Subtitled “Four Essays,” Klara du Plessis’s new chapbook Unfurl has a deceptively simple-sounding premise, which she outlines in a short and informal “introduction”: “Un-furl is a negation with a generative definition. The word’s semantic growth is so strong that its prefix denoting absence is satiated, incorporated, and reinvigorated into verdure.” There is no single focus in the collection. Instead, Unfurl explores and celebrates the fluidity of language and “how poems go together, enter into dialogue with one another, rub up against one another, contrast and scratch at one another as they draw on an archive of an individual’s reading practice become writing.” It is less a formal critical analysis of four collections by four different Canadian poets—Erin Moure, Dionne Brand, Lisa Robertson, and Anne Carson—than it is a meditation and a fascination with freeing contemporary poetics from “corseting language,” as Erin Moure puts it.
There are several degrees of separation that one has to navigate in Unfurl, from one’s familiarity with the work of Moure, Brand, Robertson, and Carson, to deciding what kind of relationship one has with the way du Plessis frames these works. Do we trust her, agree with her? In my case, of the four collections that du Plessis focuses on, Anne Carson’s Red Doc> is the only one that I have read so far. Du Plessis’s insights reaffirmed that I need to pick up Brand’s Ars Poetica and introduced me to the work of Moure and Robertson. Unfurl embodies du Plessis’s observation that, “[b]y default, reading any good compilation of poetry is an agreement to follow a curated tour through the eyes of the editor.” Just as a curator’s task is to highlight common threads in the artwork they have selected, so too does du Plessis create an additional dialogue around these four poets through the act of putting them in conversation with one another.
The need to navigate between the role of the critic and the poet, as is the case with du Plessis’s own career, proves to be Unfurl’s greatest strength. Although du Plessis writes that “this collection of essays doesn’t intend to position itself in a conversation of influence,” Unfurl inevitably gave me greater insight into, and a sense of comforting intimacy with, du Plessis’s poetry, mostly notable in a passage from the essay on Carson, in which she writes: “As I open Red Doc> for the first time since 2013, I find handwriting in the margins marking the sprouts of a poem that will soon be released as my debut collection.”
True to its name, Unfurl has an ease to it that welcomes readers who are both familiar with the work of the poets mentioned in its pages as well as those who, like myself, are looking to further engage in a critical discourse about the role of language in poetry. With an informal introduction and no conclusion, Unfurl is literally open-ended, its function somewhere between commentary and autobiography. Du Plessis’s final questions invites the reader to instantly cycle back through the chapbook once again, as if asking them to think critically about the chapbook they are at the end of: “Does the disintegration of the bound book into a choir of loosely cased booklets signal the new? Or is this a process of externalizing, making transparent what usually encompasses the interiority of a book’s pages?”
Margaryta Golovchenko is a poet, reviewer, and author of two chapbooks. Currently completing an MA in art history at York University, she can be found on Twitter @Margaryta505.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.