Notes on Susan Briante’s “Pioneers in the study of motion”
By Danilo Lopez-Roman, MFA
The book’s cover gives the sensation of motion
The table of contents and the contents proper are a mosaic of different types of motion. There is a collage that references disparate art mediums including music, popular magazines, languages, painting, video, poetry, countries from Vietnam to Mexico, from the USA to Brazil. The book opens the question on me: what are the things that influence my poems? Peel one by one, each stanza, each verse, each word; where does it come from? Why is it there? It would be a good exercise to know what inspires us? Where or who do we borrow from?
This book owes as much to Barthes (structuralism, semiotics, post-structuralism) as to post-modernity. If, as the post-structuralist school asserts, the text is a collective cultural product which does not arise from a single individual, then “Pioneers in the study of motion” clearly represent that collective culture. The book is divided in three sections: Eventual darlings, Pioneers in the study of motion, and How cities are founded.
Which characteristics caught my attention most?
The characteristic that caught my attention the most in the first section was the state of ever-present attention in which the poet is. As Buddhist monk Rinpoche used to say to his disciples, the secret to understand the world is to pay attention to it and its motions. Briante does so brilliantly and conveys these motions through the use of original images, as in “dawn is a damp hand slipping beneath my knee”, or “like a fist, I feel inside of me, a kick”, or “the needlework of rain”.
The form into which the poem is presented in the page is as important as the content. These free verse poems often assume the shape of prose, or long double space lines that make for effective delivery-reception of views on political positions, indigenous sayings, and man-woman relationship. The juxtaposition of large international political schemes and man-woman, but nonetheless not smaller schemes abound. In “Love in the time of NAFTA” the relationship between two economic worlds is paired with the broken line of communication between a man and a woman, a brokenness that may have its origin or its worsening, in the larger scheme. In “Eventual darling (Galang Island)” the interior devastating whirlwind of the individual at a refugee camp, is paired with those of the world and complicated and empty? nomenclature conventions of tree-naming. In “5th day of the rainy season” the abstract concept of masses is paired with the “women above” in a motel. “Unquiet” becomes a litany, a prayer that desperately tries to reach beyond.
A mixture of language styles
The construction of images blends figurative with descriptive languages:
“a broom licks the sidewalk” (7th day of rainy season), “a seat by the window suffices to stitch the world together” (12th day of rainy season). From attention, Briante goes into processing the world, to then canvass it into poetry. It is a poetry that addresses the world around her and the individuals affected or forsaken of the world. It appears to me that sensitivity towards the poor of the “third world” for those who live in the “developed world” can only be achieve by living extended periods of time in the “south”. That would explain mentions of NAFTA, Walmart, and the crude medicine of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the middle of Latin America (12th day of rainy season).
Who are the pioneers in motion?
The second section of the book describes the pioneers of motion. In front of us march: the cartographer’s son, who appears lost in language until a definitive translation is found of what remains of a bygone reality, so Uxmal is (in) ruins and Xochimilco (was) floating gardens; the pornographer’s father, who (unknowingly?) created the fate of his son in a slowness of a road; the illustrator (1) who explodes into an “inner devastation”; the groom stripped bare and the following while the bride, together stereotypes (hero and rescued maid) yet worlds apart who become archetypes, with the ongoing sense of loss and disorientation post-modernity hammers on them, “…you will never be sure / of where you are going…”, another sentence of our ignorance regarding one-on-one relationships, woman-man dynamics. Is this what Andre Tridon teaches in “Psychoanalysis and love”? The section closes with “The Domestic”, where the outside visual and material chaos surrounds, mirrors and reinforces the inner confusion. It is the con-motion as the collision of motions, it is the merger of interior devastation and social hopelessness of the poor. If post-modernism is the fusion of horizons in the North due to material abundance and wealth, it becomes, in the South, the total absence of horizons due to scarcity and dearth.
What cities do you carry in your mind?
The last section of the book, “How cities are founded”, is the more international. It mentions Chicago, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Newark, Mexico City, Tulsa and the objects anthropologists and geologists would discover in some distant future, the remnants of our cities, millennia from today. Consistent with the structuralists’ avoidance of logocentrism Briane says that “a city purrs outside the mind”. A simple response answers the question of how cities are founded: “it is the point at which we refuse to go further”. A parallel can be traced between this section of the book and the “Anabasis” book by Xenophon, a mobile republic (motion again) of ten thousand Greeks set to capture the kingdom of Artaxerxes and found another city, their failure, and travel back to their land. Or to the “Anabasis” by Saint-John Perse, where a city is found, but the founders remain nomads, as us today. What city do we carry in the mind? A republic, a vision, a reality subject to interpretation, imaginary cities, future cities and their elements: parking lots, hills, buildings, flowers, pay phones… and cities beyond planet Earth, those the Sputnik was the first stone of. Is that what the satellite represents? Or is it the view of all the cities we founded so far as seen from space?
Ahsahta Press, Boise State University, 2007
the University of Michigan