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Bharat jiva

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: kari edwards
  • Date Published: September 2009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9819310-0-5
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 116pp
  • Price: $15.00
  • Review by: Catherine Daly

kari edwards’s last book, Bharat jiva, was published posthumously. The book represents a leap in style, control and application of language, and scope of address and content over hir earlier works, disobedience, iduna, and a day in the life of p. For example, whereas obedience continually lists and refines those lists, working from inclusion and exhaustion, Bharat jiva has a huge scope, a generous posing of questions against lists.

kari’s note on the title tells us Bharat is an Asian republic and the second most populous country. Bh?rata is both the Sanskrit name for the Republic of India (etymologically, something to be maintained, as a fire is maintained) and a reference to Agni as the “fire bearer.” The gloss kari provided for jiva is “living spirit”; the jiva is the “alive” portion of a being, that which transmigrates. While edwards spent time dwelling in India, this book is not about the indestructible life force of a country. Bharat jiva is a book of poems in which edwards carries the torch, keeps the home fires burning, and transmigrates.

The book is divided into “preface,” “process,” and “aftermath” (rather than afterword) sections. “preface” is a poetic column of definitions and a call to a certain type of making, which now recalls to us kari’s death from heart failure:

it is time to detonate the heart, it’s time to
call for a sudden and delicious fractal
indifference to the written line. no more fail
safe dams protecting the audience from
exploding . . .

The body of the text is in the section called “process, but this body is broken into pieces separated by blank pages. Within each section, pieces are differentiated by different lineation or justification. While edwards uses the fractal as an image of jaggedness, not chaos or microcosm/macrocosm, earlier works are distinguished by a tension between line break and omitted punctuation, and here the majority of the pieces are displayed as even justified columns, and the central unit is the phrase. The column-and-justification formatting emphasizes the prosaic nature of the poetry: a jagged right margin would emphasize lines and end words and a smaller margin would read more prosaically. Few pieces run more than one page.

When not operating lyrically, the pieces consist of sentence fragments and noun strings piled toward a sentence of meaning, and then spinning away from that meaning: at once like a paragraph in a theme, where each paragraph has a main idea, and also like a style of meditation in which one watches the body’s jumble of perceptions and memories take place. These sentences are generally in the language of meditation: “the eternal and immutable moving onward and upwards,” “do I choose not to chose and choose,” “I am alive in the indescribable, uneditable, ceaseless.”

As “process” continues, the sentences increasingly arrive at the paradoxes of self and existence in Hinduism and Buddhism. Often the first clause acts as a jumping off place, introduction, or title: “trinity has been illuminated” continues, “now, forever, and beyond that which can never be described”; “if beyond the self is the self, is the self beyond… caring” continues, “appearing for the first time beyond anything and fully present in a dying mumbling prayer.”

Many poets who come to poetry from music, including Clark Coolidge, Sheila Murphy, and Peter Ganick, share an interest in using syntax to create sonic effects and less determinate meaning. edwards uses visual effects and grammar to establish not necessarily multiple readings, not fuzzy readings, but indeterminate readings. One poem, according to edwards in Women’s Studies Quarterly, which first published it, is about Gwen Araujo who was murdered about eight years ago. It begins “can I do this spiritual drag,” which recalls to me Eliot’s quotation of the Shakespearean Rag in “The Waste Land.” The song contains the line, “that classical drag.” edwards continues hir poem, equivocally, “collective agony wishful thinking.” How are we to read “collective agony wishful thinking”? Are these two equated, as in “collective agony [is] wishful thinking” even though everything within commas in this long sentence is equated with the phrase “spiritual drag” so that the questions begin:

[can I do]
this spiritual drag
collective agony wishful thinking
fearful peek-a-boo actuality

“remembering distortion, forgetting drudgery necessary to consume anything cement sorrow” where “remembering… forgetting” “cement(s) sorrow, [which is] surrounded by transfer credit surcharge immortal siege ideology”? The question ends with a string of phrases modifying “spiritual drag”:

submissive to appliance bodyisms . . .
derivative of skin, bone, eyes and the rest
opposite aggressive remoteness . . .

edwards’ word piles and words repurposed to serve as different parts of speech are a linguistic sign, in the body of the text, for a gender between, interdeterminate, but also performed.

“aftermath” is centered on the page, double spaced, and lineated, and ends in a very American-seeming “translation” of the ideas “all is samsara” or “all is maya”: “where nothing is true and all is false.” But even this is a message coming from houses which are bodies, words which are pure lies. And so, reading the book straight through, whether or not one struggles with strict sense or enjoys the effect of images piled and twisted, one has the sense that kari edwards has left the house, finally, after having watched and witnessed with exquisite care.

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Review Posted on May 01, 2010

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