Friday, June 22, 2018
ROSEATE, POINTS OF GOLD by LAYNIE BROWNE
KYLAN RICE Reviews
Roseate, Points of Gold by Laynie Browne
Bodies waken to each other in a cross-light that shines through, each to each, each a wake, iridescence of quivering lipid lenses. One of us lies within the other, eye-to-eye refracting, “suspended like translucent bodies whose movements reveal luminescence.” One-on-one as if between, there is a curtain, then a hand, darkly against glass, touch or grace. Finding, in reality, there is no glass at all, nor lens, for “lenses fall away from the rushing of crinolines,” from the fabrics and flukes of the body, for “the body is a curtain,” cleaving and recombining in a draft of air, in globes of air rising from our lungs underwater, or, as if underwater, there floats “one body within another, as the moment of separation dissolves”—our own clear eyes having “foretold this day within which / there is no separation between this water and another.” So this quiet rupture. Quiet apotheosis of you through me, and vice versa.
But the surreal, sunken and brocaded corporeality of Laynie Browne’s Roseate, Points of Gold, does not happen in a vacuum. As I have tried to suggest, it occurs in and through other bodies—here, the mother’s body. Browne’s book unfolds, at least in part, as a gestational experiment, tracking the development of a you within a me. But more than that, as she sets “out in search of a question” by writing in series, each poem a stem-cell compounding, Browne reveals the question, the doubled, refracted interior that one becomes when bearing another’s body: “Now clearly she walks horizontally in both directions at once, recognizing the dimensionless quality of being (as the winter light), yet proceeding with an absolute form.”
Browne’s poems register the realization of interiority by virtue of the slow articulation of another interior (a child’s, “dressed in cartilage and bone”) forming inside the one that preexists. In writing these, it is as if “she walks across / a landscape of shells / whose splintered edges / draw the eye” observing
once known only
The rose and opal on the inside of the subject of these poems would not be known if not broken, just as the maternal subject in Roseate, Points of Gold would not come to the realization of an inner world that is in fact an outer if not for a similar, cryptic breaking that occurs in the opening lines of the book:
I have broken the black paper band
which once held these movements together
…breaking of forgotten notions
how a night can spread
a luxuriant paper fan
This fan continues to unfold in the poem that follows, “reveal[ing] its pleats” as the “Accordion nature of thought...Precipitated by a number of cells dividing,” the subdivisions of a blastocyst. Here, Browne correlates the development of the fetal body with the parallel emergence of a new kind of ruptured thinking, a thinking through the self, which she fields across the extent of the book, exploring the effects of a nested interiority, optical and concave, rendering a close-up of textures and ornate detail.
The indeterminate oceanic space that Browne’s poems inhabit, strewing the undulant surface like floral wreaths, is evocative of H.D.’s Sea Garden (1916). In the final stanza of “Sea Rose,” perhaps the most well-known poem in H.D.’s collection, fragrance hardens into a leaf: “Can the spice-rose / drip such acrid fragrance / hardened in a leaf?” Similarly, Browne observes how “Form follows fragrance—a skin which expands to match movement, pressing through marbled light, breaking in strands, following arcs and concavities, exploring the invisible dimension of matter.” Here, nothing invisible stays that way for long; everything comes to light. And yet, objects and persons formed fully are not permitted to remain that way. True, “form within matches form without,” but in this world of “Descending light” and “Iridescence,” where a plurality of interiors are interpenetrated by exteriors and vice versa, I am “No longer surprised to witness loss of form.” Browne struggles, as I speculate many mothers do, with the concurrent, warping deformations, both to body and identity, that attend a nine-month’s forming.
However, a loss of form does not mean formlessness—it just requires instead a change of perception, a lateral valence. To this end, Browne wonders, “If departure from form indicates a collapse in the landscape which once supplied locations for meeting, where is that hemisphere beyond the senses?” Again the “invisible dimension of matter” slips down across Browne’s gaze like a gelatinous cap, “returning body beyond form.” It did so similarly for H.D., whose own “thoughts of tendriled ether” arrived during a difficult, stormy pregnancy, which brought her and her child to the Scilly Isles, off Cornwall, where she recuperated under the care of a close friend. As Albert Gelpi describes, it was on these islands that H.D. felt “moved into moments of consciousness in which feelings of separateness gave way to a sense of organic wholeness....” The personally traumatic “collapse” she experienced while pregnant “gave way to coherence and alienation to participation in a cosmic scheme”—sensations the poet herself described as a “jelly-fish consciousness..., a set of super-feelings” like a “closed sea-plant, jelly-fish or anemone” that “extend out and about us” like “long, floating tentacles.” As H.D. discovered, the sensory seat of these super-feelings, described in Notes on Thought & Vision, composed during her pregnancy, was the head as much as the “love-region of the body,” where they folded, tripled, and fanned out like a fetus.
Precipitated by a body within a body, Browne explores a similar jelly-fish consciousness in Roseate, Points of Gold. Staged in cycles and series, the dissolution of the self and its form is discovered, in fact, to be the content of “becom[ing] itself each instant,” like a “sepal” or “sea-tulip.” The lesson extends beyond the reach of motherhood: in fact, until re-reading the collection, I wasn’t fully aware of the gestational narrative threading the whole. What remained, instead, was an insight into a self-disruption through writing, a loosening permitting internal perambulations, as though the “indivisible center” contained within the “hollow” body had come unhinged behind the breastplate, that “first true bone to be born…, surrounding the turreted trees through which she travels.” In this inversion, the body’s armor becomes a fortress turned inside-out, containing the outer world, just as “the mind is set around the body like a bone clasp which must be opened before intention becomes identical with form.” In other, less elegant words, Browne reverses what is typically contained with what contains: mind enshrouds body, turrets surround forest, child surrounds mother. Of course, as ever, demarcation remains porous, “edges disintegrate and extend to the other side,” which dissolves any hierarchy between container and contained, cathexis and catharsis, body and soul.
Thus, the mother is sent abroad, though burdened by “a basket of thought,”
In every posture
Indeed, it is as if “sitting, the body changes, in this illusion of stillness.” It may have been the intention of the subject of the book to seek “the opposite of setting out, to be oneself a catalyst,” but by the end of Roseate, Points of Gold it is reckoned that one is always to be found “Steps from the known / to encompass another form.” Driven by “movement within the body which emanates from another source,” Browne leads us through stillness, through “a labyrinth spread as the fingers of the newborn.” Mystery unspools into mystery: the strange thought of an unknowable growth-within is superseded by the impossible destiny of the being who eventually emerges; “Body unhinges matter. From creation sprung possibility. Gold clasps upon their insteps.” Favoring the continuous serial form, this is the audacity of Browne’s work, here in this book as well as elsewhere: to demonstrate the possibilities that unfurl always, even in the simplest gesture, or most daily task. The possible futures we are led into, deeper into a labyrinth that is a clearing where we shall lose ourselves in love, rarely realizing we have been guided there by a “guide whose hands are small and exacting,” a guide whose “head fits into the palm of her hand.”
 Albert Gelpi, “The Thistle and the Serpent in H.D., Notes on Thought & Vision (San Francisco: City Lights, 1982), 11.
Kylan Rice has an MFA from Colorado State University, and he is working on his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book reviews have been published by Colorado Review, West Branch, Carolina Quarterly and the Emily Dickinson Society Bulletin. Some of his poems can be found at Kenyon Review, The Seattle Review, and elsewhere.
Posted by EILEEN at 7:36 AM