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The Dance Of Reading
by Charlene Diehl-Jones

I AM INTRIGUED these days by the territory charted by the prose poem, and these four collections - Ann Diamond`s Terrorist Letters, Antonio D`Alfonso`s Panick Love, Nicole Brossard`s Green Night of Labyrinth Park, and Normand de Bellefeuille`s Categorics 1, 2 and 3 - offer several different takes on what`s possible in this form. I like the ambiguity in Ann Diamond`s title: her Terrorist Letters manage to be both missives from a subversive (with a wicked sense of humour) and letters that themselves terrorize a reader with their unflinching transcription of innocence and brutality. Sometimes a country vanishes behind a curtain of blood, and enters the timeless realm of Atrocity. A fold is dug in the map of Earth and days or years are lost in it, never finding their way back to memory. These are known as the Black Feast Days when leaders devour their own people. ("Curtain of Blood") Diamond leans heavily on speech rhythms, and that casual immediacy provides an unsettling counterpoint to the pain. It also addresses the structural logic of the collection: these poems work as a suite, with a conversational looping to provide the glue between pieces. The first seven poems, for instance, feature "the dictator" and "the dictator`s wife" (the latter, in a kind of reverse Ovidian narrative, turns into a lace curtain); a later grouping is an African dream-sequence. These groups link across poems about shoe salesmen, Canadian writers, the future. It`s an odd project, at once narrative and resistant to narrative, and I think it works best when daring to manoeuvre through less explicitly related material. "God grant an old terrorist a cup of soup someplace and an iron bed in which to compose her memoirs," Diamond writes in "End of the Trail." Given this terrorist`s discernment and searing wit, it`s not too much to ask. Panick Love - subtitled A Prose Poem - is Antonio D`Alfonso`s own translation of the French version published in 1987: these pieces track Parisian streets and threatened identity, the difficulty of love and confusion. I hear tanks driving up the cobble stones. Rue de Rivoli, Champs Elysees, Place de la Bastille. Soldiers march along, their heads held high, guns firm in their hands. Always the one same man, with his keyboard of fixed ideas, his obsessions like a skin. I collapse to the ground and disintegrate into the dust that will be food for the child of tomorrow. I let the winds out of my black satchel and lose myself in the lull of the night. I like the strata in the book, the way that place and story and myth and expectation bleed into one another. Still, it doesn`t ignite for me: the ranging search for identity never finally confronts the necessary complicity of writing. In Green Night of Labyrinth Park, Nicole Brossard also tracks real and imagined landscapes. This text appears in triplicate: the English translation by Lou Nelson is sandwiched between the original French and Marina Fe`s Spanish version. Given the labyrinthine nature of Brossard`s fascinations, these respeakings are saturated with significance. In the several "bends" that follow an introductory narrative fragment, we trip over textual fragments we have already encountered. Text as labyrinth. We trip over similar concerns, too, one of which is the politics of subjectivity and representation: the sea creates fissures in the political life of pronouns and the pronouns, some faces within us more than others, are one day transformed in turn into essential figures. Thus there is no I who is untouched by memory and the figurative meaning that enters into the composition of our political choices. \("First Bend") The "political life of pronouns, in this poeticized landscape, can become both the labyrinth and the labyrinth`s minotaur. Because the lure of "essential figures," as I understand that notion, infiltrates the text in ways that threaten its resonance for me: Brossard resists singular subjectivity - "My love, speak to me in the tongue of the unsubjected, she writes in "Fourth Bend" but is tempted to repeat a gendered reading of the world where men are (genetically predisposed?) carriers of "repetition and tradition," women of "the senses, music and colours" ("Fourth Bend"). For the most part, though, Brossard is acutely sensitive to the possibilities alive in language, and self-reflexivity gives her inquiry its own muscle: I owe it to myself to not erase the memory of my path, to not erase the strategies and rituals of writing that I had to invent in order to survive the customs and phallic events of life. ("Ninth Bend") In these "strategies and rituals" there are moments of great loveliness. Normand de Bellefeuille`s Categorics 1, 2 and 3, elegantly translated by D. G. Jones, maps a cognitive landscape that, like Brossard`s, is and isn`t a physical one; his writing wends its meditative way through music, dance, and painting without abandoning the "idiotic quotidian" ("Categorics"). These pieces are about thinking, and about the body that listens, dances, and watches in its thinking, about the body that responds. De Bellefeuille plays with repetition and resistance more conspicuously than the other writers in this group: Underarms peppery in the closeness of verandas, we will later talk of this friend who put a bullet in his head arid, trying to imagine the mark in his forehead, in November, we will hesitate between orchid and star; we will settle at last for something more ordinary in order to forget as quickly as possible this mark on his forehead and the bullet inside, in November, between orchid and star; we will turn instead to the question of these women who all write books and have the same first name, we will turn to something more pleasant, my arm resting ever so lightly on your shoulders. ("Even the Eyelids Cast Shadows") The layered repetition here another way to measure time and movement after the collapse of a lyric I works across the book too, as fragments re-collect themselves in new contexts. In Categorics 1, 2 and 3, we encounter the winding overlap of thinking as it spirals through a body; its directions don`t always coincide with mine, but that dance of reading, moving toward and away, is part of the pleasure.

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