amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Notes on Sina Queyras' M x T

Sina Queyras – M xT (Coach House Books, 2014)

In M x T, Sina explores grief. Feelings = Memory over Time, a mathematical equation  is offered. I had the pleasure of hearing Sina read from M x T at the Ottawa International Writers Festival this spring. One of the poems she read was “Water, Water Everywhere.”  The poem moves through various scenarios & subjects, sadness & humour. Throughout the book, the abstract & concrete are explored, trying to analyze grief to understand it or at least to have some kind of control over it through the use of math, science & engineering. Throughout the book, abstract mathematical, scientific & engineering documents divide the work: plots of Alternative Mourning, Direct Mourning, Circuit Symbols, Emotional Overload Sensor Circuit, Emotional Field, Ohms Law of Grieving, Emotional Circuit Breaker, Emotional Frame Dimensions, Solenoid. There are also mentions of diagrams & calculations of adverbs etc, a manual for remembering that isn’t a standard manual at all…  In opposition to the abstract is the concrete, showing grief’s effects on the senses.  the letters to Dear One are full of concrete details, colour, texture “Dear One, the long lashes of swirling grey: death was so clean and of the world.” Dear One, I am lost in a familiar tongue I cannot love, I am lost in concrete and iron and brick. I am lost in a shadow world.[p. 53]

“I don’t want a grid. I want arms. I don’t want a theory. I want the poem inside me. I want the poem to unfurl like a thousand monks chanting inside me. I want the poem to skewer me, to catapult me into the clouds. I want to sink into the rhythm of your weeping. … I go to the hollow when I want to empty, I go to theory when I want to sit with someone else’s thinking, I go to myself when I want to see you” [Water, Water Everywhere.]

“The dead are not firewood. They cannot be collected, ordered or made useful to the living.” [The Dead Ones]

Oppositions between what is natural & what is automated, between order & chaos, between the idea of maintaining control & letting loose one’s emotions, between perfection & imperfection abound: paradise & LED or LCD or Thunderbolt Display, neurons & sparks of fire, a cyborgian island. [in the Emotional Circuit Overload section, the letter to Dear One.]

“We want to thumb through nature, we want it beautiful, ordered, containable. We want it to remain and yet we want to enter it like a gallery, cool, smooth, minimal, ordered in leather, elegant at Le Corbusier.” [Of the Hollow]

“We are ragged with imperfection. We bash ourselves against lithe hips. We aim, we fall short. We limp into the amber moments sheepish. We are bent with emotion. We are uneven in our ability to move forward, we say, Beware of the empty boat, but we are often, ourselves, the empty boat. [Of the Hollow]

“Why is pain so much better than nothing? Or the mark of it more recognizable? Why is saying nothing so much better than airing?” [Five Postcards from Jericho]

“my thoughts of you fully indexed, ready to step into.” [Five Postcards from Jericho]


What heartens me about this book is the passion, the feelings of grief unreleased, the personal nature of the grief & the humour: “You can give a girl a cleaver but you can’t make her swing.”  

The other subject running through the book is women, how we are seen, how we’re supposed to react, what does it mean to be a woman.  “She understands the interrogative to be male. Instruction is also male. Certain forms of syntax elude her. If you can’t speak with authority, please remain silent.” A Manual for Remembering.

“I call you from Matthew Marks, from Gagosian, tracing the lines of a huge Richard Serra curve. I have seen so much thinking gleaming, I want to roll it too, make it big, manly, I want to ride it through Manhattan, but mostly I want it solid, a deep root tethering me, an unflappable sense of calm.” Water, Water Everywhere

“How will we be women without using the birth canal? We want to cut off our bottoms, we want to be rigid, unyielding. We lie in the clearing and let the rain come. We lie with our feet touching. We lie with our faces open. We want to be strong. We think of the women.

Anne Cameron has a face carved out of cedar.

Daphne Marlatt with her words a peak of foam.

Helen Potrebenko driving a taxi across the bay.

There is a war canoe made of conceptual poems. It floats with a small town of angry women, a ghost warrior in a grass cape takes up the rear, the canoe floats high on the inside passage and knows no one’s name. [Of the Hollow].

“We want to know how to be women artists in the world. [Of the Hollow].

“We are an economy of women grieving.” [Of the Hollow]

“What is a woman’s art without pain?

What is a woman’s art without painting in blood, writing from the darkest recesses of her vagina.” [Over to You]

Some of these poems, could be responses to other poems, written in the style of earlier poems on grief, especially some of the more formal poems, such as” Like a Jet,” a series of seven sonnets, the mention of Ozymandias, Shelley’s sonnet. Sina mentions Eliot’s the hollow from the Hollow Men & then gives us the poem “Of the Hollow.” Sylvia Plath’s Elegy for Sylvia Plath is written in couplets. another elegy refers to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, another one mentions Virginia Woolf’s the Waves. Elegy Written in a City Cemetery, title adapted from the poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grey & includes lines from 52 other elegies.

“Grief is a century of death, and a century of death before that, and before that, death, I want to drag you into the fold, Death, I want to drag you right into the mall, the earth, which is made of death.” [Water, Water Everywhere]

“You won't find a couplet in the wild, my love; a sestina is a formal garden, a villanelle is the court, a sonnet is an urban love story, an epic is the senate, a prose poem is the city.” Water, Water Everywhere

I am bowled over by the shear accumulation of objects in this book, so many from the natural world but also from the world of art, from domestic life, colours & textures, unique language & juxtapositions, the variety of styles, the playfulness of the text.

This book is chock full of references to art & artists: sculpture, photography, the book is chock full of everything. the speaker struggles to figure out how to deal with her grief. the book is a gracious  & feisty homage to those she has lost. I would recommend this book for mourners. it had great resonance for me. I have to say that I loved this book. there are times for silence & times for expression. M x T contains a necessary balance of silence & shouting, celebration & mourning.


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