Response to Nicole Brossard

Nicole Brossard at North of Invention. Photo by Aldon Nielsen.

I admitted to write makes no sense. I am interested in consciousness. Thought follows the land of the spine. Caresses and alibis. The body in the center persists. Let’s not touch silence. Catch me in my difference. Un autre paragraph. Le peau hesitante. Le vaste complication de la beauté. We are closed to reality. Skin hesitating between philosophies and the dawn. The universe is on the page one page over. The nudity of reasoning beings. The present is not a book because of the body. Joy that traverses the rose bushes. The blind spot of pleasure. Suggestions heavy-hearted. Immensity. Sentences permeable to death and oblivion. There remained a wound in the middle of the universe — one needed to behold it. Eternity that recommences at the edge of the void. We served each other in order to exist. The poets. Light enters them in spite of themselves. Drop another ice cube in my port, if you would. Été, enfants, electricite. We propose to physically possess poetry. Syllogie. — Lines/phrases from Nicole Brossard’s reading

Nicole Brossard’s reading on January 21, 2011, concluded the two-day North of Invention conference, a gathering of avant garde Canadian poets, each of whom gave a talk and a reading at Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. Brossard’s reading said something about poetry’s magic and power, its sweetness and hopefulness, its profundity and wit and otherness — its aliveness. I always like to find an occasion to present my favorite quotation from Charles Olson: “art is the only twin life has, its only valid metaphysic.” That is why, when hearing Nicole Brossard read, one feels — I felt, and I just watched the PennSound video — restored, revivified, reminded. Reminded by the lexicon of Nicole Brossard’s poetic imagination, a lexicon I would be unlikely to confront in most Anglophone poetry, with its admonition against “abstractions” still a first law in creative writing classes, as if an “abstraction” (“immensity,” “silence,” “consciousness,” “eternity,” “oblivion,” “light”, “reality,” “exist”) is a substitute for the real, rather than an extravagance of the real, owing to the felt extravagance of experience. An abundant, inclusive, affective language that has the power, as Brossard says, to enchant, disgust, and thrill, instills the pleasure one experiences in her poetry. It is, as we used to say, personal and political at the same time, for it is in poetry, Brossard says, that she is most faithful to herself and her relation to reality. So was Rimbaud and Verlaine; so it is in French poetry, French song lyrics, French philosophy. Their utopias always included immensity, oblivion, and existence. These words, in French, possess a quality of longing they seem to lack in English, where, embarrassed, they subside into the margins. Brossard’s poetry gives us back the wholeness of perceptual experience; for her, ideas are not only in “things.”

Anti-patriarchal, feminist, lesbian-utopian, and constitutive of a beautiful, erotic, and revolutionary écriture-feminine, Brossard’s luminous works in both prose and poetry are admired and respected by both English- and French-speaking Canadians. At Kelly Writers House, Brossard read from a new edition of selected works, edited and introduced by Jennifer Moxley, a tantalizing piece about a gathering of poets (whom “light enters in spite of themselves”) in a garden — perhaps a festival or conference occasion. Laughing, punning, quoting lines of poetry, the poets “serve each other in order to exist.” When the speaker says, at the conclusion of this piece, “drop another ice cube in my port, if you would,” the audience (their reflections shimmering in the glass panes of the door behind the podium) shouted and clapped for joy, and so did I. Honoring the conference’s stated interest in the practice of constraints, Brossard read from a book of alphabets, saying that using constraints was like swimming in the ocean, as opposed to the “swimming pool” of her own familiar methods. The poems openly struggled with English alliteration, especially with the owlish-sounding letter “w,” which barely exists in French, transforming the fraught history in Canada of English/French language issues into the playfulness of formal constraints, where we as readers and listeners are invited to “catch [her] in her difference.”

Nicole Brossard’s reading was a moving finale, a great programming decision on the part of the organizers, Sarah Dowling and Charles Bernstein. In his introduction to Brossard’s reading, Bernstein thanked Brossard for the “jouissance she brings to our poetries.” Her lifetime of work is indeed, as Bernstein said, a cause for true celebration.