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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

Remains To Be Seen by David Rushmer (Shearsman Books)

Remains To Be Seen by David Rushmer (Shearsman Books)

Writing about the importance of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice Maurice Blanchot suggested that the musician and distraught lover who has lost sight of his beloved did so “because he desires her beyond the measured limits of the song”. Thinking of how art can only recall the lost world, a recovery of something from darkness, he suggested that “art is the power by which night opens”: it is the art of the musician or poet that allows the mind to penetrate the darkness and “His work is to bring it back to the light of day and to give it form, shape, and reality in the day”. This art of “eternal inertia” prompts me to think of Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ where the vase is associated with “silence”, “quietness” and “slow time”. The “Cold pastoral” which is wreathed about the shape of the urn is the distillation of the Orphic journey the quality of which is what one is left with as one winds the way upwards from the darkness beneath. Orpheus’s error “is to want to exhaust the infinite, to put a term to the interminable” and he suffers from failing to realise that in order to master absence one must make it of another time, “measured otherwise”. In a way poetry is like a Möbius loop in which the movement forward twists round on itself, curling back on its own progress: lost time is transfixed in stillness.
David Rushmer’s powerfully evocative poetry explores precisely this type of movement:

“you fall into
the space of me

body caressed
by a graveyard of sky

filled the air
with your bones”

As Orpheus returns from the world of the Dead he approaches the sky which rounds the cave’s mouth and this is the moment he turns with a failure of nerve. The body of the dead can only be “caressed”, felt and cared for, in the light of a sky which is itself the graveyard of what can never be brought back in its lost form. The poem is the distillation of the self’s understanding of what can never be recovered. The body’s bones “filled the air” like George Herbert’s contemplation of the dead as “shells of fledge souls left behind”. Rushmer presents us with

“mouth drawn open
in the rain”

and the poet’s inbreathing of imaginative experience

“inhaled you
like sunshine”

This is remarkable poetry: intense and compacted, “Remains to Be Seen”. Quoting again from Blanchot’s ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’ Rushmer heads one of his poems with an epigraph: “one can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through the space opened up by the movement of writing”. Here is a darkness which “opens its wings to us” and “the instant / of flame” is “held in your hand”. Art’s magical stilling of the moment appears as

“you look at me
the earth disappears

a movement of birds
contains us

where the night
speaks our skin”

Peter Gizzi writes on the back of this disturbingly evocative poetry that within the pages of Remains To Be Seen we “find a carefully crafted rendering of a voice in the world, each syllable of this drama earned.” Peter Hughes adds that the poetry “can come as a shock” with its “primitive, elemental feel”. This is haunting poetry which leaves its effects upon the reader far beyond the time when one has put the book down.

Ian Brinton, 13th May 2018

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