Wanda O’Connor on Robin Blaser

The City

wept by a pool
midway,     the lover’s conversation
claimed itself     like the
old head of the wandering Jew
painted on leather,     the head
follows the voice,     a fluid
that is a body

the mirror is to be read     the
water moved faster than the eye
the radio ambles in between the
lines of it is a sound, a part
of a letter

the forest is
somehow a wall,      no,      she has
knelt down and the folds
of her gown are around her     the
rugs in the sun are silent the
colour itself sounds     these
filaments of pale light, filling
what is it lifts from the
floor,     is now waist high
at arm’s
length,     tangled beyond
one fountain ?

In reading Robin Blaser, in being invited “waist high” into the entanglement of his profuse geography of interpreted space—here, The City—it is necessary to first adhere his writing to a series of correspondences, as he writes that “things do not connect; they correspond.” Blaser writes in his incredible essay The Fire of wanting to compose serial poetry that is representative of “continuous song.” His collection of poems, The Holy Forest, is just such a windfall of orchestration. And throughout his work, familiar leitmotifs ascribe themselves to, and through, conduits that encourage unrest and incite further conversations in and out of what he refers to as “flowing boundary.” Marginalities are sought, and often times recovered, between the body and the other.

I can’t help but feel a sense of grandeur inside this poem, one that would begin as triumphantly as Puccini’s Tosca, slipping past the prologue and straight into the libretto of our lives,

wept by a pool

And then to “a part / of a letter”—a mythology unshut, a sound “in between” that has yet to be folded into or fully explored,

the forest is
somehow a wall,

The landscape of this poem is both esoteric and a witness to the real, responding to the impact of imposed place and to the uncertainty of other. Blaser’s forest is open but also peripheral, lending shape to a framework and fluidity of body. ‘Body’ assumes various forms, from city to forest to an animate colour displacing an object animated by another source of radiance (“rugs in the sun are silent”). We inhabit illusions in these spaces and at once seek to uncover points of light in the new growth “filling” the heroic forest that enters boldly into the city. These points act as thresholds, allowing self and other to move beyond what Blaser calls “hell,” beyond the facade where “speech is fixed.”

One could hardly expect this forest wall to be visible. It is a circumambient body, displacing older choreographies that have become complacent. The orchestration of the new body is founded in the stuff of ashes, as he writes in “Image-Nation 5 (erasure,” “the body / burns… / and re opens / into something / without lineaments.” These incendiary senses align with the need for one to open up to the outside (as Blaser writes of the “closed self” being a “fundamental characteristic of the damned”),

The mirror is to be read    the
water moved faster than the eye
the radio ambles

Jack Spicer, writing in a coterie with Blaser and Robert Duncan during the San Francisco Renaissance, attributed the mirror to a transformative act, “one does not make a mirror to resemble a person, one brings a person to the mirror.” Blaser’s mirror arrives on the scene, displays its reflective transcriptions, but what of the fluidity of body—its flexibility is also problematic; the eye cannot keep up with its current, rising beyond the record of the mirror’s limitations. But the radio penetrates this restraint and opens to numinosity, offering an outside perspective and freeing the spectator from the hold of the unspectacular. Blaser shares in Spicer’s perspective of essential outside influence: Spicer writes of an outside ‘voice’ that could channel through the radio, opening one up for the plumbing of interior space “the thing from the outside (the martian): don’t impose your will and you can handle anything (many things) coming at you.” This outside influence, here as “the head [that] follows the voice,” Blaser writes in his essay The Practice of Outside, can become “an intricate argument for a transcendence—both a distance and a verticality.” Once recovered, interior movement can occur and the body becomes aware of its ability to relate to zones unruled by circumstance, “she has / knelt down” in the forest of self-satisfaction, allowing the “folds” to begin the process of reconciling light and entanglement. The music of the body is tangled in the future recovery of the world—but there is hope at least in the ability of what clothes us to touch the earth and contribute to further “filaments of pale light, filling.” Blaser wants us to move with him, past the midway, as water moves below the surface, without which, he suggests, the “entire human body is devoured.”

WANDA O’CONNOR is a graduate of Concordia’s Creative Writing and Classics programs, and most recently completed an MA in Literature with a considerable focus on Robin Blaser’s stunning carmen perpetuum. She has published in a number of journals and released three chapbooks, If the skin is CRISP: eat it, So you’re thinking of reproducing and Romance and the Tidal Boar. A new long poem chapbook, damascene road passaggio, is forthcoming. Wanda is currently at work on a long poem manuscript.