Renaming Stillness and Travel
- Lisa Pasold (Author)
A Bad Year for Journalists. Frontenac House (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- David Seymour (Author)
Inter Alia. Brick Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ven Begamudré (Author)
The Lightness Which is Our World, Seen from Afar. Frontenac House (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Antje M. Rauwerda
What is striking about these volumes of poetry by David Seymour, Lisa Pasold and Ven Begamudré is the way in which the wider world of place and persons orients individuals to help them locate themselves. In each case, inanimate geographies, the minutiae of specific locations, and the intimacy of human interrelationships ground identity. These authors find themselves “homed” by their unorthodox connections with the things and people that surround them. A key distinction between the works of these three poets is the importance of movement. Connectedness is embodied by stasis and silence in Seymour; by movements through alien landscapes in Pasold; and by the not-quite stillness or comfort of being in-between places in Begamudré.
Seymour’s poems are sometimes the rhetorical equivalents of still-life compositions: “Photograph of an Old Room” or “the Cat Forgets” isolate moments in time and the speaker’s response to those specific, stilled moments (in the latter, “the face of the mind [is] washed clean”). In the first section of Inter Alia, “Nomenaclature of the Semi-Precious,” Seymour uses descriptions of semi-precious stones to fossilize, and so fix in time, moments of individual experience: “You are difficult and disappointed / on the long drive home from the party: / love can be citric, even stern when you let it” (“Peridot”). The stones impose peaceful reflection: “The muteness of heavy snowfall and a chestnut- / brown warmth” (“Topaz”). They impose the silence that Seymour suggests is necessary for finally understanding that “we’ve listened in the wrong direction our whole lives” (“Almandine”). The theme he develops of silence and stillness as salvific seems, initially, counterintuitive, as in the line “because silence is an open window in the house” (“A Word on Silence”). I would have thought silence produced isolation (closed windows) rather than connection, but Seymour advances a different argument, emphasizing an essential paradox: in private, quiet moments in which time and self both feel isolated, connectedness and understanding of one’s place in the world are most fully achieved. Thus even his sequence of prose poems based on Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter),“The Sinful Songs,” ends with Ledbetter’s musing on his immobility, “does it matter whether he hates or loves this silence?”
Pasold’s A Bad Year for Journalists chronicles connections arising from mobility rather than stillness. She describes a photojournalist posted to cover “a refugee crisis” (the anonymity of the location evoking the myriad of countries that currently have refugee crises in “Press.”) Here the voyeurism of photography (“close up of wounds, some involving / children. is what you wanted, isn’t it?”) is juxtaposed with a friendship / affair with a print journalist: “I don’t need a lover, I / just need—he sees what he wants it / to be. she doesn’t” (“Press”). The plot of the poems, as they build on one another, suggests an attempted but failed transition from photographing in Africa to living in Canada, as in the vignette about a Canadian one night stand disrupted by a call from overseas: “In the midst, morning hangover mist, the cell phone / Call from Djibouti, I was wondering / how you were doing” (“Venus and Psycho”). The unnamed “he’s” and “she’s” of these poems act out relationships that are a back to identity crises provoked by exposure to wars overseas. Transitions produce self-redefinitions. In Moscow, “she” interviews a 14-year-old assassin who has named himself Samuel Oki after her predecessor. “She” wonders if “she’ll leave namesakes? children taught to murder who’ll name themselves after her” (“Kinshasa”). The lines emphasize the inevitability of dislocations (a Canadian in Moscow talking to a boy who has adopted a West African name) as well as the reciprocity of self-identity and surroundings.
In The Lightness Which is Our World, Seen from Afar, Begamudré, like Pasold, writes about dislocation and renaming as a reciprocal process that reconstitutes both place and person. Unlike Pasold (or Seymour), he finds himself caught predominantly between two places: Canada and India (though the collection does include chronicles of his travels in Europe as well). He writes with humor in “The Road to Khandahar,” “There is also a Kandahar in Saskatchewan . . . There is also a Ceylon. The railway named it Ceylon because the local postmaster did not want it named after him. His name was Aldred.” The geography becomes more personal when Begamudré observes that “Hally means small village—in Kannada, my father’s mother tongue. He grew up speaking Kannada. He settled in Canada.” And it becomes still more personal when Begamudré says of Karnataka, “This is the proper name of my home state, but I often call it Mysore. It was renamed after the state boundaries were redrawn on linguistic lines. That happened the year I was born, so I can call it Mysore if I wish” (“The Road to Khandahar”). He influences place in his choice of names, but he is also renamed; in “Tampering,” a Vancouver taping of “Reach for the Top” finds a technician shortening Venkatesh to Ven and a Parisian professor adding an accent aigu to the end of Begamudre. Significantly, it is these tampered names that define the author; he writes as Ven Begamudré, altered by the geographies he has traveled through and by the ways they have renamed him. Thus the opening sequence of poems (“Beligge,” “Pakshigalu,” “Prema,” “Hagalu,” “Nagarahavu,” “Kopa,” “Rathri,” “Ane,” “Shoka”) ought not to be read as exotic fragments of a putatively authentic India, but rather as narrativized mythologies as mystical and unknowable to their translated author as to any other reader.
Begamudré suggests worlds (Canada, India, France, Italy) which are at once outside and inevitably integral to the identity of the migrant. Pasold similarly suggests a reciprocity between travel and constructions of identity (even in such intimate relationships as those between lovers). And Seymour, without international dislocation, suggests the silent interconnectedness of place and identity in moments of stillness. All three poets describe stillness in the experience of transience, and see redefinition as integral to self-identification.
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Books reviewed: Taqsim by Zaid Shlah, Frames of Silence by Allan Brown, and The Burning Alphabet by Barry Dempster
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Books reviewed: Le Visage des mots by Jean Royer, Nous sommes en alarme by Louise Cotnoir, and Nos Corps habitables by Jean Royer
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Books reviewed: The Monster Trilogy by RM Vaughan, Seeing Red by Dennis Cooley, and Now You Care by Di Brandt
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MLA: Rauwerda, Antje M. Renaming Stillness and Travel. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #192 (Spring 2007), Gabrielle Roy contemporaine/The Contemporary Gabrielle Roy. (pg. 185 - 187)
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