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Eléna Rivera - The Perforated Map

(Shearsman Books, Bristol, 2011. Paperback, 103pp, £8.95)

Reviewed by Jaime Robles

 
A map is an abstraction of a real physical terrain, drawn up as much to expand knowledge as to provide a means of travel through unknown space. On our planet, on which there are few unexplored and unmapped areas, a map is most often an aid to getting from one place to another, what lies in-between is of less interest, is often only a panorama of inconvenient sceneries. Today’s map no longer has those mysterious and legendary spots where mermaids cavort and monsters lounge in wait for the unwary.
 
Not so the human mind. Or the human body. Both of which, due to the philosophical quirks of western civ, are often treated as individual and separate. In her first book with Shearsman Books, Eléna Rivera looks at the overlap between the two: the creation of a social being. Her book is a very personal narrative, and as such not easily or readily accessible. As she says, when posed the question of describing the book’s core idea: ‘My first thought in regards to this is to say the map is perforated—my personal movement through life’s map, the larger societal map. There are big holes. Gaps in memory, in history, in information—and there’s a desire to bridge those, even though that is often not possible.’
 
Her mapping of her journey begins with a kind of statement of poetics in the poem ‘Ars Poetica’. There is nothing definitive in the poem—nothing like the ars poetica laid down by Archibald Macleish, for example. Instead, the poem links her creative impulse with a sensual and material perception. And her approach to the more ethereal aspects of her practice is discursive and scholarly.:
 
I am drawn to explore aspects, 
features of the seen/heard,
 
which limp still catch light, 
colors, twigs of hope. 
(13)
 
A more disquieting emotional element enters her poem when she moves from the above description of her writing to her recognition of herself and the reader as locked into a close and intense relationship:
 
I slip in your side, 
indistinct, 
 
a moistened hand,
a gangling sinew 
 
where the space of the poem 
cascades 
 
as years peel one after another 
their films of silence.
(13) 
 
The action is transgressive, and the shifts from the reader’s body to the spaces of poetry to the unwinding of time are rapid. These compressed shifts appear throughout the book, presenting images that are familiar but that need to be interpreted in order to be understood. They are not metaphors; they are very clear and direct descriptions of perceived phenomena. The poem ‘Disturbances in the Ocean of Air’ is rife with strange blips in the landscape: 
 
I took a stroll down the corridor and saw 
the Pacific hanging on a clothesline.
 
The full moon opens a hole overhead, hovers. 
(15)
 
Water moves violently up and down, up and down.
(16)
 
Scarlet
Scar
 
Imagine the peeling bark 
of a madrona
(17)
 
 
Moments of her childhood also float through Rivera’s poems. These are pivotal moments, in which the child’s understanding and personality are formed, and often these moments are connected to language:
 
I was at that age 
where I heard everything 
a vessel for every hard word 
 
From mouth to air to ear 
The line is taut
(18) 
 
The book is divided into four sections titled ‘The Perforated Map 1-4’. The sections are comprised of several chapbooks that Rivera published previously. Each section has not only an individual emphasis but also a different form of internal structure and organization. The sections are woven together by short epigraphic opening poems that then appear in the closing section of the book, which is simply titled ‘The Perforated Map.’ Section 1 opens:
 
Suddenly
 
on my knees this large
 
Bittersweet
 
pull
(11)
 
The poem is reminiscent of Sappho’s famous fragment, and desire does play a major role within Rivera’s collection, not so much as the love for an individual but rather as an overall stance toward the beauty of the natural world—simply: the poet’s desire for life.
 
Throughout the first four sections appears a series of poems called ‘The Color Project’. The Color Project poems are fragmentary but sustained descriptions of the natural world, each emphasizing a color: gray in one, yellow or blue in another, and so on. These repetitions, of both the epigraphic poems and the Color poems give the whole book not only a feeling of wholeness but also a sense of return to the past, much like the lover who imagines over and over a crucial but mysterious moment in an affair.
 
Following Rivera’s map is an intriguing but challenging exploration, but a journey worth embarking on.
6 August 2014