The Vortex of Being

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CLARITIES

Blandine Longre

(Black Herald Press, 2010)

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By Paul Stubbs

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The word ‘metaphysics’ derives from the Greek words (metà) (‘beyond’ or ‘after’) and (physikà) (‘physics’), all of which went into the creation of Aristotle’s books on physics. But the term soon came to be questioned by Latin scholiasts who deemed it to mean only ‘the science of what is beyond the physical’, and thus it entered into many new formations and states of polymorphism. Parmenides of Elea, considered to be one of the founders of metaphysics, believed it to be ‘logically impossible’, which, to some extent has been proven true. The ‘Metaphysical poets’ of course continued their own explorations culminating in John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, probably both his and ‘metaphysical’ poetry’s greatest triumph.

Around the time of writing The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche talked of his hour of truth as ‘the terrible foundations of being’. Probably the greatest scholar of his work today, Rüdiger Safranski, when writing about the metaphysics of Greek tragedy, said: ‘Greek tragedy became a dance floor on which one could be pulled into Nietzsche’s vortex of being’, and thus finally I arrive at it, the ‘vortex of being’: the metaphysical vantage point in which to begin my review of this groundbreaking book, Clarities.

Blandine Longre is not just a metaphysical poet, she is rather a poet who, by a monstrous yet involuntary excavation of the soul/self, emerges as an archeologist of the most secret and unimaginable depths of ‘being’.  A poet who has rightly denied herself the expedient pleasure of flicking through the quasi-scientific ‘rulebooks’ of poetry, excommunicating herself rather from the unsparing propulsion even of her own syntax. She takes the end of each line as if a loose and still-sparking electricity cable and connects us to a new imaginative forcefield of language:

—purring nerves

Interlacing heartbeats

groping joints: the whole

discordant symphony of selfhood.

(‘I-Soul’)

There is no legerdemain or subterfuge here, only the measure and the movement of the spirit-level of her gait, controlled by the blood of her ink; in her heterogeneous hands, cartography is once more stripped of its maps, its once great geographical conjunctions caved-in, its land-sources forced to crumble again at the ‘gravity’ of her new poetical touch. She is earning back her rights to the palimpsest ‘map’ of her soul. In the first poem, she explains:

Then in the vacant soul’s retina,

look at your lone visage and foretell what

your feud of a body could not

(from where its words knelt uprightly so)

(‘When the time comes’)

‘Your feud of a body’ should by rights now become the ne plus ultra of metaphysical reasoning, replacing the equation ‘E=mc2’ for the ‘I’ and the ‘body’. Her language from the first poem in this collection assails the pre-syntactical fortresses of sense. It is a poetry, purged of contemporary hymn-sheets and syntactical edicts, that relies upon only its own temporal mind-structures; she is introducing to the world a new neural linguistics in which her own ‘foreign language’ (English) is being allowed again to swing free the rope-end of its syllables from the unclimbed belfry of her throat. She constructs a pseudo-grammar from which springs a new glossolalic pitch for poetry:

I am a field a realm and a route

an expanse of everdark crops

awoken unadorned and brambled

yet hardly maimed by the too-still rivulets of reality

(‘Avoiding the blackest eye of might’)

She arrives at the nerve-terminals of experience before we have registered it. Language is experiencing her, not the other way round. She possesses the necessary imaginative fatalism that separates the very good poet from the utterly unique one. The metabolism created anew by her own etymological non-reason has the overwhelming effect of forcing us to climb free suddenly from the darkness of a literary grave. We find ourselves arriving too late, such are the rapid associations and proddings of her mind, we have no other choice but to accept her logic, accept it as our new poetical fate, and the violent and cataclysmic ruptures of her poems as the inevitable moving away from the piteous and weak contemporary idioms that we cannot help but wage a war against. She is stepping barefoot onto the hotcoals of a new poetical sensibility, making it across to the other side of the page and looking back at us:

Yes, the readiness has now come

to fare this whatever well

to hurl it up              and fast and down

the hallowed slopes of

cataclysmic volition.

(‘Away with’)

Words are virgin. Words are unborn. Her poetical nature is antithetical to the overly and conventional ‘who am I?’ She walks free of any one poetical ‘idol’ in great strides of clay. All other superfluous anti-worlds of convention are squandered upon the nail-pang of her own consciousness. Everything in the world of course to the poet is only a crude answer to the innermost parts of ‘being’. Beyond the fictional world of encoded recollection, the coincidental realities of the exterior world, this poet has realized that

In the skull-like process

your twofold entrails, impossible,

are thus bound to be question-crushed,

never to match the neutral vacuum inside.

