January 4, 2009

Charles Baudelaire: Les fleurs du mal – illustration Henri Matisse (1947)


Wellbeloved’s poems read like prose, and it is tempting to describe them as prose poems. Their subject matter would suit it too. Baudelaire saw such a form as suited to the de-contextualised encounter with the fragmentary experience of everyday life. But where the street is the locus of the everyday for Baudelaire, a space in which to escape his poetic soul, for Wellbeloved, the fragmentary and the liminal are experienced in seclusion. While her poems touch upon the commonplace, they take the form of a retreat or retraction from the micro-experiences of our contemporary world of communications.

My hands appear on the keys, the right hand
nails are longer than the left and their half
moons are visible while only the thumb on my
other hand has any moon at all, the rest are still
dark, the moons awaiting defragmentation before
they edge, made new again, into the crescent of
my cuticles, never to rise fully, but true to moon
iconology and myth, to remain partial, veiled,
hidden, the names of my moons are: Unseen,
Unheard, Unspoken, Unthought, Unknown,
Unfelt, Uncertain, Unlived, Unlike, Undone.

The hand hesitating over the computer key, opens up onto the unknowable and also to destiny, the Fortuna of the crescent moon rising from the cuticle. It is in this sense that the fragment is close to that of the romantics: Novalis’s ‘secret handwriting of eternity’; Blake’s ‘infinite in everything’, or Boehme’s ‘signature of all things’. By contrast Baudelaire’s fragments can be seen as escapes from self into the imaginary crowd of the commodity. In Sophia Wellbeloved’s poems the minutiae of the phenomenal world are occasions for both an introversion and a return. They are not ‘invitations to a voyage’ , but imply a return to the inescapability of the body.

Wellbeloved speaks of flow, and her language encourages swiftness in reading, but only to trip us up, to return us to the hesitant and fractured. She celebrates the power of language to create a cosmos, while making us aware of its limitations.

This is Orphic failure, and poetry, as Blanchot points out, succeeds in failure. Orpheus must always turn too soon and lose the muse, the inspiration of his song. The poet is guilty of impatience and this noble failing brings us into confrontation with the chasm which opens up between language and the world. Wellbeloved’s poems have a sense of transcendence and of Fall, of the Fall within the language of flight.

Yet joy is not unknown, I know the sense
of it singing in correspondences between
the outer and the inner, and yes, singing itself,
the processes of it, the transformation of the air
the flights of sound forming ephemeral worlds,
spirals lifting then leaving my body its cells
as galaxies moving apart from each other;

or there is something fast within, racing
like courting swifts across my field of
vision, or the sight of water gleaming
over stones, stroking the mossy surfaces,
its sounds wrapping and turning
around obstructions or forcing release
from between them, fanning towards
my ears entering the small bones of my skull
running down to my feet.

(from Tripidium)

London, 2008