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Amy Hollowell’s Here We Are (Presses Universitaires De Rouen Et Du Havre, 2015)

Amy Hollowell’s Here We Are (Presses Universitaires De Rouen Et Du Havre, 2015)

Amy Hollowell’s 131 page poem, divided into many parts of varying lengths and fragmentation with titles in normal, bold and italics, employs rhythm and repetition, without juxtaposition, in a spirit of continuous venture.

I’m thinking that a poem could go on forever like a nap under / a vine
I’m thinking that it could be a burning with weekday thoughts / of hot elsewheres

Grounded in Zen Buddhist meditation and journalism for the International Herald Tribune, Amy Hollowell’s long poem is an exploration of what it is to be alive in the present. The multitudinous nature of the self, under pressure and implicitly alienated from the world is here construed as a narrative with a necessary imperative to focus upon what is not said as much as what is said. Hollowell sees the private and personal as ever present in the public and impersonal and seeks to bear witness to the self as a castaway and disconnected from itself.

Innumerable windows open/ on parallel worlds/ to find one
unknown holy word/ wholly held/ I am tabbed/ toggling/
in a swirl of/ jeopardizing peace talks/ and whirls of/ multiple
suicide attacks/ insane secrets of/ wonder and love/ recipes for
disaster/ enriched uranium/ or leek and potato soup/ Every
latest entry leads/ and ends the thread/ above pull-down
menus/ conceived to toggle through/ a holy war/ watched live/
or on demand/ and tracked by the N.S.A.

The desire to find an ‘unknown holy word’ is here contextualised within the self’s saturation by information technology, news feeds and computer usage in a world raging with religious and other conflicts. The spiritual is ‘unknown’ and not to be found in recipes or menus, and some way beyond colliding ‘parallel worlds’.

The poet-narrator depicts an alienation of the self from itself and other, registering the need for greater connection and an anchor. I am reminded of Walker Percy’s Love In the Ruins and the alienation experienced by its protagonist, Dr Thomas More, which reaches greater depths of disconnectedness in its sequel, The Thanatos Syndrome, although here the narrator does not succumb to drink or the Ontological Lapsometer. She rather mourns the emptiness and lack of the holy. When the narrator rests she wonders who she is and sees a lack in the stories that she speaks. It is this lack that occupies much of the poem. Here We Are probes the sources of narrative threads that a speaking self tells and questions who and what is this self, how it is constructed and maintained.

How to tell the story is actually as much about the story as what it, the story, actually tells.
The story is told in the telling and the telling is the actual story that
it tells and also the story that it actually does not tell.
What’s told is the telling. And the being told is the story of the
telling. While the actual story being told is only part of the story
actually being told

This ambitious poem aims to be as much in the present as possible, is mindful and thought provoking. The ‘So Saturday’ section shows Hollowell at her best:

You’re a get-on-with-it day and a lazing day
You’re a day of war somewhere and revenge
You’re a day at the races elsewhere and a heyday
You’re the illusive promise of a pay day a rest day a work day
a play day a perfect day
You’re a day to remember lest we forget
a rainy day
a sick day
a moving day
a day of departure or a day of revival
You’re a first day or a last
a free day or a feast or a fast day
a slow day a holy day a holiday
a birth day and a day to die

The book comes from the ‘To’ series, under the direction of Christophe Lamiot Enos, published in two volumes, one in English and the other in its French translation, and comes with a postface by Christophe Lamiot Enos with Amy Hollowell. Earlier volumes include Alice Notley’s Negativity’s Kiss (2014).

David caddy 20th August 2015

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