(‘Expurgation’)

If we were to search for influences in the work of Blandine Longre then we might well re-open Donne’s door, unlock the flesh and bone shackles of his ‘hold’ on all vertiginous and physical writing. Closer in unique spirit would be the Modernist poet Mina Loy and the ‘oneness’ of the vision of Else Lasker-Schüler, and certainly when Loy writes that ‘self is the covered entrance to Infinity’ it is hard not to think of the work here, for certainly the poetry of Longre is as ‘modern’ and ‘ancient’ as Loy’s writing was; gender is incurable by poetry alone, and these poems give only the flimsiest utterance to an identity based on what Loy once described as the ‘Increate’ world before human existence. These poems are ploughing newer territories than those two poets mentioned above and this is because of Longre’s insuperable leveling off of the will, in poems that draw blood from the fingertips of any reader who might happen to pick up this book:

Wreck-born snakes refusing to embrace

their wet doom                (never was a river redder)

crisscrossing their anathema

begging for parched soiled and dryscape

(the perhaps of a mutability)

(‘Épouvante’)

Throughout this collection it is clear that language on its own is barely enough, is but a bloodied word-stump at the feet of incomprehensibility. Longre walks around language, peels back its flesh to reveal only her own bone. Her images circle the reader like dorsal fins on an ever-expanding ocean of ink. She has taken it upon herself to resurrect language, and seems in fact to be waiting for language to wake itself up again; so she prods and goads it into new verbal clashes with itself. In poem after poem, language is forced to play out the psychodramatic theatre of the voices inside of her own head. Such acute single-mindedness embalms and mummifies any stale usage of language, and subsequently frees up this poet to unveil her unique and extraordinary phrasing, introducing each new image as a repository of untraceable yet formidable truths; so that literature to language can, once more, become lost:

Alien to its own words

(meaning-gouged,

spewed-out, led astray)

(‘Ultimacy’)

The instrument of this poet’s ‘being’ is thankfully played out of tune. Her nerve-strings stretched across the full length of each word and then plucked by the half-feigned fingers of vertigo; the ‘chasm’ and the ‘abyss’ are continually evoked, but in the same way that inhuman confabulation might evoke the jawbones of a mouth to speak for it; the irrefutable truths hidden in every mental-cleft of this poet are what she seeks the most:

air-borne reflections –won’t hinder her from

spreading her ruthless female

wings    whirr-whirling above heaps of

shards scraps pieces

(‘I-Soul’)

Re-wombing the birth of each word with a new visualized meaning, it is herself she is compacting into the fissures of immutable space, particularly with regard to the chrysalis of her own imagination that from line to line she struggles to break free of; for this is resurrection inside of the flesh. This process goes under no other name but ‘sacrifice’, and is the ‘key’ to an understanding of her poetical undertaking. She free-floats before the word arrives, she places the headphones of her own ears onto the incandescent head of imaginative furies, and screams for them, so that all ‘ancient’ and ‘mythological’ selves arrive ready from the depths to doppelganger what needs to be brought forth from the shadows:

tumbling on till downward I freefell

through the cracks of probable fossilized design

as a steepened denouement

spread before my

upturned skin

speechless brow

unbowed eye

so predictably horrendous a sight

so afore-choreographed

a drop so

down-to-earth

a tale.

(‘Ups are downs’)

The thud of that final full-stop leaves a crater in the mind, shatters the infinitesimal sluggishness of ‘now’.  This is the anti-dancefloor of Nietzsche’s ‘vortex of being’, the ritual of self and creation beginning to homogenize itself suddenly into her second nature, the after-effects of climbing down from an altitude too high to breath, a return back to the word-fissured husk of the image clasped inside of her fist, the temporary but nomadic base in which her mind momentarily comes to rest. The awkwardness of her rhythms makes you follow, and the propulsion of her lines passes on crutches to the lame, stilts to the small and a walking-frame to the inner- paralytic inside of us all who wish to follow her along every impossible ledge and precipice of violent enjambment. Like a numismatist, two centuries from now, brushing away our dust from a coin, she hands back to us the relic of future images now, continuing her ‘eternities’ in the sense of the poetical already made posthumous by the transience of her intuition:

(see, it is displaced

now dismantled

then no more)

till the agony of nonspaces and the wreckage of

erasing times.

