||Inventing Who We Are
by Erin Moure
AN ABSOLUTE HEIGHTENING of one's awareness of the physical world, of its seven anguishes, of the ties between people and against them, this to me is poetry. It draws an electrical connection between the landscapes of the head and the fissured places of everyday. It inhabits space and provides, for a few moments, a glimmer of the seams of what we call "what is."
And this Sharon Thesen's poetry does, with a wry wit born of love, a self-mockery so gentle it is a kind of coaxing. I remember clearly the day in 1976 when I discovered Thesen's work for the first time, in a used bookstore on West Broadway in Vancouver; they had two copies of Artemis Hates Romance, and I stood before the shelf and read the whole book, my heart beating in my head, eyes, and hands. Her poetry knocked me out. I bought both copies (a bad habit) and walked into the street and everything, everything had changed. The universe had just been invented.
Reading Aurora reminds me fully of that first "Thesen" experience. It is a book of gorgeous beauty, and it gives me those two things I crave: the familiar style of the beloved author, in this case the Thesen of wry whimsy and sadness, the gentle address (for Thesen is not rough on her readers); and, at the same time, a shift into new, sudden territory, with the wonderful sequence "gala roses," wherein she takes her fondness for ordinary detail and "object"ness, and shifts formally into different textual space. (The third thing I love about a new book is here, too -- that it sends you back to read the old.)
evidence for me as a reader that a life in words is possible. It evinces such a sense of joy in text and presence and juxtaposition of words and inner histories. Oh, as if a gay boat can ride on the current of sadness that unfolds in us all, "sorrow's sad amazed boat nudging nudging"; this, and the -sure footedness quietness & passion." Thesen uses the chattiness of everyday language, our positioning of ourselves through social discourse, which is sometimes just off-remembered snatches of pop tunes or pop opinions; we absorb these and like them and they become part of us, but in such snatches. The progression of language itself delights: her poems use word resonances that engender other words (lateral progression) and, in so doing, wink through and into the depth of meaning effects and affects (vertical poems!). As Thesen writes, not once but twice, impishly quoting or echoing herself (not to mention Pilgrim's Progress): "Life, life, eternal life!"
There is a lot here too about subjectivity itself, its relation with the material world, whose evidence we live amid and which helps define us, especially "us" women, though we slip at any given moment in and out of such definitions. "What am 1, what defines 'me' " : as usual in this era, identity shifts, in and through other materials, but with sprightly love, a kind of trust that accepts errors, too, and makes bright leaps over great distances, while bound up, always, in the physical.
As well, there are poems of rolling solemnity, with lines and cadences like "Louise's Brush": any one line can just look like compositional atonality, brusque burst noises, but the weight of the words and lines, the sinuous cadence, makes every line shimmer in the whole.
Or this, for whimsy: "Knocked out/ by the lovingly-sketched biceps of a sky- / god out of the clear blue & pure white," from "'Me Hit," a poem that ends with cousins at a drive-in spilling candy under the seat. Not a narrative, this, but more like the "inner narrative" Oliver Sacks speaks of, which talks to us from the inside of our heads, a fine murmur constantly inventing "who we are," and when it stops, "we," "I," ceases ....
And I have other favourites: "Biography of a Woman," which condenses all the lousy crap that fairy-tale women have had to endure for centuries into 34 lines of explosiveness; a life no one has led but all of us recognize, we've been there, girls, and our hands too "grow back at midnight." And "Midden Layer, Prince George, circa 1962," which reveals "the kitchen detritus" part of history where the evidence of how people actually lived is found; this midden layer that is almost always the work of women. And I could mention "After Roy Kiyooka's Funeral," or "The Watermelon," or "The Parrot" which invents vocabulary and makes the word possible.
Thesen, like us all, can feel "Ashamed of getting/ trounced at life & coping, nearly." But like the changing of the light bulb for the arrival of friends in "After Roy Kiyooka's Funeral," Aurora (dawn) makes "The way in brighter, bigger." Thesen's perpetual perplexity is ours. Her forms and playfulness astonish, break patterns, create anew. The book is a wow. Buy two copies!