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  • Tool and Weapon
  • Patricia Brody (bio)
To Suture What Frays
Jaclyn Piudik
Kelsay Books
104 Pages; Print, $17.00

In the introduction to his 1912 edition of John Donne's (1572-1631) poetry, Herbert J. C. Grierson writes of "the vein of sheer ugliness which runs through [Donne's] work, presenting details that seem merely and wantonly repulsive." Meanwhile, in the eighteenth century, the good Doctor, Samuel Johnson, pronounces "somewhat disapprovingly" Donne's technical accomplishment or "metaphysical conceit" as: "Discordia concors, a combination of dissimilar images" or, "the discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike … the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together." A couple hundred years later, in Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler (1921), T. S. Eliot describes Donne's "device" as "the elaboration … of a figure of speech to the farthest stage to which ingenuity can carry it." Eliot illustrates Discordia concors with Donne's poem "A Valediction" in which Donne compares two lovers to the legs of a pair of compasses.

(Have patience, please, Reader, we will come soon to the book at hand!)

"But elsewhere we find" observes Eliot, "instead of mere … comparison, a development by rapid association of thought which requires considerable agility on the part of the reader." Through a study called "Discordia Concors and Bidirectionality: Embodied Cognition in John Donne's Songs and Sonnets" on the metaphors in Donne's poems "The Bait" and "The Flea," Chanita Goodblatt and Joseph Glicksohn discuss the grotesque nature of his poetic imagery as constituting "a clash of incompatibles, generated by the great distance between the two semantic fields." The authors argue that it is this clash that sustains bidirectionality in a metaphor, by preserving the tension between its two subjects, while allowing each to alternatively become the focus of one's attention while reading the poems.

So finally, why has this reviewer yoked together criticism from eighteenth and twentieth century critics Johnson and Eliot on seventeenth-century poet John Donne, to review the poems of New York born, Canadian scholar-poet Jaclyn Piudik in her twenty-first century debut , To Suture What Frays ? Let's start with the title:

Piudik—who holds a PhD in Medieval Studies—could have used the serviceable "to mend" or "to stitch" what wears or tears, but plain words are not the terms of a poet whose red-hot language swirls, spurts, spits and sometimes shows off with a wink to her readers, and perhaps to herself.

Out of despair, I revert to a Cyrillic alphabet.

—"Empathic Physics"

These are the howlings of my soul A whispered perversion of godiva.


To Suture What Frays : Note the odd pairing of the medical suture—which suggests the repair of opened skulls, flesh, and wounds—with the fabric-related frays as in a worn coat-sleeve. "[T]o wear (something, such as an edge of cloth) as if by rubbing: FRET … to separate the threads at the edge of … to wear out or into shreds … show signs of strain … Fraying nerves," says Merriam-Webster, where definitions reveal that Piudik (whose degree requires months and years of rigorous Latin study) might well have found her title, in part, in the overlapping of Middle English, Anglo-French, and Latin. Where in fact "suture originates in Latin sutura seam, suture, from sutus, past participle of suere to sew." So, ruptured spirit, torn flesh and worn cloth are indeed woven—or yoked—together. Coincidentally or not, the dictionary definitions here read not dissimilarly to some of Piudik's poetry: "To convey a lullaby … a square of love / renamed: an ankh, a needle—/to seal the dew." Her adoration of the word and the Word—her training in medieval Romance and Hebrew literatures—are apparent on every page.

"By violence yoked together" is a fair place to enter the physics, chemistry, and certainly biology, of these red, rose, velvet, blood and hunger-shocked poems. (As Piudik writes, in "Empathic Physics," "What would life be without physics?… A lesson in lipstick … Treason!… Unethical, at the least.") Fair to note, as well, that fifty shades of red, roses, blood, black, hunger, roses, roses—followed in frequency...


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