Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NEW! Review of Donna Stonecipher & Serge Gavronsky

Souvenir de Constantinople, A Poem by Donna Stonecipher. Instance Press, $14.

ANDORTHE by Serge Gavronsky. Talisman House, $16.95.

Reviewed by rob mclennan

It began with a foghorn,
filling my bell

of a dress. I heard
in it a sound, nothing

I’d ever heard
before, an elsewhere

so complete--
It was beauty

tolling the fog
of the foghorn, beauty and

her profound gray
attendants calling my

name . . .

On the surface, Souvenir de Constantinople, A Poem by Donna Stonecipher is about travel and about a place, but also about more than that--as any good travel work should be)--as it works itself, stalking and sneaking through, in lyric and even postcard-type fragments. An American poet currently living between Berlin and Athens, Georgia, Souvenir de Constantinople is her second collection, after The Reservoir. When Alberto Manuel wrote about The Odyssey, or Salman Rushdie on The Wizard of Oz, both understood that all stories about travel were essentially about home, and the hope of an eventual return. Writing her poem through references that include the journals of Marco Polo (a badly written but infamous travelogue), after her trip and her travels, and all that her narrator has learned, is this all Stonecipher is left with? Through her travels and trauma, is all she has left this “souvenir,” writing out Constantine’s famous city that lasted a thousand years before it was sacked by the Mongol hordes? Writing postcards and asking for same, is the narrator the one leaving or the one being left?

The seducer
is not about

plot. Nor is the seduced
picking up the novel

to find out what
happens to the tiger

lily awakening to a bee
feeding and feeing tenderly upon its

(“What the Pilgrim Wishes to Make Clear from the Start”)

She writes, “Trafficking in glossaries / Someone spoke too many languages” and, referencing in part the Ottoman Empire, what became Turkey around the year 800, “O my grand vizier // I am lying on your / ottoman, braceleted by // your charms, your / charms, your // thousand nights of charms / upended.” Is this poetry written of abandonment or of being abandoned?

I love the flow of her lines, her short, fragmented phrases and line breaks that flow slowly but ceaselessly down the river of page; a lyric of finding and going and leaving, writing close to the end:

And when
the traveller decides to stop

travelling, to stop

to escape,
wasn’t it too

late? didn’t
the mind read

the eye

the arabesque’d note

to stay as the note
to escape

from the escape?

Souvenir de Constantinople asks out loud if it is possible to leave for so long that any return becomes impossible. You can’t go home again, it’s true, but people do; does the traveler run the risk of becoming foreign in her own land?

Working from influences including Zukofsky, Gavronsky’s ANDORTHE writes the poem between the poem, literally back and forth between fragments from the connectors “and,” “or” and “the.” Not unlike Robert Kroetsch’s Sad Phoenician, crafting his back and forth “and/or,” or the more recent Darren Wershler-Henry book tapeworm foundry, or Dennis Lee’s yesno (bold enough to attempt to update Celan’s diction of what can or can’t be written through world and personal trauma), Gavronsky’s ANDORTHE seems surprisingly light, given what has come before.

A Ponge mimosa

A bouquet asked
She hesitates

Here now

without a following

a critical
hate that

imminent danger

“un dentier”

lower mashing
of teeth



in politics
chewed on
something like

Gavronsky’s poem happens between the words “and,” “or” and “the,” writing the spaces between what the poem actually is, bouncing off and between surfaces to come out through its own invented weight. What is left after such things are removed? Working references to other writers, such as Ponge and Williams, what is it he is aiming for, and what does he want from this long extended and pared-down speech?

shaky hand
sensuous illusion

rhythm sitting ova-

What solace

Forget it

This is certainly a book that deserves many deeper readings and reachings, and could potentially go far further in the end than many other collections. But why do I get the feeling that I’ve heard it all before?

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