Reviewed by Kevin McNeilly
The poet asserts in an explanatory foreword that the fourteen lyrics of Hologram are tributes, "a way of paying homage to those poets whose work I fell in love with in my formative years." Her project thus becomes retrospective, informed by a backward glance: these poems, however, are neither the nostalgic reminiscences nor the saccharine memorials we might expect (and even excuse) from a writer in late career taking stock of her position among mentors, peers and influences. The book constructs Page’s personal tradition, a constellation of empathetic voices, but it also refuses the mock deference of imitation or flattery, working instead through an active, formal engagement with the texts and textures of her beloved cohorts.
The form that Page uses—to sample, to embrace, or, in her own terms, to "marry" the work of her predecessors—is the glosa, a fairly strict genre she has provisionally recovered from the poets of the Spanish Renaissance; each contains four stanzas of ten lines (metrically various in Page’s practice, depending largely on the shape of the source), the last line of each stanza borrowed sequentially from a quatrain lifted from another poem. The glosa is literally an interstitial poem, a hybrid written between the lines. One work knits through another, pulling at its fabric to open it up to a kind of proactive reading, as the poet writes herself through the page before her. Page’s compositions reweave with words the lacunae she gingerly pries open in the original texts, fitting her own voice into other voices, inhabiting the margins, edges and in-betweens of a given passage, a given fragment of verse—glossing. Page melds with work from Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, George Seferis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Leonard Cohen, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda, Sappho, D. H. Lawrence, George Woodcock, Robert Graves, and Mark Strand, a various and difficult field. Her writing is responsive, a form of attention; it pays tribute in intricate cross-stitch.
At issue throughout the book is the nature of sensation, and of making sense: she listens, not to replicate the verbal music of her sources, but to participate in a music’s recreation in her own ear; distinctive stylists such as Thomas or Stevens are neither parroted nor subsumed, but remain in a tense and delicate interrelationship with Page’s own voice; the unmistakable resonances of Thomas’s "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," for instance, are set against Page’s crafty, matter-of-fact ironies:
What is the hope for those who drown?
Pickled in brine? Stripped to the bone?
Who will they meet in deep sea lanes?
Page picks up the rhythm and the imagistic density of Thomas’s original, but the tone modulates as her questions introduce a sceptical standoffishness into the Welsh poet’s transcendent fury. What results is not a unified voice, but a tug-of-war, a debate which aims not to resolve itself but to be immersed in the conflictual dynamic
of articulation itself. (I am reminded of English composer Elizabeth Maconchy’s definition of the string quartet as "impassioned argument": Page and Maconchy share a penchant for formal elegance and linear clarity.) Learning to disassemble and refashion her voice, what she calls in "Inebriate" a process of remembering "how to un-me myself," is for Page a verbal practice of healing, of positive, active self-remaking. What Page interrogates in this volume, in part, is the process of response, of coming to terms with the drift of
another writer, of reading as a means of inquiry into the creative stuff of language, her own means of poetic saying.
Page not only listens, but she looks as well; in keeping with many of the obsessions that have informed her writing and her painting over the course of numerous books, the honing of visual acuity is at stake in all of these poems. The title of the book (and of the first glosa she composes) gestures at light-sculpture, holography: the Greek root olografoz means "to write the whole," to represent a given object in its entirety. A hologram is the negative image of a holograph, and the image projected through it into space is ostensibly "pure" and immaterial representation. Page’s poems work repeatedly, as she says in "Presences," to coalesce and form into "a whole," to return to a clarity (claritas, Latin: light) unimpeded by the opaque clumsiness even of words. The lyric, Jan Zwicky has argued (and Page thanks Zwicky for her "accurate eye and musical ear" at the close of the book), emerges from a longing for wordlessness, a desire to immerse oneself completely in the living rhythms of the planet, to touch the world. The poet, in the lines Page re-tools from Elizabeth Bishop, is relentlessly "looking for something, something, something," pushing the formal intelligence of verse toward the unruly matter of the world, of the something it wants to contain and to express. "In Memoriam," written through Auden’s elegy for Yeats, laments a fictional monarch (a poet?), then gradually notes how the verbs and nouns from which he has composed himself "vanish," watching him become "a soundless country": wordless perhaps, but fully joined with, buried in, the earth with which he desired to commune, all of his mirrors and reflections, his representations, having been covered over, left to their own abysses. Mirrors are allegories of representation, allegories of the making of correspondences, of the duplicities and masks of reading. But the "images" in this poem, as they work toward the limits of representation itself, burn through the mirror of language (as she says in "The End") to become "wordless, without music, without sound."
