The enigmatic torque of Elena Rivera
Summer project—I have a particular knack for starting projects. There is excitement in that new breath, all hope and possibility in the emerging unknown encounter—it is like taking off along a road you had never noticed was right there, in your own neighborhood, and hoping it will lead you to see an entirely new city. Determination, of course, is part of project creation—and an initial sense of duty, as well as the desire to see the project flourish and be completed one day. You start with the belief it will. I am starting with the belief it will. To make that possible, I’ve realized from many prematurely abandoned projects that it is wise not to put too many constraints on the project, not to demand too much of yourself every day.
And so, on this, my first official night of the French “vacances”, entering a summer of completing critical and creative books, I have decided to read more—and that my newest project, my summer reading project, will be to post little mini thoughts about the books and chapbooks that I read in my friend’s houses, at the BNF, on the road. Not reviews—but a note on something that caught my eye or ear. Something of note in the reading of the day.
Today I begin with a little booklet I perused but had not read with attention before tonight. It has been among the pile of books to review that never got reviewed (I do what I can, but am only one me!) The first reading here on the train that is rushing at 300KM/hour towards Paris from Mulhouse, dipping southward towards Belfort then over to Dijon, the sun still bright in the evening sky, was so quick to complete I began again and gave it a second read, and then a third—it is On the Nature of Position and Tone, by Elena Rivera (Field Press: New York and Chicago, 2012).
I have two sets of thoughts on this chapbook: one is on the book itself—folded and bound with string that has been carefully planned to tie so that the interior knot opens the chapbook to the title page for Part II—Already on Different Sides. The chapbook is printed on a slightly off-white paper, just a tinge of the egg cream tone to it, which is comforting to look at. The black and white cover image is a gorgeous, seductive photo (by unknown) of Vanishing Ship (third state), a sculpture by John Roloff. The image seems a mirror or a kind of botanical garden glass greenhouse-ship’s bow emerging from the forest which perhaps contains unbeknownst to us (or even the artist) the first page, the first stanza of Elena’s delicate, mysterious poem—which also seems to be just hinting at the unseen, underground body behind the few visible words “just” emerging from the “fog” she mentions so often in this book-length poem:
In a field of blooming thistle
a sensual response
Give me oblivion
as of emotion
Here, two unpunctuated couplets signaled as such by the use of capitalization and by the rhyme of the second, already evoke-provoke-elicit reactions, but not intellectual ones, instead they are “sensual”. The called-forth response is about feeling and about the attempt to not feel, to forget in the witnessing instant. But forget what? The prickle of thistle, or its bright flash of inviting color? Which do we choose to imagine, to see in our minds, to reach out to? To suckle or get stabbed by? A thistle is a hardy, strong plant, a weed with hidden sweetness, which seems to be groping for release, and here there is the voice of the one (presumably Elena, the poet) seeing the thistle’s moment of blooming as if it is responding—but to what? The poet? A rain that has passed? Summer? Another season? Or some more opaque connection only known to a plant’s roots?
I could sit all the hours of the train ride and keep looking into that field and that combination of oblivion-emotion, but what surges forth is the command “Give me” that reoccurs later in the book as Rivera writes a few pages on: “Give me rapture!” and later still “Give me choices” and near the end “a rattler” says “Give me a twist”. There is a need, as she tells us in: “Chorus: Need more, seek more, want more” and “at the crossroads needing something more to go on” as well as “Went to the wishing circle to wish for the wish that would turn the world//around”. The longing, like all desires, remains unquenchable in this chapbook. Meanwhile, these landscapes delicately sketched with gaps and elliptical lines stretching towards various horizons, is pocked with the possibility of disaster (loss: “Mourning the morning in the evening” or “her fall”; fire: “Which tree will be resistant to fire”; unknown: “it all happened so quickly”; accident/hunting: “Dear deer mowed down”; amnesia and loss: “What am I without my memory/My family”) or with the option of release into some state of wonderment.
As I close the chapbook, I select the last option, returning to her line near the start of Part II: “I have...been shaken by reading the ocean”. That seems like a great way to spend the summer, reading the ocean, watching in wonderment the way the world undulates regardless of what is happening within us, or around us, or to us. I am here “Trying for buoyancy on the surface”.