PANSY MAURER-ALVAREZ: WHEN THE BODY SAYS IT'S LEAVING
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street
ISBN 1 931236 31 3
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|PANSY MAURER-ALVAREZ: WHEN THE BODY SAYS IT'S LEAVING|
WHEN THE BODY SAYS IT'S LEAVING is the second poetry collection from the acclaimed Paris-based poet, translator and teacher, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez.
This collection partakes of both the surreal and the intimate, the vision of the poet slipping from the instinctively personal and interior to the avidly observed outer walls of the objects and persons she describes. In the opening poem, DREAM THE ANIMALS, Maurer-Alvarez includes an epigraph made up of fragments of a quotation by British artist David Inshaw:
by composing one instant from lots of different unrelated moments,we are given,
to produce a picture that held a moment in time,just before the poet tells us:
dream the animals each lovely self prowling they circle preparing the leap exposing urgency more than the present could ever again renew our interest my body searches for its own dance as my arms arch experimentally —I felt, almost from the very first word of this first poem that I would certainly be caught up in the poet's arms, being stretched more experimentally than emotionally — and I was. This collection treats the reader to imagery and word-play culled from the de-forming/re-forming actualities of dreams, thumbnail galleries of images, and rhythms that are set then taken apart at the joints. This might sound like heady stuff, tailor-made for the lover of the surreal, imagistic or experimental, but I was left disappointed, often unreasonably confused and, ultimately, dissatisfied.
One of the most frustrating poems is NOT REALLY THE IMAGE BUT ALL THE FACTS, gratuitously subtitled "a personal poem," which opens:
When I'm running to respond within what I figure I am to myself I try my thoughts out to feel better and I carry my world view with me hopefully always full of hopefulnessI tumble to ask the mundane question, "But what does this mean?" What are you as the poet trying to share with me, as a reader? What do you want me to feel? to know? to intuit? to dream? And the answer I get back is — figure it out; work. I don't mind working for a poem, but I want to enjoy the process, to feel as if I am working with not against the poet, labouring towards something meaningful and satisfying on some level. This poem, like others in the collection, fights the reader all the way towards some sense of sympathy with the poet's intent. You have to battle with series of words that trip up your tongue, your rhythmic ear and your sense, as they tie themselves up in their own knots. NOT REALLY THE IMAGE continues:
Impatient awaiting desired me and I watched how I have been named to improve now behaviors with style but favourably by simple names comprising the effective one — reactions gently, successful time-formed insights — names like fables (my name is inside them) so that I can be when wrong but softer currently and frequently compiling my thoughtsTo be fair, the collection is peppered with wonderful moments of precision and wit, as in VENUS DE MILO THANKS TO THE FRENCH:
Those two arms and left foot could be anywhere by nowIn the same poem, we are treated to this cutting cultural critique of the use and misuse of a goddess:
She's sold everything you could imagine from corsets and cars to rubber and political propaganda and she's not half done yetAnd in IN THE GARDEN OF BRIGHTLY-COLORED MYSTERIES we get this extraordinarily visceral image:
I expected to sense the animals chewing and breathing (I feel their humidity)One of the most successful poems is Bog Myrtle V, subtitled
from a series of coiled basket forms by Anna S. King, textile artist
Take bog myrtle that unprepossessing marshland shrub with a beautiful aroma when crushed Put under the brow bands of childhood ponies to keep the flies away and now a reminder of weekends on the west coast of Scotland Bunches brought back to work with aware of the option of holding something back when lost in the hypnotic rhythm of weavingThis poem stands out from the rest as almost embarrassingly accessible and pleasing.
Maurer-Alvarez is a poet of obvious erudition and wide experience of the worlds of art and culture. Her technical skill is impressive, for the themes of the collection (animals, angels, Christian/husband, dance, fire) build incrementally, one poem feeding an image to the next poem which, in turn, feeds another embellished image, and on to the next. But we are asked to be as intrigued as she is by the paintings, photographs, dance performances, sculptures, still lifes, dreams and fragments that provide the subjects of her poems and their many, many, many epigraphs and subtitles — culled from the poems and writings of other artists, which only serve to instil a sense borrowed emotional authority — and we simply cannot be, for we are lost inside her formatting pyrotechnics, random and stilted deletion of articles and conjunctions, arbitrary explosions of capitalization, and often intensely personalized flights of recollection.
As the poet says, so aptly, in NIGHTFALL — SO BRIEFLY HERE:
Every possible detail has been an effort
|reviewer: Stephanie Smith-Browne.|