Onjana Yawnghwe’s Fragments, Desire

Reviews have been rare lately. I simply won’t review books I don’t think worth reviewing. Doesn’t mean I have to gush over them but if I can’t find much to rave about amid the critique then I won’t bother. Not enough time to expend. With all the focus on those who have MFAs and those who have won awards, more than enough good poets get missed. The unassuming and brilliant Yawnghwe is likely one, indifferent to self-promotion and working in the liminal field of nursing, not teaching in the university where one’s peers often provide the required bumphing. Regardless, as I have repeated many a time, art doesn’t care. And these love poems, steeped in the deep work of Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, transcend any clique, addressing themselves only to the necessity of expressing a difficult desire.

All worthwhile poets are vast readers. And poetry that emerges from a plunging into a text over time can be a phenomenal dual excursion into both illuminating the initial book’s matter and in transforming it through the channels of one’s personal symbologies and rhythms. As the author states in her Notes, twelve years after she was first struck by Barthes, she began this homage to Barthes’ deliciously and tortuously entangled forays into the complexities of often unrequited adoration, fusing his categories and style with her own “subjective experiences and affective vocabulary.” I did wonder why most of his translations of words are used as titles (15. Coeur/Heart) while others aren’t (2. Absence), though deduced this is likely because the French word is equivalent, but this slip in pattern didn’t interrupt this reader’s appreciation for a woman’s re-interpretation of Barthes’ lexicon of love. Yawnghwe chooses not to use the italicized markers of interpolation that Barthes’ does, thus making his intertextuality overt, but instead attends more to boiling the ache down into a lyric, a gist, an essential nub of longing, echoing Barthes, she says, as Barthes reverberated Goethe.

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The sequence needs to be entered from start to finish to fully appreciate the song of impossible and yet achieved passion, the poems set against the author’s brother’s random watercolours of mysterious faces and objects behind a cover haunting with Odilon Redon’s singular red boat painting. Kudos to Oolichan Books for keeping the design a simple one. It seems these days that we must be brave to express what is viewed as sentimentality, those feelings of overpowering joy and torment that, from lesser pens is ghastly dreck, but from a craft such as this, the same words shine and sing.

18.

Comprendre/Understand

I reach out for your form in the night.

In dreams I catch brief glimpses of you,

like the sudden brightening of sky.

I don’t know which

room you are in.

Being so close to you dazzles.

The darkest place is the one that is least hidden.

Words: the problem of love.

Love: a problem of language.

Everyone knows that.

 

 

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