EILEEN TABIOS Engages
ARDOR: poems of life by Janine Canan
(Pilgrims Publishing, Varanasi, India, 2012)
Janine Canan's ARDOR: poems of life reminds me that, ultimately, poetry is not words. To read the poems in ARDOR is not to end up focusing on the words so much as what's traveling in-between the words: skeins of light, rapture, desire and other stuff one can't articulate. There's an energy within the book that, in its best moments, even hearken musica universalis (I felt such a moment at the end of Section 1, "Meetings with God").
To have the ability to generate that effect in a reader testifies to ARDOR's great accomplishment, especially because it is religious (from "Dictionary" is a line I find absolutely divine: "every word is holy"). I think it's difficult to write religious poems that move the non-practitioner. Laura Amazzone, one of the back cover blurbers of the book and author of Goddess Durga & Sared Female Power, describes the poems in ARDOR as "profound offerings of fierce Mother wisdom." I am not a devotee, nor even particularly knowledgeable, of the Mother goddess tradition, including Hinduism/Shaktism (which I mention as the book is published in India and the author has written books on goddesses). But my ignorance was not a hindrance in understanding why another blurber, Barbara Brooker, author of The Viagra Diaries, says of the poems: "They powerfully show that women are the sun, flowers, moon and muse."
Yes, the poems attempt something also very difficult: manifest the interconnections of all things. From such a lofty goal, many poor poems have been written. These in ARDOR are not among them. Witness--and do chant to yourself!--this one example:
Radioactive (A Work in Progress)
Jornada del Muerto
San Francisco Bay
Three Mile Island
The feminization of everything
To life’s vicissitudes, the poet does not respond with hatred. Instead, she responds with compassion. Here's a poem, which I also appreciate as an example of how the poet so seamlessly weaves together references from different moments in time and history (see the dedication at end of the poem). It's a poem that hearkens indigenous culture's notion of that time collapse such that past, present and future are one:
Horrible acts of ignorance happen all the time.
Even as the bullet enters my heart too,
may I stand still and utter no harmful word.
May I be strong, invincible, honest and true—
understanding he is only an ignorant boy
who was told he was King—not vindictive,
laying my anger tenderly, with great love
into the casket I set on fire and burn to a cinder.
Even as his bullet enters my heart, too.
To Gabrielle Giffords
in memory of Benazir Bhutto
However, because of everything I've noted so far in the above, it's jarring to come across a poem like "Imposters" that scorns other ways that poets might create:
There’s a world of “poetry” here
I scorn, and after subtracting
sour grapes, scorn even more.
What makes these so-called poems?
Not poets! Mechanics toying
with parts, vampires sucking blood
from words instead of shedding it,
strangling language since they have
nothing to say or praise.
A poem like "Imposters" (just like other statements during the contempo poetry wars) makes the mistake of criticizing a general creative approach, forgetting that there are many ways to create and all ways of creation create bad as well as good art (hence the importance, and fairness, of looking at specific examples). Look at a specific poem and critique it but don't make the mistake of telling an artist how to create, telling a poet how or what to write. I won't get into this BIG issue here, but I'll note it as a jarring moment that threatens to undermine the overall integrity of the book. I (but perhaps not other readers) will choose for now to have faith in this poet and in this book (in part because of the lesson from the last poem ending this article) by continuing to write about the positive forces within... I continue:
I don't wish to inadvertently diminish ARDOR by giving the impression these poems relate mostly to the Mother. I should just say that the poems are open to all of life, and it's Canan's prowess that she can draw from everything to manifest how Poetry Can Be About Anything. Here's a lovely example:
I’m ecstatic—have written four poems listening to Bach, and now will do the dishes. Then shower and go over to Helen’s to hear her tape on self-love and the levels of love. At five I’ll do my shopping at the Co-op, buy two new tires and get my car washed, then come home and get ready—uh oh, the phone is ringing and it’s Carol asking about the party and I say, Come over at ten, we’ll have a drink, then go on over to Steve’s. She says, That’s perfect, and I say, I’m writing a poem and if I hurry and hang up I can get you in the poem too. I’m beginning to realize that everything really does belong in the poem and this poem could go on forever.
There is also a power in these poems that have nothing to do with what are, in other poems, referenced as moments of suffering and abuse. The power in these poems come through because the poet who looks unflinchingly at these dark moments comes out of the experience considering herself "Blessed":
All complaints aside,
I cannot believe how blessed
I have been in this life.
First, I was given a human body.
You might say, doesn’t that mean
an awful lot of suffering,
but I say, Would you really
rather be a cow or
This is to say, the poet of and/or persona in ARDOR did not succumb to forces that would diminish her. She only became strengthened by her sufferings; she does open the poem "A Gift" with the line "Suffering arrives with a gift." It's a blessing that the author had the skill to make the texts support the life force underlying them. Let me end and you begin with this purrrrrr-fect poem:
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, a collaboration with j/j hastain, is reviewed by Joey Madia at New Mystics Review; Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field 6; and Zvi A. Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene. She also just released a new poetry collection, 5 Shades of Gray (i.e. press, Florida, 2012).