- The Absent Other
Grief is the most deeply personal condition and yet also the most universal. It even extends beyond human experience to the animal kingdom. To write out of grief is equally to find a way out of it. In the curious case of I Am You by Anne Tardos, it is also to affirm loss as foundational, or rather to affirm that there is no foundation, that the removal of the other by whom one's life has been shaped and sustained reveals an emptiness at the very root of existence.
As Buddhists say, there is no foundation, but something is always given. Or as Anne Tardos writes, "I try and make good use of what life throws at me." Thus, I Am You is not so much a tale of grief as it is a record of the process of emergence from grief into new life: "At first it's the death you need to deal with / That incomprehensible act / It's all fine and good for you to be dead, but how am I to carry you about?"
In a series of outbursts—cantankerous, humorous, loving, detached, foolish—Tardos delineates her experience of a return to life three years after the death of her husband, poet Jackson Mac Low. Each statement is surrounded by white space—on the page, in time, of the mind—a blankness that gives birth to the occasion of the present moment and then withdraws it just as fast as the eye follows, the voice changes, and the hand turns the page. The pain of lack gives birth to form as possibility.
We need oblivion to escape oblivionWe need plants around us, and large pockets of timewherein nothing much happens
Then maybe something can happen.
In "Letting Go: A Poem in 100 Parts," Tardos explains her method up front:
Each page is connected to the next by the initial appearance of the phrase or concept of "letting go," in its various forms.
The rest of the page is free.
In her perceptive introduction to I Am You, Marie Buck notes the inferred collapse of "For M" into "form." The formal constraint of "Letting Go" is a frame for the free play of ideas. Yet the greater boundary of life and death pulls at the writing, forcing it up against the limits of language again and again. Written out of crisis, the work bears the undeniable mark of necessity. The sudden, permanent absence of the other causes the self to bleed into the recently vacated space—"I am you"—and form a new, hybrid personality. Hybridity feels monstrous. The image of the monster permeates the text.
The monster husband takes my hand
And it feels right.............Intense and prolonged anticipation will either let go of the monster husband's handOr tighten its grip around it and perhaps frighten it.
Fear of monsters is common in young children. Loss the subject to a childlike emotional state. The hybrid speaks; the self experiences expression as originating in the other: "What did you just say? I could hear your voice, but couldn't get the words." Loneliness feels bottomless: "No amount of letting go seems enough."
There is, no doubt, a confessional aspect of this work, as Tardos plumbs the depths of despair and longing in ways that are at times almost sensationally personal. Yet this is not your garden-variety, 50s-60s confessionalism, for it is couched within the contexts of process-based art making practice and clear-headed philosophical inquiry by a multi-lingual pan-European American performance poet of considerable accomplishment. The rapid alternation of spontaneous wit, philosophical depth, and emotional plaint create a platform against which the truth of the condition of the writing is felt all the more directly, more starkly than if it were expressed solely in the confessional mode, which can so easily become overbearing. Here, by contrast, the reader is respectfully permitted a certain distance that allows the text to breathe like the living thing it actually is.