TEXT review


Mercurial metamorphoses

review by Dominique Hecq

 

Marion May Campbell
Third body
Whitmore press poetry, North Melbourne, 2018
ISBN 978-0-6484336-0-6
Pb 103pp AUD20.00

 

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
Poems: New & Selected
Isobar Press, Tokyo & London, 2018
ISBN 978-4-907359-25-6
Pb 190pp USD25.00

 

 

…the words became your hands. Your fingers. We can say any word. Come
 – Hélène Cixous

Marion May Campbell and Jane Joritz-Nakagawa have more in common than one might think. Both are poet-thinkers who blur the lines between private and public spheres, explore thought as much as feeling, engage with ecosystems, evoke a third body of words through citation or address, and produce an exhilarating sense of ambiguity and uncertainty in their poetry. Both Campbell’s Third body and Joritz-Nakagawa’s Poems: New & Selected display stylistic range, plurivocality and shape-shifting personae. Both books are highly attuned to the alternating presences and absences within intimate relationships and to the machinations of local and global politics – sometimes the two realms overlap:

I know the subtle cartographies
of silence & fatal
shoreline deletions
but I know too
that the orange lifeboat
is involved
in what I know (Campbell 17)

Marion May Campbell and Jane Joritz-Nakagawa are concerned with the existential, ontological and ethical dynamics of being in the Anthropocene. At a more personal level, they also speak about illness. How it operates, disturbs, shakes. As a result, a heightened sense of mortality affects the body of the work. Striking, though, is a marked dissimilarity in tone, mood, and intonation: where Campbell’s writing is suffused with joie de vivre, irreverence and ironic restraint, Joritz-Nakagawa’s brims with regret and melancholy.

On the position and experience of the subject, consider the accidental convergence:

trajectories of desire
never quite intersecting

wounds & exalted jouissance
complex affirmation
what kind of history
& what kind of witness
is possible

when I never coincides with me? (Campbell 4-5)


to turn from object to subject. the i of the
formula, rigid intake control. a lack which

creates desire summons nothing to
itself. consciousness never

confers meaning. a certain revelation of being
may be no revelation. (Joritz-Nakagawa 124)

Campbell and Joritz-Nakagawa are obviously well versed in (post)structuralist theories of language and subjectivity yet revel in disrupting near axiomatic formulae, especially those of Lacan, preferring a feminist riposte whereby they choose to pass, paste or hang:

I do not pass at all as
poet man or woman
but laugh
myself to bits
as I pass into this last
paste-up (Campbell 9)

another tunnel turn left swallowing and passing out someone
is staring through the windshield immolation core safety belt
it never stops the whiplash hang out the window shoes off
everybody loves the way you left me (Joritz-Nakagawa 70)

Through an understanding of the ever-shifting nature of representation, Campbell and Joritz-Nakagawa engage the practice of self-representation with a daring act of self-creation to form their own uniquely innovative mode of writing. They opt for open forms of poetics. With Campbell, openness is densely layered, whereas with Joritz-Nakagawa, it is dispersed. Campbell’s poems are incrusted with intratextual and intertextual references whereas Joritz-Nakagawa’s texts are almost self-consciously divested from these – nowhere is this more apparent than in her relinquishing of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E influences that characterise her early work.

Out of both volumes grows a third body that metamorphoses into visual and kinetic forms which tear away from the dominant culture. In Campbell’s words, this ‘third body breaks / in a million mercurial / mutations’ (Campbell 89) which reconfigure other / wise.

While conceptual pleasure flourishes in both volumes, third body’s protean forms shimmer with kinaesthetic sensuousness and reverberate with sensual pleasure. Take the poem ‘whipbird and pigface’, for instance, where the aural jouissance of the ‘frantic sonic fidget’ gives way to ‘the blinking neon of miscarried thoughts’ (Campbell 72) and transcription of the bird’s call:

no nostalgia here no ecstatic fall from grace
no memory short or long but this repeated

   whip
   whip
   whip

is all we need now – the whipbird
& the soothing balm of this
dune-runner old salt survivor
this Carpobrotus rossii
we call pigface (Campbell 72-73)

I am, inevitably, reminded of Roland Barthes who invokes the grain of the voice as the ‘sung writing of language’ (Barthes 1977: 185). And I am distracted and amused by the common name of Carpobrotus rossii – ‘pigface’ to the anglophone who look at the flower that ‘blooms daisily’; ‘doigts de sorcières’ / ‘witch fingers’ to the phobic francophone…

Stylistically, typographically and methodologically, Joritz-Nakagawa is more versatile, even in the excerpt from PLAN B AUDIO, the new work which opens the collection. Tone and mood, though, are strangely uniform in this selection, and I wonder whether this is an editorial decision, given the sheer volume of Joritz-Nakagawa’s output. I think it is. The tone is cool. The mood dispassionate, evenly (self)composed, almost devoid of affect in contrast to earlier works such as FLUX. The dominant colours are white, grey, blue, enhancing a sense of transient impermanence, detachment:

courtship of empty space
process garden of past medals
wall of being and faded photographs
featuring thin trails of violent intentions
masquerading as frenzied farms
blue books of frozen procedures
nothingness in small porcelain bowls
i dismount saying thank you
i dismantle saying i’m sorry
i’m speechless when the wind slaps my face (Joritz-Nakagawa 17)

Joritz-Nakagawa’s multi-situational stance encountered in earlier works, including as editor of women: poetry: migration (2017) takes the guise of a stylized, frozen posture partly en-gendered in response to patriarchal discourses deployed in both private and public spheres.

While Marion May Campbell retrieves and deconstructs one of the most enduring literary icons in western literature, Antigone, in an act of defiance against social injustice (Campbell 21-23) – as she does, too, in Fragments of a Paper Witch (2008), Joritz-Nakagawa coolly denounces the narcissism and implacability of the male ego.

The affective and intellectual resonances of these two books suggest that the predicament facing contemporary women poets remains stark. Not dark. There is no running away from entrenched androcentric prejudice. Yet here the entwined third body of poet-thinker and text creates its own mercurial metamorphoses in a complex symbolic web.

 

Works cited

Campbell, MM 2008 Fragments of a Paper Witch, Salt, Cromer, Norfolk return to text

Cixous, H 2009 The Third Body, Northwestern University Press, Evanston return to text

Joritz-Nakagawa, J 2017 women: poetry: migration [an anthology], theenk Books, Palmyra, New York return to text

 

 

Dominique Hecq is a poet, fiction writer, and scholar partial to experimentation. Her works include a novel, three collections of stories and eight books of poetry. Crypto (2018) and Kosmogonies (2019) are her most recent bilingual collections. After Cage (2019) has just been launched as a choreographed dance / word event. Kaosmos and Off Track: Journeys without Maps are slated for publication in 2020. Hecq is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize.

 

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TEXT
Vol 23 No 2 October 2019
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker. Assistant reviews editor: Simon Telford
textreviews@unisa.edu.au