Wanted: The Author
- Jill Hartman (Author)
A Painted Elephant. Coach House Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Kimmy Beach (Author)
Alarum Within: Theatre Poems. Turnstone Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- derek beaulieu (Author)
with wax. Coach House Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Meredith Quartermain
“The removal of the author,” writes Roland Barthes, in his famous essay, “is not only a historical fact or an act of writing: it utterly transforms the modern text. . . . [T]he modern scriptor is born at the same time as his text; he is not furnished with a being which precedes or exceeds his writing.” Challenging and playing with this Barthian dilemma, Jill Hartman introduces a painted elephant as author-persona, who makes explicit what Barthes argues is implicit in all texts: “a fabric of quotations . . . from a thousand sources of culture.” Thus Hartman’s text is a delectable medley of 19th century chapter headings (“Describing the Magical Midnight of the MOTHS and expositating on the Peculiar Traits dis- played by Large Mammals confronted with Hirsute and Papilionaceous Insects”); romance novel (in which the painted elephant pursues a Calgary landmark known as the Maytag Man); newspaper clippings (“Hitchhiking elephant confuses tourists”); art-gallery lingo (“‘Female Figure Supporting an Incense Burner, bronze statuette’”); the voices of Roy Kiyooka, Jack Spicer, Robert Kroetsch, Lisa Robertson; the paintings of Vermeer, Delacroix, Manet; Hindu and Greco-Roman myths; and the Calgary cityscape.
Quite determined to be present in this text, Hartman’s authorial voice introduces “Myself, THE LONELY DUTCH ELEPHANT” and offers a “True Report of My Heroic Escape from the Zoo,” followed by a “Run-in with the Fearful and Fabulous Cannibal CHIMERA and the Heroic Outcome of that Historic Confabulation.” “Chimera appears incarnate,” our painted- elephant author states (in another ‘chapter heading’), “reminding me of the Fantastical Reality of the Everyday.” Within this framework, Hartman has invented a form that allows for maximum textual pleasure, where every style and voice in the gamut of myth and literature can be played against and through every other, in a sensuous and shifting landscape of the languaged world. Her poetry ranges from playful sounds (“these anachronistic etiquettes, a/ pirouette silhouetted against/ the whetting of your appetite”) to ingenious multi-layered quotations (“no zoo is an island”) – all the while wondering “who she is in an ‘exotic’ cosmogony” or a “lazy eternity” where “names of ranches, cows” are “homogenized with brands.” This author, while agent of considerable textual disturbance, is nevertheless bent on escape from cages in the zoo of received texts.
“The space of writing is to be traversed, not pierced,” Barthes says, “writing constantly posits meaning, but always in order to evaporate it.” derek beaulieu’s with wax poses writing space and textuality as a series of caves formed like those of Lascaux, where thousands of prehistoric animal images exist in a palimpsest of moulds, leachings, and mineral deposits. Interspersed between his poems are abstract graphics entitled “calcite gours” reminiscent of calcite blotchings in the caves. Another graphics series, “mond- milch,” depicts layerings and distortions of letters. Similarly, the poems explore blurred effects in the overwriting of one discourse upon another.
“[T]here is no difference between what a book talks about and how it was made,” beaulieu offers us by way of a motto. Founder of housepress, he is well versed in printing technology and his poems reveal an intimate knowledge of physical production of the written word. In “the well,” for instance, we see not only the parts of a verttical platen letterpress but also hear the mechanical rhythms of one operating:
every single word set & placed into page
halves come together & transfer form after
single words set open built century together
form the wooden you see rubber rollers allow
the wooden feed board two for the next cycle.
Another poem, “the fleeing horse,” suggests book-binding: “a pair of shears the motion brisk free slip a/ middle finger spread moisten splinter index/ destroy bind vaseline loosen silver thread/ press black spread fold adhere press needle.” The book’s title, too, reminds us of the wax tablets in use 2000 years ago, where writing emerged, only to melt away again, overwritten with other formations.
Like Hartman, beaulieu has read his Barthes, and comments in “Rotunda,” “[T]the author is an obvious preliminary question/ following an open-ended paper.” He is not only concerned with textual production but with the production of knowledge: “layout is a monitor of literature,” he comments while discussing the Gutenberg bible, the first book printed with movable type. Underlying this is a critique of commercialism: “deliberately superimposed on engraved horses/ commercial colonies an expanding variety of/ bulls.”
In Alarum Within: Theatre Poems, Kimmy Beach, a former stage-manager, poses the writing space as stage – not the stage of seamless illusions seen by the audience, but the back-stage struggle between illusion and illusion-makers. We hear, for instance, of “The Greatest/ Hypnotist In the World” whose
. . . son runs the sound board
stage right (he adjusts the level of his
dad’s mic and the one held by the first-year
Psych student who thinks he’s Elvis caught
in a swarm of bees).
The series “Take, eat; this is my body” is a hilarious tale about a manager who hears “raging from the wings stage right/ it’s Matt and Karla again/ the endless brawl about who gets to/ play Jesus H. Christ for the most minutes.”
In the series, “Mr Dressup,” the narrator confronts that TV personality over a form letter he sent to her five-year-old self; then becomes a Mr. Dressup puppet. The series “Encephalitis,” recounting her struggle with the disease, takes the stage into the narrator’s delirious consciousness, haunted by ghosts of Lady Macbeth, identities she must play as wife and daughter, and a character, Mother Courage, in a play she directed. The series “seek the deepness,” recounting the death of a beloved niece, counterpoints the humour in other sequences, and uses among other dramatic techniques a long stage direction.
Beach is inventive with form, making poems out of ads seeking actors, dramatis personae, stage directions, a pre-show checklist for Macbeth, and lists of props, sound cues, and light cues. The poems and poetic plays have a sharp sense of rhythm and detail, and plenty of irony.
- The Poet's Novel (Un)framed by Kevin McNeilly
Books reviewed: From Cohen to Carson: The Poet's Novel in Canada by Ian Rae
- Abiding Space by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: The Occupied World by Alice Major
- Italian-Canadian Diversity by Joseph Pivato
Books reviewed: The Rooming-House by F. G. Paci, Vinnie and Me by Fiorella De Luca Calce, A Rage of Love by Alda Merini, and L'Esilio della Poesia: Poeti italo-canadesi by Marilia Bonincontro
- Earth Enough and Time by Kevin McNeilly
Books reviewed: Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation by Eric Ormsby and Planet Earth: Poems Selected and New by P. K. Page
- Rééditer le mystère by Ariane Tremblay
Books reviewed: À force de mystère: Oeuvre poétique 1958-1974 by Ronald Després
MLA: Quartermain, Meredith. Wanted: The Author. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #183 (Winter 2004), Writers Talking. (pg. 136 - 138)
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