But if Page’s lyric sensibility seeks the open void of illumination, to transcend the limits of the word and to see the world whole and unmediated, it also loves language, and cannot let go; its poignancy, its loveliness, in fact depends on a renewed effort to verbalize the unsayable, what the Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has called the se dédire, the self-unsaying of language itself, or what his contemporary Maurice Blanchot refers to as the "outside" of poetry. Page echoes Blanchot in "Exile," a poem written through and for George Woodcock, when she describes "memory," the seat of all representations, as
a fiction writer offering alternate versions
of what you had once imagined written in stone:
the immutable facts of your life. But now you question
which of them are true, and truth itself
that once appeared an end to be sought and found
becomes elusive, seems to assume dis guises,
is finally and, heart-breakingly, diminished
to a dim discoloured shot. . . .
The looking-glass of language turns back on itself, and the possibility of disclosing
"truth" mutates into endless reflection, a tenuous aestheticism which can, tellingly, only ever even "seem" to assume its disguises, its own seeming. This reflex embodies, verbally, what Blanchot terms the "exile" of the poet, and it is the apparent senselessness of this inward turn that Page finds heartbreaking, as she acknowledges her inability to make direct contact with the outside world, the "immutable facts" a lyric poet craves to touch.
Page nonetheless affirms the capacity of language for opening, and the power of the aesthetic to reshape the sensibility (the voice, the verbal textures of consciousness) in an ongoing effort to "love" both world and word; in her Neruda variation, she expands the Chilean poet’s praise of ironing to include all formal labour, all art:
It has to be made bright, the skin of this planet
till it shines in the sun like gold leaf.
And, newly in love, we must draw it and paint it
our pencils and brushes and loving caresses
smoothing the holy surfaces.
Page’s composition here is not an overwriting of the world but a recognition and celebration of the Ï„ÎÏ‡Î³Î· that inheres in Ï€Î¿Î¯Î·ÏƒÎ¹Ï‚, the striving for interrelationship, the holiness that Blanchot (through Heidegger) calls the sacredness of poetic work: its capacity for othering itself, for illumination, "shining," in the deliberate smoothing caress of what as representation it can never be,of the "something" that remains just beyond its wordy grasp. The simplest object, in this sense, becomes a renewed source of wonder and intricacy, as the verbal energies of Page’s "work" undo and rethink the limits of thought, and affirm that process of remaking as an essential imperative, the "must" and "has to" in the excerpt above, of the poetic; voice and self come to consist in the in-betweens of utterance and thing:
"I am become / as intricate and simple as a cell / and all my work goes well."
That sense of betweenness points us to another important feature of these poems; all work here is allusive, intertextual, but a few of the source texts remain problematic for another reason: they are translated. Rilke writes in German, Neruda in Spanish, Seferis in modern Greek and Sappho in fragmentary ancient Greek, but Pageuses versions of their poems in English as her "originals." (She even acknowledges in her introduction that the Rilke poem belongs at least partially to Stephen Mitchell.) But rather than understand these "originals," and thus Page’s reworkings, as derivative or second-rate, we can mark Page’s texts as attempts to inhabit the indeterminate space of translation itself, what Walter Benjamin, in his famous essay on "The Task of the Translator," calls Ursprache, the languageness of language as such. (Glosa derives from the Latin glossa, "word," from the Greek Î³Î»Ï‰ÏƒÏƒÎ¬, tongue, as in language, Latin lingua, tongue, or French, la langue. an intricate intertexual web floating behind Page’s lyrics.) As in-betweenpoems, work which belongs neither to Page nor to her sources, consisting in no settled voice, these poems call into question the possibility of originality itself, and suggest instead that poetry, that formal language of any kind, is fluctual, reactive, interlaced: not form but formation, not nominativebut transitive, a process of clarifying, of composing in light (as "The End" puts it). This book, Page writes, "contains some—regrettably not all—of the many songs I heard when, falteringly, I was searching for my own voice." But that search, as this book testifies, can never complete itself; its mystery, its poetic value, inheres in the open-endedness of that effort. Hologram is a brilliant book that calls into question carefully, gracefully, the nature and practice of writing, and responds with a lyric engagement of world, of text, of life.
- Awake to the Sacred by Laurie Aikman
Books reviewed: Faith and Fiction: A Theological Critique of the Narrative Strategies of Hugh MacLennan and Morley Callaghan by Barbara Pell, Devotional Poetics and the Indian Sublime by Vijay Mishra, and Divine Inspirations: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry by Robert Atwan, George Dardess, and Peggy Rosenthal
- Speaking, Pausing for Breath, and Gardening by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: what the auntys say by Sharon Proulx-Turner, breathing for breadth by Salimah Valiani, and Gardening in the Tropics by Olive Senior
- Radical Poetics by Kit Dobson
Books reviewed: Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003) by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy
- Obscur désir by Yves Laroche
Books reviewed: La Rive solitaire by Denise Brassard
- Writing In The Dark by Leslie Stark
Books reviewed: The Monster Trilogy by RM Vaughan, Seeing Red by Dennis Cooley, and Now You Care by Di Brandt
MLA: McNeilly, Kevin. Graceful Clarities. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #157 (Summer 1998), (Thomas Raddall, Alice Munro & Aritha van Herk). (pg. 160 - 163)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.