Clarities – Blandine Longre A review
One of my favourite throw away lines that gains little social impact and yet means everything to me is that it is a magnificent time in history to be a woman. Perhaps not the very best time (I hope that is still to come) but the best the world has been able to offer thus far. Not only is woman experiencing several generations of the establishment of her political agency, but there is an exciting movement in the world of philosophy and literature that is waking up to woman – woman as agent, as land and soul dweller, as engaged with root and earth and air and sea as any other born-upon-the-earth creature.
This new emergence is, primarily, woman face of a new recognition. She is no longer an other against which an inexhaustible ego can kick launch an exhausted potency. She is her own potency. Her own subject. Woman is interesting, and not just for how she is different, but for who she is uncharted. Who she is in the unexpressed realm of an inadequate language, an insufferable meagre tolerance, a thought structure bent on her own annihilation rooted firmly in her own mind. Yes women are the ‘not-man’ but worse than that they have been the ‘not-woman’ as well. The (wo)man, in response, shadow dwelling, nocturnal gate keeper to the keys of her own soul. No one as been as bored by her own depths as woman. No one has been less of a friend to herself. Woman hatred has started and ended in the mind of each woman.
I have said we live in a time when this potent force is allowing itself to be revealed. Woman is interested in her depths, in who she is outside of who she was. Through the genius of women such as Helene Cixous and Brasha Ettinger, we peer through this new crack in time to see a paralleled universe – a crack that at its formation, allowed for the spill of a liquid, so intense and so previously un-experienced that the very course of human endeavour has been re-channelled and the flow of humanity through its own neural pathways have been unutterably altered. We will look back on this moment in the centuries to come and recognise a time when life began to expand; it becomes less muted, less channelled, less contained and less confined.
What, in the face of daunting, conflicting realities gives me this optimism?
It is literature. The words written by women in the last century are new. In the burst-dam, fresh-rained-flood of work is the stand alone female voice. The voice that holds its own against its male counterpart, but that heralds a new frontier, that a man can only hope to emulate, never forge. Voices such as Clarice Lispector, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton.
And now, Blandine Longre.
In Clarities we see one of these voices, speaking to the fluid richness of a previously unexplored liquid centre. Clarities gives one the experience of the timelessness of existence. There is no pinning life down, pinning me down. I am invited to be read by Longre. She sees me and she expresses my own fleeting crucial moments in her exploration of my engaging with life. Rather than expose, dictate, alleviate, Longre reveals. She uncovers those moments that are the universe on the point of the pin; she turns them on me, and lets me feel the pierce of their enormity. I have an experience of borderless-ness. I can’t tell where she starts and I begin. There is no pre amble. No introduction. She siren-sits and when I get there, I discover a shared humanity in her words that is as intimate as it is universal.
On the latent ledge of truthfulness
any fabulated trust may falter
(a prescience astray)
Secrecy’s residue scribbled on a
flimsy parchment of vows
As such, life does remain faulted,
unlegible and scattered dark – its waverings intact
A natural monster in the making
tributary to unsmotherable doubting
flesh tethered to it,
blood half-denied its audacious due
sur-faces now undone as coarsely as they were
and stable precariousness morphing into wet eyeballs
astride a parched outcrop of veracity
Leaving the mind ajar
to the restricted interval
of its own quiescent falsity –
fastened and eternally bound to
No tragedy goes unconsumed.
I can see the nod to Donne here in the cleverness of “half – donned” revealed after our coarse undone surfaces. But beyond the beauty of Longres’ poetical references are the calls to the cry of what it is to be human. The moments of “stable precariousness”, “unsmotherable doubting”, “quiescent falsity”, “waverings intact” and “commonplace disaster” are signposts to a deeper in-me, and unnerving recognition of my own transient, edgeless, non spatial existence. I’m reminded after this unveiling that “no tragedy goes unconsumed” and I am left by Longre with the remnants of myself, shifting sands through the fingertips of my psyche. There is a gut wrenching depth to her uncompromising eye. A viciousness to her mirror holding.
