Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Danielle Vogel, A Library of Light


When we are. When we are there, we lay together and cover ourselves with our voices. When we are ten, we are also twenty-one. We speak of breathing, but this is a thing we cannot do. When we are seven, we are also eighteen. When we are eighteen, we begin our bodies. But we are unmappable, unhinged. A resynchronization of codes, the crystalline frequencies of stars, seeds, vowels, lying dormant within you. we are the oldest dialect. A sound the voice cannot make but makes.

The latest from American “cross-genre writer and interdisciplinary artist” Danielle Vogel, currently an associate professor of English at Wesleyan University, is A Library of Light (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2024), a collection that follows Between Grammars (Noemi Press, 2015), Edges & Fray (Wesleyan University Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] and The Way A Line Hallucinates its Own Linearity (Pasadena CA: Red Hen Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]. As the press release offers: “When poet Danielle Vogel began writing meditations on the syntax of earthen and astral light, she had no idea that her mother’s tragic death would eclipse the writing of that book, turning her attention to grief’s syntax and quiet fields of cellular light in the form of memory. Written in elegant, crystalline prose poems, A Library of Light is a memoir that begins and ends in an incantatory space, one in which light speaks.” Composed across three extended sections of prose poem accumulations—“Light,” “of Light” and “Light”—as well as the “Postscript—Syntax: a bioluminescence,” Vogel examines the shifting of self and of selves, light and of light, and the simultaneity of all of the above through the complexities of grief. This is, as she offers, a book of light. “This field is the first inscription.” she writes, early on in the collection. “A crackling pulse that set me going. I think words like amniotic, birth, origin, beginning.”

A Library of Light exists as both examination and archive of memory, loss, dislocation, connection and interconnection; of light, working through a translation of how light acts, and reacts. “Sometimes, when asked what I’m working on,” she writes, as part of the second section, “I tell people I’m writing a translation of light. Light, like the memory of a color, of a sound that we can’t quite sense, but is there, nonetheless. Inherited light. cellular light. Interstellar. Memories that have already happened to someone or somewhere else.” Whereas Ottawa-area poet Robert Hogg worked his lyric as a sequence of extended stretches that utilized a particular lightness of tone and touch in his Of Light (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1978), Vogel utilizes that same element of light but one that acknowledges its lightness, as well as its weight (or mass), the gravity of each section shifting like sand, until certain might sit lighter than air, and others, almost too heavy to bear. As she writes:

Light lets the grid of a thing respire. Each intersection becomes an or in relation. Imagine the skin of you, all its points of convergence, either through sense or sound, being met at once. The grid begins to glow.

We move in every direction even standing still. We are let by light. It culls something against us. The grid is refracting. Light oracles us. Languages us. Reflexes relation. I become beside myself and something else while stationary.





As language contracts, I experience my form. Its skin, sensors and bones, its joins and synapses. Language is erotic, sensory. Atmospheric and physical. The living bridge between the two.



I like how Vogel holds commas to separate her sections, furthering the suggestion of accumulation and ongoingness to the sequence of prose pieces. One step, and then another, progressing throughout the length and breadth of the collection. The pieces, poems, in A Library of Light are deeply thoughtful, lyrically compact and meditative, working her light through the dark, a call-and-response between the two, each one threading the other’s needle. Vogel holds what otherwise can’t easily be held. There is such an ongoingness to grief, the grief described here, described here in terms complicated and even contradictory; the grief over the loss of her mother, a figure that hadn’t an easy presence, and the years of distance they’d had between them. As Vogel writes: “Grief has a long passage. For months I referred to my mother’s death in the present tense. My mother dies. Was what I said and wrote. What was this slippage? When I found out, I paced the floor until my knees left me. And then I crawled toward the bathroom, picked up an old toothbrush and proceeded to clean the room with it. I began under the claw foot tub. Stretched out, on my belly, my cheek pressed to the floor, I reached for the furthest corner.”


No comments: