amongst books

amongst books

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oana Avasilichioaei - Limbinal (Talonbooks, 2015)

Limbinal” is inspired by and engages with the Romanian poems of Paul Celan. What excites me about the work in particular is the vocabulary, invented words, “heightitude,” “enemy” as a verb, and especially its gorgeous imagery. I am a glutton for imagery. I know I’m supposed to give you some kind of description of the book, its structure etc, but I’m just going to ramble on a bit, quoting bits & pieces of startling imagery, turns of phrase.

I’ve loved Oana’s work since I first encountered her translation of Nichita Stӑnescu’s Occupational Sickness (Buschek Books, 2006). Her book, “We, Beasts” (Wolsak and Wynn, 2012), mesmerized me.

In “Borders,” “Fish bend the river into its undulations, spring curves.”

“In thinking of a tender her, contours ripple.” There’s a kind of reversal of typical ways of thinking. “Hybrid as a space of doubt.” …”No word is a virgin. Hybrood. Nationmood.”

I love the questioning that goes on, the feeling that nothing is absolute. Nothing is perfect. All is curiosity and imagination, the antithesis of borders, boundaries. “The child wades into the river, curious for the other side, daring the farther of one shore, the closer of the other.” “We are exalted and broken.” “a leader calmly drinks a morning’s conflict.”

“Partitions” combines lines of the poem in grey and black so that they mingle. I’d love to hear these read aloud, as a kind of chant. “Into a glass in one single gloss silence unfreezes.” The grey and the black exchange places.

“Mouthnotes” contains some resonant sound play and uses footnotes, is very sensual: “we made us wet supine in the pond we tuft / woodswollen mossheavy with gesture / margin the bushy aftermath of” “the barbarians are gathering, glutting the streets, the firewires, cellular signals, anticipating a gluttonous feast”

I’m always going to be on the side of work that questions authority and understands that language is an unwieldly communicator.  “we strew a sentence along a limb’s passage/deceived into believing/we’ve accomplished something”

I have dog eared every page of “Line Drawings”: “Petals of thought blew gusts around us. Small creatures guarded our solitudes.” “Upon arrival we clothed ourselves in the same series of movements.” “we entered into what would become a long, arduous and possibly futile search for the miraculous.” The poet does magical things with the sentence in this section. She manages to make prose poetry that works on the level of the sentence and the phoneme, still focused on sound.  There’s such ferocity in this work. A piling up of existing values toward war and then a destruction of them.

In “Thresholds,” in the poem “Blazed,” “Frozen lake slowly unfastens its glass doves.” Imagery and vocabulary we will also see in the translations of Paul Celan’s poems. There’s an urgency to this work, a clamouring, the quickened rhythm of the heart.

And then we have a series of photographs in “Itinerant Sideline”: blurred lights, fences, barred windows surrounded by walls of rusty perfectly geometrical shaped squares, sky as reflected through glass, each square of sky divided by black borders, buildings distorted through glass, hexagonal shapes. You have to admire the level of commitment to consistency without being pedantic, all sections question rigidity in one way or another, through the content and through form. The photos echo the text, for example in “Ancillary”: “the house’s mirrors constantly bend to collect your shadow…”

In “Borne” we are given poems in combined languages, French, English and Romanian. One language bleeds into another. “Breathing, I come to you, in you. Ton territoire deviant le mien.”

“Ancillary” is subtitled “Paul Celan’s Romanian Poems in Translation.” These poems, prose-poems and fragments offer the reader a compelling estrangement via imagery. The feeling of getting lost. The images of glass birds, frozen lakes, apricot eyes and a blaze recur in the rest of the book. “mourning drunk from a glass or mourning drunk from a palm—and the maddened week falling asleep upon hearing your answer.” “Poem for Mariana’s Shadow.” These are wild, untamed poems, poems of migration, poems of those who are denied entry to a new country.


“Riverine””Overpass”  is from correspondence between Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan with commentary by Oana Avisilichioaei. This section, like the rest of the book, inspires questions, which, in my opinion, is what good art should do. I’d like to know more about the relationship of Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, the Jewish-German playwright and dear friend of Paul Celan’s.

the rest of the subsections use  the vocabulary of water: river, floods, city’s infrastructure, conduits, reservoirs, the decay of a city with lines that cross the boundary of the page, individual lines, sentences, prose paragraphs that skirt the edges of the page. crowd the bottom or the top, leaving plenty of space, a white sky. a fable of a girl by the river in the rain, “Green eddies of rot infiltrating between her toes, slithering as if penned in a fold.”

The form of the book is working well with its content. short staccato phrases.  strong verbs, such as overflowing, gushing, lots of sound play, “strident screams, heels murmuring on pavement.” an engagement with nature and the city.  “The river carrying winter on its back.” we are told in the notes that “Current” and “Overflow” come from “transcriptions between the O and the Part exceeded from Jean Daive’s conversant walk with Paul Celan. […] “The syntax was lifted, then spilled over.”

The book ends with a series of statements, explanations perhaps. “Because the music arrived in ochres, greens and yellows//Because I wanted the music to articulate me”

I want to type in every line, every sentence, but I resist…just buy the book.


Limbinal is full of wonder, of questions, of beautiful language and imagery. It’s more than I can possibly know or write about. Which is the best kind of book there is.

No comments: