Saved by the Telling

80 pages,
ISBN: 1895449359

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Better than Self-Contained
by Rosemary Aubert

THE other day I was reading Cosmopolitan, that familiar and stalwart beacon on the fortified border between women and men, when I encountered the helpful notion of the SCU or self-contained unit.
Apparently an SCU is a person, either female or male, whose scars from the battle between the genders have rendered them impervious to further wounding, because they have abandoned the war. The true SCU no longer needs an intimate relationship to survive. Affection comes from animal companions, nieces or nephews, grandparents, or from nano-second encounters with strangers. Sex, when it happens, is a game of solitaire. I don't know whether SCUs have any need for poetry.
Eva Tihanyi, on the other hand, is a poet who appears to have always needed poetry to survive the gender wars, and the reader is richer for it.
Saved by the Telling is the work of a mature poet for whom the relationship between intimate partners is part of a larger world of love. One segment of the collection, "Life in the home lane", for example, deals with the failed love between the poet's parents, the intense love she holds for her son, and also her love for her own inner child. Often the love Tihanyi writes about in this book endures only in memory, in longing, or in the lingering realization that love could have been much better than it turned out to be.
Her maturity as a poet, and as a writer on the topic of love, comes after at least a decade and a half of writing about relationships. An early collection, A Sequence of the Blood (Aya, 1982), shows a poet who is much more vulnerable to the pains-and perhaps the joys-of love. The poems of this early collection show a tone of poignant regret for lost love and a tender, edgy resignation at the knowledge that love bears a high cost. These early poems are lyrical, imagistic, and touching. The young poet seems nearly totally dependent on her lover for happiness, yet both the lover and the happiness seem always about to leap away.
Two years later, Tihanyi published Prophecies near the Speed of Light (Thistledown, 1984). In this second book, strong, confident poems depict a poet who loves no longer as a dependant but as an equal. Love in this collection is not a chancy proposition, but rather one of the cohesive forces of nature, capable of weaving the dichotomies of the poet's life into a seamless whole. The poems here are sensuous and organic. They show love at its fulfilling best.
But alas, one of the ironies of maturity is that the wholeness one has experienced sometimes begins to disintegrate back into its parts. The poems of Saved by the Telling have necessarily lost some of their lyricism and smoothness. The gain is in sophistication, a treatment of love that now includes a real sense of physical danger as well as a mitigating hint of humour.
The first segment of this book, "Women's Rites", offers poems that serve as snapshots of abuse, among them "Film Clip", in which "a parody of childhood games" turns into the threat of real domestic violence, and "What to Believe", in which a trick with words traps the poet into one of those ever-tightening circles that abusers are skilled at drawing and victims are always stepping into unawares. Poems like these show what can happen to happy love-how surely and how inevitably it goes wrong for some people.
Other poems in the book, though, redeem love. One of the finest is "Apple Meditations: A Women's Weekend", with its lovely autumnal warmth and its peaceful strength. Friendship and family in its most ordinary manifestations, the poem gently reminds us, are capable of the same healing that intimate love provides at its most extraordinary.
Notwithstanding the relative safety of the love of women friends, Tihanyi again ventures into the dangerous zone of love between women and men in the book's final segment, "Who You Are Is What You See". Regardless of the dangers that love has put her into in the past, she is willing to pick herself up, shake herself off and try again-with humour, for example in the poem "Esteem Cleaners", in which the old self is laundered and readied for further action.
In this final section, the poet no longer sees love-or life-with the simplicity she was once innocently capable of. Now, there is "a struggle always/between yes and no..." and the poet admits of the past that "Life for me was certain then," but now is viewed in a "hundred shades of gray."
It is in the love poems in the final pages of Saved by the Telling that the poet's maturity of style and of outlook come together best. "What I Think of When I Make Love to a Man" manages to combine the steamy eroticism of the tropics with the sobering reality of revenge, the temptation of losing oneself in sex, and the realism of having to return to the world of consequence and of fact. "Voice Mates" is a restrained paean to phone sex. "Partners" shows the spare imagism of earlier poems but also the depth of understanding characteristic of a woman who knows the brief but searing nature of love's signs.
In the last and finest poem in the book, the exquisitely wrought "Escaping Hypnosis", the poet is lulled back into the profound and indolent happiness that love can bring. But she does not fall victim because her hand

reaches out into the shock of air
and listens,
poised to record
on a seemingly empty page

Here, and throughout this book, the poet is truly saved by the telling. There are, of course, two meanings to the notion of saving. In many of these poems, saving means preserving: the perfect moment of friendship, the treasured image of one's child, the flawed but still potent memory of failed love. But saving also means salvation. To be able to tell is to be able to survive. Even more, to be able to love and tell about it renders one capable of loving again, despite the difficulties of doing so. And in the love wars, that makes the difference between a victor and the vanquished, between a real person and an SCU.


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