Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting


Over the last few weeks, I have been reading, despite the lack of web log entries: yes. Time has not allowed a steady moment of relaxing, or sitting back and reflecting in depth on the material itself. For the last month I have wanted to place commentaries on a collection of poems, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting, by Anna Journey. Circumstances intervened on a weekly basis. However. Here I sit today looking at her poems again, connecting with the various surreal dream-scapes she generates on every page. The poetry reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch and his triptych: The Garden of Earthly Delights with intensely packed series of images within a crowded, defined space, claustrophobic visions of hell, details choking with devils and demon lovers, shape-shifters, and androgynous ghosts. I reinvent her language slightly, looking at what it implies, not at exact phrases. For instance, Journey’s piece titled “The Mirror’s Lake is Forever” displays an intense experimental approach with phrases, sensory impressions, and logic.



That’s when I knew the mirror was all sex and hard
fact. Unlike knowing my Grandfather

posthumously. Because a ghost can’t be
androgynous as a lamp is,

as peat moss is,
as the smell of cedar (29).

These poems echo the notion of language poetry’s main concern: psychological elements carry more weight than logical matters. One can see the heavy personal issues embedded in the work, even if it remains difficult confirming what exactly the concerns are. Which is the danger of language poems, the reader becomes lost in the writer’s forest of symbols and metaphors, without being able to identify the source of the allusions. In Journey’s work, the intense nightmares point to a sense of trauma—but the trauma itself never surfaces. Which leaves the reader frequently asking: what is the point?


That sounds harsh. As a writer myself of magic realism atmospheres, I take issue when critics imply a poem must mean something concrete, something more precise than heavy descriptive and chaotic apocalyptic visions. To her credit, in small doses, Journey’s poems do show a strong control of scene and tone. They carry a working metaphor that transcends hidden concerns. “Walking Upright in a Field of Devils” for instance allows the reader to participate in the poet’s dark scenery because elements of an identifiable, and realistic, world are inserted between imaged of “blue devils” and a “half-bloomed moon.” In this work I can connect to material within my own existence and transcend the surreal dream-logic. The poem opens:



Because billy goats rise to the height of a woman
and walk upright, I saw a field of devils


Blue and vertical, horned in the moonlight, heat
lightning in their luminous beards. Because the static


Of grackles crying from ball moss in mesquite
meant this could be Italy, though it was the black


fields caught between strip malls
flanking Houston (66).

Here, a familiar geography is established with the use of the city Houston, likewise a notion of the modern world with the mention of strip malls, then the use of overt magic-realism is added. The poet speaker questions whether the goats she observes are devils or her imagination. The location could be confused with an Italian landscape, even though her senses tell her she is in south-east Texas.


Because of these grounded elements, the need for an explanation of why she sees these possibilities is less important. The reader can merge with the poem’s flow of information, admire the richness of the text, and accept the fact there are portions of a story here left unexplained. The poet speaker can retain her secrets and does not need to reveal her past history for deciphering.

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