This review of Pierre Joris’ Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999 was published in Facture.
Poasis is a selection of poems by Pierre Joris that includes work from six books published between 1986 and 1999, as well as uncollected poems published in magazines. What becomes clear when reading it is how attentively Joris uses poetic forms. Holding it by the spine and thumbing through it as if it were a flip-book, it is amazing how the poems literally move across the pages of the book—there are long skinny poems which sometimes contain only one word (sometimes even just the suffixes), and then a few pages later an elongated prose poem that appears as a block of text. Compositionally, the book demonstrates Joris’s playful eruditeness as a writer; that he has mastered poetic forms in all their variety and can use them to drive what Montaigne calls the “matter” of the work onto the page. What appears as prose and what appears as poems is not about choosing one form over another, but rather is dependent on what form arises out of the words themselves.
For example, take the first poem in the book, “Canto Diurno #1.” The poem spans the time of one full day, and the sections of the poem are divided by the hour, beginning with 0:10 a.m. and ending with 9:30 a.m. At 0.10 a.m. the poet is reading Blanchot (manifest through an epigraph) and contemplating the incompleteness of being. 40 minutes later, the poem begins as an incomplete articulation—in which the word, the world, a house and a storm all locate the poem in space, logos, mind, and place. At 1:30 a.m., the poet turns to Montaigne, and the poem itself becomes “essay / essaie”—the exploration through language of states of being, thinking, and existing in the world that are being “tried out” in time. The poet appears to sleep from 2:05 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., at which time he awakes and resumes. From 7:15 to 9 a.m., a poem appears in which contemplations of light, shadows, and staying up all night…
ashes of ashes
…appear in a rapid toppling of words that move vertically down the page. So fast are they moving that at 8:10 a.m., each word—sometimes broken—has its own line:
Then at 8:30, the poet reads Jean-Luc Nancy and considers how poems function in a tension between community and individual. In thinking outward, towards the possibility of “one towards the other” he reads the newspaper, elongates his form and incorporates the intensity of news into the poem:
iconography of random death: if to pray is to give thought, intensely, then that is what I am doing right now. unalienable format. too large to be cut out and glued into notebook: this dead will have to stay where it is, on the front page, tomorrow’s dustbin liner.
He considers, in other words, how the news-of-the-day might fit into the poem. He wants to just cut out the story and paste it in his notebook, but it is too big. It will have to be transformed into the form of the poem. The poem itself, the words that drive the form into their natural state of poetry, reveals its own process as it moves through the day.
All of the poems in the book are remarkably different, but equally marked with the tension of intentionality—nothing is without purpose. Poasis is a significant collection that represents a lifetime of work into the simultaneous lyrical and material possibilities of poetic language. Joris constructs a multi-lingual and multi-form manifestation of the mind of language and the language of the mind. This book is remarkable achievement of sustained poetic awareness into the many forms that meaning takes in the world.