Monday, August 12, 2013

poet Yael Tomashov -- I have my reasons

Yael Tomashov's poem "Apocatastasis" impresses me as a very fine poem. I have reasons for being impressed (after the poem). 


"Only, I don't believe in Apocalypses. I believe in Apocatastases. Apo-cata-stasis. What it means: 
1) Restoration, re-establishment, renovation. 2) Return to a previous condition.
3) (Astronomy) Return to the same apparent position, completion of a period of revolution"
Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean / Signal To Noise

I am remembering a record of a children's story. The swan freezes or is forgotten
or dies of loneliness. I am seven and the pain wounds me
each time it's played.

Summer is ending right now. A fan turns slowly,
propelling the air that's cooling outside the window.
The sound of a deep, distant thunder gargles above the city that darkened early,
I live one hour backward.
My rain forests are piling up on the table.
As long as I shall read them
I will not die.
The swan freezes or dies of loneliness
and I breathe shallow breaths, growing to a medium size
and kick the transparent door of actuality. Behind it is the blooming garden of emotions;
my little hell.
Maybe there was no swan. But something in that story got left behind
and Death sat with Autumn on the spinning vinyl disc
like two mice, silently.

Right now, summer is reaching its end. The fan keeps stubbornly
turning back the pages.
There, in the white condensed space before the first word,
an error.

Copyright © 2011, Yael Tomashov
Translated from Hebrew by Shir Freibach

This poem delivers a fully realized artistic experience.

When I read this poem, I read myself into lines that present an immediate context, a spiritual location to which I effortlessly go. Narrative is, of course, something muted in good poems, but it's still required in order that some sense is generated, that some direction is maintained. I'm talking about comprehensibility. In a poem, there should be both intellectual and emotional comprehension, in my opinion. Too many poems rely strictly on the affective -- the reader has no idea what's going on, really, so he must default, in desperation, to emotional aspects only for his contact with that poem. Lines that one has to read as if on LSD or peyote are not lines taking place in the condition of a fully realized art. Too many poems wait entirely too long to let the reader know where he is and what's happening. Tomashov's poem generously escorts the reader into its precincts of meaning. That way, the affective elements register with a deeper human resonance.

Imagination haunts and breathes into this poem. If there's not at least an implicit component of the fantastic -- of the not ordinary -- a poem will read like plaster walls cracking and dusting in a house abandoned for good spiritual reasons.  "Apocatastasis" without delay casts us into an image of the extraordinary -- a swan! Only those without a soul would be immune to this early creature of entrancement. The experience created in this poem is suffused with symbolism, which is poetry's own magic:

distant thunder gargles

rain forests are piling up on the table

blooming garden of emotions

Death sat with Autumn on the spinning vinyl disc
like two mice, silently.

A poem written without instances of subtle or eruptive amazement is a thing moving relentlessly away from a reader's intrinsic capacity for wonder. A poem has, I think, a responsibility to itself and to readers to create an atmosphere. Craft and sensibility should extrude from language a heightened experience of moments -- with the lines becoming, as in this poem, conveyors of the peculiar behind, beneath, or beyond usual experience.

Related to imagination is otherness. In this poem, the poet realizes her present distance from the otherness of her younger self. And the difference between perceived and actual memory:

Maybe there was no swan. But something in that story got left behind"

Time has a way of becoming a kind of geography. We can find ourselves transplanted into a conditioned region that sometimes aches for a lost temporal land. But there are traces that last. Out of nowhere, so to speak, a whiff of music -- remembered or heard -- can, like Proust's aromas, cascade us into a sense of otherness -- into even a metaphysical sense of consciousness always already being other to itself.

What to do with poems that fail to arrive anywhere? Not to worry here. The adventure of living with this poem, like looking into a fable, reaches a destination. "Apocatastasis" carries us along to an actual denouement. And what a denouement! Tomashov's written epiphany is a startling one. It's not clearly seen ahead of time, yet the preceding substances hint at and prepare us for it. Maybe that's why it continues to reverberate long after reading: this poem and its conclusion open us up to unsuspected resources of being in ourselves. Why even on some distant evening while sipping wine and thinking of nothing, the ending of this poem will return to deliver anew that beautiful, timeless shock of art. 

Poems that inspire one, again and again, to written appraisal and appreciation are poems echoing the qualities (my reasons) of works in an aesthetic tradition. I know I've come upon a natural talent when I desire exposure to more of that artist's work.

Unknown Sea

The book in which this poem appears is in Hebrew. I was provided with an English translation of the featured poem.

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