Monday, December 05, 2005

Rosmarie Waldrop: Reluctant Gravities

Rosmarie Waldrop’s Reluctant Gravities (New Directions, 1999) is a lovely, modest, and insinuating book. In her earlier volumes The Reproduction of Profiles and Lawn of Excluded Middle, Waldrop deployed a rhetorical “you,” a second person wholly different from the storm-trooper “you” of the workshop poem, whose only significance is to mildly defamiliarize the same old “I.” (When the workshop poet writes “you,” we all know that she or he’s winking at us: “Don’t worry, folks, it’s really all about me!”) Reluctant Gravities takes the silent addressees of Reproduction & Lawn & gives them (as the blurb puts it) “a voice and a response.” These 24 prose poems are each 4-paragraph dialogues between a “he” and a “she,” reuminating over issues of memory, gender, language, poetry, the passage of time. My own reading imagines them as an aging couple talking in bed (much reference here to “sheets”) long after lights out, thinking together over two long, separate & shared adventures in writing and representation.

The poem’s voices are wry but literate, shot thru with allusion – not as educational showing-off, but in the easy manner of someone deeply familiar & comfortable with the most memorable forms into which human thought has been cast. I read this book in a headlong rush, enchanted with its calm, beautiful, but sometimes disturbing and desperate music. She: “You walk as through a formal garden, an inner music cadencing your steps, and all paths intersect. Whereas I shlepp on swollen feet, arms scratched by perhaps imagined brambles, through a wilderness where roads disappear, where even riverbeds wander. And the point vanishes.” He: “You think you are taking a clean sheet of paper, and it’s already covered with signs, illegible, as by a child’s hand.” She: “I always want to hear the sirens, albeit tied to the mast, but I fear becoming the sailor with ears plugged, just plugging away at the oar.”
What if all our thinking, she says, were a search through underbrush and mud. Trying to decipher the forest without artificial light. The rustlings of language give us the illusion of a deeper dimension. But our equations don’t net the unknown quantity. We’re only as good as our words.

And what can writing not be compared to? she asks. Having a ball? A child growing from your long-tailed sperm? A boatload of foreigners climbing the Statue of Liberty, waving flags? The price of deciphering seems to be transparency, also called fainting. The wings of the dragonfly are beautiful, but the body is not itself. I want the missing meat, bone, metabolisms and ratios of heat and hunger. At the price of windows muddied with fingerprints.

1 comment:

Michael Peverett said...

It's worth adding that you can find a substantial extract of Reluctant Gravities online

Waldrop has a new collection of essays just out, "Dissonance (if you are interested)" - I'm reviewing it at the moment.