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Naturalization and de-Naturing

Naturalization and de-Naturing

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Published by rkolewe
Naturalization and De-naturing, Or, The Marriage of Nature and No
Nature after Two Hundred Post-Romantic Years -- on Sina Queyra's Expressway
Naturalization and De-naturing, Or, The Marriage of Nature and No
Nature after Two Hundred Post-Romantic Years -- on Sina Queyra's Expressway

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Published by: rkolewe on Apr 05, 2013
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Naturalization and De-naturing, Or, The Marriage of Nature and NoNature after Two Hundred Post-Romantic Years
By
Ralph Kolewehttp://influencysalon.ca/measures/naturalization-and-de-naturing-or-marriage-nature-and-no-nature-after-two-hundred-post-roma
At the head of an early version of two of the poems in Sina Queyras’s
 Expressway,
 published in the online magazine
 MiPOesias
in 2006, she placed a quotation fromJacques Derrida: “Don't make natural what isn't.” This epigraph didn’t appear inQueyras’s book, but it’s an interesting on-ramp to this work nonetheless. Queyras iscertainly concerned with what is natural and what isn’t, and if Blake’s
 Marriage of  Heaven and Hell
casts its shadow over this book, it might be interesting to look at
 Expressway
as a Marriage of Nature and No Nature. (
 No Nature
? That's the title of a book of poems by Gary Snyder, authentic Beat—Kerouac wrote a book about him:
 Dharma Bums
—and Zen cowboy poet... What's he got to do with this? Nothing. Never mind.Move along.)
<1>Anti/Naturalism
I want to look at Queyras's strategies of naturalization and de-naturing, starting with“Solitary,” the first poem in the first section, “The Endless Path of the New” (and thatreminds me of something else, the title of a piece of music by Terry Riley, anothersurvivor of 1960s California, but I can't place it just now…oh, free association, you knowwhat they say about the 1960s: if you can remember them you weren't there). Nature?The alliteration, a natural device, of “sympathy of sounds,” “cricketing/of concrete” (6)–waitaminute. Concrete? Nature/not. And on: “shifting birdsong sweetens spring's tumult”could almost come out of Wordsworth, “emerald turf,” the internal rhymes of “ear/hear/near” in the next few lines, and the diction “of flesh, of earth, on foot”—is it thesteady rhythm that makes this sound like old-fashioned “nature poetry”? And a few lineslater, confirmation: “wander, lonely as a cloud”—that’s the Wordsworth lane: you know,over to the left, for passing only.But we knew that. We expected that. No nature? “Nature,/one concludes, isnostalgia,” (7) Queyras says. And a line or two later, there’s Wordsworth’s dog, andeveryone knows dogs are a marker for nostalgia. Remember Odysseus's dog droppingdead just after his old master returns to Ithaca.I’m starting to get the sense that Queyras is playing against the Romantics after“two hundred / post-Romantic years” but her form is romantic here, as is the feel of thelanguage. Never mind the references to Auschwitz and Darfur, how far away are they?Far enough. Perhaps far enough not to belong in this poem: the reference to genocideseems a bit forced to me. Come to think of it I’m not sure about the Alps being on fireeither (though that makes me think of Caspar David Friedrich). But never mind, theexpressway has smoothed out everything that’s terrifying. Naturally.The poem “Solitary” is a kind of elegy, for the speaker’s father, and somehow, forthe dream of the roads he built, and the future they didn’t lead to. Nostalgia, hence, inQueyras’s equation, is nature.The verse is set in tercets. Where have I seen that before? It makes me think of Dante. And after seven pages of tercets we’ve got “A Memorable Fancy” in prose.Wordsworth/Dante/Blake. Who’s in charge of the expressway, or the future? “GeorgeWashington, seven times” (13). And remember Blake wrote a book called
 America, AProphecy
. But “Louis XVI is alive and living in Washington” so maybe those oldrevolutions didn’t quite displace the
ancien regime
after all.
<1>And You May Ask Yourself…
 
