Limbs, Limits, Love

Reviewed by Neil Surkan

Two new collections from Book*hug explore the possibilities of love and desire at the limits of language while differing drastically in tone and form.

At once densely allusive and intriguingly tactile, Beatriz Hausner’s Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart weaves literary tradition, pop-punk, and kinky corporeality into poems that take up both the cerebral yearning of courtly love and the friction of bodies “flow[ing] one into the other.” Drawing on sources as disparate as Dante and Blink-182, Hausner’s kaleidoscopic conception of desire flickers and folds across time:

Long and not so long ago and into
another time where want lives in the folds of time and the space

between in the threshold where we are sex that is heart becoming
and bestowing one to the other. Sex understood sex misunderstood.

Equal parts intricate tapestry and sweaty duvet, the collection brims with idiosyncratic ecstasy.

“The goddess changes form often and usefully,” begins the speaker in “A Story of Egypt, Twisted”: so too do the texts in this book. Beginning and ending with long poems comprised of couplets stretching across the page, the middle section of the collection also features compact, staggered stanzas from which single words float into space. While some sections of these poems can feel alienating with their propulsive line breaks, elliptical phrases, and onslaughts of mythological goddesses and pop culture references, they come alive when read aloud. Startling refrains and audacious assonances—take, for instance, the moments when “sisters moan in a blessed tone as the trombone groans” in the opening poem—create a melodic, fast-paced music that celebrates connection while scrambling it: an interplay of “gloom // dance // gloom.”

Julie Joosten’s Nought could just as fittingly be titled Knot or Not; in poems that snarl and twist, the speaker meditates on presence and absence—“the ways of becoming what love will / have been”—pushing language to its brink. And yet, as often as these poems displace the physical world, they also replace the way bodies appear in relation to one another, and in relation to time. “Thought” becomes “an affair of the skin,” and the future appears as “thick as fur.” The influence of Lisa Robertson seems to drive Nought, and the tenderness of Daphne Marlatt’s love poems also shines through, but Joosten’s wordplay has its own unmistakable brilliance. (Re)phrasings from these sequences are sure to reverberate in readers’ minds, refreshing the sensorial palimpsest of the present, well after the book has ended. In remarkable feats of what she calls “vernacular perception,” as she searches “for a form” to “hold the ineffable,” Joosten writes a world with “a stranger luminescence”—a world as mysterious as it is loaded with insight. In what must be a contender for the pun of the decade, bodies “dress in slips and shifts,” as do all forms of matter that vibrantly populate these suites. “On Anemones” is particularly astonishing; it begins by inching down the page before unfurling into a moment of riveting, ineffable clarity:

[T]he words were
floating and I watching and them
dissolving and letters reflecting
then strokes then dots and
my hands were
a hum [      ].

These poems don’t just fill silence: they contain it.

This review “Limbs, Limits, Love” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 2 Dec. 2020. Web.

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