Leminscate, Chris Viner, Unsolicited Press, 2017, pp. 72
The 6th isn’t busy.
Six days since the attack
And inside the Monoprix
The aisles of life still reel along, refrigerated and stacked.
I drum my fingers on the green pine
And scan the shelves for a bottle of wine
— “The 6th Arrondissement”
The collection Lemniscate opens abruptly in the days after 2015 Paris attacks, and the eerie, unsettling calm of the everyday continuing in its aftermath. For anyone living in Paris, London, Manchester and other cities affected by terrorist attacks in recent years, this will be all to familiar — the everyday suddenly becomes uncanny, daily routines lose their meaning, and you are left with empty objects — bottles of wine, a half-smoked pack of cigarettes, a foreign film watched half-heartedly on a laptop.
Such are the aesthetics of the collection, as well as its themes. The loss of meaning, and the search to find it again. The Lemniscate — the figure of eight, serpentine shape which adorns the collection’s cover and after which it takes its name — is an apt one. Like the image of the Rota Fortunae in medieval art, in the cyclical nature of societies (with perhaps emphasis on their downfall) there is no abrupt collapse in the downward spiral of the form of the Lemniscate. In the collection, this is expressed in the feeling of being caught in the banality and anxiety of the day-to-day during what feels like a time of violence and epochal change, approaching something similar to that of 100 years ago.
We know that we are in France due to the referencing of place names. After the opener “The 6th Arrondissement” there is “Bois de Vincennes”, “Saint-Michel”, and “Metro Belleville”. Place names seem like one of the few set of signifiers that the narrator is certain of in a world in which objects and ideas suddenly feel obsolete.
Instead of the runaway ticket to Kyoto
………….instead of the taut hungry man deranged in Belleville
Somewhere between a Fellini slide and an outdated
…………..vision of liberty discussed with a student in the secret archive
— “False Alarm”
Lemniscate speaks of anxiety, of sleep paralysis, of economic uncertainty. There is a lot of loneliness in the poems — the kind of loneliness unique to life in a large city, of feeling engulfed in silence in the middle of a busy crowd, the anonymity to which so many are attracted. But as with the shape of the Leminscate, the up to this down is the idealism of a young person who finds themselves lost in an unrelenting city that washes over individualism — the idea that in this there is a great deal of hope. In relation to this we can analyse what it is to be a young person in a European city in this time of extreme flux. There is a feeling of societal collapse, of empires and paradigms crumbling as has happened throughout human history, but this can also lead to new scenarios, scenarios in which the individual will of idealism can flourish into something new and positive.
This is the city.
This is the station.
This is the torn bird.
This is the wide years.
This is the national flag.
This is the blood of terror.
This is the deafening centre.
This is the coat on the hook.
This is the ash beat boardwalk.
This is the metro bullet to nowhere.
This is the dream’s malleable scripture.
This is the man strung out and braying.
This is the black fig agape on the paving.
This is the rope and the grip for dear life.
This is the vertigo pulse of the enlightenment.
This is the percolation of a great body of cells.
This is the failed appliance unfurling from a socket.
This is the labyrinth of a man’s stomach of thought.
This is the raw lighthouse beaten by a stammer of lost seas.
In Giambattista Vico’s 1725 text The New Science, Vico surmised the idea of cyclical societies, that all civilisations rose from chaos to go through ages of theocracy, aristocracy, and democracy, before reverting to the beginning again. In times of change and disruption, it is easy to take a fatalistic attitude, but in reality, this is when you need optimism and idealism most. While some of the poems in this collection are imperfect, there is a sense of energy to the collection, particularly in its engagement and reaction to the historical circumstance that spawned it, which allows Leminscate to feel vital. For as long as there have been cities, there have been poets in their margins, trying to find meaning, and trying to establish what to do next. Leminscate is a document of its time, but one which operates in a lineage of metropolitan malaise of which many across the centuries will have been familiar with. A very promising first collection.
Words by Robert Greer.
For more information on Leminscate, go here.
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