Fig is the latest from Caroline Bergvall, one of the poets who keep me blissfully reaching beyond my comfort zones. Bergvall is a London based text and sound poet of French-Norwegian nationalities. Her text pieces and collaborations have been produced internationally. I first stumbled upon her work on the nthposition website, and then heard her read at Bluestockings thanks to Rachel Levitsky and belladonna. She blew me away that night, and again this year when I heard her read at the Poetry Project. Stellar.
Bergvall’s work is about the inscription of language on the body and in that sense touches the pulse of ecriture feminine.It blurs the boundaries of physical, sexual, and translative work, deriving as so much of this work does, from a bilingual French/English aesthetic. But what I admire about Bergvall’s work is its absolute originality, its structural articulations. In this sense, Bergvall offers an exciting direction for feminist poetics, moving as it does out of the speculative and reflective into the active and shapely, incorporating a performative element that complicates our understanding of “meta-text”. There is more to say here about this, but I’m still thinking, still trying to work this out, and so would like to look at Bergvall in conjunction with the poets included in Spahr and Rankine’s American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, not to mention texts such as Spahr’s Fuck-You-Aloaha-I-Love-You, and follow up on this…
The second installment of Goan Atom, Fig is a transcript of Bergvall’s conceptual and constraint-based poetic practice. I wanted to make an analogy here about poetry and visual art being on opposite ends of the spectrum, but considering the work of Bergvall such a statement is impossible. While she is in many ways a conceptual artist, her art is text: poetry. The work is multivalent: repetition and variation are often overlaid with graphic, physically performative, or site specific aspects. The twelve pieces with prefatory notes, record her concisely crafted performances, each exploring language and materiality. They are not as constraint based as others (Christian Bok and Darren Wershler Henry come to mind) but they are as three-dimensional. Often I feel I’m encountering sculpture when I engage with these texts.
One of my favourite pieces is more pets, which you can hear if you click here. I give you the first section:
a more-dog dog
The poem goes on to complicate itself with chains of words
a more-turtle cat
a more-turtle-more-cat dog
a more-dog-more-cat dog
And so on. (Fig 86-87)
In “The Oulipo Factor”, American critic Marjorie Perloff notes the following about Bergvall’s work:
…it is derived from post-punk music and sound poetry as well as from literary movements like Oulipo. Her sonic, verbal, and rhetorical devices are extremely sophisticated, encompassing Duchampian pun, phonemic bilingual (French-English) transfer, paragram, ideogram, allusion, and found text. In their complex assemblages, these function to explore such areas as our conceptual approaches to female (and feminine) representation as well as the power structures within which these sexualities must function. The doll, the bride, the daughter, the mesh: these participate in any number of games at once sexual and verbal.
I love the description of “sonic” “rhetorical devices” and find the pieces “more pets” for instance, actually unlock whole patterns of language that I hadn’t considered. The list of pets and the complications in the rest of the poem, provide not only a fresh, and heightened interest in the surface/sound of the words, but in the associations (particularly when the language begins to bleed from English to French).
Gong is the piece I first heard Bergvall perform for belladonna. You can hear it here thanks to the Kelly House sound files (amazing resource). This poem is comprised of deliciously slippery phrases: “the girl laughing ejaculates in my hand” “Cixous climbs the ladder of her name”. The phrases swirl, grounding us here and there, touching screen, sound, books, commenting on everything from Arundhati Roy to her (the author’s) niece’s feet.
You can also hear Bergvall read ambient fish from goan atom 1 online at EPC Buffalo where you will find a host of information about her. Download the chapbook, eclat from ubuweb.
Hey Vancouver, Bergvall will be reading at the Kootenay School of Writing on November 19th at 8pm.