Online Edition: Summer 2001

Pen Chants or nth or 12 spirit-like impermanences

Lissa Wolsak

Roof Books ($9.95)

by Jen Hofer



. . . fuck puny fiction, pornocracy,

and pandit classes,

I emptied my purse

and inserted a gnat

o godmother

I am mostly silence . . . distaff

but it is not so

as I have heard from

that blindfolding eliminates stress . . .

In Pen Chants, Lissa Wolsak's practice is not to "eliminate stress," but rather to place stress accurately—to highlight, illuminate, suggest, declare, question, celebrate, disparage, chant—not through "blindfolding," but rather through its opposite: an unfolding and enfolding of language that is in Wolsak's poetic world the sharpest form of expression, though such sharpness—being slick, beautiful, edgy, pointed—entails, appropriately, more difficulty than ease.

eustasy, erosis, predicta, illusionism . . .,
lustral, tribulated, august . . .
      misnomers all

Wolsak's outrageously wide vocabulary and wide-ranging vocabularic play defamiliarize even everyday language, making it foreign or curious, as a thing or occurrence translated into language should be. The perceptive self is a foreign self, "at the same time subject and not subject," and writing serves not to make it new but to make it strange: an illumination.

However impermanent, there is something—both formally and conceptually—in these poems that is chant-like, spirit-like, prayerful, perhaps as prayer would be ideally: not rote, not mindless, not automated, but intoned word by meaningful word as language made manifest in the body, desire or gratitude or need or belief made manifest in language. We might say there is a gap between the world of the world, the

seige-engines, empathy industry,

buy-backs for

our holy instant:

black with civilizade

or tethered in poses

of execution

and the world of the poems, which "practice ear extension":

it is we

allow the cello to wander

open among

aestheocratic

gift economies

If there is such a breach, between this—this intimate, infinite, fantastical and yet material world Wolsak perceives, and perceiving, intones—and that—that world of tired narratives, competition for victim status, belittled sweat capital and food for truces, then:

were all the limbs of my body
be turned to tongues
with living voice I ventriloquise
let this. . . . govern that.



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