To the Siren: A Review of Catherine Daly's Chanteuse/Cantatrice (Factory School, 2007)

In her own review of Chanteuse/Cantatrice, Laura Goldstein quotes Catherine Daly's comment concerning this book:

It is called Chanteuse / Cantatrice. It is a two sided book; it can be read either front to back, top of the page to bottom [...] but for a completely different but also "written" book, it can be read from back to front, bottom to top. Hence the odd-seeming title; it is two titles, for two books in one! It is a book of political poetry about collaboration! (from Powell's.com)

Goldstein's attitude is skeptical:

[...I]t doesn't seem to actually be possible to follow these directions. Attempting to read the book from "back to front, bottom to top", all of the words are upside-down.1

Being myself familiar with the desire to write two books in one, it seemed worth investigating a contrary perspective (with no intention of denigrating Goldstein's engaging review). For as long as the reader is willing to disturb his reading habits and make use of his readerly (writerly!) inventiveness, he may indeed read Catherine Daly's poems from bottom to top — without physically inverting the book — as well as top to bottom. Here's an example from "Puppet" (top-to-bottom, my emphasis):

tout va bien image of prewar Europe as it rots
pirates and theatrical entrepreneurs manipulate frivolity and corruption
Fake vouchers closed the banks, started riots, brought down the
government
. It's a meditation on the past, and on the fragility of beauty
and time, as delicately constructed as the French Association of
              Normalization

And here is the same or the opposite example from "Le Guignol" (bottom-to-top):

              Normalization
and time, as delicately constructed as the French Association of
government. It's a meditation on the past, and on the fragility of beauty
Fake vouchers closed the banks, started riots, brought down the
pirates and theatrical entrepreneurs
manipulate frivolity and corruption
tout va bien image of prewar Europe as it rots

Between bringing down the government and bringing down the pirates and theatrical entrepreneurs, Daly suggests we meditate the (non-)reversibility of these terms, their equivocal relation of same and opposite, like an object and its mirror-image. In an astonishingly luminous Deleuzian formula, Daly affirms that "every separation is a link / a wall tapped on to communicate." The formula suggests the separation/link of the line-break in poetry, whose connections Daly jubilantly reverses (spins?), inventing the doublesong — a close relative of doublespeak.

These summary remarks should remind us not to leave this 2007 volume behind as we discover Daly's latest book, Vauxhall (Shearsman Books, 2008). As a convincing and sustained exploration of the relationship of poetic form to political discourse, the exceptional Chanteuse/Cantatrice has hardly cast its first spell.


1 Laura Goldstein, "Chanteuse/Cantatrice by Catherine Daly," CutBank Reviews 05.07.08 (http://cutbankpoetry.blogspot.com/2008/05/chanteusecantatrice-by-catherine-daly.html)




Seeing the City for the Trees: A Review of Sampson Starkweather's City of Moths (Boston: Rope-a-dope Press, 2008)

"Things fit together. Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence. The poem doesn't exist by itself. There is only poetry." This programmatic statement suggests the jigsaw puzzle as an emblem for Starkweather's book of interlocking dreamscapes, which fuse intricate mental geographies like those of Henri Michaux, to the deceptively simple visual delights of André Derain or Raoul Dufy's woodcut prints.

Written in the tones of intimate conversation, the poet carves each poem out of elementary leitmotive: city, mountain, forest, lover, ocean, island, ghost, scarecrow, moth, poem; these emblems resemble the thick, uneven marks of the woodcut, not unlike the cover of Rope-a-dope's exquisite letter-press chapbook. But while each individual poem displays these flat surfaces - a familiar symbolic vocabulary and "plain language" — the layering of these straightforward surfaces instead produces something like flamboyant gothic lace, or an intricately foliated pastry dough.

For instance, let us follow the implications of the woodcut emblem itself, as it transforms itself throughout the book.

What lies in the uncarved block of wood. Whorls and grains, stories and held smoke. Surrounded by. My block of wood, another person's mountain. [...] Something to draw a door in.

This featureless woodblock, full of potentialities, elsewhere assumes the shape of the "mountain", as these lines already suggest. They also recur as the living treetrunk, which in turn stands in for the poet's body: "a world is what I carved into the tree of me."

The forest of which this tree/me is a part in turn disguises the hostile city and its towering steel trees, where wolves roam (as they do in forests). And just as these wolves tear their victims to pieces, the poet is "breaking into an archipelago", perhaps broken by the absent lover: "You are a genius for leaving me. I will break...." This lover also takes the form of a ghostly little girl: Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, or the poet-Scarecrow's Dorothy.

The reader may follow these circulating allegorical emblems one after the other, like a series of rope bridges (or doors) from one poem (island or mountain) to the next, reveling in Starkweather's artful tapestry of folktale and amorous elegy.

Ekleksographia #2

July, 2009

Reviews

Alexander Dickow

Alexander Dickow comes from Moscow, Idaho, USA and currently lives in Châtillon, France. Application for Infinite Residence is a series of poems based on and around U.S. green card application instructions (current USCIS forms and instructions available at http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-485.pdf and http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-485instr.pdf; please note the $1,000+ application fee). He is the author of Caramboles, a book of poems in French and English published by the Parisian press Argol Editions.