It’s October 24, 1981. You’re on route to Studio Gallery Nine, located beneath Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway, just north of Queen Street East at 9 Davies Avenue. You’re travelling this route to attend an event hosted by the Kontakte Writers In Performance series. Japanese Canadian poet and cultural critic, Gerry Shikatani, is on the bill.
What can language open when given space? Poetry invites pause, the pause of music, of introspection, of spreading sensitivity. Maggie Nelson reports, in The Art of Cruelty, that John Cage proposed this “exceedingly difficult” advice: “The most, the best, we can do, we / believe (wanting to give evidence of / love), is to get out of the way, leave / space around whomever or whatever it is” (268). What is exceedingly difficult is necessary and important.
The first thing you might notice about The Malady of Death is the visual components to this book. It is slim, only sixty pages of text, like many volumes of poems. On each page the font size is larger than most large-print editions of books. I measure the opening capitol “Y” beginning “You” at one-half of a centimeter. The page that appears the fullest contains one-hundred and sixteen words. A page appearing one of the sparest contains sixty words. Section breaks appear as multiple paragraph breaks, a multitude of white space, and an occasional asterisk.
There is a sense in which every reading of a text by an individual is a translation, because ink and paper, or pixellated light and darkness, are “read” through a body, an individual apparatus impossible to replicate in terms of its cells and experiences and the ways that experience has affected its neural maps and capacities. This body may not even know its own filters and how they act when it “reads”. Because of this, we can study literature, which is the act of sharing readings and benefitting from other filters: in reading groups, in university classrooms and cafeterias and libraries, and on-line with brilliant teachers, in cafés, in living rooms, on ferries, at bus stops.
One question I am sometimes asked is: given this, is it possible to translate without having a second language? It’s a sly question, for people know very well that Elisa Sampedrín, my nemesis-polynym who has no interior, has done this.