On to the second section. “This is not my beautiful poem.” A skewed reference to DavidByrne’s Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime,” also quoted in the epigraph to sectionVII. Something different: “Cloverleaf Medians & Means” features a dialogue, in verse(we can tell it’s verse because the first letter of each line is capitalized, like inWordsworth) and prose. A dialogue between A and B, one that seems to consist of fragments of documents (“Those who live within 1,200 feet of the expressway” [16]) andfound text (“Without trucks America Stops” [18]) as well as something else, “nothingbetween me and my poems” (20), okay, but definitely not “my beautiful poem,” at leastthe way Wordsworth might have written it.And then another “Memorable Fancy.” A man is found behind the expressway’sveil (like the wizard behind the curtain in Oz? I don’t think so): an oracle of nihilism, likeBeckett just a bit (the description “an elephant's behind with eyes” [22] did make methink of Beckett’s face in his later years, with all its eloquent lines): “words suck in onthemselves: dig as fast as you can, they roil and fill in” (23).The next section goes back to tercets. “Endless Inter-States” starts with a vision of expressways turned to gardens, a sort of ecotopia gone awry with “watchmen with theirmachine guns / keeping humans...out”—but at least the poet apologizes. She tried toshow us nature, but it didn’t quite work. The verse goes on “poetically,” layeringassonance and alliteration and internal rhyme. Later, in part six, the comment “but whatbetter than the well-trodden / Path” (35). Followed by another Memorable Fancy, inwhich “she yelled. I am tired of the tyranny of the optimistic. I want a revolution of theoptimist!” (36). Is this a comment on the “naturalism” of these tercets? Hmmmm.
<1> Do Not Adjust Your Set—This Is the Transmission
What next? If the book has indeed been building oppositions of nature and no-nature,we’ll expect something different. And we get it: the google-sculpted chaos of section IV,“Crash.” “Cached. Similar pages. Note this” the search engine tells us, again, and again.It’s all the same, it’s all stored away, pay attention. No-nature? “Does this scene look familiar.” You bet it does.We’re in the rhythm now. More tercets next, right? Wrong. That would bepredictable, and Queyras knows a predictable rhythm is tedious, but a slightlyunpredictable rhythm swings. So next we get “Lines Written Many Miles fromGrasmere,” except that they’re extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, written
in
 Grasmere. This is the centre of the book, the still centre. But this doesn’t exactly map anidyll: “melancholy and ill bowels” (54), “Wm still unwell” (52), but also “Impressed wemelted into sonnets” (54). And it’s important to note that the centre isn’t William, who’s“haunted with altering the Rainbow” ([58]—one of his poems most reminiscent of Blake,it seems to me, and I think it’s also important to note that Wordsworth didn’t think muchof Blake) but rather Dorothy, whose Grasmere includes not only “Common ash yew ivyholly / In rows, a sweet moss” but also “a woman half-/starved” (56–7). The form is onceagain tercets and single lines alternating for the most part (but not always), yet the linesare much shorter than the previous “natural” sections, and we’re given fragments ratherthan sentences, as though we’re hearing Dorothy’s voice in an interrupted transmission,catching glimpses of her world through a postmodern grid of speech.Queyras has swung her rhythm with this section, so what's next? “The EndlessHum” of “Progress,” which follows the same kind of rhythm as the A/B dialogue“Cloverleaf Median & Means” and structures the next poem, “Murmurings, Movementsor Fringe Manifesto,” but here it’s not a dialogue. “One is not simply” (60) the poembegins: perhaps it’s a dialogue of one? But who is speaking here? “One” asking us “Whatis more self-referential than A?” This would be an easy question to answer if we knewwhat A was. Well, “America,” obviously, but Queyras has drained the signification fromthe name, reducing it to the abstraction of its initial. And that invites all sorts of questions. I've already asked who is speaking here. But also, is this a gendered voice? Isthe speaker a citizen of A, a visitor to A, a long-distance observer of A? When do we
 
