Fabiana Heifetz

To remember the imagined—sand.soda.lime / "canthus to canthus"

A Mexican popular saying states that it is better to remember than to imagine; language denotes that tempting distinction between experience and that which is mainly visible, but not necessarily attained in the flesh. Thus it 'seemed', 'deemed as', 'looked as if', at any moment when a phantasmagoric pulse takes over consciousness, and that pulse is all the more confusing when visible, audible, palatable and tactile perceptions are 'vivid', which is one of the most intriguing adjectives to be found. Shouldn't all experiences that we live be lived and not life-like? That it is better to remember than to imagine came to mind while reading poem "seventeen" of sand.soda.lime, in which the poet addresses a 'friend german' who scored Blonstein's poem drafts, and who—we are told—reprimanded the poet for her use of neologisms. We read:

          cannot "stop making up words"
          because my roots
          outspiked from fixed fields
          were transported into "native English" wastelands

A fleeting smile that curled as those inverted commas accumulated textual imports is arrested as the poem reaches further into a narrative mode:

          i hid in gorsed pauses
          when easter bells
          clashed without touching purple

No explanation is offered, neither concerning an implied muteness of the spirit nor the purple that remained untouched, no excuses, of course, but a clamorous reminder of English heathland, gorse, with its fragrance, and those pauses (of what?), where she hid. Yet, roots have been 'outspiked', then 'transported' to find 'wastelands', not one, literary and upper-cased, but many, so that cruel months, quotidian tediousness and the aftermath of modernity are multiplied indefinitely in lands laid to waste.

          All these words refer to plants, albeit shared by humans. The noun 'roots', taken too readily in most modern languages to mean ethnic and religious origins, is signified here by words that perform a devolution of 'roots' to its roots, turning the speaker into a subject endowed with millenary versatility, one whose mobility was passive, whose times of growth and expansion, but also of hiding and repose, respond to a will beyond her own. We read the description, vividly—the poet's face is 'pandora'd':

          with coconut, chalk and ivory,
          ate eggs shived in salt water
          and bitter verbs.

and we postpone deciphering the chalk and the ivory, while we recognize a congruency of paschal and seasonal features. The bells of Easter and the ritual feast of Passover (sugary petit-fours concocted with coconut following the prohibition to use leavened bread, those eggs in salt water signifying the crossing of the Red Sea, and the bitter herbs turned by Blonstein into verbs). That gorse exudes a fragrance not unlike coconut does not escape us, neither does the fact that although warmth makes the blossom heavier, gorse can be seen in bloom even under some snow. Verbs in the first person, singular and plural, are a privilege pertaining to the field of textual Divinity and of the divine in the human, and of the human in animals, as in fables. Herbs seldom wield a verb aloud; but although they cannot be heard, their activity is diverse and continuous. Converted into verbs, the healing and the poison they purport to bring can flourish. Their taste is bitter, unlike the purple, they have been experienced. The paschal juxtaposition happens in the landscape of England (the lines bring to mind The Triumph of Love "CXXI", where Geoffrey Hill equates faith with 'inescapable endurance' and in the intertwining of lustre and salvation ('…the horizon / is Traherne's country.'), and that is significant since the addressee is 'friend german', and perhaps it is that addressee who Anne Blonstein would most wish to be capable of reading through her neologisms, or, the very least, understand and condone their necessity. 'Shived' are the eggs, surprising us with a resonance of shrive: the confession of the penitent, the hearing of the confession. And yet, causality is avoided, bells clash, paschal blood is represented, bitterness incarnates. Before it continues, the poem interrupts itself with an asterisked line

          * * * * * * * * * * * *

          The 'friend german' demands recognizable signs. And we wait, alongside the dots, musing that one should be ready to read poetry so that at the unexpected caesura, at any given metaphor, we would perceive all constraints and hopes that brought about the soul hour of the poem. Then we could thread the same visions, and be lured into imagining that the poem being read is our own. Such an Emersonian position is not totally delirious; it is ubiquitous and astounding that the greater the poem, the faster that process of mutual appropriation occurs. One, a subject reading poetry, offers one's passage through time, sifts through moral uncertainties, physical losses and spiritual gains because the poem performs all the linguistic tasks needed to awaken our desire for poetry, a prerequisite. By lending ourselves wholeheartedly and with clear thinking to the poem's demand we add some of our carnality to the letters written. We make the poem 'happen', while the poem makes us a maker, a poet.

          We draw this concept from the deed of the translator. It is while performing the act of translation that a definitive moment arrives, when a neologism, or many, signal a no-entrance zone. It is tempting to acquiesce to that sign, or to overrate it. Dismissed (or, perhaps, exalted) by clinicians as pathology, neologisms provoke our irritation, but also expand our desire to understand: 'outspiked'? Frequently protested against, vulnerable to being renounced as poetic foul play, when Anne Blonstein sets one of her neologisms in front of us we are immediately aware of the intentionality of the occurrence, because albeit obscuring connotation, as is customary, these neologisms are integral to Anne Blonstein's strongest characteristic, that of authorship. Her 'made-up words' never respond to laxity of form, and if we encounter traits of indulgence in private jouissance (when coining expressions and minting words overloads the reader's enchantment with a given poem), these are belied by the sense of gracefulness that we retain after the reading ends (jouissance is never endowed with grace). 'pandora'd'? 'outspiked'? We borrow for a moment from Uexküll: perhaps these are the Umwelt, the semiotic environment needed for the more legible parts of the poem to demand our precise attention. Maybe we can understand 'outspiked', but most probably can't, yet by staying in the proximity of the connotations and denotations implied by its shape, sound, etymology of its legible components, we come to ponder language as it is, simultaneously a creation and a given. The Verb that Anne Blonstein names with those words of her own constantly summons the reader's consciousness to segue from things that cannot be said to those that can only be touched by inference. That which can be remembered and that which is imaginary come together in neologisms if only due to their relegation to the strait margins of freedom from the authority of dictionaries, gamblers as they are for our capacity to make sense.

