Thursday, January 22, 2009
Expansion and Survival in Zero Boundaries by Irene Koronas
article by Michael T. Steffen
In poetry language is different. First encounters with poems enlighten us as to the spirit of songs, lyrics, which we sing from our youngest age, and which are often held together more by the measures and scale of music than by their sense.
Ring around the rosies
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes we all fall down.
Of course, of course, we all grow up to learn that this nursery rime contains a mnemonic codicil about the beginning of the French Revolution, yet we have accepted the rimes for many many years before figuring out a significance for the deeply engrained melodic riddle.
When I first read Emily Dickinson in the 10th grade I was arrested to reassess my whole thinking about language and sense.
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.
What could she not stop doing when death came for her? Death stops for us, or Death stops us? What did she mean? It was really that strange to me when I first had to read it for a class assignment, and until our teacher explained what personification was
I remained at an utter loss as to what this amazing woman was saying.
By my Junior year in college I had been reading and thinking about poetry long enough no more to flinch at its odd arrangements of language, its ironies and paradoxes. Theodore Roethke’s line made perfect sense to me without needing to think it through when I first read,
In a dark time the eye begins to see.
I had been in enough difficult relationships to hear a young Irish rock star sing, I can’t live with or without you, and know exactly what he meant. (That year in a Latin class we happened to read an ode by Horace whose well-balanced, syntactically sophisticated invention of the paradox might be translated, “I can bear living neither with nor without you.” With Horace it was more a point of wit and biting humor rather than a crescendo of intensity pitching into a cry of agony.)
For as long as poets have been using language relentlessly to express our deepest feelings, all the boundary-setters of language, logicians, grammarians and moralists, have been defied. I don’t believe that poetry is a language of zero boundaries, or else our shoulder wouldn’t twinge at sentimental verse and doggerel. Yet the title of Irene Koronas’ most recent chapbook, Zero Boundaries, intends to reflect (refract) something key to the nature of poetic language and key to this poet’s work and sensibility, as well as to the world she inhabits and is writing about.
At the onset in the book we find that the poet does not so much stand away from things to comment on them, but ventures herself into things “beyond my own/knowing,” and as we read through this first beautiful poem, “family trees,” the jammed lining and absence of punctuation as it were hurtle us into image upon associative image:
…my father forgiving without
grudge or elastic bracelets bound from one
country to another alive with possibility his
semi-precious stones strung together on thin
gold chain floating on top of mother’s soup…
The neo-symbolist French poet Guillame Apollinaire opened eyes by first publishing his entire celebrated book Alcools without punctuation. In the wake of Freud and Jung with our greater curiosity about the freely associative processes of our psyches and dreams, artists (cubism, surrealism) looked for ways to deconstruct the formal boundaries of art. E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams (in things, not ideas) and W. S. Merwin who leaves many of his poems unpunctuated, come to mind as well-known American poets who have sent us swimming as Koronas does into language which affects us as stream, as experience rather than as order, understanding or sense.
We go with Koronas on the imaginative excursions that are her poems. We find the odd things, out of the blue, among cypress trees,
the same naked rubber doll hanging
from an olive branch. no one seems to know why and
no one takes it down (“rubber doll”).
We go with her as a little girl to the boundary of awareness for sleep, when
the bed begins to move like
a small boat wobbles close to the shore. with eyes closed
red, orange, and yellow swirls start their cosmic dance
The “zero” of boundary creeps into prominence as the poet hints at her mind’s otherness, an autonomous creative and processing entity that mesmerizes her as she records what begins to filter through her. In other poems, “lazy word that,” “lines” and “when”, the poet’s intense glare at the unfurling of language itself grows to a minimalist tone I want to say, Gertrude Stein in a kettle’s whistle:
…it takes at least three words to
denote explanation that that implies. The intellectual,
emotional or tactile that that that expresses maybe necessary
that lazy word
that is especially relevant…
The word that in its different functions, comparative (intellectual), conjunctive (emotional) and demonstrative (tactile), is multiplied and juggled with an alacrity (almost madness) that lets us know how carefully Koronas works over the drafts of her poems to make them so responsive to us. In a sense, no matter how thoroughly the poet immerses herself into her linguistic fields, the objects of the poems stubbornly retain their “otherness,” her ideas of that, not the this of me the zero boundary of all that is not me. (That last phrase comes from Mark Strand.)
While you are in Koronas’ book, reading, swimming in it, she is hard to locate, to keep track of. I want to say like Virginia Wolf Koronas enjoys her invisibility. Habits of mind define distinct personalities. Yet when a writer’s habit becomes a quest to avoid habit and to remain vigilant to perception, the stress of self gets deferred to things in their strangeness. This discipline for novelty bears traces of Transcendentalism: god of mind pervasive in nature, the thinking ego led out of the filial or social identity to gain the spherical awareness of all things it greets and comes to know.
…when I look I
hear what bounces back from my
own perspective the point of
knowing returns when one becomes
both circumference and expansion…
The poem, “vanishing point,” is as definitive to the concept “zero boundaries” as to the book itself. When geographical, social, political and personal boundaries melt away, we confront by necessity if not by compulsion the world in its otherness. Traditional senses we ground ourselves by, history, language, family, home, me, must be ventured:
clutter all matter the vanishing point
does not exist
In the simple turn of the screw of the poet’s lining, Koronas has brought us to the breathtaking obliteration of ourselves onto the survival of that moment of lost or zero boundaries. It is a curious and powerful affirmation set forth in simple poetics and unaffected language, typifying the modest accomplishment of these poems.
Zero Boundaries by Irene Koronas is available for $7.00 from Cervana Barva Press/ P.O. Box 440357/ W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222
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