Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Healy: The Islands Project

Healy, Eloise Klein. The Islands Project. First. Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2007.

What are these islands in the vastness of open ocean and what is their origin? Think: fragments surfacing as separate entities; volcanic eruptions, fractured parts of a whole. Imagine islands as independent chips off the block of the earth table, coalescing into forms with self-sustaining ecostructure and infrastructure; islands as individuals apart from the concentrated countries with their clumps of citizens, cultures, languages, taboos. Healy’s islands evolve separate but equal to their collective counterparts, similar in shape, texture, needs but obstinately, essentially apart, different. And yet, there is origin, the mother, the durable inevitable connection.

The islands of Healy’s newest book of poems are echoes and convolutions of the original islander, Sappho: these are women thriving in self-sufficiency. They are islanders of time and continent, akin in their independence. These islanders include the poet herself, who recognizes a door and whose own “complicated embodiment” contains glimpses, scraps and fragments of adjoining lives. Whose own life of sight, memories, auric echoes, anger, metaphor and physicality embodies and recalls other “isolates aswirl with life.”

And what is this “project,” a term signifying a concerted effort, a mission, goals, specificity? It’s an effort to get at the geography of these landscapes, the origins of these islanders, to rediscover the door, recognize the entranceway.
A random rescued piece
becomes a better bit
when joined, when each bit
meets its neighbor and the isolate
is shown to be a rich piece
of an unfolding archipelago

Healy’s mission is to take “the lonely isolate / or broken note,” those scraps of papyrus that remain of Sappho, combine her song with the songs of other islanders, and show “the fragment is not a scrap, not a bitter lover, alone and disconsolate” but part of a greater made whole by the joining.

The mission is to recoup the “lost notes” of Sappho and join them with her twins, to turn echoes from statue to flesh, retune the lyre, let it echo anew into ”the clang of things.” Different music for a different twin who hankers for “hard things,” whose own music led her with a “chrome handle to a different and difficult world.”

To reclaim that echo, Healy arrives “to see for herself,” the silent, empty island that was Sappho’s, a physical quest, the catalyst and a first door toward this recognition. “Nothing is as real as place,” and the beach at Skala Eressou is that “hardscape” origin.

“I am living in a lineage of desire / defined by others before me.” The desire defined in the pages of The Islands Project are living fragments of the poet’s mother, whose thoughts roamed like scattered winds. “She is my other / blasted heritage, beautiful in disarray.” That island of fragmented beauty is twinned with a procession of other women: “The Singing School,” enumerated by their uniqueness and their commonality: “all of them,” the poet says, “have passed down Sappho’s street.”

The map of that lineage extends from the beach at Skala Erresou to Echo Park, where two isolates touch within the hardscape of a car, the heat of their fission fogging its windows, the fog replicating the shape of the unknown, not yet visible form emerging. Here the map turns from the four-year marriage, the solid coding and broad lines of the heterosexual country, takes a plunge into the waters of women-loving, swims out into that vast sea as another islander.

As Healy makes her way toward Sappho, she offers homage to recent and long-gone islanders. Here are the ex-pats of Paris: Barney and Stein, Barnes, Brooks, Colette and De Pougy and Rosa Bonheur with her livescapes of horses, portraits of dogs. And here is the Flower Shop where the blight of AIDS fed on the sap and sweetness of its proprietors. Here is Artemis, not Aphrodite (what heresy to bloom fullgrown out of the brain of a god) and old Walt. And in the back and forth marathon swim toward Sappho, there are those others who protest, who frustrate, who proclaim otherwise, who doubt, who get in the way, who deny.

Isolates have their origins, and Healy searches backward a generation, moves forward a lifetime. She uncovers origins. She affirms the future:
Whatever emerges, a poem
written by a lesbian poet
has a heritage of flame,
and no matter what Sappho was,
any woman who “comes out”
springs from a burned life
as a poem.

With The Islands Project, Healy achieves something more than poetry, something more than narrative. Though the story is cohesive, satisfying and encompassing. And many poems stir with gracefulness and strength, honesty and robustness; their tonal quality and diction rising out of the ordinary.

These lyrics are more aligned to ritual, and yet there is a vital freedom coursing through them that denies the stricture of form. The Island Project sings of release. It has the feel of a compilation long-stirring, biding its time and finally emerging.


No comments: