Memory and Lyricism

  • Stan Rogal
    Dance, Monster!: Fifty Selected Poems. Insomniac Press
  • Erín Mouré
    The Unmemntioable. House of Anansi Press
  • rob mclennan
    A (short) history of l.
Reviewed by Matthew Hall

Erín Moure’s new work is the third install- ment in an unfolding tale of memory, language, and the reliquary of history. E. M. arrives in Bucureşti, after burying the ashes of her mother in the Ukraine, where Elisa awaits her, centring Moure in her search for the nature of experience.

Moure’s layered, hybrid materiality articu- lates an attempt to trace her mother’s exile during the Holocaust. The Unmemntioable begins with Moure questioning the privilege of voice, the privilege of exemption, and explores the manifold of archaeological damage as a generational trauma that affects not only survivors, but also their progeny. “I come from nowhere,” her mother exclaims. “Some people come from nowhere”; the poem seeks, with a syntactic primacy, an understanding of this location, of the time and condition of exile.

Moure’s lexical cadences and spellbinding sentences sustain the narrative of exchanges and thefts between Elisa Sampedrín and Erín Moure. The contestation of the lyrical voice entails a rupture and a redoubling, challenging the reader with questions of bearing witness, inheritance, collective knowledge, and responsibility. The poem has a meditative trace structured on quotations from Celan, Descartes, and Agamben and represents an exploration of what propensity of the spirit might exist before speech.

As the reader is told: “Experience does not come out of the mind or imagination but from a deep and irrescuable need. It rents the entire person.” Moure’s is not a book that will sit idly upon the shelf, but a quest that enters and tears at the body.

Dance, Monster! should be credited for the editorial decisions that crafted a selection of poems demonstrative of the development of a unique poetic. Known for their idiosyncratic style and sardonic humour, Stan Rogal’s poems confound expectations. The lines move in multiple directions, from ekphrastic and witty, to caustic and sensual; the contrastive space between the poems leaves the reader with no time for settling in. Each poem charts its own directions.

Like the poet Dean Young, Rogal demonstrates a perception and craft that turns the urbane into the erotic; pop culture references are jettisoned in the wilder currents of the tragic. From Einstein to Degas, Whitman to Rimbaud, the poems keep the synapses branching in a resplendent arcade.

Rogal’s capacity is best demonstrated in the selections from ( sub rosa ) and In Search of the Emerald City. “Sub Rosa” and the poem’s transformations and modulations develop an articulated, processional exploration of form and theme. The opening stanza from this collection reads:

Beneath the rose begins a dark correspondence
As congress between the red lion & the white lily
Stretches one form towards the other.

The pattern that the poems create is daringly sensual and proudly lyrical. There is a focus on the embodied experience expressed through the communicative exchange of the sensual. At their best, Rogal’s lines reveal a lurid particularity in the everyday: “The fiery red mandragora swells to monster fruit primed to spoon its bare reflection.”

“I burn at both ends” seems a telling understatement from mclennan’s latest book, A (short) history of l, a series of love poems based on the ghazal. mclennan’s investigation into the history of love and the capacity of the individual to sustain and grow through love’s negotiations and trials is uniquely tied to the lyric. Early on, he underscores the inquiry of the book:

I am interested in how lyricism
bonds itself to our molecules.
the insistence of light against
insistence of dark.

mclennan’s poems work to explore the particularity of the moments in which the other becomes a part of oneself. “dictionary of touch” is one of the most profoundly lyri- cal and cadenced works in the collection, with an estranged sense of the capacity of love to open expansively to the meaning of small gestures. Through this poem, the idea of reciprocity and mutual understanding is incited:

… we are shades
of meaning, shadowing
the other. the dictionary
useless, for what
we have figured out. what
we already know.

The disparity between what we have learned and what we have to learn is part of the processional core of mclennan’s new book, an avid exploration of the materials, the moments, the changes we undergo through love. mclennan’s style courses through the collection; the thematic energy which he devotes to his poetic is exceedingly renewing. The poems are referential, meditative spaces in which the history of love is imagined through literary antecedents, subjective presences, and technological complexes and pits mclennan’s love as testament to his development, personal and poetic.

This review “Memory and Lyricism” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 216 (Spring 2013): 175-76.

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