A slowing 6: Distillation (toward justice)

There is another world, but it is inside this one. These words serve as a gateway to numerous poetic slowings. Through these words, attributed to Paul Éluard, we move into Suzanne Buffam’s collection of poems The Irrationalist, in which she writes “There is no way to know how many beans are in the jar without removing them one by one” (11).  This image of precision is also one of care, attentive to this world and slowing into it.

And this attention yields wisdom.  In the “Little Commentaries” we find Buffam’s remarkable distillation on Antigone:

On Antigone

Law spoke
And the land bit its lip.
Why spit in the wind?
Love too is a law.

                                             (Buffam 56)

The poet conjures Antigone, and moves us slower into Antigone’s world; that is, our world, drawing it up like those beans to be counted, and tenderly. Poems become distillations with language excised, rendering the words like sculptures with the clay aggressively carved out. Jean Valentine writes:

You can’t get beauty. (Still,
in its longing it flies to you.)

                                                (Valentine 16)

Thinking about the worlds we inhabit, the ways in which we are always at a remove from the very work we are in, poets leave space for that world to enter the poem. In her 2010 book Break the Glass, Valentine too moves through Éluard’s words, giving them as an epigraph to her poem “The World inside This One.” 

There is another world
but it is inside this one

And when we slow to imagine this world, it is not James and the Giant Peach, but the intimate sensation of everything we might attend to better  “The love which brings the right answer is an exercise of justice and realism and really looking,” Murdoch advises (89). And this is the difficulty.  “Love too is a law,” wrote Buffam. Jean Valentine dwells in an intimate world:

The valley

The valley
edge by edge
bare field by field
I walked through it to you

To slow down and read a poem that demands the attentive mind’s creating it extends beyond intimacy --  to an exercise of justice.

rain by rain
cold by cold
root absence
and the purposeful cold

Eye opened
but what is slow

                                    (Valentine 32)

To slow down and not only open the eye but consider its slowness – this will take us towards really looking.  This is the love that might become an experience of justice. Again, Weil’s reminder: “It is an act of cowardice to seek from (or wish to give) the people we love any consolation other than what which works of art give us” (65).  It is a fierce hard work.  "Purposeful."



Buffam, Suzanne. The Irrationalist. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2010.
Murdoch, Iris. The Sovereignty of Good. 1970. New York: Routledge, 2001. |
Weil, Simone. Gravity and Grace. 1947. trans. Emma Crawford and Marion von der Ruhr. New York: Routledge, 2002. 
Valentine, Jean. Break The Glass. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2010.