          It is here, at the moment of realizing that poem "seventeen" still has one more narrative to disclose that we remember that we should be thinking and talking about glass, for sand.soda.lime is a collection of poems about glass. Circumstances surrounding the writing are explained only at the end of the thin volume, where we learn that the Swiss composer Mela Meierhans was commissioned to 'write a work for the munich-based glass-instrument ensemble, SINFONIA DI VETRO. enjoying the challenge and inspiration offered by texts, she requested that i write some poems'.

          That the commissioning entity is based in Munich we dismiss as sheer information until we come back from a digression into the Novelas Ejemplares by Miguel de Cervantes, written in 1613. Coerced by destiny to suffer the insufferable, young student Tomas Rodaja (little wheel in 17th-century Castilian) believes himself to be made of glass, which he defines as the most delicate of substances. Hence his dread at the prospect of any contact with humans or hard surfaces, hence his suddenly sharpened intellect and courage to speak his mind with such earnestness as to become famous (acquiring the epithet 'Vidriera') and brought to court.

          Freud's admiration of Novelas Ejemplares does not turn the pathological definition of Vidriera's state into our incumbency here, but his pathology compels us to go back to that century and to its advances in technology, for severe cases of mental illness share a proclivity to project their symptoms onto the modes of functionality of their times. Like Cervantes, Vidriera lived during the time when glass was brought down from the elaborate windows of the great cathedrals, those oxides that permeated the grim cathedrals with joyous blues and rose-like reds, calling eyes to turn upwards. Glows and glares are identified with more secular forms of vision. The German mystic Jacob Boehme didn't even need glass: a ray of light shed on a pewter plate sufficed for him to assert that he had understood God. Ensuring vision and enabling further quests into the dark realms by means of inquiry (commercialization of reading spectacles, the first microscope, and first telescope), glass is the unequivocal reverse of physical or other blindness. A great desire to incarnate the animate into the inanimate takes precedence over the medieval desire to separate spirits and bodies as much as they could be torn apart, to the detriment of many human lives. The zealous inquisitorial performance of the century of glass works mainly in the Americas allowed the legitimization and perpetration of genocide so methodic and cruel as would occur in the colonizing continent only 300 hundred years later under the grip of a less partial evil.

          We recall that glass signifies the transformation of the utterly insensitive, the inorganic, that which is even more than ourselves bound to 'inescapable endurance' into a tool of luminosity. The advances achieved in glass making inebriate men with such a sense of perception of the true and empirically probable that it shouldn't be altogether perplexing that when that positivist thinking is shaken by Freud, by Einstein and Planck, the sign of the times to mark the first step towards a Final Solution begins with Kristallnacht. The sound of broken glass, of glass being shattered and splintered, baptizing that night in early November with the name of matter that had helped mankind advance into deeper contemplation of the universe, to no apparent avail. Obliterated from any 'gorsed pause', Munich is the point of departure.

          If one listens to "canthus to canthus", one is taken aback by its candid veracity: first the warm chords of the poet's voice speaking poetry with loving precision, then something sounds oddly menacing, then more warmth, and then the beauty of German being spoken, sung, alive: many other sounds occur, and I even imagine that I could link memories of Berio and of Cage, Stockhausen, of many early modern films and wild peasant singing to the beauty of the piece, which manages to grasp our sentiment and lead us, once our audition has been agitated by historic allusion, to a calm finale of very clever jazz, of the like that Latin American writers of the stature of Julio Cortazar and Alejo Carpentier praised in their stories, very cool, never muddled but for a passing metallic shriek. That canthus is the word given to the commissures of the eye is a blessed discovery. That cantus is a chant combines with the allusion to eyes meeting to make that which is seen clearly audible.

          Upon reading poem "seventeen" once again, after we tread on the line of stars, we find a mother wearing black, and the poet affirming that she'll 'dig up graves / of mouths'. Nothing could be more promising than gorse, the humid closeness of life forces that do not speak our language but that are so rich and particular that even those among us who know little botany cannot help but testify to their might. That the poem should end as it does forces us to reclaim joy by means of its clarity, of its calm authority.

          It is not wholly lacking in interest that while reading one of the poems in a hospital, a nurse asked if it is a book about vacations in a summer resort: sand, she thought, was sand, soda was water sparkling tenuously as we lean our face to sip, and lime was a glowing green wedge thrown in. That English is a third language to the nurse as it is to me should not matter. Anne Blonstein is reverent to all levels of language, even to its ridiculous effects when left to flow adrift, for in those spaces where language is continuously 'outspiked', empty of roots and climbing up all vagaries of the body and all fixations of the mind she takes it down to us:

          through the narrow vase of prophecy
          roots into the tomb
          of nature

          Nothing is too solemn or too profane for Anne Blonstein to be able to enunciate it poetically. No glyph or grapheme is overlooked. Anything that can happen in language, says Anne Blonstein with mastery worthy of more readers, belongs in that which can be remembered, not just imagined. If it is written it is, because the written word is the incarnated vision.