This book (these books) asks a lot of its (their) readers, but it gives so much more in return. Chus Pato (always here ‘Translated from the Galician / into Canadian English / in Montreal and Kelowna / by Erin Moure’) calls Secession a ‘biopoetics’; Moure calls Insecession ‘An echolation-homage and biopoetics.’ And thus, on the very first pages of Secession/Insecession, both writers suggest just how multiplex & involving the prose fragments that follow will be. These writers engage writing itself, memory, each other, & most definitely their readers in a subtle & powerful investigation of the body in time, the body connected to mind in composition, & the body of/in writing.
What is ‘biopoetics’? Only each complete example of such may suggest a version of an answer to this question. Certainly, biopoetics includes an aspect of memoir, of remembering one’s own past, the life lived so far. And one of the best things about Secession/Insecession is the way both texts display important moments in the life (& especially the writing life) of its authors. Both Pato & Moure understand that memory is treacherous. And definitely not linear: the lie of autobiography. Biopoetics insists on fragmentation & redundancies, the made (up). So both ‘books’ are collections of moments — of memory, of thinking about remembering & remembering thinking, of that action (of thinking) now, in this (moment of) writing. And this writing of these moments is visceral, fully embodied.
Both these texts are so rich, it would be impossible to truly describe all that is going on in them in a review (there will be articles galore I have no doubt). For one thing, although they are in their ways highly theoretical, with doffs of the hat to many of the most important theorists of the past century, such as Agamben, Barthes (lovingly (mis)translated in the epigraph by Moure), Benjamin, named, &, in a more allusive manner throughout, so many feminist writers, both Secession & Insecession are very warm texts, proffering a greater sense of the person behind the writing than a lot of their previous works have done (clearly I can say this more certainly of Moure than I can of Pato, whose other works I only know in Moure’s translations of a few). The memories they both find & write are only partial, for that’s how memory works, yet they offer such a felt sense of being there, in that place at that moment, that they seem to offer a glimpse of each writer’s ‘real’ life. On the other hand, as they state in a number of places in this book, no ‘I’ can be trusted to represent anything other than a momentary presence in a text, yet one after another ‘I’ speaks to us about her past, her life, her writing, in these fragments (& I havent even mentioned the ‘we’ they also parade).
Both writers are poets, & although Secession/Insecession is made up of prose fragments, it is definitely poetry, with all of poetry’s demands on its readers, most especially, & for the reader delightfully, that it be reread. Most likely in a different way. For one thing, you can return to any section on its own. Or you can read the whole book but in a different way. The text has been set in a fascinating manner. If you read it straight through you would read a page of Moure, then a page of Pato:this would as a first reading prove somewhat confusing I think. On the other hand, Moure has set her sections (of which she says, ‘Each text in Canadian English responds to a Pato text, with one added Chinook wind’) before the Pato text to which it corresponds, thus setting up one more baffle against lyric response for the reader. If you read the book as laid out, each Moure text before the Pato text, something strange & wonderful happens: Moure is both responding to Pato’s fragments & evincing her own (Canadian, Albertan, prairie?) takes on those subjects we are about to read in Pato’s writing. When we then read Pato’s subtly politicized memory plays, in her Galician context, we also reread the Moure pieces read before but written after, in newly politicized & psychologized ways. The whole book becomes a double helix behaving like a Möbius Strip.
Secession/Insecession is so full of engaging writing, it seems unfair to quote even a small part of it, yet it would also be unfair not to offer a taste of both these writers’ extraordinary poetic thinking (I am reminded of Jan Zwicky’s praise of what she called ‘lyric vision’ in her Lyric Philosophy: Pato & Moure have that vision in spades). Although both poets write a lot about their personal lives if in a most allusive & often elusive manner, they also, as writers thinking about writing, have much to say about writing & the written. Moure tells us this:
Poetry, it is said by this me which is not me, is a conversation, or a texture like a shawl and each one of us weaves our own particular corner, or the bit where we gently hold the edge, aware that others are gently pulling as well on the surface of the textile, contributing their own gesture to the whole. And none of us produce the whole, not on our own, not with our friends alone. None of us are this whole nor can any of us speak for this whole that is poetry, we can only bring our hands’ work into the conversation, and raise not just our voice but our ears to it, to listen,
Translation is about this too, this listening. it is a hearing and transferral into the pen of rhythms and an exactitude of meaning . . .
Pato says this, as part of what Moure is responding to in the quotation above:
Writing evokes, evokes the voice that in humans is that of an animal that learned language, various languages, all of them articulated. As for the voice (to read aloud, present a poem), nothing brings it closer to the text; a text is complete in its writing, and writing is an absence, a forgetting. This dismemory (the forgetting of winter, of the bird snare, of angels running when they meet the gaze) of the voice that speaks or reads the poem is what makes writing possible. These are the letters, the rough draft; but precisely for this reason, because this base is where letters emerge, writing is the sole possibility of remembering the voice, the voice that in humans is the voice of an animal that learns an articulated language. In this way, each poem would be a letter in an interminable ABC that calls constantly through the voice, through the lost moment in which someone articulates a voice in speech. Afterward, a silence exists to speak the world, then all speak, then time and history and grammar arrive.
But a taste, as I say. Secession/Insecession is as rich a feast as can be imagined. It’s not just a further introduction to the writing of a major European writer, but a collaborative act of the anti-insular imagination by two of the finest poets writing today. Get it: it will repay you a thousand times in a thousand ways.