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Parting Movement, Constantly Prevented by Isabelle Baladine Howald

Parting Movement,  Constantly Prevented by Isabelle Baladine Howald

Translated by Eléna Rivera (Oystercatcher Press)

A delightful arrival from the Oystercatcher: a moving sequence of poems under the three headings ‘August’, ‘September’, ‘October’ contained beneath a cover which merges the almost tangible sense of loss in the ‘Creation of Adam’ on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with ‘Venetia, Lady Digby, on her deathbed’ by Van Dyck. Both paintings deal with stasis and movement, a recognition of the living and an awareness of the irretrievable loss of parting. The cover is of a statue, stone and movement, and is followed by an epigraph, “I have to find my place again and you have to move.”

The personal intimacy of these poems rests with the awareness of the gap between people:
‘Knowing you was never something I tried to achieve, even as
a child.
That’s the way I conceived of things right from the beginning.’

They remind me of Rosemarie Waldrop’s ‘Conversation’ recorded in Contemporary Literature, Vol 40, No 3, Autumn 1999:

‘what matters is not things but what happens between them. Or if you take the linguistic model, it is not the phoneme but the connection of phonemes that makes language, the differences in the sequence…The gaps keep the questions in relation.’

As Nikolai Duffy put it in her Shearsman publication Relative Strangeness, Reading Rosemarie Waldrop, ‘For Waldrop, poetry is the taking place of language in the spaces between words. Throughout her writing there is the sense that language can be experienced only as fissure, gap, aperture, an empty middle into which the possibility of meaning both enters and escapes.’
In ‘Projective Verse Charles Olson writes ‘At root (or stump) what is , is no longer THINGS but what happens BETWEEN things, these are the terms of the reality contemporary to us—and the terms of what we are.’ In ‘Aesthetic’ Charles Tomlinson writes about reality taking place in the space between things. In Howald’s ‘August’ the dominating sense is movement and stillness: fullness and emptiness: ‘The room resonates, without the furniture.’

Fragment 22:
‘A day of arguing, he had wanted to leave; in his backpack, his alarm clock, a flashlight.’

The clock presents an urgency of now whilst the flashlight suggests a stare into the future.

The fragments from ‘September’ give us a world of Beckett’s ‘Play’, the touching urns and the fragmented relationship conveyed lyrically to us as dismemberment, and Dante’s Canto V from Inferno with Paolo and Francesca:

Fragment 6:
‘I speak to him, he rarely answers but he listens.
In a certain way I love him, even if I never knew anything about
him, never wanted to know anything.’

The poet gives us a world of the suspended moment, as with Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ or that painting by Van Dyke:

Fragment 11:
‘Constant parting movement, constantly prevented.
Slight gesture toward turning round, finally not doing it.’

Another echo for me is Anthony Barnett’s translation of Anne-Marie Albiach’s ‘An Object of Anarchy’:

‘A memory in the body, attempts the awakening of coded signs in a partially blind work.’

Ian Brinton 15th October 2014

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