Thursday, October 03, 2019

Rae Gouirand, The History of Art

I am terrified of the renderings of developing female bodies—the books my friends have in their houses, the figures that grow taller as they transform into something sexed, seemingly more naked as they age in the diagrams, as hair grows, as lines change. What is it that shows through, by 18 or 19, that is readable on the ideal? Some kind of musculature, some kind of possessedness. Underneath my clothes there are bruises from her hands, the angles of the walls in our house. My best friend can change her clothes in front of me. I do not want anyone to see my body, my acceleration towards something I have no model for. What is a woman? I was supposed to be a boy. My name was picked out.

I am fascinated by the prose and the prose explorations of California poet Rae Gouirand, through her chapbook The History of Art (Madison WI: TAR Chapbook Series, 2019). Composed as a suite of untitled prose poems, the fifty pages of The History of Art is a deeply intimate lyric essay-poem on beginnings, loss and the physicality of sex, gender and the body, written as a raw and precise exploration of how emotions are tied to the body through thoughtful, meditative passages. She writes:

The first weekend she stays, still trying to figure out whether she can make me shy, the question: what is sex about for you?

How I float—

the truth

There is something comparable to Anne Carson in how Gouirand approaches writing the physical, sensual and sexual self, and her connection to both a lover and to language itself: “It is incredibly important to draw lines around words.” Gouirand’s work is both clearly narrative and lyrically musical, set in stunning passages of prose that can’t easily be described but can only be absorbed. In an interview conducted by Annah Omune Sidigu for ZYZZYVA: A San Francisco Journal of Arts & Letters (posted February 26, 2019) around Gouirand’s full-length Glass Is Glass Water Is Water (Spork Press, 2018), Sidigu writes that Gouirand’s work “explores relationships, intimacy, the body, and the tension inherent in wanting to be understood without having to be explicit.” That description could easily be associated with this work as well, as Gouirand writes:

It’s impossible to enter eros without entering loss, A. suggests—something about the erotic and the beautiful being contingent upon inevitable break. I expect to make some kind of deeper sense of this beneath my skin. Where I used to make circles between my thumbs and forefingers and overlap them to draw how much of a circle erupt between two things, I now avoid reaching into the air to gesture. It’s like I reach a place where I expect a loss, expect it to repeat itself, stop reaching for its opposite. Do I even understand what language is? If a word is not a hand, what reason have we to speak?

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