Imagine a world in which identity is a question you ask of yourself. The world of Jen Currin’s most recent collection is such an inquisition. It is not in a state of “being,” as was the twentieth-century world, but of reading and of being read. The Inquisition Yours is two worlds, splitting, always, into more. It is the world ‘you’ asks of ‘itself’ and the world in which it answers by assigning readings to take the place of texts, objects, selves and moments. It is a world full of delight and brilliant imagery. It feels painted. It is artful. In Currin’s “The Lake,” for instance, the I that “leaves its mouth like smoke” is transformed, after four brief lines, into “A donkey converses with an angel.” It is mathematics—luckily, at its best. The computations have special rules, played out by special characters. The characters are you (not to be confused with a reader), I (not to be confused with a writer), and we (not to be confused with independent human actors in a so-called real narrative). There are lots of other characters, too, many of them played by the spiritual presences that past writers referred to as objects (oranges, Saint Beauty, salt…). Many of these characters are even single lines of text that read as if they find it rather enjoyable to be all jostled together into objects called poems, in a room called a poetry book, although they might be just as comfortable in foot-high text covering art gallery walls.
To read these texts is a lot like walking between them. There is a lot of space here: single-line stanzas, lists, masks on racks, and a kind of anti-Platonic sense of a world being made out of immaterial ideas and responses to objects, set side by side. World and anti-word are independent here, yet all working to the same end: they pass the writer on like a hot potato. It’s the job of the writer to catch herself before these objectified post-human responses drop her with a splat. Such are the trials of a physical body in the net of a non-physical one carrying the name of Jen Currin. It’s a game of catch, and a deadly serious one. She plays the game well. She often wins. She often leaves it before the end, too, as in “Half-naked or Partially Clothed,” which ends with a hyphen (“the sun had gone dark and crimson // and it wasn’t for laughter, / the only victim/of my enormous pity-”). More than anything, it is a world of laughter, a world of physical stasis and a cognitive circus, in which “You might move. You might / move someone” (“Dance”), in which “My comfort lies in these stories / so burn them” (“Reading”), and in which “we” are “trivial, difficult, unnecessary, and pranksterish” (“Another Vulnerability”), whose self-awareness of the prison of poetry and the deadening world of textuality leads us to conclude that “Lacking, we turn to laughter”. This world is the world. It is powered by love. It almost catches it, as in “The Sexual” which notes, “No one talks about the erotica of the absurd—but what sort of room spills wine like this?” This sort.
Harold Rhenisch‘s eleventh book of poems is The Spoken World (Hagios Press). He lives in Vernon, BC, where he blogs okanaganokanogan.com.