Monday, February 08, 2021

Isabel Sobral Campos, How to Make Words of Rubble


Three blind ecology fills # rock. Thee filament hollow as gale tree
bursting with hurricane darts. Split tree is shaped
conch defangs undulating hemlock. Down below head on argillite.

Fragments impair her ability to think. All words for trembling
stumble beneath bedrock, arrayed in the draped forms of leaves

quaking through gusts, swirls.

Thee power enough to rattle thought
cowering blur
boundary cannot speak

I withhold words for storm in her native tongue.

Here a blank.    A roar.    Here an absence. 

What moves the tulip?
If not spit, teeth?
The chorus sings:

                    Word for bone is OLIGARCH (“X’s Speech:”)

As much as I’m enjoying Isabel Sobral Campos’ latest, How to Make Words of Rubble (Takoma Park MD: Blue Figure Press, 2020), I am wishing it had far better binding; I can barely open the book at all without considerable resistance, constantly worried the entire spine will rip apart as I read. How to Make Words of Rubble is a book-length lyric suite on mothers and daughters, weaving in references to Grendel and Grendel’s mother from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (AD 700-1000). “Your raspy chant of spring fallow throat,” she writes, “In that swamp exhales Grendel, spits him out [.]” Campos writes of and around the relationship between mothers and daughters, weaving in Old English and shifts in perspective across an incredible language and lyric of gestures, a gymnastics of sound and speech across the length and breadth of a book-length poem. “Grendel’s mother drags words from my mouth,” she writes, “‘The solar movements / for which our witnessing remains still meagre’ [.]” As she spoke of the collection as part of a recent interview at Touch the Donkey:

The idea of a choral ode is crucial for this book-long poem. In ancient Greek plays, the choral ode functions as a lyric interlude when a collectivity reflects on what is deeply troubling the community. A play’s main philosophical core often resides in these sung moments. The chorus lays out the struggle within the issue at stake. They delineate the complexity of what is happening, which is tragic. They often emphasize that there is no way to exit the conflict unscathed. So, I thought about this idea as I wrote the poem. I experimented with performative elements too, playing with sound, and through diction, evoking a collectivity speaking.

I am fascinated by the ways in which Campos composes projects, stretching her lyric across great distances, whether chapbook-length or book-length, and I am curious to learn more of how her poem-projects are conceived and constructed. How to Make Words of Rubble is a lyric of fragment, accumulation and transformation, composing a blurring and blending of image and character, and monsters, shadows and fear. In the centre of the collection, Campos writes: “You brush the wind from my face with your small hand / Used to bathe and old mother’s body / When Grendel as grief returns / Jutting through brickwork / Layered with scars / I have marked the stink of emotion / Each tree delineates past tremor / The rub of Grendel on winter’s back [.]”

When we look at the sun with shut eyes and see it is just another
day. I respond to all troubling facts by seizing upon more trouble.
Shedding my body’s vines. Small gestures of time turn within

me. Wrapped in slowness my motherhood weighs a child’s golden
weight. I comb her hair, flap her large ears, clutch the breathing slab

in the palms of her hands.

Water tastes like westward, bleeds more sentient

Recognizing the aroma of day, curry of some anonymous neighbor,
memory of summer as leaves trail to the ground

A daughter hesitates between spellings of the same sound:

                              A left (maimed way)
      A warped manner

We move to the swamps lugging Grendel’s mother upon our backs
Her gentrifying corpse
The sun juts open within a cloud that takes on a morbid shape

A daughter’s first fears:

                              Clouds shaped like monsters
      Mother monstrous
      Warlike motherpaws

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