(‘Timeship’)

On the ineffable root of pure presence her words tug, for she is all of the things of her imagination at the same time, while her images are injurious in the same way that a still half-charred planet might be to a God during its creation. There is a radioactive impact to the simple animalistic courage of accepting the odds of whatever she undertakes, for to write as she does is to imperil the soul by opening up the full body-valve to the intense pressure of words. Daniel Weissbort, in his introduction to the seminal anthology The poetry of Survival wrote of the danger and ‘the urgency of the content’ within its pages that ‘tended to eliminate all but the most unambiguous prosodic conventions’, and this is the place that these poems enter in, after conventions have been ‘eliminated’ and when the lingua franca of the soul has been prevented from speaking on the other side of ‘being’ by the newest glottal-stop of an intermittent logic, her logic that ash-heaps the gait before ‘identity’ can be established, and before the curtains of enigmatic flesh can be drawn:

Or better step forward and help it swell

—your wombing monster

(She-with-the-claws)

out of pound-apounding remnants

rewriting herself over your soul-moistened finity

fire-walking back

to your adverse centre of ungravity.

(‘Diagram of Unbalance’)

In his ‘letter of the seer’ Rimbaud wrote ‘woman will discover part of the unknown, she will discover things strange and unfathomable, repulsive and delicious’ and it seems he had foreseen such a book as this — though ‘gender’ is hardly relevant here, only the cylinders of a new powerful poetics breaking up the rocks and gravel of a language still trapped within the sediment of the brain. The poet is bringing the infinitesimal cogwheels of the sky to a halt, via the crowbar of her pen, and snagging the shadows of History onto the sundials of any one day of the imagination; she is the flood and the aftermath, the self-liquidation of any new destination:

In the whole landscape of all things

half-bred or dying-off: pain, erect,

deviant – its many-limbed cycles at unrest

(coiling, outreaching)

Your inner dew oozing down its strident slopes

Your fast fast blood ebbing its lucid coasts

and probing curves

(‘Algea’)

It is both agony and supernatural ecstasy. She is her own rarest bird that rises on steel wings and then vanishes in the molten moment. One poem matches the next; in essence they are alike in that they spring from the same subcutaneous spring. She rightly abdicates responsibility for her poems by the act of writing, knowing the temporal politics of ‘literature’ to maintain only a brutal indifference to the sign-posts to asceticism, obsession, insatiable hunger etc.  She knows there is no poetry world, there is only the flesh and bone in turbulence, the phosphorescence and ferocious abandon. Longre is not distorting diction merely to mock tradition, or adopting such an internal guise of transgressive poetics to be contrary, to be anti-metrical, no, her poetical voice is what awaits us on the other side of contemporary egotism, what lies beyond the prosodic narratives and desired ‘effects’ of predictable workshop solutions. In short, she is our recovery and rehabilitation after the too-cancerous illness of reason subsides.

The last poem in the collection is called ‘Accretions’ and is like nothing I have ever read. The outcome of a giant semantic battle, the point in time when the lexicographer, without remorse, burns the final dictionary. There is not much that remains, and amid the mental rubble and burnt-out word shells we find only:

the mouth, a jagged fatality,

now swallows back all its accreted nevermore,

(…) and their numbing

shimmers

gave death a too-true anatomy

and would not step back from your feigned body for

whole night-like days

‘night-like days’: an image that for now brings us to the final crepuscular city of her imagination, a half-civilized region of the soul where every last sensation has been earned. It is a purgatory and knowledge that while we fail, utterance never does. It is the time-lapsed denouement and renunciation of the newest self. It is what happens when History is turned inward and our atoms become demagnetized, freeing us of the North, the South, the East and West; this is a poem that ends a book that began with the ‘clarity’ of the accidents of agony and love, and which finally assumes the itinerary for an unimaginable poetics. The poet has dared to go infinitely and dangerously further than only a handful of poets alive today, clinging on tenaciously to a disjunctive discourse that speaks for and against the hypertrophy of the mind, at the expense of all other superficial adventures:

The bludgeon-me-dearly friction

of a constricted nostalgia (in reverse).

(‘Accretions’).

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(other book reviews & essays)

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