Sunday, July 14, 2013

Squaring the Line. Epistolary Review: Eva Heisler, Drawing Water (Noctuary Press, 2013) & Angela Hume, The Middle (Omnidawn, 2013)


Dear (r),

There’s a phrase you coined that I love: poetic kryptonite.  Yours consists of domestic science fiction, phosphorescent mammals, unironic ghazals, figurative descriptions of literal owls (symbolic owls need not apply), and implicit vampires (regarding explicit vampires, see “symbolic owls”).  And Keats, but that’s a cheap shot.

Mine begins and ends with the line.

By now you know that I’m in a relationship with modernism and it’s complicated.  Even so, I have to introduce you to two fabulous new books via William Carlos Williams in Spring and All:

“From the petals edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
rigid penetrates
the Milky Way
without contact—lifting
from it—neither hanging
nor pushing

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates spaces” 

(In the New Directions edition of Imaginations, ed. Webster Schott, pp. 108-9)

Here, Williams illuminates those spots of time, radiant and recurrent throughout Spring and All, when blocks of prose, or almost-prose, fall away and the broken poetic line emerges. 

Then again, maybe it’s all a question of perception.

Take the horizon line, for example,
                                   a mirage

that marks the limit of sight.” 

(7)

So begins Eva Heisler’s Drawing Water, a book that opens with a poetics:

“I spend much of my writing time seeking the horizon
line.   I know that there is no such line  but I see the line
when I look up from small blocks of text and squint at
the sea.   To write prose poems is to resist the horizon
line—

to seek thick thin straight curved broken wavy lines
among crumpled pages.

I work with little ink in my pen and hardly make a
mark.” 

(8)

Heisler’s prose poetry collection, or experimental essay, or discourse on ekphrasis and the materiality of language (“Lines may multiply as cracks across the surface of an old painting/or lines may measure and slice like a butcher’s cleaver” (20)), is one of the first offerings from Noctuary Press, which publishes texts that interrogate genre categories.  Throughout the book's experiment in form and genre, a desire for the artistic/poetic line breaks through, becoming a central and prismatic obsession:

I look back at the doodling I did during the last difficult conversation:
moments of departure are lines of departure that shoot
across a yellow legal pad.  Along the bottom of the page, straight lines
meet at cold right angles.  The lines
are not to be seen.  Like my desire for an elaborate
staging of line breaks.

(11)

Here, as in Spring and All, we see that nonexistent horizon line between text and context, life and writing—the pen hitting paper while the writer speaks, the poem outside the body yet embodied:

line break heart break

(29)  

Or:

“[...] ‘The lines in my hand/will have to do.  They’re already written down.’”

(48)

This link—between the staged or dramatic or rejected or desired or activated work of the line and the human body—brings me to Angela Hume’s award-winning chapbook just out from Omnidawn, The Middle.  I’ve written before about Hume’s subtle, delicate fragments, which enclose the heavy letters of scientific, medical, and philosophical writing.  In this new work, Hume crafts “an aesthetics of/injury” (26) centered on clefts and fractures, “an aesthetics of the middle” (42) that occupies and delimits a space (safe, harmful) between:

“Blunt
objects                        bone            fracture

                                    speech centers                        leave torn
                         human breasts, cleave
                            skulls

((“non-lethal”                                    rubber wax plastic wood                        projectiles

                                                loathe the body, own
                                                   the hema
                                                 toma

the object’s: pain”

(28)  

Hume’s fragments not only occupy a liminal space but also create space as they throw the blank page into contrast and illuminate the shape of what’s missing.  Complementing Heisler’s recurrent, prose-poetic imperative to “cover the square” (52), Hume’s fragments uncover absent text:

“ordinary hour
                        tracing                                    now
now            now

goes and
goes”

(46)

Does it all come back, dear (r), to the poetic line as an imaginary object penetrating nothing, drawing on everything, drawing a possible world on the page?  Hume’s fractured, fragmented, and fractal poetics always strike me as a meditation on what can’t be said, a mapping out of absence.  As Heisler writes:

“but when  white is well  managed,  it ought to  be  strange—tender as 
well as bright—like white roses washed in milk.  The eye ought to seek 
the white for rest, brilliant though it may be; and to feel it as a heathen
space

among a flushing of reds.”

(15)

Sparse, referential, and anti-narrative, both Drawing Water and The Middle offer productive erasures, re-constellated discourse fields, and the page made manifest.  With tremendous delicacy, Heisler and Hume conduct formal experiments that walk the line between thing and space, presence and absence, square and line, prose and poetry.

So the line’s open, dear (r).  Write me soon.

Yrs,
R