Friday, April 3, 2009

Passing through (to the other side?)

Dia comes from the Greek word to mean 'passing through'. And Michelle Leggott's take on that in her 1994, AUP book of poetry is unusual in the context of poetry.

The first two sections are highly experimental and graphical, so much so that I found myself skimming over them, looking for the real word-driven pieces to appear. I liked them though, possibly more the look of them than the poems themselves. Something I would put on my wall rather than read in a book perhaps. Particularly Micromelismata which is a poem written to the exact structure of an ASCII art depiction of a pair of lips. It did look cool.

Anyway the next section, Blue Irises, is a good half to two thirds of the book and consists of a series of sonnets. Well I call them sonnets because they are 14 lines long. Most of them have numbered titles (a few with names) implying that they are standalone pieces. However after reading about 10 of these you begin to realise that they sort of run on into each other, some more obviously than others, and start reading it as one long poem.

I couldn't help wanting each one to stand on its own though. Some I think did and some didn't. She has a very syntactically confusing style. Some lines seem to link up with the next, other don't connect at all in either an syntactical, imagistic or logical way. I found this distancing at times. A few lines grabbed straight away however, even though they made no real sense. Maybe on further reading I would get more of these. This one in particular:
I am the parabola, a crural bow strung
across the single point of my dripping ascent
Not as plains that spread into us slowly, but as
a wind wet with carillons or winter's cold isthmus
I think both those passages show a classical skill with music and rhythm. Particularly that second one reminds of a Robert Frost line (or maybe I'm confusing Frost with someone else?).

Anyone her work seems like an abstract collage of phrases and words (some made up?) rather than a collage of images and I think that is one thing that would make this work really jump to life for me. The odd image or piece of dialogue or something to cling to in the storm. That sounds like me forcing my own poetics on it, and I am, but what else can I do.

I can understand why this book won the Montana prize, it is incredibly inventive, smart and supple. And I think the work towards the end of the book really hinted at Michelle's work to come. Particularly the last poem that uses much, much shorter lines. The sentiments and abstraction are the same, but for some reason those shorter lines and smaller stanzas give us time to absorb and delight in each twist and turn and also discover some new ones with the syncopated rhythm and the way that three words on their own can mean something different when taken out of the context of their enveloping sentence.

Of course, that poem does not have the sonnet structure and the heavy classical music and I can see why she explored both, but for me, all considerations of awe aside, I simply enjoyed the last two sections of the book much more. I felt elated and excited while reading each line and had that equal ? and ! thing at the end. With the sonnet poems I felt like I was wading through each line, looking for little gems which sometimes came and sometimes didn't and at the end I was more relieved than anything else.

I'll be getting more of her books for sure. Maybe some of her later ones and some of her earlier ones.

Shit, I've gone way over time.

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