Language let loose: in Cloud vs. Cloud, Ethan Paquin gives us the poet as a fleeting point. His universe is one of words—not a social universe, not the natural world. We are in the quickness of thought, of seeing at the level of language. The author is talking to himself, bending language to a penetrating look at the surface, a surface that bounces him back. All is surface, including his own experience: “What is known, nothing . . . nothing can be articulated.”
In this universe of language, we are given glints of loss. “The unknowable length of time has left a marriage, one / so strip-mined and soured you lose all hope in forgiveness / of self?” The cogent assessments of emotional life lie blank looking on; the loss is not a privileged primary as personal life is equal to all else—another impenetrable surface. There is a sense in this writing of a fishing line: throw it out, let it unspool high into the air, see what is caught. We are in language, language as qualities, sound, connection . . . generating drifts of words that make the reader stop. The words are there for themselves, surface pointing at surface, each word its own location. Words are the poet’s horizon, in “Endearment”:
automatic nope freshet static narrative
is all about the words is all about words
the love of words the scent of words
the build of words the prime of words . . .
Language breeding out of language, both internal to itself and a part of being in a lineage, in “Exeunt”: “Ashberian cocci narrative strands” and on to “post-O'Hara / . . . cloud versus cloud sad's an overlap / . . . cloud’s / mirage no promise,” bringing the poet no sense of well-being:
I remember words coming
. . . and now after years of
plying them, I feel no better or better off than
I was before . . .
Paquin’s language doesn’t rise above language to point anywhere—an emotion, insight, joy, sorrow—but we do fully feel loss, the scraping undertow of being alive in this medium of a word-universe . . . anomic, impenetrable yearning. Language unmoored from the material universe is executed by grammar unhinged, the image sundered. In “Spring Ex Machinae,” the thaw that comes at the beginning of spring is broken into pieces; it is not a natural process: “silk streaming flowes and airs and snows of whites . . .” The substance of the world is not there in and for itself, but arrogated by being in the throes of how language can split into pieces, leaving our clichés and expectations of the familiar with nowhere to fall—effective in getting across that a language-constructed universe is subject to the power of language to shred our perception.
The physical book itself and typesetting excitingly fits the writing. As these forty-nine poems are a unit, language experimentation keeps it afloat. Where can language take us . . . . Language as surface. As the horizon. Language is its own thing and can feed off itself. Yet there is a cleaver here; an aperture, a blindness seeing. In “First Poem,” the word net of awareness is thrown vaporously wide along an unwalkable escarpment, the bones of language broken—the edge of our power.