Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Knee Deep in Light Press


I've been reading Swensen's Such Rich Hour.
And have been thinking about the polarized purposes of the book(s) of hours. On the one hand, they undermine the hierarchy of the church because believers can conduct religious rituals in their own homes. In this way, these books re-appropriate authority to the household, they allow for individuals to interpret and reshape rites to fit each person’s needs. To develop familial customs, to create meaningful interaction beyond the confines of the pew. On the other hand, these books serve as an extension of the church: the church infiltrates and permeates the boundaries outside of its gates, it becomes infused in daily rituals. Then, there is no room in the house or occasion to which the church does not gain access. To me, this is terrifying. The false relinquishing of control in order to influence and guide all aspects of one’s life. You think you are appropriating but in fact, you are being appropriated. And the question I have is, what happens to the women? Always, how are the women happening? I don’t think this question is ever anachronistic, out of place, inappropriate.

In the Roald Dahl book, Witches, witches have the power to take children and stick them in paintings. The child keeps on living though, stuck inside the painting, free to move around the landscape of the image but never to escape. Often these paintings sit in the parents’ house, and while the parents are busy dealing with the police, looking for robbers or kidnappers, they ignore their children, captured within the bounds of a wooden or metal frame that hangs on their living room wall. The child glides across the canvas, his or her shouting and pounding on the glass completely muted. The child will grow old here. This terrified me when I was younger, I was afraid I might disappear in a strange way and my parents wouldn’t know how to look for me.

In Such Rich Hour, Swensen has cracked this glass and wispy sighs, blistering secrets, honest observations kept silent for centuries are suddenly rippling toward the reader. She has opened the trapdoor, unlatched the memory box, dug up the “grave just large enough for the face” (19) and performed CPR. I think the term “remediate” is an interesting one, because it means the action of remedying, and remedying as we know, offers treatment or a means of counteracting or eliminating something. Is Swensen fixing something? Counteracting? What about the women? To me, this text voices women, it moves them. To animate. Who were these women? We can’t see them, but we could guess that in these paintings, women are relinquished to the roles of nuns, mothers, wives, pious virgins, or (virginal) saints. In this collection of poems, I see the women shifting around, seeping outwards to the reader, stretching their vocal cords into 3Dness, into histories no one knew they had. Melusine says, “what // are you doing in my sky?,” Mary says, “What are you doing in my house / What am I doing in my house? /What am I doing? and what am I incapable of doing?,” and “every woman given thus thus said / Pardon me.” For what? For not fearing to ask questions. For claiming. These poems re-evaluate all space as female-dominated, the space to ask questions and deserve consideration. And as Marie says, for wanting “the extravagant promise of an imminent earth”

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