Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ariana Reines, _Coeur de Lion_

HOW I GOT a hold of this is a story in itself. Intrigued by Reines's The Cow (see LLL for January 2011) and noticing that she had a second book out, I decided to find a copy. Checking my usual online outlets, I discovered not only that were there no new copies available, even though the book had been published as recently as 2007, but also that the cheapest available used copies were going for eighty or ninety dollars apiece. Surprising, no? Well, thanks to the powers that be for inter-library loan, and thanks especially to Mills College Library, whose copy found its way to me all the way here in Nebraska. I hope they put it in their rare book room when they got it back.

Fence Books, I gather, will be putting out a new edition in September, so soon Reinesians will not have to go the lengths I did to read Coeur de Lion.

And it was well worth the trouble. Very different from The Cow, which was a kind of high-wire act with flaming batons, bristling with startling appropriations, difficult, jarring, staring the reader in the eye with "hold on tight or get out now" look. Coeur de Lion is almost... confessional. Not to mention compulsively readable, hard to put down. Is it OK to say that? I think of Tina Celona's poem "Sangria," in Octopus # 11:

Confessional poetry is not very popular right now. Transparency is also out of favor, so that if you write in a style that is invisible people will hate you. Nonetheless some people are able to get away with it, if they approach it in a way that is not naïve and that contributes something new. For instance, Lydia Davis. I think it is possible to get away with such a thing, but I would not recommend it for everyone.

Coeur de Lion, which seems to have been written during and about a fairly short timeframe, orbits around a relationship that seems to have foundered, with a certain amount of attention devoted to Reines's studies, writing, and memories. I would describe it as both confessional and transparent. For instance:

Did I tell you
That I finally
Read your novel
All the way through?
When I reread
The first few pages
I thought
I might have been
Too hasty
When I told you
That day in the
Valley that
It was terrible but
Then I read on
And it is pretty
Bad, not in a
Good way. Sometimes
There is an excellent
Sentence and
My heart swells
With hope -- now
That I sort of hate
Myself for having
Fallen for you.

So, is the book, to pick up Tina Celona's criteria, not-naïve? Is it something new? The final lines of the excerpt I've quoted could almost come from a high school girl's journal, so Reines is apparently willing at least to sound naïve. The prevailing mood is not exactly new, either, as it seems to be that of Dickinson's Master Letters, a profoundly intelligent woman in love with an attractive but not nearly as intelligent man, swinging from abjection and unworthiness to bemusement and indignation in vertiginous swoops.

Not exactly not-naïve, not exactly new, but if we ask "does it work?", I would have to say yes, it does. It has the gravitational pull of a black hole. It won't let you go.

I remember heading off to college nearly forty years ago and discovering in the dorm room of nearly every woman with whom I became acquainted a copy of Ariel or The Bell Jar or both. At that time, both books were about nine years old. I like imagining that girls currently negotiating the reefs of third and fourth grade will as high schoolers come across Coeur de Lion (and, for good measure, Maximum Gaga) and bring much-read copies to their dorm rooms and then later write the dissertations that will make the Mills College copy of the Mal-O-Mar edition worth even more than it is now.

1 comment:

Spacebeer said...

As a former inter-library loan employee I strongly approve of using the power of the library to bring rare french poetry to the wilds of Nebraska!