The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 09-JAN 10

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DEC 09-JAN 10 Issue


Maggie Nelson
(WAVE BOOKS, 2009)

Maggie Nelson gives me a boinker. Her brain and her pussy are both talking in this genre-busting hybrid. Lyrical, philosophical, at times off color and always searching, our heroine’s magnetic persona grabs you.

Nelson collects blue, from objects to concepts. It fits because she’s sad that the “wrong man was Mr. Right.” In fact, the “prince of blue” is long gone.

Part essay and part diary (unless it’s fiction), 240 entries of cut-to-the chase prose revolve around blue. Self-insights interface with facts and observations by Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Wittgenstein. Joan Mitchell (who painted "Les Bluets") and Joni Mitchell (who sang "Blue") recklessly pursue the transcendent hue. These are intersections I want to visit.

Flashbacks, fantasies, and confessions recursively resurrect a pyre of longing. Slowly, the layers of obsession build up and ultimately blue replaces the absent lover, "as if blue not only had a heart, but also a mind."

One of the joys of reading this book is the info. The investigations inform us about dyes like woad and indigo and that lapis lazuli is mined in Afghanistan. Nelson’s research seamlessly fits into her narrative. This contextualization of knowledge into personal revelation marks a formidable innovation.

In the end Nelson breaks free of romance’s tyranny. She dreams someone sends her cornflowers, the American name for bluets. Shaggy, wild, and strong—they’re a revealing metaphor for the author.


If I Were Another
Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah

A giant, the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish fused Sufi and modern poetics. In his last two decades he enlarged on themes of self and place, exile and myth, sages and strangers. He also loosened his meter, mixing poetry that is "leaning toward prose" into anthemic, epic verse.

The pages blare no headlines but swell with locations. The political sting one could expect from a martyr/ victim/ stranger is tempered by enormous scope. Mosul and Basra rub against Granada and Andalusia. Continents and centuries are bridged in a "eulogy of place."

With a nod to heritage "The Rubaiyat" is presented in quatrains like its famous forebear. It repeats the phrase "I have seen enough…" 12 times, showing off Darwish’s structural mastery. Each stanza addresses a new property; "I have seen enough…" sea, war, love, poetry—every new subject is followed by metaphorically startling lines. He sees "land … through a needle’s eye."

"Mural," the central poem, calls "Death! wait for me, until I finish." This play-like dialogue with death (which Darwish narrowly eluded twice) culls out the essence of life. Olives, roses, grass, a dove, a rifle, "and the wine of gods" fend off oblivion as the poet becomes the language.

"Who am I? / Song of Songs."

"A call and an “echo’s stony name"—Darwish asks and answers. "North of grief" he maps time’s interior identity.


Dialect of a Skirt
Erica Miriam Fabri

The dance of the sexes is the theme of this promising debut by Erica Miriam Fabri. The author tells story poems. Love, sex, desire, rape, seduction, and charm are limned in first person narratives or monologues. Sometimes she’s herself and sometimes a worldly figure like Marilyn Monroe or a dolled-up moll.

Fabri has a good ear for noir argot and stitches a rich embroidery. "Catcall" is followed soon after by "catty-corner." Carnivalesque, colorful characters careen through beds and across continents—daredevils in dueling duets. "He had a tattoo of a racecar on his torso." Blood mixes with wine to conjure potent metaphors. Jealousy "felt as if there was a planet between my lungs."

The "Secret Language of Syllables" builds to a "deciphered" message: "He made a song that turned/my throat into a wishing well and filled me with pennies/that flickered like copper stars." Occasionally Fabri stacks these gems too closely. "Like" should stay away from other likes.

A blizzard of "I"s may irk some readers. They should note the range of Fabri’s formal experimentation. Some poems aim for "pinpoint precision" while others swirl through surreal portals. Twins revel in each other’s symmetry in "Doppleganger Love Poem." Mannequins opine "in a fancy restaurant." (I’d like to know which one.)

Glitz and grit grind together here where "pasties sparkle." Fabri has been smoking Mavericks with Anacreon.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 09-JAN 10

All Issues