Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence

by Lorna Crozier,
ISBN: 0771024762

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An Argument With Darkness
by Mary Di Michele

IN "IF A POEM Could Walk," Loma Crozier proposes that the poem is both "tame" and "wild," that it is not human, walking as it does on "paws, not feet." Wittgenstein has written that at the centre of every great work of art there is the sense of "a wild animal - tamed." The inverse is also true, true of Crozier's poetry, that at the centre of every domectic scene, every ,creature that is caged is released. "Flowers and Butterflies," a poem about memory and inversion (among other things) is a testament to her ambition for poetry: for it to become a language in which the act of perception is liberating.

Maybe off the page where my voice couldn't go, petals open slowly like a poem beginning, butterflies pause among leaves to rest their wings and like it there where words can't pin them down.

This is marvellous. Crozier leaps over Eliot's sense of paralysis between the concrete and the abstract, things always falling into the gap in between, she a voids the trap and balances beautifully on "a still, a moving wing."

She transmits this sense of poetic language as protean, as freeing, by locating her poems at the "thresholds" of perception, where memory and the physical senses commune, where thinking is apparently a process of both transformation and revelation. And the angels of transformation and revelation are female in this book, both "angels of flesh" and "angels of silence."

Language is a central concern of this collection, implicit throughout the book, regard less of the various themes of in dividual poems. Language and what is pre-language, what is drawn from the body, intuited, perceived around. or beneath consciousness: "just below /the threshold of your hearing/ like snow/ falling while you sleep." Ibis kind of subliminally perceived event carried over into the waking state renders "the whole world/ white." White, the colour of full spectrum light, numinous, at once simple and complex, all colours and one colour.

Yes, language is a concern, but never for itself alone. Not to deconstruct meaning, but rather to engender it, Whatever is recalcitrant in language, what is fossilized and resistant, en coded and male, she breaks open,. no, she hatches those dinosaur eggs, "Mother Tongue" is a retelling of the genesis myth of the fall:

It was the snake she wanted not the apple though she bit into its hard flesh, finding the star at the centre.

The poem is fascinating in its telescoping of spatial and linguistic relations, in its capturing of a sense of organic language and form: "its whole body a primitive tongue." Woman's language is "secret," cloistered in and of the body, as opposed to the names that are marked as both public and patriarchal, her fluency from "before Adam/ lined up all the animals."

The myth of the fall, the accounting for the presence of death and horror and our separation from nature, may be a result of male categorical imperatives, not (as we have been taught) a consequence of the seduction of the female by a language intimate with the body, the snake with "sibilant syllables" speaks "the flesh." In the brilliant long poem "Icarus at Sea," which concludes. this collection, Crozier makes her final argument with darkness, the darkness that is associated with the most light, the empirical intellect of our technologies: "Clouds are not enigmas anymore./ They are full of engines and exhaust." Icarus, fallen, undergoes a sea ,change. He gains another life where he learns the language of the body: "putting his fingers to his lips/ as if he is learning to speak again/ from touch." To celebrate rather than to conquer the natural world, the voice one listens to is female:

My. little girl is singing:
Ah, ah, ah, ah!
I do not understand the meaning
but I feel what she wants to say.
She wants to say that everything
-Ah! Ah!
is not horror
but by.

The inedit Nicole Brossard's term for the not yet written, for the process of, inscribing the unrecorded emotions and experiences of women, is also an act of rewriting, of translating the myths that have shaped our civilization. Crozier is actively engaged in such a process in these poems: it includes the depiction of male power and experience from a female point of view. Work like "The Penis Poems" is not a betrayal of female experience but a claim to be the eye of the world, not to stay defined as "the other," as the second sex. We have centuries of art, millennia of representations of female anatomy, I I defined by men. Male eyes have been our mirrors. Crozier and others, poets like Libby Scheier with her penis poems in Second Nature, are doing the important work of "returning the compliment."

Our literary tradition enshrines the phallus, often equates sexual potency with literary performance. Crozier de bunks this cleverly in "Male Thrust," a poem written in response to Anthony Burgess's claim that he can take "no pleasure from serious reading... that lacks a strong male thrust." Ibis poem is a modest proposal that reveals Burgess's sexual preference in his reading for the masturbatory excess he unwittingly suggests.


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