Jane Lewty. In One Form to Find Another. Cleveland State University. 2017
I have been reading / re-reading Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, Simone White’s Of Being Dispersed, and Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another / and hating myself / for lingering on what I repeat and repeat to myself / what I write down in a diary that is not a diary / that I keep as a poem / as writing. “No one understands narrative I drink champagne / and refuse help No one understands narrative / It offends me” It’s bitchy / floral and maybe petulant / wrong and not wrong. I am constantly interested in what such feeling is nipping at / at what it’s critiquing: the poem or the story or the body that ends / that ends safely / in sun and scenery. That “makes sense of it all” with satisfaction, recognition, and comfort.
What happens to the body or the poem that instead chooses refusal, fragmentation, and disappearance? “Her happiness costs her a lot,” remarks Hélène Cixous in Reading with Clarice Lispector about a girl, a narrator of Lispector’s who has no choice but to insist that her drink is delicious, though she feels in her body it is not. What happens to the body that does not or cannot write something that can be confirmed or denied? Do you believe it more or less? Does it matter? Rather, can you believe that, perhaps, this is how the body has lived? What is duration when it is also an event / a life. What if the poem cannot translate or does not want to translate an event / a life / reality in a way that makes you feel good / for having read the poem / for having perfectly (or violently) quoted the poem / its climatic moment / its climatic clarity amidst trauma and body and life?
-Caroline Crew’s Instagram / “Quote / danger / skate” / from Anne Carson’s Decreation
In Frantumaglia, Ferrante fiercely describes how suffering and pain is relayed through the lives of two of her early narrators, Delia and Olga (featured in Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment), as well as by herself, by her mother, by the voices she creates and comes into chaotic contact with. Such emotions in the othered body, Ferrante says, bust apart expectations of linear experience and of the linear processing of experience. Ferrante insists her narrators speak / that there are beings who speak from a life in unfathomable motion. “Delia and Olga tell their stories from within that whirling,” says Ferrante. “Even when they slow down they don’t distance themselves, they don’t contemplate, they don’t carve out external spaces for reflection. They are women who tell their story from the middle of a dizzy spell.” Do we listen to the bodies thrashing and writing this way? Do we resent them for not making it clear to us / for not giving us the well-worn couplets wrapped in kind of viral awe we have come to expect? Do we listen to them if they don’t carry Elena Ferrante’s / Anne Carson’s name recognition / if they haven’t “earned” “strangeness”? Frantumaglia and Ferrante does the good work of troubling / developing a beautiful swamp of these questions and concerns with her existence and the “documentation” of it. Alexander Chee, in his review of Frantumaglia at New Republic, details the elaborate layers of Ferrante’s movements and writing, as well as how the potential unmasking of Ferrante’s “true identity” merely plays into increasing the texture of both fictional / true layers.
“[Anita] Raja was born in Naples, the daughter of a German immigrant, but her family moved to Rome when she was three. Her ancestors were not among the Neapolitan poor of postwar Italy, but rather experienced Polish pogroms and Nazi persecution. If Ferrante is Raja, and the Ferrante who spent the majority of her life in Naples—the city she has said she feels ‘in my gestures, my words, my voice, even when I put an ocean between us’—is also an invention, it would mean Frantumaglia is a metafiction, her most experimental text yet, a massive prank on criticism and the media: all of it done to show us how badly we read what we read, how badly women writers are treated, and how badly the press operates. It would mean her mother’s frantumaglia was not verifiably her mother’s; her childhood impressions the impressions of a fictitious child, not necessarily herself. That everything pointing us to some glimpse of her life was just a misdirection, so that the real woman behind Ferrante could remain hidden—and, one day, teach us that it never mattered who she was or where she was from.”
The prospect of this, that Ferrante could create a landscape in which she is completely herself to art and completely herself outside the reaches of art is so affirming, so filled with permission that is as artistic as it is challenging as it is radical as it is forceful. It almost makes me weep. It does. To be naked in the Earth / art / does not mean a body owes you anything / except itself as it is / as it moves through the Earth / art / flinching or free. Strong as violets / strong as life.
