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Poems: New & Selected by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (Isobar Press)

Poems: New & Selected by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (Isobar Press)

Eric Selland’s introduction heading this new addition to Isobar’s fine series of publications of contemporary poetry is uncompromisingly clear in its assertion about the work of Joritz-Nakagawa:

“Hers is a radically open form – a framework through which the data of life, and poetic themes and materials, freely migrate. She does not reject the personal, but she does not privilege it either. It is simply part of the data. And yet one senses a personal warmth, the presence of an intelligent observer in Jane’s work. What we experience here as readers is not ‘the death of the author’ – the poetic subject has simply become more complex.”

At the opening of ‘PLAN B AUDIO’, one of the new poems that start this remarkable volume, we read the line “courtship of empty space” where the first word contains two nouns, both court and ship, and it is the palpable juxtaposition of what might become appropriate: a reference to a courtyard that one could mistake for the Cortile of Urbino is joined to a sense of movement and discovery. This compound is then placed against the empty space of paper: a painting perhaps which might bring to mind the work of Mondrian or even de Kooning. With this visual prompt I am then drawn to a poem from the 2007 collection Aquiline which highlights the painterly sense laying itself open time and again on the canvas of this visual poetry:

“Grey men in blue vinyl
tents The pond
a web of mistakes the
sky vacant Even
birds
reject it A
hump-backed
woman dips her hand into
opaque water
& immediately
withdraws it Wind
scatters
trash along flattened dirt The
light
is not correct”

The poem is titled ‘View from the Century Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo’ and with that opening word “View” we are offered a cityscape in which colours merge with shapes (“tents”) and the “pond” is drawn with the criss-crossings of “web”. As “Wind /scatters / trash along flattened dirt” there is the sense of a brushstroke and the concluding comment concerning light not being “correct” reminds the reader of the inevitable gap between the artist and his art. Maurice Blanchot composed his The Space of Literature in 1955 and the essay about Orpheus has an appropriateness to Joritz-Nakagawa’s poetry:

“When Orpheus descends towards Eurydice, art is the power by which night opens. Because of art’s strength, night welcomes him; it becomes welcoming intimacy, the harmony and accord of the first night. But it is toward Eurydice that Orpheus has descended. For him Eurydice is the furthest that art can reach. Under a name that hides her and a veil that covers her, she is the profoundly obscure point toward which art and desire, death and night, seem to tend. She is the instant when the essence of night approaches as the other night.”

Or as Eric Selland puts it:

“For Jane, as with Blanchot, the poem never ends. It is an infinitely open system, always searching for that which is unexplainable, and unattainable: the poem is constantly in search of itself.”

In a poem from last year we can read the “merging of potential shapes // in elusive pools”. The poem as a “test run” or “stage symbol” can unearth “what becomes undone”: it can bring to the page “my frozen heart / her upturned body”.

This book provides a fascinating glimpse into a poetic world that shimmers.

Ian Brinton, 25th September 2018

Three books from Paul Rossiter’s Isobar Press

Three books from Paul Rossiter’s Isobar Press

From the Japanese by Paul Rossiter

What the Sky Arranges by Andrew Fitzsimons

Arc Tangent by Eric Selland

These three books from Paul Rossiter’s recently founded ISOBAR Press are a delight to see, hold, read, re-read. These are publications of a very high quality indeed and they sit in the hand likes works of art. I am struck by a sense of cool distance, things seen from afar and I read Eric Selland

‘Everyone carries a room inside him. Yesterday I ran into C for the first time in many months. He had returned in September from a research trip overseas but was now despondent, insisting to me that he should have stayed. It was at this moment that I realized my experience of returning to this country after years living abroad had been much the same. And now I see that a part of me never truly returned. In effect, I have lived out much of my life as if I were not actually here. In a way, I was never wholly present. But on the other hand, perhaps one is never wholly present in the world. The very notion of turning back.’

When I read this I was immediately put in mind of an eerie Henry James tale from 1892, ‘The Private Life’, in which Lord Mellifont only seems to exist when someone places him as the centre of social conversation, a place he would expect to be. If you were looking for him (unknown to him) you would discover that ‘He was too absent, too utterly gone, as gone as a candle blown out…’. As the narrator suggests, there was a peculiarity about Mellifont ‘that there could be no conversation about him that didn’t instantly take the form of anecdote’. It is as if we are made up of the stories people tell about us; as if we are a gilded obelisk, the external and crystallised surface of a buried life!

Or, as Selland puts it elsewhere in this fascinating pair of prose-poem sequences ‘Like an object abides in the plasticity of an aspect. A setting that determines coordinates’.

What the Sky Arranges is a collection of wise, witty, compassionate and, occasionally, cranky ruminations on the business of living by the monk, Kenkō (c. 1283-c. 1350). It is wonderfully illustrated by the photographs of Sergio Maria Calatroni. There is a clear simplicity to these poems such as the carpe diem of ‘DATES’:

‘Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones’

And, as if in response to Pascal, there is ‘WORLDS’:

‘Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.’

In From the Japanese Paul Rossiter’s own poems range from a version of a prose poem by Basho (completed in 1969 before he went to Japan) to a letter from the city of Ishinomaki, severely damaged in the tsunami of 2011. There is an echo of Gary Snyder, whose poetry I rate very highly, in the merging of precision and spiritual possibility:

‘wave pattern in raked sand
very particular pine trees
we climb stone steps to the hall’

There is a quiet grace in these poems, a measured tracing of pictures in words which I know I shall return to time and again:

‘eyes down to search for tokens
loving this shell and this one and this one

the grace of these anonymous sarcophagi
each an emblem
of a life’s urgent spiralling to order
licked clean by the sea’s salt tongue
haunted by echoes, empty as light’

ISOBAR PRESS

14 Isokon Flats, Lawn Road, London NW3 2XD http://isobarpress.com

Ian Brinton 10th September 2014

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