review by Dominique Hecq
Marion May Campbell
…the words became your hands. Your fingers. We can say any word. Come
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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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Vol 23 No 2 October 2019
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker. Assistant reviews editor: Simon Telford