This preamble, these bodies or this writing of no and murk and brushing against, is necessary to suggest that there are forests, boiling and bright, that support and are entangled in a book like Jane Lewty’s In One Form To Find Another (Cleveland State University). A poetry book or an essay or something thicker / a depth both known and impossibly wrapped in the folds of waves / a raw heart. There is a lineage buried and flowering!
It is also important to emphasize that Lewty’s book is its own forest, boiling and bright. It is a text that believes it is allowed to be / itself / radically, painfully. There is a particular feeling you might know. A feeling that you are reading a book that could only have been written the way it is / and urgently. To consider your predecessors a question, rather than a given. To enter the desert / the page without them.
“But her body overrode the historical moment.
There are other ways of going through the practicalities
Of the performance of evocation.”
-Case Study #3
In In One Form To Find Another, Lewty feels through the body’s ferocious, complex response to trauma while refusing to create an linearity and narrative arc which names or details the transgressive / traumatic event. Further, the book chooses not to provide moments which point, with comfort and clarity, towards recovery, forgiveness, and a knowledge found and made sense of. Rather, Lewty’s book is told, as Ferrante describes, from the whirling, the dizzy spell, a movement bodies know / try to navigate “memory” from. “Strong feelings are like that,” says Ferrante, “they explode chronology.” In In One Form To Find Another explodes chronology, the poem, the line, the notes that follow, the book. The body “over[rides] the historical moment.” The body and what it says is evidence / is not evidence of what happened. A landscape or a book is formed by love and existence that reaches beyond memory / the tyranny or the luxury of it. What if such upheaval / is preferred / or necessary? What if the ways a body is expected to show healing / erases trauma / feeling that continues to pulse through the physical body regardless of that erasure? What if the ways a body is expected to perform a clear or predictable narration / of the event and the healing that follows it / doesn’t create a safe haven for the body? Rather, it creates a treacherous boundary / a sanitarium / a crevasse / a silencing isolation that is sold to you and you and you as “shelter.”
“> Ask me what is meant by threshold?
> Letter thought first and then appeared.
> What is a boundary?
> A mimic keying-out. Are you there?
> Describe what is meant by perimeter
> Loss. Not resonant. Lying.
> What is the function of a border?
> Approach of someone. Experiment and sorry
> What is a shelter?
> Harm. Accurately cold.”
-Case Study #14: Dysplasia
In One Form To Find Another both feigns a dependence on and does seriously depend on the vocabulary of medical study and observation to shape its examination of trauma, memory, total body vs. fragmented body, the wet, shifting and overlapping space between the public and the private experience of reckoning. Medical conclusion, to Lewty, seems to be a place the body is both forced to start from and forced to escape. How exactly does the existence of a medical world, of a call for diagnosis (the most valued form of narrative expertise) destroy women as it tries to “protect” them from themselves via treatment that can double as domination and erasure? Who is safe here?
“take shelter from the reverence which covers all women.”
–To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
There is much to unpack when we consider both the stifling and protective meaning distorting our conceptions of space / shelter for the violated, cis female body. While the Woolf quote is apt and powerful (it immediately popped up in my mind like a wildflower) when paired with the last couplet of Lewty’s poem quoted above, it’s clear Woolf is talking about educated white women carving out space and refusal for themselves. What I think both Woolf and Lewty are pointing towards, however, is how what is meant to save a body, to give the body “respect,” despite the body’s “obvious” shortcomings and fragility, can harm it further (and will harm bodies not named / even more). A body can drown or does drown under such weight / such lead / such cover. A body is unable to get up and walk / away from / or towards / the world. Who gets swallowed by the medical language which words and polices experiences of trauma and illness? Who gets swallowed by the institutions which prioritize transgressed / compromised womanhood if it’s white and salvageable (able-bodied, thin, pretty, cis, etc.)? Who gets swallowed by survivor narratives which tote support and resources as tools to molt the damaged part of the body into shining, profitable / digestible resilience?
