Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A City and Its MIrror


My contributor's copies of The Cascadia Subduction Zone arrived yesterday.  This is a feminist genre literary quarterly and normally I wouldn't dream of writing for such a journal because I am very suspicious of men who proclaim themselves feminists.  I mean . . . they do tend to be loud and overbearing guys, don't they?  Though I'm sure there must be exceptions.

But Nisi Shawl is the reviews editor and she hit me up for an article on the poet and novelist Hope Mirrlees.  And because Nisi is a good friend, it was hard for me to say no.  So, in addition to a long article and very good article by Mark Rich on C. M. Kornbluth as gender-egalitarian, six detailed book reviews, a poem by Gwynne Garfinkle, and artwork by Luisah Teish, there is my own "Two Eleusinian Mysteries - Lud-in-the-Mist and Paris: A Poem by Hope Mirrlees."

Years ago, I wrote a slim book-length study of Mirrlees titled Hope-in-the-Mist: the Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees.  Anyone who's read that will be familiar with most of what I wrote in this article.  But I did have a good observation about Paris: A Poem that came long after its publication, which is included here:

Let’s go back to that first line, however, “I want a holophrase.”  A holophrase is a single word that expresses a whole phrase or combination of ideas.  Right at the outset – but I wager no first-time reader ever picked up on this – Mirrlees forthrightly declared her intention: to fill that want.  The rest of the poem is the process of creating a holophrase by a seemingly random but actually cunningly constructed ramble through the streets and museums of Paris, encountering its layers of history, the “grand guignol” of Catholic ritual, the fresh social wounds of the Great War, the politics of the time, high and low culture, the taxicabs, the smells, the whores, the ghosts . . . and many, many things more.
It is so very typical of Mirrlees that this  "want" -- both lack and desire -- that the poem sets out to fulfill and which has gone unnoticed for most of a century is declared forthrightly in the very first line of the poem.  Which is not titled Paris and then subtitled  A Poem but is properly titled Paris: A Poem.  Because what Mirrlees was saying is that Paris is a poem.  To establish which, she created a holophrase incorporating all of the city, so that it became figuratively A Poem: Paris.

I just thought you might like to know that.


1 comment:

Gordon said...

Men who proclaim themselves [...] however, are never boisterous and self-important fools. Care to fill in the missing word? Oh, and I've always considered you a feminist just fine without the proclamation.