USEREVIEW 011: Where Words Touch

Amanda Earl/ December 18, 2020/ Book Review, Experimental Review

Amanda Earl transforms prose poetry into visual poetry in this experimental review of Bahar Orang’s debut collection Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty (Book*Hug Press, 2020). By cutting open the text and twisting it to a new shape, Earl brings forth a rush of stunning blood that calls attention to the crucial elements of Orang’s essays on aesthetics.

ISBN 978-1-77166-569-8 | 114 pp | $20 CAD


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I chose an excerpt from a passage on pain as the source text for the visual poem: “Cells of the immune system travel to the site of injury and cause warmth, redness, swelling, and pain. At first, there is a moment of tension, or vasoconstriction, but then the vessels dilate, opening for a rush of blood. Vessel walls become permeable; new things get through and other things get out. Fluid accumulates and interrupts the smooth slope of substance or skin. Tissue becomes distorted, strange chemical mediators arrive at the interlude, and then there is pain.”

As Orang writes later, “We cannot separate beauty from the unendurable, it does not soften or make pain palatable, it’s not to be used for cruel or paternalistic meaning-making; to know beauty, here, is to know, at the very least, the cacophony of excess and contradiction that is our lives.”

The visual poem is a response to the wisdom of Orang’s understanding and articulation of beauty. She doesn’t flinch from pain and she can’t always separate pain from beauty. The book is an empathetic, outward and inward-looking contemplation. One reference to art or literature is another reason to explore. Close-up views take us deeper into contemplation. Orang makes imaginative and unique associations, new ways of looking at something that seems exactly right. “Poetics, or the bird taking a tangent into elsewhere.” “I call myself imaginative: solicitude for rearrangement, for upside-down flowers, looking at what’s around me, discerning beauty …”

Here, I offer her a rearrangement. “[B]eauty is the co-constitution of human and flower; beauty is the engagement between text and text;” I could keep quoting passages of this book forever. Here are a few which inspired this response: “What interests me, what astonishes me, is beauty as the body changing shape, the body’s visceral, affective, and aesthetic alchemy with all the matter that surrounds it.” And later she discusses the importance of form and content in a poem. “We take note of where things touch.” 

Like Orang, I look to flowers to contemplate beauty. The flower here, for me, evokes all the flowers cited by Orang: Sepehri and Glück’s poppies, insisting on life, full of feeling, Ana Mendieta’s small red flowers scattered on the sea, unknown orange blossoms, lavender in small bushes everywhere. Oliver’s lilies, a bouquet of calla lilies carried by a lover, a sudden rise of tulips, “a rush of blood,/totally free.” “There are flowers that understand their home is the mouth of another creature.”

Where Things Touch is not sentimental, but it is tender, offering intimate glimpses of newborn babes in sunlight, textures, colours and lines, fragments and crossed out words. “Beauty is where language fails.”

Like Orang, I, too think of my work as a feminist gesture, especially visual poetry, a mind-body combination, a link to wildness, desire, unapologetically stated, unapologetically feminine, unapologetically queer. “Flowers could be called queer, their style, their manner of swaying in the half-light, dressing and undressing, spread-eagle, leaning against each other, exhaling, falling apart, coming together, dying then living. Yes, flowers have long been of the realm of woman, whatever that might mean, but I like flowers not for their softness or beauty, but for the way they peer back at you — amused, unflinching, curious but still not too fussed with us. Though their peering might, after all, be the displaced centre of beauty.”

Amanda Earl (she/her) is a pansexual polyamorous cis-gendered feminist Canadian writer, editor, visual poet and publisher. Her creative goals are whimsy, exploration, connection with kindreds and community-building. Her poetry book, Kiki, was published by Chaudiere Books in 2014 and is now available through Invisible Publishing. Earl is the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More:

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