TEXT review


Opportune disruptions

review by Dominique Hecq

 

women: poetry: migration [an anthology]
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (ed)
theenk Books, Palmyra, New York 2017
ISBN 978-0-9883891-6-852500
Pb 328 pp USD 25.00

 

Editing a contemporary poetry anthology of women who have experienced migration or displacement is neither an innocent nor uncomplicated venture, especially when the focus is on experimental and innovative practices. You might set out to gather a collection of astounding pieces, but when it comes down to devising a book, all sorts of internal and external parameters come into play and demand attention. The editor’s linguistic and geopolitical background, experiences and view of the world, as well as their aesthetic proclivities are bound to influence the scope, focus, and ultimate selection of poems. Geopolitical markers are particularly relevant as these leave traces that have been either firmly inscribed in published texts or erased in the act of revision.

Though not directly addressing these issues, the editor of women: poetry: migration [an anthology],Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, born in the US and now living and working in Japan, signals in her introduction that she is aware of the challenging nature of the task at hand. In particular, she invokes how she came to focus the anthology through its multivocal and intercultural concerns. And in that regard, she delivers. Whether it be in realist, impressionistic, symbolist, allegorical, parodic or other yet to be named mode, all texts gathered here approach one issue: in what location a poet’s writing exists, and how its surfaces have wider implications beyond selves in the formation and deployment of identities. So, Joritz-Nakagawa ought to be forgiven for selecting the work of writers who predominantly either originate from or live in the US despite her intention to represent ‘regional’ and ‘cross-cultural’ diversities (xi). 

What is striking and exciting about this volume comprising works by fifty authors is its sheer stylistic diversity. This is compounded by its linguistic versatility. Stylistic diversity is exemplified in the breadth of genres, forms and modes showcased. Linguistic versatility is deployed in bilingual or multilingual texts and occasionally enhanced by the translation skills of fellow poets. Also exciting are the essays appended to each individual offering. As Ivy Alvarez – born in the Philippines, raised in Australia and now living in Auckland, NZ via Scotland, Ireland and Wales – puts it: ‘Discovering new poets to admire is necessary to stave off stultification and stagnation in one’s own work’ (108). Hazel Smith, who will be familiar to readers of TEXT – one of the rare Australians (in the anthology) apart from Ania Walwicz and Bella Li – expresses the same sentiment in a different way: ‘For me writing experimentally means continuously exploring new territory, as well as acknowledging literary tradition’ (104).

Through this anthology, I discovered plenty of new (to me!) poets to admire. As a reviewer, I am acutely ‘aware of the challenging nature of task at hand’. What to select? Who? This is not a case of Russian roulette, but I’ll be random, starting with Wang Ping, whom I thought I should have known about – you will have to read her bio note – and whose work is polygeneric. It also incorporates visuals and phrases in Chinese. You will have to go to page 231 to find out how she conveys the following short short visually and in her mother tongue, too:

Ten Thousand Waves
On the evening of 5 February 2004 at Morecambe Bay in North West England, 21 Chinese immigrants were drowned by an incoming tide off the Lancashire while picking cockles. The victims were mostly young men and women from Fujian and Shanghai. The youngest was 18. (231)

Wang Ping speaks on displacement in the public and private sphere. So do many texts in the anthology. Playing on equivocations across languages, Jody Pou, from Atlanta, Georgia, now living in France, elevates this artificial dichotomy to the metaphysical level only to bring it back with a crash on the purely corporeal level as the speaking body is experienced by the speaker, unashamedly thwarting the reader’s expectations if he or she does not speak French. Unashamedly punning, too:

When you question. When you being to question. When you begin to question, quand question, quand on pose, when posing, when posing, quand on commence à questionner, on begin, we being, we begin to question somewhere, on commence à questioner le tout. When we being to questioner, somewhere, when beginning to question, on question les corps, les poses, when being, quand on pose, les corps, somewhere, les choses, les mots, when begin, when beginning, when we begin begin repeat and question (141)

If you are wondering what this Anglo-French salad of words mean, you could ask Prof Google. On the other hand, you could read the whole piece. It is titled ‘En Brume’ (from Lilt en Quatre). Opens with: Wittgenstein se demande sil a une main’ / ‘Wittgenstein wonders if he’s got a hand’ (139) and extrapolates on the act of questioning with a series of hypothetical variations that blur boundaries of time, place, language and identity.

Anne Tardos turns the salad into a sculpture. Her work integrates interlingual associations, putting forth ideas that deconstruct meaning across several languages through generating puns. Her essay ‘On my multi-, pluri-, poly- or neolingual writing’ says it all in a nutshell.

Now I feel utterly exposed, having conveyed my own aesthetic and ideological inclinations between the lines and knowing I am running out of space. I dog-eared my copy of the anthology in many places, the last offence occurring on page 33. Then I used post-it notes and there are too many to mention – let alone cite from – here. Randomly, one highlights Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s essay, ‘On becoming radicalized’ (113). Another one, an exilic poem by Jennifer Dick (122-123) and, of course, how could I ignore excerpts from The Last Poems of Lea Goldberg, the renowned Hebrew poet (1911-1970) from whom I’ll quote:

On the exiles’ path
the clasp of sand and stone –
the sky near by –
and in the sky
thorned stars (153)

It is tempting to finish this review with Goldberg’s poignant words, but I want to stress that women: poetry: migration [an anthology] is an outstanding collection of poems and prose poems and works defying classification that will appeal to anyone interested in exploring and questioning identities in the context of multi-, inter- or pluriculturalism. The collection invites further explorations of this theme by offering a mixture of multiple experimental pieces with strands of narrative levels, imagery, humour, irony and sheer inventiveness that produce an exhilarating sense of ambiguity and uncertainty

 

 

 

Dominique Hecq is a bilingual poet, fiction writer, and scholar partial to experimentation. Hecq’s works include a novel, three collections of stories and eight books of poetry. Her auto-translation of Out of Bounds (2009), Hors Limites, was released last year in France. Crypto (2018) and Kosmogonies (2019) are her most recent bilingual collections. After Cage has just been released in English. She is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize.

 

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TEXT
Vol 23 No 1 April 2019
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker
textreviews@unisa.edu.au