place the speaker in time? Generally the “now” of the poems seems to be the first decadeof the 21st century, but the next poem suggests other times: “One morning thousandsshowed up...”Without some of these ambiguities of voicing, “Progress” sounds very much likethe Allan Ginsberg of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” and the other road poems of “The Fall of America,” written between 1965 and 1971 (though, as Margaret Christakos noted, there'sthe echo of “Howl” as well)—but in those poems there’s never any doubt about who’sspeaking: it’s Ginsberg, the Voice of Prophesy; with Queyras the voice of prophecy, likeDorothy Wordsworth’s voice, has been fractured, fragmented: there is no certainty in it:“One is scrambled.” We could probably say something about the difference between thetime in which Ginsberg wrote, at the end of modernism, and Queyras’s time (now), afterpostmodernism, and how that’s reflected in the difference in their voices and the way theyassume authority, but that would be a long side-trip.
<1>The Body in Time
As time begins to crack and we see the possibility of an offramp in the future, we arenonetheless denied the easy consolations afforded by being able to clearly situateourselves. In the “Memorable Fancy” that follows (Queyras is following the rhythm of her structure, still), we’re told “You think the expressway is the future, but you're wrong”(69).Time isn’t the only fractured substance. “In A, body parts. / In A, bodies” (63).Whereas in Ginsberg (as in Whitman, along with Blake, his prophetic ancestors in poetry—note the patriarchal lineage: another interesting side-trip would be looking at thepatriarchal voice in Ginsberg, and how that plays with his sexual politics) the celebrationof the body becomes an alternative to the de-naturing of “A”, an off-ramp, in Queyras,“body parts” and “bodies” are not exactly celebrated. They are “remains”—back in“Cloverleaf Median & Means” we're told that the touch of “thumb to the back of yourleg ... has no business here” (21): this is the only “touch” in the book (except for thephrase “skin like a touch pad” (36): everywhere the body is denied. So that when in theMemorable Fancy at the end of Section VI, “The Endless Hum,” the Other says“[Y]ou’re substantial” (69), my thought was “this is the first we've heard of 
that.
The denial of the body’s status as an unbroken whole continues in the nextsection, “Misdirections.” Following the rhythm, we’re back to tercets again, broken byprose. And we've got body/parts: “pieces of cow, slices of pig” (72), “blood, steel, liningpassing bone” (73) in “Acceptable Dissociations,” and in the next poem the bodybecomes the site of metastasis.But there’s another thing. In part 2 of “Acceptable Dissociations” we get the onlyuse of the first person other than that in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, and it’s startling:“Where / Is your horse? she said, and there was nothing I could say. / What I want isgenerally tidy. What I get often can’t dance.” Then in part 3 there's an italicized aside that
“I live here because the country I once lived in is a corporate washroom...”
(74) and alittle later: “Sprong, sarong. I ask you?” That’s it. Who is this “I”? The poet expressingherself directly? But other than the aside these seem to be expressions of frustration aboutthe poem itself: “What I get often can't dance” (73). Or is the “I” the “someone in all of us” in this section's “Memorable Fancy,” the “someone who sees beyond all of this” (81)?It’s not clear to me. Maybe I'll call this another example of the fractured post-modern(lack of) viewpoint.The next, penultimate, section, headed by a quote from the same Talking Headssong that (almost) gave us a previous section title, asks “Where is down the road? Whereis away?” (84), moving away from tercets again (the rhythm in “The Road is EverywhereEqually”) and then answering (perhaps) (in tercets, naturally) in “Three Dreams of theExpressway” with another vision of the expressway being dismantled, followed by a“Memorable Fancy” where expressways coexist with gardens, trees, rivers, air, and “tireshumming like baby birds” (93). The expressway (no nature) has been naturalized. And go

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