“Do you sit in a great quiet bargaining
-Case Study #16: Localized Paralysis
Lewty’s use of the word “shelter” and her surrounding of “shelter” with other forms of the line (border, perimeter, threshold) pushes against the idea of lines as divides / slicers between here and there. Lewty turns all forms of the line into a question / a rejection of the arrangement of such space as static, restorative, reachable via linearity. Shelter is the place one enters when they are ready to write the poem from the other side / from the point of recovery and palatial, vague wisdom. Or it is a place / a diagnosis / an office you are forced into, equally as dangerous to you as it is to others. Sanctuary as aquarium, as haunting. “Harm, accurately cold.” Instead, Lewty leans into the whirling, the tremor, the blurring, the dizziness. Lewty or the speaker in these poems, or the other speakers it turns towards, know what happened and when. However, they also don’t know or rather, memory and the treatment of it isn’t enough for how a traumatic event continues and is lost to time, pain, a continual attempt to continue, to go on with the traumatic event flowering in your body as a fog, a garland, a sentence, an unfathomable space, a bit of shale crumbling.
“I wonder about running my own experiment. Paying attention to how I remember, and how I get lost, and what I keep, and what I cannot bear to assemble again.”
-Case Study #19: Disequilibrium
“A showdown with one’s / total body is more intense than encountering an isolate part of it. Do we feel more secure when measuring a limb, or a facial feature? It’s said that the total body has an immediate “I” connection with basic identity evaluation. Where do I fit best and how do I? When did “I” most.
Imagine that action. Sliding into an effigy of oneself along the walls of an Ames room . A space that has no business being space to measure anything.
Trying to locate a body in place-form is unworkable.
“Case Study #10: Neuralgia
In One Form to Find Another is a complication of what it means to create art out of trauma / out of illness / out of the body as it is / out of the body as it lives. To live is to refuse / 24k narrative as something you must give to me / or the book / or the award banquet. Borders, perimeters, thresholds, fractures, the thick lines of the event, the tough tissue of the memory blunting up against time, are a beginning or a shattering and are also something much freer than all that. A pulse? A pulse that is also a disappearance? A disappearance that I can still touch / that resembles and is so unlike my own / disappearance / my own inability to disappear?
all wrong, thank you, you say. I you. As ever. And I you.
clearly I said I made it up did I or didn’t I.
then, and then, or then.
-Case Study #18: Lockjaw (Fracture)
“I am never enough myself.”
Case Study #19: Disequilibrium
Lewty doesn’t name the event, the details of it. Instead, she creates a book and a poetry out of pain / out of herself as it streams down her face / through her blood. Lewty attempts to face the event of trauma and fails to face the event of trauma, showing us a texture that is far bigger than naming / than arrangement that is expected or forced / that is medically or socially approved / that is primed for The New Yorker.
“Can an event reside in the body and be accessed only that way? And no other. One’s abused body? In the tracing of and desire for another’s body? Are there things you should fear but don’t?”
-Bloodwork [HB 15.4/HCT 45.1]
When speaking about how Lispector refuses the laws of writing that “[repress] difference”, Cixous suggests that Lispector replaces that approach to the page with writing that emerges through “caressing, looking, silently calling.” Rather than create according to laws or rules that impose and impose and impose, Lispector and Lewty create “vital structures” which take shape and follow a form as it emerges, as it swirls, as it calls out to you and to a space you have yet to enter. What if you are brave enough to enter? What if you are already there?
somewhere like my own place, not a shelter.”
-Case Study#33: Echolalia.
In One Form To Find Another is an incredible book I can never stop being grateful for. I will spend my existence reading it. I climb up rocks as I hold it. I arrange my blood in the shape of cliffs and jewels. It is unbearable. It is necessary. My life / how it happens / how it continues / how it overlaps with yours / in private / in public / in writing.
: An Ames room is a distorted room that is used to create an optical illusion. It has been used to analyze how those diagnosed with schizophrenia struggle with under and over estimating different parts of their body and its true proportions.