Spinoza in Her Youth
$12.95, ISBN 1-890650-09-9
Spinoza in Her Youth is a collection of (mostly) previously
published poems, divided into something like "chapters."
In fact, if you've kept your eyes on small chapbook and periodical
presses over the last several years, much of what you'll find here
will be in its definitive form only by virtue of its durable paperback
binding. Cole's first such collection since 1996's Contrafact
(Potes & Poets Press), Spinoza in Her Youth gleams with
a versatile, if not virtuoso, musicianship that reminds us of the
pact joining Duncan to Oppenboth books stand as a fine claim
to a "new" postmodern lyricism. This collection also demonstrates
an intellectual versatility one would expect from such a fine translator
of contemporary French poetry. Cole is a careful thinkerthe
disruptions and drifts of her new collection are placed with care
and lead one to their own best thinking, given the chance.
In fact, I'd venture to say that that "chance" is the organizing
principle behind this collection. After the perhaps unsuccessfully
broad musings and seemingly random reportage of the book's first chapter,
"The Vulgar Tongue," the chapter from which the book takes
its title is a blessing. "Spinoza in Her Youth" is a fragmented,
dramatic (in the mythic, Duncanesque sense) polylogue ostensibly "about"
the photographer Evgen Bavcar. From youth, Bavcar slowly went blind,
so that in his work he speaks of a synaesthesia that affords him the
chance of creating his art, building it from the imagination outwards.
The third chapter of the book, "Desire & Its Double,"
connects again to the Spinozan theme (Spinoza, as with Descartes,
was by trade a master of optics). The epigraph to this chapter is
from Osamu Ueno and reads: "The genius of Spinoza lies in having
discovered a secret liaison that connects
desire to its double.
I will try to shed some light on this" (69). Cole is fascinated
by the ocular tropes of continental thought, whether poetic or philosophical.
And the Spinozan quandaryreconciling the determination of the
"will," the function of the senses, the collusion between
the imaginary and the real, all in the interest of a cohesive subjectivityresounds
throughout these two chapters. And that sounding is palpable precisely
for its lyricism
a book of
day(s) or night(s)
(and) said can
faith or fate
weave personal acts
of perception? (59)
The subject is named for the street.
It is not that kind of sight. From
an adjacent booth, "I'm a hopeful
romanticist." Rediscovering intimacy
or the idled community, undone, her sweater
on backwards "still hanging around"
in the niches of narrative. The word
plot alone can kill you. (64)
The pun on "plot"narrative, but here also political,
given Bavcar's Eastern European heritageis particularly loaded.
What is a chance offered to the senses when it escapes notice as such?
We might imagine it as faith, but myth seems closer to the truthafter
all, as these poems demonstrate, faith alone will not elucidate the
"plot" on which they stand.
Ultimately, Cole invites the reader to go ahead and take a stand
with respect to the book, to get involved in that yin and yang scenario
in order to bring it to be. One can speak of the all-too-familiar
trope of postmodern poetics, "participatory readership,"
all one likes; as for the author's initial grace in the offering,
the jury's still out. If you are attracted to this kind of semantic
indeterminacy, a sophisticated one to be sure, this book will make
you grateful. Consider this, from the first poem of "Desire and
to say explore the experience the very thought of thought or a
unified theory of the senses. Imagine, you are, going on a trip.
At first there was physical divorce, that is, appearance, that is,
acceptance, a distance. to verify
undone, unmade. Taken apart. the image of an intact yet
the materials at hand
like the idea of reason, that the vision was their faces unmasking
sheets ("Putting One's Self in a Situation," 71)
Indeed, "like the idea of reason," those commas ("Imagine,
you are, going on a trip.") alight with suggestions and readerly
opportunities, as if the imagination of being is a language of journeying,
destination: desire. Cole takes broad sweeps but keeps them flush
with that most everyday sight we call (in) our language.
Finally, the book is more reminiscent of Oppen's austerity, i.e.,
Seascape: Needle's Eye, than Duncan's effusiveness. But as
much as this collection offers, it's unlikely to offer the kind of
stylistic innovations its godparents permitted, in authors such as
Lyn Hejinian or Leslie Scalapino, in comparison our generation's master
stylists. Yet this readerly journey has a kind of "genius"
of its own.