The songbird sings from his syrinx, at the bottom of his trachea, where the two bronchi become one. It is a hollow space framed by reverberant cartilage and smooth muscle tympanum. There are no chords to split and differentiate the breath. The tongue does not direct the sound, nor are there teeth for sibilance, nor labia for nuance.
The song of the warbler comes from an impossibly deeper place in the body than human speech. From below the threshold of distortion. When the vireo sings he feels breath and desire delivered directly of the heart.
If we were to experience such raw song, we would die from the uncontrolled internal resonance.
Our ancestors, gentle souls, who tried to learn language from birds, perished from the exquisite effort.
Ornithologists named the avian vocal organ after a nymph known for her chastity. Syrinx fled to the river to escape the lust of Pan. The river turned her into a clutch of hollow reeds. Pan sighed in desolation at the riverbank. His breath passed over the reeds, and they intoned her vanished body. So he cut them down, luminous channels, and bound them with cord to breathe and dream and sound her absence. He blew his breath through what she became to escape him.
He named these pipes after her, but we name the pipes after him. For us, her name has been absorbed into his desire. We steal the names of the creatures we drive into extinction.
The oriole does not know this story, which we tell to share the sorrow of not being birds.
There has been quite a silence from Matthew Remski, author of the bpNichol Chapbook Award-winning Organon (Coach House Printing, 1994), and the novels dying for veronica (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 1997) and Silver (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 1998). Quite a silence, but quite an impact when he finally returns to break those silences, resonances that still ripple from his first novel, for example, or that very first chapbook of prose-poems. From the work he has produced, it seems Remski has long been interested in silence and sound, and in turning one form inside out through the scope of another, twirling experimental fiction from prose, or, in the case of Organon and this new project, syrinx and systole (Toronto ON: Quattro Books, 2010), poems from prose.
A tilt of a wing, a wall of wind. The mind plummets from level to level like a sparrow. Your body is peeled from its orbit of assumption, and loses the gravity of limit and shape. When your balance returns, you’re in a different room, the windows of which are etched with fragments of the sentence your falling wrote.
Is this a poetry collection or a small novel? Just what is happening here? A book of sentences, whether as couplets or prose, somehow both shaped as poems in a long line of narrative thinking. Think of comparisons with Michael Turner’s infamous Hard Core Logo, originally called “poetry,” then “novel,” and wonder what might be the story here. There is a story, certainly. You just have to find it, discover, in the midst of such song. Such beautiful song.