- Elizabeth Bachinsky (Author)
God of Missed Connections. Nightwood Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Susan Holbrook (Author)
Joy is so Exhausting. Coach House Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Chus Pato (Author)
m-Talá. Buschek Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Angela Carr (Author)
The Rose Concordance. Book Thug/Literary Press Group of Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Janet Neigh
The Galician poet Chus Pato declares “Farewell, Lyric!,” in her recently translated book m-Talá. In The Rose Concordance, Angela Carr claims, “There is no I.” However, in both of their collections, as well as in the new books by Elizabeth Bachinsky and Susan Holbrook, although transformed and often fractured, subjectivity is alive and well. These four recent collections indicate that reinventing the lyric remains a vital project in contemporary women’s poetry.
In Bachinsky’s God of Missed Connections, the personal becomes plural, as she merges individual and collective history to explore the relationship between identity, ethnicity, and nationality. She brings a poetic lens to history, offering a cultural memory of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada often missing from official national narratives. Bachinsky finds this history through research in “the barbed wire of internment camps in what is now Canada’s national parks system,” and through familiar relationships, symbolized by objects such as her mother’s red Ukrainian dance boots. Her torque on the lyric form to explore the politics of genealogy is reminiscent of late twentieth-century Asian Canadian poetry that unfolds ethnic difference into a Prairie landscape, such as Fred Wah’s Waiting for Saskatchewan and Rita Wong’s Monkey Puzzle.
In one of her opening poems, “Goddess of Safe Travel,” addressed to her sister, Bachinsky asks, “Why bother with history?” and then she provides several persuasive answers that convey a personal urgency for connecting the present to the past: “Because to plough it you’ve got to own it”; “Because these questions may never be answered in the way you or I might need”; and lastly “Because I love you.” The lyric address is multiple, calling out to a goddess, her sister, and history itself. History forms the overwhelming missed connection searched for throughout these poems. Bachinsky looks at such topics as a healing folk ritual called a wax ceremony, the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine, Holodomor, and more recently Chernobyl. In the illuminating postscript, Bachinsky explains how this project required her to “locate my self, my gaze, my story.” However, what is most compelling about this book is the refraction of the “I” through a disjointed Ukrainian history.
In Joy Is So Exhausting, Susan Holbrook explores not the past but the vivid experiences of everyday life. Her poems are populated by a diverse array of objects, people, texts, and voices, among them Frederico García Lorca, home inspection reports, petsmart.com, babies, chocolate, kittens, tampon instructions, dogs, and Gertrude Stein. One can feel the influence of Stein’s lesbian domestic themes and pleasurable insistence on Holbrook, who is a professor at the University of Windsor and a notable Stein scholar. Despite the title, the form and content of these poems are anything but tired, bursting with energy, humour, and originality. The poems, many of which incorporate source texts, remind us not to take language and life too seriously, as in her mocking apostrophe, “To Chocolate,” which begins, “You are hunky. Dessert is not the same without you.” Building on the disorienting potential of language to Misled, the title of her first book, these poems celebrate the materiality of language to reorient our everyday desires.
The most compelling piece in Holbrook’s collection is the concluding ten-page prose poem, “Nursery,” which embodies breastfeeding and writing simultaneously as forms of exhausting joy. The intensity and endurance of this poem challenge the assumption that one cannot get any writing done as a new mother. Holbrook’s playful sentence fragments move from left to right to enact the continuous present of nursing: “Left: Lift. Right: Tuft. Left: Loved. Right: Lift her. Left: Richter. Lift her wrote her wrought her daughter laughter lifter sitter safe her light left on her.” Holbrook takes on breastfeeding and motherhood, certainly under-explored topics in contemporary experimental poetry, to transform the isolated lyric “I” into a warm embodied relation through the mother-child dynamic.
In Angela Carr’s second collection, The Rose Concordance, the lyric “I” disappears in a surrealist building made of corridors, fountains, sleep water, mirrors, barrettes, fire escapes, and emergency exits. Through repetition, fragmentation, and translation, Carr makes texts, bodies, and buildings pliable. “Slipping into non-being, slipping off the / very end,” the poems enact the sensuality of abstraction. The book is a creative response to the allegorical dream vision in the thirteenth-century poem Roman de la Rose. By blending writing and translation, Carr builds on Canadian women writers from the 1980s Tessera collective such as Barbara Goddard, Nicole Brossard and France Théoret, who explored translation as a feminist politic for understanding difference. Carr, who makes her living as a translator in Montreal, reorganizes and rewrites lines from the keyword index of this piece of medieval courtly literature on the art of love to reveal the rose not only as a symbol for the female love object, but also for a subversive feminine sexuality. As in the provocative lines from the poem “Barrette:” “Perhaps the barrette is the ungendered fingers of a second body. Perhaps a claw, a clasp, a clip, a cunt.” Similar to Holbrook, Carr pursues Gertrude Stein’s pleasure of insistence as a space/time of feminine desire to open Stein’s enigmatic phrase “a rose is a rose is rose” into postmodern hallways, corridors, and fountains.
Chus Pato’s m-Talá, recently translated by the Montreal poet Erin Mouré, transforms lyric poetry into a disorienting dialogue. Her unique poems take shape as radio interviews, letters, diary entries, newspaper columns, and dramatic scripts. The opening lines form the title of each poem so that “it’s impossible to tell middle from beginning or end.” Pato’s striking phrase, “out of the fog, every morning, a huge Moebius strip,” aptly describes the experience of encountering the multiple voices in her text. As Mouré puts it in her introduction, “Pato refuses to maintain the illusion that the lyric ‘I’ is the personal voice of the poet. She refuses the singularity of poetic voice altogether, taking on voices till she is these voices, these pantonymic heteronyms.” Conversations unfold among an array of different personae, including Shakespeare’s Cordelia, the “author,” Mephisto, Agape, a radio announcer, and a woman named Brenda.
This is Mouré’s second translation of the renowned Galician poet, and those familiar with Mouré’s multilingual poetics will sense that one of the most intimate conversations occurring throughout this book is the exchange between poet and translator. In Spain, Pato is famous for her commitment to writing in her native language Galician, which has managed to survive despite centuries of internal Spanish colonization, mostly recently under Franco’s regime. As Pato reminds readers, “IT’S NOT ONLY LANGUAGE THAT’S UNDER THREAT BUT OUR VERY LINGUISTIC CAPACITY, regardless of the idiom we speak.” Mouré’s lyric translation of Pato’s m-Talá continues to resist the homogenization of our linguistic capacity by using poetic language to pluralize and share voices across languages and cultures.
- Esthétique du temps qui passe by Sylvain Marois
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- Body, Mind, and Spirit by Neil Querengesser
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- Signifier Desire by Gregory Betts
Books reviewed: The Only Poetry That Matters: Reading the Kootenay School of Writing by Clint Burnham
- En un mot by Eric Paul Parent
Books reviewed: Lucarnes by Éric Charlebois and Solstices by Herménégilde Chiasson
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Books reviewed: Beautiful Sadness by Lesley Choyce, Necessary Crimes by Catherine Hunter, Asphodel by Michael Redhill, Swimming Among the Ruins by Susan Gillis, and Burning Bush by Elizabeth Brewster
MLA: Neigh, Janet. Lyric Translations. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010), Mordecai Richler. (pg. 116 - 117)
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