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Hence This Cradle

ISBN: 978-0-9755924-7-2

By: Hélène Sanguinetti, translated from the French by Ann Cefola
Review by: Moira Richards

January 2009

The poetry in Hence This Cradle resists the conventions, or maybe just my expectations, of linear narrative - which makes it difficult for me to find a way to write about the book. Perhaps I’d best begin with a prosaic description of the form of this intriguing book-long poem and see where it leads.

Ann Cefola presents Sanguinetti’s original French poem on the left-hand pages, and her English translations on the facing pages of the book. The entire poem comprises a variety of textual arrangements – sometimes five lines spread across a whole page, sometimes a dense grouping of a dozen lines or more. Often just a couple of short stanzas and couplets with lots of white space linking them. The poet and translator also use a wide selection of fonts (different sizes, type-faces, italics, capitals, etcetera) through the poem, which lends a sense of polyphony; of a multiplicity of speakers or voices (sometimes conversations) all contributing their bits to the work. But all resisting still, being tied down by a conventional narrative logic, as for example on page 23,

Hail Chiefs.

Our life resembles snow high
on a roof, it illuminates from afar, swells,
glitters under light, exhausts its insides
with milligrams of whiteness, this is a
mountain that sighs suffers
melts.
To know myself, I keep silent.
One, two, three, it’s over, farewell my presence, no
real blood, lightning, reason, wisp of sky

I began by reading, almost skim-reading the book, so as to not attempt to make it fit into my sense of logic, but to allow myself to be swept into its logic; by resisting my inclination to read it with the textual and logical part of my mind but to rather let myself be carried along by the mood, the emotion of the work. And after I had travelled the poem once, I returned to the text and flipped again through the pages to try and find just a few pegs to anchor it somehow.

I discovered that the book includes five passages of capitalised text set at roughly 30-page intervals that can be read as section headings, or as clues to the poetry that follows. So, there is this type of referencing on page 7 to,

“MESSAGES ADDRESSED, SLIPPED, LEFT BEHIND, ONLY THOUGHT, NEVER READ, LOST, MESSAGES PRESERVED WITH FEVER, FEVER-DENIED-TORN TO PIECES,”

on page 35 to,

… LETTERS, RE-READ LETTERS
WRITTEN TO HER – SHE, PLAITS OF HAIR PULLED OUT – APRON –
HEART – SKIN – pulled out

and on page 99,

TO HE WHOM

SHE WRITES, SHE EXCAVATES
UNREADABLE LOVE
THAT HE WILL FOLLOW WITH FINGER IN THE WAX, ONLY UNDERSTANDING CARESSES OF RIBBONS

Also, these five lines below seem to act as a frame to the text of Hence This Cradle. The stanza appears on page nine and also on the book’s back cover …

Hence,
From a cradle open
under stars,
These fays.
At their mercy or to bless her?

All of which implies to me that the poem is an exploration of life. Of a life. Of what it might be, of what it is, what it wishes it was. It can be read as an exploration of its birth, love and death - in fleeting thoughts – as perhaps might flash past when one lies on their deathbed.

I hope I’ve managed to convey the sense of this poem and to not pin a meaning down. Like butterflies, like dreams, I think the work is intended to be experienced in its ephemerality and not fixed onto a board of explanation - as is implied by this stanza on page 113,

The rest can’t be written, can’t be said,

a veil belongs to the wind, it hides

the essential in marriage and combat,

Think of the source, alive under the

ferns

 

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