Monday, December 07, 2020

Julie Joosten, Nought


She walks across a field to
thinking how thinking
accompanies life. Lavender caves, an

abundance of loss. Wondering if
thought is also an affair

of the skin. Cowbells, cowbells,
cowbells. Her memory blushes pink.

A partial eclipse, the sun visible
like a quarter moon. Her skin trembles

the little weights and textures of gone
things. A nation of birds, some

clouds. The future arrives before
she recognizes it. A future thick as fur. (“Nest”)

The follow-up to Toronto poet and editor Julie Joosten’s Governor-General’s Award-nominated debut, Light Light (BookThug, 2013) [see my review ofsuch here] is Nought (Book*hug, 2020), a lyric suite of fourteen sections—“Nest,” “Necklace,” “Swoon Revolt,” “On Nothing,” “For Nor,” “Love Poem,” “’Of Ground, or Air, or Ought,’” “Dear Friend,” “Second-Hand,” “, touch,” “Silence, an Index,” “[whose hair is yellower than torchlight],” “On Anemones” and “This, Seeded in a Glance”— that write on being, belonging and perception. “Quiet narrows the mind’s / circumference.” she writes, as part of the third suite-section. “I’m looking for a form.” she writes, at a different point in the same piece. She also includes a prose afterward, “An Opening,” that offers what led up and into this current work, including her engagement with the work of (as well as working directly with) Toronto poet M. NourbeSe Philip, the effects of her two traumatic brain injuries, and the persistence of thinking on style and perception. As the afterward opens:

In the years before I began writing Nought, I found myself obsessively reading and thinking about styles of perceiving and being. I was struck by a question I couldn’t—and still can’t—stop thinking about. In The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine, Shigehisa Kuriyama asks: “What goes into a perceptual style?” The question addresses the development of two styles of reading the pulse in classical medicine: Greek practitioners measured the pulse’s rhythm, the blood’s vetical rise and fall to and from the body’s surface; Chinese practitioners attended to the pulse’s nature, whether the blood and breath’s horizontal streaming was “floating,” “hollow,” “hidden,” or “leathery.” Considering this distinction, Kuriyama incisively notes, “when we study conceptions of the body, we are studying conceptions not just in the mind, but also in the senses […] [T]he puzzling otherness of medical traditions involves not least alternative styles of perceiving.”

The poems that make up Nought are crafted into a single, delicate lyric thread; a suite of suites, held together as a long poem on physicality, connection and attachment. “I’m trying to write to you of an arrival,” she writes, as part of the “This, Seeded in a Glance” section, “whose form / is departure (I can almost bear it now, [.]” Nought is a poem of hesitation, pause and pulse, of patterns, fragments and disconnects, set in a sequence of small studies on how the heart and body connect beyond itself, and to another. This is, in essence, a love poem. “What is a fact: unsettled feeling / disperses listening through my heart,” she writes, as part of “’Of Ground, or Air, or Ought,’” “This is an epithalamium for yous [.]” There is a darkness that permeates this work, but one that emerges into and through the lens of a loving optimism, even as her optimism is occasionally desperately-held. In the same section, she writes:

A combination rubbed into air –
that oneness / twoness the liver recalls
as a longed-for relief from wanting –

veins think grief deadly
but I describe it in the style of a thousand laments –

This is a ballad of despised women
We sing a ballad of despised women


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