Julie Joosten shines a Light Light

Julie Joosten. Light Light. (BookThug 2013).

I have recently been re-reading Marjorie Perloff’s fascinating essay, ‘Pound/Stevens: whose era?’ Its conclusion – about how Pound is the Modern of the two, not least in his sense of a poem being able ‘to assimilate all kinds of material and to incorporate many voices,’ as well as having the ‘structural properties [of] collage, fragmentation, parataxis’ – points to what she saw (in 1981) as a growing ‘constructionist’ tradition from the 1960s on. To turn then, somewhat belatedly, to Julie Joosten’s Light Light is to discover another, brilliantly original, addition to that tradition.

Light Light presents itself as many things, a complex collage construction, filled with fragments (of other texts, of information, of sentence structure even), laid out in a carefully parataxical manner. Although Light Light is made up of a number of titled sections, some one page long, some lengthy sequences, it is very much the book-as-poem, & invites readings that attempt to hold it all in mind as one moves through its rhizomatic undergrowth. This text amasses many discourses & voices, some contemporary, some historical, including, almost surreptitiously, that of ‘the poet,’ in a deliberately, if interrupted, lyric mode, & one that refuses the late-Romanticism of Stevens (as presented by Perloff).

So Light Light invites us in through many doorways, each a threshold to other ways of seeing/saying. Indeed, this text insists upon perception as meditation, & that perception will be validated scientifically, both in the past & in the now. Take ‘If light stabilizing / If to receive a bee’: wherein botany as a colonialist appropriation, as recorded by one ‘Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717),’ ‘who voyaged solely for science,’ yet who also ‘relied on Amerindian and African slaves to help her find choice specimens and to protect her in her travels.’ That she learned things from her slaves is recounted, but also that much of what she learned ‘was never noted in medical encyclopedias or herbalist manuals.’ And in the midst of this collection of discourse & information (lost & found), there is this: ‘thought (also / called love) becomes / an indirect light stabilizing / perception in a self / ceasing to be.’ A lyric interjection dependent upon the language of the botanist now incorporated in this poem. Science as poetic vision (which seems to be an important aspect of the ecopoetics I take Joosten to have entered into).

The first pronoun in the first poem, ‘Wind,’ is ‘we’ – that scientific assurance of agreement about the observed; yet soon, slyly insinuated, a ‘I’ slips in, in love (with the world of light? & with an individual ‘you’). It’s almost not there, until midway through the book, & the long ‘Once Sun,’ when it suddenly speaks of an event between the two, how ‘once on the stairs, you walked down ahead of me, my soul, I swear, walked tours with you.’ ‘I blushed to realize that this can happen,’ she says, arriving at a moment of insight, ‘And this is love, I thought, leaving the body and returning to it, life thriving like that.’ This passage stands there, its prose stark & lyric, & then Light Light returns to its other concerns, how, for example, ‘We draft maps, particularly of lesser known and contested areas, and conduct astronomical observations and measurements // We read about the politics’ or how ‘Chlorophyll confers the faculty of feeding on light. Hair-breadths of light dangle deliciously, open resilient margins of attention.’ Here the ‘scientific’ impresses through perceptions of ‘a precipitous accumulation of the present’ which contains the past as recorded & will, the poem seems to suggest construct the future. All of which becomes ever more important as the various fragments of ecological understanding accumulate, yet the little inserted jabs of that ‘I’ remind us that ‘life thriving like that’ grounds the whole.

Light Light invites repeated readings as it struggles with how the personal impinges on the larger concerns of our dissipating world. A finely tuned work, & also a deeply engaging one, it clearly deserved to be a Governor General’s Award finalist & clearly deserved to be read as widely as possible.

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