Scaffolding is a sequence of eighty-two sonnets written over the course of a year, dated and arranged in roughly chronological order, and vividly reflecting life in New York City. In this, her third book of poetry, Eléna Rivera uses the English sonnet as a scaffold to explore daily events, observations, conversations, thoughts, words, and memories—and to reflect on the work of earlier poets and the relationship between life and literature.
Guided by formal and syllabic constraints, the poems become in part an exploration of how form affects content and how other poets have approached the sonnet. The poems, which are very attentive to rhythm and sound, are often in conversation with historical, philosophical, artistic, and literary sources. But at the same time they engage directly with the present moment. Like the construction scaffolding that year after year goes up around buildings all over New York, these poems build on one another and change the way we see what was there before.
Rivera (The Perforated map) takes the actions of writing craft, revision, the plumbing and re-examining of memories and moves them to the fore in this collection of variations on the sonnet. She regularly employs an idiosyncratic 11-syllable line, which disrupts the form's pentameter and gives the book a sense of rushing forward at all times, perhaps in "a desire/ to meet the poem's density." The collection is written around New York City, but a sense of place arises predominantly in such transitional spaces as the subway areas where there are no permanent inhabitants. Memories, though, garner a sense of place as well as scenery: at one point her speaker remarks, "All memories are seas and words thicken them." The book's unifying themes are found in the sonnet form and the constant conversations with (and riffs on) the works of numerous writers past and present. The poems' titles follow a chronology, yet they often jump backward into memory, returning wistfully back into the present: "The spiral, the scent is now no longer here/ but emotions make museums of our thoughts." By repeatedly returning to the same images and allowing the reader to witness her revisions, Rivera turns a process-oriented work into one with depth and feeling.