’s own mind. Furthermore, in life one feels the necessity to document their thoughts and feelings, to try to understand what their emotions might mean, what to do with them. History is the documentation of what has happened, and here the history is surreal in that there is no frame (other than place) that the reader has to help understand the circumstances surrounding the pieces in front of them. Thus, there is mystery in the illegible handwriting, in the misspelling, in the (mostly) unmarked photographs.
Griffin’s debut is a stunning exigent foray into the uncertain. It may be possible to walk through the desert—to leave the sand—but the harsh landscape will not leave you. It’s uncomfortable to intrude on the privacy of others, even at a safe distance. And yet, the immediacy of the material is undeniable: a journal of a parrot’s linguistic development, several cursive missives from a lover, scratched and blurry photographs, yearning poetry, crackpot letters and the solitary vision they bring. It seems that it was necessary for Griffin to find himself through the remnants of others, to travel through solitude in order to report on the sound of sadness. Lost and is a brave collection, one that challenges the reader psychologically, refuses ornamentation, and ultimately writes that which some say can’t be written: truly honest poetry.
Jeff Griffin is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an associate at Griffin Moss Industries, Inc. He operates the publishing house Slim Press Holdings, and lives around Nevada. Lost and was published by the University of Iowa Press.