Philip Ruthen on
House of Anansi Press, 2010 (Canada)
Acres of Similar Rivets
There are certain certainties to the Erin Moure collection O Resplandor, presented as an experimental text that provided elements of attraction despite its lingering refusal to fully engage, and I with it. Moure, long-respected and seriously award-winning Canadian poet, translator, philosopher, politician of the body, offers text that is strangely limited by comparisons with poetry itself.
There are subjects to be beguiled by in movements across public worlds of the confessional, philosophic, historic, mystery and myth-making, as Moure constructs sense and sensibility. If, as the publisher’s cover blurb states ‘the act of reading contains all the experiences of the body itself’, should the reader expect the meta-physical?
No more on this trip will the wall bow down to me
No more a beard of earth stilled in the hand’s palm
…Time comes still, when the plough is
about to cut again
…and every familiar comes wearing your cap
over the rocky trail.
(‘Trying to contact a ghost’)
The book, the image and vision it offers on contact without demanding comprehension of words transcribed in a non-native tongue, the sight and touch recalling an unconscious collective remembrance, gives an opportunity for hoped-for harmony: ‘…yet hearing your glad tongue unties a book/I write – but in cuneiform.*’ (‘Optimal Elegy: Aurora Borealis II’). The accompanying warning is however increasingly valid – there will be ‘no surcease’ from the exercise until the full settlement is achieved – to read the book in its entirety, to join consciousness with it – O Resplandor – a slogan, a siren, a text is present yet be ‘translated’, settled. A work in progress, a false start in the public sphere, a statement to challenge and be challenged – what is contained in the reading of this? Is translation a making-clear, or does it necessarily risk creating too many questions?
The versifications of these attempts are selected periodically to elicit a poetic holy grail of unification for a coherency of con-joined subject and form, and intrigue. Attempts being the operative descriptor, as too often repetition plays against the method, exposing the scaffolding as well as process; translation remains embedded in an ethical maelstrom. It is the un-poetic-prose that, in narrative performances, leaves poetry itself highlighted. The language chosen to depict the storm sways with a committed but unaware arrogance of the endless, though soon tiresome, cloning in the telling of itself: ‘Yet I can’t suppress a suspicion that these looped scribbles are the same poem’ (‘Crόnica Six’).
The insertion of Jacques Derrida as novelist is at first welcome, then curious – an unintended consequential lead character; a lasting impression is that Derrida would have leapt pages to soak up his own paragraphs, and O Resplandor unwittingly offers repeated springboards to this ambition, until the sequential narrative leading the poetry becomes exposed, and unexpectedly inconsequential. This false or authoritative commentator (Derrida) leaves little room for doubt, a character who craftily promotes a haughty, raised authority, and shows the mentor/student hierarchy – in this instant – unassailable:
If the relation to the other presupposes an infinite separation, an infinite interruption where the face appears, what happens when another interruption comes…a rending interruption at the heart of interruption itself?” (J.D., on Emmanuel Levinas, penned on a yellow page in a cramped and angular hand)
Even if intended, even if satire of the Derridean domination of language, culture, and thus occupation, this reversal, and insertion, exists as if to highlight the shallower vision of the author compared to what’s gone, or been seen before, or foretold; and arguably undermines the premise of experiment: ‘Two can play at this game of no messages’ (‘Crόnica Seven').
Self-consciousness perceived then can’t escape, and the basis of the book’s and therefore reader’s production is forced into harder relief, assuming the book in progress has not yet, in full reading or periodic passages, conjoined its premise and its subjects. It has formed an incomplete art, detached; and the ground reaches out to pull it back to earth:
”Does it hurt?” I asked.
She opens her mouth. This means thank you, or no.
(or I am in the river)
(there is no shore)
I crossed to her between the high field and the lights of the city.
(‘Map of Calgary’)
Facets of conflict between subject and its search for a true form to settle dispute – the translator’s art – fixing the alchemy of language, do achieve a critical fascination. Moure’s attempt is not the settlement, for the book itself is an attractive artistic book, it invites, and the covers, textual inserts and subject-shifts play, set up and demolish the expected, strike ambiguous, non-real, nonsensical attitudes, and force invitations to exclaim – are the references true? What and who is to be true? Or does Moure’s choice of sub-King James Bible-like sound and rhythmic constructs (that I responded to with growing impatience at their regular inclusion), actually tell that the sublime itself is artifice?
Unlike a Modernist smelt to then forge a new artifact, its palate screaming to the ultimate reach of a syntactic physicality, O Resplandor’s acres of similar rivets and pole-brackets deflate appreciation, dulling the senses. A reader may be content to work with the poetry; in doing so, prose and accompanying genres and linguistic stylistics may fall away:
…Without words. It had to be something they’d already talked about.
I realize the absurdity of what I’ve just said. They didn’t know each other, and could not have met. O. had simply sent it to me, and made some kind of mistake in the name. But it perturbs me so much I can’t swallow my coffee.
A Pirandello-esque association with ‘Six characters in search of an author’ springs into step, characters that for Moure include Paul Celan, who is asked to carry much weight of reference. Though as quickly, like a ritual joke that can’t be avoided or be explained to the uninitiated, the over-doubling palls the exiting, the surprise happening where a burst of powerful purer poetry explodes above the surface, then subsides with a longing to leap away. Before a further sinking, a lift, poetic sequencing does provide both fuse and motion, carrying and bearing-up the weary traveler:
Our single shipwreck, transparent
one floor below us silica
rose wrenching the shoulder light
ash those nights
kissed her incestuous
flood of light creasing the window
If poetry is a manifestation of a sublime communication, if not the settlement itself, does Moure’s attempt at transforming the translators’ arts into a new communication through O Resplandor consider this, offering as it does combinations between the poetic and a prosaic, prose-driven depiction of the author’s deliberations? I am unconvinced it does.
Philip Ruthen © 2012; 2013
This review was first commissioned, and published in 2012 by Eyewear, Todd Swift’s blogzine and independent press http://toddswift.blogspot.co.uk/