Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Aby Kaupang, Absence is such a Transparent House

it is always contradictory
our houses have transparent walls
the dogwood blossoms brown in their golden borders

I can’t make a new room for us

shapes make the living too cramped
the darkness of my evening house
is far more formal than the shutters themselves (“in the hedges of loving kindness”)
My initial reaction to the poems of Aby Kaupang’s Absence is such a Transparent House (Huntington Beach CA: Tebot Bach, 2011), published as the 2011 winner of the Patricia Bibby First Book Prize, is to their structure, reminiscent of Douglas Barbour’s Fragmenting Body etc (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2000), but perhaps closer to the ongoing work of Emily Carr—author of 13 ways of happily (Anderson SC: Parlor Press, 2011) and Directions for Flying, 36 fits: a young wife’s almanac (Baltimore MD: Furniture Press, 2010)—for their shared ability to cohere all their writings into a single unit. Given that this is the first and only work of Kaupang’s I’ve seen so far, this might be a stretch to see beyond this book’s borders, but the collection is, in part, remarkable for how well it exists as a unit, and almost suggests itself as a project larger than itself.
in which Nothingness
posited its being
in my earthen locker

in which Nothingness
found being {tensions all hewn in}
in a inked realm

in which Nothingness
in an icy fetal lockbox
corded my contractions (“some bodies are coffins and we sense it”)
Absence is such a Transparent House composes a collection-as-fragments, a collection built through accumulations and equal, endless fractals, composing poems on grief and absence, poems on the staggering complexities and contradictions of faith, managing some of the most startling poems I’ve read in some time. As she writes in the poem “in the hedges of loving kindness”: “there are delineations I misunderstood / mansions and Thee and ice // anything that has shape is cheating / life and death are endless // what I fear most is evident in the saying” (65). There are scary questions of existence brought up in Kaupang’s poems, questions that even to consider exploring shake the poet to the core, yet she continues, questioning. Where is Kaupang, possibly, going? In her generous introduction to the collection, Gail Wronsky writes:
Little “g” gods and almost trees and “the dead/perfume of flies,” and “copses” becoming “corpses” and a most richly detailed and populated “Nothingness,” and I don’t want to think “Emily Dickinson” but I keep thinking of her as I read this book of oddly both voluptuous and spartan poems written with an almost otherworldly amount of self-possession, of certainty in craft. This poet’s concerns are Dickinson’s concerns: death, what eternity is, the effusions and miracles of the natural world, the dependencies and fortitudes of the self, and yet the rhythms and diction here are entirely unique […].
You’ll notice that the poet has named the four sections of her book “Symphyses” (Symphysis I, II, III, and IV). It’s a bold gesture, as the word is so unfamiliar, so specific to medical discourse, and yet the payoff is enormous. Doing so, Kaupang could be said to be inventing a poetic form—one rich with resonance and possibility—out of this term for the articulation of bone, for the way bones grow and heal, evoking as she does the visual similarities between bones and lines (both sometimes out of necessity broken) and at the same time wisely suggesting that bone itself is articulate, that poetry, like marrow, resides deeply and actively there. I’m sure Emily Dickinson would have agreed that it does.

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