Reaching out for best-forgotten
memories from a shallow though painstakingly dug well
(or perhaps a cave buried in my deepest me)
the heart giving
in (once more) to a dreaded
urge: stone-cold hands as nimble as lusty
as feelers yet
scratching against gravel walls
the meagre remains
of absentees – sorry catch
nothing solid nothing meaty or at least
corpses not even fossilised just
sucked in bits of soulless
bones under fingertips
fragments of gristly muscles parched gnawed flesh
between obedient lips half chewed
cartilage crumbled blown out brain
matter displayed over the mineral edge
so spongily desperate to my starving
– leftovers from my last
(‘ Remains snatching’)
To be honest, the liquid real presented to me here makes me want to self medicate. Her raw, yet strangely ephemeral caress warms and chills me together. What are my un-obliterated destructive memories but a carnivorous masturbatory feast of my own tortured flesh? Who am I when I repeat my dead and battered thought patterns but a ghoulish nightmare, both gun-holder and brain-feeder. No one knows the bitter taste of gnarled twisted memory flesh like a woman bent on her own self annihilation. No one understands the self turned on self with blood soaked hunger on its fangs like Longre. This feasting on the “best forgotten” memories, kept deep in my own cave, or my “painstakingly dug well” have a whispered knowing nodded at me by Longre, and I am again, exposed via my own light-soaked-wide-eye.
Longre seems infinitely aware of the swirling fluidity of each human, separate and together with all that exists. The perpetual swim against the tide of annihilation, useless and exhausting, and yet imbued with the necessary meaning that leads to a knowing that is not like a grasp but more like a smoky awareness of my own existence, rests behind all these beautiful poems, like a rain of water stars. Despite the introduction to my darker self, there is hope. There is a body. There is a tangendental version of real. Longre lets me feel my self with my fingertips. She never preaches at me, but lets me feel my own seeping fluid in amongst the tangled conglomerate of my own version of self hood.
Assuage the scorching gush or memorised
voices faces fingers
and itching rivulet
between my yet firmly clasped legs
thick drops or
tears reddish and sticky onto the sleek
blackened tiles of my flaking
imbued with a blasted nothingness hovering over this
blemished though forever thirsty minefield: my body.
A cry to the other, and a cry to the self. A desire to feel without the memorised “voices faces fingers” – a hope that my body is not soap and it will not wear out, will not dissolve in the ocean of my experience. What is the touch of another but a permanent stain? A blemish? A tattoo? The beautiful sensuality exhibited in this poem, the aching female detail – a woman’s body expresses its agency through fluid – the borderless-ness of the touch that stains and the touch that may obliterate all other stains. A cry to the other to erase, cover, forgive, make beautiful. A cry to the other to feed the thirsty body that weeps its gratitude in so many different ways.
It must be acknowledged that Blandine Longre is a French national writing in English. Perhaps this is why she can appear both concrete and mist together. Perhaps this is why her poetry comes up out of us, rather than dictates a world back to us. There is something both masterful and fresh in the way she approaches the dictates of the language, as if combining the two cultural traditions (one in her blood and one in her pen) can give us access to that special conversation, alluded to in the opening paragraphs of this review, that has been absent for so long. Longre acknowledges her influences in the first few pages of Claritires – Plath is there, Sexton is there, and Donne is there, smiling at her ladder climb, her deeper breath and her stronger swim.
Clarities for me came alive when I read it aloud. My first dip was in the fine company of aesthetics. I got my superficial pleasure enjoying this book in a funky poet-friendly bar along side a good red wine. My second dip was in the hustle and bustle of life; I carried Calrities with me for a week, and lifted it out to read on trains, in ques for coffee, lunch breaks from accounting. When I sat to write, I read aloud. This was when the work drenched me. The work almost seems to suit the voice better than the page, as if the stultifying confines of the tangible cage a hidden excess reclaimed through speech. Word plays tumble and caused a rich softening of my voice. Just as Longre speaks to the hidden in my mind, so my body responded to the call of her oceans with my own drenched sweet tongue. Water, fluid, erosion, decay, tears and the endless drip drip drip of these speech splattered pages came to life as I answered her invitation and let myself open up to the rich beauty of depths revealed.
Clarities is a work of great intelligence by a remarkably talented and courageous writer. It is an appeal. A call to arms of sorts. A revelry of a hidden voice, a gliding tongue over a rough but beautiful page.
You can purchase Clarities here.