8 Figs by Caroline Bergvall. Equipage chapbook, no price.
Reviewed by Jake Kennedy
She begins with the ampersand torqued title page into the given reclining body of a pun of Ingres or Rodin the birth of the Greek vase by way of Duchamp’s twisted eye. An 8, really, slipped, snipped, or broken. & the ampersand holds within it the question mark, too, so that it asks us: am I a keyhole, an infinity, a perfect knot, even?
32 lines for each or so to say that each Fig--I do give one--is a moving pattern. In turning the figs into figures though--these leaves--the pages flash a starkness and what’s at stake is learning to see a slowed syntax performed by space. Slow down! So Bergvall says in Fig. 1 that “A purple fig is purple first” in order to learn that the process of meaning accumulation is a pattern within a pattern. This thin book, its elegance, gets to be elegiac-light in the hands as well as joyous ode-light. “To seem more seen when gone” I would take as epitaph any day and CB makes it OK to talk about ghosts again.
That is because she’s bent language back to living and action and how it dies into the past always: to play with the pattern of reality-making and to see paradox as the wrench of good art. Figurative but socially urgent in that (it hardly ever figures anymore!) “To act so that today will matter in form.” Another way, the way the & is not the & when you can see it less and less through the page, is this keeper: “Making sense of less, or with less.” This understanding less or creating less sense or gathering more because forfeiting that which is unworthy. Good bad-book of prayers.
And there is so much accumulating here which flatters the reader. As Bergvall arm-fulls traces of activity, things are always moving accordingly and thus--hazard on--these apprehensions are the junctures in which “memory won’t stick.” How wonderful!
The scrappings of speeches turn as these figures to follow. You get bliss, yes, from “the smell of blood and Spring grass” but the cruellest moth--dusty flapping night &--also offers: “what speaks for me ghosts me.” And this is the largest generosity here to “&” all the discoveries with the facts of erasure, telling us what’s there and what’s been found isn’t the thing but the performing approximation--it cuts an exquisite figure.
These modesties--“it is ridiculous / both civic and miraculous / to be writing”--take place on the level of sublime, peaceful acting out. A type of love keeps happening with the talk & the talk & the pattern here is not the boastful pride of lyrical discovery but, again, the civic miracle of the given: 1, a fig; 2, the illuminating mass. A regular old beautiful being, earthy as a fig: “what is found / needs testament, not archaeology.”
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