In Elizabeth Treadwell's Posy, we are given permission to understand moments for what they are. Each moment is a miniature altar arranged, as if by chance, in the imagination of language. In this seemingly simple book of very short, unassuming examples of what sorts of plastic and magic can coexist as unique experiences, a much greater statement and resistance is formed. From the overgrowth of a mystic's garden, words take their simple and recognizable shape, but only fully realized when everything positions in relation to the world it embraces, and the world it resists.
The star, the sea, the deer, the linguist recognizes itself in a refrain and amidst a private speech. Treadwell seems to have inside jokes with the magic that is the bodily, starmatter of motherhood. The language in this book is sometimes so private, we sometimes think we can only imagine what is said. We can, however, completely understand what is being said of the experience of private understandings. This is the shining element we take from this book that we can mix alchemically in our own human function. It is a permission. We are allowed to hold something, we as women living in a world made of our backward image, never thought we could ever really hold, and do, every moment of every day. I quote here one of the longer poems in the book in its entirety:
The earth holds our sorrows, which are sometimes our rages, as
it does our joys and in this way is like our bodies which are of it,
of the hills and fireworks, of the waters and the dogs, the urban
deer and cars and lions, the faces of our loves and oddballs, of our
hormones and our poisons, of the sunlight and the fruit, of these
fat bright days, the swift nights of summer, and of livesong, dear
mrs text dear foolscap memorabilia, as we move over earth and
through earth, our tiny places, what pet earth holds.
Some books are filled with prerequisite studies and function as allusions of academia. This process is often adopted without question as the poetry of intellectual rigor. As a reader of such poetry, I often feel relieved and proud of myself if I've made it through understanding at least some of the allusions. The work of this type of intellectual process is taxing on a specific portion of the brain. While I do not mean to comment on this type of writing as a process in and of itself, I do want to look closer at the misnomer of assuming this is the only type of poetry that represents intellectual rigor. While allusions are of course often made in academic discourse, the intellectual work of the reader is more a process of unfolding. Take for instance the experience of reading Fredric Jameson. The work and experience of rigor is a process of unfolding syntax and not necessarily of just allusion. The sensation of intellectual gain is developed as the syntax of his writing is developed. It is not quite fair to say that the type of poetry mentioned above is only a process of allusion because of course there is phrasing and of course there is word selection. The phrasing and word selection is often incredible and hugely important to understanding the piece. However, what classifies it specifically as intellectual, is its constant allusions to prerequisite studies. This function is what I bring into question, this function and its misnomer.
It is hard not to notice how much the white men of academic poetry are not in this book of poems. Instead, it is too full of the truth of things. The part of the brain that is activated with this work is different than that of the rigor of connecting allusions. The brain, though, is worked just as hard and the sensation of intellectual gain is a product of a different kind of rigor. Light, warmth, and places of silence allow the brain to develop different tendrils. A garden grows in the gray flesh and releases oxygen. Intellectual rigor becomes a mother talking in a private language to her daughter about the manifestation of everything and nothing and the imagination of both. It is an intellectual rigor that capitalizes on the strength of quiet resistance. It finds its own corner to curl into with its entire universe. The byproduct of its labor is radical love. Radical love is an intellectual and rigorous process of language and moment and very different than that of allusion, allusion usually producing the byproduct of self and exercises itself as a type of conquest.
It is also hard not to notice how this book is arranged and presented to the world, with a blurb from Treadwell's daughter and a portrait of her entitled “Mommy.” This, too, is a resistance. The resistances of each poem and this poetic gesture as a a whole come with some obvious risks; they are two-fold. Treadwell first runs the risk of coming across as anti-intellectual, which I argue is far from the case. Treadwell also risks arriving, inside her female body ever present in her work of thought, as a “self” who does not need an alternate perspective. As Treadwell writes her poems, she writes them without the need of a mirror for her reflection. No ghosts linger in her image, no witches shapeshift for the world there.
bodies in space, Valentina,
bodies in space
gently, and with ease,
in the apple-light
That is the whole poem without apology. The only allusion present is the allusion to the eternal insight of simply being alive. And, Treadwell creates a fortress which permits an intellectualism sound enough in its resistance to know its existence completely.
Posy tells us to trust our experience of the world. It is the opposite of what any philosopher or academic could ever tell us. The philosopher and the academic tell us we need a translator for the world, even if what they write says the opposite. It is a true workout for the brain to think we might really know the world, what we see and who we are. It is a rigor that cannot be matched and happens in the quiet moments when Treadwell allows us the space to inhabit our own thoughts. Every day a beauty is the last line of the book. This, too, produces strength in the mind, a radical hope.